Executive Meddling

"So Pinky and the Brain share a new domain.
It's what the network wants; why bother to complain?"

As one person rarely has the financial resources to create and more importantly distribute their own television shows, movies, comics, etc., entertainment is generally produced by corporations. They are the ones that put up the money to see your favorite book turned into The Film of the Book. note  But if the television network or studio doesn't actually turn a profit so they can pay their corporate bills, the business folds and is likely to take the show with it. So what can you do?

In the end, the bottom line... is the bottom line; it is the Company's best interest to see that their money is well spent, budgets are kept, and the show gets finished by Sweeps week. Often this means vetoing ideas, or dictating that certain elements be added in. So when the organization behind the creators takes a hand in creation you get this trope: The goal of an executive is to try to steer the show into the direction of profitability.

One way in which these traits manifest themselves is for the executive to force changes on a show which he feels is too different or edgy or outmoded, in order to make it "less risky" or "more appealing to the audience." "More appealing" often translates into "more action-oriented" or "sexier" or, in the immortal words of Woody Harrelson as Steve Martin's producer in L.A. Story, "more wacky, less egghead." In many cases, executives are willing to risk underestimating viewers' intellects and attention spans to avoid confusing them, and pander to the Lowest Common Denominator in order to garner good ratings. However, pushing too hard for tried-and-true formulas and blandly inoffensive writing can result in a show so lacking in distinctive qualities that it might have poor chances of maintaining enough audience interest to recoup its production costs.

Sometimes the meddling is because the executive wants the show dead for one reason or another. This can backfire and the executive either eats crow, gets replaced, cancels the show anyway (ratings and revenue be damned), or gets an ego. On the flipside, there are instances where the executives' decisions helped create the show in the first place. For example, it could have been through Executive Meddling that a work gets a localization in the first place, or saved from a troubled production. It's also possible that an executive is a fan of a work's genre, and decided to join in on it because they can spot any flaws before they happen and guide the writers away from them, using an Executive Veto to tell them not to.

The results are frequently positive but are seldom depicted as such by writers; restrictions breed creativity, and frequently the executives are responsible for separating the bad ideas from the good ones and greenlighting the good ones, or simply noticing that something doesn't make sense or won't work for the target audience. Executives aren't always wrong; just like there are good and bad writers, there are executives that are good at their job and executives that are bad, but when does someone doing their job right get any attention? (....)

The prevalence of this trope leads people to think any Retools or "Jump the Shark" ordeals are a result of outside influences. There is a Double Standard, as the times where Executive Meddling works are rarely reported — no one complains when the system works. However, when something breaks, everyone knows about it because people try to stop the blame. After all, what director would say "my original idea wasn't that good, but some guy behind a desk gave me one that worked better" rather than "The guy behind the desk is responsible for that pile of crap because he prevented me from doing my original idea"?

Another example of how Executive Meddling may manifest itself is in a game (be it a show, tabletop, video game, etc) where an Obvious Rule Patch is released or the rules are updated during the season or mid-season. Some games didn't cover every loophole and had players abuse it and find perverse incentives. Other times, Executive Meddling helped people actually use other classes and characters in a game, saving them from the scrappy heap.

Sometimes Executive Meddling exists in one show (or movie, or other medium as brought down by the studio or publisher) in order to promote an entirely different show/movie/et cetera on the network/by the same studio/publishing company (or some other event or thing the executives in charge want to promote). This usually manifests itself in the form of the Cross Over and Product Placement, among other devices.

Executive Meddling is often the source for Enforced Tropes.

Problems can be created just as easily from Creator Breakdown, Protection from Editors, Writer on Board or Author Filibuster — things that a reasonable and responsibly meddlesome executive can prevent from ever coming to pass. Quite often whoever you think is responsible is merely Misblamed.

If the show itself escaped executive meddling, but its time slot is changed around and has zero promotion, then it's Screwed by the Network.

See also Music Is Politics, Viewers Are Morons, Creative Differences, Executive Veto, Obvious Beta, Media Watchdog, Moral Guardians, Alan Smithee, Get Back in the Closet, Christmas Rushed, and Publisher-Chosen Title, Friday Night Death Slot, and the Dump Months. Compare What Could Have Been, Wag the Director and Development Hell / Vaporware. Contrast with Getting Crap Past the Radar and Protection from Editors. Many a Troubled Production is caused by this.


Alternative Title(s):

Meddling Executive, Meddling Executives