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Attack on U.S. may soften TV

Sep 24, 2001  •  Post A Comment

“You want to call something `Fear Factor’? That has a very different ring today.”
So said CNN political and cultural analyst Jeff Greenfield one week after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
Laura Caraccioli, VP and director of Starcom Entertainment, would agree. “`Fear Factor’ may not be very appropriate,” she said.
Ms. Caraccioli, who is the principal architect and one of five authors of the Starcom Insider’s Guide to the 2001-02 television season, said the whole genre of “negative” reality programming, of which “Fear Factor” is just one example, may be in jeopardy. “Viewers just may not have an appetite for them,” Ms. Caraccioli said. “Time will tell.”
On the other hand, reality shows that are “about fulfilling dreams and wish fulfillment,” or are done in a “positive spirit,” may do well under what much of the media world now expects to be wartime circumstances. Ms. Caraccioli cited “Pop Stars 2” and the first episode of “The Amazing Race” as shows that meet the new criteria.
The highly anticipated “The Runner,” in which contestants are pursued across the country by “hunters”-and by average citizens hoping to win money-may have to be re-evaluated as well, she said. “The Runner,” widely seen as a potential product-placement gold mine for ABC, is set for midseason.
Three new action series, all with good advance buzz, also may have inappropriate elements for the present atmosphere. “I would assume `Alias,’ because it deals with terrorism, most of the episodes will probably be inappropriate,” Ms. Caraccioli said. “`Agency,’ I’ve heard rumblings that they might just start with Episode 2, [but] they worked in conjunction with the CIA … [to ensure that] it might be a good show to air.”
The show most in jeopardy, according to Ms. Caraccioli and other advertising executives, is Fox’s “24,” which is widely regarded as the network’s strongest dramatic candidate since “The X-Files.”
The entire story arc of “24” is set in motion by a terrorist attack on a jetliner, which is blown up in the first episode.
“They would have to do a lot of changing to tweak that show,” Ms. Caraccioli said. “If it’s such a strong piece, it’s probably not worth changing the whole story arc,” she added. “The way the news is going, they just might have to wait for midseason.”
Ms. Caraccioli also said that off-network series in syndication, even half-hour comedies like “Seinfeld,” were being scoured for inappropriate episodes or incidents. For example, the opening of “Mad About You,” Ms. Caraccioli said, contains a brief view of the World Trade Center towers.
“There are some shows that might want to watch how they portray fire departments and police departments,” Ms. Caraccioli said, citing “Third Watch,” “The Practice,” “Law & Order” and the new ABC series “Philly.” “Now is not an appropriate time to have any story arc that has in it corrupt cops [or] corrupt firemen.”
Although the Insider’s Guide, which evaluates and handicaps programs and networks across the TV spectrum, was completed before the terrorist attacks that delayed the new season, Ms. Caraccioli stands by its conclusions, with the single caveat that network programmers have yet to decide whether they will change their schedules or pre-existing story arcs in individual series.
Going into last year’s new season, the broadcast networks “had momentum,” courtesy of “Survivor,” “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” and “The West Wing,” among others, according to the Insider’s Guide. This year, “there are plenty of questions … as the networks try to fill the holes in their schedules.” Selected reflections from the Insider’s Guide on what the various networks have to accomplish in this unsettled season follow:
* ABC, which saw its median audience age rise from 42 in 1999-2000 to 47 in 2000-01, primarily because the median age of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” viewers is 55, is trying to “build the strength back into its [adults] 18 to 49 audience.”
* CBS, which saw its median audience age drop from 53 in 1999-2000 to 52 in 2000-01, largely on the strength of “Survivor,” is trying to accelerate that trend, not by duplicating ABC and its “TGIF” Friday strategy, as it tried to do with half-hour sitcoms in the late 1990s, but by attracting a younger, more affluent audience with “quality adult series,” on the model of “Survivor” and “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.”
* Fox, which saw its median audience age rise from 34 in 1999-2000 to 35 in 2000-01, needs to make good on two risky scheduling shifts-moving “Dark Angel” to Fridays and breaking up the successful comedy duo of “That ’70s Show” and “Titus.”
* NBC, whose median audience age has stood at 45 since the 1999-2000 season, needs to bring “unexpected” types of shows and viewers to prime time and to launch successful comedies at 9:30 p.m. (ET) Tuesdays and 8:30 p.m. Thursdays.
* UPN, which saw its median audience age rise from 32 in 1999-2000 to 34 in 2000-01, needs to find a more stable identity. “For the first time since its earliest days, UPN is branding itself in the same way for the second consecutive season,” according to Starcom’s Insider’s Guide. “It proclaims its brand as male-friendly, action-oriented, high-octane entertainment that does not exclude females.” With “WWF Smackdown!” “Enterprise” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” all on separate nights, the network may be attracting passionate viewers, but in effect each night “aims to attract a different audience.”
* The WB, whose median audience age has stood at 29 since the 1999-2000 season, and which has targeted a young female audience, “hit a bump in the road as it seemed to stay with a familiar lineup too long.” Now it has to both “open up more weeknight time slots to half-hour comedy” and “bring more male viewers to the network.”

* As for ad-supported cable networks overall, “repurposing” broadcast-network series remains a risky strategy, so their basic mission continues to be to “increase their cash flow [so besides feeding the bottom line of their corporate parents] … they can spend money on original programming.”
Starcom Worldwide is part of the Starcom MediaVest Group, the media services holding company of Bcom3 Group, which in turn was formed from the 2000 merger of The Leo Group and The MacManus Group, and includes such other agencies as Leo Burnett, D’Arcy and N.W. Ayer. Clients include Kellogg’s and Procter & Gamble.