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What Did Peak TV Let Escape from ‘Pandora’s Box’?

February 3, 2024
Notes
Transcript
This week I’m thrilled to be joined by Peter Biskind to discuss his new book, Pandora’s Box: How Guts, Guile, and Greed Upended TV. From the rise of HBO to the streaming boom, how we watch TV—and what gets shown on TV—has radically changed over the last few decades. We discuss the role of technology, advertising, and changing audience tastes, and muse about the role TV’s antiheroes played in paving the way for Donald Trump. If you’re a fan of Biskind’s previous books, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls and Down and Dirty Pictures, you’ll love Pandora’s Box. (If you haven’t read Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy today.) And if you enjoyed this podcast, please share it with a friend!
This transcript was generated automatically and may contain errors and omissions. Ironically, the transcription service has particular problems with the word “bulwark,” so you may see it mangled as “Bullard,” “Boulart,” or even “bull word.” Enjoy!
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:06

    Welcome back to the Bulwark Coast of Hollywood. My name bunch. I’m culture editor at the Bulwark, and I’m very, very pleased to be joined today by Peter Biskind, who, is the author of the new, new ish book, Pandora’s box, how Guyle and greed Upended TV, and is, of course, the author of Easy Rider Bulwark, one of the best histories of the kind of age of altruism in the the nineteen sixties and nineteen seventies in Hollywood and down in dirty pictures, which is one of the best looks at the indie boom of the late eighties, early nineties, into the two thousands. I am very excited, to have you on the show today, Peter. Thank you for being
  • Speaker 2
    0:00:42

    Well, thanks for inviting me. As I said, I’m a big fan. I read your stuff. Most of your stuff, not all of that obviously, but I just sort of quoted you in an article I wrote for the nation. I didn’t quote you by name, which I should have.
  • Speaker 1
    0:00:57

    That’s okay. That’s okay. Name is is Mud some places. So you’re you’re often better off not, not not mentioning me. Look, here’s here’s, why I’m excited to talk to you because you have now written three of, three of the definitive books about the last great three creative booms in Hollywood.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:17

    Again, the the, that the rush of the nineteen sixties, nineteen seventies new Hollywood filmmakers, you know, Copla and, and Scorsese, culminating in spielberg and Lucas and and all that. And again, the the indie boom, which is, a fascinating and tumultuous period. And and now we have the streaming age. And it’s interesting that all three of these books kind of follow the same arc where you have, new innovators and then there’s a massive expansion of what what is made and what can be made. And then everything kind of contracts again.
  • Speaker 1
    0:01:55

    Do you do you see these patterns happening when you’re putting the books together?
  • Speaker 2
    0:01:59

    Yes and no. I mean, that’s does seem in fact to be the trajectory of these three periods, and it makes complete sense because you have the, rule breakers, the innovators, and then you know, once those innovations are made, and become six they become successful, as they did in the seventies where, you know, where George Lucas and spielberg emerged. And suddenly, everybody want, you know, made a lot of money. And you have to understand and remember that it’s all about money, you know, basically. So when you know, when those enter when those people people like spielberg and Lucas emerge in the seventies and the studio saw how much money they could make.
  • Speaker 2
    0:02:48

    They didn’t wanna, you know, they didn’t wanna bother with the independence like Scorsese particularly. And they want they wanted to make the kinds of money that, you know, Indiana Jones made and Star Wars made. So you you always have a contraction that seems to me at the ends of these periods of innovation. And the same was true for streaming.
  • Speaker 1
    0:03:11

    It’s really interesting to kind of look at what freed cable in the streamers up to do, what they what they do. And one one of the things that you, mentioned several times in the book is advertising and moving away from from the world of advertising to, paying customers, basically, from from sponsors to subscribers. I think you put it at one point. How has how did advertising and getting away from the advertising model help, encourage this boom in creativity?
  • Speaker 2
    0:03:43

    Well, advertisers didn’t want their products to be adjacent, to scenes of sex and sequences of sex violence or controversy even. So they, you know, they exerted a conservative, influence on the Bulwark. So each network created a division called standards and practices essentially, imposed a sort of fifties, puritanical morality on the shows so that even Mary couples couldn’t be shown to sleep in the same bed, but they had to sleep in twin beds adjacent to each other. And and once you broke with that model and no more advertisers, no more sponsors, and substituted subscribers plus the fact that the, physical apparatus hardware for, cable, which HBO being the first cable, Bulwark, or escape Cavler. Once you substituted that kind of hardware, which was owned by owned privately, the Federal Communications Commission didn’t have any, sway over it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:00

