Today’s cuppa: Yorkshire Gold tea and Beverly Hilton coffee.
As I type, I’m sitting in the ABC executive session, listening to ABC
Entertainment president Steve McPherson answering a question about the
different worlds of cable and network. To many viewers, it’s just a show on
their TV, and they don’t spend a lot of time worrying about whether it’s on a
network or a cable station. A good show is a good show.
But where a show airs may wind up being more important to its longevity than
whether it’s good or not.
A reporter in the session pointed out, quite accurately, that while critical praise is
heaped on AMC’s "Mad Men," the viewing audience remains relatively
small. Yet, AMC’s needs in terms of audience are far different than a network,
so it’s happy enough with the performance of "Mad Men," and the show
If "Mad Men" was on ABC, NBC, CBS or Fox, it would probably already be gone.
It’s not that a broadcast executive would love "Mad Men" less;
it’s just that their financial needs wouldn’t allow it to continue.
An ocean liner takes a lot more fuel than a speedboat. The speedboat may be
quicker, more maneuverable and nimble than the ocean liner, and it may have a
few comfy seats or even a nice bunk in the cabin, but it could never offer the
liner’s level of accommodations, luxury, service and quality.
With their entertainment divisions, news divisions, sports divisions and
7-day-a-week primetime schedules, the big nets must set the viewing bar high to
keep the tanks filled. At the same time, a network is not a studio, so its
primary focus is on selling advertising, not on the long-term viability of a
project in reruns or on DVD.
Reality shows are a lot cheaper than scripted comedies and dramas, and if
they pull the same eyeballs, preferably from the desirable younger demos, hey,
why not load up on ’em?
But the big nets also have a legacy and an image to uphold, so they can’t go
totally for quick-and-dirty reality (and at best, it’s a short-term fix
anyway). They want the prestige and the brand-creating presence of top scripted
shows, and they’re often the corporate siblings of the studios that produce
most of those shows (big studios don’t generally produce reality shows). So,
it’s a matter of pride, and it’s also a bit of corporate synergy.
I hope there’s a big brain out there who can figure out how to make the
networks’ business model work and yet still allow them to do short-run series
— because not all ideas are suitable for 22 episodes a year — tolerate lower
ratings on riskier, innovative shows and make room for greater experimentation.
The media world is in a churn of hurricane proportions, and if there’s a
time to sweep the decks clean and rebuild from the keel up, this may be it.
Besides, sometimes, if you don’t make a decision, the universe will do it for
To quote one of literature’s most famous procrastinators, Shakespeare’s
Hamlet, "If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be
now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all."
Being ready is good; being ready with a plan is better.