- Earl Gibson III/Getty
Shonda Rhimes’ move to Netflix is bad for all of network TV, not just ABC. It’s another signal that broadcast TV is seen by big creators as limiting and less lucrative. TV networks need to discover new talent, or risk losing more viewers – and ultimately advertisers.
Shonda Rhimes isn’t just good at making good TV.
The creator of hits like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Scandal” is really good at making true broadcast TV.
And if more people like Rhimes decide they don’t like that medium as much as Netflix’s more lucrative and less rigid one, that spells trouble for major TV networks and their advertisers.
Because if the best creators no longer want to work with CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox, what are these networks left with, but the leftovers?
Rhimes, who just inked a big Netflix deal, has been particularly prolific at a unique, some would say fading, form of TV. Call it the buzzy-but-still-mainstream-enough network drama. Besides “Scandal” and “Grey’s,” she’s responsible for “How to Get Away With Murder” and the former ABC hit “Private Practice.” The Wall Street Journal reported that she brought in $2 billion for the network.
Besides tons of revenue, Rhimes filled ABC’s schedule with hour-long shows that played out over 22 episodes a year. In an age where TV ‘auteures’ turn to streaming services to make six episode ‘seasons,’ making as much TV as Shondaland churns out is a very particular, increasingly rare set of skills.
Some of the top creators in TV have been more vocal about what a grind that kind of schedule is creatively. That’s part of the reason why Tina Fey was happy that “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” went from NBC to Netflix. A few months ago, “Gilmore Girls” creator Amy Sherman-Palladino told the Journal that she was probably done with network TV, given its storytelling limitations.
Rhimes hinted at this dynamic in the announcement of her Netflix deal, according to the New York Times.
“[Netflix chief content officer] Ted [Sarandos] provides a clear, fearless space for creators at Netflix. He understood what I was looking for – the opportunity to build a vibrant new storytelling home for writers with the unique creative freedom and instantaneous global reach.”
Of course, beyond the creative freedom, there’s the $6 billion or so Netflix plans to spend on shows this year that has a way of attracting talent.
So if the trend continues we will just refer to the entertainment industry as the Netflix industry?
— Jim Gaffigan (@JimGaffigan) August 14, 2017
There’s a lot of truth in this comment. Netflix is like the Yankees going after whichever free agent it wants. And unfortunately for their longevity, the broadcast networks risk becoming small market teams (or even worse, Netflix’s minor league system).
It’s why folks like Chuck Lorre (creator of “The Big Bang Theory” and “Two and a Half Men”) and 70-year old Dick Wolf (“Law and Order” and umpteen Chicago-set dramas on NBC) can pretty much write their own ticket. It’s also part of the motivation for Disney planning direct-to-consumer subscription offerings.
More importantly, it’s vital for broadcast networks to find new creative talent that not only knows how to create a show that resonates, but one that plays well in the TV networks’ 22-episodes a year business model – and ideally is so good that people have to tune in live. It might be time to keep more of an open mind regarding truly original series like Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” for example, which was rejected by lots of networks.
Otherwise, the more Shondaland fans that get their crazy twist fix from streaming ad-free shows, the fewer people will flip on ABC on Thursday nights. And eventually there’ll be fewer advertisers willing to stick with network TV.