    So all of a sudden, HBO, which pioneered all this, was free to do sex violence and controversy as much as it wanted, and it took advantage of it, it exploited it. You know, so that was that made a huge difference.
  • Speaker 1
    0:05:18

    And, in terms of, you know, it it’s interesting because you have this you you almost have an unlevel playing field between the networks and HBO in terms of what they can show. Right? I mean, you know, the networks are stuck with FCC regulations that constrain what can be done to the extent that there there was a funny story in your book where one of the execs that I think ABC or NBC basically said, somebody’s gotta get the sopranos under control. We can’t we can’t do what they’re doing and it’s not fair.
  • Speaker 2
    0:05:48

    Right. That was the head of NBC sent sent out a letter to that effect. And, you know, there are a lot of examples of, you know, where you know, even in the network people looked at Hill Street Blues and said too many characters. These guys are not. These cops are not.
  • Speaker 2
    0:06:09

    These cops are not very good at their jobs, and they have messy home lives. And now Hill Street Blues was a network show, and Right. Sort of at the tail end of the network era right before, HBO broke the mold. You had a couple of network I was like Hill Street Blues, like homicide, life on the streets that kind of paved the way for HBO. I mean, people wanted to do that kind of programming and and HBO sort of did, you know, you know, had, you know, under the same without the same constraints took off and did it.
  • Speaker 1
    0:06:46

    I I I love one thing I love, about your book is you highlight, you highlight two shows in particular that I think get more attention now than they used to, but have have kind of been lost, to to to the myths of of time when it comes to the PrestigeER of table, cable television because everybody’s focused on the Speranos. Right? Speranos is the start of the new golden age. That’s when we gotta look at this. But you, wisely, I think, focus, at first on Tom Fontana’s Oz, which is, which was a a great show.
  • Speaker 1
    0:07:18

    How how was that, kind of a groundbreaking work?
  • Speaker 2
    0:07:22

    Well, Fontana says, you know, when he went in to see Chris Obrach who was the, head of programming at HBO at that time, Allbrecht said, you know, what are you not supposed to do, which would be to kill your lead character off in the first episode. So Fontana proceeded to burn his lead character to have his lead character, burn to death in the first episode. Then, Olbrick also said I don’t care about like book characters as long as they’re compelling. And all the characters in, Oz, they’re all prison horrible, you know, prisoners who had done horrible things, one of them is shown, burning a Nazi, you know, an area in nation. Character Sean burning and a swastika on the rear end of one of the characters with a cigarette, but lit cigarette.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:10

    Fontana followed that. His characters were not likable at all, but indeed they were compelling.
  • Speaker 1
    0:08:16

    And then, the second show, of course, is shield, which, comes comes to FX, of, a couple years after the Sopranos, you know, it’s it’s basically pitched as basic cable, sopranos. And I I feel like this is, again, I think it is incredibly important in the history of streaming the cable boom, the gold the new golden age of TV, whatever whatever we wanna call it, because it showed that you could do what HBO was doing on a network that still did have some advertising, but was still mostly, reliant on affiliate fees and that sort of thing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:08:54

    Right. I mean, the shield, you know, like this, like us, you know, broke a lot of rules. And as you say, it was on a, not not a premium cable network where you had to pay for subscribers, but, but FX was supported sort of supported by advertising. Well, they didn’t have much advertising. But, you know, in the in in the last week, the last episode of the shield.
  • Speaker 2
    0:09:23

    One of the characters fly by Walton Goggins, shoots his, so I can remember correctly. Shoots one of his colleagues in the eye and then arranges for kills his family and then and then shoots himself. I mean, It doesn’t get more, gory and, and, I can’t think of the right word, but it doesn’t get much more, rule breaking than that. I mean, every single rule in the book was broken by that And and it was incredibly it was an incredibly important show which which demonstrated that you can do the same thing for, non premium cable channels as you could at HBO.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:10

    Well, I let’s let’s dive into why this was important because I I I think there are two kind of discreet strands here. Right? It it it was both these shows were both, big award winners. They were big prestige shows for for the networks. You could put them on the air and you could then go to the Emmys and, you know, Michael Chicklis wins, best actor for the first season of the shield, even though the, you know, every episode of the shield is losing a little bit of money.
  • Speaker 1
    0:10:40

