John McIntyre, whom James Wolcott calls "the Dave Brubeck of the art and craft of copy editing," writes on language, editing, journalism, and other manifestations of human frailty. Comments welcome. Identifying his errors relieves him of the burden of omniscience. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org, befriend at Facebook, or follow at Twitter: @johnemcintyre. Back 2009-2012 at the original site, http://weblogs.baltimoresun.com/news/mcintyre/blog/ and now at www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/.
Monday, January 11, 2010
Bungling at the top
David Zurawik’s article in today’s Baltimore Sun about the ignominious retreat of NBC over its disaster with Jay Leno’s 10 p.m. show after a mere four months illustrates some of the parallels between broadcast television and the newspaper industry.
Broadcast TV, like newspapers, faces a crisis. The programming is expensive to produce (hence the proliferation of cheap-to-make but tacky reality shows), the viewers are drifting away to more appealing offerings on cable, and advertising revenue is sharply down.
People in a panic are liable to arrive at bad decisions, and the broadcast executives, like their newspaper counterparts, chose something self-destructive. They moved Mr. Leno into the earlier time slot because his show is cheaper than a series to produce. Their contempt for their viewers is comparable to newspaper executives’ contempt for readers: just give them something cheap while pretending that it’s good.*
Unfortunately, NBC also contrived to damage the affiliate stations, whose screaming over lost revenue could be heard throughout the long winter nights even with the windows closed. It was the affiliates’ threat of outright rebellion that prompted NBC’s hasty retreat.
At this point, the principal difference between the broadcast executives and newspaper executives appears to be that the broadcasters conceded publicly that they had made a bad decision.
*I have no particular disregard for Mr. Leno, who appears to be an amiable fellow who can be amusing on the days that his writers give him something to work with.