Watch your back, Hulu. IndieWire surveyed 15 network toppers this summer on a range of questions, including the show they’d most like to steal from a rival. The top show they coveted was easily Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the timely story of a totalitarian dystopia that is on track to potentially win the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy this month.
Execs also raved about a variety of other recent series, including the HBO documentary “The Defiant Ones,” about the relationship between billionaire music moguls Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre. And the network honchos were given a chance to single out an upcoming (or recently aired) show that they believe is destined to become a surprise hit. As the industry prepares for another fall season, here’s some insight into what TV’s top executives are thinking, and what’s concerning them most.
Dana Walden, chairman, Fox TV Group
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “The Resident.” I think it has clearly familiar DNA in the medical world, but really it’s an original take on that world and has something that feels very compelling and almost like a thriller, and characters who stand out. It was cast very well.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The sex is over the line for what we could do on broadcast. But beyond that, it feels like a broadcast show. It’s very simply told, in flashbacks, using a voice over, incredible performances. Compelling, but still feels like something that broadcast could tackle.
What do people ask you about the most? People still want to talk a lot about “Empire” and will still always ask me about our animation lineup.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? I’m loving docuseries — “The Defiant Ones,” “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop.” Documentaries, they’re not fueling my business in any way.
What keeps you up at night? How can you launch a big hit? How do you differentiate yourself in a sea of so much competition, where each platform is launching a lot of different shows and there’s a lot of quality and there’s a lot of shows that are not quality? Trying to find that place where we can all compete, but still have a few genuine bright spots.
Channing Dungey, entertainment president, ABC
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? I would hope that it’s “Kevin (Probably) Saves The World.” A lot of people have written so much about Tuesday at 10:00 and I think the show is fantastic. I love Jason Ritter. I think he and Kim have so much chemistry. I would love for it to be the one everyone sits back and says, “Wait a minute!”
What show would you love to steal from a rival? “This Is Us” is a natural ABC show. It’s so much about families and relationships and that’s been our bread and butter for years.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? I call it a genuine pleasure: “Ozark.” It’s amazing. But if it’s guilty pleasure I would say “Property Brothers.” The brothers, I love their whole dynamic and I love that you get to have the remodeling and the selling all in one hour.
What do people ask you about the most? Probably “Scandal” because it’s the final season, and Shonda keeps things so close to the vest and they want to see if I’ll spill any beans.
What keeps you up at night? In terms of broadcast television, it’s this whole question of “How do we measure how people are watching?” We know they’re watching, but at this moment we’re not capturing all of that data the way I wish we were.
Bob Greenblatt, entertainment chairman, NBC
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “Menendez” will do really well, “The Brave” will do well. I don’t think there’s a “This Is Us” hiding this year and we’ll all say we didn’t see that coming. “Good Girls” will be a little bit of a surprise for people. We now have Christina Hendricks in it, and it’s good, and I think she will elevate it. It’s clever.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? I have a ritual of putting blinders on when other networks announce their shows. I eventually have to experience them. But I kind of want to get through the early phases of our new shows.
What do people ask you about the most? “What’s your next Broadway show?” “This Is Us” and “Will & Grace.” People are so excited about both of those shows. And “America’s Got Talent.” I went on a family vacation [this summer]. People from the Midwest who live in the red part of Illinois, and they’re all about “AGT.” A lot of our shows get over that niche barrier into bigness.
What keeps you up at night? The only thing: How are these writers and producers working for us really inspired? How will they come up with a vision like a Dan Fogelman does? On the business level, I think we’re as forward-thinking and in as good of a place as anyone can be. I have enormous corporate support, sports franchises that will keep circulation flowing for many years, I have autonomy. I worry that there are too many shows for the audience to ever really follow and amass a big audience for and then along comes “This Is Us.”
Kelly Kahl, entertainment president, CBS
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “Wisdom of the Crowd.” I think it has an interesting premise that can appeal old/young and I like the “60 Minutes” lead-in for it.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? “Star Trek: Discovery” [which is actually premiering on CBS but running on CBS All Access].
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? “GLOW.” Takes me back to a different time and Marc Maron is fantastic.
What do people ask you about the most? They ask me for “The Price Is Right” tickets. But if they get tickets from me, they can’t play.
What keeps you up at night? The point at which broadcast networks lose critical mass. But I don’t think that’s coming anytime soon.
Mark Pedowitz, president, The CW
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “Valor.” It’s different and people will come to it for the serialized element, but it’s a very relatable show.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? The last show that I really thought would make a great CW show is now off the air, which is “Scream Queens.” I would love to bring back “Reaper” but it probably wouldn’t happen.
What do people ask you about the most? “Supernatural” and “The Flash.” They ask me, they’re fans, how much will “Supernatural” go. That’s the two they ask me about. If I run into any teenagers now, I’m sure I’ll be asked about “Riverdale.”
