Category Archives: TV Shows

All In The Family

President Obama is a what????

Passover in Miami with my family and my nephew Adam, a freshman at Washington University in St. Louis, is working on a paper for his “Media and Culture” class.

The topic is the impact of the 60s social revolution on television, with All In The Family as an example.

This strikes me as fine for a freshman student paper, if a bit predictable, but gets me to thinking of the reverse question – the impact of All In The Family on culture going forward. The more I think about it, the more I think that All In The Family is really the progenitor of Fox News, even if thinking this makes Norman Lear turn in his grave (or rather, in his Beverly Hills home). But here’s why:

The show, as everyone knows, was launched in 1971, on the tail of the great social revolution of the ’60s. Lear bought the rights from the BBC, who had created Til Death Do Us Part, based on Alf Garnet, a far from ‘lovable’ bigot. The British version was powerful, and probably could not have run on US television. As is often the case with BBC shows that are imported to the US, they are altered for an American audience.

Lear needed ratings, CBS was and is a commercial enterprise, and to garner ratings, Archie Bunker had to be cast as the ‘lovable bigot’. This may seem to be a bit of an oxymoron to anyone familiar with most bigots, but this was the world of television, where anything is possible. And so while the BBC’s Alf Garnet remained a repulsive racist and reactionary, Bunker was portrayed as the bigot with the heart of gold. The live audience and laughtrack served to further soften his hard edges.

America is a nation that spends 4.5 hours a day in front of a TV set, and what they see educates them. This is true for news as well as for entertainment, and it had in fact been Lear’s desire to use entertainment television as a kind of ‘teaching tool’. The show carried a disclaimer that warned audiences that it would deal with divisive social and political issues.

What Lear could not have anticipated (and this is my own theory) is the political blowback that the show inadvertently created. Bunker either tapped into, or created, a mass audience for what some might call ‘compassionate conservatives’, or others might call video-driven right wingers. That extreme right wing views might prove not only palatable, but entertaining; and once entertaining, socially acceptable.

The seeds of Fox News were sown in the Bunker household. Extreme right wing views are, in fact, hey… not only out there in Queens, but totally mainstream. Everyone is really thinking this anyway, and boy does it rate. So although Bill O’Reilly may espouse political views akin to Archie Bunker’s, he is also viewed as ‘lovable’ in his own strange way. It is, in fact, no different.

Entertainment and politics cross paths. What was Ronald Reagan, if not a purely political incarnation of Archie Bunker – yet another lovable right winger; and in fact an actor turned politician. (as Lear made the move from TV to politics with the founding of People for the American Way).

We now inhabit a culture where politics and entertainment (via TV) have become inseparable. If the Presidential debate is not ‘entertaining’, if the answers are not ‘snappy’, the audience turns away, both from the ‘debate’ (and that is in quotes for a reason), and from the candidate. So we have questions about ‘lapel flag pins’ (via submitted home video). Laura Bush co-hosts the Today Show this morning, while her husband appears on Howie Mandel’s Deal or No Deal.

Politics/culture/tv/entertainment. It’s all cut from the same cloth now. Archie Bunker, lovable, entertaining bigot; Hillary Clinton, hard drinking, bowling, blue collar mama, running from John Stewart to The Colbert Report while Michelle Obama makes her stint on Rachel Ray. Where does entertainment end and reality begin? Or doesn’t it matter anymore.

Roger Ailes went from the Nixon White House to running Fox News, while Arnold Schwarznegger went from Hollywood movies to running the largest state in the country.

What’s the difference – so long as it rates.

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Here’s The Pitch….

OK. Well how about this one…..

Pitching a show to a network is a pain…

You get the meeting, and when you walk into the room, the VP for Programming sits behind his or her desk, hands clasped behind the head, leans back and says “OK. What have you got”.

If television has a limited attention span, VPs for Programming have even shorter ones. They have heard it all. About a dozen times a day. There isn’t much that is new.  And, it seems, no matter what you pitch, they always say:

“Naahhh”

“We’ve got that one in development already”

“We piloted that last year. Didn’t rate”

or

“VH1 is doing that already”.

