The opening day of baseball season every spring has long been a metaphor of joy, hope and aspiration. Each ballpark is dressed up in its Sunday best, the smell of peanuts and freshly cut grass reminding us that spring is here, and every team—even the New York Mets—beginning anew with childlike dreams of winning it all.
Many words have been crafted to try to capture the feeling. One of the better efforts is a single line from John Fogerty’s baseball anthem, “Centerfield,” which says simply, “We’re born again, there’s new grass on the field.”
And much like some of America’s great wordsmiths have waxed poetic for decades about the first day back at the ballpark, recently one network president wonderfully captured a prominent sentiment television executives hold about our own industry’s opening week.
With one succinct sentence, five simple words spoken outside a Hollywood restaurant, this person encapsulated the equally passionate feeling many of our television brethren feel about the first offerings of the fall season.
“I F***ing hate premiere week.”
So why do so many television executives just want to get the first week over with?
Upon further investigation and consultation with Dr. Phil, I believe the medical term for the reason network execs hate opening week is “Tightus Sphincteritus.”
OK, I didn’t call Dr. Phil, but I feel good about my diagnosis. My wife makes me watch a lot of Grey’s Anatomy.
The first week of the season is when each network takes its tens of millions of dollars set aside for marketing, its glossy multi-million-dollar pilots and its best returning shows and smashes them into each other like Britney Spears is behind the wheel.
Then everyone opens their eyes, checks themselves for damage, and then proceeds to pick at any signs of weakness in the competition.
We in the media also throw fuel on the fire, rushing to declare shows hits or flops after a single airing.
The best part is that everyone knows full well that unless something completely tanks, opening week numbers aren’t life or death. But much like when I approach a buffet table, we tend to lose all restraint.
Plus, now there are like 347 ways to measure a show, according to our cover story this week. Live plus same day is still the easiest, live plus three days is the currency of most ad buys and now everyone loves to talk about “engagement.”
My version of “engagement” was a day seven years ago when I forked over a bucketload for a diamond ring, and next thing I knew I couldn’t watch unlimited SportsCenter anymore and had to start eating with utensils.
But however we measure it, premiere week is still when the game starts up again, so there is a lot of pressure on the networks to get out of the batter’s box.
To deal with all the stress, networks often try to blow off steam in their own ways to get through the week.
If you happened to have a meeting at CBS last week, you may have heard classics from Spinal Tap or Kansas blaring out of a conference room.
That was thanks to company exec Nancy Tellem, who recently installed the addictive video game “Guitar Hero.” I wonder if it was put in to celebrate the at-home habits of the cast of Kid Nation? Yikes, wonder what they’ll do for Swingtown?
Fox decided to ring in the new season with a really well-received Hollywood casino party that was also completely eco-friendly. And fittingly, green was probably the color a few Fox execs turned when they heard Jack Bauer wouldn’t be on time for CTU roll call the next morning.
But like most premiere weeks, after all the hype, the carnage was minimal. Everything that launched will live to see a second week. Play ball.