TV Should Not Talk Down to Its Audience

Jun 24, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Former President Bill Clinton’s speech before the annual convention of Promax/BDA in New York recently delivered the right message—even if it wasn’t exactly delivered to the right crowd.
The message was that as we move forward in the 21st century, television has a responsibility to make complex social and political issues understandable without oversimplifying them.
Mr. Clinton, knowing he was talking to an audience of folks who brand shows for a living, complained that too often, a brand message transforms three-dimensional issues and people into two-dimensional cartoons. Calling former nemesis Newt Gingrich a “brilliant brander,” Mr. Clinton illustrated his point by claiming that Republicans out-branded his administration time and time again by oversimplifying complex issues with one-line slogans.
The members of Promax/BDA who create brand messages are “storytellers who are charged with the responsibility of finding and motivating audiences to watch, download or purchase their organization’s content,” as Promax/BDA says on its Web site.
We would argue that, in fact, the best, most distinctive campaigns devised by these storytellers are not two-dimensional cartoons.
But Mr. Clinton’s point is well taken, and it merits the attention of the bosses who employ Promax members. Those station and network owners and executives too often permit their outlets to cover important social and political issues via sound bites that do more to distort than to illuminate.
Mr. Clinton’s clarion call echoes one made almost 50 years ago.
We’re referring to the speech made by then-Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow at the 1961 convention of the National Association of Broadcasters. That speech is still remembered today for his telling the TV station owners in attendance that, if they watched their stations for one day from sign-on until sign-off, they would “observe a vast wasteland.”
But Mr. Minow, now 81, has said more than once that he wishes, instead of the phrase “vast wasteland,” he—and that speech—would be remembered for the phrase “public interest.”
Indeed, as Mr. Minow said in that speech, “The power of instantaneous sight and sound … carries with it awesome responsibilities, responsibilities which you and I cannot escape. … I urge you to put the people’s airwaves to the service of the people and the cause of freedom. You must help prepare a generation for great decisions.”
Basically, this is the message Mr. Clinton reiterated at Promax/ BDA. Those in the TV industry would be wise to heed it.

One Comment

  1. I agree.

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