    But then on top of that, for business reasons, it it then gives the network something that they can go to the cable operators and say, we want another dime per subscriber. We want another quarter per subscriber for the affiliate fees. You and you can’t drop us because we have this incredibly popular show. Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:01

    Right. Right. Well, that’s, yeah, that’s exactly what happened.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:05

    And then how did the how did the cable operators respond to that?
  • Speaker 2
    0:11:10

    Well, I mean, they, they really had no choice. I mean, they were incredibly popular shows. They couldn’t drop them. So they, they, bit the bullet and the shows, did well for them.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:25

    Let’s, alright. So let let us talk about the soprano obviously, the Spranos is the big, the, you know, the the big show that it remains still, I think, the most relevant of the shows from these periods. People still go back and watch it. It is it remains very popular. When you were researching the book, what was, what was the mood around David Chase like now?
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:48

    We’re we’re a decade or so out. Deck fifteen years. However, however long, it’s been forever. It’s been a long time. I feel the the the, how we’re we’re we’re away from the Sopanos now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:11:59

    How do his writers, his executives, etcetera, kind of think about the making of that show.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:06

    When I did my major research on the Sopranos was actually the last season two thousand seven. So they, you know, they all love this Pranos. And and David Chase, I spent a lot of time with David Chase. He was very open. And I went out to, Astoria Studios where it was filmed and I watched them film stuff.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:27

    I can interview Ganolfini. I interviewed everybody. And HBO was very, very supportive of, that story. I mean, they dragged people out for me to interview that I hadn’t even thought of, you know. So They were only too happy to have the Sopranos, you know, featured in Vanity Fair.
  • Speaker 2
    0:12:47

    Yeah. They love the show. I mean, why wouldn’t they?
  • Speaker 1
    0:12:51

    Totally. I there there does, you know, it yeah. I I one reason I love your books because we do get some, we we get some some background insider folks who are less less please. I mean, there there were some, you know, hurt feelings, in the showrunner or in the writers room.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:10

    Well, yeah. I mean, you know, David Chase was a is a complicated guy. And as, one of the participants in the show said to me, you know, he had struggled for you, you know, he was very successful in in network, making network television, but he hated it. He struggled for years and years under the, in in in the sort of confines of Bulwark. Television, obeying the rules that they had, you know, that you couldn’t name a gangster.
  • Speaker 2
    0:13:41

    You couldn’t use an Italian name for a gangster because you would have the Italian American Association on on top of you in a second. Stuff like that. Just crazy stuff. So when, you know, he he, you know, when he got to the Sopranos, he’d he had suffered so much that he was not going to let anyone interfere with, you know, his achievement, his show. He was, you know, and he was very protective of it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:14:14

    So, And, you know, I don’t wanna I don’t know David Chase well enough to get into the, you know, the nitty gritty of his psychology, but he definitely you know, he fired at least two riders that were seemingly, for no reason. Thai class Kessler was the one he’s he, became very close to. Kessler said he used to go out for dinner with David and his wife, Denise, And then one day, after a script that, both of them had gotten credit for, won an award. He fired Kessler. And he did the same thing, well, later on, a couple of years later to Robin Green.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:01

    Who was also one of the primary writers on the show. He didn’t wanna share credit. And when somebody else challenged his, I guess, ownership of the show. He fired them as apparently. And, you know, I had interviews with a lot of people who said that neither of them deserved to be fired.
  • Speaker 2
    0:15:24

    And he was protecting a seemed like he was just protecting his turf. And, you know, obviously the people who were fired, weren’t happy about it, you know, like, Tesla tells a story about going back to after he was fired going back to New York, sitting on the he lived in Soho, and and sitting on the curb and crying. And then David Chase called him during while he was sitting on the curb and asked him for advice with a, for a future, a future episode. And, Robin Green was she felt that, David hated to look at her, you know, moved her chair. So he wouldn’t have to, you know, moved her chair in the in the writer’s room.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:11

    So he wouldn’t have to see her. And I have couple of interviews with people who said neither of those firings was justified. But, you know, David Chase ones to protect his show. And if he felt threatened, he seemed to, that seemed to be what he would, how he reacted. So, I guess that answers your question.
  • Speaker 1
    0:16:31

