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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Daytime's Supermassive Void

With Oprah Winfrey gone from the playing field, four soap operas left (although that number could quickly change to one, if CBS and ABC decide to abandon the genre altogether)... who and what will fill the supermassive void? It's an interesting dilemma as the 45+ generation have grown rather accustomed to having a stable daytime programming environment. No soap operas will pretty much become the beginning of the end for everyone. And it's really just a matter of time, not necessarily a matter of fans- which the big 3 networks have made abundantly clear as fans have continued to do everything but offer up human sacrifices to save their soaps. And who knows? We're not ruling it out as fans can be as over-the-top as they want to be. There are no rules when it comes to insanity. No Oprah will set in very soon. And once Regis Philbin calls it a "day", the entire landscape of daytime television will be a "free for all" of epic proportions. Where is it all headed? That depends on how you look at it.

It's painfully obvious that no one is willing to pony up production costs, hence the continued extinction and eventual death of the soap opera genre. It's doubtful that we'll see another Oprah rise up from the rubble as 25 years is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to building an Oprah-like, guru, cult, movement that creates a "supermassive black hole" in all of daytime once it's gone. Dr. Oz is wonderful but we don't see him as the "savior" of daytime. Sorry Deb (UPBEAT's Executive Editor). Ellen DeGeneres continues to be a bright spot but again, it's like comparing Titanic to the S.S. Minnow. Winfrey's exit comes during a catastrophic cataclysm in daytime television. You can't just "replace" her and you can't just ignore the audience forever. At some point, network executives have to be fired and replaced with "visionaries", not "suits that count beans".

I like to call Hollywood the home of "ideology brokering", which is inherently all about the power— protecting "us" and winning "them." I suggest that a far more adequate metaphor for our existence after the structuralism of modernity by Hollywood is the "networked age". We find this age interconnected by definition, characterized by disruption through wider connections, holding onto a nuanced continuity in existential and communal identity through a more explicit selection of and innovation within the tradition which the network finds itself constituted by. It is nearly a case of a new cogito— I emerge in the network therefore I am.

What needs to happen (and probably won't) is a change in the way networks "view" and "perceive" their audience. You HAVE TO factor in the Internet. Let's face it, The Neilsen Ratings are becoming more and more of an antiquated joke as they do not reflect the entire audience; they don't even reflect a fragment of the audience. More and more people are trading up television for the Internet. This translates into a "global" audience that wants to INTERACT as opposed to REACT. And we've said this a bagillion times, once the audience gets to decide... they will NEVER EVER go back to not deciding. The audience wants choices, even more choices than they've ever had. With Facebook and Twitter and all of the social networking, which is growing exponentially every minute of every day, the Internet audience is larger, vaster, smarter and far more DIVERSE than the big 3 networks are accustomed to seeing. Gone are the days when focus groups mattered. There is no focus. The directions are endless with more and more technology spilling out milliseconds between their predecessors it's not even plausible to believe you have an edge, let alone a complete thought process. Everything is spiraling around in so many different directions that there really isn't a "precise" method of measuring anything.

Sure, marketing and publicity teams will tell you that they "get it"... but they don't. They have no idea, not even a remote clue as to how they should sell a concept or a show or even the last few words they tweeted. You see, we are rapidly approaching a crossroad. The train is coming at us at full throttle, there are no brakes and we cannot see whether or not there's a cliff or a tunnel in our blind spot. And what exactly is the blind spot? It isn't numerical, it isn't about a "target" demographic anymore... it's about learning to change a thought process that has been in place for decades. People want to be entertained. They adore surprises, whether it's pleasant or gruesomely scary. They don't want to be able to know what is going to happen... they want to be amazed and tossed out of their comfort zones. And how do we do this? Well, it doesn't take A-List actors and actresses; it isn't about explosions and car chases; it isn't about how much gore and blood being used... It's psychological. And we know it when we feel it or see it. It's about instincts and great story-telling. It's about what we can't see, not what we can see. Desperate Housewives plays up our darker desires to feel better at the expense of other people's personal train wrecks. They're all constrained by the exact kind of social pressure that hazing frat boys would find oppressive. Now throw in the GREAT storylines—  and folks… we have lift off.

Alfred Hitchcock will be timelessly synonymous with greatness in the entertainment industry. Because he "got it". He understood that an audience doesn't tune in to see pretty faces or handsome good looks... They watch because they cannot look away. They tune in because they want to know what happens next... they have no idea what might happen next. They hate having their hands held and their thoughts handed to them. They want to guess and be shocked when they guessed wrong. Technology will continue to thrive, it always has, but this time it will be faster, much faster. The simplicity of a well-crafted story or a charismatic, well-versed host isn't rocket science... it's trusting your gut and "knowing"... not that your sponsors might not come back... but that they WILL come back, because the audience dictates this. The audience knows. If one executive walked away from the pack and headed for a Wal-mart or the local bar... and hung around the patrons instead of golfing or playing squash with the other mindless suits... that one executive would change the face of entertainment, much like Oprah once did... much like soap operas once did.

You have to connect with your audience... not disconnect. And that will never change.

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