Hey 'Heroes,' talk to us when you've lasted more than a decade
Publié par Lynn Elber dans The Associated Press le 29/01/07.
|LOS ANGELES -- "Ugly Betty," "Heroes" and other shiny new TV series are showered with magazine covers, network promotional campaigns and enviable buzz.|
But there are shows with something these babes-in-arms can only dream of: a track record stretching over years and hundreds of episodes, and the enduring loyalty of viewers.
How do shows like "ER," now in its 13th season, and "Law & Order," which first aired in 1990, keep going?
"The most important thing -- and it doesn't matter if it's season 17 or the first season -- it's the writing, stupid," said "Law & Order" impresario Dick Wolf.
Wolf is the creator and executive producer of the original series and its younger, also impressively durable siblings, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" (eight seasons) and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent" (six seasons).
Given that the majority of shows quickly crash and burn, survival demands more than reliable storytelling. Legal and medical shows have a better shot at longevity as a parade of criminals and patients help keep staleness at bay.
A lasting formula
That also helps ratings stay at respectable if not blockbuster levels. "Law & Order" is averaging about 10.5 million viewers this season, compared with a top-rated show like "Grey's Anatomy" and its nearly 21.5 million weekly viewers.
Character- and issue-driven vehicles have a shorter shelf life than formula shows, said David E. Kelley, whose mastery of the perishable genres was on display in "Picket Fences" and the lovelorn-lawyers series "Ally McBeal."
The latter's focus was "gender politics and the romantic lives of our characters that we would explore through legal cases," Kelley said. "But every show revolved around that romantic nucleus, and I didn't see 100 [episodes] of those at all at the beginning."
He believes "Ally McBeal" should have ended in its fourth year with a wedding between Ally (Calista Flockhart) and a beau played by Robert Downey Jr., but it didn't pan out; efforts to revitalize the show in year five went awry with a flood of new characters.
"It just wasn't the same show," Kelley said. "When you have a character-based series, the audience really wants to be with those characters. It's not that you can't introduce new ones. In fact, it's a good thing. But you have to introduce them almost as a garnish to the meal and not change the meal."
More food for thought
There is a delicate balance of familiarity and freshness that has to be maintained to keep the support of viewers and thus the network, the producers say -- and Wolf offers his own food metaphor.
"Any successful show is a souffle, and if you change the recipe it may not rise the same in the oven. Having said that, there are certain things that can get tweaked that keep the essential architecture there but make it seem fresh."
NBC's "Law & Order" and "ER" both have undergone regular, substantial cast changes. "ER" lost George Clooney, along with the rest of its original stars, and lived to tell the tale. "Law & Order" is famous for the revolving door that brings in new prosecutors and police.
"Losing cast members is a painful thing for the audience and for the show and it worries you," said David Zabel, executive producer for "ER." But it can also be a boon for a drama that relies as much on character arcs as medicine, he said.
"As good as the actors were that we've lost, we've been able to add really strong actors and develop new kinds of characters and story lines," Zabel said. "That helps avoid stagnancy and keeps the audience energized and feeling like they're getting something new and not the same repetitive thing over and over."
John Stamos ("Jake in Progress," "Full House") is the latest addition to "ER," joining as a series regular this season.
"In John's case, what we saw was an actor who brought a real sense of play to the workplace of the show and had a lightness that is good for the show's balance," Zabel said. "But he's also a really talented actor and people weren't completely aware of that."
Keep it fresh
The key to shaking up a cast is a really fresh face.
"You have to make sure that when you switch a regular you come up with a different character -- this is not a situation where 'Tonight Hamlet will be played by ... ,' " Wolf said.
S. Epatha Merkerson and her police lieutenant on "Law & Order" are "vastly different" than her predecessor, Dann Florek and the part he played, Wolf said. (Florek now runs the precinct on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.")
Sometimes a cast change is so right it warrants a whole different direction -- another series. Entering its eighth year, Kelley's "The Practice" had run out of steam and into budget cuts. Kelley decided on a cast shakeup for what was expected to be its final season.
Exit Dylan McDermott and a number of other stars and enter James Spader as slick, unconventional attorney Alan Shore, a sharp contrast to the original hardscrabble crew on "The Practice."
"The liberating thing for me was, OK, we can bring in a character that does not have to be redeeming in perpetuity," Kelley said. "It can be someone who just burns out after a year. ... He could either die or get disbarred and I can just let him walk the plank."
The creative license had the effect of boosting the show's ratings enough to earn ABC's nod for renewal. But Kelley decided "The Practice" had turned in Shore's direction, and so had the future: "Boston Legal," starring Spader and William Shatner, debuted in 2004.
But a series that's started to founder can be saved. It happened with "ER," said executive producer Zabel, who's worked on the show for six years.
"I think there was a period when we lost the balance of comedy, drama, the quirkiness, the sort of social realism of the show, the romance," Zabel said. "What we've done is rediscover the chemistry that was there in the early years of the show."
Audiences seem to be responding. In season No. 13, its average of 13.7 million viewers weekly is nothing to sneeze at.
Article issu de The Associated Press et
initialement publié le 29/01/07.