"Television," United Press International explained in 1976, "is conceived with the idea of attracting the largest possible audience – and therefore the highest possible fees from sponsors interested in reaching the most people. In the good old days, a 2-hour prime time 'Hamlet', television's first 2-hour drama and its first full production of Shakespeare, cost $50,000 including air time and production costs." Ten years later in 1986, a show like 'Miami Vice' would cost over $1 million per episode to produce.
David Hinckley of New York Daily News told readers in 1983, "Picking ideas for a TV series is like picking the right supermarket checkout line – whatever you do, it's usually wrong. And as a result, the TV pickers will look just about anywhere for an idea, starting with last year's Top 10 series list and moving on through newspaper headlines, comic books, Broadway and the movies."
"The appeal of movies," David disclosed, "is obvious: they're something people have already demonstrated a willingness to watch. But while series programmers have traditionally looked toward theatrical releases, they also, with some regularity, look inward, at movies made for TV. Some TV 'movies' are conceived as series pilots or 'back-door pilots' to use the industry jargon."
David pointed out, "Many movies are self-contained and have an open-ended resolution. What a series usually does try to maintain, at least in the beginning, is the movie's tone. A movie can be profitable, but a successful series, with reruns, syndication, overseas distribution and more can be the most lucrative form on TV." However "the bottom line always goes back to the supermarket checkout lines," because "there's really no way to know (a hit from a flop)."
"So far as the U.S. networks are concerned, 'Fame' always has been considered a breakthrough show in the depiction of blacks and whites together as characters," Ron Miller of Knight-Ridder Newspapers observed in 1983. Jo Ann Emmerich told the press in 1986, "With serials, it's always best to stick with what you have. Any show on the air has some audience; a new show may not have any audience at all. It takes at least 2 years for a new show. You have to get a sample audience, and that sample audience has to find a loyalty for the characters. It's a difficult row to hoe for the new ones. The casting is the toughest part. You're not talking about 3 people, you need 18 people, all of whom have to make an immediate impact." On daytime, "Too many shows looked at Luke and Laura (on 'General Hospital') and merely copied the cosmetics without looking at the basics." The production of 'Fame' comprised of some 75 people (on-screen and behind the scenes).
Usually the networks paid the producers licensing fees to make programs for prime time television. However some producers claimed losses. By 1986, "in an era of economic austerity", price became an issue. Grant Tinker of the production company MTM Enterprises and who was the NBC chairman at the time told Kay Gardella of New York Daily News, "There's something to be said on both sides. What NBC wants to do is accommodate the large gap between what we want to pay and what the producers are demanding. The whole situation is exacerbated by the fact that one-hour shows are not selling in syndication. The producers therefore are not willing to accept to deficit financing the way they did when they were sure there was a pot of gold waiting in syndication."
Like 'M*A*S*H', 'Fame' was a successful film before becoming a popular TV series around the world. Lee Curreri made the observation in 1982, "It's amazing to suddenly find yourself on prime time TV, singing a song you know millions of people will hear at the same time. These days (in April 1982), hit singles are selling 5 or 10 million copies. With a TV audience, you're dealing with 10 times that number of people, so it's just awesome." The premiere episode of 'Fame' in 1982 attracted 24% share of the viewing audience. At the time it was understood, "'Fame' had to capture a 27 or 28% share of the viewing audience in order to survive." However "it never did so consistently." Therefore "'Fame' lives on chiefly because of soaring popularity abroad. Foreign sales are the profit edge on most U.S. TV series, but for 'Fame' that money is its bread and butter."
After 'Fame' was dropped by the network at the end of the 1982-83 season, the show was "sold independently to 114 stations across the (U.S.)." From the 1983-84 season onwards, 'Fame' only needed to attract 7 or 8% of the audience to be considered a hit. Ken Ehrlich remarked, "It was the tremendous success of the show abroad that actually kept it going. Europeans love it, and Italy and England increased their payments to help keep us going." In 1982, the cast of 'Fame' appeared in concert tours to sell-out audiences in countries such as England, Israel, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and France. Debbie Allen remembered at the time, "You would have thought we were a big rock group or something. 'Fame' is the No. 1 show in England right now (back in January 1983). And our album is at the top of their charts. I wish we were doing as well here (in the U.S.). I don't know what our ratings problems are over here (in the U.S.)."
