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It’s been more than a few years since the traditional 22-episode model of broadcast series was put on trial. As cable dramas continue to outshine Big Four offerings with critics and at awards shows, many showrunners have migrated to what they perceive as greener creative pastures.
Marc Cherry (Devious Maids) and Damon Lindelof (Leftovers), both broadcast veterans, championed their shorter cable orders during the first few days of the Television Critics Association winter press tour, with the latter calling it “far superior.”
“I want to hear Damon Lindelof complain about broadcast when he goes to the bank to cash his Lost checks,” CBS entertainment chief Nina Tassler told reporters at the tour on Wednesday, even as she focused much of her attention on the network’s growing roster of short-order series: Intelligence, Extant and Under the Dome.
The showrunners of her top dramas — NCIS, Elementary, Person of Interest and The Good Wife — had their chance to weigh in on the rigors of writing, filming and editing so much television on such a demanding time table later in the morning. And while they’re all open about the fatigues, they did point to benefits in the model that cable can’t boast.
“It’s a great thing that the audience wants more of what you’re making,” said Person of Interest EP Jonathan Nolan. “I think 22-24 episodes is calibrated to the exact number where a showrunner will have a nervous breakdown.”
On the artistic side, he said he was a fan of the quick turnaround — especially coming from features like The Dark Knight, where several years lapsed between his finishing the script and seeing it on the big screen. “We’ll write a scene and we’ll get to see it up in two weeks,” added Nolan. “That’s incredible.”
NCIS showrunner Gary Glasberg credits the model and the network exposure for his series’ massive viewership. It’s neck-and-neck with The Big Bang Theory for the title of TV’s most watched series with an average 23.1 million viewers this season.
“We have 18 million Facebook fans,” said Glasberg. “That’s crazy. That’s because I’m on broadcast. You have to defend that.”
The producers were also open about the struggles.
“I think part of it is not looking too far ahead,” said Elementary‘s Rob Doherty. “You just have to set them up and knock them down one at a time.”
The pace has also forced Good Wife creators Michelle and Robert King to sideline some of their arc-based stories on more than one occasion.
“If you’ve cast Alicia’s brother, and have an arc for him, sometimes he’s not available [when you need him],” said Robert. “That comes up constantly. You’ll think you have someone you introduced, and suddenly they’re not there 48 hours before you start filming.”
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