Cable TV: What’s watched. What’s actually produced. And Why.

Written by Gabriel Gornell

Looking at the Cable TV Ratings last week, I was pleasantly surprised to see the all the scripted content that made the list since we so often associate Cable TV with reality & unscripted programming.

It got me thinking…why does cable TV, the entertainment category that delivers the best that entertainment has to offer (think Mad Men, Sons of Anarchy, Walking Dead, Phineas & Ferb, etc.), also delivers such crap?  Here’s is another question: Why is it that Cable TV Producers so often sit in pitch meetings with network execs who profess to know it all (from their brand to their audience) while those same networks continue to deliver primetime shows with under a 1.0 despite a reach of 100 million homes?!

The answers to these questions are not the fault of one position or department at any cable network. The answers are tied to a cyclical process of cause and effect.

Common financial wisdom says cable networks require (1) inexpensive unscripted shows with (2) loud characters that will maintain viewership despite a lack of production value in order to (3) maximize profits.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.39.43 PMThis is the result of downward pressure on budgets from the bean counters having more influence than the upward pressure of solid creative from the programmers. What ensues is not that different from one common result of the “Walmart Effect” at retail in which the cable networks then place the entire burden of this downward financial budget pressure on the suppliers. In this case, the immediate casualty of the financial pressure is the producers’ creative rates and fees.

Guess what happens next? No longer able to make money from the creative fees, most unscripted Cable TV Producers are then forced to treat their business like glorified rental shops—because the only place they can make money is from renting their own production or post-production equipment on the shows.

Outside of the business, most people don’t realize that things like equipment rental and post production services has largely been brought in-house by the cable TV producers because it’s the only place they can continue to charge the networks and still make some money. Not too long ago, the business of renting cameras, lighting, and grip went to rental houses—and the business of post-production services went to dedicated post houses. But no longer. Now the quality of the final master tapes that get telecast has surely been compromised because most cable TV producers simply don’t own the same high-fidelity equipment as the old-school dedicated suppliers—but nobody on the network side is complaining too loudly because they are getting away with no longer paying creative fees.

And C’mon people. Nobody is fooled by the joint efforts of the network & producers as they attempt to offset the perception of the “equipment-rental business model” by putting more up-front energy into reality talent casting. The downward pressure has created a production model of “equipment rental & casting services” versus a model rooted in creative development. And this ultimately creates what I call the “Big Mac Effect.”

The resulting unscripted television is like a Big Mac and here’s why: I love the smell of a Big Mac. And if you put a Big Mac in front of me, you can be damn sure I’m going to eat it. And let’s face it—during the moment of eating—a Big Mac delicious. But given a few minutes to think about it… They’re not good for me, they’re not as inexpensive as I thought, and I usually don’t feel that good after I eat it. I’m not snobby enough to deny that Big Macs near me don’t get eaten. But if you ask me what I want for dinner, my first choice is Italian or Steak—not Big Macs. The same goes for most unscripted cable television.

Over a short period of time, much of the unscripted Cable TV landscape has become filled with “Rental House & Casting Agent” production companies that sling Big Macs versus quality programming. Oddly, I’m now in the mood for a Big Mac. And sharing this craving is likely counter-productive to the point I’m trying to make!

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.28.41 PMA Cable TV Proucer’s business-model that’s rooted “equipment rental” and who’s sales force is focused only on “casting” will eventually compromise the actual creative—which is why we’re here to begin with. This is the unfortunate truth for the cable networks that created this cycle to begin with. And this idealist believes that soon the audiences with migrate back to quality.

Last week on Cable TV—what percentage of viewers do you think watched scripted versus unscripted programming?

73% of all Cable TV viewers watched scripted programming while only 27% watched unscripted programming. So the migration towards quality seems to already be happening. Check out the infographic below.