    Yeah. No. And and it’s interesting too because you you can you see it pop up elsewhere in the Sopranos lineage. I mean, Matthew Weiner, their story there’s a story about him, you know, not wanting to share credit with the writer, at the at the Emmys, and then she she ends up leaving, which is again, it’s it’s interesting in how pro proprietary, as you say, they they were about these shows.
  • Speaker 2
    0:16:56

    Well, you know, they they were. I mean, you know, no question about they had fought and suffered. To get into the position where they were the show runners and they were gonna protect themselves and protect the show and do what they had to do that they felt had to to protect the show.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:11

    Yeah. So let’s let us, shift to kind of how audiences acted to these things. Because again, this is a a running thread in your book that, you know, when you’re talk when specifically when we were talk you’re talking about, breaking bad and and how many terrible things, you know, Brian Cranston’s character can do in that show that the audience refuses, like steadfastly refuses to break from him that they they go along with basically everything he does. And that’s true of all of these characters. I mean, Tony Soprano, Vic Macky.
  • Speaker 1
    0:17:48

    There’s nothing they can do to, lose the audience. How how has that What do you make of that? I’m just curious, like, as a as a, as a as a as a social critic as a journalist, you know, what what do you make of the audience behavior there.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:06

    I don’t know. You know, I mean, it’s it’s it’s a little bit shocking, you know, that, the these as you said, these characters could behave badly, worse than badly. I mean, the more badly they behave, the more the audience seem to like them. What can call them except premature trump voters.
  • Speaker 1
    0:18:25

    I mean, it does it does it’s interesting because it does kind of set that sort of it creates that sort of permission structure in a way. And I seen this argued more more forcefully. I’m I’m ambivalent about the the, real world impact of sort of thing, but I I am I am curious because it does really feel like there’s a reason we have this we have this age of anti heroes then all of a sudden, we have Donald Trump up there saying, you know, I could shoot a guy on Fifth Street and nobody would stop me. Everyone would keep voting for me.
  • Speaker 2
    0:18:55

    Yeah. I’m a nibbling about it too because I’m I’m a big fan of anti heroes, but I, you know, I was thinking about this the other day. I don’t I don’t think you could call Trump an anti hero because these the anti heroes, most of the anti heroes that you see in these shows had. Their own personal codes, you know, and they and they’re shown, often shown in a benevolent light, you know, like there’s Tony and his family. Although, that’s a mixed bag too because he had a bunch of affairs, but still he’s a good father.
  • Speaker 2
    0:19:28

    You know, they they they all had, pos most of them anyway had positive or shown to have positive characteristics, whereas, somebody like Trump is they’re not so not so evident. But, it it it was shocking the fact that the audience which not only stay with these characters when they behave badly, but ask for for worse, you know. Somebody told me that I somebody somebody said that, in breaking bad, what’s his name’s wife? Author White would get emails, say, or, you know, would get letters saying, why can’t you be more supportive to him? You know, things like that.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:11

    It really that is really shocking.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:14

    Yeah. Anna Gunn, would would frequently I think she even wrote an op ed for the New York Times. Like, I couldn’t believe how much hate mail I personally got. For not better backing up my meth producing husband as a show.
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:30

    Oh, that’s interesting.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:31

    My murderous meth producing husband. But but then but then also you get the you get the at the end of the show, you get people who do want. These, these violent retributive society back endings. Right? I mean, this was why David Chase was so hesitant to really put a button on on the Sopranos.
  • Speaker 1
    0:20:56

    Right?
  • Speaker 2
    0:20:56

    Well, it was one reason. I mean, I mean, there are other reasons too. I mean, David Chase, you know, hated the way, network shows tied up, you know, tied everything up in a in a pink ribbon at the end of the show. And, you know, I was watching something the other day and I kept thinking, you know, that where two characters were saying, you were right. I was wrong, you know, and David Chase called them Huggable moments.
  • Speaker 2
    0:21:23

    In network shows, which were sort of mandatory, for the, wrap up at the shows last episode, or the last season where and he made fun of it. One of the it’s true. It’s one of the reasons he refused to do it, in the Sopranos. But he ought but he also liked to leave things untaught, you know, untied unresolved. No no pink ribbons in David Chase shows.
  • Speaker 1
    0:21:49

