The plot should be a no-brainer. TV Broadcast networks, free to anyone with a TV antenna, ought to be reaping recessionary rewards as people cut the cable or satellite payments and surf online and over-the-air. But TV Broadcast networks are still losing viewers. Some of it is simply bad programming (NBC is reportedly thinking of yanking Jay Leno’s 10 PM show off the air after the Winter Olympics), but a lot of it is the simple inability of the networks to make anything that is attractive to male viewers. Lost in all the hype about female decision-makers driving 80% of all consumer purchases is the fact that men make up close to 50% of the population. A recent interview with “Criminal Minds” showrunner Ed Bernero at Deadline Hollywood Daily illustrates why: despite men at the top of the Networks, nearly all the executive staff is female (or gay). Which means, PC kills revenue.
As always, read the whole thing. But several points are worth excerpting:
EB: Television viewership has been declining for about 10 years. The internet has been blamed. Everything has been blamed. Except for what I think the problem is: that the networks own the shows, and they completely think that they make them. They don’t any longer let the people who make shows just make them. The networks have notes about everything. They are intimately involved in every aspect of the process. And I think it’s hurt the process.
DH: Network/studio idiocy is infamous. But if you can link it now to network ownership…
EB: That’s when the erosion of viewership began. I also think one of the things that’s really hurting us is political activism of any stripe. Michael Jordan had it exactly right, he was my idol — when he was asked about a political question at one point and he said I’m not going to answer it, and they said why not, and he said: Because Republicans buy gym shoes too, right? That doesn’t exist anymore, that kind of smarts.
Any time someone says anything right, left, whatever, I think we lose viewers. And somewhere around the country somebody says, I’m not going to watch what Hollywood does anymore. I wish we would go back to just being entertainers. Anytime we sign a petition that says let’s ignore the fact that Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old, we lose viewers. And I think that has reached a critical mass. We live in a very polarized country right now. So why would someone like Megan Fox want to diss middle America?
And it’s not just that they’re not going to watch her material, they’re not going to watch mine. There are people in Kansas who are going to say, you know what? Screw Hollywood. Because we are sort of thought of as this monolith, and I wish people would take that into account.
DH: That probably comes from the fact that you are from the middle. The Rust Belt.
EB: Yes, very much from the middle. I eternally fight internal battles about developing things that only appeal to the East Coast and the West Coast. For years I’ve been trying to do a Western, nobody’s interested in doing a Western, how can that be? Every time someone does a Western movie, people flock to it. It’s like, we’re continually programming to people who are least likely to watch us. People in Nebraska aren’t watching things on the computer, they’re watching television. Why aren’t we programming things for them? We only program things that appeal to New York and Los Angeles and in many ways spit on the rest of the country.
Berneros argument (again, read the whole thing) is that the relaxation of fin-syn rules (he notes he has been writing cop shows for about 12 years) has changed network relationships from simply buying shows from providers to owning them and making MBA weenies who know nothing about film or TV production into suddenly, film-makers. That moreover, politicizing things to make one feel better on the cocktail circuit is a disaster. As is the elitist view that only the viewpoints of LA and NYC matter, that the “stupid hicks in the middle of the country” will in fact watch anything the hip and cool people put on. Clearly, this is not the case, and the contempt for Middle America has hurt the networks.
But just as important, has been the process by which men have fled or been expelled from television, particularly broadcast television, which in turn has become a gay/female ghetto. More below:
ON TV CONTENT FOR MEN, WOMEN, AND THE NETWORKS
DH: When you look at the CBS lineup, I guess it’s the network that seems to have a lock on crime with the multiple CSI’s and Criminal Minds – but it’s controlled by two women, Nina Tassler and Nancy Tellem. And my understanding is that they are looking for more shows that have more female appeal. I just wondered what the deal is.
EB: That’s a point I’ve thought about a lot in developing over the last few years. Let’s see if I can say this without ending my development career. It’s very female, development. Development staffs are almost all female. It’s not that easy to get a male skewed show through development.
