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Broadcast TV is not dead, ‘Empire’ showrunner Ilene Chaiken says

On the latest Recode Decode, Chaiken also predicts how the Netflix-Amazon-Hulu rivalry will shake out.

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“Empire” showrunner and “The Handmaid’s Tale” executive producer Ilene Chaiken
Ilene Chaiken, showrunner of the Fox series “Empire” and executive producer of Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.”
Alberto E. Rodriguez / Getty Images

Ilene Chaiken, the creator of Showtime’s “The L Word” and currently the showrunner of “Empire” on Fox, doesn’t think much when she’s writing about where her stories will ultimately be viewed. But there’s no question in her mind that the array of places where stories can go has permanently gotten bigger.

“When we first started talking about digital, the superstars of film and television weren’t going anywhere near them,” Chaiken said on the latest episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher. “Now, everybody wants to making content for certain digital platforms.”

You can listen to Recode Decode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Speaking at the 2017 edition of WNYC’s women-in-podcasting festival, Werk It, Chaiken told Swisher that digital platforms are “every bit as viable and relevant and dynamic as traditional broadcast.” However, she’s certain that broadcast TV is not “dead,” and in fact still has a huge role to play in popular culture.

“There was an article this morning,” Chaiken recalled. “It was one of those, ‘This is really surprising, but it seems like broadcast is still the place to get more people to see your work than anyplace else.’ I think broadcast television needs to evolve. The way it used to be made is irrelevant, but I don’t think it’s dead.”

For Chaiken, the ability to reach a mass audience is personal: Telling stories about marginalized communities such as LGBT people on broadcast TV “will really make a difference,” she explained, especially to people who “don’t know us” and might not be inclined to seek out a show about, for example, lesbians in Hollywood.

On the new podcast, Chaiken also talked about the growing competition among digital platforms like Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. At the latter, she is the executive producer of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which she had tried for years to adapt at Showtime.

“What we finally get is, anybody can do this,” Chaiken said. “Netflix is going to dominate for a minute because they have ‘House of Cards’ and $6 billion and the biggest show on television. But then, nobody took Hulu seriously when they started making content. And then they just crushed the Emmys this year! And so now it’s Hulu.”

“What we’re starting to realize is, it can happen anywhere,” she added. “Maybe Apple’s going to make a great show that’s going to dominate the media landscape for a year or two. And hopefully, they’ll all stay in business. I don’t think it’s going to be like the old network days, where suddenly, ABC, NBC and CBS are going to be replaced by Netflix, Amazon and Hulu. I think it’s a much bigger ecosystem.”

If you like this show, you should also sample our other podcasts:

  • Recode Media with Peter Kafka features no-nonsense conversations with the smartest and most interesting people in the media world, with new episodes every Thursday. Use these links to subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • Too Embarrassed to Ask, hosted by Kara Swisher and The Verge's Lauren Goode, answers the tech questions sent in by our readers and listeners. You can hear new episodes every Friday on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.
  • And Recode Replay has all the audio from our live events, including the Code Conference, Code Media and the Code Commerce Series. Subscribe today on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Overcast or wherever you listen to podcasts.

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