TOM FONTANA, PART TWOComplications Ensue
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Thursday, June 01, 2006

Part two in my interview with Tom Fontana, creator or co-creator of OZ, THE JURY, TATTINGER'S, THE BEAT, and THE BEDFORD DIARIES...

CRAFTY TV: When you come up with a series idea, do you target one network or demographic? E.g. do you decide "this one's for HBO, this one's for CBS"? Or do you go out with multiple versions at the same time? Was there ever a broadcast version of "OZ" for example? Was there ever an HBO version of THE BEDFORD DIARIES?

TF: That's also changed over the years. Once upon a time when there were three or four networks, you'd pitch one idea to all of them. That still happens, to a limited extent, but the networks have become so branded that it becomes very hard to find an idea that will play both on ABC and CBS. They're airing shows so completely different from each other. DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES has nothing in common with CSI.

Oddly enough there was - not OZ - but a version of a penal system series that I pitched to the broadcast networks and was laughed out of the room. I was lucky enough to hit HBO at a point when they were looking for their first drama. Whereas BEDFORD DIARIES was created solely to fill a gap at WB.

CRAFTY TV: So do you go to cable if you want to be able to cross certain lines, and to broadcast if you want to be seen by a lot of people?

TF: I never really think about a lot of people seeing my shows. If you look at the ratings of the shows I've done, you can tell that's not a motivating factor. To me it's more about, okay here's an idea for a series and how far do I need to take this to tell the story truthfully - to be as honest as I can be. If it exceeds a certain line ... then I need to go to cable. If I think it could play on broadcast television, I'll pitch it to broadcast. It's easy to differentiate what works on cable and what works on broadcast.

CRAFTY TV: So with cable it's language and sexuality, and with broadcast it's ... ?

TF: The language and sexuality aside, stories on cable can be murkier. Characters can be truer because they can be more flawed. The story may have a point but it doesn't have to have a moral. On broadcast television, stories need to have a moral. And the moral has to be upbeat usually.

CRAFTY TV: In other words, on broadcast if someone gets away with something you have to go, "Oh, how terrible," while on cable if someone gets away with something-

TF: It's because life is like that.



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