Thursday, September 12, 2019

"The Real Vast Wasteland"

Did you ever visit your cherished old house and find out it's a dust pile?

Not long ago, I was reading an article in the Sunday New York Times magazine about the changing face of television, interesting to me because I once worked in television, though not entirely interesting because I now don’t.

The article spoke of the fierce competitive battle between streaming services, like Netflix and Amazon Prime and “Premium Cable”, like HBO and Showtime.

The gist of the article, which I did not entirely understand nor care much that I didn’t was that the filthy rich streaming services were swamping the airwaves with “product”, offering premiering new series after new series, while snail-like “Premium Cable” took its “developmental” sweet time, highlighting quality over inundating quantity.  (Possibly because that is their preferred strategy, or possibly because they’re just poorer.)

The probing question was, “How long could ‘Premium Cable’ maintain its deliberate ‘Business Model against the streaming services rampaging output?”  There was talk about one streaming service spreading their audience-snaring net by developing “Game Shows.”  Would elegant HBO soon follow suit, the Times journalist wondered?  Would they inevitably have to to keep up?

In truth, I did not care about any of that.  Reading the article, what struck me most powerfully was not what was in it, but what dramatically was not.  

There was not single mention of the commercially broadcast television networks.

“You mean, ‘Grandpa’?”

Because that’s how it sounded, the now irrelevant once three and then four “major networks” bumped off the conversational radar, like they effectively no longer existed.

The networks!

We are talking about here.

“How the mighty have fallen!”

I mean, those guys controlled everything!  What “show pitcher” of my day did not quiver, awaiting the determining verdict of an omnipotent network president?  The urgent clamoring chatter was,

“Did you hear from Freddy?”

“What did Brandon say?“

“I heard Jeff liked it.  But it wasn’t from Jeff.”

We hung on every overheard word and morsel of gossip, tipping the mood of those powerful moguls with Kindergarten names.

Emperors of the airwaves, whose unappealable “Thumbs up” or “Thumbs down” decreed if you could buy a house, or once in my case since I already had a house that was being totally remodeled, if I could pay for a roof.

These people were stars in their own right.  Famed Freddy Silverman, dubbed “The Man With The Golden Gut”, ran all three networks.  (Although not at the same time.)  Brandon Tartikoff guested on Hollywood Squares.  Rubbing shoulders with Paul Lynde!

These people were big… is what I’m telling you.  Now, all that is… still there. 

But smaller.  Although – and a smile immediately arises anticipating the following – due to some mesmerizing “Hoo-doo”, network advertising departments have convinced sponsors to pay more for the privilege of reaching the shrunken “Premium” audience than for audiences that were multiple times larger, proving you can fool some of the people all of the time.  All of them if they’re sponsors.

I have discussed the thrilling arrival of the annual TV Guide Fall Preview Edition.
That TV “high” was entirely about networks, and the “glittering baubles” they were set to unveil.  Who cares what networks unveil today?  Not whoever wrote that New York Times magazine article.  Although that subject may be the follow-up sequel:  “Network Television:  The Invisible Enterprise.”   

NETWORK TELEVISION:  We’re still here.  Going to the Emmys and coming home empty.”

Once there was “Greatness.”  Massively watched “giants” – Seinfeld, Friends, Everybody Loves Raymond – the last of them gone from network schedules for a decade-and-a-half.  The Big Bang Theory recently ruled the ratings, but with one third of the audience.  (We can debate “relative quality.”  I won’t listen, but we can debate it.)

Changing the subject but not really, did you ever walk through some cavernous department store – not just going from the “Food Court” to the parking lot – and there were no people in there, and you wonder “How do they stay open?” 

A lot of them don’t.  (Because they cannot convince vendors that less customers means more profits.  The networks are still there (due to the advertising “witchcraft”) but “Where are the people?”

Sure, times change.  Goodbye, department stores, hello “specialty boutiques.”  (Streaming services being  “specialty boutiques” owned by one person.) 

But it feels weird.  A whole article about television, and not a word about networks,  dominant powerhouses, pushed to the sidelines. 

Watching the show.

And wondering what happened.
Note:  Although she would be a sparkling addition to this venue, for confidentiality purposes, Dr. M would never participate in this process.  Nice thought.  But "No can do."

1 comment:

JED said...

Earl said:
Note: Although she would be a sparkling addition to this venue, for confidentiality purposes, Dr. M would never participate in this process. Nice thought. But "No can do."

It was worth a try. Thank you for looking into the possibility.