Sons of Anarchy creator likes Chuck, Glee and Jay Leno; explains why most scripted network dramas suck
Anyone who is a fan of Sons of Anarchy will not be at all surprised to find that creator and executive produce Kurt Sutter can write a little bit. He’s a great blogger, too. Even if you’re not a fan of SOA, if you’re a fan of TV you will find some of his posts very interesting.
Last week when the media focused on Sons of Anarchy beating The Jay Leno Show with adults 18-49, I was a little irked. I understand why that was the story, but it bothered me because rather than it being a story about the success of SOA, it was a story about the failure of Jay Leno and NBC.
The coverage got Sutter a bit fired up and led to a couple of blog posts. The first one was on the topic of why most scripted network shows suck (if you’re easily offended by colorful language, leave now!):
It’s not an issue of scripted show vs. non-scripted shows. It’s a question of process. The reason most network scripted dramas suck is because of the process. For the most part, you have a collection of young, half-bright development executives who wouldn’t know a good story idea if it set itself on fire and fucked their mothers while singing “Cheyenne Anthem” from Leftoverture. So they do what most chimpanzees do — they ape and throw shit. Developing shows based on what they think people want to see. Churning out clones of semi-successful shows. Looking for a “hook” to market. It’s never about the story or characters. That would demand talent, patience and an open mind. Commodities that have long up and deserted ABC, NBC, CBS, FOX and the CW.
(There are some exceptions. Chuck and Glee are all I can think of right now. In fact, that might be it… oh, and Lost, I love Lost)
Gone are the days of the TV visionary. Bochco, Kelley, Fontana, Sorkin, Milch, Wells, Wolf. These guys had fucking balls. They stood up to network fears and contradicting marketing strategies and pushed their vision forward. The result was great TV. It was great because the networks were smarter, they let the creatives DO THEIR FUCKING JOB. All those savvy executives have been replaced with accounting personnel. And when a network is inspired enough to hire a creative leader — Reilly, Ligori — they never give them a chance to flourish. It’s a fucked up system that has created hours upon hours of dreck.
I’m sure that will strike a chord with almost everyone who reads this blog (except perhaps for the suits and the one guy who chronically complains about Glee). A few days later, Sutter wrote a more thoughtful post about his feelings on Jay Leno in a post titled “It Ain’t Jay’s Fault“:
But my beef — and I think this is true for a good chunk of the creative community — was never with Jay. Leno’s an artist looking for a good gig like the rest of us. The truth is, NBC should have NEVER bumped him out of the 11:30 spot. No one bumped out Carson. Why Jay? His ratings were solid, he had a loyal following and he was constantly doing what he could to keep his show fresh — dude is one of the hardest working cats in town. And it’s obvious Conan’s “younger” humor works way better in the later hour. The bigger concern is the potential dangerous trend that NBC is setting by putting Jay in the 10 pm spot. As Peter Tolan said, “…NBC is raising the white flag”, essentially giving up on scripted dramas. And why is that? For all the reason I’ve mentioned in the previous blog — to succeed in dramas you need employees who are intelligent, patient and creatively nurturing. Instead of fixing their system, NBC is creating a new one. An easier one. A cheaper one. One that doesn’t demand talent. One that can be run by suit-monkeys and accountants. That’s the core fear we are all experiencing. We realize that public consumption is changing. We are the ones who created Jon and Kate, TMZ and the gangsta paparazzi. We are the ones veraciously consuming rag-mags and reality TV. Losing five hours of episodic television is the result of that trend. And we all know it ain’t going away. It’s growing.
At the end of the day, NBC’s new system may work and the once last-place buffoons could become the simpleton champions of prime-time. And then we’ll all be pitching gameshow ideas to Lord Zucker and the suit-monkeys of the dark empire. But until then, let’s back off Jay and beat the right piñata. I won’t say who that is, but I guarantee you, when he splits open, they’ll be gold bullion and Universal stock options pouring out of his ass.
Particularly the bit about “we are the ones who created…” rings true for me, and he’s right, it is a trend that isn’t going away. It’s all part of the exact same trend that caused the media coverage to focus on the failure of The Jay Leno Show rather than the success of Sons of Anarchy. That’s because in the attention economy “Jay Leno: Loser!” will attract far more eyeballs than “Awww shucks, look how well Sons of Anarchy is doing!”
Though I included some choice excerpts, I couldn’t capture all the goodness without copying the entire posts. For those too lazy to scroll back up for the links: Why Most Network Scripted Dramas Suck and It Ain’t Jay’s Fault.