Screenwriting

Out With the Old, In With the New

It’s official. Television has entered a new Golden Age. A revolution, so to speak. And with it comes the promise of innovative change and unimaginable opportunity.

Photo by espensorvik

For writers and creators, the good news is that this new, exciting digital age is all about content. It’s about writing and producing shows that are as addictive as M&Ms. And with so many great shows being made, now, more than ever, it seems everyone wants a piece of the action. Take Amazon. The world’s largest online retailer is now in the business of creating, producing, and streaming TV series; and they’re making headlines as a force to be reckoned with. And what about Netflix? Not long ago this was a company that mailed us DVDs. Now, some of their series like House of Cards and Orange is the New Black are the toast of the town. Not to mention, Netflix has resurrected audience favorites such as Arrested Development . To make things all the sweeter, some Netflix series are fierce contenders for internationally recognized awards. With this kind of success and hype, it’s almost certain that more so-called “unexpected” players will jump into the TV game in hopes of taking home a golden girl named Emmy. Believe me when I tell you this is a very good thing. More companies in the game of producing scripted television means more jobs for writers.

The catalyst for most, if not all, of this change is technology. Long ago, in what seems like a galaxy far, far, away, people watched TV on, well… television sets. Today, in addition to TV sets, we regularly catch our favorite programs on smart phones, iPods, computers, and tablets. Technology has not only changed how we watch TV, but when we watch it. It used to be that if you had a favorite show, you were at the mercy of the network or cable station. You plopped yourself in front of your TV set once a week on a certain day and time. If you missed it…tough tooties…you had to wait for the reruns, which might not come until the following summer. Now, with technology, we DVR shows. We have Video on Demand. We use Netflix and Hulu to binge view, consuming an entire series in a weekend. We watch our programs on our terms. We watch what we want, when we want.

Photo by Dan Taylor

What all this has done is turned the television industry upside down. It’s forced executives to rethink old models. And many of the old rules no longer apply. Traditionally, broadcast and cable networks have been fierce competitors, battling for their share of the audience and the next big hit. With this in mind, companies like Netflix and Amazon that produce original content could be seen as the enemy. And in a sense, they are. At the same time, networks clearly recognize the value streaming services offer in terms of creating hype for a show and attracting viewers they might not otherwise get. Vince Gilligan who created the mega hit Breaking Bad would likely be the first to tell you binge viewing was a godsend in making his show all the rage. Then there’s ABC’s hit, Scandal . The first season, the show had decent reviews but mediocre ratings. Not so long ago, if the ratings weren’t great, the network simply would have canceled the show. But ABC did something brilliant. They licensed the series to Netflix in August, a short time before the second season was about to start. And voila…low and behold the audience found the show and the second season’s ratings were higher. So when it comes to Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu, broadcast and cable networks are never quite sure whether to frown or smile, though the overall feeling tends to be that these streaming services are ultimately a good thing.

What may be a love–hate relationship today could become a committed marriage tomorrow. It seems like a no-brainer for studios, broadcast and cable networks to jump into the sandbox with streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu to create original content. The question is, will these once fierce competitors actually smoke the peace pipe and partner up?

Excerpt from Write to TV: Out of Your Head and onto the Screen, 2nd Edition by Martie Cook © 2014 Taylor and Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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