Friday, April 15, 2011

Our Drama Choices Have Evolved – We Care Less about Erica’s 10th Marriage and More About How the Housewives Will Keep Buying Berkin Bags if they Get Divorced

It’s so sad that the daytime dramas many of us watched as teenagers and young adults are dying.   

The cancellation of ABC’s “All My Children” and “One Life to Live” means we’re close to the end of the serial TV format that brought us such loved and hated characters as Erica Kane, Tad Martin and the Buchanan family – and so many hours of conversation about them.

Yes, “General Hospital,” “Days of Our Lives” and “Young and the Restless” remain, but probably not for long.

It’s been mentioned in news articles that more people now get their drama from reality TV and it's true that more water cooler talk now revolves around “American Idol,” “Survivor,” the “Real Housewives” and, sadly “Jersey Shore.”

The good news is that this transition demonstrates evolution.  We’ve grown up.

You have to admit that following the lives of made-up people on a day-to-day basis and talking about them as if they were real is a little weird.  Here in the 21st century when most of us can make movies on our cell phones and produce video in an instant, we’re a little too sophisticated and cynical to be concerned that Sonny’s going to get shot for the hundredth time or that Luke and Laura will never get back together.

Now we worry about actual living beings, even though we don’t know them from Adam Chandler.  Who’ll get voted off the island?  Will “The Situation” keep his washboard abs?  Which celebrity loser will Donald Trump fire?  How will the housewives keep buying Berkin handbags if they get divorced?

We even follow second and third tier TV.  I’ve been on the streets of Manhattan with friends who point out: “There’s so-and-so from the third season of “Project Runway!”

But at least they’re real people.   We’ve evolved all right.  I wonder what’s next?  Following the people on “You Tube” who make their kids do crazy things for their Flip video cams.  Oh, right, Flip is dead now too.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Katie Couric May Be Smarter than the Brass at CBS

I wrote last week about what’s ahead for the three major broadcast networks in the wake of Katie Couric’s reported departure from the "CBS Evening News."

Today, the other side of the story: should we feel sorry for Katie?

Absolutely not.  Word is spreading that Couric and her former NBC “Today” co-anchor Matt Lauer are shopping a talk show together. 

What could be better for both of them? Unless they have the worst lawyers and agents in the word, they’ll own the show as Oprah owns hers.  They’ll share in the profits; they’ll make the business and content decisions. The only thing at stake is their friendship.

As long as their new program draws viewers, neither Katie nor Matt will have to answer to producers or network suits.  All they have to do is make a deal with the right syndication folks, hire a great staff and use their innate talents to smile and chat.  I suspect they’re not crazy enough to go for a morning program, so they won’t even have to get out of bed before dawn.

And the timing is right.  Regis Philbin is leaving “Live!” and Oprah will be buried on her own cable network where fewer viewers will be able to find her.

If the rumors are true, Katie Couric and Matt Lauer have a fantastic idea. They won't look back at their days at CBS and NBC.  Whatever deal they make, they’ll strike gold and they’ll be in control.  I wonder if their first guests will be Sarah Palin and Kanye West.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Does Couric's exit spell the end of the Evening News format?

Is the half-hour evening news format dead?  With Katie Couric reportedly leaving the “CBS Evening News” when her contract expires in June, the buzz in the TV news business is that the end is near for the three network newscasts. 

I don't think the format is dead yet because there remains a substantial combined viewership, but if I were Brian Williams or Diane Sawyer, I might be somewhat concerned.  

With no network evening news, where would we go to find the top stories of the day?  Americans are no longer reaching for their newspapers.  And the Internet has plenty of news, but I think we’ve gotten used to having some outlet where we can find the day's events wrapped in a tight package. The absence of news on CBS, ABC and NBC would leave a huge hole.

The network news shows average slightly more than seven million viewers each, with a total of 22 million.  Couric trails the others significantly.  In the coveted demographic of adults 25-54, the programs are drawing only six and a half million people combined. 

By contrast, American Idol last week had 24 million viewers.

That’s a huge difference, but there remains a loyal audience.  Further, what’s offered on cable is limited.  CNN and MSNBC do not offer news in the evenings.  Their programming after 5 p.m. eastern is mostly analysis punctuated by a few headlines.

HLN is the only outlet with a bona fide news broadcast, “Prime News,” at 6 p.m. EST.  Fox has “Special Report,” news (biased as it is) for the first 30 minutes and commentary for the second.

So, either the cable outlets step up or the Big Three continue with their losing newscasts.

Personally, I believe NBC should move Brian Williams to MSNBC (perhaps simulcast on NBC) with a longer form program better suited to his style - headlines with more in-depth reporting and interviews. 

With Williams in place, CBS and ABC could throw in the towel.  They don’t have an outlet analogous to MSNBC, though they could buy one or merge with one, like the struggling CNN. 

It would be sad if there were no place on television for Americans to get their news each night and it’s unlikely that the situation will change anytime soon.  But change in the broadcast television news business is all but certain.

TV Newser and the Daily News have reported that Scott Pelley or Harry Smith is in line to succeed Couric and that the “Evening News” will continue.  I think either of those two choices is weak and that CBS will have to do a lot better to stay in the race.  I still say someone of Anderson Cooper’s stature, or Anderson himself, could be the answer.