EB: Most of the network television audience now is primarily women, but I think that’s because the shows are developed to appeal to women. I don’t know that there are too many shows that appeal to guys anymore. I’m not sure why that is, but I think that it may have something to do with the fact that most development staffs are women. I know it’s the case at CBS. I know it’s the case at ABC. Not that these are not brilliant women, but there’s a completely different sensibility in men and women, in what men watch and what women watch. Part of the erosion of network television is that men watch sports – there’s not that much on for them. There are not shows that have male themes. That’s all I want to say about that.
DH: And yet at CBS, besides the crime shows even the popular comedies are male-oriented, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory.
EB: But Two and a Half Men is not male-oriented, it’s made to appeal to women. Charlie Sheen is playing a bad boy who can be changed…
DH: It’s got a lot of jokes that my husband likes.
EB: But it’s safe.
DH: What is male oriented?
EB: For example, almost all dramas are families, they are work families – ER is a good example, Criminal Minds is a good example. We have a character who is the mother, a character who is the father, a brother and a sister, we have the younger brother that everybody protects, we have the cute cousin…it’s very much a family, and I think that very much appeals to women.
You don’t see loners anymore, you don’t see a Mannix or a Rockford Files or something where it’s a tough guy standing against the world. It doesn’t appeal to women. Guys like a guy who stands up for right, and the Hawaii Five-0 that we were going to write, the issue was sort of like living up to your father, being a cop in a world where your father was a great cop, that’s really a male theme. Women don’t really compete with their mothers; men compete with their fathers. I know I had gotten into many conversations where people didn’t understand why it was important that the character be in competition with his father…men compete with their fathers.
DH: Men compete with everybody. Everything’s a competition.
EB: Right. Two and a Half Men is an example. Those two don’t really compete with each other. It’s not really two brothers living with each other, because two brothers living together don’t get along that well.
DH: Aren’t they like The Odd Couple?
EB: But The Odd Couple is different, because in the 1970s, the “Odd Couple” didn’t like each other. They competed with each other in ways that these two don’t. Because at the base of it all, they [Two and Half Men’s characters] really love each other.
DH: More like My Two Dads.
EB: It’s a subtle thing, but it’s very female-centered. Now, I don’t mean to say that I don’t love doing shows that women like – women like Criminal Minds, and women weren’t supposed to like this show. Our core audience is 35-40 year old women, who I think are an amazing audience. It didn’t surprise me at all, when you put on the show where those women are the primary targets of these monsters, and you put on a show where our team saves women from them every week, I don’t know how this couldn’t appeal to them.
DH: And women are very interested in character, as opposed to what you’re saying — that sometimes men just like a straight-on hero who does it right.
EB: Yes, I think it’s extremely difficult to get a male themed show on television.
DH: The people who are running the networks are men, but the so-called creative executives, that whole level is mostly female.
EB: If you say this, make sure that you say that I’m not necessarily saying that’s bad…
DH: Just that it’s true.
EB: The TV audience is primarily female, so it’s not a bad thing…
DH: But if you have something that works on that male level, it’s hard to get it through.
EB: What gets made that’s considered for men – it’s really just T&A stuff. It’s not stuff than any guy I know really wants to watch, you know, the stuff with jiggling boobs and all that. Something with real sort of male themes and male strength and things I want to watch in a drama….
DH: The things men want to be respected for…
EB: Yeah, sort of the things that appeal to us, the things we compete for. Macho in a different sense, the kind of things that we think makes us a man. It doesn’t really exist right now. I really don’t want it to seem that I think it’s a problem that women are in development, I don’t think it’s as problem at all, I just think it’s an interesting time that we’re in. And maybe long overdue – maybe television for a long time was made for men and it’s long overdue.
DH: I’m hearing the hero thing, how important that is to men, it’s not just about being understood in a touchy-feely way.
