America Loses 1.2 Million TV Households -- But Who's Really Losing What?
October 17, 2011 4:00 PM
By Mike Donovan
I'd say we got trouble, my friend, with a capital T and a capital V and that stands for... you can figure the next part out yourself.
For the first time in decades -- actually, the first time ever -- the Nielsen Co. recently announced a decrease in its estimate of the number of U.S. TV Households. This year, Nielsen is estimating that number at 114.7 million households, down from last year's 115.9 million. At the same time, cable companies are seeing a decline in the number of cable subscribers.
Oh the humanity! What gives?...
No doubt, these declines are due, at least in part, to the human condition in the United States. With an economy and unemployment rates that rival the Great Depression, some are being forced to deny themselves all the pleasures that TV has to offer.
Let's look at what some of these unfortunate families are missing.
-- "Artists" like Charlie Sheen being paid millions of dollars for... well, frankly, for doing nothing.
-- Other haircut-challenged "stars," like David Spade and Ashton Kutcher, being paid millions of dollars for being what is mistakenly described as funny.
-- Oversized, heavily-padded men being paid millions by the NFL for beating their heads together.
-- MSNBC blaming all the problems of the world on the Republicans, and Fox "News" blaming the Democrats.
-- Young New York skanks being paid a ton of money for behaving like young New Jersey skanks. (As a life-long resident of New Jersey, trust me: I know New Jersey skanks when I see them.)
-- Rich, glamorous housewives from a variety of states (including New Jersey) screaming at each other and worrying about chipping a nail.
-- Any number of programs about people celebrating the misfortune of others by bidding on the storage lockers whose unfortunate renters could no longer afford to keep. Many of them contain family memories. But hey, who cares? At least somebody can make a few bucks.
-- And, of course, any number of shows about people who hoard, people who are pregnant at 16, people who are obese, people who will eat any type of food, people who eat anything that isn't food, people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, and people who spend thousands of dollars dressing up their four-year-olds to look like 20-year-olds to compete in beauty pageants.
So it's really a shame. All those people who had to give up their TVs -- probably because they lost their jobs, lost their homes and, in some cases, lost their families -- just don't know what they're missing.
CBS's Next Move, Post-Charlie Sheen: My Two and a Half Cents
March 13, 2011 10:45 AM
By Mike Donovan
[In which our correspondent revamps CBS's now Charlie Sheen-less Two and a Half Men by gleaning inspiration from other TV shows -- borrowing from everything from Howdy Doody to, well, see for yourself... and see how many "inspirations" you can identify... -- DB]
Recently there have been any number of suggestions on how to save CBS's Two and a Half Men in the wake of the Charlie Sheen meltdown. Replacements for poor Charlie have included, among others, Matt Dillon, John Stamos and Rob Lowe.
Replacing one television actor with another, in the same role, has worked on Roseanne, Bewitched (right, with Dick York swapped mid-series, without comment, by Dick Sargent), and any number of daytime dramas. Or they could simply cut (and recognize) their losses and change the show's title to One and a Half Men.
But I think we could learn from the past that there are other creative solutions...
Even our fearless leader, Bianculli, suggested that they move Sheen into a house with Mel Gibson and Lindsay Lohan and call it Two and a Half Brains -- a title that I thought was too high, in its estimate, by a brain and a half.
One of my ideas, instead, is for a special A&E installment of Intervention, in which Charlie Sheen faces a group that includes Valerie Harper, Wayne Rogers and David Caruso.
But I have other ideas as well, ones that spring from watching a lot of television over the years:
-- Jon Cryer spots a one-armed woman running from the building and then discovers his brother dead in the kitchen. The authorities believe that Jon killed his brother. The rest of the series has him searching for the one-armed woman and being tracked down by an obsessed detective, Matt Dillon. Hilarity ensues.
-- We discover the Half Man staring at an image of Charlie Sheen in a snow globe. His uncle, John Stamos, tells him to stop playing with his globes and go read a book.
-- For older viewers, we open with a digitally inserted Charlie Sheen in a clown costume. The camera slowly closes in to an extreme close-up of his face and we hear him quietly say, "Goodbye, career."
-- After the untimely death of his brother, Jon Cryer and the Half Man move in with a zany group of Italian young people in Seaside Heights, New Jersey.
-- After the untimely death of his brother, Jon Cryer and the Half Man become judges on the brand new reality/competition show, America's Got Co-Stars.
-- Jon Cryer enters the kitchen for breakfast and discusses a nightmare he had in which Charlie Sheen was his roommate. His son (Half Man) and real brother (Rob Lowe) assure him it was only a dream.
