Two pop culture icons, J.J. Abrams and Joss Whedon, don’t believe that the broadcsat networks have any interest in producing serialized TV dramas anymore, despite the past success of such shows as "Lost," "24" or "Buffy the Vampire Slayer."
The two made their comments before 6,000 fans at Comic-Con on Thursday, July 22. It was the first joint appearance for the two, who said that they first met when both were at The WB, Abrams working on "Felicity" and Whedon on "Buffy" and "Angel." Despite meeting back them, they said they rarely see each other and do not know each other well.
The two were introduced–to thunderous applause and shouts from the audience–by Jeff Jensen, a reporter for Entertainment Weekly, who moderated the chat between Abrams and Whedon.
TVWeek was also in the audience.
Here’s a partial transcript that focuses on Whedon’s and Abrams’ assessment of where the broadcast networks are today:
Jeff Jensen: Joss, ‘Dollhouse’ has come to an end, unfortunately—
Joss Whedon: What?—
Jeff: And you produced “Dollhouse” after being away from television for awhile. Now that ‘Dollhouse’ is over, how are you feeling about television? What lessons have you learned about what television wants and supports right now?
Joss: I don’t know why this question sounds like ‘Well, are you proud of what you did? Maybe you should sit in the corner and think about it.’ [Lots of laughter] (Sarcastically): Or that might just be me projecting. (more laughter).
You know, it must’ve been the wrong place and the wrong time. I definitely was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. And we [meaning himself and J.J.], I think, both benefited from the great square hole of television—The WB—where they were just interested in people like us who had a story we knew how to tell and they let us do that. That is very rare. It doesn’t exist anymore. Literally. The WB doesn’t exist anymore.
My experiences at Fox have not been successful. Ultimately it is just because there is a certain kind of incompatibility that is very easy to miss, because I like genre stuff and that’s what they wanted. You say the word sex and they think that’s sexy, but can you not mention sex?
I clearly have more of a cable mentality than I realized. I had been away from television for awhile and I didn’t know that. I didn’t know how much things had changed. I didn’t look at Janet Jackson’s nipple. And I didn’t know how much trouble that had caused.
What I learned was ‘know your audience.’ And your first audience are the people paying you to make the thing. Which is why, right now, I’m at Marvel. I’m extremely happy working with Kevin Feige. It’s a very different experience. Kevin and Jeremy [Latcham], the two people I work with, the executives, they’re the studio. They’re the producers. It’s the same entity. And they know what they want. And [they’re] upfront. They are very clear when they don’t get [what they want]. And that’s a great experience….
Television I love. I love serialized storytelling. But I didn’t quite think that one through [referring to his return to Fox to do “Dollhouse”].
Jeff: You love serialized storytelling. Is there still a market right now for intensely serialized stories? ‘Lost’ is over now, unfortunately. And it seems that as it went out, the TV landscape turned against intensely serialized stories. Do you sense that TV networks are not interested in that format right now?
J.J. Abrams: I think typically they are not. They want shows that can repeat, the studios want shows they can syndicate. I’m just personally less interested in non-serialized shows. I enjoy the investment in and the anticipation in the characters and what’s going to happen, and what conditions are REALLY going on. To me, that’s the thing that always grabs you.
I think they [the networks and the studios] want it too. They just don’t know it. When they talk about stories, stories imply time. Stories imply inevitability and some kind of progress. The trick is—and I know the showrunners on ‘Fringe’ have been working really hard to maintain an ongoing story as well as keeping every episode feeling as much of a self-contained [story] as possible—I’m personally drawn to that.
This new show were doing on NBC, ‘Undercovers,’ is a show that is much more self- contained, but it naturally will have—and as we’ve been working on the episodes, develop the story that is being told over time. You don’t need to watch [episodes] 1 through 5 to get what’s happening in No. 6. But to me that’s the story. For whatever reason I’m naturally drawn to that kind of a story.
Jeff: Joss, did you want to take that question at all?
Joss: Just that I think the networks will never, ever ask for that. They will never admit that people want that. They see the easy cash cow of ‘The Mentalist.’ Let’s all make “The Mentalist.”
When ‘Lost’ first hit, and it was just blowing up huge, and everyone was loving it, and we were all so into it, they [the networks] were still ‘we don’t want that.’ ‘That successful Emmy-winning thing? No, we don’t want that.’ They would speak against serialized storytelling while it was the only thing people were watching on television. Because they are thinking bottom line.
It’s very weird, because ultimately the serial is ALWAYS going to be what people are going to remember. What do they remember about ‘Cheers’? Sam and Diane, not a great joke. I like both. I like to have some sort of resolve…I’m still angry about “The Empire Strikes Back.” Okay? The movie doesn’t have an ending. I like to split the diff. The progression is what it’s all about.
Well, it doesn’t. He’s frozen in carbonite.#