EB: No, not at all, it’s more about being misunderstood, but doing right anyway — it’s Rockford and Mannix and all that kind of thing. Those kinds of icons don’t exist anymore. But I also love Glee. I watch it with my wife; I loved Desperate Housewives in the first couple of years. It’s not bad, it’s just something that I notice. And I think specifically what happened with Hawaii Five-0.
Bernero, obvious does not want to burn the bridges with the women he has to sell to, year after year. However, he acknowledges that TV simply cannot touch on what men want to see. Which is not families, nor relationship dramas, or hunky gay vampires, nor hunky doctors. But rather, individualists who are somewhat loners, who do the right thing even if they don’t get rewarded, because doing the right thing is in fact difficult and a test and proof, together, of their manliness. Together of course with competition, of winning and losing, and keeping score.
Two And A Half Men, is indeed all about how the Bad Boy Charlie Sheen, can be tamed and changed, and how the female audience can laugh at the Beta brother Jon Cryer, who is a loser because he is not a bad boy. While Hanes has dropped Charlie Sheen (very late) from its ads, it is unlikely CBS will drop Sheen. First, he’s the show, and second, women forgive ANYTHING from a bad boy. Anything at all. Womens groups have not been picketing CBS to fire Charlie Sheen for allegedly putting a knife to his wife’s throat. They are unlikely to do so as they are unlikely to call for Roman Polanski’s arrest. Women love the bad boys, Sheen’s alleged actions only make him more of a bad boy. Presumably to be tamed by the “special” woman.
Meanwhile Cryer’s character, is there so obviously for women to laugh at.
What is interesting is how Bernero essentially cops to CBS and other networks “Prime Time Crime Time” being oriented towards women. A “family” filled with relationship issues, in the workplace (I have never had any workplace be a “family” —I either produced revenue to more than cover my full cost of employment or I was gone, and I suspect most folks have the same experience), with emphasis on relationships within the family and romance for the lead female character. Absent the criminals, it might as well describe Hospital Soaps such as “Mercy” or “Grey’s Anatomy.”
This is why you don’t see either a very male-oriented “A-Team” on television, or at least broadcast television, or private eyes who used to dominate TV: Mannix, Rockford Files, “Simon and Simon,” or heck “Jake and the Fatman,” and “Riptide.” It is worth noting that “Jake and the Fatman” ran until 1992. Back in the 1950’s through the 1970’s, private eyes and fairly “loner” types such “Wild Wild West” (can anyone imagine such a show today?) or “Rockford Files” which ran through 1980.
With the loss of these shows, has come the loss of the male audience. Which means lower ratings, and lower advertising dollars, no matter how much spin on female-driven purchases marketers put forward.
PC kills. Sure it is “nice to have” all these “diverse” staff, with White males being at the top and the rest female or gay. [A recent episode of “Dog Whisperer” at Chiat/Day was revealing —nearly all the staff was either female (and many of them non-White) or gay. How that enables them to understand and sell to the White middle class particularly White men is a mystery to me. But perhaps nearly 60 years of go-go post-War prosperity made advertising fat and happy, instead of lean and hungry.]
Contrary to Bernero, the idea that it is “time” to have TV all-female, all-gay has real consequences. For NBC, it means money left on the table, that go to Video Games and cable outlets like USA, and to a lesser extent F/X. White women alone are not enough to drive profitable ratings. There simply are not enough of them. The small size of the Black Middle Class (approximately 5% of the total population, or 40% of the 12.5% of the Black population) makes them irrelevant. Hispanics prefer to watch Spanish-language TV. An all female and all gay development staff cannot produce shows that reach men, for the most part, and won’t stick with the few that have potential (NBC’s late, lamented “Life,” with perhaps one of the most masculine, and self-contained loner types shown in decades). Reaching for more women as CBS plans to do, means fighting with ABC, NBC, FOX, and CW for the declining pool of White women (and a few “fabulous” gay men). This undoubtedly suits the prejudices and whims of the female development staff, and is “easy” in that it does not stretch the limits of their imaginations, but it will not fix the problem.
