Editorial: Bob Wright’s search for the holy grail

May 21, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Bob Wright, the longtime chief of NBC, recently sent a tape of HBO’s hit “The Sopranos” to a number of his colleagues, asking them to comment on why they thought the show was a hit-and whether something like “The Sopranos,” sans its foul language, violence and nudity, could be done on ad-supported broadcast network TV.
Elsewhere on this page, TV critic Aaron Barnhart comments on what hidden agenda he thinks Mr. Wright may have had in sending out the tape. But we wanted to address the question Mr. Wright posed to his colleagues.
The reason he is especially intrigued by “The Sopranos,” Mr. Wright told Electronic Media, is because “it’s really a breakout hit on HBO, getting adults 18 to 49 to tune in in much larger numbers than their other shows, like `The Larry Sanders Show”’-though he noted that “Sanders,” like “The Sopranos,” was a favorite of the TV critics.
Shows like “The Sopranos” have indeed aired on ad-supported broadcast network TV, sans the foul language, violence and nudity. And one, “NYPD Blue,” even had some of that.
For those with long memories, “East Side/West Side,” which lasted a season back in 1963, was just such a show, though it was ahead of its time and didn’t catch on with viewers. Much later, “Hill Street Blues,” a big hit, was another such show.
What all these shows have in common with “The Sopranos” is great writing, wonderful casting and marvelous acting and directing. It seems that, in some way or another, the shows mentioned above-and others like them-have, like `The Sopranos,’ tried to break away from the typical neat formula of a TV sitcom or drama.
Yes, Mr Wright is right to fret. The proliferation of TV networks has spread the talent pool awfully thin. And the bottom-line-obsessed owners of the networks have to become less risk-averse.
But in the end, we agree with what CBS programming guru Les Moonves told us: “There is no doubt that, with the right combination of skill and luck, the broadcast networks can indeed put on the next `Sopranos.”’