Dramas Edge Reality Out of New TV Season

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Network TV's fall lineup is full of scripted dramas, departing from the reality TV/game show trend. Jeff Pinkner, executive producer of Alias, tells Linda Wertheimer why he thinks networks are moving in this direction.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

There's a new reality in TV land and it doesn't have much to do with reality TV. Instead of rolling out more shows about people eating bugs or looking for Timbuktu or voting each other off an island without Mai-Tais or sun block, the networks unveiled a fall TV season heavy with drama.

(Soundbite of TV shows)

Unidentified Actor #1: Guys are getting killed in a war that's got theme music and a logo.

Unidentified Actor #2: That remote in your hand is a crack pipe.

Unidentified Actor #3: Responding units be advised, the subject may be armed and dangerous.

Unidentified Actor #4: (Unintelligible) a high-profile murder case. We don't get to trial for months, which means you're going to be under a microscope and analyzed 24 hours a day until then. You know why? Entertainment.

Unidentified Actor #5: (Unintelligible) before it hit the ground. (Unintelligible) for a split second I was floating. I'm telling you I think I can fly.

Unidentified Actor #6: It's a set up. It's a set up.

WERTHEIMER: That's just a sampling of some new fall dramas. We heard clips from Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, Justice, Heroes, and Vanished. Here to talk about the networks' dramatic changes is Jeff Pinkner. He's the executive producer of Alias, which has its series finale next week. He's also a writer and producer for the series Lost. Mr. Pinkner, thanks for being with us.

Mr. JEFF PINKNER (Executive Producer): Thanks for having me.

WERTHEIMER: So why do you think that the networks are moving away from comedy and reality and toward drama?

Mr. PINKNER: I think that it just so happens to be true that there are some fantastic reality shows, Survivor, The Amazing Race among them. Some of the comedies on the air, for me particularly The Office, are as good as network television gets. That said, dramas are just becoming far more adventurous and interesting over the last couple of years and I think that the viewing public is responding.

WERTHEIMER: Isn't it true that the allure of reality television in part was that it is very inexpensive and dramas are costly to produce, are they not? Lots of actors, lots of sets, costumes, scripts, so on and so on.

Mr. PINKNER: Dramas are far more costly than reality programming, and they're far more costly now than they ever have been in the past. Networks are more willing recently to spend a lot more on the dramas, but that's because they're working. They've become more challenging. The networks used to look for shows or rather insist, for the most part, aside from soap operas, on shows that were close-ended. In other words, there was a story of the week and a regular viewer of a network drama was somebody who watched one out of every three episodes.

WERTHEIMER: And it they would have beginnings, middles and ends.

Mr. PINKNER: The networks are now seeing that shows like Lost, are far more willing to have open-ended shows where, you know, they're serialized and the viewing is truly appointment television. You know, you're afraid to miss an episode. You know, and it goes back to Dickens, who would write his books in chapter-long installments and literally people would be lining up at the docks waiting for the boat to come with the latest chapter.

WERTHEIMER: Right, what happened to Nell.

Mr. PINKNER: Yeah.

WERTHEIMER: Which kind of show that's coming out, I mean, from looking at the up-fronts, the rollouts, whatever it is that the networks call these previews, what's the buzz about what's going to be hot next season?

Mr. PINKNER: I personally am interested in the character-driven shows. Shows like Brothers and Sisters and Six Degrees and Nine Lives and Vanished are all shows that, you know, ultimately one way or another are about people. I think that part of the reason we're seeing dramas working on television so well is that the film world has really changed over the last couple of years. A lot of these sort of character-based stories used to be more frequently told on the big screen. I think now, you know, on the movie screen you see a lot of hundred million dollar plus sort of star-driven or...

WERTHEIMER: Car chases.

Mr. PINKNER: Car chases, movies that are really, place a high premium on spectacle. So, you know, you turn on TV, which used to be considered by a lot of movie people as an inferior medium, and you see Spike Lee has directed a pilot this season starring James Woods, and Ray Liotta is in a television show and Geena Davis was in a television show last year, Keifer Sutherland obviously on 24. And there really isn't that much of a distinction between television and movies, not to mention...

WERTHEIMER: Especially now.

Mr. PINKNER: ...TV is free, for the most part.

WERTHEIMER: Right. The show you produce, Alias, is coming to an end. So are you going to jump over to another drama?

Mr. PINKNER: I will be working on Lost next season.

WERTHEIMER: Well, what's going to happen to Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin, who are two of, I must say, the best actors of a certain age on television, are they going someplace?

Mr. PINKNER: Victor Garber and Ron Rifkin are two of the best actors of any age on television. Victor and Ron will both be on television shows next season, fortunately for us all. Victor is on a Bruckheimer-produced show called American Crime, or at least that's what it's called now. I think they may be changing the title to Justice. And Ron is on a show called Brothers and Sisters, which will be on ABC.

WERTHEIMER: Oh, we'll look forward to that. So for the Alias junkies out there, are we going to learn Rambaldi's secret? Is Prophet 5 going to be destroyed? Does Arvin Sloane get what he deserves?

Mr. PINKNER: The answer to some of those is yes.

WERTHEIMER: I see.

Mr. PINKNER: I think we're very excited and satisfied by the way the series wraps up.

WERTHEIMER: You're not giving us details here.

Mr. PINKNER: What would you like to know? Ask me a question, I'll choose whether or not to answer it.

WERTHEIMER: Okay. Arvin Sloane, what happens to him?

Mr. PINKNER: Arvin Sloane gets the ultimate comeuppance, which is, you know, if I were to give it away, it would sort of rob you of the viewing experience. But I will say he has a very well deserved comeuppance.

WERTHEIMER: Jeff Pinkner is the executive producer of Alias. He joined us from Los Angeles. Thank you very much.

Mr. PINKNER: Thanks for having me.

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