CARSEY, MARCY

U.S. Producer

Marcy Carsey, one of the most successful situation comedy producers of the 1980s and l990s, is co-owner of The Carsey-Werner Company, an independent television production company responsible for two of the most highly rated and longest running sitcoms on TV, The Cosby Show and Roseanne. Marcy Carsey has a number of notable accomplishments in the television industry: she developed the concept of building a sitcom around a single standup comedian, established one of the first successful production companies to operate independently of the networks and is frequently named one of the most powerful women in show business.

Carsey began her career in television in the 1960s as a tour guide at NBC, later becoming a story editor for the Tomorrow Entertainment company. In 1974 she joined ABC as a program executive concentrating on comedy programming, rising, in 1978, to senior vice president of prime-time series. While at ABC, she developed some of the most successful shows of that era including Mork and Mindy, Soap, and Happy Days. In 1980 she left ABC and in 1982 started Carsey Productions, an independent production company. She was joined in this venture a year later by Tom Werner who had worked with her at ABC. They remain equal partners in The Carsey-Werner Company.

The programs produced by Carsey-Werner have been notable for their innovation in pushing the boundaries of traditional sitcom fare. The Cosby Show, the first sitcom about an African American family to sustain such wide, diverse and enduring popularity, consistently led in the ratings for several years. It was Carsey--Women's first hit show, employing the formula that helped to establish them as a television production powerhouse: building a family-based situation comedy around a popular, established standup comedian. Cosby aired in prime time for eight seasons and is currently in worldwide syndication. With virtually no track record when they sold Cosby to NBC, the show's success firmly established Carsey-Werner's reputation as a source of programming.

In Roseanne, Carsey-Werner continued the concept of a show starring a well-known comedian, in this case Roseanne (then Roseanne Barr). Roseanne has been a centerpiece of the ABC programming schedule since it was introduced in 1988. In contrast to Cosby, which was about an upper middle class family, Roseanne featured a working class woman with husband and children, a perspective not usually found in prime time sitcoms. The character Roseanne is closely based on the persona evident in Barr's stand-up performances, which she derived from her personal experiences. Not only is the main character relatively authentic, the program has received critical acclaim for the topics it addresses and the quality of the writing. It has gained a reputation for scathing dialogue and controversial plotlines, while sustaining high ratings.

In addition to Cosby and Roseanne, Carsey and Werner have a number of other popular situation comedies to their credit including Grace Under Fire, A Different World, and Cybill. Beginning with The Cosby Show, Carsey Werner programs have emphasized non-mainstream, non-traditional, and ethnic family groupings. This can be seen in the flops as much as the hits--shows like Chicken Soup starring Jewish comedian Jackie Mason and Frannie's Turn based on the life of a single working class mom.

Carsey and Werner have led the wave of independent production companies in the 1980s that resist affiliation with a major network or distributor. Carsey-Werner shows have appeared on all three major broadcast networks. They retain (or have repurchased) control of syndication rights for re-runs of their hit shows and have produced original programming for syndication, for example a revival of the Groucho Marx quiz show, You Bet Your Life hosted by Bill Cosby, which aired briefly in the early 1990s. In 1995, Carsey-Werner ventured into the feature film industry by founding Carsey-Werner Moving Pictures. Carsey has been quoted as saying that the secret of the success of Carsey-Werner's shows has to do with their preference for thinking up "people and ideas together" and for "atypical casting."

Most recently Carsey-Werner has become one of the major partners in a new cable television venture, Oxygen, a channel for women. With partners Geraldine Laybourne and Oprah Winfrey, Carsey has once again moved into a position occupied by few women in the media industries. Marcy Carsey has been touted as one of the most successful American business women in or out of show business. She has been on the Board of Directors of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and on the Board of the Film School at the University of Southern California.

-Kathryn Cirksena

 


Marcy Carsey with Tom Werner
Photo courtesy of the Carsey-Werner Company

MARCY CARSEY (Marcia Lee Peterson). Born in South Weymouth, Maine, U.S.A., 21 November, 1944. Attended the University of New Hampshire, Durham, New Hampshire, B.A. in English Literature 1966. Married John Carsey, 12 April 1969; children: Rebecca, John. Program Supervisor, William Esty advertising agency, 1960s; story editor, Tomorrow Entertainment, Los Angeles, 1971-74; senior vice-president for Prime Time Series, ABC Television, 1974-80; founded Carsey Productions, Los Angeles, 1981; co-owner Carsey-Werner Productions, Los Angeles, from 1982; producer of numerous prime time television series, including The Cosby Show, A Different World, Roseanne from 1982.

TELEVISION (producer)

1983 Oh, Madeline
1984-92 The Cosby Show
1987-93 A Different World
1988- Roseanne
1989-90 Chicken Soup
1990 Grand
1991 Davis Rules
1992-93 You Bet Your Life (Starring Bill Cosby)
1992 Frannie's Turn
1993- Grace Under Fire
1995 Cybill
1996 Townies
1996 Third Rock from the Sun

FURTHER READING

"Carsey-Werner: The Little Programming Engine That Did." Broadcasting (Washington, D.C.), 18 July 1988.

Gerard, Jeremy. "What Have They Done for Us Lately?" The New York Times Magazine, 25 November 1990.

Grover, Ronald. "Can This TV Team Go Five for Five?" Business Week (New York), 19 June 1989.

Walley, Wayne. "Carsey-Werner: Cosby's Co-Pilots Stay Small and Lean." Advertising Age (New York), 16 June 1986.

 

See also Cosby Show; Different World; Roseanne