Mad For 'Mad Men', and Cable's Cool Echo Chamber

Interesting piece in the NY Times yesterday about so-called “cable envy”–producers who prefer to take their shows to cable, where they have greater freedom, and a much better shot, it seems, at winning Emmys.

A compelling counterpoint of sorts came from the successful show creator Shawn Ryan.

Writes Bill Carter:

This year he developed a big ambitious show called “Last Resort,” in which a submarine with nuclear warheads goes rogue and takes over an island. He decided it fit best at ABC.

While Mr. Ryan agreed shorter schedules were an attraction, he disputed some of the other advantages of cable. At networks, “You get as much creative freedom as you earn,” he said.

For several years he led both “The Shield” on FX and “The Unit” on CBS at the same time. He won awards and prestige for “The Shield,” but he had 16 million viewers for “The Unit.” “The Shield” averaged fewer than three million.

He recalled that when he was producing the two dramas at the same time, “As soon as anyone in Los Angeles heard I worked on ‘The Shield’ and ‘The Unit,’ all they wanted to talk to me about was ‘The Shield.’ But anytime I went home to Rockford, Ill., all they wanted to talk about was ‘The Unit.’ That was always a nice lesson for me.”

Ryan reminded readers that the cool, hip shows don’t always make a big impact on the greater pop culture landscape:

You can get caught up in the cacophony of people who write about television and people who work in television, where ‘Mad Men’ is really a big deal. It’s not such a big deal outside of Los Angeles and New York.”

Michael Malone

Michael Malone is content director at B+C and Multichannel News. He joined B+C in 2005 and has covered network programming, including entertainment, news and sports on broadcast, cable and streaming; and local broadcast television, including writing the "Local News Close-Up" market profiles. He also hosted the podcasts "Busted Pilot" and "Series Business." His journalism has also appeared in The New York Times, The L.A. Times, The Boston Globe and New York magazine.