Each episode of The Simpsons takes nine months to make.
From idea, to writing, to recording, to animation, no wonder they cost a fortune.
With celebrity voice-overs and no expense spared, it’s no surprise The Simpsons is the second longest-running show on American TV.
But if it’s only the second longest-running show, how expensive must the first longest-running show be?
Well strangely enough not expensive at all, in fact it hardly costs anything.
It’s cheap, and quick, and easy to make: no idea, no writing, no celebrity voice-overs.
The longest-running show is called COPS.
All it is, is a hand-held camera following the police as they respond to real life crime, and the results are edited down to make a TV show.
It’s a very simple format, so who was responsible for such a great idea?
Well strangely enough, it was the very people the show doesn’t need: writers.
What happened was, in 1989 all the writers went on strike.
So no new scripts could get written, no new programmes could get made, nothing.
Fox TV had recently launched, and Stephen Chao was in charge of finding new programmes just at the time when no programmes could be written.
He mentioned his dilemma to John Langley who said “Take a look at this”.
And he showed him footage he’d obtained of a police drug-bust.
Smashing in doors guns drawn, screaming and yelling, shoving drug addicts to the floor, handcuffing them amidst crack cocaine and filth.
It was so riveting it didn’t need any presenters or voice-overs.
As they watched it they both thought the same thing: who needs writers?
And a new genre of television was born: TV that didn’t need the people who were on strike.
John Langley started by recruiting sheriff Nick Navarro of Broward County.
Navarro was up for re-election and saw the shows as TV commercials for himself.
The reviews in the papers were terrific, one read:
“We’ve had male cops: Starsky and Hutch. We’ve had female cops: Cagney and Lacey. We’ve had rogue cops: Serpico. We’ve had rumpled cops: Columbo. We’ve had dapper cops: Miami Vice. We’ve had dour cops: Hawaii Five-O. We’ve had everything except real cops, until COPS.”
All over America police departments began inviting the show to film them at work.
LA Police Chief Willie Williams said “It makes sense for the department to receive some positive coverage and for people to understand the real-life problems police officers have to deal with every single day.”
It became a way to boost morale amongst officers, to gain respect from the community, and to increase recruitment.
The very thing that the writers tried to strangle, new TV shows, by going on strike they had the opposite effect.
The lack of scripts had created a new genre of TV shows.
Because someone had been creative and spotted an opportunity in the problem.
Now there are real life shows featuring police forces all over the world.
As well as real life shows like: Ice Road Truckers, Outback Truckers, shows about emergency rescue, hospital A&E Departments, Airport smuggling, even shops like Harrods.
All the writers did by striking was force people to get creative.
And people found they didn’t need writers, real life was more exciting.
The TV scriptwriters had lost touch with reality, they thought they were more important.
I think we’ve done that, we’ve lost touch with reality.
Concentrating on international awards like Cannes, believing our job is about little gold-plated statues.
But that isn’t the job, we aren’t important, advertising isn’t important, the real world is more important and interesting.
And if we forget that, the real world will find it doesn’t need us either.