Friday, December 19, 2008

From the NY Times: Extinction-Level Television Event

In an odd turn of events, I find myself with a byline in today's New York Times Opinion section, with an op-ed about about NBC's Jay Leno deal and how it could point to a day when the broadcast networks will become indistinguishable from cable channels.

40 comments:

Toby said...

Have you written for the Times before, Alan? Could this be a toe in the water/foot in the door in case the Star-Ledger situation gets even worse?

Oh, and if you pick the right Freddy Rumsen impression to do at the Post Office, I think even people who never saw 'Mad Men' will laugh.

And point......

Trotsky said...

A very nice piece. (That's what he said.)
I like how you used "depraved indifference" in the same paragraph as "Law & Order", as no doubt that's where you picked up the term.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Could this be a toe in the water/foot in the door in case the Star-Ledger situation gets even worse?

No, this was a one-time thing. The Times has a small army of its own TV writers, and I'm very happy at The Star-Ledger, so long as it stays in business (which I'm told it will).

Kevin said...

Alan, do they require you to call him "Mr. Leno" instead of Jay Leno the second time you refer to him? Always been a pet peeve of mine when reading any NY Times article. Seems to be a universal thing over there. The Wall St. Journal does it, too.

Do the editors change it themselves? I'm just not sure what the purpose of it is.

Anonymous said...

Congrats Alan on the NYT piece.

Unfortunately, with the dispersion of the audience to Cable, DVDs and the Net, the Networks are being driven to the Lowest Common Denominator of reality shows and endless procedurals.
Its ironic that back in the 60s when Television was branded "a vast wasteland", I don't think anyone could conceive of the current state of NBC.

On a somewhat related note, how come no one in the industry is pushing back on the current ratings system. As the Boomers age, they still control most of the disposable income in this country, yet they are slowly but surely aging out of the prime demographic, this makes no sense. The Over 50s should be a prime target of advertisers.

Puff

Puff

Karen said...

@Kevin--yes, that's NYT style. Surely you recall the classic music review in which they referred to "Mr Loaf"?

Nice to see you in my neck of the woods, Alan--and a great column. Made even greater by being true.

Nice plug for "Chuck," too!!

Anonymous said...

nice op-ed! and great chuck plug!

Eric said...

Congrats on the NYT piece, and well done.

Did you ever imagine, back in the days of writing NYPD recaps in college that it would lead to this?

Matter-Eater Lad said...

"It’s in no danger of becoming such a big hit that people at the post office will laugh at your Freddy Rumsen impression."

Man, I wish I'd read that BEFORE I went to the post office...

Anonymous said...

What I want to know is whether or not the networks/advertiser should actually care what the official Nielson ratings are? There must be a better way, my cable company knows exactly how much bandwith I'm using and what shows are going on my DVR.

I pay my cable bill with my remote sitting on my couch and they can't find a way to aggrigate all that data. The sample size for the Nielson's is way too small and is simply outdated. Yes, I zip through the commercials like everyone else does but at least it would be a moral victory. Back in the day, the people that weren't Nielson viewers missed out on having one vote, now they miss out on having two.

Plus people with DVR's obviously care about what's on TV and have at least some disposable income, they should be the prefered market. Screw the people not ready for the conversion, odds are they aren't buying your products anyways. Find new ways to market within shows. I hate that The Office does it so much, but it's the future and if it covers the budget, I don't care.

Steve said...

Nice, Alan. The Op-Ed was completely on point.

As an aside about Chuck... I saw the pilot episode only but never gave the show a chance. However, after recently flying through the entire run of The OC, and catching a few episodes of Gossip Girl, I have become a huge fan of Josh Schwartz's pop culture irreverence. I now plan to get Chuck on Netflix.

My question is this... how has Josh Schwartz allowed for his two and only shows to air in the exact same competing time slot?

Alan Sepinwall said...

My question is this... how has Josh Schwartz allowed for his two and only shows to air in the exact same competing time slot?

Schwartz doesn't have a whole lotta say in the matter. And it helps that there's not a ton of overlap in the two audiences (GG goes heavily female, Chuck heavily male).

As for Netflix-ing it, I'll say that the first season is fun but uneven, as they were still finding themselves. The real gems start in season two, which is up in its entirety(*) on Hulu.

(*) I think they're only allowed to feature a certain number of shows at a time, so you may only have between now and when the next new episode airs in February to catch the season two premiere.

Steve said...

Alan,

thanks for the heads up. I'm usually the type of person that needs to see a show from it's beginning... but in Chuck's case, should I just jump into Season 2, or watch all of S1 first?

jengod said...

NBC's marketing department is going in tumbrels to the guillotine if they don't pluck "deliriously funny" out of that and credit it to the NYT in a Chuck commercial.

Alan Sepinwall said...

thanks for the heads up. I'm usually the type of person that needs to see a show from it's beginning... but in Chuck's case, should I just jump into Season 2, or watch all of S1 first?

