TV drama showrunners at ATX TV Fest agree: make a good show first

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(Left to right)
(Left to right)

(Left to right) Noah Hawley (“Fargo”), Beau Willimon (“House of Cards”), Mickey Fisher (“Extant”), Graeme Manson (“Orphan Black”) and panel moderator Tim Goodman of The Hollywood Reporter.

If it feels like your favorite on-hiatus TV drama is taking forever to return for a new season, it’s not because the creator/showrunners are wasting time, that’s for sure.

That was the key takeaway from a Saturday afternoon panel, “UnSeasonably: A Look at Breaking the Traditional TV Season,” at the ATX Television Festival featuring showrunners from FX’s “Fargo” (Noah Hawley), “House of Cards” (Beau Willimon), CBS’s “Extant” (Mickey Fisher) and BBC America’s “Orphan Black” (Graeme Manson).

The panel, moderated by Hollywood Reporter’s Tim Goodman, got off to an unfortunate start when he noted the panel was “Very diverse” (in terms of network outlets), a strange thing to say on a stage where five white men were holding court.

Nevertheless, the panel got back on track on issues such as how writer/creators maintain quality on their respective shows, how they keep audiences interested in the long breaks between seasons (for “Fargo,” for instance, fans will have waited about 18 months before the second season premiere) and whether extra web-only content is worth the hassle.

All seemed concerned about the glut of quality shows and the limited time their audiences have to enjoy all the great shows available (“We’re gonna need a bigger DVR, right?” Hawley said), but insisted that the best use of their time is not social media or extra content but focusing on making their shows stand out in the crowd.

“(Fans) will crawl over broken glass to watch something they love on this age,” Hawley said.

Willimon of “House of Cards” said that TV fans are hoping for instant gratification with their favorite TV shows, but that no matter how you do it, it still takes about a year to put together a quality season of television, though the formats are breaking down to allow for non-traditional TV seasons with varying episode lengths.

They all agreed that good shows can still follow the lead of “Breaking Bad” by being discovered by fans into their second or third season with online streaming and word of mouth.

But the challenge of making a great show consistently is so great that the thought of making extra content is worrisome, especially for dramas (which aren’t as viral online as short-form TV comedy). Manson said that a new “Orphan Black” comic has been a tough challenge because it requires extra attention and is always in danger of stepping on the show’s toes.

It’s a similar challenge when it comes to marketing — Willimon handles a lot of “House of Cards” marketing tasks himself (such as writing the Netflix episode descriptions), but ultimately, the most attention must be paid on the show itself.

“You don’t want to put anything out that’s not as good as the show itself,” he said. “And you want to focus on the main course.”


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