You’d probably question the motives of an architect who forever groused about the high cost of building materials, and be suspicious of a surgeon who constantly worries out loud about the expense of all those darned gauze pads. Therefore, you need to wonder why NBC, the television network, has taken to carping about the exorbitant investment incurred in order to broadcast quality television programs.
Let me disclose, before we go any further, that I own shares in the General Electric Company, which operates NBC — although this is nothing to brag about, believe me. As a stakeholder, whose stake is currently worth quite a few drachmas less than I originally paid, I naturally support management’s efforts to improve shareholder value, if that is the appropriate phrase to use when you actually mean, “Give me back my god-damned money, you imbeciles.”
The network’s programing gurus determined that the guru-like move was to stop trying to fill the 10 p.m. slot with shows that no one wants to watch, and, by the way, cost an arm and a leg to produce. They wondered: Why not just show a test-pattern? Why not sell the hour to the Hair Club for Men?
Then some better-grounded executive ejaculated, no, no, we can’t do that, but why not move Jay Leno’s Tonight Show up to 10, and put that Conan guy in Leno’s old spot? Brilliant, the management team exclaimed.
Apprised of these developments, and determined to keep an eye on my investment, I tuned to the Leno program during its first week in the new time, and found it encouraging in its flagrant mediocrity. It was so dreary, I deduced, that it’s going to drive viewers to other, more compelling, entertainment options: nightly re-runs of Beat the Clock shown on the Bud Collier Channel, or viewing pornography on the Internet, or staring at a dripping faucet, or perhaps reading a library book of modern poetry published in the original Italian. Well, forget the last one.
Faced with this outcome, GE would be bound to sell NBC to Rupert Murdoch, or some other pigeon, and perhaps several of the many billions that will change hands may trickle down in the form of a shareholder dividend. (Yes, I know: highly unlikely that GE’s Jeffrey Immelt would let loose of any portion of the mazuma, but a fellow can dream, right?)
Moving Leno to ten-oh is one of those classically dumb corporate decisions that will rank up there with Ford’s exploding Pinto and Schlitz’s additive-enhanced beer. I can’t remember how your charming host used to come across when he was regularly seen around midnight — but, to paraphrase the old Mickey Gilley song, he don’t get any prettier when you’re fully aware that closing time has been extended by an hour-and-a-half.
To say something positive, however, the spectacle shows every sign of having been put together on the cheap — which, after all, was the founding premise.
Having grown up watching a fair bit of Canadian television, I’m familiar with the visual symptoms of this rigid adherence to budget, as well as the underlying logic, which is: (1) “Why use two cameras, if you can get away with one?”; and (2) “Where does it say you need three musicians for a trio? Fire that sax player.”
If you’re accustomed to the usual showbiz aggrandisement, this will seem unorthodox. We’re used to generations of promoters inflating the value of their attractions in order to impress the yokels, from Sam Phillips introducing Elvis, Jerry Lee, Johnny and Carl Lee as his Million Dollar Quartet, or George Hamid calling his Atlantic City amusement joint the Million Dollar Pier. But even adjusting for decades of hyper-inflation, NBC’s Leno hour seems like The Seven Hundred Dollar Talk Show, and that would probably include the budget for the store-brand cookies and fruit punch served nightly in the Green Room.
Since NBC seems determined to emulate a Canadian standard of mediocrity in its daily schedule, the broadcasting colossus may want to import another tactic from their media colleagues north of the border. Canadians, much like citizens of other nations, haven’t been spending as much time as previously watching the listless nonsense on commercial television. This resulted in lower ad revenues — an obvious problem for Canada’s TV networks — so the station owners did what they’ve always done, and went to the national capital and demanded that suckers’ money be used to support their failing for-profit ventures. The federal broadcasting regulator obligingly sent a platoon of mid-level bureaucrats outdoors to help load bags of funds into the trunks of waiting limousines.
I’m reasonably certain that the Obama administration would respond similarly, if asked politely. Think this through: When, inevitably, NBC is driven out of business through the Leno misstep, and forced to hand over the keys to the studio to Rupert Murdoch, what will follow? Roger Ailes will run the NBC News department, Glenn Beck will take over the Leno slot, and President Obama will see his war against Fox television being fought on two fronts. Who needs that? Better to simply provide a generous federal subsidy to the TV networks, same as to the banks and auto industry.
That would be my suggestion, which I offer not as a GE shareholder who may stand to turn a buck from a bail-out, but as a concerned television viewer and supporter of the President.
Oh, well. Why pretend? It’s my suggestion only because I want GE stock to remain in double digits, at least until such time as I can unload it. If you were seeking altruism, I’m afraid that you may have been inadvertently reading the wrong blog.