There's some arc stuff involving an evil CIA splinter group called Fulcrum, and a few running gags that you might miss in season two, but overall, you'd be fine.

I'm not saying that you need to skip over season one, just that if you start from the beginning, you may wonder what all the recent hype was about. Season one is a B-, maybe a B show. Season two is a solid A. They really kicked it up a notch.

Joe said...

Insightful piece.
The last comment about Leno brought me right to Conan O'Brien's show. Last night, they were doing a bit on the "Least Popular Christmas Ornaments."
The last one shown -- and the real point of the bit -- was a fluffy, Beany Babie-esque "NBC Peacock with His Head Stuck Up His Ass."
As they went to commercial, Conan stood up and put it on the full-sized, Late Night Christmas Tree.
I immediately thought, "Hmmmm..... Does that have anything to do with the NBC Fall 09 prime time lineup?"
You bet it does.

Steve said...

thanks Alan.

Andrew said...

Interesting piece, Mr. Sepinwall.*

Is there anything in development that's ambitious as The Sopranos, The Wire, Deadwood, Arrested Development or Lost? Or are the late 90s, early 00s going to be remembered as a high point for scripted serials.

*Yes, that is the NYT style. On the one hand, I find it refreshing to have the little bit more decorum in the newspaper of record. On the other hand, for articles about pop culture, it can be amusing (e.g. "Mr. Loaf"). You can learn all about it with your own copy of The New York Times Style Guide.

And the teaser of the first episode of Chuck's season two quickly brings you up to speed on the premise.

barefootjim said...

Jay Leno is totally ducking the shoe.

NBC, not so much.

I'm also one of those people who gave up on "Chuck" after only a couple of episodes in the first season, but decided to try again based upon all of the glowing reviews of Season Two, and it was easy to get back into.

That said, I'm thinking of watching the DVD of Season 1 during this cruel hiatus.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Jay Leno is totally ducking the shoe.

NBC, not so much.


If you define "ducking the shoe" (as I do) as "avoiding comeuppance for your actions at every possible turn," then NBC has most definitely ducked the shoe. They screwed up their program development for years, appeared to screw up the Conan/Leno hand-off, and now they have an arrangement in place that, while it won't get high ratings, will almost certainly make a profit for them.

Jeff Zucker's career as an NBC exec is the epitome of shoe-ducking.

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

On a somewhat related note, how come no one in the industry is pushing back on the current ratings system. As the Boomers age, they still control most of the disposable income in this country, yet they are slowly but surely aging out of the prime demographic, this makes no sense. The Over 50s should be a prime target of advertisers.

This was a major plot point in one of the final Boston Legal episodes. And as someone approaching her 46th birthday with alarming speed, I say bravo.

Tyroc said...

Great piece. Can we get you over to "The New Yorker" next? Their critic, while a talented writer, just recently decided to finally review "30 Rock."

And not only did she not really get the show, she went off on Tracy Morgan for not being funny.

Talk about bad taste.

Scott Hollifield said...

Tyroc: For my money (and I do pay for both publications), neither the New Yorker's Nancy Franklin or the Times' Alessandra Stanley do very good work, and Ms. Franklin's very facile (and tardy) review of "30 Rock" being a pretty textbook example.

re: Alan's shiny new byline -- it does beg the question in my mind of when the New Jersey Star-Ledger became simply "The Star-Ledger", as it says below Alan's fine piece.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Scott, we've never been The New Jersey Star-Ledger, and we haven't been The Newark Star-Ledger for a long time, since well before I came to the paper in '96. People often still refer to us that way to help identify where we are, or because they think that's still the name, but the bosses decided long ago that if we wanted to be the paper for record for all of the state, we needed to drop the city from our name.

Good Dog said...

On the money Op-Ed piece.

What Silverman and Zucker are doing with the network is astonishing. Brandon Tartikoff and Grant Tinker must be spinning in their graves, at least until they spring out of the ground and cock-punch these idiots.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Grant Tinker ain't dead yet, thankfully.

Elena said...

As a 40-something, I mourn the passing of the commons that was created by a limited number of TV channels, while I do adore shows like MM. People my age can call up all sorts of quirky lines and shows from our childhood, that today's kids won't be able to do. Case in point, this friend and I both grew up in Chicago, with WGN and Frazier Thomas' Sunday Movie Classics. For us "A Christmas Carol" instantly recalls the 1938 version with Reginald Owen, which was shown every holiday season.

Great editorial Alan, totally true and elegantly expressed

Justin said...

Can't wait to see NBC's pull quotes from this piece:

"NBC... groundbreaking shows... mass successes — the kind of hits that plenty of people at any school or office would be able and eager to talk about... deliriously funny… they even bring in big rating... there’s solid ground beneath their feet..."

KB said...