    But there is also I mean, look, again, there was a there was a react you had these audiences who for years and years wanted wanted more blood and violence. We we just want we want the wackings. That’s why we’re watching the Sopanos. And then at the end of the show, we’re like, well, Tony has to pay a price.
  • Speaker 2
    0:22:06

    Well, some people said that, you know, that I don’t know that it was think there was certainly a a segment of the audience that wanted him to pay a price, but I think there was probably a second, a segment of the audience that didn’t. And Chase didn’t resolve it. It just left it left it unresolved. Yeah. Neither neither neither of those audience segments got what they wanted.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:28

    The David Chase Why? We should, the alright. So so, let’s move into the world of streaming. Alright? So we have the rise of HBO, which expands to the basic cable, universe, and then kind of lurking in the background until we get to the the last section of your book, you have Netflix.
  • Speaker 1
    0:22:47

    You have you have these occasional check ins on what Netflix is up to. And how they are they’re growing until all of the sudden, everybody wants to be Netflix. What what happened there? What was the Netflix tell me then, give us the the two minute Netflix story.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:02

    Well, for one thing, Netflix innovated in several ways. First of all, of the things that streaming did was they, they broke the, what was called the, with the, broke the linear network schedule and the mini linear, cable schedule. In other words, HBL is always at a single, you know, at a certain time. If you wanted to watch HBO, you knew what that time was. And you, and you put away, you know, put aside your own whatever your own schedule and sat down and watched the Sopranas whereas streaming, There wasn’t a schedule.
  • Speaker 2
    0:23:41

    So you could watch a streamer anytime you wanted. It gave it gave viewers a lot more leeway and a lot more power over the show in some sense. Over the schedule of the show, I should say. Secondly, net streaming introduced net Netflix introduced binging. Or you could drop a whole season in one day, or at least they did that for a while until it became too expensive.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:04

    They don’t do that anymore. And that was a huge thing. And it and that made it that made a difference not only in, to the viewer, but also to the creatives who because you got story arcs that could go over a whole season instead of one episode, and that attracted better writers, gave them more freedom, as I said, and better writers attract at better directors and better actors. So, like, create to some degree, created a whole stampede towards Netflix and the better the show has got, the more, people who watch them. So I think I’ve probably forgotten one or two things and Netflix did that, innovative.
  • Speaker 2
    0:24:49

    They they boasted about password sharing. So, people in the same you know, friends and families could share passwords and which we, net Netflix didn’t, didn’t object to that even though it cost them money and no advertising. That was a huge thing. Now, also cable had no advertising either, but, that was it. Also, you know, they carried that over from cable.
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:18

    So there were three or four things that Netflix did that, it innovated And the interesting thing is now they’re sort of, reversing themselves and going back on all those innovations.
  • Speaker 1
    0:25:29

    What in what ways? I mean, I, obviously, they are introducing advertising tiers, and that sort of thing. But how how else are are they they kind of stepping back?
  • Speaker 2
    0:25:38

    They decided the binging was so expensive, so I don’t binge anymore. Ron DeSantis password sharing was too expensive so they don’t they don’t they’re cracking down on password sharing. And and introducing, add supported tiers. It’s a huge thing because in my view, it’s a dangerous thing because that’s it it gives sponsors and advertisers, a foot in the door to do what they did with network, which was to, cent essentially self censor may force networks to self censor because they they didn’t want, as I said in the beginning, didn’t want their products. To be adjacent to scenes of sex violence and controversy.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:21

    And I think the same thing may happen to, to Netflix. Plus, you know, Netflix is also showing that one of the major things that happened in that, you know, when Netflix started reed Hastings, so it was the founder of it, said his only, competition was sleep. Now, of course, there are many streaming services and they’re all competing with each other for the biggest and broadest audience. And once you do that, you’ve gotta have biggest and the biggest and the the broadest, programming. Which means, again, you don’t wanna alienate people.
  • Speaker 2
    0:26:58

    You’re more interested in, not offending people than you are in, attracting people. Yeah. Yeah. I mean, so, you know, networks was a disruptor like HBO. And now they’re undoing their disruptions.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:14

    I I wrote about this a couple weeks ago, but I do think the relationship between advertising and television is the key to all of this. I mean, I think getting away from advertising, getting away from the reliance on advertising is what allowed the medium to grow up. And now it really does feel like between the need for HBO or Disney Plus or Netflix or whoever to accumulate these hundred million subscriber you know, behemoths and the increased reliance on these advertising models to do it. Right? The cheaper we’re gonna get people to come in at six or seven bucks a month, and we’re gonna sell them ads.
  • Speaker 1
    0:27:53

