Chuck Bachrach: Prime-Time Prophet

Aug 11, 2003  •  Post A Comment

On a balmy evening last week, Chuck Bachrach was addressing a room full of advertising executives and station reps at a hotel in West Hollywood, Calif., for the 20th year in a row. He was back the next morning to talk to a group of media researchers.
Both appearances were part of his annual tour to discuss the new broadcast network season and boldly predict which shows will succeed and which will fail.
Over the next few weeks he will repeat his presentation in Las Vegas, Seattle, Portland, Ore., Denver, New Orleans and elsewhere.
“It’s one person’s take on the new prime-time television season,” Mr. Bachrach said. “I try to bash everyone equally, or applaud everyone equally.”
As executive VP, director of media resources and programming, for Rubin Postaer and Associates, Mr. Bachrach is expected to provide expert advice to clients such as Honda automobiles. “As a buyer I try to protect the client,” he explained. “It’s our job to pick shows and then determine the best place to place the client’s money at the best cost per thousand, the industry yardstick. And to find an audience determined by the client’s need and based on our research.”
“It’s like a stock,” he added. “We’ve got to pick the best one. If we hit it, we’ve got a great new show at a low price, because many times the networks aren’t sure about what they have.”
At the independently owned and run Santa Monica, Calif.-based ad agency, he oversees about 150 people in offices from Portland, Ore., to Chicago to Atlanta to the New York area, all involved in media planning, spot buying, network buying and what he called “the entire realm of media.”
These days that realm is bigger and more complex than ever. “When I started in the Sixties, there were three networks,” he recalled. “Now there are six broadcast networks, TV syndication and some 60 or more cable networks to track. And you have direct satellite TV and direct satellite radio networks. A buyer and planner today has to know a little bit about all of that.”
For Mr. Bachrach, it is the accumulation of a lifetime of experience. He grew up in a suburb of New York City, the son of a top photographer. His first dream was to become a chef, but that changed after he arrived at Ithaca College. He quickly switched to the TV and radio school, where he still returns each fall to teach and share his experience, as he does on his tour. “It’s to give something back to the people and to inform them,” he said. “To me, the more informed the buyer, the agency or the station, the better decisions they will make.”
After Ithaca College, where Mr. Bachrach and I first met as fellow students, he spent 14 years at Ogilvy & Mather in New York, and then moved to L.A. to join Western International Media. “I was probably one of the first buyers from New York to pick up and move West,” he recalled.
In 1983 he joined Rubin Postaer, where he spends the year tracking schedule changes, doing budgets, looking at products and matching them to shows. “Once we buy [media] we also make sure it runs correctly,” he explained, “and that the client gets what has been agreed on.”
He tracks his annual show predictions and says that on average, he is right about 75 percent of the time. He declared the worst new program for 2003-04 to be UPN’s “The Mullets,” and predicted Whoopi Goldberg’s new show will be the fourth consecutive failure for NBC in its Tuesday time period (after “The Michael Richards Show,” “Emeril” and “The In-Laws“). “It’s not an 8 o’clock show,” he explained. “Whoopi is not the new Archie Bunker.”
Some other predictions: ABC will have a hit with “10-8” but fail with “Hope & Faith.” CBS will hit with “Navy NCIS” but flop with “Cold Case.” “Arrested Development” will make it to a second season on Fox, but “A Minute With Stan Hooper” will not. Rob Lowe will have a hit on NBC with “Lyon’s Den,” and there will be more than one season for UPN’s “Jake 2.0.” And The WB will score with “Like Family,” but “Tarzan” won’t swing.
He called “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” a fabulous new show but is worried NBC will run it so hard people will quickly grow tired. “They may burn out this property,” he added.
Mr. Bachrach is also critical of NBC’s “The Restaurant” reality series, which he called an example of “blatant product placement.” “It’s sickening,” he said. “What you want to do is product placement in an environment and a way that is appropriate. I think `Restaurant’ went way over the top.”
He doesn’t believe personal video recorders, or anything else, will kill TV commercials. But he does say that “this is where the agency has to get more creative and better at getting product messages to the consumer.”
He isn’t a fan of agency mergers or big-media consolidation. “I think in my 35 years what I have learned,” he said, “is that bigger isn’t better.”
Smaller means staying closer to the process, which is where he wants to be. “I have a passion for television,” said Mr. Bachrach. “I like televison. I like broadcast. I don’t necessarily like everything that is on, but I’m never bored. It’s never dull. And I hope to continue, for at least a few more years.”