To figure this out I looked at the ratings of the top 40 shows on cable TV last week, and then analyzed them against a few different cumulative measures. Again, check out the Infographic. Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.31.17 PM

The really interesting thing is that unscripted shows (reality, etc.) aren’t that cheap to produce when you consider the cumulative production dollars that networks collectively spend to make many more shows that ultimately attract fewer viewers than cable TV’s scripted programming. What’s also amazing is the ratings success of categories like sports entertainment in which there is just one player—WWE.

What is sports entertainment you ask? It’s event-based scripted sports-theater with zero competition since we lost the WCW and XFL, both after 2001. Remember the XFL? Amazingly, the first game of the one-season XFL had over 14 Million viewers on NBC before quickly being considered a failure. 14 Million viewers is a failure? My times have changed.

During the same week ending on 11/25/2012 I then looked at the primetime schedules of the top 85 cable networks, and analyzed their programming hours against the same cumulative measures that I looked at for ratings. I did this to see if scripted programming was simply programmed more than I thought in order to have this 73% market share over unscripted programming. It’s not. Wow!

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.35.27 PMHere’s the net net
66% of the total unscripted programming hours on cable TV are arguably only getting 27% of the audience.  Did we learn nothing from broadcaster NBC’s misstep in moving Jay Leno to 10pm simply cause it’s cheaper than producing scripted dramas?

Now take a look at the Purple and Blue bar-chart above. Any category where Purple is higher than Blue is possibly a programming opportunity. Anything where blue is higher than purple is arguably saturated. Interestingly, sports is the only cable TV entertainment category that seems even close to its sweet spot of programming hours versus actual ratings. For the record and for the purpose of this blog—we classified sports as unscripted programming.

The cycle needs to break and the programming challenge needs to shift from (a) finding the loudest reality star in order to command a bigger piece of the pie, to (b) developing excellent creative programming in order to create a bigger pie.  Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.37.33 PM

Ending this article on a positive note—kudos to AMC, USA, Nick, TBS, Disney, TNT, Cartoon Network, Hub, FX, HBO, Showtime, TV Land, We, Lifetime, Hallmark and a few others (from a long list of 75 cable TV networks) for concentrating on creative quality instead of Big Macs.

Screen Shot 2013-09-09 at 8.41.00 PM

Written by Gabriel Gornell

International Business Times 10/10/2012

_IntBizTimes_Banner_10_10_IntBizTimes_Headline_10_10Gabriel Gornell quoted in International Business Times piece on 50 Shades of Grey.

By Justine Ashley Costanza

October 10, 2012

On Monday, Universal Pictures/Focus Features (NYSE: GE) announced that little-known screenwriter Kelly Marcel has been hired to pen the screen adaptation of “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

The highly anticipated film, based on the raunchy bestseller by E.L. James, has regularly made headlines since March, when the studio purchased the rights to the book for a cool $5 million. Months after the deal was announced, the Oscar-nominated team behind “The Social Network,” Michael DeLuca and Dana Brunetti, were chosen to produce the film.

_IntBizTimes_picIn August, The Hollywood Reporter announced that Karen Croner (“One True Thing”), Dan Fogelman (“Cars,” “Tangled”), Veena Sud (“The Killing”) and Marcel were all in the running to adapt “Fifty Shades” for the screen.

It came as somewhat of a surprise when Marcel, who is best known as the creator of the sci-fi TV series “Terra Nova,” beat out her competitors. The plot and mood of “Terra Nova,” which follows a family that travels back in time by 85 million years, have nothing in common with the jaw-dropping BDSM tale that is “Fifty Shades.”

Universal’s choice to hire a writer who has yet to prove herself is risky considering what a challenge it’s going to be to adapt the book. Marcel will have to please the book’s enormous, dedicated fanbase while turning James’ cringeworthy dialogue into something that won’t leave a bad taste in viewers’ mouths. She’ll also have to figure out a way to write the book’s countless explicit sex scenes in a manner that won’t draw too much ire from the MPAA and somehow manage an R rating.

