An interesting situation faces the folks behind The Drew Carey Show, a once-funny show that lost both humorous and ratings momentum over the years (and for all I know, regained the humor; it’s been years since I watched an episode.) The show appears to be cancelled, not on the fall schedule nor listed among the things that ABC is planning to bring back.
One little problem: they have a contract to provide another whole season of the show, and quite a lucrative contract to boot. Eighty million for presumably 22 episodes.
So maybe the episodes will be just thrown into the syndicated rerun package, or maybe they’ll pop up on some cable network, but they will be made and they almost certainly won’t air on broadcast network TV.
As a creative soul, I see two ways of viewing this opportunity. On one hand, the producers can make a batch of bland episodes as cheaply as possible. On the other hand…
No network interference. Lots of money. Time to go wild.
I’ve spent some time considering just what I would do were I the producers. Certainly, it would be in the “go wild” state, but what does that mean? Making Bob Dole a regular character? Doing an entire episode in the nude? Doing both at once (eek!)? But then it hits me: throw money at writers.
I don’t mean build up a respectable writing staff with a long list of writing credits. I mean, take $400,000 to a variety of writers and say “give us a half hour with this setting, don’t worry about comedy, don’t worry about continuity, just make sure the commercial breaks are there.” Parker&Stone? $400,000. Maya Angelou? $400,000. Carl Reiner. David Mamet. Mrs. McCormack’s 4th grade class. Stephen Hawking. There will be some horrible, horrible television along the way, either some horrible scripts or some horrible performances of unlikely scripts. (Drew, while a reasonable sitcom character actor, has shown no signs of dramatic talent, and he’s lousy at improv. Some of the others in the cast, however, have potential.)
But it should be fascinating. And wherever it airs, people will turn in just to see how it’s horrible this time; it may always be a traffic accident, but done right it should be a very different traffic accident every time. And some of the time, just some of the time, we could get some bizarre gem.
And this isn’t a pure artistic decision. If you get people talking about the show, interest in the rerun package goes up. A DVD set of the final season because worthy of consideration. It is quite possible that such a show could get respectable network-style ratings on a basic cable channel.
As they say in the TV-edited version of Risky Business, sometimes you just gotta say “what the heck”.