Friday, September 30, 2005

Reality Bites the Age of Innocence

I was talking with a friend yesterday about TV and she started her usual rant about how reality TV isn't really real. How events on ''Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County'' seem contrived. How there are too many coincidences--like when Stephen just happened to call Kristin while she and Roz were talking about him during the last ep.

She's now convinced that people behind the scenes pull the strings to make the stories on reality shows more interesting. Ya' think?

I've tried convincing her for years that unscripted TV shows were carefully positioned. Arranged. Carefully edited. Probably even rehearsed. That this practice of shaping a story for unscripted series was prevalent on TV since the '50s. It's not new. Just look at the big quiz show scandals.

But she has no patience for history nor stories that take longer than 30 seconds. My quiz show stories fell on deaf ears. I needed a good anecdote. Something short and to the point. I had nothing.

Until now.

I was doing some research in the archives of Time Magazine and stumbled on this great tidbit from September 23, 1957:
The M.C. of TV's ''Bride and Groom'' had a 'big surprise' for the groom last week, and he coyly let the audience in on it: he had corralled the bridegroom's best friend for a 'completely unexpected appearance' and was hiding him behind a screen offstage.

M.C. (to bridegroom): We tried our best to have him here, but we had no luck at all.
BG.: I guess he couldn't get off from work.
M.C.: Do you think he is watching this program now?
BG.: Yeah, I guess so.
M.C.: If he is watching, where do you think he is right now?
BG.: Well, if it's anything like rehearsal this afternoon, he would be sitting behind that screen over there.

Finally, an antidote for my anecdote. This story clinched it. She finally believes.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Nothing AdVentured, Nothing Engaged

I wanted to waste 30 minutes on Wednesday night so I flipped the TV to GSN to play ''Lingo.'' What a disappointment. I couldn't use my remote to play along.


Really. It's true. When I was in Kauai earlier this month I used my remote to play ''Lingo'' and ''Match Game'' one rainy morning before I ventured out for a beautiful beach afternoon.

Oceanic Time Warner is leading the revolution for TV viewer interaction in the United States. Hawaiians have played GSN games with their remotes since April 19, 2004, leaving us Mainlanders behind once again.

Just think about the possibilities when you become an active, real-time participant. You're engaged with what's on TV. You're not just a guilty bystander.

Forget about voting by phone. Internet voting will be a thing of the past. You'll be able to use your remote to vote at the end of ''American Idol'' during a commercial break and results will be announced 30 minutes later.

Advertisers will definitely exploit this ability to engage viewers. Now you know the new buzzword in TV advertising, according to a recent study by Yahoo!, OMD and Teenage Research Unlimited. Here's an excerpt:
The key to targeting these busy consumers in the midst of media proliferation is advertising that "engages" the viewer with interactive or highly personalized elements. This, of course, also calls for an adjusted metric for copy testing, which must now track different types of user response. "In the 50's and 60's, copy testing was mainly about recall--and then in the 70's and 80's, they were talking about persuasion, and in the 90's it was about liking--getting the consumer to like the advertisement," said Mike Hess, Director of Global Research and Communication Insights, OMD. "Now it's got to be about engagement."

Over the next year we should watch how internet ads try to engage us. Forward-loooking ad agencies will use the web to learn lessons on the cheap and then create engaging TV commercials for the networks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

All's Fair in Love and Lies

''Sex, Love & Secrets'' premiered on UPN last night. For some reason I just can't get that right. I keep calling it ''Sex, Lies & Secrets'' instead. By the end of the series though, ''Lies'' may be more appropriate than ''Love'' anyways.

I'm always amazed at how some movies permeate pop culture. Take ''sex, lies, and videotape" for example. The movie was released in theatres on August 4, 1989. Before the movie was released, no TV eps were named ''Sex, Lies and ____.'' Less than four months after the movie was released, ''Who's the Boss?'' named an ep after the movie. And now at least 30 series have an ep title based on the movie name.

Here are some of the more creative ways TV writers ended the statement, ''Sex, Lies and _____,'' for ep titles.

  • Sex, Lies and 35mm Slides (''FM,'' 6/9/1990)
  • Sex, Lies and a Truckload of Dates (''Street Time,'' 4/30/2003)
  • Sex, Lies and Adhesive Tape (''Medicine Ball,'' 4/24/1995)
  • Sex, Lies and Bad Hair Days (''Designing Women,'' 3/5/1993)
  • Sex, Lies and Books (''Girlfriends,'' 2/17/2003)
  • Sex, Lies and Cable TV (''Grand,'' 2/1/1990)
  • Sex, Lies and Ed's Tapes (''Northern Exposure,'' 8/16/1990)
  • Sex, Lies and Exercise Tape (''Who's the Boss?,'' 11/21/1989)
  • Sex, Lies and Larvae (''CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,'' 12/22/2000)
  • Sex, Lies and Lullabies (''Sweating Bullets,'' 11/4/1991)
  • Sex, Lies and Monkeys (''The Practice,'' 10/18/1997)
  • Sex, Lies and Popcorn (''Thunder Alley,'' 10/26/1994)
  • Sex, Lies and Second Thoughts (''Ally McBeal,'' 10/23/2000)
  • Sex, Lies and Shining Armor (''Sweet Justice,'' 10/22/1994)
  • Sex, Lies and Teenagers (''Blossom,'' 2/4/1991)
  • Sex, Lies and Tortillas (''The Golden Palace,'' 5/7/1993)
  • Sex, Lies and Video Date (''Spin City,'' 3/12/2002)
  • Sex, Lies and Volleyball (''Beverly Hills, 90210,'' 8/5/1992)
  • Sex, Lies and Yellow Tape (''Silk Stalkings,'' 10/31/1993)
  • Tuesday, September 27, 2005

    Better the Actor You Know Than the Name That You Don't

    Donald James Yarmy died late Sunday.


