How to Save Network Television

Five ways to make the TV production process more efficient.

Even as they search for long-term solutions to what ails network TV, broadcast execs are also scrambling to find here-and-now fixes to their woes.

 

Slashing costs has been the order of the day ever since the 2007 writers strike ended. But now that budgets have been cut to the bone, suits are having to get creative.

 

TheWrap talked to numerous executives and agents and asked them what can be done to make the production process more efficient. Here are five possible improvements:

 

1. Stop the obsession on single-camera comedies and shift to multicamera half-hours.

Some agents say this is already happening as networks realize they’re spending literally millions more per year on single-camera shows, even though three of the biggest comedy hits on TV are either multicamera or hybrid half-hours (all on CBS).

2. Give creative types a real, substantial stake in their shows.

Sure, anyone who creates a network comedy or drama typically gets a piece of the backend.

 

But unless you’re already a big-name talent, it’s usually a pretty tiny sliver, and the odds of you ever seeing any money are long once studio accountants work their "magic."

 

Why would networks save money by giving away potential profits?

 

"Because if you gave people a bigger stake financially, they’d do a good job of keeping costs under control," one top TV lit agent says. "Right now, they have no incentive to keep the costs down. But if someone owned 20 percent of a show, you can bet it’s going to come in under budget."

 

3. Get rid of at least one layer of network/studio oversight of shows.

Right now, many showrunners have to deal with network notes, studio notes and sometimes even notes from non-writing producers.

 

Networks love to point out that 20 years ago, the staffs of most shows were much smaller than they are now.

 

"But what they never mention is that (writers back then) weren’t getting grinded to death by current execs," one agent notes. "These companies all have so many layers of subjective notes. I was talking to one of my producers and he said to me, ‘Should I be the one deciding what makes a good episode of (a series)’?"

 

Some networks have already done this by merging studio and network operations.

 

4. Step up investment in new technologies.

The producers of ABC’s "V" recently assured reporters that the series would manage to maintain the high-quality look of its pilot in future episodes, even though series budgets are always smaller than pilot costs. The reason for the promise: ABC and Warner Bros. have given producers access to cutting-edge tools that allow producers to create and store virtual sets than can be used over and over again.

 

Such wizardry doesn’t come cheap, but it the long-term, it maintains production values while reducing the cost of location filming.

 

5. Find a way to better harness talent found on the Internet.

Making the leap from the WWW to a network isn’t easy, as the creators of "Quarter Life" discovered. And yet, it’s hard to believe no network could find a way to convince Joss Whedon to expand his "Dr. Horrible" brand to television.

Likewise, networks needs to redouble efforts to turn web sensations into TV stars. Why isn’t that Minnesota couple that wowed the world with their Chris Brown-themed wedding march starring in their own song-and-dance variety show?