What keeps you up at night? I’m not kept up at night. I reached that point in my life. It’s amazing what maturity does. Over the course of the last few years, repositioning it as a multi-platform network is to make sure we complete that mission. Because The CW will then survive for a long time. And we’re close to that point.
David Nevins, president/CEO, Showtime
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “White Famous.” I think it’s got a stellar comedy cast and I think it’s about a lot of things that a lot of people are talking about right now.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? Louis C.K. That’s a show I really wish I had.
What do people ask you about the most? “Twin Peaks,” absolutely. “Can you explain it to me?” I say, “It is to be felt, not explained.”
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? I generally don’t feel guilty for any TV watching. The show I take great pleasure in is “Master of None.”
What keeps you up at night? Our business is strong and I just want to increase the pace of our new show introductions. Upping the tempo of new stuff, and getting more new shows on the air. We have a lot of momentum right now and we need to keep doing the next new thing all the time. I have to increase my budget, of course. But I’ll have the revenue to justify it.
Kevin Reilly, president, TNT/TBS and chief creative officer, Turner Entertainment
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? Last year’s sleeper “Search Party” will get less sleepy this fall as more people discover how great it is.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? “The Handmaid’s Tale.” It has certainly struck a chord and I’m hearing a lot of people talking about it.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? I’m sorry, do I get to have one of those? “The Defiant Ones” — nothing guilty about it, it’s fantastic.
What do people ask you about the most? “Claws,” and how it manages to hold together despite how insane it is.
What keeps you up at night? The business has never been more vibrant on one hand, and more challenging on the other. Getting those two things to align sadly creeps into my subconscious at 3 a.m. quite often.
Courteney Monroe, CEO, National Geographic Global Networks
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “One Strange Rock,” which we’ll premiere in the spring. We’re working on it with Darren Aronofsky, which is a big groundbreaking cinematic “Planet Earth” meets “Cosmos” meets “Gravity.” “One Strange Rock” refers to planet Earth and it’s all about how strange and odd it is that we all live on this perfectly calibrated machine that allows life to thrive. It’s going to be amazing, and people will go crazy for it.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? If “The Americans” was based on real people, I’d love to steal that show. That’s a story we could tell, as long as it wasn’t completely made up.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? I watch a lot of broadcast reality shows with my kids, like Jennifer Lopez’s “World of Dance.” I watch “American Grit,” all of those competition shows with my kids, and I enjoy them. I’ve been known to throw a little “Real Housewives” in there sometimes, I’m not going to lie — only New York and Beverly Hills, though. I’m very picky about my “Real Housewives.”
What do people ask you about the most? What they say first is, “Oh my gosh, my grandfather had an entire room of every National Geographic magazine that was ever published!” In the last year, the show more people have mentioned to me than any other is “Gender Revolution with Katie Couric.” I’ve gotten a lot of emails from people about it.
What keeps you up at night? The peak competition is so daunting. Are we going to be able to break through with the stories we tell? You can create amazing programming but not punctuate the zeitgeist, and will have spent gobs and gobs of money doing it, and the return isn’t there. Making sure everything we do is creatively excellent.
Casey Bloys, programming president, HBO
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? All of them, it’s hard to pick.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? I did enjoy “The Handmaid’s Tale.” I thought it was very ambitious. I’d take it!
What do people ask you about the most? “Game of Thrones,” but “Big Little Lies” as well. People unsolicited, parents, friends, I can tell when something is connecting. I got a lot of emails from people telling me they loved it.
What keeps you up at night? The thing that keeps you up at night, you always hope a show comes together. But when I wake up in the morning and look at the email and see what problems I’m dealing with that way. It’s usually a specific thing; something’s happening on a show or a deal won’t close. Big picture, the problem is picking the show you want to do.
Rich Ross, group president, Discovery Channel/Animal Planet/Science Channel
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “Darkness.” It’s a survival genre, but it’s captivating. You can’t imagine people would do it, but then they do it and they learn not just about survival, but about themselves. There’s a psychological element and not just a survival element.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? I’m a huge “Game of Thrones” fan. My favorite show is “Top Chef.” I’m fascinated as a viewer and as a programmer how you keep something fresh. They’re able to do it. It’s really a show about personal stories and they happen to cook and they’re exceptional.
What do people ask you about the most? The first thing everyone says, “Oh, so you’re the president of Shark Week.” Now I understand the environmentalism behind it and the power of it. And they ask me if I know the captains on “Deadliest Catch” or ever meet the miners on “Gold Rush.” Which I went up to the Yukon and did. It was a rush.
What keeps you up at night? The only way people will really watch you today is with fresh content. The idea of turning to my 11-year-old nephew and explaining what a rerun is, and our entire business model is based on runs and reruns. So what we’re trying to do is make more originals when we’re very competitive and prices don’t go down.
