Question: As reality TV is maturing, where is it headed?
Answer: The initial reality shows were fascinating because, who knew that watching people was that exciting? Because we weren't quite sure, we took ordinary people into slightly extraordinary positions. What I think we are doing now, the Brits got off to very quickly. They started coming out first with shows that have never worked over here on primetime, the docu-soaps. We got to put a little game element into it, and we got a primetime show. That's what "Wifeswap" is and what the nanny shows are. I think there will be more of those. Those shows say that ordinary people can be interesting enough in their own environment if you just put a catalyst in there. That is the new wave of shows.
Q: Why did Granada America focus on reality programming?
A: After eight years of trying, there was a dawning awareness that the scripted business in this market is a very, very long-term deep-pocket business. Almost simultaneously, completely unexpectedly, came this reality boom. So the development issue almost went away. Granada said let's cut the corners on development.
Q: What is the difference between American and British audiences?
A: The only generic term I can give you is sensibility. I think the American audience's level of interest with minor celebrities is much less than the U.K.'s. They don't enjoy the same sense of irony about those celebrities that the U.K. does. The U.K. audience is actually interested in minor celebrities and loves you to make them look stupid.
Q: How does the American television market vary from the British television market?
A: Start with the obvious, it is by a quantum bigger. It's essentially a buyers' market in the U.K. because if you do a certain kind of show it is only going to work on either BBC or ITV. Here, there are 200 buyers. I wouldn't say it is a sellers' market, because it isn't the power lies with the networks but it a much more proactive buyer than it is in the U.K. The stakes are higher here. You get one here, and you don't need the champagne, you are already high.
Q: What are the differences between the cable and network markets?
A: Obviously, the differences are budgetary. (With) shows like "The Shield" and "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy," and so on, the cable networks now completely understand the brand-building importance of a breakout show, and they are paying. We are actually making shows for cable networks at not network dollars, but very good dollars. There are also very different editorial concepts between a show that is going to go out in fixed time in primetime and a show that you know has got to repeat multi-times throughout the week on cable. You've got to rely on a number of people coming to it over a period of time as opposed to a big impact show that people are going to talk about the next day at the water cooler.
Q: What is your favorite television show?
A: It is so difficult to say. Television is not a major art form. It's a minor art form. But occasionally it touches the sublime. I have particular affection for "The Office." I was running BBC Entertainment when the show got commissioned from us. "Desperate Housewives" I love because it is so confidently bold in what it does. I love the fact that at American network television, at a time when it is under the most extreme pressure, somebody somewhere took the risk and said: We are going to do something different and just see what happens.
Q: Do you believe that the networks don't take enough chances?
A: Yes, of course. All networks. All networks react to problems by becoming more risk averse when the right answer is to become more risk positive. The network controller who bought "The Office" bought it in the face of a revolt by my department. She absolutely did not want the show. Every commercially based network in the world is under commercial pressure. There is a very, very strongly innate reaction to turn to the known when probably the reason that your numbers are falling is that your audience is tired with the known and they want the different. It has happened twice this year with "Lost" and "Desperate Housewives."
Q: You have produced and directed. Which do you prefer?
A: Directing. I prefer directing because I love being in a rehearsal room or on a studio floor with smart people. I love making something. If I could afford to, I would never stop doing it. What I find in later life, actually much more so in this town because it is much more flexible, is that making the deal can be very creative as well. In London, because there are so few buyers, the deal is pretty similar wherever you go. It's a pretty moribund conversation. Here, the deal is different every time you do it. And in this town, don't ever think the deal is done until the money is in the bank and they have got the check. It is not true in the UK. In the U.K., once you've done the deal, go home, they can write you the check.
Q: What is your average day like?
A: I spend at least a week a month in the U.K. If I am here, the day starts with phone calls to London. I have a complete home office because of the time difference. I get up about 6 a.m. or 7 a.m. to catch the end of the business day in London. Then, I will normally travel to the office in Sherman Oaks. I very rarely spend a whole day in the office. At some point in the day, I'll head out either to pitch or to meet with people. Or I'll head to one of our production offices or our post-production offices. We do lot of work in Hollywood. We have got a big set up for "Hell's Kitchen" on Willoughby Avenue. Then, I'll watch live television as it comes out, or I'll read a script. One of the difficult things about being here is that my family is not with me. One of the good things about that is it means I can go home and watch video. I can read scripts.
Q: Why did you leave the BBC?
A: The truth is that the BBC was not the happiest place to work. It was all about the process rather than the product. It may well be true that the BBC, in the model that I had grown up with and my father had grown up with, was unsustainable in the modern world. It is more than a broadcasting organization. It's a social artifact. There was complete disregard for that.
Q: What do you think of Michael Powell's chairmanship of the Federal Communications Commission?
A: This is not about Michael Powell, but it is a matter of continuing bewilderment, amusement and humor to the whole of Europe that Janet Jackson's nipple could be such a powerful political tool in a world where we see naked lovemaking on primetime television as a matter of course and don't get exercised by it. It is beyond the comprehension of most Europeans that Janet Jackson's nipple is that valuable.
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