BET's pro-sports-themed drama "The Game" and AMC's Frank Darabont-created zombie series "The Walking Dead" are the two biggest hits on cable television over the last year.
So said a panel of top cable programming chiefs, assembled Wednesday at the Beverly Hilton for one of the Hollywood Radio TV Society's bi-monthly luncheons.
"Any of us would love to have a show that brings to us viewers that don't regularly watch our channel, and that's what those shows accomplished," said John Landgraf, president and general manager of FX.
As usual for an HRTS event, the lunchtime panel — moderated by Variety columnist Brian Lowry and also featuring BET original programming president Loretha Jones, Showtime entertainment president David Nevins and USA Network president Jeff Wachtel — addressed a wide swath of TV-industry topics.
Some of what was discussed:
>> Jones said BET officials, who last made an off-network acquisition four years ago, when they opted to continue producing "The Game" after the CW cancelled it, made a good, er, bet the the supply of off-network programming targeted to African-Americans would soon run dry.
"That's when we said, 'Oh s***, we're going to be f***ed," Jones said, her shocking vulgarity getting a big laugh from the crowd. "This what forced us to set up BET Studios and start producing our own shows."
She added that, with Comcast making recent promises to FCC commissioners that it would ramp up its programming-diversity efforts, BET is expecting new competition in the realm of the African-American audience niche.
"There will be more expansion there before there's a shakeout," she said.
>> Landgraf said that while he's proud of the Emmy-winning "Damages," he said he would do such a serialized show again in an era dominated by viewing on DVRs and other time-shifting devices.
"That's a show that won't exist as we go forward," he said.
>> With 10 original series launching new seasons this year, Wachtel conceded that it has "become difficult to manage that many shows."
He added, "The more people like a given show, the more likely they are to watch out of live broadcast" with a DVR or other device.
>> Assuming control of Showtime last summer from current NBC entertainment chief Bob Greenblatt, former Imagine TV executive said he will keep looking for ways to broaden the pay cable channel's audience.
"I'm not interested in going niche," he said.