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Broadcast TV now the 'last stop' for ideas being pitched, executive says

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David Giesbrecht/Netflix

Competition from streaming and premium networks is now so intense that the Big 5 broadcasters have become the “last stop” for creatives wanting to pitch new show ideas, says one major industry executive.

At an ATX Television Festival panel Saturday tackling the “Peak TV” effect, ABC Studios Executive Vice President of Creative Patrick Moran said major networks are at an inherent disadvantage due to rivals spending more money than broadcast (and offering more creative freedom). The panelists were joking about how Hulu offers keg parties to visiting creatives while the broadcast networks might just have bagels and water.

That’s when Moran jumped in to add this: “What I will tell the head of the network is: ‘You’re the last stop on the train of pitches. You’re the last stop! [Producers are] are starting at Netflix and then they’re going to go HBO and Showtime, and then maybe — if the train is still going — they’re going to make their way to the broadcast networks. So they have to work that much harder to attract talent, to attract actors, to attract directors. It’s harder on the broadcast side to remain competitive with how sexy it feels to be at the new kids on the block like Netflix and Hulu and Amazon. It’s not a level playing field, exactly. And it does put the burden on us, when working in the broadcast space, to work harder and do better.”

The executive added it’s “no secret places like HBO or Netflix can spend more,” and noted the premium networks and streaming companies are great at casting a “great halo” around their titles — something ABC also does quite successfully with its Shonda Rhimes-produced titles like Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy. “Thank god we have Shondaland … most of our shows don’t have that [halo],” he added.

Another panelist, HBO Director of Original Series Kathleen McCaffrey, noted that even her premium network feels pressure from the streaming companies. “Agents are smart,” she said. “They’re like, if you’re not going to make a full series commitment, we’re going to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu.”

As for whether the industry has, indeed, reached peak TV — there were over 400 scripted shows in 2015 — executives said we’re still not there. Moran pointed to how many fans found time over their holiday break obsess about Netflix’s Making a Murderer. “I don’t think we have [reached Peak TV],” he said. “Because when there’s a great television show we all make time to watch it.”

Entertainment Weekly is on the scene at ATX in Austin, Texas. Go inside the TV festival with all our coverage, available here.

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