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For “Lights Out” executive producer Warren Leight, the past week has been “like a wake” as FX’s critically acclaimed ratings underperformer wrapped its 13-episode run Tuesday night. Despite positive reviews, the boxing drama starring Holt McCallany bowed to 1.5 million viewers in January and slowly shed viewers before FX called it a TKO last month.
After 636,000 tuned in for its series finale — 393,000 in the advertiser-coveted 18-49 demo — Leight talked with The Hollywood Reporter about interest from other networks, DVD prospects and what a second season would have entailed.
The Hollywood Reporter: Have you been approached about taking the show elsewhere?
Warren Leight: People express “maybe” kind of interest. I would love to believe it when it happens. My sense is it’s unlikely Showtime would pick up a show that had been on basic cable. There were feelers put out to them. They have a new guy running it; I don’t think he needs to make his name picking up somebody else’s show.
THR: Have you pitched taking Lights Out to anyone specific?
Leight: People have made the rounds. I think DirecTV is not as keen on this as they may have once been — I don’t mean on Lights Out, I mean saving shows. Agents are doing their job. There are few outlets as it is for serialized drama and most of them don’t have that many slots. If they do have slots, they want to fill them with their own development. What’s happening is the game is changing completely in terms of how people watch serialized drama. The networks haven’t figured out how to really deal with the way things have changed. There are a number of people who have come up to me and said, “This weekend I watched four episodes on Saturday and four episodes on Sunday.” That’s how people want to watch them now. Those people don’t count in terms of advertising. When you do dramas like this people will say, “I can’t wait for the DVD set.” Nobody needs to watch it Tuesday night at 10 that night and wait for 13 weeks to see it unspool.
THR: Are there more Lights Out stories to be told?
Leight: Yes. We knew where the series was going to end this year. The way it ends, there’s a little bit of a “now what?” moment. He’s concussed at the end of the season. You couldn’t have him lose, you couldn’t have him win and be triumphant, that’s not what this series is about. Every win takes its toll. Johnny (Pablo Schreiber) would be both proud and jealous and look for his own place in the world: Is he just going to be the champ’s brother or is there something he can find for himself? There was a path for him in Season 2 that we’d talked about, possibly with him crossing over to MMA. The romance between Brennan (Bill Irwin) and Margaret (Elizabeth Marvel) was going to get much more complicated. Barry Word (Reg E. Cathey) and Brennan were going war in Season 2.
For Lights, it’s a temporary concussion; he wasn’t going to be permanently at a deficient because of that but it was going to exacerbate things. It’s funny, people go, “Oh, that was really a one-seasoner.” But when the pilot was originally done nobody had any idea where the series would go, which is why I was hired. Now in hindsight, that was the obvious season. There are easily five years more stories for this world. Season 2 probably wouldn’t have had one over-riding arc the way Season 1 did; in a way it would have become more standard — the way Nurse Jackie tells its stories: Certain issues the main character is dealing with on an ongoing basis and others
more contained to single episodes.
THR: Would we have seen more of Lights in the ring?
Leight: I don’t think we want to watch him box too often but I think we envisioned three fights for him in Season 2. He goes back because almost no one ever leaves with money in the bank and their faculties in tact in this sport. What would that do to his relationship with his wife?
THR: Are there plans to release Lights Out on DVD?
Leight: I think that they will be doing that, yes. I don’t have a timeline. I gather that they know it can have a strong afterlife that way. It doesn’t cost that much to put out a DVD set. It should live on that way. [Wednesday] I was hearing rumors about foreign interest in the show. At this point, I feel like we’re at a casino and hoping for something to break your way. It’s tricky.
THR: Were Lights Out to land elsewhere is there anything you’d change about the marketing?
Leight: I think FX marketed the show to their core audience, and their core audience is young male, sports-oriented. If you can’t get your core audience to watch the show, it’s very hard to then pull in enough people outside of your fan base to your network. The networks are just so branded now; USA can’t really do a dark despairing drama and FX can’t do a blue-sky show. People watch the networks they watch. It would depend on who picks it up. I always thought it was a strong family drama with boxing as a backdrop. In a sense, that’s a tricky sell, too; viewing habits have gotten more compartmentalized. I would not singularly emphasize the boxing if I could go again somewhere. I don’t see how FX could have sold a family drama to their audience.
THR: It’s as much about boxing as Friday Night Lights was about football.
Leight: Or in a weird way, The Sopranos. I’m not saying we hit that level in Season 1, but Sopranos was a mob story but it was really a guy and his family. But it wasn’t a classic mob drama. What I’ve found is that a lot of husbands and wives will watch the show together and really like it. I go to my preschool drop-off and the moms are all over me about the show. It’s a show that they could watch that their husbands could watch. The problem is these days people don’t watch television together. The husband is downstairs watching The Game and the wife is upstairs watching The Good Wife. They don’t need a show they can watch together. What family dramas are on now that are working? Parenthood, which we were up against. I’ve gone over this a thousand times trying to figure out what you could do differently. I wouldn’t put it on Tuesday night at 10.
THR: Where would you have put it?
Leight: Any other time slot on television. [Laughs] I don’t mean it to be sour grapes, but there are a lot of established dramas of high quality on Tuesday nights at 10: Southland, The Good Wife, Parenthood, Detroit 1-8-7, White Collar; to be a new show trying to break in against that and a barrage of insanely popular reality shows: Teen Mom, Tosh.0, Top Shot, all these shows. And The Game, I don’t know if anybody knew that The Game was going to do what it did. I call it the DVR Gridlock. I don’t know that anybody knew the night we opened — which was also the night The Game opened — that they were going to do almost 8 million viewers. Tell me who knew that. I don’t think BET did.
THR: Are there any specific lessons you can take away from your experience with FX and Lights Out vs. Law & Order: Criminal Intent on the broadcast side?
Leight: Criminal Intent is a pure detective procedural. But the pleasures and dangers of serialized drama were great. To sustain characters and have story unfold that way — to put in Episode 2 or 3 have Lights mail a letter and we don’t know who it’s to and then to find out in Episode 12 that it was to his mother and have the audience pick up that stuff is great. It was like novel writing as opposed to short story writing; both are good forms. Short stories you can sit down and read in one sitting and in a way that’s what episodes of Law & Order are: you can watch them any time of the day or night in any country in the world and you don’t need to know what came before or what came after. From a pure business point of view, it has a much better chance. I would love to do another serialized drama at some point.
THR: What’s next for you?
Leight: I have ideas for series but I don’t have a clear path to a new series immediately. I’m listening to possibilities about taking over existing shows.
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