Now That Trump Is President, How Will TV Respond?
Here are some ways in which leaders in the television industry believe the election of Mr. Trump will affect what people see:
Play It Safe or Push the Boundaries?
At a time of falling ratings and maximum distraction, networks are trying to draw audiences however they can find them, and executives are in no mood to alienate viewers sympathetic to President Trump. (The networks’ parent companies have even less of an appetite to turn off Republican lawmakers.)
Will that create a chilling effect?
Brian Grazer, the prolific TV and movie producer who works on shows like “Empire” and the coming Fox series “Shots Fired,” said, “I think it’s possible that for companies that finance movies and TV, their willingness to take big creative risks will not expand — it’ll contract.”
“It might have been harder to make ‘Empire,’” he continued, referring to the dawn of the Trump era. “To get someone to say: ‘O.K., we are going to do a mainstream television show that is a nighttime soap opera that’s going to cost real money and it’s 90 percent African-Americans. And, by the way, they’re going to sing.’ People who make those decisions? Those might be harder choices.”
Adi Hasak, the creator and an executive producer of “Shades of Blue” and “Eyewitness,” said: “I feel there will be a push and pull between broadcasters and creators. The former will look to produce blue-sky shows that celebrate America and trumpet values while many of the latter will want to push shows with strong female protagonists, L.G.B.T.Q. characters and anything else” that will anger the Trump administration. “Will broadcasters be willing to air these kinds of shows?”
Get Me Rewrite
As the producers Robert and Michelle King approached the coming “The Good Fight” — a spinoff of “The Good Wife” starring Christine Baranski that will appear on the CBS stand-alone app — they anticipated Hillary Clinton would be the next president. If “The Good Wife” was, in part, a satirical take on liberals during the Obama years, “The Good Fight” would have filled a similar role during Mrs. Clinton’s years in office.
Not anymore. Mr. King estimated Mr. Trump’s election changed about 75 percent of the plans for the show. “It affects the world on every level,” he said.
Or as Ms. King put it: “We’re not doing as many cases that would just be, say, a typical crime-of-the-week-type case. We’re not doing, here’s just a murder. Things seem to be more politically freighted now.”
Ms. Baranski’s character works at a primarily black law firm, where many of the lawyers are looking at the incoming administration with “trepidation,” Ms. King said.
Jennie Urman, the creator of the acclaimed CW show “Jane the Virgin,” about three generations of Latinas in Miami, said the issue of immigration and the potential repeal of the Affordable Care Act would be prominently featured in future episodes.
“We’re not policy makers, but we can look at some of the results of what policies are being enacted and show how they affect the people the audiences have grown to care about,” she said. “And hopefully in making the political personal you can create more space for empathy and understanding and compassion in general.”
Marti Noxon, the producer of “Unreal,” “Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce” and HBO’s forthcoming “Sharp Objects,” has encouraged her writers to draw on real-life events for future scripts.
“Before the election we were like, ‘It’s so crazy, this can’t get crazier,’” Ms. Noxon said. “And now cut to: crazier. The work has to reflect that.”
Wanted: Big Personalities
Dana Walden, a chief executive and a chairman of the Fox Television Group, said there was one clear lesson from the election: The country loves a big character.
Ms. Walden referred to examples from past Fox shows like Jack Bauer in “24,” Al Bundy in “Married With Children” and Simon Cowell on “American Idol,” when discussing how a compelling — and often divisive — personality can spell ratings gold.
“In a very cluttered marketplace where people are highly distracted, we’ve seen the value in a big personality who demands your attention and just forces people to pay attention to him,” she said. “It’s not a time to be doing quiet, small storytelling. I don’t think that survives right now.”
Going Brighter and Lighter
One reliable way to avoid a political third rail? Run away from it.
For ABC executives, the election was a reminder of just how big the country is, said Patrick Moran, the president of ABC’s TV studio. Since last summer, he said, ABC has been rolling out a development strategy targeting dramas that are a “little bit lighter, a little bit brighter” and “not catering just to the coasts.” He pointed to comic dramas like “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” as future models.
Still, ABC has several comedies like “black-ish” and “Fresh Off the Boat” that are not afraid to address contemporary issues. (The network is also developing a new show coming from the “black-ish” creator, Kenya Barris, and starring Felicity Huffman about a politically divided family.)
But if there’s a prevailing mission at ABC, Channing Dungey, the president of ABC Entertainment, put it this way: “At a point where there’s a lot of turmoil in the world around us, part of what we want to do is be able to relax, to enjoy, to laugh, to feel.”
Mr. Nevins, the Showtime executive, echoed that he would be looking at escapist fare but that he also wanted “more hard-hitting dramas” and documentaries that had something to say about the current political moment.
“I try to make our programming and what we buy reflect the world that we live in,” Mr. Nevins said.
It’s Going to Take Time
John Landgraf, FX’s chief executive, cautioned that few changes would be immediate.
“Their job is to sift and digest and think and feel and progress the idea of where narrative comedy and narrative drama go,” he said, contrasting TV writers with the news media. “That’s a longer process.”
Howard Gordon, the co-creator of “Homeland” and a producer of “24” and Fox’s coming “24: Legacy,” said that it took years to dream up Carrie Mathison, the main character in “Homeland,” which had its premiere in 2011.
“Carrie Mathison was a character who was really working through the trauma of 9/11 a decade after 9/11,” he said. “That story couldn’t have been told in 2004. It had to be told after Iraq, and the massive reaction or overreaction to the trauma of 9/11.”
But what of Jack Bauer, the main character in “24,” whose freewheeling ways in catching terrorists — and dabbling with torture techniques — was on the air shortly after Sept. 11?
“Jack Bauer was a reflexive response to an acute trauma,” Mr. Gordon said. “I don’t think that we can say Donald Trump’s election is an acute trauma yet. He’s merely been elected.”
But Mr. Landgraf and Mr. Gordon both said that if Mr. Trump’s presidency leads to any dramatic upheaval, TV writers will be ready.
“We have to see what this disruption is going to mean,” Mr. Gordon said. “If you want to be a pessimist and your worst fears are realized and the degradation of these institutions really happens — if the press is utterly undermined, for instance — it’ll be incumbent on artists to dramatize that. If it does, there will be, I promise you, a lot of art and a lot of storytelling that responds to this.”
An earlier version of this article misstated the title of Dana Walden of the Fox Television Group. She is a chief executive and a chairman, not a co-president.
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