I’m back in L.A…and feeling the full wallop of jet-lag. My last day two days in Sweden were rough — I got some kind of awful stomach bug that nearly sidelined me completely. As it was, I didn’t eat and hardly slept for 24 hours…and no sooner did I recover from that, I had to get up at 3 a.m. to make a 6 a.m. flight home. Ugh.
Other than that, I had a great time in Stockholm working with writer-producers, network execs, and studio development folks from Holland, Norway, Belgium and Sweden. I love these "cross-cultural" exchanges…I certainly learn a lot from the experience and I hope the others do, too.
I’ve been surprised to learn that often American television shows do better than the locally-produced programs, despite the language and cultural differences. Production values play a part, of course, but I believe the success is due to the power of franchise in American television shows. Our series tend to have concepts so distinct that they are clear whether the characters are speaking French, German, or Swahili. Look at CSI, MONK, LAW & ORDER, HOUSE…the concepts and characters are so strong, you can immediately grasp what the shows are about regardless of where you come from.
I also think American shows do so well because of the four act structure, something that’s missing from virtually all European TV shows. The four-act structure creates a narrative drive that’s simply missing from most European shows that I’ve seen. All you need to do is spend ten minutes watching a German or Swedish cop show and the difference is clear.
And it probably also has something to do with the reliable consistency of U.S. shows…regardless of the series, viewers know that they are going to get the same show every week, only different. You know what you are going to get from CSI…the stories may change, but it’s essentially the same show week after week, year after year.
My job on this trip — along with William Rabkin and Matt Witten — was to introduce the European writers/producers/execs to the principles behind creating and serving a franchise, developing stories within the four-act structure, and maintaining the consistency of a series. The people we worked with embraced the ideas we discussed and were very enthusiastic about applying the principles so that they can be more competitive both in their own countries and internationally.