The Barry Sonnenfeld Show

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If you went to the Hollywood Radio & Television Society Network Chiefs luncheon on Tuesday hoping to have a few laughs you were in luck.  

But if you went hoping to learn anything about the many fascinating topics that are captivating our industry and what the network presidents think about them – well, I hope you enjoyed the chicken. 

Moderator Barry Sonnenfeld, riding high with his acclaimed Pushing Daisies on ABC and with projects in play at four networks, drew laughs often from the packed house at the Beverly Hilton.

Among the best moments was when he asked NBC Universal co-chairman Ben Silverman if he got more sex as an independent producer or in his current job, and whether the sex was different.

However, with many of his questions seemingly only designed to set up a pre-written punchline for himself, much of the panel discussion was little more than an exercise in self-indulgence by Sonnenfeld.

Absent from the afternoon was the chance for network chiefs to really delve into topics the room wanted to hear about – take your pick from how they will deal with a strike, what all these new Nielsen metrics really mean or simply whether or not the sky is really falling on network television.

As one network chief said afterwards, “Yeah, that was all about Barry.”

The strike did come up a few times, but it was mostly when Sonnenfeld wanted to berate the networks for their stance.

I guess it was good news for the network chiefs and their PR people, who had prepped their bosses with answers about everything going on.  Turns out that was mostly a waste of time.

“When we prep [our president] for one of these, we usually guess about 90% of the questions,” said one network exec.  “Today, it was less that 20, if that.”

Like I said, many of the jokes went over.  If you were happy with just an entertaining panel, you probably got it.

But I personally was expecting to come home from the luncheon with a notebook full of quotes about an equally exciting and petrifying time in the business from some of the top people on the front lines. These panels need to have some yuks so we all don’t fall asleep, but there also needs to be a chance for the audience to actually learn something, or at the very least leave with some issues to talk about.

Instead, I learned that if Sonnenfeld wasn’t working in television, he would be running a combination Chinese restaurant and bowling alley.

That seems fitting, because while I appreciate the genius of Pushing Daisies, today’s luncheon was a gutter ball.

Send comments to Ben.Grossman@reedbusiness.com.

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