    Would you believe...Don Adams is one of the many actors and actresses who changed last names for the screen and stage. Many actors took new identities for personal, political, artistic or business reasons. Other actors heard SAG say, "Sorry about that, chief!" and were forced to change names since each Guild member must have a unique name.

    What other TV actors and actresses changed their last names for their craft? Match the performer's screen name (left column) with his/her birth surname (right column):

    Performer's Screen NamePerformer's Birth Surname
    1.Jason Alexandera.Ball
    2.Lynda Carterb.Baumgarner
    3.Emma Caulfieldc.Brown
    4.Angie Dickinsond.Chukker
    5.Barbara Edene.Cordoba
    6.Sally Fieldf.Cox
    7.James Garnerg.Douglas
    8.Kathie Lee Giffordh.Epstein
    9.Cheryl Laddi.Greenspan
    10.Michael Keatonj.Huffman
    11.Bernie Mack.Mahoney
    12.Joan Riversl.McCollough
    13.Dick Sargentm.Molinksy
    14.Lindsay Wagnern.Stoppelmoor


    sources:, wikipedia stage names.

    Monday, September 26, 2005

    Two and Through

    If a network cancels a series and nobody cares, did the series ever exist?

    ''Head Cases'' is the first casualty of the season. Fox cancelled this awful series a week earlier than I expected, causing me to rearrange my posting schedule. Today I'm going to introduce ''The TV Shorty List,'' introduce other TV series that only aired twice, and update a few features for ''TV Shorty Watch.'' If you clicked looking for ''TV Power Ratings, Part Deux'' today, that blog entry has been pre-empted to bring you this more timely entry.

    First, the new features for ''TV Shorty Watch.''
  • A series that is cancelled while on Shorty Watch will remain on the list with strikethrough text. That skein will immediately be added to ''The TV Shorty List.''
  • Shows that are on hiatus, but not yet cancelled, will appear in bold italicized text. No network has officially placed a show on hiatus yet, but I can just feel it. Can't you?
  • Expandable lists. I've added ''The TV Shorty List'' to the near right column today. I'll soon be adding ''Power Ratings'' to the near right column as well. It just makes sense to conserve some space in that column and use expandable lists for all features.

    ''The TV Shorty List'' presents TV Shorties in three groups, based on number of airings. Remember, a TV Shorty is any series that the network intended to show at least four times but aired three or fewer times.

    Why is it important that the network intended to show the series at least four times? Two-part specials and two-part movies are not TV Shorties. If a presentation only has two parts and both parts air, then that show has run its course. It's not really short-lived at all. The show had a short life, but it was a full life.

    The main purpose of ''The TV Shorty List'' is simple. The list celebrates successful failure. Every show on this list was picked up by a network to be a series and aired at least one time, and we know how difficult it is to reach that milestone. In this sense, all TV Shorties were wildly successful. But these shows did fail to meet expectations since they were cancelled before they could complete their full run.

    Fox aired two eps of ''Head Cases'' and has four more eps in the can. We can officially welcome ''Head Cases'' to the party, joining the other series that were Two and Through:

  • ''AFP: American Fighter Pilot'' (CBS, 2002)
  • ''Aliens in the Family'' (ABC, 1996)
  • ''America.01'' (ABC, 2001)
  • ''Apple Pie'' (ABC, 1978)
  • ''Big Shamus, Little Shamus'' (CBS, 1979)
  • ''Charlie Lawrence'' (CBS, 2003)
  • ''Clerks'' (ABC, 2000)
  • ''Confessions'' (CourtTV, 2000)
  • ''Danny'' (CBS, 2001)
  • ''ElimiDATE Deluxe'' (WB, 2001)
  • ''The Fifth Corner'' (NBC, 1992)
  • ''Four Corners'' (CBS, 1998)
  • ''girls club'' (Fox, 2002)
  • ''Guess Again'' (CBS, 1951)
  • ''Imagine That'' (NBC, 2002)
  • ''Joey Faye's Frolics'' (CBS, 1950)
  • ''Love and Marriage'' (Fox, 1996)
  • ''The Mike O'Malley Show'' (NBC, 1999)
  • ''My Guys'' (CBS, 1996)
  • ''The Paula Poundstone Show'' (ABC, 1993)
  • ''Prince Street'' (NBC, 1997)
  • ''The Princes of Malibu'' (Fox, 2005)
  • ''The Real Roseanne Show'' (ABC, 2003)
  • ''Roxie'' (CBS, 1987)
  • ''Ryan Caulfield: Year One'' (Fox, 1999)
  • ''Sammy'' (NBC, 2000)
  • ''Sleepwalkers'' (NBC, 1997)
  • ''Sunset Beat'' (ABC, 1990)
  • ''Tag the Gag'' (NBC, 1951)
  • ''Take Five'' (CBS, 1987)
  • ''That Was Then'' (ABC, 2002)
  • ''Wind on Water'' (NBC, 1998)
  • ''Wonderland'' (ABC, 2000)
  • ''You’re the One'' (WB, 1998)
  • Friday, September 23, 2005

    Never Say Die...Unless a Survey Kills You

    When I watched the season premiere of ''Lost'' on Wednesday, I remembered an internet survey I took last year.