Congrats Alan, nice article.

All the other issues aside, I think NBC made the best move it could at this point by keeping Leno. Having the biggest stars and best talent is the one thing that can keep the networks relevant in the long run, isn't it? However their product is sold and distributed, the networks need to hire and hold on to the top talent because all their other advantages are fading away or already gone. Established stars like Leno can keep earning money one way or another. This was the right move to make regardless of the network's previous mistakes.

In the age of DVR, I think putting Leno on an hour and half earlier only gives his viewers more options on when and how to watch him. And as far as I'm concerned there's nothing good anywhere on television from 10:00 to 11:00 anymore. With The Shield done, and Its Always Sunny's season over, I'm not watching any shows that come on at 10:00 on network or cable. So even I might flip to Jay occasionally to see what he's doing or who the guest is, and I've never been much of a fan.

John the Editor said...

As of now (6:00 PM EST), the article is linked at the top of the front page of the New York Times online, just to the right of the (unrelated) photo. Nice!

Anonymous said...

As I look back on them, all those shows first listed were the same which is why after about 2 years I stopped watching each (except for L&O which I always found unwatchable at all). And maybe that's why the network is dying.

Good Dog said...

Yikes!

My apologies to Mr Tinker for that awful blunder.

That noise we're hearing must be him banging his head against the wall. All those marvelous shows he steered through MTM and brought to NBC, helping introduce quality television to the networks, and it has ended up like this... What a nightmare!

Stef said...

Congrats on the NYT, Alan! And thanks for fitting in plugs for blog-faves MM and Chuck, too. May you single-handedly boost their ratings! :-)

Number Five said...

Alan in the Gray Lady...awesome!

I don't know if it's a given that the cable model will be profitable as the trends that eat away at broadcast TV continue. The Internet may be the real threat to all of television.

Also, I'm worried that the cable model won't produce as many high quality shows as we hope. Cable networks are also flooded with reality shows, and many networks have only produced broadcast-lite shows. I doubt Mad Men makes money for AMC, and The Wire barely survived even on HBO's subscription model. Will cable be able to keep giving us shows of that caliber?

Fernando said...

Nice piece. I was temporarily shocked that you were polished in the Times, then I remembered u work for a newspaper so you see your name in ink every week lol.

Niche programming is where it's at in my opinion. The sooner networks realize, the better they'll be. I can see tryna hit a home run with one series (nowadays, most likely a reality show, i.e. American Idol, Survivor) but to create a 30 million audience for a scripted shows, seems like those days have passed.

mj said...

Mr Sepinwall,
Very much enjoyed your NYT article - congratulations! Like much of your writing at this blog, I felt I needed to read it more than once because there's just so much in there to think about. My favorite paragraph was the one in which you shamelessly plugged the apparently deliriously funny Chuck. I did think there was one small point that could even have been added to that paragraph, which described NBC's recent good work. Yes, it's something you've discussed many times on this blog - NBC got Season 3 of Friday Night Lights to air by partnering with a cable provider (rather than with a cable station). Might partnering agreements like that be a sign of innovation rather than extinction? (Plus, mentioning it would have been a shameless plug for FNL's NBC premiere in January!) Anyway, well done. Your way of thinking and writing makes television-watching a more complete experience.

Anthony Foglia said...

Scott Hollifield said...
Tyroc: For my money (and I do pay for both publications), neither the New Yorker's Nancy Franklin or the Times' Alessandra Stanley do very good work, and Ms. Franklin's very facile (and tardy) review of "30 Rock" being a pretty textbook example.

I'm not too familiar with Nancy Franklin's work, but I'll second the dismissal of Alessandra Stanley. I take a byline of either her or Virginia Heffernan as a warning.

But the worst of the ones I read most often is Troy Patterson of Slate. If it wasn't a step backwards, I'd hope Alan would replace him. I'd love for Carina Chocano to come back to that position.

Anonymous said...

I don't know Alessandra Stanley, but I've liked Virginia Heffernan since she was at Slate. Nancy Franklin lost me when she started her Generation Kill review by lamenting that it had taken over "Tony's timeslot". It was pretty clear she wasn't going to be reviewing it on its merits but by whether it was a satisfactory replacement for the Sopranos.

Maura said...

I take a byline of either her or Virginia Heffernan as a warning.

Does Heffernan even watch the shows she writes about? I've never read a TV writer more off the mark about her subjects.

The networks would do well to follow cable's (basic and premium channels)example. They've been mostly successful with their shows. At least cable is dedicated to its shows.

I'm very happy at The Star-Ledger, so long as it stays in business (which I'm told it will).

That's good to hear. I don't want newspapers to disappear.

annie said...

really nice piece, and congrats on the shiny byline.

Something in there inspired me to think that now 'network' now means a collection of TV channels at different locations on the dial*, instead of affiliated stations in various physical locations...

*what an antiquated reference!