Cheap, profitable, retro.

Monday, August 30th, 1999

Former ABC Entertainment President Jamie Tarses said "this is a terrifying time for television."
She was quoted in this week’s New Yorker, in an article about why you won’t be seeing a new series from David Lynch on ABC anytime soon. (The series: Mulholland Drive. The reason: the execs hated it.) Tarses, who brought us-gifted us with-dumped on us-Friends, Mad about You, and Dharma and Greg, resigned under fire at the end of last week. No, not because of David Lynch or anything in particular related to her job-programming-but because she wouldn’t play well with others in the "synergistic" mess that is the ABC/Disney media megalith. She hated those money guys, those Disney folks. She wanted innovative programmingshe said.
Terrifying times, where affiliate station general managers, snappy dressers all, pull into their corporate parking spaces and go upstairs to pursue the overnights over morning coffee. Slipping again, a bit more lost to the lurking cable monster.
Meanwhile, the bills are coming in for fancy new digital facilities (, CBS 46 is building a nice shiny one in midtown) and lots of high-priced new talent (you know 46 snapped up Calvin Hughes from Dallas and Jane Robelot from CBS This Morning.)
Robelot, the press release says, is originally from Greenville, SC, but "with many ties to the Atlanta community." Gives WSB an excuse to run those "Anchors who know Georgia" promos some more.
Meanwhile, a struggling network like UPN reads the cable numbers and decides to get some WWF Smackdown of its own. The transplant (WWF is usually seen on cable’s USA Network) took, placing the almost-a-network number one among kids between the ages of 2 and 11, sucking in 6.2 million viewers with programming that’s way, way less expensive to produce than a one-hour drama like ER or even UPN’s own Star Trek: Voyager.
But there’s a even cheaper way to make money, and it’s name is Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, a summer series that has captured the (apparently limited) imaginations of the viewing public-just in time for it to be yanked into cold storage until the November ratings book-or whenever anything else ABC offers starts to falter. Yep, it’s darned economical to produce a show when you scrimp on research (they already got one question wrong) and charge contestants a buck fifty on a 900 line to sign up for the show.
Cheap and profitable-that’s music to Disney’s bottom line. And I guess it’s because of the reruns, but WWTBAM‘s ratings were double those of the show that followed it on Sunday-The Practice. That’s enough to make any station manager spit coffee into the nearest potted plant.
And of course the idea of primetime game shows fits neatly into the other successful programming theme, retro. Let’s see, cheap, profitable, retroI’m going to confidently predict that the next big successes on broadcast television will be Bowling for Dollars, Georgia Retired Anchor Championship Wrestling, and Hee Haw.
Terrifying? You bet. And that’s my final answer.