    Sometime in November 2004 or so, I took a survey about ''Lost.'' It was actually pretty detailed. The survey asked you to match pictures of 10-12 main characters with their names to see how well you knew them. Then the survey asked a series of questions about each character. Multiple choice questions like ''How much would you miss this character if he/she was no longer on the show?'' And questions like ''How much do you like this character?'' The survey pretty much asked the same question in four or five different ways.

    What was the purpose of the survey? Apparently, the producers wanted to know about fan reaction. I don't know if the producers planned on killing off Boone and wanted to determine how outraged the show's early fans might be. Or if they used the survey results to decide which character to kill off. I really skewed my answers and left no doubt that I'd miss every other character but Boone. At the time I kind of laughed the whole thing off--like Hollywood would actually kill off one of these characters. Needless to say, I was happy (in a warped way) that Boone died. But I still feel at least partly responsible for killing him off.

    If the ''Lost'' producers used the survey results at all, might this usher in a new technological era that uses the feedback from the masses instead of a focus group? Might producers actually check for fan outrage or wild approval for some major storylines by using surveys delivered to your TV immediately after a show? Will networks allow viewers to complete a survey and then watch an episode without commercials? Will you have a small dial on your remote so you can register your approval or disapproval in real-time while watching TV?

    Shows are relying more and more on word of mouth and blog reviews, which means they can't piss off the avid fan too much. If these fans are really miffed, the world will know quickly, the bad PR may spin out of control, and viewership may quickly drop off. It will be interesting to watch how technology-enabled, massive viewer feedback affects storylines in the near future.

    I would love to know what would've happened to ''Dallas'' after the famous dream episode if today's technology was available at the time. Would viewers have fled the show even faster? Or would SciFi viewers have been attracted to the show because of the plot twist?

    Thursday, September 22, 2005

    FOD for Thought

    If you ever visit the Poipu Beach area in Kauai and watch digital cable (Oceanic Time Warner), you'll find something that might intrigue you. But trust me. It will only disappoint--at least on that island.

    While I was flipping through the on-screen channel guide one late night last week, I came across the "Pizza on Demand" Channel at the end of the 900 channels.

    My first thought? Brilliant! Not only could restaurants take web orders, but now pizza places were taking DTV orders. Food-on-Demand (FOD), if you will.

    Think about the possibilities. You can see the list of toppings and crusts on your TV screen. Specials can change on the fly, based on time of day and recently viewed shows. Quick questions to test new product concepts. The system automatically routes your order to the closest location. No yellow pages. No maps to figure out which pizzeria might actually deliver to your area. No phone calls. No more questions like "Do you have bacon as a topping?" Just tell your TV what you want and your food arrives ~30 minutes later on your doorstep.

    Before I selected the channel I was already imagining other possibilities. After you order your pizza using the on-screen menus, you then have the opportunity to order a VOD movie at a reduced rate. The movies are not listed in random order--movie companies bid on movie placement just like GoogleAds. If Pizza Hut has a tie-in with a movie, you can rent that movie at a deep discount. The possibilities seemed endless. I was excited, and I didn't even want pizza. How pathetic is that?

    The reality? Brutal. When I selected the "Pizza on Demand" Channel, a green box appeared with the phone number for Pizza Hut. I guess the feature eliminated my need for a phone book and map, but I was very disappointed based on my visions of pizza delivery grandeur.

    Since I was so disappointed, I did a little bit of research after I came back from vacation.

    Turns out that I was on the wrong island. You can order your pizza on TV if you're on Oahu, where you've been able to place t-commerce (TV commerce) pizza orders for about five years. Five years! How come I haven't heard about this before? This feature is not available on Kauai, which isn't surprising since you can't even place an online order at Pizza Hut from the Poipu Beach area.

    According to an article by Jonathan Blum in Technology Investor (Sep 2000),
    In early VOD installations, like Time Warner’s Oceanic Cable in Hawaii, Pizza Hut does a bang-up business from set-top box orders prompted by ads accompanying VOD movies.

    “Set-top box ordering encourages viewers not only to order, but to order more,” says Robert Montgomery, president of Prasara Systems, the VOD software enabler who did the programming for the Hawaii install. “Selling-up high value pizza toppings and sodas is much easier with a set-top box than on the phone.”

    Here's more from an article by Steve Donohue in Multichannel News (5/3/2004)
    Oceanic uses Navic to add interactive overlays to commercials from Pizza Hut and other advertisers. Customers that click on an overlay on the bottom of the screen are switched to channel 999, where they can choose from a variety of pizzas and toppings. Oceanic - now collecting 500 to 600 pizza orders per week - has found subscribers spend more money on a pizza when they buy it through the television than when they call in an order over the telephone. "There's an interesting phenomenon," Smith said.

    He said the average Pizza Hut order in Hawaii taken over the phone costs $16, while orders taken through the television run about $24. A typical phone order might be for a large pizza with one topping. But customers tend to add more toppings when they have a wide menu of options on their television to choose from, Smith said.
    "That just shows you the power of visually being able to feel these various options -people order more," he said.

    Oceanic, which collects a fee from Pizza Hut for every order it processes, is looking to expand in the next few months to a full food court that will offer subscribers takeout or home delivery from a wide variety of restaurants, Smith said. The cable system will also launch a TV-based "shopping mall" later this year that will allow digital customers to order compact discs and other retail products with the click of a remote, according to Smith.

