TV: Just wacky

Sunday, June 27th, 1999

Stand back-and squint. A little more. There. See? From here, the ebb and flow of trends in our mass media culture look like gentle waves, sine curves arcing one way only to fall back the next. From the most significant to the most mundane, that’s the way it flows.
And some weeks I’m stationed, ever-vigilant at the "significant" desk, but this week it sure feels like I’m in the domain of the mundane.
Take helicopters, please. Seems as if one ratings book WXIA does some research that tells them that people could care less about cameras in the sky. Then, Bruce Erion nabs some great footage of a fire rescue and suddenly the pendulum swings back, and 11 Alive is the station with something called "the air advantage" (guarantee: our newscast has more air than those others.) In six months or so, if no major airborne breaking news hits, news and promotion management will again shuffle the helicopter card to the back of the deck.. What have you done for us lately, chopper guy?
Same thing happens at WSB. One sweeps they go all out promoting consumer dude Clark Howard. People get sick of it, and Clark’s promos evaporate in the summer sun. Then, they get some research that says maybe the other stations do .5 percent of a better job at consumer reporting. Oh, okay-yank Clark away from the radio mic and let’s plaster his face all over the television again.
Take Fox’s lineup. We could stick Futurama over here, and move That 70s Show to there, andno, let’s just move them back and start all over.
Take UPN. One season they decide to be the station for hip comedies. That goes nowhere. Then they go for hip urban comedies. Nope. Then they remembered that really drama was what they were all about. Uh-uh. And this fall: back to hip comedies.
And with any of the real in-for-the-long run programs-as in late night, for example, the waxing and waning of the host’s energy is just about a given. Lately, we’ve been lucky. Ted Koppel was at the top of his game covering Kosovo (I got more of a sense of the feeling of that troubled region from watching three Nightlines than about all the coverage put together. And Ted’s buddy Dave over on CBS actually seems to be enjoying having a show these days, lucky for us.
Maybe I can put all this valuable raw data (strewn over the "mundane" desk, elbow-deep in scribbled notes and smudged post-its) into a spreadsheet and try to correlate the coefficient of Dave’s mood swings divided by the delta pi of Monica’s hair, factored by the inverse square root of the frequencies Dan Rather’s been hearing these days. Add in the total number of news consultants, and put the whole mess over the exponential growth of function-alike cable channels, and multiply by the number of monitors on the new Headline News set, and, wait, I almost have it.there.
My carefully calculated conclusion: TV is just wacky.