    It does feel like they’re headed back toward the lowest common denominator appeal to everybody model that made network TV kind of so useless in the name.
  • Speaker 2
    0:28:07

    Well, I think that’s true. I mean, one of the, big attractions for Netflix, for creators to go to Netflix, and, and, you, you know, in the beginning, early days at Netflix, you have people leaving, cableers and Bulwark, like, you know, to to, leaving those, the creators, leaving those to go to Netflix because it offered them more freedom. And and they said they welcomed niche programming to small groups of, of viewers Now they’re not in no longer interested in niche programming than one, as I said, the biggest possible audience, and that and you’re right. I think that the freedom from, from sponsors and advertisers that Netflix initially, achieved, was a key to their success and a key to their the quality of their programming, and now that’s out the window. Or we make the window?
  • Speaker 1
    0:29:06

    Netflix is interesting too because it is it’s a tech company, but it is still also a studio. I mean, their their business is TV mostly, but also movies. And it is now finding itself in comp with actual, you know, the real big monster tech companies, Amazon, and Apple, in particular, which creates which creates an interesting thing because I, you know, you you you write about this in your book, but, like, what is the Apple TV brand exactly? What what how does that conflict with the Apple brand writ large, or can they exist in in tandem? What are what are the tech companies actually doing here as we shift to a more, again, tech savvy, tech friendly mode of watching things, which is streaming.
  • Speaker 2
    0:29:55

    Well, I mean, Apple does in a way, in a way have a brand even. I mean, I I was gonna say that the brand of these tech companies like Amazon and Apple’s money You know, because Apple can, you know, each of them could spend, you know, I mean, streaming is a hobby for these company, for these big tech companies. And they make their money elsewhere. Apple, however, it does have a bit of a a brand, which is essentially it’s a nice a nice streamer, you know, and and initially when it was started, somebody said to me, or I read somewhere that, Tim Cook was quoted as saying, these we don’t want the I don’t want these shows to be mean, you know. And, so You know, Apple is this is the, you know, the show that made Apple was Telasso, which is, you know, not necessarily the birth but the maturation of comfort viewing, which is the opposite of the Tony Soprano, HBO formula, which was discomfort fuel.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:07

    That makes, that makes a huge difference. Amazon, not so much, but Amazon is sort of all over the place. I don’t think they know what they’re doing, you know. And, the the other thing I guess that should be said is that Netflix know, in the beginning HBO, I’m jumping around a little bit here, but in the beginning HBO went out of its way, to define itself against the Bulwark. So they would never they wouldn’t hire, if they could help it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:31:36

    Executives who had worked who had worked at networks or studios. And when they hired Tom Fontana to do Oz, were a little bit ambivalent about it because he had worked on on network. He had done say elsewhere in a few other network shows. But, and Netflix was the same way. They, they did not hire people that had worked for for Bulwark or cable.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:01

    And now they’re recreating themselves in the image of the networks in the in the in the studios. By hiring people directly from those studios and networks. So, you know, they just sort of turn themselves inside out.
  • Speaker 1
    0:32:18

    Yeah. No. I, I the the branding question is fascinating to me because I I often kind of you know, you can you can you can you you get back in the days of, you know, late nineties, early aughts HBO. You had an idea of what an HBO show was, or You know, it is, you know, what a CBS show is, right, or a or a, an NBC sitcom in the parks and rec era, but With the streamers, they are just trying to appeal to so many people at once that it’s hard to pinpoint exactly what they’re doing.
  • Speaker 2
    0:32:51

    Well, I mean, I think, again, I think that’s true. I agree with that. I mean, initially, again, Netflix did not so much really have a brand. I mean, I Ira said said, Netflix doesn’t have a brand. He ran he was criticizing it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:33:09

    Comparing it to Disney, which does have a brand. But the brand that that net netflix had was an aggregate of niches, niches, you know, it had, you know, so that there would be, you know, a show for almost every niche. And if you added up all these niches, it was a platform you know, I recall that not a not a brand like Disney. But now, those niches, the distinctions between all those niches have kind of disappeared, and you have this kind of soup of of, broad based programming designed to appeal to the biggest possible audience. That’s their You know, that’s their business model now.
  • Speaker 1
    0:33:53