It’s a tough business, but it’s tough for the VP of Programming too, because if they pick wrong, they are out of a job.  And its all done in a very old way.  The call. The meeting. The pitch.  Generally, its hard to even get a meeting unless you have a great track record and generally also an agent (who will not only set up the meeting but also take a percentage of the show for doing so).

The web has changed so many businesses – maybe it can also change the way shows are pitched.

Let’s try.

Here’s a link to a series I am currently pitching around town.

As you can see, I built a website/blog to pitch the show.

This has lots of advantages: I can rewrite and update it all the time. I can email the link to everyone. It has a viral aspect. I can embed videos. And best of all, I can track who has seen it and how often!

But, the best part of the web is the feedback – the ‘community’ aspect.

So here I open the pitch to anyone who has an opinion on this.

Todd Robbins, our host, is a great great talent.

His world would make a fantastic series.  And maybe if we build the pitch as an ‘open platform’, we can bypass the ‘focus group’ aspect of all of this and drill down to the heart of what people really would like to see.

And maybe, with the viral aspect, the link will wind up on the desk of, oh, the VP for Programming for Spike or TLC.  You never know.

Let’s see what the web can do.

It’s a different kind of ‘User Generated Content”. This time, it’s about your opinion.

Why should newspapers and local TV stations be the only ones who are going to change the way they do business?

The “Other” Long Tail

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A room full of ideas for The Travel Channel – what’s it worth?

There has been a lot of talk about ‘the long tail’ and the Internet.

Chris Anderson’s book has proven something of a talisman to those of us in the Internet business.  The concept is fairly simple: while Tower Records can only stock a fixed number of CDs, (for example), and are thus limited by the physicality of space to only carrying a few titles, the web (iTunes, for example) can carry all music all the time forever.

So, while a customer in the store might buy the top ten albums, and Tower, while they were in business might sell vast volumes of those top albums, there was no one who carried, say The Best of Leo Kottke.  The demand was not there.

That is not to say that there was no demand for  The Best of Leo Kottke, it just was not enough to warrant the shelf space in the store.  You might sell 1,000 Kanye West in a week, but only 1 Leo Kottke in a month.

But, when the music is stored online and does not cost anything to carry, and you can carry infinte amouts of product forever, even 1 Leo Kottke a month adds up… along with all the other 1 per month (or even 1 per year) purchases.

Thus was the demand side of the equation altered by the Web and The Long Tail.

But what about the Supply Side?

What about the making of the content?

When television was expensive to make (crews, cameras, edits, producers), the same limitations on volume that once constricted Tower Records also constricted the production of content.

How many time have I sat in a pitch session with executives from a network pitching concept after concept….and in the back of their minds (and everyone else’s) is the constraint of ‘what will it cost to produce this… what is the prosective audience – what is the cost/risk ratio? and is it worth it?)

Just as the long tail now changes the basic economics of shelf stock and fulfilling demand, a second, technology driven revolution is going to change the economics and thinking of creation and supply of content.

Call it The OTHER LONG TAIL.

(I was going to call it SUPPLY SIDE ECONOMICS, but that one had already been taken).

Now, the act of making content does not cost anything – except the creators time and creativity. There is no limit to creative shelf space – no need for endless written pitches and treatments.

You have an idea?

Here is a camera.

Here is a laptop.

There is the door.

And when you get done… here is website where you can show this stuff off.

Maybe only one person likes it  – so you’re kind of the Leo Kottke of web video.

Or mabye a million people like it, in which case, you’re the Kanye West of the new TV.

The Long Tail.

Of creation.

Go ahead – take a crack at it.

What have you got to lose?

After all, how many written treatments and budgets and pitch sessions and development deals did Kanye West go through before he just started doing his thing?

Ummmm…. none?

Frozen Assets

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once this was a solid investment….

There is an old expression that says ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Continue reading

The Coming Disaster

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…where to now?…

On May 31, 1911, the Titanic left the Belfast shipyards with state- of -the-art technology. Continue reading

The Source

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every once in a while something hits you that changes your life….

I was 12 years old when I first read The Source by James Michener. Continue reading

Youtube -1320 AD

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“see what else is on…”

For most of our existence, we have lived in a world without images.

We are today so inundated by them, from TV to movies to magazines to billboards that we forget that all this happened only yesterday. Continue reading