ANALYSIS FROM COMIC-CON: Last evening, I attended a Comic-Con preview screening for the USA series Psych and saw that rabid fans camped out 12 hours in a line around the block just to glimpse an episode that will soon screen on their TV sets. Today, I see an Emmy nomination count for cable TV series that dwarfs network television, certainly in all of the sexiest categories. And back here at Comic-Con, movie studios start today trying to hook the geek crowd on big-ticket films with a parade of stars and hype, but there will be lines just as long for panels for cable shows like The Walking Dead, Sons Of Anarchy (which I’ll moderate), Breaking Bad, Vikings and others. Cable is surely doing something right, in the middle of a creative period that will be remembered years from now as something approaching the way feature aficionados remember the 1970s.
This isn’t new to the likes of HBO, built on the network reject The Sopranos and other series. But how did it become so widespread that even Netflix is getting into the act? I’d argue cable is reaping the benefits of a creative drought at the play-it-safe major networks, but mostly from an increasingly polarized feature film business that has marginalized the value of sophisticated and edgy mid-budget projects. That has sent a whole middle class of writers and actors flocking to cable as an alternative to high concept global-minded tent poles or no-budget genre fare. I recall being skeptical when Tony Gilroy told me a year ago that mid-budget dramas like his gem Michael Clayton will become extinct. He wouldn’t mourn it, he said, because the writers, directors and actors who make them will tell their stories on cable and get the sense of authorship he did on his Oscar-nominated George Clooney film. Boy, was Gilroy on to something. Consumers clearly don’t want sameness. They crave different and edgy, and cable seems to answer that call regularly enough, most recently with Showtime’s recent ratings sensation Ray Donovan, anchored by its movie cast of Liev Schreiber and Jon Voight. Noah Emmerich, who after a long feature career now stars in the superb FX series The Americans, told me recently that he is still shocked that after customarily spending half a year immersing himself in characters for features that often disappear, he never got as much recognition for anything as for a two episode stint on The Walking Dead, where he had hours to prepare. The response from The Americans has been even more profound and he has grown comfortable to the quicker pace.