Two recent items show how desperate, and clueless, the broadcast and cable networks have become. First, the painfully bad “Heroes” on NBC will have star Hayden Panettiere taking on a lesbian role, capitalizing on the acclaim and popularity of Lindsay Lohan. To be fair, the comic book version of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” did that as well, and the stunt seems to have resulted in … no appreciable jump in sales. Cliches such as lesbian kisses and storylines don’t work (shows that have tried it such “the OC” and “Buffy” and “Ally McBeal” found no ratings jump). This will, however, make NBC more “GLAAD” friendly as the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation will increase it’s score-card next season for NBC. Lesbian stunts have a history in broadcast TV going back to the 1990’s. The evidence is in: the stunts don’t pull in viewers.
Next, SyFy Network, in a continuing effort to repel any remaining male viewers, has announced that they are adding three new gay characters.
When the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation released its annual Network Responsibility Index, Syfy was among the networks receiving “Failing” grades for their depiction of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) characters.
Looking ahead, however, Syfy’s Stern touts two new series and the diversity depicted within.
“On Stargate Universe, one of the main female characters, we discover, is a lesbian and has a wife at home. It’s a pretty important facet of who that character is,” he says. ER alum Ming-Na plays intergalactic diplomat Camille Wray, while 24’s Reiko Aylesworth recurs as her wife.
Similarly the Galactica prequel spin-off Caprica has at least two main characters depicted as being in gay relationships. “[One] is a ‘goodfella’-type, and we discover in a nonchalant way that he is gay, with a husband,” Stern says. “It was very interesting to me to take what is traditionally a very heterosexual role in an organization that we think of as being extremely homophobic, and put a gay character in that world in a very normalized way.”
The other aformentioned Caprica character is part of a communal marriage featuring “heterosexual as well as homosexual couplings.”
Syfy is not even trying to maintain male viewers. Straight men don’t seem to find entertaining, gay mafiosas and even less, “communal marriages.” Ratings are less important obviously, to Cable and Broadcast execs, than the good graces of groups like GLAAD. This is because, network execs are not concerned with ratings, as much as their next job, which will be producing somewhere. Pressure groups such as GLAAD can create enormous stinks, and negative publicity, limiting an exec’s future employment as a producer at various production companies, and his ability to find partnerships. Particularly with Gays having a disproportionate influence, compared to their numbers in the population at large, in producing film and television.
Thus, TV and films are increasingly produced not to create an audience or make money, but create jobs for executives who will be joining production companies afterwards.
This is a characteristic of a “bubble economy” with most energy being spent on managers and executives and middle men looking for their next job or money-making assignment, and not actually making money on the current job. Like all bubbles, this too will come to an end, and there are signs coming that the traditional way people see Television and watch movies, i.e. TV sets at home and movie screens at the cinema or cinema-plex, will change radically. This in addition to piracy, at home and abroad, eroding DVD sales volume and prices, and pressed, budget wary consumers, has the potential for winnowing out networks like Syfy or NBC.
Currently, NBC (which unsurprisingly owns SyFy) doesn’t care about ratings as much as cable operator fees. Cable and satellite operators must pay SyFy a fee for every subscriber who watches SyFy.* [*I goofed on this one, thanks to poster “Pro Male” for pointing this out, rather cable operators must pay for any household that purchases a package that has the cable channel on it. Naturally this makes being part of the limited basic package a bonus since everyone subscribing will get it. Examples being Discovery Network, USA, etc. It’s not a pay-per-viewer, but rather per household that subscribes to the channel, and SyFy is as far as I know, a basic package in most cable and satellite operators offerings. Thanks again to poster “Pro Male.” ] This income stream has been remarkably robust and growing, but all good things come to an end. Technology threatens to drop a load of bricks on the delicate model that Hollywood depends on, leaving aside basic economic issues such as keeping cable in a recession for many consumers.
And no, it won’t be the “Long Tail” either. More on that soon.