Programming chiefs at a recent Hollywood Radio & Television Society lunch were all pretty much down on the state of comedies and creativity on television. There were some exceptions noted -- Fox's "Arrested Development," ABC's "Desperate Housewives," and "Lost."
They are not the only ones complaining. TV advertising executives have whined for the last several years about the lack of creativity; networks don't really take risks. Then when one network steps up to the plate, and fails horribly, they say "Too bad." And walk away.
Networks rarely get any financial support from advertisers for weak or failing shows. And why should they? It's a business after all.
With this financial tightrope for network executives, they came up with an alternative plan in recent years -- copycat programming, or stuff they know will have a chance to make it, like medical shows, court shows, or crime scene investigative programs.
When that didn't work they came up with reality shows - cheap, copycat programming. Figuring they solved the problem, advertisers complained again, saying reality did not have the quality of scripted shows.
Bottom line is that TV executives are focused on the bottom line. Few have the what-the-hell-lets-just-do-it mentality when it comes to programming - especially when millions of dollars are at stake. Kevin Reilly, president of entertainment at NBC, rightly blames that writers get too many notes from too many network executives. No doubt from Reilly himself.
But who can blame him? On the one hand, writers need a creative freedom to break traditional comedy and drama story molds. On the other, Reilly has the bean counters from GE to deal with. With everyone pushing and pulling, no wonder there's little independent thinking. No wonder comedies and dramas have become mush.
Not since the days of "Seinfeld" where creator Larry David was allowed to put his original and quirky vision on a comedy has there been much in the way of independent-minded TV creators. More recently, "Buffy" creator Joss Whedon falls into the same category.
While there is laughter at the networks, one wonders if the laughter isn't just forced. Network executives need to stop being network executives and laugh when they mean it, not when business says they should.
Unfortunately, the problem is they also need jobs, and there is no quicker way of losing one than laughing out of context -- business context.