in a Collaborative Medium
How do television creators do their work? When working under commercial pressures, and within complex systems of production and with scores of other people, how do they remain creative? Can their individual voices and visions be heard and seen? What impact can an individual's work have on the form or content of television? Does their work change television, and Does television change society?
In the interviews that follow we learn what creators have to say about their experiences creating television, along with assessments of the industry, their personal impact, and the limits on and opportunities for creativity.
Ultimately, these are questions about television and social change and about the nature and value of art and creativity and their relationship to commerce. As will be seen, asking and answering such questions often involve value judgments about people, social class, art, and society.
Television does change, of course, but often many forces align to keep it the same. The industry relies on continuing series and familiar genres, and routinely feeds off successful shows in its breeding of spin-offs, sequels, and other imitations. In his thick-description study of the industry, Inside Prime Time, Todd Gitlin introduced the concepts of “recombinant culture” and the “hybrid pitch. ” In the hybrid pitch a writer-producer tries to sell a new television series to network executives by telling them, in one breath, that the prospective show is brand new—that no one has ever seen anything like it before—and in the next breath, that it is a blend of two familiar hit shows from the past.
NBC's enormous late-1970s failure, Battlestar Gallactica, is just one example of this phenomenon. It was pitched as an absolutely new, breakthrough show that would ably merge the Star Trek and Bonanza franchises. The program would put “Bonanza in outer space, ” with Lome Greene holding the reins of the spaceship. Gitlin observed that what network executives were being sold, while new for the pitch session and marketing purposes,