A really, really bad dream...
Cable Babies: The Next Generation
January 25, 2011 2:20 PM
By Mike Donovan
Many years ago, I wrote an article called "Invasion of the Cable Babies" for a broadcast promotion directors' publication, triggered by my discovery that I was beginning to get students in my TV classes who had cable TV their entire lives. They made no distinction between broadcast and cable. To them, television always meant 50-plus channels, and NBC and USA were just two of the many channels. And today, there's yet another generational viewing shift...
(Author's Note: In that original article, I suggested that, with the growing multichannel universe, broadcasters should begin to put a station ID bug in the lower right of the screen to help distinguish themselves from the channel clutter. To whatever degree my suggestion led to the covering of a third of the screen with incredibly distracting visuals and sound promoting the channel, the programs, and pretty much everything else, I apologize.)
Over the years, I began polling my classes at Rowan University in New Jersey about what they watch and how much they watch. As I now have zero students who watch only over-the-air broadcast television, for 2011 I decided to include a new question about HOW they watch.
The group was comprised of 59 percent male and 41 percent female, with an average age of 20. They were there either because they were interested in TV, or it was the only class they could find. I didn't ask that question. I didn't really want to know.
A decade or so ago, you could be certain that when asked about their favorite current or recent TV show, a huge majority would come down for NBC's Friends and Seinfeld and Fox's The Simpsons. Apparently things have changed.
This year, with 75 students polled, the question about favorite current/recent show resulted in an astounding 44 different show titles. Of those 44, only 14 received more than one vote, with Showtime's serial-killer drama Dexter the winner -- claiming a mere eight votes.
Of all the shows nominated, fewer than half -- about 41 percent -- were on broadcast networks. Basic and premium cable pretty much split the rest.
Just a few years ago, most students watched in real time, or occasionally time-shifted with a VCR. This year, only about 26 percent watched exclusively in real time. And while the rest occasionally watched in real time (mostly sports), most of the time they went with DVDs, DVRs or On-Demand.
Most surprising of all was that about four in 10 usually downloaded programs, from places like Hulu or Netflix, and watched on their desktop, laptop or iPad.
So what conclusions can be drawn from this seriously unscientific survey?
For the TV industry, the good news is that only about eight percent of these young people said they watched very little television. Fifty-three percent watched more than a few hours per week, and 39 percent watched, by their own estimates, entirely too much television. (Needless to say, they're my favorites.)
The bad news for the industry is that there seems to be no way to predict what the next generation of consumers want to watch. For example, I would have thought that CBS's The Big Bang Theory would be a hit with 20-year-olds. It didn't get a single favorite-show vote.
From a teacher's point of view, I have to spend a lot of time explaining the stuff I used to take for granted -- for example, the difference between broadcast and non-broadcast television. Or, for that matter, remembering that what I mean when I use the word television (watching in your living room on a Barcalounger) isn't what THEY mean when I use the word television (any time, any place, large screen, small screen, hand-held, etc.).
Instead of "The TV Industry," I'd be better off changing the name of the course to "The Video Content Delivery Systems Industry." But if I were a student, even I wouldn't take a course with THAT name.
There is one bright spot for me as a teacher, however. Unlike TV executives, I don't rely on predicting viewer behavior for my paycheck.
And It's Free!
November 2, 2010 3:55 PM
By Mike Donovan
For the past several months I've read critics and reviewers writing about how this was maybe the worst new season in broadcast history. And I'm reminded of something that I read (attributed, I think, to 60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt) that went something like this.
You can buy a decent TV for about $500, and it'll last about 10 years. That's about $50 a year. The problem seems to be that people (especially critics and reviewers) expect about $50 a night of entertainment.
I think he was on to something. Let's run down some of this season's new shows that I think are at best excellent and at worst entertaining.
Blue Bloods is an extraordinarily good police drama, as is Detroit 187 [photo above], and both are easily comparable to NYPD Blue and Hill Street Blues. The new Law & Order Los Angeles is a great continuation of that franchise, and The Event [photo at left] is developing into a must-see.
Nikita is a fun-to-watch, escapist, action-adventure series, as are Undercovers and Chase. Hellcats and No Ordinary Family are also fun to watch. They are what they are. Not great art, but great entertainment.
The "remake" of Hawaii Five-0, which I thought I would tune out after the first commercial break, works really well and is developing a terrific buddy relationship between the two stars. The other "remake" that I would have bet would be awful, The Defenders (maybe more of a "name steal" than a "remake"), is not quite as good as Five-0, but still entertaining and getting better (especially James Belushi) each week.
