Telecastation — Prestige


In the Emmy nom­i­nat­ed dra­ma Pass/Fail, Patrick Sil­ver­man strug­gles to nav­i­gate the dark and com­pet­i­tive world of col­le­giate cheat­ing, paper writ­ing and pill pop­ping for grades. Now, Home Cin­e­ma, the chan­nel that broad­casts Pass/Fail, is strug­gling to nav­i­gate the increas­ing­ly com­pet­i­tive script­ed dra­ma cable tele­vi­sion land­scape. As Pass/Fail ends its four sea­son run this fall, Home Cin­e­ma has yet to cre­ate anoth­er hit show with flops such as Mist Riv­er and Call­ing Carde. Even Lare­do Junc­tion, star­ring indie heart­throb Cur­tis Morales from Biog­ra­phy of a Broke Home­boy, did­n’t make it past it’s first sea­son. Mean­while, oth­er cable net­works con­tin­ue to snatch up pitch­es at a record pace result­ing in a seri­ous lack of pos­si­bil­i­ties. Now more than ever, cre­at­ing the new high end pres­ti­gious tele­vi­sion dra­ma has become more difficult.

“We’ve reached the end of min­ing ideas from lit­er­a­ture and graph­ic nov­els,” says Greg Brahtheind, VP of Script­ed Con­tent at Home Cin­e­ma, “Every­thing’s been used or is in devel­op­ment already.” To stay ahead of the game, Brahtheind and Home Cin­e­ma have been grab­bing at any­thing they can get their hands on, includ­ing turn­ing doc­tor­al his­to­ry the­ses into pilots. “We shot a few episodes based on a the­sis about the first Semi­nole War from a doc­tor­al can­di­date at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton. The first episode end­ed up being six hours long and half of it was in the Creek lan­guage.” A project based on research papers from NASA sci­en­tists is cur­rent­ly cir­cling the devel­op­ment offices. “We fig­ure there’s got­ta be plot and char­ac­ters in there some­where. We’ve got a whole room of writ­ers work­ing on these.”

Down the hall is the Devel­op­ment Pen, a stuffy room full of tele­vi­sion writ­ers work­ing on the ideas. “The first day we real­ized that three of us had all inde­pen­dent­ly writ­ten scripts about an unsus­pect­ing com­ic book store own­er who becomes a vig­i­lante,” says Kirk Lukvird­er. Amongst the ideas up on the cork board are: To-Go Menu, Per­mis­sion Slip, Pre­scrip­tion and Nutri­tion­al Facts, crossed out with a fat red X. “Turns out AMC was already work­ing on a Nutri­tion­al Facts show,” says Lukvird­er, “so we scrapped that one.” The writ­ers in the Devel­op­ment Pen are all hop­ing to land jobs as exec­u­tive pro­duc­ers or show run­ners if an idea hits. Almost all of the scripts are sim­i­lar: a mid­dle-aged per­son has an unsus­pect­ing secret that push­es them into moral­ly ambigu­ous sit­u­a­tions. The most cur­rent draft of Per­mis­sion Slip fol­lows a school bus dri­ver who moon­lights as some­one who “slips” into places he does­n’t have “per­mis­sion” to go into. “We’re real­ly try­ing,” says Lukvird­er with a sigh.

It isn’t just the well of high qual­i­ty dra­ma that’s dry­ing up. Every net­work is search­ing high and low for com­e­dy, real­i­ty, game show, and event enter­tain­ment. Except, odd­ly enough, for NBC. “I don’t see the prob­lem, actu­al­ly,” says NBC enter­tain­ment chief Robert Green­blatt, in his trade­mark car­go shorts and zip­per t‑shirt, before show­ing me a poster for NBC’s new Poke or Slurp real­i­ty show, in which con­tes­tants are prompt­ed to poke or slurp a vis­cous brown bubble. ♦