Scripted television got bigger during the Obama years. What will happen to it in the Trump era?
Television executives, producers and writers have been grappling with that question. Some argue that the bitter campaign and the heated political rhetoric after Trump’s election could mean a TV landscape with a lot more escapist fare. Some think the election of Trump, a former reality star, could inspire larger-than-life characters. “We have to acknowledge that the sea change has happened,” David Nevins, Showtime’s chief executive, said in a recent interview. “Trump likes to call it ‘the movement.’ I’m aware of the movement. The shocks and aftershocks of it will inevitably have an effect.”
Play It Safe or Push the Boundaries?
At a time of falling ratings and maximum distraction, networks are trying to draw audiences however they can find them, and executives are in no mood to alienate viewers sympathetic to President Trump.
Will that create a chilling effect?
Brian Grazer, the prolific TV and movie producer who works on shows like Empire and the coming Fox series Shots Fired,” said, “I think it’s possible that for companies that finance movies and TV, their willingness to take big creative risks will not expand — it’ll contract.” “It might have been harder to make ‘Empire,’” he continued, referring to the dawn of the Trump era. “To get someone to say: ‘OK, we are going to do a mainstream television show that is a nighttime soap opera that’s going to cost real money. It’s 90 per cent African-Americans.’ Those might be difficult.”
Adi Hasak, the creator and an executive producer of Shades of Blue and Eyewitness, said: “I feel there will be a push and pull between broadcasters and creators. The former will look to produce blue-sky shows that celebrate America and trumpet values while many of the latter will want to push shows with strong female protagonists, L.G.B.T.Q. characters and anything else” that will anger the Trump administration.”
Get me rewrite
As the producers Robert and Michelle King approached the coming The Good Fight — a spinoff of The Good Wife starring Christine Baranski that will appear on the CBS stand-alone app — they anticipated Hillary Clinton would be the next president. If The Good Wife was, in part, a satirical take on liberals during the Obama years, The Good Fight would have filled a similar role during Clinton’s years in office.
Not anymore. King estimated Trump’s election changed about 75 per cent of the plans for the show. “It affects the world on every level,” he said. Jennie Urman, the creator of the acclaimed CW show Jane the Virgin, about three generations of Latinas in Miami, said the issue of immigration and the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be prominently featured in future episodes. Marti Noxon, the producer of Unreal, and HBO’s forthcoming Sharp Objects, has encouraged her writers to draw on real-life events.
Wanted: Big personalities
Dana Walden, chief executive and chairman of the Fox Television Group, said there was one clear lesson: The country loves a big character.
Walden referred to examples from past Fox shows like Jack Bauer in 24, Simon Cowell on American Idol, when discussing how a compelling personality can spell ratings gold.
“In a cluttered market where people are distracted, we’ve seen the value in a big personality who demands your attention,” she said.
It’s Going to Take Time
John Landgraf, FX’s chief executive, cautioned that few changes would be immediate.
“Their job is to sift and digest and think and feel and progress the idea of where narrative comedy and narrative drama go,” he said.
Howard Gordon, the co-creator of Homeland and a producer of 24 and Fox’s coming 24: Legacy, said it took years to dream up Carrie Mathison, the main character in Homeland. “Carrie Mathison was a character who was really working through the trauma of 9/11 . “That story couldn’t have been told in 2004. It had to be told after Iraq.” But what of Jack Bauer, the main character in “24,” whose freewheeling ways in catching terrorists was on the air shortly after September 11? “Jack Bauer was a reflexive response to an acute trauma. I don’t think we can say Donald Trump’s election is an acute trauma yet,” he said.
But Landgraf and Gordon both said that if Trump’s presidency leads to any dramatic upheaval, TV writers will be ready.