Executive Session with Don Mischer

Don Mischer: Riding The Revival Of Live TV

His career in shepherding live, high-octane events began decades ago and has survived the downturn in popularity of such fare. Now, live is back in style and, Mischer says, is being driven to new heights by social media that are boosting the ratings as they make viewing an even more powerful shared experience. He explains why we love these big live-event shows, what it’s like to produce them, how that has changed and what he sees ahead.
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Don Mischer just might be TV’s undisputed king of the live TV event. His credits includes three Academy Awards telecasts, 11 Emmy Awards shows (plus this year’s Emmys scheduled for Aug. 25 on NBC), eight People’s Choice Awards, the Kennedy Center Honors, various Olympic opening ceremonies, Super Bowl halftime shows starring Prince, the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Bruce Springsteen — and many, many more. His success has been underscored by 15 Emmy awards, 10 Directors Guild awards and a Peabody.

Back in the 1970s and into the 1980s, he specialized in primetime specials with a wide range of entertainers — from Barbara Mandrell and Nell Carter to the Muppets and Mikhail Baryshnikov. His career is as varied as it is long. He has directed episodes of scripted series like It’s Garry Shandling’s Show and Murder, She Wrote.

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His most recent efforts include the Billboard Music Awards, seen on ABC in May, and Comedy Central’s all-star tribute to Don Rickles, also in May.

In this interview with TVNewsCheck Contributing Editor Adam Buckman, Mischer, 74, says the best is still to come, now that the broadcast networks have “rediscovered” the power of live-event TV specials. You can credit social media, he says. Twitter, Facebook and the like enhance the communal “experience” of watching live events on TV and boost the ratings. That can only mean that more such live shows are on the way, he predicts.

An edited transcript:

Some broadcast network executives, particularly those at NBC who have embarked on the production of live musicals such as last season’s Sound Of Music, seem to have come to the realization that live-event programming represents a unique strength for network television. Do you agree?

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I do. It’s been a trend that those of us who do this kind of television have been noticing over the last three years. Networks are struggling to maintain their audiences and for a long period of time, [to] those of us who do these specials, [the feeling was that] no one cared much about what we were doing. We were kind of patted on the shoulder and told, ‘You guys go over and do your Christmas specials or your one-off specials or whatever these things are, and we will do the stuff where all the real money is,’ which is in series where the back end is worth all this and all that. But we have noticed that what’s happened, I think because of the whole explosion on the social network, is that the experience of watching events live can be shared socially and that really enhances the viewing experience for those people who are watching.

I think [this new level of social engagement] is at least partially responsible for [the ratings growth of live events on television]. In the last three to three-and-a-half years, most of the live-event shows we have done, almost all of them, have gone up every year something like 7% in viewership, some 10%. The Billboard Awards, which we produced last year, was up 22%. So people are watching these shows.

How has the rise of social media impacted the way you produce live events?

The first year that I directed the Oscars [2011], I remember getting results after the show in which they said that 57% of the Oscar audience was watching something else online on their computer, iPad, cell phone — what we call the second-screen experience — and that’s gone up. I directed the Oscars the year before last [2012], and it had gone up to like 60-something-percent. So the second-screen experience is really, really important. I remember one year when Angelina Jolie came out with a long beautiful elegant black dress, it was really just strikingly beautiful, and then stuck her right leg out of the dress, that became [a much talked-about moment]. And when Jennifer Lawrence, the last time I directed [the Oscars], slipped on the steps going up [on stage], I had a handheld camera on her.

Those are the things that people who are watching talk about on the social networks. They’re not watching the Oscars on that second screen. They’re communicating. They’re exchanging opinions about the show and they’re determining whether they liked it or not too.

So, if the ratings are going up, what does this mean for the TV industry?  Does it mean a greater effort on the part of network programmers to contrive even more live event programs?

Without any question. Four years ago, there was no music [show] in the month of May in this country. I don’t mean like The Voice or American Idol, but I mean in terms of big, high-profile, live specials. There were none on in May. Then four years ago, The Billboard Awards — and we were involved in that because we produced that with the Prometheus TV group — came back and we started to build an audience. So now we have that show in May and that’s a mega three-hour live show, an entire night of primetime television on ABC and it’s increased in ratings every year. Now you have iHeartRadio. iHeart decided to [enter] the awards show [arena] and they came on the first week in May [on NBC]. 

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PhillyPhlash Nickname posted over 2 years ago
Why some net, b-cast or pay, will tap Dave Letterman for a Sunday night at 8 revival of the "big shew" Ed Sullivan family variety hour concept: my prediction.
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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 25, 2016
  • 1.
    5.5/18
  • 2.
    2.6/8
  • 3.
    1.2/4
  • 4.
    0.9/3
  • 5.
    0.5/2
  • 6.
    0.2/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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