    Yeah. Yeah. And Disney itself. I mean, Disney is bringing Hulu, into the Disney plan form. So it’s gonna you’re gonna have Disney and Hulu and ESPN plus, kind of all in the same place.
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:03

    Maybe we’ll have the ABC network. I, like, I’m I I’m
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:07

    The other thing you get is shows that could be the the the, you know, the streamers are airing shows that could have been produced by the networks. You know, and shows that started on streaming or going to the networks and vice versa. I mean, certainly when Netflix started, it used to license a lot of network shows. But now you’re having something like, murder in the building which started as a streaming show, I guess, on Hulu, Mhmm. That one, a, b, c,
  • Speaker 1
    0:34:37

    and then NBC, right? NBC picks up, manifest and brings it to and then suits does huge numbers, which was a USA network show. I the whole the whole business is It’s weird. I, I,
  • Speaker 2
    0:34:54

    say one more Yes. Yeah, please. Distinction between, streaming Bulwark is breaking down, I think. And and that’s partly a result of, an partly resolved. I think of opening the, door to sponsors, but I think that had been happening before spot they did this before they were asked for his years.
  • Speaker 1
    0:35:14

    Yeah. Yeah. I one thing one thing I wanna ask, and I I I just wanna shift away slightly from from the questions of streamers and networks and all that, because it’s it’s, one thing I enjoyed about your book is that you, a couple times mentioned Richard Rushfield and the Anchler, one of my favorite publications. I love I love, what Richard is doing over there, frequent guest guest on the show. And I I I I wanted to I wanted to get your sense of how the media landscape kind of looks right now in the trade publications because it it does feel like we have this weird you know, Pensky media kind of blob thing, but then also a bunch of independent voices like the Anchler David Poe on other guys.
  • Speaker 1
    0:36:00

    What’s your sense of how how the media the trade media media looks?
  • Speaker 2
    0:36:06

    Well, I mean, I think, you know, things like the angler and, impact are only to be applauded because they they sort of broke with the, again, with the, the kind of bland model that, a varieties represented, for example, for years and years and still does to to a great degree. And they adopt, you know, they adopted a much more critical, much more I don’t know, piercing and aggressive and, you know, model of reporting, almost an, you know, anti variety model of reporting. And I think that’s I think that’s also the good. And, I don’t know what I don’t know the figures on how well these, like, the Anchler is doing, but, I think they’re doing a good job.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:06

    Yeah. I mean, and I think it’s also I think it’s also telling too that these are, you know, puck the Anchler, semaphore, I guess. These are, subscriber driven models too. I mean, again, this the the the question of subscribers sponsors versus subscribers is, I think, the key one for our of our age. And this is one reason why I love working where I work at the Bulwark is that we are a subscriber driven property.
  • Speaker 1
    0:37:33

    It’s we we exist because enough people pay for it to let us exist. And I I don’t I I I look at where the streamers are going, and I kind of cringe at the thought of advertising reemerging as an enormous revenue source. I think it’s nothing but bad. It it there’s nothing good about it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:37:53

    I’ll be interesting to say what happens with with, with, things like this, like the Anchler. It’s like a bigger and bigger, you know, and their expenses increase, you know, and You know, I’d hate to see them. I would hate to see it, follow the, the model of Netflix, for example, I don’t think that Will Saletan. But, you know, then you’re gonna have to be careful. I thank you.
  • Speaker 2
    0:38:22

    Yeah. Because with success comes risks like that, you know, increasing expenses, and and and the need for more money. And once you need more, you know, need for more money because pressing menu may compromise us that you probably shouldn’t.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:40

    No. Yep. Alright. I closing question here. So Pandora’s box, just as a concept.
  • Speaker 1
    0:38:47

    Pandora’s box, the mythical concept is, you know, we opened Pandora’s box and we let out all the evils into the world. What did what did opening the Pandora’s box of prestige T TV due to, due to the world for both good and ill. What is your what’s your what was the thinking behind the title here?
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:09

    To open the box and see what was inside. And, you know, for better or for worse. And, you know, there’s a lot that say cable and stream. I mean, I, you know, when I started the book, I it it began as kind of celebration for the era of so called peak TV. Which, you know, has produced, has attracted, you know, all sorts of talent and has produced some of the best, narrative story storytelling that I think we’ve ever seen, you know, in in a, in an, you know, in an accessible way to to a broader audience.
  • Speaker 2
    0:39:50

