Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Dick Wolf and TV

The reality of television -- the business side -- is quite different to what people (who enjoy watching television) suspect. Dick Wolf, creater of "Law & Order", understands how the business aspects works very well; he structured "Law & Order" to be profitable, which meant easy syndication and a revolving cast of characters (so no one actor would ever get enough clout to demand an outsize salary). He has a great interview the the WSJ (paid) -- my favorite clips are below:
The Wall Street Journal: We see producers trying to come up with ideas that will play well on mobile phones or the Web. Are these ventures worthwhile?

Mr. Wolf: I'm feeling that maybe I'm totally out of touch. I've been pitched Webisodes. I've been pitched everything. ... C'mon. Please, you think ringtones are going to be a major revenue stream for studios or networks? ... Unfortunately, the business model is irreparably broken, and people are going to have to figure out something new. ... I'm 59 years old. I don't think the world is going to come crashing down in five to six years, but I guarantee you, if anyone tells you what the television business is going to look like a decade out, they are on drugs.

Mr. Wolf: I'd love nothing better than to have people be watching interstitial moments in the show, so they didn't go channel surfing. In reality, I think it's an absolute pipe dream. Look, the bottom line is Americans don't like commercials. ... I don't think anybody wants to watch two-minute spots, but the wonderful thing about show business, television and advertising is nobody knows nothing. ... When I got into the advertising business, they still sold 60 [second commercials]. Then it went to 30s. ... The idea that people in their chairs want to watch something six times as long as that, I don't buy it.

WSJ: Your programs are known for hewing to pretty basic storylines -- a crime is committed, the cops solve it and the legal system tries the perpetrator. So do the 'CSI' series. Would you consider adding more elements of the detectives' personal lives to the L&O series, for example, if advertisers demanded it?

Mr. Wolf: There is a method to ['CSI' executive producer] Jerry Bruckheimer's and my madness, and it's an interest in stand-alone episodes and very little serializing, and very few personal things that are continued over multiple episodes. You can't expect people to make appointment television for off-network viewing five days a week if you script a show and you have to go to people who miss Tuesday and Thursday. It's going to be a continuing problem going forward and the bottom line is the audience is continuing to erode every day. ... I've never heard of advertisers demanding creative changes. They just want ratings.

WSJ: What's the outlook for the rerun value of programs like yours, given DVDs and other new technologies?

Mr. Wolf: DVDs are already a mature business. The serialized dramas do better on DVD than procedurals [shows where the procedure, or police work, is more important than the characters], which are more commonly available in reruns. ... Notwithstanding, the economic model is getting further fractured and the real place where the rubber is going to meet the road is downloads. I don't know if USA or TNT is going to pay top dollar for shows that have been downloaded for six months, nine months, before the DVDs even come out, which means the hard-core fans of the show have probably got a permanent copy on their hard drives.


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