How Shonda Rhimes Glen-Larsoned her way to Queen of Primetime

Glen-Larson: A verb meaning to combine and stoke up established TV formats so they become something more exciting without truly being new. (Today’s #PeoplesPilotTip)

For example:

How TV queen Shonda Rhimes combined classic formats, amped them up and changed the face of prime-time
by David Berry

shondalShonda Rhimes is quite possibly the hardest-working person in show business. Since 2007, she has never not had at least two full-length network television series for which she was both executive producer and show runner (i.e. the person responsible for not just the overall scope of a show, but also the one actually writing most of it, too). For a brief period, she had three: Grey’s Anatomy, now in its 12th season, Scandal, in its fifth, and Private Practice, which ended in 2013.

Since then, she has mercifully limited herself to being largely responsible for just two shows, but has made up the gap by expanding her empire as producer. First came Off the Map, so far the only show she’s been connected with that hasn’t yet lasted multiple seasons. Next was How to Get Away With Murder, which just finished its second season, and, like Map, is the creation of a writer she groomed in the Grey’s room.

She is adding yet another next week with The Catch, debuting in Murder’s slot and keeping Thursday night prime-time filled to the brim with Shondaland. Following what’s so far been an almost unimpeachable formula, it will feature the crafty manipulations of a steel-veined but full-hearted woman as she makes her way not just through an infinitely complex world, but interpersonal relationships that are forever one small spark away from explosion. In The Catch’s case, that’s Alice Vaughan (The Killing’s Mireille Enos), a private detective whose life is thrown into disarray when she discovers her fiancee (Peter Krause) is actually a con man out to swindle her, and probably anyone else he can get his hands on.

You don’t reach this level of saturation — it is worth pointing out that, even in an industry famous for shondaregomaniacal workaholics, no one else has managed to produce an entire block of programming named after themselves — without a work ethic that would be the envy of even a genetically spliced bee-beaver hybrid. Though you also don’t get there without having an eye for undercurrents that have been both over and under-exploited in pop culture, and going at them whole hog. And if there is one thing that connects both Shonda Rhimes the creator and the shows she has shepherded into pop cultural milestones, it’s that there is no room for half-measures.

It’s tempting, especially in a culture where identity has taken centre stage, to focus on Rhimes as a kind of paragon of diversity, someone who has got ahead at least in part by giving us viewpoints that have been seriously underserved in television history. And that’s undeniably some of the appeal of her shows, even as it sells her short: as something of a pioneer of perspective, she first had to be an absolute savant when it came to hitting serialized audience pleasure centres.

Whatever else we want to say about Rhimes, we first have to acknowledge just how good Shondaland is at exploiting the gut-level basics of television craft. If there are multiple secrets to success on Rhimes’s level, a major one is taking the familiar forms of television and pushing their most appealing parts to extremes.

You can start with the basic premises: Grey’s is a hospital drama, one of the keystones of television programming, narrowing only slightly in its spin-off, Private Practice. Scandal is less of a purely established genre, though its obsession with political maneuvering certainly makes it right at home in the current mood, and in a lot of ways it’s a kind of reverse cop drama, trying to figure out how to cover up crimes and misdemeanours rather than solve them. How to Get Away With Murder mixes police-type whodunitry with the technical chess games of the legal world. The Catch’s P.I. format introduces us to television’s other classic crime fighter….

Read it all at National Post

TV Kicks Film’s Butt When It Comes to Diversity

Are television executives really trying to give women and minorities more opportunities in TV’s promised land? The stats say, “Yes!” But does that mean it’s time for us to shout, “Hooray!”?

photo-tv-blackishby Scott Collins

Shonda Rhimes, an African American writer-producer, is one of the most powerful people in the TV business. Last week, Disney’s ABC TV network made history by naming Channing Dungey to head its entertainment division, the first African American to fill that role.

In fact, even as the big screen industry is under fire for a lack of diversity, some of the most celebrated shows on TV showcase diversity, whether it is the African American family of ABC’s “black-ish,” the multiracial inmates on Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” or the transgender dad on Amazon’s “Transparent.”

