Wednesday, June 5, 2019

"Something Changed (And I Think I Know Why"

There’s this story that came to mind – I have no idea why, it just did – but I am saving that for tomorrow.

Today, I shall set the scene with boring exposition.  Hey, at least I’m honest.  That’s something isn’t it?



“Hey, at least we’re honest.”

Fair enough.  (Although still “Ouch.”)

A little background you may know or not know, or know at not care about but that I need to get started.

Once, (after they originally were) television networks were not permitted to own their own shows.  Why?  Here’s why.

NETWORK EXECUTIVE:  “Let’s see now.  Should we buy a show from an independent producer and let them reap the subsequent windfall if it’s a hit, or should we purchase our own shows and keep all the money for ourselves?  Hmmm.”

There was no “Hmmm.”  Just a transparent conflict of interest.  The government edict:

“Producers produce.  Networks sell time for the commercials.  Now leave us alone to do the important work of the American People.” 

And so things remained.  Networks sold commercial time to the sponsors, and independent producers developed the programs and paid the “overage”, the amount over the negotiated “licensing fee” needed to fully cover the show’s budget. 

Or something like that.

Anyway, during the 90’s, the networks went back to the government, crying “Poor”, due to newly arrived competition from cable.  The government’s hearts softened for networks’ pitiful plight.  They dumped the previous injunction, freeing the networks to own their own programming.  (Which had nothing to do with hefty network campaign contributions.  Honest.)

Here’s the thing, though.

The time when networks were prevented from owning their own shows was not only, understandably, the “Golden Age” of independent production.  It was the “Golden Age” of quality programming as well.


Sure.  If you are arguing that total network control has not made the shows worse, which – it’s a free country, go right ahead.  Feel free to assert that they have made the shows better.

But before you sound foolish, consider the evidence for the contrary position.

I shall now offer a sampling of half-hour comedies made by independent production companies during the time when networks were prevented from owning their own shows, and later shows, lacking any ownership ownership involvement. 

Here we go.

The Mary Tyler Moore Show – The Mary Tyler Moore Company.

All in the Family – Tandem Productions (Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin.)

Happy Days – Henderson Productions (Garry Marshall)

Golden Girls – Witt/Thomas Productions.

Designing Women – Mozark Productions (Linda Bloodworth and husband Harry Thomason.)

Seinfeld – Castle Rock Entertainment.

Everybody Loves Raymond – Where’s Lunch, Worldwide Pants, HBO Independent Productions.

Okay.  Now your list.

Independent production companies had financial associates, like studios, but the artistic direction derived from experienced writers, serving as show-running producers.  Was there network and, before they got caught cheating on quiz shows, sponsor interference?  Always.  But the “Creative Control” balance dramatically shifted when the networks became owners.

Which a specific example of the difference I shall furnish tomorrow.  (Along with improved sentence structure.)

One interesting tidbit before I depart.

The deregulation that allowed network ownership of programming occurred when Bill Clinton was president.  Bill Clinton’s closest friends, going back to their Arkansas days, were Linda Bloodworth and Harry Thomason.

By approving deregulation, Bill Clinton put his “best buds”, and their independent production company compatriots permanently out of commission.

Almost makes you want to vote Republican.

Nah.  They’d have done exactly the same thing.

Though without ever feeling their pain.

1 comment:

Rory Wohl said...

Hi Earl,

You know I love you, but I think, on this one, you're suffering from "confirmation bias" (ask Dr. M.).

Sure, you listed a bunch of great shows from the "Golden Age," but what about all the stinkers that were produced as well? Talk to your good friend, Ken Levine, about "Failure Theater."

I can't name any because, if they were successful, then they wouldn't have been failures, but I think you get my point.

All the best (and still waiting for someone to auction off lunch with you, Ken, & Mark Evanier. I'd pay to sit at that table),
- Rory