WB's David Janollari advises TV execs to nurture distinctive voices
The key to successful TV development is finding and nurturing creative voices: That was the advice openly gay WB Network entertainment president David Janollari dispensed Tuesday during his remarks at the Entertainment Industry Forum luncheon, hosted by the Museum of Television and Radio in Beverly Hills. Janollari noted that he has worn a number of different hats in his TV career. He's worked in comedy development at Fox; developed such hits as Friends and The Drew Carey Show during his years at Warner Bros. TV; and worked as a nonwriting producer on HBO's Six Feet Under and other series during his seven-year producing partnership with Robert Greenblatt (now Showtime Networks entertainment president) in Greenblatt Janollari Studio before joining the WB last summer.
That range of experience has taught him that whether you're a buyer, seller, or producer, the end goal remains the same: "We're all trying to get hit shows on the air," Janollari said. "We're all looking for that one show that breaks out of the clutter.... The challenge is, How do you offer the audience something new, something they haven't seen before?"
Discussing the evolution of Friends, Janollari recalled that he was first impressed by creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane when they were struggling playwrights in New York by the comedic voice displayed in the play Personals, which beget Friends many years later. "My one mantra [in development] has always been: What's the voice? What is someone trying to convey that is unique?" Janollari said, citing his experience in working with comedian D.L. Hughley to shape the ABC/UPN sitcom The Hughleys and with out Oscar-winning writer Alan Ball on Six Feet Under.
Writers and other creative talents can be taught how to work within the structure of episodic television or how to be a good show runner, "but you can't make up a voice. You can't make up a vision." In discussing the state of play at the WB, Janollari expressed frustration that the network's critically lauded drama Jack & Bobby, which focuses on the boyhood years of a future president, has struggled mightily to find an audience. The WB remains committed to giving the show every chance to succeed, Janollari said. "We're trying to give it a shot on every level that we can," he said. "We have to try to stick by quality [shows], or we'll succumb to a more mediocre television landscape."