Broadcast feels HBO’s influence

Oct 28, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Call it television’s new “Sopranos” tone.
Come the second half of the TV season, you won’t need to look further than NBC to find HBO’s influence on its competitors, both broadcast and cable.
That’s when the Peacock Network will debut “Kingpin,” a limited-run series about the struggles and machinations of a family of Mexican drug dealers. At the center of “Kingpin” is an attractive young couple, devoted to their young son. The husband and father is a thoughtful, well-educated Mexican man with a strong work ethic and family values. She is his beautiful gringa wife, who is ambitious for him and supportive, and that means helping him in his work, which in this case includes plotting assassinations. The wildly lucrative family business, which has paid for private jets, yachts and opulent villas, is large-scale drug dealing, not only marijuana, but also cocaine and heroin.
The series, created by David Mills (“ER,” “NYPD Blue”), is NBC’s answer to “The Sopranos,” HBO’s wildly successful and extravagantly lauded New Jersey mob drama.
Approximately a year and a quarter ago, at the 2001 upfront, the talk at the William Morris Agency’s annual party at the tony `21′ Club in midtown Manhattan was all about the memo that Bob Wright, NBC’s chairman and CEO, had just sent to his chief programming executives, taking note of HBO’s explicit and edgy “Sopranos” and asking how a broadcast network such as NBC could compete with cable and its ever-more-influential and always unfettered series programming.
At the William Morris party at the 2002 upfront, Mr. Wright was able to point to “Kingpin.” His network’s answer.
“Kingpin’s” pilot episode includes, in addition to graphic violence, scenes of opium smoking and coke sniffing and suggestions of oral sex performed by a high-class call girl.
A network promotional video calls Miguel, “Kingpin’s” protagonist, a “good father … a respected citizen,” whose wife “helps him manipulate the system. … This is the story of Miguel’s rise to power.”
Another sign of HBO’s influence on the television landscape is the first-look deal it reached recently with ABC. Under the two-year deal, the pay cable network’s HBO Independent Productions unit will create programming for ABC.
And at Fox, David E. Kelley’s signature style, whether in “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Public” or “girls club,” his latest, is often compared with HBO’s daring “Sex and the City.”
Yet another sign of that influence is the new focus on made-for-basic-cable series programming and the harder edge of the new crop of made-fors. Nowhere is that relationship clearer than at FX, which broke new basic-cable ground with “The Shield,” its controversial and violent cop drama that pushes the envelope in acceptable levels of nudity and coarse language.
In assessing HBO’s undeniable impact on the broader television landscape, however, it’s well to keep in mind that Home Box Office, as it was once known, is playing in a different league than most other television networks. As Nick Davatzes, president and CEO of A&E Television Networks, put it, “The reality is that HBO is a movie studio almost … [and] they’re operating in a different way than almost all other networks.”
That said, Mr. Davatzes added, “They are very creative and they have raised the bar for all of us, and I think that’s a good thing.”