For the folks who write TV shows, their favorite projects become as cherished as babies. And while it certainly takes a village to raise a child these days, in the TV world that means letting your baby be adored, poked, celebrated, and rejected over and over again in hopes it will become a prime-time network hit.
Whether the rounds of applause or boos are coming from studio executives, critics, fans, or even Aunt Martha, TV writers quickly learn to listen to feedback. Never mind that one of the industry's favorite sayings is: "Nobody knows anything." For every staggering hit – such as "Seinfeld," a show about nothing – there are just as many star-driven bombs. (Think: Matt LeBlanc in "Joey," or Heather Locklear in "LAX.") TV writers have been dealing with critics since the dawn of the medium. But these days everybody's a critic – the explosion of Internet blogs and fan websites has amplified viewers' reactions to everything from a boring plotline to the death of a favorite character. In this glut of feedback, the creative minds behind a season's lineup are finding they must learn which voices to heed and which to shut out.
"I desperately care what everyone thinks," says Marc Cherry, creator of ABC's "Desperate Housewives, which took a ratings dive in its second season (2005-06). Critics and fans were united in their displeasure as the show became what they called stupid and silly. Cherry read and learned from them all, he says. "It's not fun when you read articles where people say, 'You've failed and you've made Sunday nights a miserable place to be.' "
That harsh assessment led Cherry to some creative soul-searching – and a return to the darker, more character-based plotlines that were key to the show's original success. Laurie Metcalf's performance as a hostage-taking betrayed wife was a high point of the current season for many. "The writing is the classiest," says Cherry, "when it's just observing the smallest incidents of suburban behavior."