HBO Productions?
July 11, 2006 1:44 PM   Subscribe

Who makes--actually produces--cable TV series like The Sopranos, Battlestar Gallactica, and The Shield? Independently contracted production companies, or in-house, cable-owned outfits?

In other words, are the cable channels just distributors, or also producers? I'm interested in HBO, FX, Sci Fi, Comedy Central, all the biggies. If the series/movies are made independently, I'd love to have the names of the companies that make them. Thanks!
posted by MarshallPoe to Media & Arts (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You can always check the "Company Credits" for any show on the IMDb to see the production companies/distributors.
posted by Gator at 1:49 PM on July 11, 2006

Yes, generally, outside production companies are hired. But it's not true to say that networks are "just distributors." They are usually heavily involved in developing the initial show concept, characters, story arcs, etc. In fact, that's what the aptly-named "Development" department is for.

They also have an "executive in charge" who is reviewing all the creative decisions (casting, wardrobe, scripts, daily footage, etc.) and giving input. The network has a powerful sway over the direction of the show, for better or worse. (I tend to think "notes from the network" gets a bad rap in the popular imagination, but I'm biased.)
posted by TonyRobots at 2:16 PM on July 11, 2006

The relationship is akin to movie and video game development, where the developer/filmmaker and publisher/distributor enter into a kind of partnership, where the filmmaker is provided with funding and sometimes access to equipment and studio facilities, and the publisher/distributor receives a temporary or exclusive right to market the work.
posted by frogan at 6:59 PM on July 11, 2006

All of what people have said above is true. But at the same time, there are also cable shows that are produced by the same company (or the production arm of the same company) that shows them. It varies from show to show.
posted by raf at 7:01 PM on July 11, 2006

Generally for several reasons the shows are made out of house (by independent production companies). There tends to be different hiring laws for companies that produce moving pictures etc. As well as different tax and legal implications

Though in several cases there can be a symbiotic relationship between the production companies and the networks. There are several production companies that probably wouldn't exist without the Discovery network for example.
posted by bitdamaged at 7:09 PM on July 11, 2006

Galactica is filmed by Universal and appears on SciFi. But Universal owns SciFi. But but, SciFi is still somewhat its own legal entity, so the interests of SciFi and the interests of Universal might not mesh completely; this gets hinted at in some of the commentaries which describe conflicts between Universal and SciFi about budget stuff. Universal also owns NBC, which is why Galactica (or at least the miniseries) has appeared there occasionally.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:05 PM on July 11, 2006

I worked for Dennis Miller Live on HBO for many years. It was produced by Dennis Miller's production company ( Happy Family Productions).

I wasn't involved in the business end, but I always assumed HBO basically gave Happy Family a specific fee for each episode, and Happy Family had freedom to use that fee however it wanted. In practice, of course, I'm sure that HBO had some say--if the prodco said "We want you to pay us more per episode so we can buy solid gold desk chairs," HBO would be less likely to agree than if the prodco said "We want you to pay us more per episode because if we don't give our writers a raise, they will get snatched up by other shows."

In a sense, you could view Happy Family Productions (or any similar prodco) as a small business with a single customer. The customer doesn't own the business--but if he is the only customer, the business owner is going to pay careful attention to his opinions.

Fortunately, HBO was a great "customer"--the only notes we got from them were to be smarter or more original. I gather that other networks sometimes take a more heavy-handed role in shaping shows; HBO's model seems to be to hire talented people and trust them to do good work.

(As a side note, HBO is also much more tightfisted than most networks. They can get away with this because they are essentially paying in creative freedom.)

Note that, as raf says, networks DO sometimes produce their own shows. Indeed, I'd speculate that on almost any network, you'd see some show that were produced inhouse and some that were produced by outside prodcos.

As for how to get in touch with them, there are two ways.

The most straightforward is to get your hands on one of the issues of Variety or Hollywood Reporter that lists "Shows Currently In Production." It will have the name and contact info of every prodco with a show on the air. I'm not sure how often these issues are published, but I seem to remember it's pretty often--something like once a week. Call Variety or the Hollywood Reporter and ask--I'm sure they can sell you a copy.

If for some reason you can't do that, then watch until the end of the show and look for the vanity card--that little still picture or animated logo that follows the credits. (Famous ones include "Sit, Ubu, Sit!" and that one of the writer pulling a page out of his typewriter.) Write down the name of the production company mentioned on the card, then call LA information (310-555-1212) and ask for the phone number of that company. Odds are that it will be in the LA area and you can get the number.
posted by yankeefog at 8:15 AM on July 18, 2006 [1 favorite]

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