    And while I was writing the book, a book took took about three years to write. Some of the, nuts upgrade, contents of ten Pandora’s box started to appear. Like the ones we’ve been discussing, you know, the ones which, sort of, you know, seem like it’s they’re gonna neuter HBO you know, one big one big issue here we haven’t discussed is consolidation and this, a sleep with the switch, anti monopoly, division of the Justice Department, which has allowed all this consolidation, which has allowed, big tech to, you know, Amazon start its own streaming network and has allowed, Apple to move in and, and create, its own streamer. You know, that’s had a lot to do with, because that, you know, it’s, you know, you know, looking at what happened with AT and T to basically just pretty much destroyed HBO by buying, by buying discovery and, and, and creating the creating the climate in which HBO programming is diluted by, you know, you know, the famous example is mister pimple popper, but shows as well. You know, and and the result of being discovery discovery taking on a huge debt, which makes them more interested and it seems like in lowering their debt.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:23

    And selling themselves still again to a bigger company than it is in creating good TV. So I that’s a digression because we hadn’t really discussed consolidation. But I forgot what your your actual oh, your question was Pandora’s box. Well, you know, consolidation is one of the things that popped out of the box, you know, when you open the lid. So I wanted to do both, you know, and and as I said initially, it was supposed to be a celebrated, more of a celebration than it is a, as a requiem.
  • Speaker 2
    0:41:55

    But as things changed, and the whole picture got darker and darker. The the book changed. And, and the future to me doesn’t look all that bright. Hopefully, you know, one of the things that does happen is these things are cyclical. So if, you know, if the era of peak TV is you know, essentially destroyed.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:19

    You know, I don’t know, I keep the figures on original, the decline in original scripts that are produced by, the streamers, you know, as shocking. But, as you know, let’s say is, sponsors consolidate that consolidate themselves, you know, a new Netflix will appear, and a new HBO will appear. So I’m not completely pessimistic, put it that way. You know, is, you know, it’ll it’ll come back eventually. And it hasn’t disappeared yet.
  • Speaker 2
    0:42:50

    Either there’s still plenty of good good stuff to watch, although it’s hard to find.
  • Speaker 1
    0:42:54

    There’s there’s so much of it. That is a there is a a neglect problem. Let me I I always like to close these interviews, but asking if there’s anything I should have asked if you think there’s things, folks should know about your book or the world of streaming, whatever, any anything.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:07

    Well, I think you’ve been pretty thorough. You know, the thing I I think we didn’t, as I said, that we didn’t discuss was con consolidation and but, you know, I I do wanna end up in a semi, and hopeful note. I mean, I’m always surprised at the stuff I did stumble across on Netflix, which is just buried. You know, I just came across a Steve Boschkoke show called murder in the first which I think was, created in two it’s three seasons. I think starting in two thousand fourteen, fifteen, and sixteen units.
  • Speaker 2
    0:43:40

    It’s not it’s no Hill Street blues, but it’s very good. You know, and there’s a lot of stuff like that. You just don’t hear about it. And if you spend the time to explore, say, Netflix, you’ll find it. And it’s, and it’s, so it’s, it’s, by no means, you know, a dark and dismal picture, although it’s, certainly there are plenty of indicators that are not so gray.
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:05

    Wilds on the horizon. Alright. Mister biscuits, thank you for very much for being on the show. I really appreciate it.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:11

    Well, as I said, thank you for inviting me. It was a pleasure.
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:14

    The name of the book again is Pandora’s box, how guts, Guile, and greed, upended TV. It’s available, Amazon, the speaking of speaking of our tech overlords, and bookstores everywhere else. If you if you are interested in reading it, I highly recommend it. Again, if you You have lived through this, era of TV. Like I have, it’s it’s a it’s a fascinating behind the scenes look at a lot of, the great the great titles of our age.
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:39

    So I am, very happy to have, Peter on today. Thank you again.
  • Speaker 2
    0:44:44

    Thank you.
  • Speaker 1
    0:44:46

    My name, again, is Sunny Bunch. I am Culture Editor at the Bulwark, and I will be back next week with another episode of The Bulwark Coast of Hollywood. See you guys