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They Would Do Anything For Ratings... But They Won't Do That
A while back, I stumbled across a fascinating interview with Brit Hume of the Fox News Channel. Hume was being asked questions by a non-Fox interviewer about the success of FNC, and why he believes the network has stayed on top of the cable news ratings for as many years as it has. After offering some fascinating insight and telling some intriguing stories, Hume voiced a pretty interesting observation. He expressed surprise that Fox News' competition hasn't bothered to emulate any of the network's proven, winning formula for capturing the interest of conservative-leaning viewers in middle America who have long been turned off by the traditional media. He implied that the other news organizations have actually gone in the opposite direction, drifting even further left and demonstrating a sharper hostility toward the right.
He's right, of course, and it's really a pretty odd thing when you think about it. After all, viewership is the livelihood of all television networks, whether they fall within the realm of news, sports, entertainment, or whatever. The ultimate goal is to earn strong ratings which means increased advertisement revenue and company growth. Anyone who suggests that these networks don't exist to make money is a fool.
Yet, in the case of the cable news industry, a proven, lucrative model currently exists that the other networks just won't touch. Instead, they continue to double-down on offerings that just don't work, and repeatedly waste opportunities to bring in new viewers. They keeping giving shows to people like Joy Behar and a revolving door of wide-eyed, angry liberals, but they won't even consider putting the spotlight, for an hour each night, on a formidable conservative voice who sees the world differently than they do.
Right now, CNN is reportedly even considering putting together a show co-hosted by raunchy comedian, Kathy Griffin. We're talking about a woman who is best known for having the country's worst case of Palin-Derangement Syndrome and simulating oral sex on Anderson Cooper. Does anyone honestly believe that she is the answer to winning over new viewers?
This same sort of tone deafness goes on in the entertainment world.
I've read a few articles lately detailing how "shocked" Hollywood has been by the huge ratings Mark Burnett's The Bible television series has generated for the History Channel. The only thing truly shocking for me, however, is that anyone is actually "shocked" by the show's success.
A few years back, Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ proved that there is a HUGE appetite for biblical storytelling on film. Hollywood was "shocked" by The Passion's success as well. The movie brought people to theaters who usually don't go to theaters. It resounded big-time with America's heartland, and after it became one of the highest grossing films of all time, many predicted that we'd begin to see more of these types of movies produced. Yet, we haven't.
Just like Hollywood fiercely resisted Gibson's film (he had to finance it himself because Tinseltown wouldn't), they have continued to pass on projects from the biblical genre.
The audience obviously didn't go away, as evidenced by The Bible. They've just been ignored.
Meanwhile, Hollywood seems to have no qualms finding the money to invest in sure-fire misses like anti-war films, movies based on video games, and all of those dopey comedies starring the Wayans brothers.
When it comes to appealing specifically to Christians, the product doesn't even have to be about biblical literalism. Television shows like Touched By An Angel certainly managed to build a very strong audience, despite endlessly being mocked. Are such shows even pitched to producers anymore?
We always hear how cutthroat media-driven industries are when it comes to money being the bottom-line, and we tend to believe it's true because we see how quickly promising television shows are cancelled if they're not immediate ratings successes. We see that whenever a new show finds a strong audience (regardless of how perverse its content is), there are two others just like it that debut the following season. We watch people routinely being set up to humiliate themselves on reality television. We watch unscrupulous and addictive behavior exploited and glorified for entertainment purposes. We read of the extraordinary amount of money commanded by successful actors and media personalities, then watch how quickly the industries reject these people once their drawing-power starts to dry up.
Most of the time, the television and movie industries seem to be all about making a buck, which is perfectly understandable in a capitalistic society.
That's why I find it so bizarre that the top decision-makers in these industries today will embrace just about any method for drawing viewership EXCEPT for appealing to conservative-leaning audiences who don't share their liberal sensibilities. They are completely at ease disregarding that audience, regardless of what it costs them in revenue.
One has to wonder if that's what's going on right now with NBC and The Tonight Show. Host Jay Leno has long pulled in strong ratings for the network. Though he's no conservative, he appeals to middle America and is one of the few late-night comedians who occasionally takes stinging shots at President Obama in his monologue (though it took him a few years to get there). Leno is a proven, lucrative commodity, yet NBC is going to replace him with Jimmy Fallon - someone who isn't a proven ratings draw, but did "slow-jam" with President Obama, which apparently makes him "cool" among the liberal elite.
For the record, I haven't watched any of Mark Burnett's The Bible. I thought The Passion of the Christ was a good film, but felt several other films that year were better. I've never seen an episode of Touched By An Angel. I don't care for Jay Leno and very rarely ever watch The Tonight Show. But the numbers don't lie.
There is a huge amount of money to be made by appealing to the masses in middle America. I'm smart enough to recognize that not everyone has the same tastes that I do. And if it was my job to invest in projects that make lots of money (like it's the job of the big wigs in the media industries), I'd shelve my personal preferences, not worry about impressing my ideological peers, and pay close attention to what a strong market, like the American heartland, actually wants.
It's just commonsense.