On network television, 'Fame' was competing against 'Magnum, p.i.'. Debbie recounted, "I saw Tom (Selleck) at the Emmy Awards last year (in 1982) and I let him know how I felt. I told him, 'Tom, I'm over here thrashing, spinning, kicking and sweating to make our show go. And all you do is walk out of the Hawaiian ocean in a little wet bathing suit and the viewers go 'click' and switch to your show.' Tom just laughed and told me 'Fame' is a great show and that he watches us regularly. I asked him how he could do that and see his show at the same time. He said 'Fame' is on Fridays instead of Thursdays in Hawaii so he sees both."
From the 1983-84 season onwards, the budget of 'Fame' was cut by $50,000. Ken made known, "We're now working with slightly under $700,000 per episode, but we're making it up by editing on tape instead of on film. We still shoot the show on film, so it looks exactly as it did before, but we transfer it to tape for the editing. It's experimental, but it seems to be working very well. We'll do 19 new, regular episodes this season (1983-84) and 2 or 3 concert episodes."
Valerie Landsburg made the comment in 1982, "If you ever hang around with drama students, you'll see they're always holding onto each other. They're hugging all the time. Sure, there's jealousy, but there's also a great deal of love. That's the way it is with our company. We're like a family – a real family, not a TV family." On 'Fame', "When you're not filming, you're rehearsing a dance number. If you're not rehearsing, you're probably in the studio recording for next week. It just never stops." Gene Anthony Ray added, "In between all that, you're running to your dressing room, trying to get in 2 or 3 hours of sleep."
Director Alan Parker selected Gene to play Leroy in the 1980 movie. He recalled, "They (the producers) said they would give me the part, but that I'd have to take dance lessons. I told them I was a dancer and they didn't believe it. They didn't even know I could dance." Growing up in Harlem, Gene took dance lessons, "I was the only guy in the dance class. Just 42 girls and me. They had no place for me to change, so I used to have to walk down the hall in my tights to another room to put on my jeans. There was always this bunch of guys who stand around in the hallway doing nothing and they'd say: 'Who's the homo in the tights?' You can imagine what it was like for me. It was very discouraging."
Lee Curreri's story: "I started piano as a little kid (at the age of 13), then began to make a living by playing for this and that. It got to be my main interest, then I started to write. I still never trust the acting thing. I could find myself out of work for months if I were just an actor. That's why I have to be writing (song writing) all the time, and doing the music jobs. When the show ends I'll need that freelance momentum. The production pace is very fast. Before I did the movie it was all music in my life. I had my own band. In the sense of the music, I am Bruno, only he's isolated. Bruno rejects what he perceives as old-fashioned ways, but I think we should have violins. I'm not as cloistered. Performing has always pleased me. I'm more at home with recording, whether it's for film or tape. You have a lot more control. There are times when I'm told that a tune is needed for a show to be filmed in the next day or two, so I go home in a mad scramble and started writing. That's actually the best way I work; I like the pressure."
Debbie made the point in 1983, "Make no mistake, there's a big dance revival in (the U.S.). I've been told dance school enrolment and classes are up 20 to 40% in most places – in the middle of the recession. There's a new respect for dancing. And there should be. Rhythmic stomping was man's first form of artistic expression, his stamp on planet Earth. 'Fame' has made a big contribution to bringing back the dance. The stars today (in 1982-83) are Baryshnikov, Nureyev, Twyla Tharp, Ben Vereen, Gregory Hines and movies like 'All That Jazz' and 'The Turning Point'. Broadway has done its part with shows like '42nd Street', 'A Chorus Line' and 'Evita'. But even so, Broadway isn't as visible to the public as a weekly TV show. 'Fame' is seen by 20 million people or more every week. Most dancers are in the better condition and better trained than they used to be in the old days. The competition is much greater, so we have to really get out there and pour it on."