There’s no secret formula to making a hit, according to Brian Grazer, the producer of film and TV successes like 24, Splash, Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, Empire, and Friday Night Lights. But there are some guidelines. “In television I don't ever want to try and reinvent the wheel,” he said on stage at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Friday. “But changing the spokes within the wheel is a good thing.”
Take Jack Bauer, the terrorist-fighting hero of 24. “He does thing that are very wish-fulfillment oriented,” Grazer said. “That makes people very excited, because wish fulfillment almost always works. You have to root for the character, and rooting for the character is rooting for what they want. It's easier to root for what somebody wants if what they want is noble.”
Which sounds logical enough. But what about a show like Arrested Development, the Grazer-produced sitcom where the main characters are, in the word of Grazer’s on-stage interviewer Derek Thompson, “assholes”? The show struggled in the ratings and was canceled by Fox after three years, but it made such a cultural impact that Netflix brought it back for a fourth season and will be making a fifth. How did that series fit into Grazer’s rule about having characters you can cheer for?