Seattle -- It’s the show, not the star, stupid: That was the consensus of a
panel of cable-network executives and talent Sunday at the CTAM Summit here.
The group, discussing "Fame: Creating and Managing Star Power," agreed
overall that while having a star in a TV series is a plus, a show’s concept,
scripts and quality of acting are what ultimately dictate whether it’s a success
Panelist Budd Friedman, founder of The Improv, pointed out that in the
hottest genre today on TV, reality TV, "the concept is the star,
Eric Kessler, Home Box Office’s president of sales and marketing, and Peter
Liguori, president of FX Networks, both pointed out that the two signature shows
that became hits for them -- The Sopranos and The Shield,respectively -- did so with actors that weren’t big stars before those
series. They were referring to James Gandolfini and Michael Chiklis.
"If you cast with good people, they become stars," Kessler said.
He did concede, however, that stars are more important to the success of
projects like made-for-TV movies, for example, than for series.
Liguori discussed the risk FX took in casting Chiklis, whose big role prior
to The Shield was that of the pudgy lead in The Commish.Liguori said Chiklis and his agent hounded FX for a chance to read for the
lead in The Shield.
When FX relented, an unrecognizable buff and bald Chiklis showed up and read,
doing a bang-up job, according to Liguori. He said he told Chiklis, "Michael,
you did not win the role: You are the role."
From the talent side of the panel, ESPN SportsCenter anchor Kenny
Mayne noted that his show’s "foundation is so strong" that it has successfully
weathered the departure of anchors such as Keith Olbermann. "We’ve had big names
leave," Mayne said.
Paige Davis, host of The Learning Channel’s hot hit, Trading
Spaces,said she had to begrudgingly agree that TV shows are
"character-driven." Said Davis, "It kills me to say it, but it’s true."
The panel also discussed how some shows, such as NYPD Blue and Law
& Order,have survived major and numerous cast changes. But
neither Kessler nor Liguori could see The Sopranos or The Shield
surviving the exits of a Gandolfini or a Chiklis.