Go Broad or Go Home

Frazzled broadcast network executives have entered the chest pain-inducing home stretch of picking their fall schedules, and they have very different strategies.
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Frazzled broadcast network executives have entered the chest pain-inducing home stretch of picking their fall schedules, and they have very different strategies. But my well-placed moles in network war rooms tell me the execs are in fact thinking the exact same thing: “I wish that short, bald guy from B&C would just give me some advice.”

Therefore, understandably feeling bad for those poor folks with their boring jobs and minuscule paychecks, I decided to take a few precious moments out of my high-profile, high-paying existence to do a little mitzvah, as we like to say around the old shul. And my message is simple: When picking which of those projects to put on your schedules, go big and go broad, baby.

You will never get fired for making accessible shows that draw tons of eyeballs, either in the demo or in total viewers. But make too many really smart and edgy shows that critics love and no one watches? Call up Kinko’s and get those business cards printed for your new production shingle, because you’re gonna need ’em.

I fully appreciate the desire of your creative side to take those big risks, and there is room for that, of course. But as a general rule, if you want to get really, really über-artsy and risqué, InaFlyoverState go get a naughty magazine and make some origami out of it, or do something else to quench that thirst. And keep the programming Middle America-friendly.

If you are soliciting advice from friends to make a broadcast television hit, I wouldn’t listen to the ones in Los Angeles who think the workday starts at 10 a.m. And defi nitely don’t listen to the ones in New York that use the verb “to summer,” and are stupid enough to think the Mets are for real.

Go to a Wal-Mart in suburban Kansas City, or a shopping mall outside of Dallas. If you get those people watching your show, that’s how broadcast television hits are made. Yes, it’s not sexy to talk about at industry events, but it puts the kids through private school.

I hosted an event for my alma mater, Boston University, last week with action-movie producer Joel Silver. He makes big, broad movies, not tiny artsy fare, and guess what? They’ve brought in more than $10 billion at the box offi ce. The tab for his wardrobe that night probably equaled two years of my salary.

So, go ahead and make a bunch of those smart, risky-type shows. We’ll see them soon on Friday or Saturday nights.

Or let cable do them. Most cable networks can survive—for now— on shows with one or two million viewers. You can’t. That’s why you have to make big shows, get tons of eyeballs and then go get cable’s retrans money.

Granted, this issue is not as black and white as I describe. Obviously, the ideal mix is a balance of big, broad plays and riskier fare. But you get my point. Check your ego at the door, and when in doubt, go wide. Simple and accessible concepts are underrated, and unemployment is vastly overrated.

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