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Blow Up the Box

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With Joan Rivers and Jamie Kellner, left, in 1986, announcing the debut of Fox.  

So why are the networks trying to kill things like Aereo?

It’s the nature of man: protect what you have, and annihilate anyone who comes sloping up the castle wall. But competition helps everything. I argued that the fourth television network 25 years ago would benefit the three television networks, I argued to the motion-picture studios that they should program for this fourth television network instead of trying to kill it. The result was that it was good in the end for all broadcasters, all producers, all these big, diversified companies.

How do all these changes in TV shift the content business?

I have to answer this with a bit of a bromide. The miracle of the Internet is that you, the creator, create whatever you create, and then you push a send button, and you publish to the world. There’s nobody between you and that send, and anyone, except in China or other countries that block the Internet, can receive it. That’s a miracle. Just the idea that that system wasn’t co-opted or controlled by interests is a miracle. It’s very much worth preserving.

Do you think content will continue to be profitable?

If it’s successful, of course. And will it be successful? At varying degrees. If you’ve got a good idea and you can publish to the world, and the way it goes through the Internet, by definition, means if one person likes it, the next person will know about it, that offers tremendous hope.

But what about Friday Night Lights, a fantastic show—why did that have such a small audience?

I’m an enormous fan. They made five years of it, thank God, because I watched every one. And I never watched it on broadcast television, or when it was in its last year on DirecTV. I watched it once it was over, and in four months, I’d seen 76 episodes. That’s à la carte. I wanted it, I paid for it, I’m happy. I consider that a great story, Friday Night Lights.

Having been the creator in some ways of the form that’s on HBO now, what do you think the future of HBO is?

Again, I don’t think it will get destroyed by definition, but once there’s competition, if they don’t innovate, they are potentially dead ducks.

What would you do if you were the head of Netflix right now?

No, no, I don’t do that.

Is TV good now because there’s so much competition, so many forces bumping up against a closed system?

No, because the forces haven’t really begun yet—they’re too embryonic, it’s too much at the beginning. I just think the bread and butter of good television has for so long been better than any other ­media. Maybe the most consistent—well, I shouldn’t say most, but I’d say most, so screw it—the most consistently great ­program in history is The Simpsons. When you think it is more than 500 episodes, and you look at the quality over twenty years, and it is that good every year, that’s a ­miracle. It’s another kind of miracle. It’s a ­wonderment.


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