Monday, January 19, 2009

Creators vs. 'The Suits'

TV executives who don't know the first thing about show business? Dirk Benedict, who starred in the original Battlestar Galactica, explains at Big Hollywood:
Every character trait I struggled to give him was met with vigorous resistance. A charming womanizer? The "Suits" (Network Executives) hated it. A cigar (fumerello) smoker? The Suits hated it. A reluctant hero who found humor in the bleakest of situations? The Suits hated it. All this negative feedback convinced me I was on the right track.
Starbuck was meant to be a lovable rogue. It was best for the show, best for the character and the best that I could do. The Suits didn't think so. "One more cigar and he's fired," they told Glen Larson, the creator of the show. "We want Starbuck to appeal to the female audience for crying out loud." You see, the Suits knew women were turned off by men who smoked cigars, especially young men. How they "knew" this was never revealed. And they didn't stop there. "If Dirk doesn't quit playing every scene with a girl like he wants to get her in bed, he's fired." This was, well, it was blatant heterosexuality, treating women like "sex objects." I thought it was flirting.
You should read the rest, and bookmark Big Hollywood, which is becoming one of my favorite stops on the Internet.

As to the point of Benedict's column, it is amazing how people are able to gain positions of influence in show business without having the slightest instinct for show business. The music industry is notoriously run by executives with no appreciation for originality and creativity, but whose idea is always to find "new" acts that are imitative of whatever is currently popular, or who chase after trends that weren't really popular. Beatles manager Brian Epstein was told by one record-company executive in 1962 that "guitar groups are on the way out," and within two years, his guitar group had conquered the world.

Every year, the TV networks serve up idiotic new flops that were greenlighted by executives who, simultaneously, turn down scores of proposals that are certainly not less commercially viable than the flops that do get produced. And so you have the phenomenon of the "surprise hit" -- the unheralded show that suddenly catches on -- as well as the obverse phenomenon of the massively-promoted new show that executives imagine to be a surefire hit, but which is gone in 13 weeks. What this tells you is that there is some systemic flaw in the process by which TV executives are hired and promoted, so that basic aptitude at the essential task -- developing popular shows -- is a secondary consideration in the process.

And, really, the same thing is true in politics: How was it that Bob Shrum, with an 0-for-eternity record as a campaign strategist, kept getting hired to run Democratic Party campaigns? There was a systemic problem and, whatever you say about, DKos and the Netroots, it was a grassroots online uprising by the Democratic Party's liberal base that finally forced the Shrum-type consultant class out of power.


  1. He picked a lousy example to hang his hat on. The original BSG sucked, and I man collapsed-giant star black hole sucked. It was far to cheesy and dorky for even me at age 14 when I was much more tolerant of cheesiness and dorkisms in sci-fi. The first two seasons of the new BSG were pretty damn good TV, and while it started to fall off and become a bit preachy from the 3rd season on, it's at least watchable. In the first season you had episodes that gave credence to the ideas that leaders might have to do some unsavory things to protect the citizenry, that a state might actually have a compelling reason to prohibit abortion, and that it might actually be dangerous to allow your avowed enemies to live among you.

    His more general complaint might be somewhat dated as well. When the original BSG was on TV, the major networks were the largely the only ones running new series, and thus the suits had to water them down to appeal to the maximum number of viewers. But nowadays with so much fragmentation in the TV landscape thanks to cable networks, you have a lot of excellent series like The Sopranos, The Wire, Mad Men (which is great not just because of Christina Hendricks, although that certainly enhances its watch-ability), and yes, BSG. Creators have a lot more freedom now it would seem to me, as networks have to compete to find niches that will bring viewers instead of just going for the lowest common denominator.

  2. Dunno.

    Just as often, once the creative people take full control of the project, there's no appreciable increase in quality.

    Exhibit 1: Star Wars Prequels.

    Exhibit 2: I tend to think that the last 4 Harry Potter novels could have used judicious editing.

    Exhibit 3: Director of Basketball Operations Michael Jordan.

    Just kidding about that last one. I think.

  3. I'm a little torn on this as well. I don't remember the original BSG all that well, but I actually do enjoy the "re-imagining," despite the preachiness (and gaping plot holes).

    But his larger point is right. The nihilism that just drips from every pore of modern culture is over-bearing. People don't really enjoy watching programming that constantly reminds them of how much humanity sucks.

  4. for the time, BSG was good... despite the robot dog..

    looking back from today's perspective, hokey as hell..

    same can be said with 'Dukes of Hazzard', 'Knight Rider', and 'The A-Team'.

    I saw the mini series kick off of BSG 2.0 and the first few episodes.. In some ways, it was superior to the original.. but then, the lead, Apollo, seemed to be too much of a metrosexual and Starbuck (doe) has more hubris than him..

    nothing against strong female roles.. but when it comes to the detriment of a strong male role.. it rolls into PC land.

    ( I haven't seen the rest of the series, no sci fi at home.. I saw what I did on vacation.. to my wife's detriment. :)