Bernero is undoubtedly correct that fin-syn rules, allowing networks to own shows, and thus making development execs who know MBA spreadsheets or (perhaps, given the revelations in business and politics regarding personal relationships between bosses, certain intimate knowledge of their bosses) into pseudo-showrunners, based on things that have nothing to do with making successful TV shows, has been hurtful to the ability to make shows viewers want to see. So too, anti-Middle Class, Coastal Elitism and politicking of any sort.
But as documented extensively on Whiskey’s Place, viewer declines began decades ago, in the 1980’s, before Cable TV, before Satellite TV, before the internet, before bit-torrent sharing of TV shows, before fin-syn. Before even, FOX Broadcasting. In the era of rabbit ears and only three networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC. The decline began, when men fled TV. Slowly, as more and more shows became female-oriented soap operas. More rapidly, as the development executives became more and more female (and gay). Finally, the last of the old-line TV shows were canceled or concluded in the early 1990’s, and TV became a female and gay ghetto.
If TV remains merely a female-gay ghetto, then viewers will never return. Because the missing viewers are men. Video games, and specialized niche networks programming to men, such as Spike-TV and USA Network, will continue to grow in profits, with little competition from Hollywood and the major media companies.
The danger for Hollywood, and networks generally, is that TV’s “proven” format of serial dramas, and comedies, can be easily adapted on the internet, with devices that free people from watching broadcast TV. Contrary to Bernero, a lot of TV (including undoubtedly, Criminal Minds) is consumed online or through a computer. Flo TV promises TV on the go, anywhere and everywhere. Apple is promising a tablet device that can provide both an e-reader and mobile TV, connected through Wi-Fi. Various cell phone companies are experimenting with mobile TV, including NFL games. While I will address this issue (portability and convenience versus an “immersive” but expensive experience) in a future post on Avatar (and why the movie is both more and less than it seems), the sum experience of consumer preference has been for convenience and portability at an affordable price over high quality and an expensive, immersive experience.
Consumers preferred cheap walkmen from Sony in favor of expensive home stereos. Later, they preferred a lesser audio experience with sampled MP3s in a convenient, portable form in the Ipod to the high quality of CDs. Apple already offers Itunes downloads for various TV and movies, some of them free, as does Amazon’s Un-box, and streaming video at both Youtube and Hulu has generated millions of viewers. When given a choice between cheap, portable, and convenient, and a “family gathering” of the type Bernero mentions, consumers tend to choose cheap and portable and convenient. Moreover, declining marriage rates and very likely, in the recession, declining co-habitation rates, means more individual watching, alone, instead of gathered around the family TV set.
The future is likely to consist of cheap, networked devices playing streaming media, with ads, anywhere and anytime. Providers from Apple, Google and its partners, Flo-TV, and more, are going to be hungry for content. Content that appeals to at least half the gadget buyers, men. Content that can be provided, theoretically, from anywhere: New Zealand, with low production costs, or Canada, or Australia, or even somewhere outside Hollywood in the US. By independent producers, who keep costs low and stories tightly focused on the audience, be it male or female.
And what are we likely to see on these mobile, networked devices? Why, private eyes, and loner-type cops, and maybe even Western tough guys. Made cheaply, rapidly, for a voracious market. Supported by advertising dollars, often with in-show ads or with commercials that cannot be skipped (Apple has a patent for just such a technology). Men generally tend to be the early adopters, and they are unlikely to be consumers of say, “Cold Case” with a hefty dose of feminized PC moralizing by women and authority figures, or the mocking of doofus guys like “Two And A Half Men.”
The threat, is then that networks could cease to exist as both advertisers and viewers move to mobile devices, that serve men as well as women. Unthinkable? That is what Detroit thought, with the introduction of cheap and reliable Japanese cars, at the end of the 1970’s. I suspect the changes to network TV will be far more rapid. Because the “diverse” and politically correct staffs at broadcast networks will simply order the band to play louder as the ship sinks.
PC kills revenue. Among other things.