Aug 25, 2003  •  Post A Comment

What does Court TV want? Why, Court TV wants what everybody wants, of course. It wants younger viewers! We could have guessed that, anyway, but we have it on the best authority, this very publication’s. In a story about Court TV for the Aug. 18 issue of TelevisionWeek.
Court TV was founded to carry televised trials, but eeww, that sounds so dull and so demographically dangerous. “We want a sticky audience, a lean-forward audience,” Court TV executive Charlie Collier is quoted as saying during a discussion of Court TV’s lively new hot-hot-hot Saturday night prime-time lineup. The story spells it out even more clearly: “The entire effort is tied to Court TV’s push for a hipper, younger audience. …”
Yes, hipper! Yes, younger! They can’t be too young, they can’t be too hip. Hop, skip and surf the universe and you find channels that share a common, surging, earthy yearning-a yearning for young’uns. They’re sort of like pedophiles in a way-asexual pedophiles. Thus I expect any day to read that Nick Jr., the tot-targeted subsidiary of Nickelodeon, is dissatisfied with those doddering 2- to 5-year-olds and wants more of those zippy 1- to 3-year-olds in its daily wide-eyed audience.
And say, how about those 6-month- to 9-month-olds? There’s a big market there, and who the heck is tapping it? It’s got to be tapped, because that’s what markets are for. Why stop at 6 months? Why for that matter stop at one day? Madison Avenue needs a way to reach those acquisitive young minds from the moment they technically are minds. “It’s a child, not a choice,” say the anti-abortion bumper stickers. But that child will one day be making choices! Important choices about whether to eat Yummybuns or Tummyfunz for breakfast, and what brand of jammies to eat them in.
Younger, younger, younger. Did you know the History Channel wants younger viewers? True! How will they go about luring them? Well, clearly, they’ll have to make history less “historical.” Such a downer of a word, anyway-“History.” Blegh. Remember how wise it seemed for TLC to jettison that off-putting term “Learning” from its name. So the History Channel is trying to do hipper history. Maybe documentaries about Elvis and the Beatles; Lord knows we all need more of those. Actual History Channel “documentary” televised in June: “Comic Book Superheroes Unmasked.”
Any day now, Brian Lamb is going to hold a press conference announcing that C-SPAN is going after younger viewers, and so we’ll have less of that unhip old governmental and issue-oriented programming and more of whatever it is the young want to see.
Even Turner Classic Movies, the cable channel of classic Hollywood that is all but swoon-inducing in its excellence and its classiness, is apparently looking for a younger crowd to fill those virtual seats in the virtual theater, because it’s announced that erudite interlocutor Robert Osborne, who appears to know everything about Hollywood that any one person could possibly know, will be supplemented come October with a new “weekend” host who is younger and who will attempt to translate the great films for a younger crowd.
American Movie Classics young’d down and dumb’d down months and months ago, claiming itself to be television for movie people, only by “movie people” it means those who think “Grease” and “Saturday Night Fever” are breakthrough works of world cinema. Younging down usually means dumbing down. It’s troubling and no doubt stodgy to say so, but there it is. The basic cable world is like radio now in that a station’s format can change overnight, and just because you call yourself Court TV doesn’t meant that you have to limit yourself to, of all things, the courts. Not if young viewers aren’t attracted in sufficient numbers.
Even the author of this column is under considerable pressure to improve his demographics and lure younger readers. With this in mind, we offer A Fairy Tale for the Very Young: Once upon a time there was a mean old fat man who ran something called the Federal Communications Commission, or “FCC” for short. And when the man wanted to change the rules of the FCC so that corporations much fatter than he is could have even more power and profits, he made sure to exclude people like you and me-“the public”-from the process of making those changes. But you and I got wind of it anyway. And we got real mad. And Congress got mad when it saw how mad we were.
And now suddenly the mean old man, who is actually quite young, is the most accessible person in the world, popping up on TV all the time and recently declaring how interested he is in “localism” and making sure that everybody has all the hard-to-find low-power TV stations they want, even though most people don’t know what the hell a low-power TV station is. Why is the mean man doing this? Because he is very very ambitious and he wants to save his job and then go on to a lifetime of what we laughingly-in fact, hysterically-call “public service.”
Boys and girls, can you spell “hypocrisy”? I hope so, because it’s a word you’ll have lots of occasions to use as you grow up in this big confederacy of conglomerates that we old-timers and fuddy-duddies still like to call a country.