There’s at least one person who doubts Marcel can pull it off – but those might be sour grapes talking. Bret Easton Ellis, who unsuccessfully campaigned on Twitter to be the film’s screenwriter, wasn’t happy with the studio’s decision to hire Marcel.

“Kelly Marcel?!? KELLY MARCEL?!? Kelly Marcel is WRITING the script for ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’?!? THIS is the movie they want to make? ARGH,” the “American Psycho” writer tweeted.

Yet based on statements from the film’s producers, Marcel has demonstrated superior writing skills in her script “Saving Mr. Banks.” The film, which chronicles the 20-year battle to bring “Mary Poppins” to the screen, gained recognition after landing on the list of “Best Unproduced Screenplays” in 2011.

“Kelly’s work demonstrates her flawless structural technique and passionate commitment to emotion, humor and depth of character which is particularly visible in the celebrated screenplay for the upcoming ‘Saving Mr. Banks,’” said De Luca in a statement. “We were all taken with the depth and passion of Kelley’s engagement with the characters and world E.L. James has created and we knew she was the right person to augment our ‘Fifty Shades’ family,” added Brunetti.

The “Unproduced Screenplays List” is referred to as the “blacklist” in the film industry. Started by film executive Franklin Leonard in 2005, the list is released annually. According to the Los Angeles Times, Leonard compiles the list after surveying hundreds of film industry colleagues and learning what screenplays they feel have been wrongly neglected.

These scripts are often referred to “spec scripts” — meaning they are unsolicited projects without agency or studio representation.

According to Screen Rant, “Saving Mr. Banks” was picked up by Disney earlier this year and began filming in September. The film, directed by John Lee Hancock, stars Colin Farrell and Paul Giamatti and is slated for a late 2013 release.

_IntBizTimes_Quote“’The blacklist’ has become somewhat of a go-to monster for producers,” Clint Morris, a writer and producer who serves as the editor of, said in an email. “The list has, especially in the past few years, gained a reputation for unearthing some absolute gems. … The game now almost seems to be:  Get on the blacklist, more so than sell your script to whoever bites. Those in charge of the list pick diligently and probably do a better job than most agency script/studio readers, so near everything on that list is a four-star film waiting to happen.

“I don’t think it’s daffy at all that Universal/Focus hired a blacklist writer. The material (on the list) is usually of such a high standard that it shows someone – like a studio or producer – what one is capable of.”

Morris points out that “50/50,” “The Hunger Games” and “The King’s Speech” were all unearthed after appearing on the list while the Guardian has noted that “Juno” and “Slumdog Millionaire” were also once featured in the lineup of unproduced work.

“Argo,” “Looper,” “Margin Call,” “Snow White and the Huntsman,” and “Crazy, Stupid Love” all made the list in 2010 before they were made into high-profile films.

Recent blacklist discoveries include “The Imitation Game,” a film about Alan Turing which has caught the attention of Leonardo DiCaprio. “Chewie,” a satirical look at the making of “Star Wars,” which appeared on the list, is currently being turned into a film by director Kyle Newman. According to Deadline, Matt Damon’s forthcoming directorial debut, “Father Daughter Time: A Tale of Armed Robbery and Eskimo Kisses,” was recently plucked from the list as well.

Since Marcel has appeared on the blacklist alongside some of Hollywood’s most gifted emerging screenwriters, she seems a reasonable choice for “Fifty Shades.”

According to up-and-coming director and screenwriter Nikhil Melnechuk, Marcel’s status as a talent on the rise, could generate more excitement for “Fifty Shades.”

“The buzz around one’s name or project is both hard to stir up, and fleeting, and these days, sometimes more valuable than proven talent. Someone with promise who is somewhat untested can be more exciting than a known entity, as people in an industry are always looking for the ‘Next Big Thing.’

“‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was a book that publishing companies took a big risk on when they released into the mainstream,” he continued. “The producers of the film likely wanted a screenwriter willing and able to attempt that sense of risk.”

“There’s always risk in this business, but this doesn’t sound very risky to me,” said Guy Shahar, a director and producer at Priority Films. “Marcel is quite successful, she created her own show, and ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is going into production. The studio obviously felt comfortable choosing Marcel, and there are many stakeholders there.”

Andrew Lauren, who produced the indie gem “The Squid and the Whale” and runs his own film company, Andrew Lauren Productions, praised Focus/Universal for selecting Marcel.

“I credit the studios for taking a chance on Ms. Marcel,” said Lauren. “I think if a writer has the right tone for a project and there is confidence and belief that they have what it takes to execute. Why not take that chance no matter how many credits they have on their resume?

“Assuming that the story stays intact, and it’s from the perspective of someone innocent and naive who is thrown into the world of kinky sex and the super-wealthy,” he continued, “the choice of an unseasoned writer with a new voice might be fresh and inspired.”



Variety 6/22/2012

_Banner_Veriety_6_22Gabriel Gornell quoted in Variety article on the Emmy rivalry between ‘Today’ and ‘Good Morning America’




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Hollywood Reporter 5/24/2012

_HR_banner_5_24 _HR_headline_5_24 _HR_Photo_5_24 _HR_subhead_5_24_12With barely a month to go before the June 23 Daytime Emmy Awards, HLN has finalized a deal to air the annual awards show.

The 39th edition of the Emmys was left without a TV home when CBS, which aired the show the previous two years, declined to make room on its schedule for the telecast, which was produced by Associated Television International. The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences parted ways with ATI, which leased the time from CBS while CBS sold advertising and product placement, after last year’s show. Other broadcast networks declined to pick up the Daytime Emmys, which have struggled to stay relevant in the face of declining ratings and outright cancellation of once mighty daytime soap operas.

This marks the first time the ceremony will air on cable. This year’s telecast will be produced by Gabriel Gornell of LocoDistro and will feature tributes to recently cancelled programs including All My Children and One Life to Live.

”In a statement, Scot Safon, executive vp and general manager of HLN, said the network is “thrilled to work with NATAS to celebrate some of television’s best programs and performances.”

“Every day we focus on the news and information people talk about, and that has included extensive coverage of the Daytime Emmys in the past. This year, we’re very excited to also be carrying the event itself,” he added.

NATAS chairman Malachy Wienges noted that the show will be “fresh” and “creative.” NATAS also promised “surprise guests” and “unusual presenter pairings.”



“It’s exciting be working with both NATAS and HLN on such an important event as the Daytime Emmy Awards,” said Gornell. “I couldn’t have hoped for a better fit with them as creative partners as we pay tribute to some of the very best that entertainment has to offer.

Bill Geddie, executive producer of The View, is this year’s Lifetime Achievement recipient. Barbara Walters will present the award at the black tie ceremony held at the Beverly Hilton.

A host has yet to be named.

Inside Cable News 5/24/2012


2012 Show Includes Tributes to Outgoing Series & Beloved Talent; Spotlight on Innovative Programs

NEW YORK, NY, May 24, 2012—HLN grabs the reigns as the host network of the 39th annual daytime entertainment Emmy® Awards to be presented live from The Beverly Hilton hotel in Los Angeles on Saturday, June 23, 8-10 p.m., ET/PT, it was announced by Scot Safon, Executive Vice President & General Manager, HLN, and Malachy Wienges, Chairman, National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

“HLN is thrilled to work with NATAS to celebrate some of television’s best programs and performances,” said Safon. “Every day we focus on the news and information people talk about, and that has included extensive coverage of the Daytime Emmys in the past. This year, we’re very excited to also be carrying the event itself.”

“The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) is very excited to announce that the 2012 Daytime Entertainment Emmy® Awards will be broadcast live on HLN on Saturday, June 23, from The Beverly Hilton hotel, in Beverly Hills, California,” said Wienges, Chairman of NATAS.

