Editorial: TV Needs Roosevelt, Not Carter’s Malaise

Jan 4, 2009  •  Post A Comment

“Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”
—Franklin D. Roosevelt

The words of the president who led the United States out of the Great Depression should be an inspiration not only to the incoming Barack Obama administration, but to television executives as well.
It’s easy to lose sight of our strengths when the news media do their job as well as they do.
Headlines for the last three months have confirmed the fears of the more pessimistic among us: Advertising forecasts are plummeting, TV industry job losses are mounting, major ad categories like the auto industry are staggering, and broadcast networks are in a seemingly inexorable ratings slide.
But falling prey to the sense of malaise that marked Jimmy Carter’s presidency is precisely what the TV industry can’t afford to do right now. Rather, it’s time for media executives to channel the spirit of FDR and invest in programming that will make the medium more vibrant than before and bulwark its relevance to popular culture (and advertisers).
The New York Times last week delivered one data point in the argument for optimism, noting that broadcast advertising so far is holding up better in this recession than that of other media. The reason, of course, is that broadcast still delivers the largest audience. There’s a reason for that beyond the advantage TV has in terms of how habituated its audience is to turning on the tube each night.
To paraphrase another president, “It’s the programming, stupid.”
Now is the time for the most visionary and stout-hearted television executives to further differentiate theirs from competing visual media by investing more (and more intelligently) in programming that will compel audiences to tune in. A look at the top shows in TelevisionWeek’s Critics Poll in this issue sets the mark for quality.
And while no executive can at will summon the magic that turns a quality program into a hit, he or she certainly can guarantee failure and mediocrity by not investing enough in programming budgets to maximize a show’s chances of creating a phenomenon.
Yes, the cost side of the balance sheet matters more than ever in tough times. But pulling back on programming will only allow the malaise to build.


  1. Maybe you fools should have been thinking this three years ago when you started yelling the sky was falling every 30 seconds when it wasn’t true. You created a self-fulfilling prophecy and now you don’t like the results. Nice to see you trying on your clown shoes in public – clearly you wear size 14. Television programming has been garbage across the board for more than a decade and the pigeons are home to roost. I’d be perfectly happy to see all of you fools go out of business.

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