    Time Warner recently expanded the channel capacity on its decoders in Hawaii from 999 to 1,999 channels, using many of the new channels to house longform video-on-demand ads. For example, when it runs local ads for Mercedes-Benz automobiles, customers who want more information can click on an interactive overlay that takes them to a channel where they can take a car out for a "virtual test drive." Oceanic's Channel 912 houses video classifieds. Subscribers can view help wanted ads from employers. A local real estate company that buys 30-second spots on Oceanic uses another channel on the system to offer listings of available homes and virtual home tours. Subscribers click on interactive overlays that run within the ads.

    Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with Pizza Hut, Time-Warner nor any other company presented in this entry. No compensation. No advertising. Nothing. I have eaten Pizza Hut pizza in the past, but I have not had their pizza in years. (I'm including this disclaimer only because I happened to write about Pizza Hut twice in three weeks. I know that if I was a frequent reader, then I might be suspicious.)

    Wednesday, September 21, 2005

    There's More Than One Way to Skin a Dot-Com

    ''E-Ring'' premieres on NBC tonight. I think it's going to fail simply because of its name.

    What is E-Ring? Is it a ringtone for Skype? An IM alert? A electronic terrorism ring?

    Nope. None of these.

    Maybe you're better informed than I was when I first heard the name. Maybe you knew that the E-Ring is the outermost ring of the Pentagon. I sure didn't. It turns out that the Pentagon has "five concentric pentagons of corridors and offices, with the designation of 'rings' and labeled A through E."

    Why didn't NBC first call the series ''The Pentagon E-Ring'' and then later shorten the name to ''E-Ring?'' At least the longer name would put E-Ring in context. Maybe even give people a reason to watch. It's a pretty cluttered TV world, and I just don't see ''E-Ring'' catching the attention of potential viewers. Geez, even CBS started with ''Navy N.C.I.S.'' to differentiate it from ''C.S.I.'' while keeping its ties to ''J.A.G.'' Once the series found an audience, CBS shortened the name to ''N.C.I.S.'' for the second season.

    Since I originally guessed that ''E-Ring'' related to the internet in some way, I looked for ep titles that reference the web. Can you name any eps with ''.com'' in the title?

  • digital (''New York Undercover,'' 9/28/1995)
  • (''Silk Stalkings,'' 2/9/1997)
  • (''Homicide Life on the Street,'' 2/5/1999)
  • (''The Net,'' 3/27/1999)
  • (''Seven Days,'' 10/13/1999)
  • (''Oh Baby,'' 1/29/2000)
  • Dot.Coms Are Human, Too (''Oh Baby,'' 3/11/2000)
  • (''Even Stevens,'' 6/17/2000)
  • (''Beggars and Choosers,'' 6/27/2000)
  • (''The Fugitive,'' 11/3/2000)
  • I'll Do It My (''The Jamie Foxx Show,'' 11/5/2000)
  • Matt& (''Raising Dad,'' 1/11/2002)
  • (''The Division,'' 2/2/2003)
  • Sex, Lies and (''Judging Amy,'' 5/18/2004)
  • Tuesday, September 20, 2005

    A TV Show Marches on Its Working Title

    You may have watched the season premiere of ''Las Vegas'' last night, but did you know that ''Las Vegas'' was originally called ''Casino Eye?'' I had no idea until I added many working titles to my database on Sunday.

    I especially like the working title I entered just before ''Casino Eye.'' ''The Untitled Foster Project.'' Doesn't quite roll of the tongue like ''The Princes of Malibu,'' does it? But every series has to start with a working title.

    And a working title is critical. How do you hire actors and writers without one? Do you ask a writer, "Why don't you come work on this thing with me?" But which thing is it? Fortunately, working titles don't have to live forever. The concept and actors can grow and a new buzz-worthy name is created before the premiere.

    Most often the working title doesn't change that much. It might lose an exclamation point (''Bette!'' became ''Bette''), change a letter (''Numbers'' became ''Numb3rs''), shorten (''That's My Rodney'' became "Rodney''), or lengthen (''A Few Simple Rules'' became ''8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter'').

    But sometimes the title completely changes. ''Community Center'' first became ''American Wreck'' and then became ''Danny.''

    Some people might even say that working titles are prophetic. ''Danny'' was truly an ''American Wreck.'' ''Chest Pains'' became ''Royal Family'' and then Red Foxx died of a heart attack shortly after the series premiered. Coincidence? Or prophecy?

    Match each series (left) with its working title (right).

    Series NameWorking Title
    1.''According to Jim''a.''23:12''
    2.''Diff'rent Strokes''b.''45 Minutes from Harlem''
    3.''Eve''c.''All My Life''
    4.''Happy Days''d.''Crossroads''
    5.''Jesse''e.''The Dad''
    6.''The John Larroquette Show''f.''Family Business''
    7.''Leave It to Beaver''g.''Family Planning''
    8.''Married with Children''h.''It's a Small World''
    9.''The Partridge Family''i.''New Family in Town''
    10.''Reba''j.''Not the Cosbys''
    11.''That '70s Show''k.''The Opposite Sex''
    12.''Watching Ellie''l.''Teenage Wasteland''


    Monday, September 19, 2005

    TV Power Ratings

    I'll present Power Ratings in two parts--one part today and the final part next Monday. By splitting the topic into two parts, I can provide a bit more detail for those who are interested.

    What's a Power Rating? And how is it different from a Nielsen rating?

    For the uninitiated, a Nielsen rating is the percentage of TV households tuned to a particular program. Nielsen Media Research estimated that there were ~110 million TV households in the United States during the 2004-2005 TV season. If 11.0 million TV households watched a show last year, then that show received a 10.0 rating since 11 million is 10.0% of 110 million.

