I still like Shonda Rhimes. I know that’s an unpopular thing to say these days, but I do. I think she’s hit on a formula that works, she’s made a lot of people really happy with what she does, and even though I don’t watch Grey’s Anatomy any more – that played its course for me – I hear it’s still pushing boundaries in its eighth season and that Private Practice does the same. So I will probably definitely watch the new show, Scandal, when it begins, just to see what it’s all about. I bet it will be great. Rhimes is also hilarious on Twitter – explaining how and why she loves all her characters and yet – and yet! – amusingly pointing out to her tweeps that, um, no, Meredith is not in fact a real person, when they enquire as to her medical skills ‘in real life’.
The thing is Shonda has found her voice. I always invoke that she wrote Crossroads, the Britney Spears movie. I don’t imagine that was her dream. It was what she had to do.
Showrunners are a rare breed. 10 years ago, almost nobody knew what the term meant. Now, everyone has an opinion on these puppetmasters of your favourite characters, and what they mean and why they are so heralded.
So, in the wake of the Sons of Anarchy finale, we get this quote from Kurt Sutter. Under the headline “Kurt Sutter Hopes To Keep Sons Of Anarchy Going For At Least 7 Seasons” on Deadline.com he says:
“…There’s also an element of the show that’s incredibly pulpy and entertaining, and that’s as important as the rich, deep character stuff. I have no desire to run a show that only a couple of hundred people watch. If I wanted that kind of audience, I’d go do theater. … I’m not writing the show in a vacuum. And I’m an egomaniac. I want to be loved, honored, worshiped and adored by everyone. So I want a big audience.”
This is amazingly honest and kind of refreshing. I could call out the sexism involved here - that if Rhimes had the same comments, we’d talk about how egotistical she is - but instead I want to investigate the idea of going after viewers.
Even though TV is based on eyeballs, just like movies, there’s an idea that it’s noble to be the little show nobody watches. I think the creators of Arrested Development or Friday Night Lights will tell you that noble doesn’t feel very good for quite as long. It feels great to get viewers, but then again, the top rated shows on TV are not, say, critically acclaimed - among scripted shows it goes back and forth on whether Two and a Half Men or the Big Bang Theory is the highest rated on TV.
So is Sutter doing the right thing? Making the show ‘pulpy’ to get more ratings? Keeping the body-count high so that you can’t look away? Is it okay to want ratings if you’re on a cable network? Do you mind being courted in this way? Or do you prefer to be one of the few who ‘find’ their shows and are proud to be the first trendsetters to tell everyone else about them?
I’m biased for a number of reasons in this conversation, but I’m interested in what you think. If someone is ‘trying’ to get the eyeballs, is that better or worse than letting them be found by word of mouth? Is there shame in being open about finding your audience by all means necessary?
Lemme know. Especially with Matthew Weiner on his way back onto our lips, I want to know!