Showing Our True Colors Once Again

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It looks like it was about 5:47 a.m. Pacific Time on the first morning after the fall season opened when our true colors came out.

We all talk tough over power lunches or on industry panels, like we are patient and savvy and forward-thinking when it comes to the day-to-day machinations of the TV business. But when push comes to shove, that’s all BS. Let’s be honest: Ten-year plans don’t get your employment contract renewed. You have to deliver now to keep that Mercedes leased and those kids in that fancy school.

There is no better example of this than Premiere Week, when we take all the talk about patience and planning and ancillary revenues and such and toss it right out the window. When those overnights come out, everyone— network executives and media alike—falls over each other rushing to judgment.

The glowing example last week was Fox’s critically acclaimed Lone Star, which debuted on Monday night. Or, should we say, failed to. Despite solid reviews and a lead actor so good-looking that guys want to punch him in the face while most women have other physical activities in mind for him, the show tanked.

There was no talk about C3 or live-plus-seven or potential iPad downloads when those first numbers came in. Instead, “last rites” became the talk, discussed everywhere from the halls of Fox to the offices of its rivals. The reaction was perfectly yet understatedly captured by an early morning, one-word tweet from Fox’s colorful and venerable Preston Beckman: “Ouchy.”

Our collective rush to judgment came in sharp contrast to some recent industry events I have been involved with. A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of moderating a Hollywood Radio & Television Society luncheon in Beverly Hills featuring News Corp. honcho Chase Carey.

Now, I will try to keep my politics out of this, but you have to acknowledge that Chase is associated with one of the most high-profi le and evil media empires in the country. He is connected to an outfit that has always featured some of the most bombastic and bullying people on television. That’s right: He is a huge Yankees fan.

But that aside, we had a wonderful conversation about the industry from a macro perspective. And a week later, at an event my company hosted in Hollywood, top execs went deep on how the “TV Everywhere” initiative will change content delivery if and when it comes to be.

If you were fortunate enough to attend either of those events, you would have seen executives and media members alike professing patience and talking of how media and measurement as we know it are short-lived. But judging by our words and actions last week, we are often basically full of it.

While network execs race to throw dirt on each other’s shows long before the body stops breathing, we in the media aren’t much better. Witness last Wednesday, when we all reported that—BREAKING NEWS!—Fox wasn’t actually going to cancel Lone Star after a single airing. Yup, this just in: The show scheduled for next week is still scheduled.

So, while we all love to talk big and boast about our long-term vision, Premiere Week shows that we are all still slaves to the overnights, like it or not. And that won’t change as long as Madison Avenue plays along, and network execs want to stay employed.

E-mail comments to bgrossman@nbmedia.com and follow him on Twitter: @BCBenGrossman

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