    A Nielsen rating just tells you how many TV households watched. That rating tells you nothing about a show's power. Nothing about whether that show can:
      1. entice a household to watch a network it normally doesn't watch.
      2. increase audience size on a night when people usually keep the TV off.
      3. attract more households than the shows that precede and/or follow it.

    The essence of the Power Rating is simple. It measures a show's power to change viewing habits (and the show's importance to the network). Not all 10.0 ratings are created equal. I'll use Nielsen Ratings to calculate values for the qualities listed above.

    Today I'll briefly discuss how I quantify a show's ability to entice households to watch a network they normally don't watch. I'll finish with two lists of results. The numbers in these lists are not the Power Ratings for these shows, but the numbers are a good start.

    You really want to know "How large was the audience for one show relative to all other shows on the same network?" To do this comparison, you have to correct for the week the show aired. A 10.0 rating in the summer is very different than 10.0 rating during Fall sweeps month. If you want to read the mathematical description, you should expand the section below.

    (+/-)Click here to read the details

    A positive number means the show had a larger than average audience for that network. A negative number means the show a smaller than average audience for that network. The larger the number, the larger the difference between the show's average value and the network's average value.

    From the start of the 2004 TV season through Aug 7, 2005, which series had the largest rating relative to other shows on the same network?

    Here are the top ten series:
    2.24 ''American Idol''
    2.14 ''Dancing with the Stars''
    2.06 ''WWE Smackdown''
    1.89 ''Monday Night Football''
    1.85 ''So You Think You Can Dance''
    1.58 ''CSI''
    1.46 ''Brat Camp''
    1.32 ''Desperate Housewives''
    1.25 ''7th Heaven''
    1.19 ''ER''

    Who woulda thunk that ''Dancing with the Stars'' dominated ABC's summer schedule almost as much as ''American Idol'' dominated Fox's schedule earlier this year. And that number for ''Dancing with the Stars'' even includes a few low-rated repeat eps! I now understand, but don't approve, why ''Skating with Celebrities'' is being filmed.

    Here are the bottom ten series:
    -1.49 ''SI Swimsuit Model Search''
    -1.48 ''The Will''
    -1.35 ''BMOC: Big Man on Campus''
    -1.30 ''Last Comic Standing''
    -1.29 ''life as we know it''
    -1.27 ''Wickedly Perfect''
    -1.26 ''Complex Malibu''
    -1.17 ''The Mountain''
    -1.11 ''The Benefactor''
    -1.07 ''The Cut'' (not including the last four airings)

    No surprises there. It's interesting to note that ''Scrubs'' had the lowest value (-0.92) for a returning series. It's also interesting to note that no UPN series are listed--no single series flopped badly compared to their other shows.

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    Many Emmy Roads Lead to Rome...Eventually

    While watching ''Rome'' on Sunday, I thought back to the early '90s, specifically when ''Sunday Best'' premiered on NBC in 1991. (Don't remember ''Sunday Best?'' I'm not surprised. It's a Shorty. NBC aired three eps of the series in February 1991.) At that time, Sunday TV was pretty uninspiring. Just movies and Fox sitcoms. Yes, there were a number of excellent TV movies, but the creative drought for original series lasted for seven years.

    At least that was true until March 15, 1998. ''The Larry Sanders Show'' moved to Sundays for its sixth season and HBO ushered in a new creative era. ''Sex and the City,'' ''The Sopranos,'' ''Curb Your Enthusiasm'' and ''Six Feet Under'' all premiered on HBO in the next 3+ years.

    And this creative era peaked during the 2003-04 TV season when Sunday HBO series were nominated for 58 Emmy Awards. One network. One night. 58 nods. NBC holds the record with 97 Emmy nods for their series during the 1986-87 season. But NBC needed all seven nights. Not one.

    Even though ''Rome'' is not drawing as large an audience as HBO might like, it will likely draw a number of Emmy nods next year.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    Think Globally, Ad Locally

    Addressable advertising for TV.

    It "enables operators to generate incremental advertising revenue by providing advertisers with the ability to send tailored promotions to targeted groups of viewers." (Navic Networks) Here's a nice discussion of a field study from about a year ago. If you don't want to read anything else, think GoogleAds for TV with full commercials for the top five items instead of sidebar adverts.

    That's just the tip of the iceberg for those viewers who aren't afraid to share a little personal data. What if we extend this approach? Let's tie national ads targeted to you with local ads related to your buying behavior.

    Imagine that you see an ad for toilet paper. But not just any ad. It's an ad that's been specifically developed for your zip code and age group. And the ad is intriguing enough that you don't even change the channel. (One of the first objectives of addressable advertising is to make an ad interesting enough to you so that you don't change the channel. Because it is all about you, isn't it?)

    Halfway through the commercial--once you're past the point where viewers typically switch the channel, something else happens. Suddenly an ad for a local grocery store appears on the bottom (or far right) of the screen.

    Why? Your local grocery store has that brand of toilet paper on sale. Your frequent shopper card, which you swiped on your cable box at some time in the past, suggests that you haven't bought toilet paper from them in a while. Just push the '$' button on your remote to add toilet paper to your shopping list at the advertised price. Next time you go shopping, you'll swipe your shoppers club at the grocery store and the machine will print your complete shopping list with your price for each item.

    Wednesday, September 14, 2005

    Busting Digits

    Bad flashback today. On my way to work I heard Tommy Tutone blaring from the car next me.

