The Blog

Who Killed Carsey-Werner?

Now networks mostly seem to buy programs from themselves. Creators of content still can work for the network companies and are paid handsomely. They are now “employees” -- not a bad thing, but not a good thing either. The creative voice of an employee is softer than the voice of an independent. The money and the creativity of television has been shifted to the studio/network companies, and the viewers are the ones to suffer.
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The creative and successful Hollywood production and distribution company Carsey-Werner recently announced that they would close their production operation.

Who or what was responsible for their demise? The power of the broadcast media is what's done them in.

Under the cover of supposed deregulation, “the protectors” of our media diversity have allowed General Electric to own NBC and Universal Studios, News Corp to own Fox and the Fox Network, Viacom to own CBS, UPN and Paramount, Time Warner to own Warner Brothers and the WB, Disney to own ABC. What a cozy arrangement.

Before giving it up, Carsey-Werner was responsible for producing The Cosby Show, Roseanne, That 70’s Show, 3rd Rock, Grace Under Fire, and Cybill, among many others.

During the FCC hearings in December of 1990, independent producer Len Hill said what needed to be said, and of course was ignored by a complicit regulatory body that was going to do what was politically in the bag by rescinding the financial interest and syndication rules. Many network executives either lied to or misled the commission in their testimony.

Here is part of what Len said, which is particularly relevant to Carsey-Werner closing their new production operation.

“As an independent producer, I depend on the major broadcast networks for my economic survival. …the survival of a dynamic community of independent producers is an issue of considerable importance…diversity is served by active competition among truly independent producers whose varied voices are not muffled by the dictates of foreign corporations or neutered by the precondition of network ownership.”

Jack Valenti, President and CEO of the then powerful Motion Picture Association of America also gave testimony. “The networks have not been rehabilitated. They are corporate recidivists. They abused their power before. They will do it again… The have absolute power over who gets on the prime time schedule… The networks are the only buyers of high cost, quality TV programs, limiting alternatives for producers… Therefore the seminal question that the commission must ask and answer is: Is it in the public interest that prime time television become the domain of the national television networks as it once was before good sense and wise judgment brought a competitive balance to the marketplace?”

During my own career at Columbia Pictures, Polygram and MGM/UA, my company was available to provide money and distribution to independents such as Danny Arnold (Barney Miller and Fish), Spelling Goldberg (Starsky and Hutch, Family, Charlie’s Angels, Hart To Hart) and Witt Thomas Harris (Soap and Benson), among others. Many independents prospered. And creativity at least had a chance with these powerful independents.

When Norman Lear (an independent producer) created All In The Family, the program retained its heart and integrity. Had CBS owned it, in my opinion, America would have seen an up-dated Father Knows Best series.

Now networks mostly seem to buy programs from themselves. Creators of content still can work for the network companies and are paid handsomely. They are now “employees” -- not a bad thing, but not a good thing either. The creative voice of an employee is softer than the voice of an independent.

The money and the creativity of television has been shifted to the studio/network companies, and the viewers are the ones to suffer.

The "voices" of Viacom’s Sumner Redstone, General Electric’s Bob Wright, Disney’s Michael Eisner, News Corp’s Rupert Murdoch and Time Warner’s Dick Parsons will be heard EVERY night on network television, and in the foreseeable future, as these programs are sold into the vertical feeding tube of network content afterlife. They may call it synergy; I call it a tragedy for America.

We “hire” the government and its agencies like the FCC to protect the interests of the public, not to respond to the money and the power of the media companies.

If you wonder what’s left to consolidate, be patient; there is much more to come.