Hiring a programmer from the Privates has consequences. By hiring Layfield, management endorsed the programming theories that allowed her to thrive in the Privates. But other theories have worked before.
Here’s one: Beyond a reasonable minimum number of viewers, what counts is who they are rather than how many there are.
The conventional interpretation of this theory is to interpret “who they are” as synonymous with “how attract to advertisers they are.” And a conventional example of this theory put into practice is… Thirtysomething.
I know that Thirtysomething is of a former time, and I assume that, like Homicide, were I to watch Thirtysomething now the magic would be gone. But back dans la journée, I lived for that show.
In the ’90s, Showcase reran the series in perfect sequential order. I took the opportunity to handwrite a 300-page episode guide. And this was not a voyage of the S.S. Cunty Snark, as an equivalent guide at Hissyfit would have been; this was done out of love.
I remember reading an article in Advertising Age or BusinessWeek stating that, while Thirtysomething might not attract huge viewership, what viewers it attracted had a lot of money. Well, yes: Thirtysomething was a truthful depiction of the upper middle class, and they’re the ones who watch TV and buy things.
The only corroboration of this theory I could find nearly two decades later is a piece in the Times. (I decided not to bother checking print indexes of print publications from the late ’80s.)
Programming and research executives at ABC say the Nielsen ratings race, the crucible of network competition for more than four decades, is now a near-meaningless contest in which the network that finishes first may get a blue ribbon while the network in second or even third place collects most of the prize money.
“There used to be a saying that being Nº 1 was worth an additional $30 million for a network,” said Alan Wurtzel, the senior vice president of research for ABC. “That just isn’t true anymore.”
ABC argues that the overall household ratings for programs are an outmoded standard for measuring television competition. The real standard of success, ABC says, is the demographic breakdown of the audience into age groups, with the younger age groups favoured by advertisers. [...]
Now it can make sense for a network to program to a specific, narrow audience in some time periods, just because a show may attract an audience desired by advertisers, as ABC did for four years with Thirtysomething, which had low overall ratings but a good demographic composition, made up largely of young women.
“My sales department tells me being Nº 1 means absolutely nothing to them,” Mr. Iger said.
What does this mean for the Corpse? Don’t look at “demos.” Look at constituencies.
What has the CBC been doing with its constituencies? Alienating them.
Start with the group that’s getting all the press – Radio 2 listeners. As with Teamakers readers, change was never ruled out. They were not guaranteed a wall-to-wall classical network forever. They’ll still have classical music to listen to even under the new régime – even more of it once their grandkids turn on the computer for them.
What complainers refuse to admit is they’ll all be dead in 15 years. The CBC had to start planning for mass extinction now (actually yesterday) or Radio 2 would die off with them.
So I have no sympathy there. But I do in two other cases.
jPod: Young people who watch everything online. The gravest misapplication of audience ratings since… what… My So-Called Life? Jericho?
Ratings systems simply could not count the viewers of this show; CBC was unable to differentiate between nonenumeration and nonexistence. In any rationally-managed network, that would be a fireable offence.
Guys with bifocals who can barely wrangle GroupWise are not equipped to make decisions about online viewership. (“Isn’t it illegal?”)
Intelligence: Smart people who can keep up with complex narrative. When ABC puts a labyrinthine drama on the air, they call it Lost and obsessive viewers plan their weeks around it. When CBC does the same thing, it’s dismissed as too difficult to channel-surf through and gets shitcanned.
In the Layfield–Stursburg Paradox, a public broadcaster’s constituencies exist to be alienated, not courted. Keep this up long enough and you run out of public.