American Network Television Producer Syndrome.

Date: Sunday the 6th of August, 2006

There were two events in the entertainment media this week that has finally prompted me to write this article.  The first event was last weekend and the final showing of the 42 year long broadcast of BBC’s “Top Of The Pops”, and the second event was the UK release of the film “Miami Vice”; and if you’re wondering about the connection then here it is.

Many years ago in my long study of the film and television history I began to notice a strange pattern of behaviour on some of my favourite shows.  After years of sustaining good characters and stories they would suddenly begin to alter, new producers, new titles and theme tunes, different character styles, and a lock of a consist ant place in the television schedules.

What seemed to be happening was that were, in the early years of a good show the originators of the story would be in charge this would change and a show would fall into the hands of other producers. 

The two shows that brought this to my full attention were the great police drama “Hill Street Blues”, and, around the same time “Miami Vice”.  “Hill Street Blues” was the climax of my discovery when its final series was ruined by heavy-handed interference from studio executives over-riding the sensibilities of the original show’s producers.  Here strong female characters were replaced by “little women”, where there was less action (and expense) outside the limited studio of the station, and storylines were simplified.  Finally the show began to wander around the schedules as the executives saw the ratings fall and they consigned it to the dead zones of late night television.

From this I coined the term “ANTPROS” (American network Television Producer Syndrome).

In its simplest form ANTPROS applies in any business, any industry where meddling by ignorant managers can ruin a good brand or product line.  In television it means the death of good shows and meddling by amateur network executives and new producers will so change the style of a show that the audience is alienated to the point of abandoned it.

Once the audience has been alienated by the new format changes the show will be moved away from its regular slot, thus reducing audiences further, until it is barely clinging on for life on the outskirts of the channel.

I mentioned “Miami Vice” earlier and the same fate almost befell that show, when network executives wanted the show to be produced back in California rather than on location in Florida.  although the show did eventually run the end of its natural lifespan is was never as badly damaged at “Hill Street Blues”.

There are many ways ANTPROS can destroy a show, or any business, but the key is the lack of a good understanding of what makes a given show, or any product, successful.  I agree with the fact the often products need to be renewed and brought up-to-date in light of social and technical changes, but often these changes can be made internally, to enhance and improve an existing product.  Alternatively a good overhaul can often do a show an enormous benefit, look at the renewal of “Doctor Who” in the last three years.  

The danger is that an excess of enthusiasm for cost-cutting and simplifying a story and reducing the characters to mere shadows can ruin what is a great source of pleasure and income for everyone involved.

ANTPROS is everywhere, from television, through the bulk of the arts and entertainment industries and beyond.  Wherever you find an amateur who’s only concern is cash income you will see the syndrome raising its head to bite off all you have worked to achieve.