    But all is not lost. At least the experience made me think about telephone numbers, which inspired me to bust this list of digits from TV series ep titles:

  • Call Lehigh 4-9900 (''Amos 'N' Andy,'' 1953)
  • Call Michigan-7099 (''It's a Great Life,'' 9/4/1955)
  • Susquehanna 4-7598 (''Naked City,'' 12/16/1958)
  • Olympus 7-0000 (''ABC Stage '67,'' 10/12/1966)
  • 905-Wild (''Emergency,'' 3/1/1975)
  • Pennsylvania 6-5000 (''Alf,'' 10/13/1986)
  • 976-SHOE (''Married…with Children,'' 11/12/1989)
  • 555-HELL (''Dream On,'' 9/23/1990)
  • 1-900-CRUSHED (''Saved by the Bell,'' 11/17/1990)
  • 1-900-BEAVIS (''The Beavis & Butt-Head Show,'' 4/4/1994)
  • Klondike 9366 (''Remember WENN,'' 1/13/1996)
  • 1-900-BIG-SLUT (''Rude Awakening,'' 9/11/1999)

    I wonder if people called any of these digits like the masses called 867-5309?
  • Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    Good Things Come in Small Cities

    I don't know if you were one of the five million people who missed ''My Kind of Town'' on Sunday. I wasn't. (ABC pulled the show and showed ''EM: Home Edition'' in its timeslot.) I wonder if the good people of Greenville, Mt. Horeb, Hopedale and Ellenville missed the show. I'm pretty sure Egg Harbor City residents were most disappointed since it was their turn for some tube time.

    Actually, I found the whole thing kind of odd. People from small cities took buses to NYC to celebrate small towns. Seems counterintuitive. If you want to celebrate small towns, why not just go there? The upcoming series, ''Three Wishes,'' fixes that problem and actually visits small towns.

    Why would ''Three Wishes'' worry about Lamars, IA? Small-city envy? An age of diversity? Reaching out to Middle America? Call it what you want because I sure don't know.

    Is it a recent phenomena? Hardly. During the first half of the '90s, TV moved to medium and small cities across America. More than one-third of scripted series were set outside the Big Five Cities.

    For much of its history, television made it look like America only had five cities: Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco. Sure. There were exceptions. "Miami Vice." "Roseanne." And the success of these shows in the '80s probably sparked this trend of the early '90s.

    Can you match each show with its city?

    1.''The Drew Carey Show''a.Las Vegas, NV
    2.''Roc''b.Detroit, MI
    3.''Hearts Are Wild''c.Minneapolis, MN
    4.''The John Larroquette Show''d.Cleveland, OH
    5.''If Not For You''e.Pittsburgh, PA
    6.''Frasier''f.Baltimore, MD
    7.''Me and the Boys''g.St. Louis, MO
    8.''The George Wendt Show''h.Dallas, TX
    9.''My So-Called Life''i.Seattle, WA
    10.''Home Improvement''j.Madison, WI


    Monday, September 12, 2005

    Tomorrow Is Another Scheduled Day

    You may have noticed a pattern emerge in my posts over the last three weeks. I've been testing a schedule of topics, and I think the plan might actually work. So here's a schedule of posts that you can expect from here on out.

    Monday (aka Adminday): Mostly administrative items, such as:
  • new features like On This Date and Total Tube Time. Next week I'll introduce Power Ratings.
  • highlights of older posts that I've recently updated, such as the list of busted pilots.
  • new functionality, like the expandable menus (by topic) for all posts on the far right sidebar and the expandable list for On This Date on the near sidebar.

    Tuesday (aka Trivia Tuesday): Pretty self-explanatory.

    Wednesday (aka Epsday): Fun with episode titles.

    Thursday (aka Tech Thursday): Everything technology. Mostly new. Some retro.

    Friday (aka Free4Allday): Any topic is fair game.

    Saturday (aka Staturday): I'll focus on TV stats and numbers, but I won't post every Saturday since these posts require more research.
  • Saturday, September 10, 2005

    Battle of the Network Scars

    OK. I can't take anymore. I just have to rant.

    I'm tired of hearing that something is wrong with network TV because ratings are down. I'm even more tired of hearing that the networks are financially scarred because ratings are down.

    Every time a network wants to show the world how much it's hurting, it points to its share. Remember that a share is "the percent of households or persons using television at the time the program is airing and who are watching a particular program."

    For instance, on Wednesday, Aug 3, 2005 the six broadcast networks combined for a 34 share during the 8 o'clock hour. If three TVs were turned on during that hour, then one of those three TVs was tuned to ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC, UPN, or WB. The other two TVs showed other programming.

    Now let's look at a Wednesday night 15 years earlier. On Aug 8, 1990 the four broadcast networks combined for a 63 share during the 8 o'clock hour. If three TVs were turned on during that hour, then two of those three TVs showed ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC.

    Networks say "That's awful!" There are more networks and half as many TVs are tuned to these networks. Our companies are dying.

    I say "Shenanigans!"

    Today almost every TV station--network or cable--is owned by one of five conglomerates. NBC-Universal. Viacom. Time-Warner. Disney. News Corp. And last I checked the cumulative share for stations owned by these five conglomerates is at least 90%. That's right. If ten TVs are turned on, nine of these TV sets are tuned to a station owned by one of these five companies. Over the last 10 years, these companies competed to purchase and/or start cable channels to get their fair share of TV sets. Broadcast viewership may be down, but corporate-wide viewership has changed very little.

