Marc Cherry, TV producers tout advantages of cable at D.C. conference

June 12, 2013

From Jennifer Lopez to a cameo by the “Duck Dynasty” cast, the 2013 Cable Show tried to bring the star-power while in D.C. this year. To help, the three-day annual convention hosted its first-ever TV show-runners panel Wednesday, bringing in creative types to counteract the programming and distributor execs that generally make up the conference panels.

A trio of TV producers told war stories and touted cable’s advantages over broadcast television: Marc Cherry (ABC’s “Desperate Housewives,” Lifetime’s upcoming “Devious Maids”); Mark Johnson (AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” Sundance’s “Rectify”) and Joe Weisberg (FX’s “The Americans” and “Damages”).

Among the highlights of why cable wins:

Quality of life. “I was much thinner and had much more hair when we started ['Housewives'],” joked Cherry, who discussed the grueling task of making 22 episodes of television for a broadcast season; staffers could only take two weeks off in May before diving into work again. Weisberg noted that was the reason he ventured into TV with the spy drama “The Americans” – cable has only about 13 episodes per season, a much more manageable way to live.

Shorter seasons = better stories. With cable, Cherry had every episode of “Devious Maids” plotted before the season started – a front-loading that would have been impossible with a broadcast schedule, he said. And finally, we have a reason for the nonsensical “Desperate Housewives” story-lines: “Around Episode 14, when things start to not make sense…I’m running out of story,” Cherry admitted.

Content can be more…mature. “Breaking Bad” has had no thematic restrictions from the network, Johnson said, and the show has gotten away with some quite mature content, including language, nudity and, to a certain degree, violence. Which of course, led Cherry to crack: “The only violence on ‘Desperate Housewives’ was really behind the scenes.”

There, however, are some drawbacks in cable-land, the producers said. Including:

Limited resources. Weisberg said he can’t watch TV now without thinking, “Who was paying for that?!” in almost every scene. Less funds for cable can have an impact: Cherry added that if he makes the decision to have a costly tornado scene in one episode, then in a later episode, every scene might take place in the same room.

Fight for ratings. Although “Walking Dead” has shown there can be broadcast ratings on cable shows, there’s still a lot of competition for shows on a ton of networks. Fortunately, as Johnson pointed out, “The beauty of cable is you don’t need a huge number to be a success.”

Emily Yahr is an entertainment reporter and pop culture blogger for the Style section. She joined the Post in May 2008, a week before she graduated from the University of Maryland, and worked on Lisa de Moraes' TV Column and blog.
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