Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Short Takes – March 25, 2007

Okay, I made the transition to the New Blogger and for the most part it was painless. All I had to do was create a new Google account and even that wasn't overly painful. Who knew? Apparently not the people who set up this transition process in the first place but that, of course, is a whole other story. Changes are coming; you may have noticed the addition of labels below the posts – and because I'm an anal sort I'll eventually get every post (over 500 of them) appropriately labelled – and then there's the long desired (by me) redefinition of my template. But that's for the future.

ABC renews shows for next year: I think this makes them the first network to do so. Among the shows renewed are new series Men in Trees, Ugly Betty, and Brothers & Sisters, and returning series Lost, Desperate Housewives, Grey's Anatomy, Dancing With The Stars, The Bachelor, Boston Legal, Extreme Makeover Home Edition, and Jimmy Kimmel Live. Significantly there is no word about Six Degrees (one of those rare shows that has returned from an early relegation to the status of "indefinite hiatus", but which has had a significant retooling by the network), nor is there any mention of the network's conventional comedy series including According to Jim and George Lopez as well as new shows Knights of Prosperity and In Case of Emergency.

Ratings show Canadians love US shows: In my last post I mentioned that of the Canadian broadcast networks CBC was the one I was most likely to watch because I chose to watch the other networks' offerings on the original American network. Here are the top 10 shows on Canadian TV courtesy of the BBM – essentially Canada's answer to the Nielsen Ratings:

  1. American Idol (Tuesday) - CTV
  2. Grey's Anatomy - CTV
  3. American Idol (Wednesday) - CTV
  4. Corner Gas - CTV
  5. CSI: Miami - CTV
  6. Amazing Race All Stars - CTV
  7. Are You Smarter Than A Fifth Grader? - Global
  8. Criminal Minds - CTV
  9. Hockey Night In Canada – Game 1 - CBC
  10. CTV Evening News - CTV

Of the ten shows, only three are made in Canada – Corner Gas, Hockey Night In Canada, and CTV Evening News – and only Corner Gas is a scripted, non-news program. And we can see which network bought the most popular American programming.

Guidance and common sense: Patricia Harrison, the Republican appointed president of the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, recently made some wide ranging statements about the organization she heads. The principal thrust of her speech at a Media Institute lunch was primarily about seeking guidance from journalism schools to "define journalistic objectivity and balance on public broadcasting." According to Harrison, "public media consumers already believe noncommercial TV is nonpartisan and unbiased."

Harrison had opinions about other aspects of public broadcasting. She stated that she was shocked when the FCC fined a non-commercial station for airing profanities when it showed the Martin Scorsese Blues documentary. According to Harrison, "common sense could dictate that there is a world of difference between the casual, gratuitous profanity in a run-of-the-mill sitcom as opposed to its contextual use in a documentary like The Blues." She also worried about the effect that this sort of "censorship before the fact" will have a chilling effect on other stations and producers. She's a bit behind the times on this one. We know from the private sector that is has exactly that sort of effect. The decision by a large number of commercial stations not to air the movie because of profanity despite the fact that it had aired previously and had not been subject to FCC action is exactly the sort of chilling effect that Harrison is talking about. It is an action that says that it is better to be safe than sorry and it has become more pervasive in these days of increased FCC fines and advocacy groups mounting massive mailing campaigns with pre-printed form letters of complaint for people who are "outraged" even if they never saw the show in question.

Who does the PTC hate this week?: Well they're still hating on the same episode of The Black Donellys as they were last week. And they are continuing their assault on the V-Chip. In an address to the Association of National Advertisers' Forum on March 20, as reported in Advertising Age, PTC President Tim Winter alleged that 80% of the V-Chip ratings assigned to shows were wrong as determined by a study undertaken by the PTC. According to Winter, this represented "fraud by many of the broadcasters and the networks. ... They rate [the programs] inaccurately and that way the V-chip doesn't block the programming. You're duped. Families are duped. And if the rating system is wrong, the V-chip can't work." However, it seems to me that a study by the PTC on the V-Chip is on the lines of a self-fulfilling prophecy; the ratings are determined to be wrong by the PTC but it is in the interest of the PTC for the ratings to be wrong. If all you see a statement that "80% of the V-Chip ratings assigned to shows are wrong" aren't you being duped if you aren't told that the organization that is making that statement is vehemently opposed to the very idea of the V-Chip?

Who hates the PTC this week?: As a matter of fact it's the very organization that Tim Winter was addressing, the Association of National Advertisers. Winter repeated the usual PTC line; the V-Chip doesn't work, that there needs to be a la carte pricing for cable so people aren't forced to subsidise shows that have graphic content, and that the PTC wants to work with advertisers so that they don't fund "evil" shows. Among Winter's statements: "I believe there is a cartel … a fraud that the cable industry … has perpetrated on consumers," and "Our goal is to have collaborative efforts to help you reach your demographic market. We want you to win. We want to do it a way that hopefully does not encourage or sponsor graphic anti-family programming."

Winter was in enemy territory on this one though as reported by Variety's Multi Channel News. Dan Jaffe, the ANA's executive vice president of government relations stated that "What we have always said is that we don't want to have censorship in this society, where some group becomes a surrogate parent, for a surrogate person to decide what should come into the home. Parents should have that power." At least one delegate suggested that companies who are targeted by PTC letter and email campaigns should be able to sue for restraint of trade. One attendee wanted his money back because he felt that the forum was a waste of time: "This conversation is ridiculous as an advertiser. You have a television. You have a remote control. Turn it off tell your daughter to leave the room." In a poll taken during the ANA panel, a significant minority – 41% – felt threatened by advocacy groups like the PTC, but not one felt that advocacy groups like the PTC should be given the responsibility of shielding children from what they watch on TV.

Winters reportedly appreciated the difference in opinion but "I think it's unfortunate that it has to be so venomous." Perhaps he should ask himself and his group who made it so venomous - I don't think it was the advertisers. Certainly through its Family Friendly Programming Forum and the Forum's Script Development Fund, the ANA has done more that is positive in terms of getting family friendly programming on the air than anyone at the PTC ever has.

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