    Let's look at a different metric for broadcast TV--revenue per household hour. (Remember that a household hour is the equivalent of a single household watching TV for one hour.)
      1990: Households watched ABC to the tune of 9.32 billion household hours. That year ABC/Capital Cities reported revenue of $4.28 billion for its broadcast group. That means ABC reported revenue of $0.45 per household hour. If you watched ABC in 1990, then ABC made an average of $0.45/hour while your household watched for free.
      2004: ABC captured only 4.35 billion household hours for the year--more than a 50% decrease from 1990. But Disney reported revenue of $5.37 billion for its broadcast group. Even though viewership was down, ABC increased revenue per household hour to $1.23.
    ABC's revenue per household hour was almost 3x more in 2004 compared to 1990.

    And we can't forget about cable. In 2004, Disney reported broadcast revenue of $5.37 billion and cable network revenue of $6.41 billion. Yes, you read that correctly. Disney reported greater revenue for cable than for regular broadcast TV.

    Now you see why I have a hard time feeling sorry for these companies when they complain about smaller broadcast audiences.

    As I went through this analysis, I had a thought. What if ABC let viewers pay them to watch commercial-free shows on an ala carte basis? We just need to know how much revenue comes from advertising.

    Let's use ''Desperate Housewives'' as a proxy. Last year first-time ''DH'' broadcasts averaged 16.2 million households. The ad rate for ''DH'' was about $0.3 million for 30 seconds. If we assume 18 minutes of commercials for an hour telecast, then ABC earned about $10.8 million/hour for ''DH'' from ad revenue. Combine those two figures and you find advertisers paid about $0.67 per household hour--just over half of the total revenue. That means if you watched an episode of ''DH'' last year, advertisers paid ABC $0.67 to let you watch the show for free.

    Would you be willing to pay ABC $1 to watch an episode of ''DH'' without commercials? Imagine this. ABC feeds two video streams during commercial breaks. If you don't pay ABC, you see commercials. If you pay ABC $1, you see outtakes and special features instead of commercials. Viewers get what they want and ABC probably increases total revenue.

    other data sources:
  • weekly ratings, Nielsen Media Research Co.
  • 10k reports, SEC filings
  • Friday, September 09, 2005

    There's a Contestant Born Every Minute

    Tonight I decided to catch up on my Awards database. I entered data for many awards, but the 2005 AOL Television's TV's Top 5! Viewers Awards stuck out. (And not just because of the really loooong name.) Ken Jennings was one of the winners. He won the "Best Oh Snap! Moment" for the end of his ''Jeopardy'' winning streak.

    And that got me thinking about contestant searches.

    ''Jeopardy'' used to only test contestants in LA. Then they did huge contestant searches in a few large cities. Now the ''Jeopardy'' Brain Bus travels across America looking for contestants in moderate-sized cities.

    How might ''Jeopardy'' look for the contestants in the future? They might check out the movie theatre. Moviegoers who arrive early already play trivia games because the silver screen shows Q&A trivia sprinkled between local ads.

    Instead of answering quietly, someday you'll use your cell phone to answer questions. You get more points for answering questions correctly and quickly. You get a little friendly competition. The theatre gives away free movie tickets to the champion. And the gameshow producer automatically sends an e-mail to the winner's phone with information about the final round of tryouts.

    This concept becomes quite viable once theatres have digital projectors. Questions can be changed quickly if producers are looking for contestants who excel in certain subjects. On top of that, the projector can show patrons' scores in the upper right corner of the screen next to their IM handles to further promote competition inside the theatre.

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    I'd Like a Large Pizza with Pepperoni and a Constant Gardener

    Thursdays are quickly turning into Tech Thursdays; so I thought I'd continue the tradition today. But with a twist. Every so often, like today, I'll do a Retro Tech Thursday.

    Today I was following an SUV with four LCDs embedded in the head rests. While I was watching Finding Nemo on one of the screens, the driver slammed on the brakes and swerved into the parking lot for Pizza Hut. LCDs and Pizza Huts don't have much in common, but they reminded me of this older news time.

    Pizza Huts offer TV by the slice
    AP Report in The Pantagraph (Bloomington, IL; July 9, 1991)

    CHICAGO (AP) - Roll into a restaurant booth, order a pizza and drop a few coins in a booth-side television set to view some sports or rock videos.

    A coin-operated TV set has been developed by a suburban Rolling Meadows company and is being test-marketed at four suburban pizza parlors.

    (+/-)read rest of article

    I wonder when every pizza box will have a VOD voucher imprinted so that you truly get dinner and a movie when you get pizza delivered? The cross-promotions would be endless.

    Wednesday, September 07, 2005

    Big Eps on Campus

    College football kicked off this past weekend, which means we get to read absurd stories about student-athletes. And after reading stories that USC surrounds their prized quarterback, Matt Leinart, with security guards, I think it's truly safe to say that he's the BMOC.

    The concept of Big Man On Campus is hardly foreign to TV. WB even aired a reality series, "BMOC: Big Man on Campus," last TV season.

    Since it's Wednesday, that means it's time to look at ep titles and find out who else is Big on Campus in TV Land. Here are the ep titles that complete the phrase "Big _____ on Campus" in reverse chronological order.