By most accounts, the small screen has become a more culturally inclusive place over the last decade, and for several reasons. The TV audience itself is diverse — one estimate is that black viewers spend 37% more time watching TV than other racial groups — which has forced network executives to find programming that reflects the people watching at home.

The TV industry is also significantly larger than the movie business, meaning more opportunities overall, and lately there has been an explosion of new programming.

While film studios have been trimming their release slates — Paramount, for example, released just 16 movies last year, down from 21 in 2012 — networks are flooding viewers with new TV series. Last year, an all-time high of 409 original series were produced for television (including streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu), according to a study by cable network FX. That number has doubled in the past six years.

“In television, we are fortunate because we get to try a lot of things; we get to take a lot of shots,” Dungey said in an interview. “It gives us a great opportunity to tell many different stories from diverse points of view.”…

Read it all at Los Angeles Times

What It’s Really Like to Work in Hollywood*

*If you’re not a straight white man:

biasby Melena Ryzik

The statistics are unequivocal: Women and minorities are vastly underrepresented in front of and behind the camera. Here, 27 industry players reveal the stories behind the numbers — their personal experiences of not feeling seen, heard or accepted, and how they pushed forward. In Hollywood, exclusion goes far beyond #OscarsSoWhite. (Interviews have been edited and condensed.)

SAM ESMAIL Creator, “Mr. Robot”Growing up, I [thought] white male was the norm, the default character in every story. I never thought other possibilities could exist. And I remember thinking, when I would watch Woody Allen films or films that felt personal, I wonder what I’m going to do when I write my personal films, because I can’t cast an Egyptian-American; that would be weird. In film school, there was this need to talk about your ethnicity and to make essentially social-message films. But I resisted, because I felt that it changed the conversation of what the movie was about.

WENDELL PIERCE Actor, “The Wire,” “Grease: Live”, “Confirmation” (coming on HBO)Juilliard was a great place to train and prepare for the politics of the business. You were given roles [based on] how you fit into the company. I didn’t get any roles that weren’t 20, 30 years my elder. We had a running joke, the black actors, “If you come here you better get your funny walks, because you’re going to be playing all the old guys.”

JIMMY SMITS Actor, “The Get Down” (coming on Netflix), co-founder, National Hispanic Foundation for the Arts[After] Brooklyn College, somebody said, “You can probably go to L.A. now and be the crook of the week on ‘Hill Street Blues,’ but you should think about graduate school.” [At] Cornell — I got a scholarship — I got to do everything. I could handle verse, I could speak Shaw, I could do Pinter.

TEYONAH PARRIS Actress, “Chi-Raq,” “Survivor’s Remorse”[At Juilliard], we got together with other black people in different classes, and we said, “Hey, we want to do an August Wilson play. There are enough black people to make this happen.” So we rehearsed on our free time and put on this showcase, and the faculty came, other students came, and I guess that was inspiring to them. [Later, they did an official school production.] That was the first time they put an August Wilson play on the main stage, in 2007….

Read it all at NY Times

Is “Traditional” Pay-TV Doomed?

We certainly hope so. That doesn’t make us bad people, does it? Why does this question keep rearing its head on TVWriter™ and other sites as well? This is why:

bustedtvby Andrew Meola

The cord-cutting generation is truly starting to cause problems for satellite TV provider Dish Network, if the company’s latest quarterly report is any indication.

The company announced in its 2015 financial report that its total video subscribers fell by 12,000 in the fourth quarter. Dish lost 81,000 pay-TV subscribers in 2015, up form 79,000 in 2014.

Those figures are even more worrisome when you consider that Sling TV, the company’s over-the-top streaming service, remained strong but still couldn’t help Dish overcome the subscriber loss.

Sling is one of the many “skinny bundles” on the market that provide broadband customers with a limited number of television channels for a lower monthly cost. Traditional TV providers have been heavily promoting these bundles recently as more and more customers, particularly younger ones, forego more expensive TV packages in favor of Internet-only television viewing.

