In his study “Revisiting the Creative/Commercial Clash”, James Paul Roberts investigates the traditional narrative of the struggle between art and commerce in television production. While he does draw a distinction between creative and non-creative roles within the production process, he finds that the interaction between them does not conform to the usual picture. “Decision-making was not characterized as the clash of two very divergent agendas, but rather the more subtle interplay of mutually influential factors dictated by a generally realistic view of what television drama is there to do,” he writes (page 771). Creative and non-creative actors (“actors” in the more abstract sense) were found to generally collaborate to produce a product which was both commercially viable and artistically innovative, with creative actors recognizing the importance of budgetary concerns, audience demographics, and so forth, and non-creative actors desiring a unique product with artistic merit to attract audiences and talent.
While it is certainly important to question and complicate the
traditional narrative of commercial concerns as a burden on artistic
expression, I can’t help but feel that perhaps Roberts is understating the
degree to which economic needs constrain creative output. While TV executives
may certainly give lip service to innovation, I feel this study could have
benefitted from a discussion of the cycle of “innovation, imitation, and
saturation” which Communication scholars sometimes talk about. Certainly
innovative shows do exist, and certainly studios and production companies
sometimes take risks on content, but more often it makes more sense for them to
follow the trail that others have blazed.