ABC Studios executive vice president Patrick Moran answers our burning questions on all things television.
You have moved from the creative department to a corporate position, as the boss of the studio. How involved are you in the creative aspect now?
Still very involved from the pitch on. I hear all the pitches, work on all the scripts, involve on casting of all the roles, hire the directors, oversee the pilots. So, I’m pretty involved on the creative side right from the beginning.
Ah, so you’re the one actors need to be nice to! When you first read a script, do you immediately have an idea who to cast for which role?
You respond to the material itself and once it is ordered, then you have the fun of who can play the roles. It is rare that we would think about which particular actor is right for the role earlier on in the process.
The landscape of television has changed drastically in the last five years. What’s the biggest difference you have noticed?
The major difference is that there’s so much content being produced now. It used to be only the broadcast networks, then the cable networks. Now, you have streaming outlets producing their own content.
So, it has put so much pressure on us to find great creative resources be it writers, directors, actors or crew.
Speaking of streaming services, companies like Netflix releases the entire season at one go. This is great for viewers like me, but what does it mean to a traditional network which releases one episode per week?
If you are producing something that no one has seen, you are working inside a vacuum; you don’t have any idea how the audience is going to respond.
We roll episodes out as they are being produced, and in that way, we can see how people are responding to the show and shift things around. Like if there’s a particular actor or storyline we can modulate (to make the show better). It works to our advantage.
We see more and more shows that are capped at 10 to 13 episodes per season these days. I much prefer this compared to the usual 22-episode model because more often than not, the show gets boring between episodes 12 to 18 as they play out as fillers before the big finale. Are you moving to shorter episode order?
It is definitely moving into that direction, but not for all shows. Like for a procedural, it’s much easier to create a close-ended case every week and still be able to sustain a 22-episode season.
Some shows just creatively land themselves to a shorter order. I like shows that are highly serialised (which tend to have limited episodes).
But I also like shows that you don’t have to watch every single episode to enjoy, you can go in and out and still follow the series. So, we have a good mix of series with limited episodes as well as the traditional model of 22.
As a viewer, I sometimes think network executives are heartless because they cancel TV shows after just two or three episodes. Why are some shows cancelled so early on?
Well, if it is a show I like, I think it is hasty. We at the studios don’t control how quickly a show gets on or off the schedule, that’s the networks’ decision. And I don’t always know what goes in to their thinking.
I do know the networks are under pressure to deliver some amount of ratings and if they fall too far beneath that, it puts them in a tough spot.
But I get as frustrated as anyone when a show that I like gets cancelled. So, I’m with you.
A few comedies from ABC Studios have not fared so well – Trophy Wife, Mixology and Manhattan Love Story come to mind. Why is comedy so hard to make?
It is a bit more elusive on how things work in comedy compared to drama. With drama, there are ways to elevate materials along the way but it is harder to do for comedies. I think there are fewer writers that can nail half hour script really well.
It also brings back to your point of how things get cancel so early; I think it can take a bit longer for comedy to find itself on air. Sometimes it is not just the pilot that matters; it requires some patience to see a few episodes before it all comes together and not all networks have that kind of patience to let comedy sit and find itself.
Shows like Scandal and Pretty Little Liars are big on social media, especially the interaction between fans and stars as well as writers. Moving forward, how important is social media as a publicity tool and do you put it in the actors’ contracts to tweet or Instagram?
It is not a deal specifically. Some shows have great water cooler element and people want to participate in the discussion quickly, so automatically it happens in social media.
When Kerry (Washington) was leading the charge in social media, we saw how it helped to elevate the ratings of Scandal. It is definitely something we are more mindful of as we think about our new crop of shows, and it factors heavily into the marketing plan.
You live and breathe TV. Are you able to watch TV as a form of relaxation like most of us?
It is hard. You tend to watch and start criticising like, “that actor didn’t work at all” or, “they should’ve done it that way.” You try to turn it off when you go home so you can watch shows and not be critical but it’s hard.
I am a big fan of House Of Cards, The Walking Dead and I am curious to watch Ryan Murphy’s Scream Queen this coming fall.