What does this statement say about the broadcast-TV industry?

Not only is the photography everything we expect it to be, but unlike other magazines and TV which have gotten stupider with time to suit their markets, National Geographic is still largely educational. I learn a lot in each issue. I worked in TV for decades, but haven’t watched it at home since the 1970s since it’s mostly for dummies. I do read. (Funny thing when I would mention “People who watch TV are idiots” when I worked in TV. My colleagues agreed; they never watched whatever garbage it was they were getting paid to make, in fact, they would be surprised when friends would chide them for whatever garbage their network broadcast, and their response would be “We did what??”!)

The above quote is from Ken Rockwell, who is extremely knowledgeable about photography and seems to be generally clear-headed. What does his statement, assuming it is accurate, say about the broadcast-TV industry? Maybe Rockwell is referring to engineers rather than writers or producers, but still. To me it’s like saying that assembly-line workers at GM avoid driving GM cars. What kind of industry is run by people who won’t use their own products?

Perhaps I am reading too much into his quote, since it confirms my biases about TV.

UPDATE: John Jay adds thoughtful comments.

8 thoughts on “What does this statement say about the broadcast-TV industry?”

  1. “What kind of industry is run by people who won’t use their own products?”

    How many top executives at R. J. Reynolds smoke? The people at Mogen David probably are pretty sparing in their intake of Mad Dog 20/20, as well, and I’m pretty sure the fine folks at Gallo don’t drink Thunderbird, either.

    I’m kind of making your point, aren’t I?

    They’re called misery markets, and I had a whole week in my MBA ethics class about them. Funny, I never lumped commercial TV in that group of businesses, but now that you mention it, it fits.

  2. “What kind of industry is run by people who won’t use their own products?”

    Defense Contractors. Thank goodness. [or as they say in the small print] Don’t try this at home boys and girls. This should only be done by trained professionals on a closed track.

  3. “What kind of industry is run by people who won’t use their own products?”

    Most of them, it seems to me.

    Consumer goods dustries by definition make mass-produced goods to sell to large numbers of people. The people who run these industries are in higher income brackets and use goods that are expensive and send signals of wealth, precisely not mass consumption goods. If you are a senior person at a company that mass produces salty snack foods for mass consumption, you eat upper middle class food and workout at the gym and otherwise have no connection with the whole lifestyle that is connected with your product. I think this generically true.

  4. Lex – I somewhat diasagree. I think the executives at Nabisco eat an Oreo now and then, and I’d like to imagine that the executives at toy companies play with their stuff behind closed doors in the boardroom (perhaps the latter is wishful thinking because being a researcher for a toy company is my dream job).

    The issue is: how great is the disconnect between what the comapny marketing practices push and what the executives themselves use? I’m sure the product manager for Doritoes eats a few bags per year – but only a few. But as you pointed out, he or she is likely an upper middle-class MBA, and conciously avoids over-indulging, while the marketing tag for that product that I remember best is “Crunch All You Want, We’ll Make More” from Jay Leno about a decade ago. Somewhat of a disconnect, but not really a misery market.

    But I’m pretty sure the executives at Gallo have not had more than a mouthful of Thunderbird in their entire lives, and that hastily spit out. The difference between a misery market and a luxury good that is being a bit over-promoted is a somewhat hazy line, but the attitude expressed in Jonathan’s quote is squarely on the misery market side of the line.

  5. Don – a lot of contractors are ex-military. I was a rare exception of not having served in uniform when I worked on DoD contracts. So, in a way, Defense Contractors are at least ex-customers, and if they are also reservists, they are potnetial customers.

  6. I don’t think the issue with broadcast TV is about smart/dumb per se. I think it’s about a business model that rewards making products that suit the lowest common denominator of customers. It’s possible to make high-quality products that satisfy a wide audience, but it’s easier to aim for the low-middle, and youth, as most broadcast-TV programming does. There are excellent shows such as Seinfeld and The Simpsons but these are almost accidents. Most shows are crap because on average crap is easier to produce and gains the biggest audience for advertising, relative to money invested.

  7. The big questions are eternal but have endless applications. Technology, conspiracies – these are simple, the hero not torn but active, not ambiguous & ambivalent but direct and decisive.

    This struck me a few years ago when TVLand was doing reruns of The Fugitive (which I never watched – there were many years when I didn’t have a tv) at about the time the movie came out. The series, from the mid sixties, had a ready-made tension that can be petty but also underlies great heroism: when should the individual be sacrificed for the general, when should I be willing to sacrifice my own life or liberty for another’s life or liberty? In episode after episode, the character was faced with whether he should remain and use his skills as a physician to deliver a baby or help someone in need or should move on – since the web was pulling in around him. Should he risk himself for another? Of course, the answer was generally yes, and the audience knew that the series would end if he was actually captured so figured the choice was obvious. (This is the kind of choice that if McCain is right, which I doubt, that no good information ever comes from using “harsh” interrogation, makes that choice a good deal simpler.) I’m not arguing profundity, but am arguing a recognition of the great old questions. It was terribly popular but the writers must have had to develop plots that reflected that universal in various particulars.

    For some reason we actually went to the movie when it came out – perhaps because our children wanted to. Anyway, this great old complex issue – that does bear thinking about – had been transformed into a usual conspiracy by big business to pin the blame on this innocent guy. It was full of violence by the giant.

    Television need not be dumb. I notice that the complex arguments about the importance of the rule of law even (and most importantly) in heated & political disputes that colored early episodes of Law & Order have given way to simplicity (and not f the good kind) arguments. Indeed, it has become a parody of itself in the two spin-offs – where do you get more self-righteousness in modern America than in sex crimes. At one time, you would find, in the conclusion, an honesty, a refusal to stack up on the other side straw men. Now pointless smirks and snarky remarks are repeated.

    These are often at the service of identity politics. The sense that a woman who killed her lover because that lover wanted custody of the child the two had been raising was somehow innocent because society didn’t recognize same-sex unions was such a moraly unserious show (and exactly how should a heterosexual legally married murderer of a spouse – whether over custody or the division of china – be treated?).

    Traditionally spectacle and violence that are used as means to profound ends by Sophocles and Shakespeare, wit and social comment that are used by Congreve and Sheridan with rapier precision become vulgar and violent and sentimental in another generation. A willingness to keep working with the real and not go for the effect, to set up the great old issues and not consider them merely old – this seems to be lost fairly fast among any group of atists.

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