I'm not as much of a comedy fan as my wife is, but Mike & Molly [photo below] had me laughing out loud several times (and I'm a fat guy), and Better With You also has its moments.
If we add in a few of the terrific returning shows like The Good Wife, Parenthood, Brothers and Sisters (three of my personal favorites), Chuck, House, CSI, The Mentalist, L&O: SVU, Glee, Modern Family, The Middle, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, Criminal Minds and Castle, by my calculations we're looking at about 25 hours a week. (And that's not even including news and sports, or programs that I don't care for but others do, like Grey's Anatomy and Community.) That's more than three hours per night, seven days a week. Maybe not $50 a night, but certainly $50 a week.
Were there some turkeys this season? Sure. I had high hopes for Outlaw, but it was wrong-headed right from the premise. And I thought Lone Star and My Generation deserved at least another couple of weeks. But on the whole, a pretty entertaining season.
So let's stop declaring broadcast network television as either dead or in a coma, crushed by the "art" of basic and premium cable, and give the creative people who still entertain millions of people each night some props.
I'm Mad As Hell, And I'm Not Going to Take It Any More... After I Finish This Inaugural Column
September 21, 2010 10:15 AM
By Mike Donovan
As a relatively unknown quantity, I thought my inaugural piece should give some indication as to where I'm coming from. To that end:
-- I believe that television was much better in the '50s. Not programming, television viewing. When there was a single TV in the household, kids were often forced to watch what their parents wanted to watch. They (I) may have hated the shows, but they (I) learned something about adults, what they laughed at and what they reacted to. They (I) listened to the comments and discussions during the commercial breaks. Kids who spend time with adults learn a lot more about growing up than they do from their peers. If I were king, I would only allow one TV set per household, and computers would shut down completely at 5 p.m. local time.
-- Speaking of computers, I believe that the internet is the ultimate example of the ambivalent nature of technology. It is the best and worst communications device ever invented. It gives one access to all the information in the world, but due to a lack of gatekeeper, it gives access to all the imbeciles of the world who think that what they have to say is important. (Present company, or at least some of it, excluded.)
-- Speaking of imbeciles, I believe that almost everything that is wrong politically in this country is the fault of television, actually cable television, specifically all-news channels. Cable is responsible for redefining the word "news" to include the biased ranting and raving of the Glenn Becks and Keith Olbermanns of the world.
If I were king I would require these two "news" channels to change their names. Fox News would become Fox Crap, and I don't think anyone knows what MSNBC really stands for, but it sure doesn't spell news.
-- I believe that pitting broadcast television against cable television, especially premium cable, for the Emmy or any other award is like pitting a Division III college team against an NFL team, even the Dolphins, in the Super Bowl. They operate under very different regulations and restrictions. Broadcast has to worry about the FCC, the advertisers and the viewers. Premium cable only has the viewers -- and those are viewers with money who love nudity, blood and cursing.
It could be that the awards just need some new categories. So Boardwalk Empire (seen here and in the photo at the top of this column) could be entered in the "best drama with a $20 million pilot and 12 episodes with no restrictions which each run 20 or 30 times a week" category.
Certainly there is now enough original programming on basic and premium cable to warrant their own competitive categories.
I'm not saying bring back the Cable ACE Awards. But in the literal area of "level playing field," there is a high school world series, a college world series and a professional world series. I'm not equating broadcast TV with high school level sports. Far from it. By far, my favorite pastime is viewing scripted comedies and dramas on broadcast television.
Maybe when HBO gets nominated for a show that doesn't have to be bleeped, looped or heavily edited for broadcast, I'll change my mind. But don't give me the old "quality is quality" argument. Let's go with the regulated, restricted quality vs. unregulated, unrestricted quality argument and see what happens.
-- I believe that the cable industry's argument that a la carte cable would cost the average consumer more money in the long run is a crock. And if it isn't, tough. If you want to watch a lot, you pay a lot. Just stop forcing channels I don't watch, and don't want, down my throat and tell me you're saving me money. Come to think of it, any day now Apple, Google and Amazon will render this whole argument (and cable bundles) moot.
-- Finally, I always ask my wife, Linda, to proof my writing. After reading this, she passed me a piece of paper on which she had written a multiple choice question. The question was, "Who wrote this piece?" The choices were: Dr. Gregory House, Dr. John Becker, Howard Beale, Mike Donovan.
I'm going with "All of the above."
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