“Working with the show’s producer, Gabriel Gornell of LocoDistro, we are preparing a new, fresh, creative show that will honor all the genres that make Daytime Television part of our daily lives. These shows include Daytime Dramas, Children’s and Animation Programming, Game Shows, Courtroom, Talk, Culinary, and the Morning Shows.”

Wienges also noted that with Barbara Walters presenting Bill Geddie, Executive Producer of “The View” and the “Barbara Walters Specials” with the 2012 Daytime Lifetime Achievement Award, “this will be one of the most exciting Daytime Emmy® broadcasts in years!”

This year’s presentation will feature thoughtful and celebratory tributes to beloved shows that recently have finished their run, including All My Children (nominated for “Outstanding Drama Series”) and One Life to Live; a look back at the daytime TV landscape through the years juxtaposed with today’s innovative programming lineup and platforms; surprise guests and unusual presenter pairings.

Fan input will be an integral part of the presentation with featured segments on air and online at Presenters and additional program information will be announced within a few weeks. The 39th annual daytime Emmy Awards is produced by LocoDistro; Gabriel Gornell is Chief Creative Officer and the show’s producer.

“It’s exciting be working with both NATAS and HLN on such an important event as the Daytime Emmy Awards,” said Gornell. “I couldn’t have hoped for a better fit with them as creative partners as we pay tribute to some of the very best that entertainment has to offer.”


Variety 5/24/2012

_Variety_banner_5_24_Variety_headline_5_24Ending the uncertainty over its broadcast future with barely a month before the black ties hit the Beverly Hilton, the Daytime Emmys have a deal for a new television home with HLN, which will televise the kudos live on June 23.

The 39th edition of the event, which had spent the past two years on CBS, will air live at 8 p.m. Eastern and 5 p.m. Pacific, with encore broadcasts to follow on HLN, which reaches approximately 95 million homes domestically. It will be the Daytime Emmys’ first appearance on cable.

Mark Lucas will direct the kudocast, which drew a 0.8 rating and 3 share among adults 18-49 for CBS last year (airing on a Sunday) and 5.4 million viewers overall. A host has not been finalized but is expected to be announced within the next two weeks.

LocoDistro, led by CEO Colleen Seldin and chief creative officer Gabriel Gornell, signed on to produce. The shingle came on board after Associated Television International parted ways with the Daytime Emmys in February.

National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences chairman Malachy Wienges told Variety that the daytime community was “unhappy” with the previous two shows.

The org went to several producers looking for a fresher take.

“After the last show, the daytime community approached NATAS and said that if we have to do the show in 2012 the exact same as in 2010 and 2011, we would rather have an untelevised event and just have a sit-down dinner and honor ourselves in Beverly Hills.” Wienges said.

The new approach will focus on a celebration of daytime TV at a time of transition for the industry, which has seen such defining dramas as “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” leave the air in the past year.

_Variety_5_24_quote_1Word of HLN’s interest in the Daytime Emmys emerged in early May. HLN exec veep and general manager Scot Safon said that from the first moment the cabler was approached in March as a potential television partner, there was a natural fit.

“HLN focuses on news stories and information and things that our audience wants to talk about,” Safon said. “That includes the celebrations like the Emmy awards. If there’s a fanbase there, which for daytime television is an enormous fanbase, and the show was really going to delight that fanbase, then we were interested in presenting that — because that’s a news event to them.”

HLN and parent company Turner, which also provides the annual home for the Screen Actors Guild awards on TNT and TBS, are developing a number of promos to draw attention to the kudocast.


_Variety_5_24_quote_2There had been speculation, following the withdrawal of ATI and CBS, that the Daytime Emmys might end up as a webcast or untelevised on any medium, but Wienges said that was not a possibility given the interest from “a couple of cable companies and agencies.”