Hits or misses, producers say, making TV shows is a headache


TV executives met for the second day in one of the industry’s most important annual conferences, held in Miami Beach.

The only thing worse than producing a show that flops is producing one that’s a hit, two Hollywood veterans told a laughing, cheering audience of television executives Tuesday, as one of the industry’s most important gatherings continued Tuesday on Miami Beach.

Baffled by the weird concept of a show about survivors of a plane crash on a desert island, ABC bosses mostly left him alone in 2004 as he was preparing his new sci-fi/fantasy show Lost, co-creator Damon Lindelof said.

But that all changed the morning after it debuted to eye-popping ratings.

“Suddenly there were seven executives I’d never met before and it was more like, ‘Oh my God, don’t [bleep] it up!’” he said, adding that the idea that corporate suits won’t tamper with a successful show is a “misconception.”

Glen Mazzara, widely credited with saving AMC’s zombie-apocalypse drama The Walking Dead after its creator quit midway through the first season and then led the show to record ratings, was nonetheless fired a few weeks ago after the network invoked the dreaded phrase “creative differences.”

“I was just glad that I was able to contribute and not mess up the show,” he said as the audience guffawed. “I see that as a win.”

Mazzara and Lindelof appeared on a panel as the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) rolled into its second day Tuesday. The 5,000 executives from 60 countries attending the convention have spent much of their time wringing their hands about the worrisome technology-driven inroads made by the Internet against traditional viewing.

But several panels Tuesday shifted the focus back to NATPE’s original purpose, wheeling and dealing TV shows. Among the most popular was the one in which Mazzara and Lindelof chatted in amiable resignation about everything from stupid bosses to pushy fans to the difficulties of killing actors. In shows, they meant: Both Lost and The Walking Dead are legendary in Hollywood for their willingness to snuff major characters without warning.

After Mazzara said he allows his actors to submit “notes” — Hollywood-speak for critiques — of their show’s scripts, Hollywood Reporter senior editor Alex Ben Block, moderating the panel, speculated about what must go though Mazzara’s mind as he’s writing an episode:

“This guy’s giving me so many notes. They’re so idiotic. It’s time for him to go!”

“That’s ridiculous!” interjected Lindelof, with much too straight of a face.

Lindelof recounted annual battles with ABC executives who insisted that each season begin with a special episode recapping all the action so far, in hopes of attracting new viewers. The task grew more arduous every year as Lost’s desert island time-traveled and slipped into alternate dimensions, killing characters and bringing them back to life with disconcerting frequency.

“By the time we got to the third season,” he recalled, “we realized how insanely ridiculous the show was.” It gave him a certain sympathy with fans he heard from “who watched the show religiously and wished they could have their six years back.”

Read more Glenn Garvin: On TV stories from the Miami Herald

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