The Big Picture: Hollywood's creative talent wants to be on cable.
'A decade ago, a host of studios and specialty divisions were making and buying movies, but only a handful of cable and pay TV outlets commissioned original programming. But today there's a huge array of cable TV outlets making shows. In film, many specialty divisions have disappeared, and independents have merged, so the number of studio buyers has shrunk dramatically.'
'"Nearly every major filmmaker I know is either involved with TV now or wants to be," said Mark Johnson, a veteran film producer ("Rain Man" and "Chronicles of Narnia") who produces the acclaimed AMC series"Breaking Bad." "The economics are just so much better. You only need a couple of million viewers to justify your existence, so you don't have a huge financial guillotine hanging over your head like in film."'
'"On cable, a big hit draws 5 million viewers, but you can sustain a show with 2 million people watching its first airing," writer Matt Nix says. "That means that what counts is having viewers who are passionately committed to their show. And the way to do that is to program a show that is 100% what it aims to be and allow the show runners to embrace all their idiosyncrasies, just as they'd do if they were making an independent film."
In other words, the shows that have intensely loyal followings, from "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad" to "Girls" and "Game of Thrones,"are the ones that aren't trying to be all things to all people. "It's hard not to make a connection between 'Breaking Bad,' which is about a guy who's a meth dealer, and a film like "Reservoir Dogs,'" Nix says. "They are, by nature, very personal, niche experiences that can't exist in a universe where they have to appeal to every family in the living room or every kid at the multiplex."
To use Hollywood Speak, we might call today's cable hits one-quadrant TV shows, freed from the soul-killing ordeal of having to appeal to everyone parked in front of a plasma screen. And because the shows only need a relatively small audience to achieve hit status, they are free to challenge viewers with far more nuanced characters and complex story lines.'