Craig Erwich, senior vice president, Hulu
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? Honestly, I think our TGIF acquisition, based on what we saw with “Golden Girls,” is going to blow up.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? “Westworld.” I think the scope of it is so incredible, and I love the team behind it.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? “Fuck, That’s Delicious” from Viceland. I love that show. It’s a cooking show but it’s like a “Cheech and Chong” movie meets Anthony Bourdain.
What do people ask you about the most? Right now it’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” They ask what’s going to happen in Season 2, because we’re departing from the book.
What keeps you up at night? How do you stand out, and is going bigger always better?
Carmi Zlotnik, programming president, Starz
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? I think people are going to be surprised by “Counterpart.” It’s a really difficult story to tell but J.K. Simmons is fantastic in it and I can’t wait to roll it out for people.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? I actually don’t have a show I covet from another network. I like to do my own thing. I guess everyone would pick “Game of Thrones” if they could, but my goal is to make our own “Game of Thrones.” We put it in development at HBO; I read those books early on when Carolyn Strauss originally suggested it as something we should develop.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? I did binge “GLOW” and I really enjoyed it. I’m a big fan of Betty Gilpin and I think Jenji Kohan and that team did a fantastic job.
What do people ask you about the most? A lot of people ask me about “Power,” and a lot of people ask me about “Outlander.” Everybody wants to know what’s going to happen next, but I’m sworn to secrecy.
What keeps you up at night? I just look for opportunities to counterpunch. I look at what everybody else is doing and try to seize my opportunities. Thinking about that keeps me up at night.
Chris Linn, president, TruTV
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “I’m Sorry,” the scripted show we launched this summer. I think Andrea’s creative voice really comes through, it’s fun, it’s smart, it’s funny. I think it’s super relatable, and what I was encouraged by was how many people are talking about it. We’re still a small emerging network that relies on word of mouth. The fact that so many people have been finding it is encouraging.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? “South Park” in its heyday. Because it has all the aspects we’re striving for: creator-driven, visually distinctive, smart, funny. It broke through the zeitgeist.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? “The Great British Bake Off.” It’s such an escape from everything, and such the polar opposite of American competition shows. When someone wins, all the people who lost go up and congratulate them. You learn a little something, but it’s just food porn. It takes you away from an hour, what’s not to love?
What do people ask you about the most? Right now, “At Home with Amy Sedaris.” Everybody wants to know, “What is the show?” She doesn’t do that much, she pops in and out of pop culture. So there’s tremendous curiosity, and people are dying to know what it is.
What keeps you up at night? Just breaking through the clutter. It’s such a dynamic landscape. I think people always find good shows, but it’s hard to get enough people to find it. It’s such a long game now, but just punching through is tough. The ground keeps shifting.
Elaine Frontain Bryant, executive vice president and head of programming, A&E
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “Undercover High” [which embeds seven young adults, ranging in age from 21 to 26, inside a Kansas high school].
What show would you love to steal from a rival? Not interested in rival shows. We don’t copy rival shows.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? I don’t feel guilty about it, but “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
What do people ask you about the most? “Live PD” and “Leah Remini: Scientology and the Aftermath.” They ask, “How the fuck do you do that show?” Both of them. And “What were you thinking?”
What keeps you up at night? How do we cut through? With no repeats happening, it feels to me that it’s harder and harder to find the close-ended format show that we can buy a hundred episodes of now. The “Storage Wars,” the “Pawn Stars.” These serialized shows that you can get 10 episodes in a season and then it takes another year for them, feel like the ones that are must-see now. That’s harder on a team to produce. It churns through a lot faster. The fact that we found “Live PD” and can do six hours a week and keep it on all the time is amazing. We’re treating it preciously and cautiously so we can keep it on. The sustainability of these shows that rate at a level. It’s been a long time since something walked in that we felt we could get 100 episodes that rate.
Chris Long, senior vice president of entertainment and production, AT&T/Audience Network
What will be your network’s next sleeper hit? “Hit the Road.” You haven’t seen Jason Alexander in this light. He’s so far removed from his theater and “Seinfeld” personas that he’ll be surprisingly disturbing but fun to watch.
What show would you love to steal from a rival? “Ray Donovan.” I want to hang out with Ray Donovan, I want him to fix my problems. And “Billions” because I had the opportunity.
What’s your guilty TV pleasure right now? “Lock Up.” I watch a lot of it on MSNBC. I want to know what’s going on with prison politics. I’m fascinated by that.
What do people ask you about the most? One thing they ask me is, “What exactly is it you do?” My dad used to think I was a cameraman.
What keeps you up at night? The same thing that’s keeping up 90 percent of us. The competition, the overspending by our competitors. It’s hard to create an even playing field when others are willing to pay an exorbitant amount of money on the open market.