Dish does not specifically highlight how many of its pay-TV customers subscribe to Sling TV, but the Wall Street Journal estimates that the figure is almost 600,000.

Dish’s rivals, meanwhile, showed growth where Dish reported troubles. Comcast announced that nearly 25% of its new video subscribers signed up for a skinny bundle.

The company added 89,000 video subscribers in the fourth quarter, a massive increase from 6,000 in the same quarter of 2014.

Verizon announced that one-third of its revenue for its Fios Video cable TV service came from its skinny bundle, Custom TV. The company added 20,000 net new Fios video connections in the fourth quarter.

Dish’s latest quarterly and yearly figures demonstrate how modern television viewers’ consumption habits are rapidly changing. Each year, more customers are abandoning their pay-TV packages and moving toward subscription video on-demand (SVOD) services….

A report from Margaret Boland of Business Insider Intelligence examines how the growth of SVOD services is coming at the expense of the pay-TV industry. The report analyzes the state of the pay-TV industry and maps out which demographics are more likely to stop buying traditional TV packages.

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report:

  • Those abandoning pay-TV packages fall into three main groups: cord-nevers, cord-cutters, and cord-shavers. Whereas video streaming services have found favor with younger viewers in particular, an increasing portion of older subscribers also are leaving behind their pay-TV packages. Still, younger viewers watch four times as much video content online than older viewers.

Read it all at Business Insider

Is TV Better Because More Playwrights are Writing It Now?

A fair question, all things considered. Let’s see what a top writer at one of the most prestigious and respected of U.S. theater organizations has to say on the subject, yeah?

1 of the top productions in TV's real 'Golden Age,' REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT
1 of the top productions in TV’s real ‘Golden Age,’ REQUIEM FOR A HEAVYWEIGHT

by Rob Weinert-Kendt

Television was supposed to kill films and print journalism and radio, right? Just as the movies once purportedly threatened to make theatre and the novel obsolete, or photography to obviate the art of painting, or recorded music to replace the concert…well, you see where I’m going with this. All of these media have changed irrevocably, some beyond recognition, and there has unquestionably been a lot of attrition—what economists rather coldly call “churn” (a moment of silence, please, for vaudeville, drive-in movies, LPs, well-stocked newsstands and bookstores).

But while I’ve read my share of Walter Benjamin and Neil Postman, I’m not inclined to declinism—at least no more than I am to utopianism—in regards to culture. To those who would deplore fragmentation and narrowcasting and niche-ification, I would reply with questions about hegemony, homogeneity, and monopoly: Were American arts and entertainment really better off with just three networks, Hollywood’s cartelized studio system, and a national theatre dominated by Broadway and tours? In the area I know the most about, I’d argue that the regional/resident theatre movement that sprang up in the 1960s and thereafter, for all its problems and shortcomings, offers a far richer and more variegated American theatre culture and literature than we would have had without it.

Of course, “richer” may sound like a cruel choice of words for a field in which playwrights, its creative lifeblood, make on average a fraction of U.S. poverty-line income from their playwriting efforts. (These phenomena, the proliferation of stages and the depression of writers’ income, probably aren’t unrelated.) But as I was recently reminded by Eric Bentley, the sage drama critic I was fortunate to interview at length late last year, art and commerce have always been accidental bedfellows, or at best frenemies; Bentley told me unequivocally that he doesn’t think there’s ever been a “golden age” of playwriting.

Certainly if he were looking, Bentley would look askance at the conventional critical wisdom that we’re currently in a golden age of television (or is that peak TV?). While I’ll leave that judgment to posterity, where it properly belongs, it’s clear that the convergence of on-demand-anytime viewing with the post-cable proliferation of platforms for said viewing has raised both the demand and the narrative bar for series television. Are long-arc, multihour telefilms—which is what today’s premium drama, comedy, and documentary series have essentially grown into—inherently better or more ambitious than the interchangeable-episode, ad-chopped network TV of yore?…

Read it all at American Theater