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Television
The Future of Television panel hosted by Montclair Film Festival. STEFANIE SEARS/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

By STEFANIE SEARS
For Montclair Local

Television is changing.

That was a key theme in the panel “The Future of Television” held on April 28. There are more than 500 shows in existence today.

That’s a lot of competition for viewer attention. How does that affect television producers?, asked Variety Managing Editor Cynthia Littleton.

Variety partnered with Audible to kick off this panel, the first in the Storyteller Series of the Montclair Film Festival. For information on upcoming events, visit montclairfilm.org.

Speakers included: “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” Showrunner Chris Licht, Hulu Content Chief Joel Stillerman, media consultant Christina Norman, and media executive Lauren Zalaznick.

Relevancy is one thing that affects choice, panelists agreed on.

For Norman, whose career has included VH1, MTV and OWN, her main goal is presenting untold stories.

“We’re still not necessarily engaging with diverse voices,” she said, stating that doing so could spur creativity. She listed shows like the current “One Day at a Time” and “Blackish” as examples of programs that are accomplishing this.

Though the concept of linear television versus digital content such as the “limitless Netflix phenomenon” (as coined by Zalaznick) and even YouTube, poses debates and potential conflicts, the panelists said while one universe watches online, another watches television.

Finding the right platform, advertising, monetization and audiences are also issues for television now.

“Technology is getting ahead,” said Licht, after bringing up how Netflix produces a sheer volume of content with no promotion.

Zalaznick, formerly of NBCUniversal and BRAVO, said that the three metrics of success are attracting audiences, making money and critical acclaim.

“If you have any of those three, you have a successful show,” she explained. The rating website Rotten Tomatoes has more sway than The New York Times today.

But finding an audience is not enough: you have to retain them.

“What can we do to have people come back?” asked Licht. Unlike others on the panel, Licht has not worked much with scripted drama. What he has learned from working on Stephen Colbert’s show is that when Colbert was allowed to talk about what he wanted, his audiences flourished.

Colbert needed to be “not just his best self, but his authentic self,”  Zalaznick pointed out.

“You guys are smarter than TV used to give you credit for. Audiences know when you’re not being authentic,” Licht added.

Television has also evolved since the ’90s, when broad comedies and dramas reigned supreme, the panel agreed. Judgment reality shows like “Survivor” have become popular, as well as antihero dramas such as “Breaking Bad.” 

The panel circled around to audiences in its conclusion. Ultimately, Stillerman, a Montclair resident, said that audiences need to feel passionately, and that “any passionate underserved audiences are worth going after.”

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