I always figured that other television showrunners were envious of the few and proud who have created original series for Netflix. But at a Columbia University panel this week, “Royal Pains” creator Michael Rauch admitted to “House of Cards” showrunner Beau Willimon’s face that he was “jealous.”
The executive producer of USA’s Hamptons-set dramedy, on stage to discuss “Is It Television? The Rise of Episodic Storytelling,” spoke with his fellow Columbia alumni about the frustrations of trying to create television within the structure of the mainstream studio system.
“You have an opportunity to do details, and you have moments that we don’t have the opportunity to do in a way that makes me very jealous of you,” Rauch said to Willimon during the discussion, holding up Willimon’s relative freedom working with Netflix in comparison to his experience creating the short-lived romantic comedy series “Love Monkey” for CBS.
“It’s all about the network you’re on and the show you’re doing for them,” Rauch said. “With the show I’m doing now [“Pains”], we have a certain amount of freedom…but your freedom is limited by what the network wants you to deliver. If you don’t deliver it the way they want it, your show gets canceled or you’re not going to get on the air in the first place.”
This came after Willimon waxed romantic about what many currently refer to as our current golden age of television, pointing to the HBO series “Oz” as an origin point for it. “That’s been happening across the board ever since [“Oz” creator] Tom Fontana — ‘Oz’ blew it wide open. When you got to ‘Oz,’ things shifted. Suddenly TV was an opportunity to take chances — if only because HBO didn’t know what the hell it was doing, either.”
Willimon credited a similiar lack of knowledge to his and director David Fincher’s success with “House of Cards.” “I don’t know what television writing is and I hope I never know,” he said. “One of the things that was exciting to Fincher and I is that we had no idea what we were doing…Ignorance is a form of bliss — we weren’t bound by any sort of convention. We were like, I guess we’re making a 13-hour movie. Let’s not try to recreate what we think a television show is — let’s just tell a story.”
What makes that easier? Literally “complete creative control.” But he emphasized that just because “House of Cards” has a much more flexible relationship with MRC. the company that owns the show, and Netflix, doesn’t mean they don’t have problems.
“We have our limits too — you have a budget, you have a schedule, you have all kinds of constraints — like you couldn’t get the Ringling Brothers into Baltimore on that particular afternoon,” he said.
Willimon, to be fair, acknowledged that other series have more significant problems.
The whole panel, hosted by Ustream, can be seen below.