By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
IT’S IMPORTANT TO NOTE that the vast majority of moviegoers can’t discern any difference in product after Universal Studios was sold to NBC, MGM/UA gobbled up by Sony, and Pixar bought out by Disney. But viewers of The CW won’t get to see UPN’s two separate nights of African-American-oriented programming (because that’s been halved) or The WB’s many family-friendly prime-time shows (because they’ve been axed). So two underserved network audiences who embraced the netlet duo will soon be served even less. That’s horrendous since it comes at a time when black, Latino, Asian and other minority faces are as rare on network TV as smart sitcoms. Also dispiriting is the way that The CW cherry-picked the two netlets’ affiliates in major and minor TV markets around the country. That leaves those orphaned WB and UPN stations to subsist on syndicated shows, which are programming’s nutritional equivalent of pork rinds.
When I pointed out how much worse the network landscape will be for viewers because of the above, one of the executives involved in the deal demonstrated that special sang-froid network suits reserve for any discussion about the airwaves being a vehicle for the public interest instead of just a wheelbarrow for corporate profits. “As a business move, it was the smartest [for] our company to make,” he told me. That’s because execs at CBS and Time Warner greedily expect The CW to be profitable in its ?first year.
In the end, the unexpected but not surprising merger of the two hobbled netlets begs the question “Why can cable television support 500 channels, yet network TV not even six?” As with most everything related to Hollywood, it’s a conundrum of money and ego complicated by the FCC’s unwillingness to police a Big Media consolidation that hampers competition and harms consumers. TV execs talked ad nauseum about the challenging ad market and declining upfront sales (literally, 10 percent of total sales just disappeared from the marketplace). Of course the “P” word used most often by network heads these days is poverty, as in pleading it because of programming. They claim original programming is now upward of $8 mil in average launch cost for 22 episodes. By contrast, TNT puts on 13 episodes of The Closer and calls it a series but doesn’t have to worry as much about advertising because so much of its revenue comes from cable operators. Yes, it’s a lousy business having to face more competition from cable and the Internet, but so are a lot of media lately. The reason why broadcasters continue to spend billions on what they know is a broken system is obvious when Will & Grace sold its first 175 shows in syndication for $700 million.
The moguls would have us believe they couldn’t afford to operate two competing netlets when the reality is they simply didn’t want to. Big difference. Both parent companies have been under tremendous pressure on Wall Street because of lagging stock prices: CBS because of its recent spinoff from Viacom, and Time Warner because of penny-pinching billionaire investor Carl Icahn.
I’ve already found out that, on the night that The WB signs off, there’ll be a nostalgic stunt: five hours of clips from the netlet’s most iconic programming. Execs even are resurrecting that singing–and-dancing ’toon mascot who croaked, Michigan J. Frog. No doubt, the TV press will write reams about this and nothing about the real story — greed over good. Here’s hoping that, one day, they grow big enough balls to stop sucking up to Moonves and start focusing on his screwing of The CW viewers.