Enter MTM Enterprises (Mary Tyler Moore and Grant Tinker) and Tandem Productions (Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin). Right around the time they emerged as a powerhouse, that’s when the Fin-Syn rules were implemented. Those rules imposed by the FCC in 1970 were meant to protect the Independent Producer from the meddling of the networks. The networks were not allowed to own any of the programming they aired in primetime. The idea was that by allowing the networks to distribute, produce, and exhibit programs that unfairly gave them all the power. These rules were very controversial but did pave the way for a quality revolution of sorts.
In 1993, everything changed when the Fin-Syn rules were eliminated and eventually networks and studios were becoming part of the same corporate umbrella. 20th Century Fox Television already had their new network going to some varied success (Fox), Warner Brothers Television formed their own network, The WB, and Paramount formed their own network as well, UPN. NBC was purchased by GE in 1986 and Universal Studios, including their TV arm, was purchased by GE in 2004 as part of their Vivendi SA Universal Entertainment acquisition. In 2000 Viacom, the owner of Paramount Studios, merged with CBS. Eventually CBS Paramount Television was formed. The last merger happened when Disney, having acquired ABC, launched the Disney-ABC Television group in 2004.
So what’s happening now that studios and networks are all part of one happy family? An increasing number of “in-house” shows. The studios own, finance, and produce the shows and then sell them to their sister network often at a lower license fee knowing that the corporate parent will make out in the end with DVD distribution and syndication. A large percentage of a network’s schedule is now produced by their sister studios. Even that arrangement though isn’t going so well anymore.
There are lessons here for writers looking to free themselves from the yoke of print publishing. But I’m still too distraught over the passing of Stephen J. Cannell to commit to a post. Also, I’ve said the same thing over and over and over again, dammit.