  • Big Crane on Campus (''Frasier,'' 2/3/2000)
  • Big Mouth on Campus (''The Steve Harvey Show,'' 2/18/1999)
  • Big Twin on Campus (''Sister, Sister,'' 5/8/1996)
  • Big Screech on Campus (''Saved by the Bell: The New Class,'' 9/30/1995)
  • Big Girl on Campus (''Step by Step,'' 5/12/1995)
  • Big Mon on Campus (''Where I Live,'' 11/6/1993)
  • Big Girl on Campus (''Who's the Boss?,'' 9/29/1987)
  • Big Nazi on Campus (''Sledge Hammer,'' 9/24/1987)
  • Big Man on Campus (''Delta House,'' 3/17/1979)
  • Tuesday, September 06, 2005

    A Movie's Reach Should Exceed Its Grasp

    I took a quick look at some of the series that debut this week, and one series caught my eye. ''Movies That Shook the World.'' It premieres on AMC this Friday at 10PM. According to the production company's website for the skein, the series will analyze the following movies:

  • Fatal Attraction (this Friday's ep)
  • The China Syndrome
  • The Graduate
  • The Birth of a Nation
  • American Graffiti
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey
  • The Last Temptation of Christ
  • Do The Right Thing
  • The Exorcist

  • That's a pretty impressive list, but these movies aired infrequently on regular TV in the last 20 years.

    Which theatrical films aired most often on TV? You should be able to guess some of these films right away since some holiday classics air almost annually. But a few of these movies will surprise you. Did you know that The Nutty Professor aired nine times in less than four years? Just enough to place it in the top ten.

    Here are the theatrical films that aired most frequently during the last 20 years (9/2/1985 - 9/4/2005, inclusive) on primetime network TV.

    (+/-)most-played theatrical films on TV

    Friday, September 02, 2005

    After All Is Said and Done, Less Is Said Than Done

    This event was quite trivial in the big scheme of things, but you may have heard that Fox News broadcast the f-word during its live coverage of Katrina, as reported here. Few people probably cared, but I'm sure that the PTC will continue its campaign.

    Speaking of the PTC and the f-word, that reminds me of something I still find amusing. An uncut version of "Saving Private Ryan" aired on Veteran's Day in 2001 and the Parents Television Council (PTC) gave it thumbs up. But when ABC showed the same version of the movie on 11/11/2004, the PTC joined the censorship charge causing many affiliates to probably show "The Andy Griffith Show" or "Billy Graham."

    And then I started to wonder about about the history of that monosyllabic word.

    From 1980-90, "Saturday Night Live" owned the word. Charles Rocket. Prince. Morris Day. Aerosmith. They all snuck 'fuck' or 'fuckin' passed censors during live telecasts. The only casualty? Charles Rocket. Now very few people care about late-night profanity. The FCC didn't even blink when Colin Farrell said "I shit you not" on SNL (12/11/2004) in the midst of their big censorship hunt of 2003-2005.

    But don't worry, Sweet Child O' Mine. The 1990 American Music Awards ushered in a new era of profanity when Guns N' Roses twice squeezed 'fucking' into a live primetime telecast on network TV. And the shit really hit the fan when U2's Bono exclaimed "This is really, really fucking brilliant" during a live telecast of the 2003 Golden Globes. That last event resulted in the FCC report, "How to Dismantle an Atomic F-Bomb."

    Here's a short & recent history of famous incidents for 'fuck' on U.S. TV:
  • Mar 5, 1978: 1st on national primetime (''Scared Straight'')
  • Feb 21, 1981: 1st firing (Charles Rocket, ''SNL'')
  • Feb 21, 1981: 1st in song (Prince, ''SNL'')
  • Jan 22, 1990: 1st on network primetime (GN'R, ''American Music Awards'')
  • Feb 23, 1997: 1st scripted show on network primetime (''Schindler's List'')
  • Jun 29, 2000: 1st (mouthed) on morning TV (Bryant Gumbel, ''Early Show'')
  • Nov 11, 2001: Most frequently used (''Saving Private Ryan'')
  • Jan 19, 2003: FCC FUBAR (U2, ''Golden Globe Awards'')
  • Nov 2, 2004: 1st in print: ''fuck this shit'' on t-shirt (CNN, Election Coverage)

    This list is definitely not intended to be a comprehensive log. If you know of other famous events, feel free to add them in the comments section.
  • Thursday, September 01, 2005

    Hope Springs Eternal in the TV Viewer's Mind

    As you watch TV do you sometimes think to yourself, "This show sucks. I have a great idea for a show! And really, how hard can it be to create a TV show?" And then your mind wanders, thinking about Seinfeld-like residual payments for the rest of your life.

    Boy, have you come to the right place.

    I've developed a proprietary four-step method that will help you generate a concept that will be as big as "Seinfeld." Guaranteed!

    And because I want you to be a loyal reader, I give this to you for free. That's right. Absolutely free. All you have to do is read "Trivial TV" at least once a week for the next year.

    Here are your four steps to TV riches:
  • Step 1: You know that great idea that you have? Write it down. Go ahead. You gotta' start somewhere. Just jot down a few words about the concept. You're on your way now!

  • Step 2: Wow! Your idea is pretty awesome. But I know you can do better. Think really hard and write down one more idea for a TV show. Perfect.

  • Step 3: Now write down 4998 more ideas. No. That's not a typo. Four thousand nine hundred and ninety eight more thoughts.

  • Step 4: Those 5000 concepts can't all be winners. Take a critical look at your list and highlight 1000 of your best thoughts. One of those highlighted ideas is your ticket to riches.

  • Just pitch each of these concepts to the appropriate network exec because:
  • From these 1000 pitches, networks will order nearly 200 scripts.

  • Networks will commission 60 pilots from this pile of scripts.

  • Only 20 of these pilots will ever see the airwaves as a regularly-scheduled program.

  • Six of these skeins will see a second season.

  • About three of these six series will air four seasons or more.

  • One of these shows will air more than seven years.

  • Disclaimer: Results are approximate and may not be typical. Statistics are based on the experiences of people familiar with the TV industry. People not experienced with the TV industry may suffer severe side effects and may not be as successful.