Diane Haithman is contributing to Deadline’s TCA coverage.
At today’s TCA panel on Showtime’s Shameless, executive producer John Wells said it would be impossible to sell either of his former series The West Wing or ER to network TV today. The veteran producer had plenty to say in comparing the worlds of cable and network TV both before and after the session for Shameless, which premiered its second season Sunday to 2.06 million viewers — a 61% bump over its Season 1 bow. Asked whether producing Shameless and TNT’s Southland means he is now more committed to cable than network, he said: “The subject matter that much of network television has been over the last few years has not been as interesting to me as a writer [as] frankly what were able to do on network 10 or 12 years ago.” Although he called the network landscape of about five years ago “risk averse,” he noted that things are beginning to change in recent months; his production company has sold several pilots to the networks. On the panel, Wells said that standards are loosening at the networks because of both a more permissive society, and to compete with cable. Afterward, he spoke specifically about the home of many of his own network series, NBC. “NBC needs to be the network that is the most groundbreaking, because it is their former audience that is now watching all of the cable shows,” he said.
As for the new season of Shameless, Wells said audiences should expect to see a change in the way the Gallaghers’ gay teenage son, played by Cameron Monaghan, is depicted because the actor has turned 18. When Monaghan was a real-life minor, federal law prohibited producers from showing his character in certain frank sexual situations. “In the final episodes, we see him engaged romantically with a man and I loved it,” Wells said. “(Monaghan) is not gay, but he has completely embraced the idea of this character.” Wells added that the bulk of the mail he gets is “from gay teenagers who just say a simple thank you. That’s something that I feel really good about.”
Wells also explained why the show’s action is changing seasons, from winter to summer: “To show the different way the neighborhood works in the summer.” In the poor neighborhood where the show is set, he said, there is no A/C and no swimming pools. The season change forces characters out into the streets to stay cool, which changes the dynamic. Plus, he joked: “The cast appreciated not being on the stage in heavy winter coats when it’s 92 degrees onstage.”