It's the show, not the star, stupid: That was the consensus of a panel of cable network executives and talent at the CTAM Summit.
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 or not.
Panelist Budd Friedman, founder of comedy club The Improv, pointed out that in the hottest genre today on TV, reality, "the concept is the star, unfortunately."
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 during the July 20 general session.
He did concede, though, 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 says 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," it has successfully weathered the departure of anchors such as Keith Olbermann.
"We've had big names leave," Mayne said.
Paige Davis, host of TLC's hot hit Trading Spaces, said she had to begrudgingly agree that TV shows are "character-driven."