Network chiefs say part of the struggle these days is to keep taking big risks when their network is just one part of a larger corporate culture.
"It used to be that Fred Silverman [former NBC and ABC programming guru] could come back from a three-martini lunch and greenlight a spectacular failure like Supertrain," said independent producer Lionel Chetwynd during a Beverly Hills luncheon of the Caucus for Television Producers, Writers & Directors Thursday. "These days, the head of a network is someone who is senior management and is always looking for who's above him. Corporate culture is risk-averse."
Jordan Levin, CEO of The WB, agreed, saying: "Everyone tries to replicate everyone else's success. You start to circle around the toilet bowl instead of climbing out of it."
On the bright side, at least for the cable net's, broadcast's comedy loss may be cable's gain.
"We're looking at the decline of sitcoms as an opportunity," said Carollyn Strauss, executive vice president of original programming at HBO. "There's a whole world of sitcom writers looking for work."
FX Chief Peter Liguori also said his network would turn its eye to comedies in light of the networks backing off from the genre, but he added. "Someone is going to break out a truly significant comedy and the floodgates will open," Liguori said.