INSIDE THE BELTWAY: Serious issues are stuff of Nielsen nightmares for ratings-mad network television executives

What do you suppose would happen if, say, Al Gore and George W. Bush were to walk on to a network news set late one afternoon, unannounced and - once the young network bookers figured out who these two men were - declared they were there to begin a series of two-hour prime time debates discussing campaign finance reform, trade preferences and other pertinent, related topics?

What do you suppose would happen if, say, Al Gore and George W. Bush were to walk on to a network news set late one afternoon, unannounced and - once the young network bookers figured out who these two men were - declared they were there to begin a series of two-hour prime time debates discussing campaign finance reform, trade preferences and other pertinent, related topics?

What do you suppose would happen if, say, Al Gore and George W.

Bush were to walk on to a network news set late one afternoon,

unannounced and - once the young network bookers figured out who these

two men were - declared they were there to begin a series of two-hour

prime time debates discussing campaign finance reform, trade preferences

and other pertinent, related topics?



My guess is that as they sat down around the anchor table and opened up

their reports and briefings from Brookings, Heritage and Common Cause,

someone in security would quietly call the cops and have these madmen

hauled away.



The scenario is extreme, but the message is clear: however loudly the

network execs talk about ’serious’ programming and the need for TV to

educate, elucidate, inform and deliver the responsible news of the day,

the idea of actually doing those things sends chills of horror through

the spines of top network management.



The goal of television, after all, as New York Times columnist William

Safire pointed out in his highly interesting (yet largely unread) book

of some years ago called The Relations Explosion, is not to inform or

educate - or even to titillate or entertain - but to deliver, anytime

and all the time, the largest possible audience to the advertiser.

That’s why nighttime disasters always make the evening news and violence

(or evidence of violence) will almost always lead the program. And the

ratings seem to support the judgement - ’praise the idea of serious

programming, but keep it off the air.’



The Doctrine of Relative Favoritism seems to be at work here. Thus,

Americans overwhelmingly favor gun control, but when asked to rate the

most important issues, they put it way down the list. But to National

Rifle Association members and supporters, although a minority, it is not

only the most important issue but often the only issue. Congressmen can

read polls and they can also count their mail.



And so it is with the ’intellectual’ side of things. Hardly anyone

really cares about campaign finance reform, at least not enough to give

up some prurient sitcom for a few nights, or worse, to sit in front of

the screen and actually follow a debate.



Maybe we have hit upon a way to boost movie attendance - fill the

airwaves with intense and well organized political debate, whether about

Medicare, farm subsidies or Third World debt. Either way, the audiences

at the movies will be augmented. Now, about the taste of those new

movies ...



Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Register
Already registered?
Sign in

Would you like to post a comment?

Please Sign in or register.