In Promolympics, NBC’s on thin ice

Feb 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

The tail is wagging the Peacock again. Meaning that: At NBC, the network is apparently there to serve the promo department and not-as the good Lord intended-the other way around. And so while there is much to admire, visually at least, in the network’s Herculean Olympics coverage, you do get the feeling that NBC looks on the Games first as a promotional opportunity, second as a global sporting event.
At week’s end, the ratings were down somewhat. If that trend continues, it might not be because viewers are tired of the Games but because they’re weary of the clutter that engulfs them-the ads, yes, and maybe even more so the promos. Poor Julia Louis-Dreyfus may find that viewers will already be sick of her adorable self by the time her new sitcom premieres, having sat through so many annoying promos for it. She’ll become known as Julia Louis-Dreadful if she doesn’t watch out.
An enterprising writer named Howard Fendrich has been keeping close tabs on the wild and unbridled promotionalism that engulfs the Games as telecasts continue from Salt Lake City. He estimates there are 19 minutes of clutter in every hour of NBC coverage vs. about 16 minutes an hour-which is bad enough, heaven knows-for normal network prime-time fare.
Branding, in overdrive
When Bob Costas sneaked in an audible promo for “Fear Factor” on the opening night of the Games-thus shattering the prevailing mood of peace and harmony and human accomplishment that the ceremony itself tried to establish-he was perhaps setting a tone and sounding a warning.
Fendrich took note of commentator Ted Robinson’s network-mandated digression during coverage of a men’s speedskating relay last Wednesday night: “If you like something like this,” Robinson told viewers, “let me remind you of something you’ll see this weekend on NBC: More high-speed thrills in the Daytona 500, the world’s most important auto race,” and blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. Robinson should not be blamed. He was only following orders, orders to cram in those promos at every opportunity and to brand every moment with the NBC name.
It would serve the network right if this kind of unseemly aggression backfired and the tattered old Peacock got a great big load of egg in the puss.
In what turns out to be a timely gesture, considering the Promolympics now going on, the Association of National Advertisers last Thursday reported that commercial clutter “hit record heights” in prime time last year. November 2001 was compared with November 2000 in the report, which showed clutter records also being set in early morning, daytime and local news dayparts. Ironically, though, NBC, along with Fox, showed slight decreases in clutter from the previous year. Wait until next year and the Olympics are factored in.
No one who watches local news, especially late local news, has to be told about increased clutterfication. How long ago was it that the late-night newscasts all expanded by five minutes-much to the irritation of Johnny Carson, whose “Tonight Show” was moved to 11:35 p.m. because of affiliate greed–so that our local stations could bring us still more fascinating, urgent, matter-of-life-and-death news in their last telecasts of the day?
The news bounty was never realized, alas. What we got instead might be called a Bounty bounty-more ads for the paper towel of that name and for any other product you can think of that might be sold on the late news. Now in the cities of Washington and Philadelphia, to cite two convenient examples, the CBS affiliates have just said, “The hell with pretending” and simply air about five solid minutes of commercials in that extra time at the end of the news.
I’ve been noticing this on Washington’s CBS affiliate WUSA-TV, Channel 9, for some time. The anchors say they’ll be right back, only to disappear under an avalanche of ads. When they do come not-so-right back, it’s to say “Good night” and maybe tell us to take an umbrella to work tomorrow.
Absolutely the same mischief is occurring at KYW-TV, Channel 3, the CBS affiliate in Philadelphia. The other night I clocked the last five minutes of the “newscast” and came up with about four minutes and 45 seconds worth of commercials and promos- first a block of seven spots in a row, then a quick nighty-night from the anchor team-then another block of seven spots before finally were heard those encouraging words “From New York … The Late Show With David Letterman …”
Stop the barrage
That five minutes of “news” included, in order, spots-almost all of 30-second duration-for the movie “Snow Dogs”, a local furniture store, a 10-second promo for Dave, tourism in Baltimore (talk about your desperate tourists!), Canon color copiers, Mitsubishi cars and the movie “The Count of Monte Cristo,”-and does that look like a dog. A snow dog perhaps.
The falsewitness news team popped up for 10 or 15 seconds to say goodnight and it’ll be cold tomorrow and don’t forget to watch the news tomorrow morning-so this really should count as a promo too. That’s the only real content. Then back to the ads: another local furniture store, the movie “John Q”-and does that look like a bomb, Cadillac cars, a local department store, Circuit City, Ford cars and the movie “Beauty and the Beast,” which can now be seen on IMAX screens. Ebert and Roeper, whose TV show is distributed by the same company that made the movie-Disney-loved it and highly recommended it.
Here’re two thumbs down, way down, meanwhile, to the clutter-happy networks and the even clutter-happier local stations that simply will not relent even in a recessionary economy to pelt us, bombard us and finally numb us with brain-fogging, eyelid-lowering, teeth-gnashing clutter. It’s not a peacock I’m thinking of now, it’s another bird: The goose. The goose that laid the golden egg. The goose that laid the golden egg but is getting its neck wrung by broadcasters.
Don’t they know they should never look a gift goose in the mouth? And what, one wonders, will it take to prove that truism to them?