Dan Harmon posting. Thanks to Dan for linking to the piece.
In between the folks agreeing with my position and the ones saying I’m old, out of touch, and should just be sent to the glue factory, a number of you brought up an interesting speculation – namely that networks are becoming obsolete and that the future of creative content will lie in other, newer arenas like the internet. So a maverick showrunner need not be concerned because if he has a large enough fan base he can circumvent networks completely.
Some thoughts on that from a guy who, depending on your viewpoint, comes from a position of first-hand involvement in the TV industry or from Jurassic Park.
Television is definitely heading in that direction. In ten years we probably will watching shows on delivery systems not yet invented.
We’re in transition, no question. But here’s the thing – it’s a slow transition. Very slow. Why? Because no one’s really figured out yet how to make the kind of money on the internet that networks can collect broadcasting over-the-air or on cable.
I know people who produce very popular webisodes. They get linked, they win awards, and their primary goal is to have a network buy them and turn them into full series. A time will come when that’s not necessary; when webisodes will be substantial money-makers on their own, but that day is not here yet.
Commenters brought up Joss Whedon and J.J. Abrams as examples of writers who have (deservedly) achieved cult status. But they needed something to launch them. They needed the networks. Doesn’t even have to be a major network. Joss did it with BUFFY on the WB. And I’m not saying you absolutely can’t achieve cult status without the mass exposure that a network provides, but it’s much harder and the success stories are way fewer.
What the internet affords you (today) is freedom. I’ve had this blog for 6 1/2 years now. No one gives me notes. No one approves what I post. It’s all very liberating. But nobody pays me. Yes, I suppose I could accept Google Ads but they'd just junk up the site, and the income I’d receive is negligible. Now if a major advertising agency came along and offered me a bundle to place a banner for Coke or American Airlines, sure I’d do it – but who am I kidding? I’m a little blog. Coke and American Airlines are not going to take funds away from their Upfronts budget to sponsor Friday Questions.
Even current showrunners with 200,000 readers or Twitter followers can’t yet parlay their numbers into the kind of money they’d need to tell the networks to kiss their ass.
Here’s the reality check: Yes, there are more networks to choose from today (which is a good thing!). And even a small one like AMC can be your golden ticket IF you happen to create that magic breakout show. But the bigger bankrolls, the better salaries (even though they’re way less than they used to be), and the most exposure are still on the major networks. At least at this moment.
It’s exciting to me that COUGAR TOWN, a show ABC cancelled, is getting new life on TBS. What I don’t know is what the budget will be. My guess is it will be less. Can Bill Lawrence do it without compromising the show? I'm hoping he can.
And over time, when cable networks continue to drain audiences from the Big Four that may change. There will come a day when getting a show on Adult Swim means as much (financially and ratings-wise) as getting one on CBS.
Just not today.
Today you still need to make a good deal. You need your "Harvey Weinstein." Sorry, but you do.
You could bankroll your own show but that’s plenty risky. You do a show on NBC. You get paid for running it and you get an ownership stake. The show gets cancelled and you just walk away with whatever money you made and vacation in Hawaii. You bankroll your own project. It doesn’t fly. You’re selling your house and moving to El Centro. Do you have faith that your 1,000,000 Twitter followers will support your project enough that you’re willing to mortgage your house on it?
An Anonymous (of course) commenter said: In the age of the Internet, having a built-in, young, loyal audience that you're directly connected with can be pretty useful, "fanboys" or not. Old world media veterans should do well to remember this.
Uh huh. This Old world media veteran invites you to write a check.