Friday, December 4, 2009

The Following is Not a Paid Advertisement

Ruminations from an indecent hour.....

The number and variety of "paid programs" - those 30-minute commercials poorly masquerading as TV shows – on in the middle of the night amazes me. It's hard to believe they can all make money. When I was at KEVN Companies paid a flat fee to have them aired, which was easy money for the station and filled air time. (Some didn’t get much bang for their buck. I once got a call from the answering service for one that had just aired asking to confirm that we did actually broadcast it; apparently there was no response.) I liked them because it was 30 minutes without worrying about commercial breaks.

Unfortunately, to make sure they aired properly we still had to pay a little attention to them, and they could be tough to watch. For me the low was a spiel sponsored by Jerry Falwell’s organization offering to sell you a copy of what they alleged was evidence convicting the Clinton Administration of every sort of nefarious deed, up to and including the "murder" of Vince Foster (remember that?), all for a low, low price. I remember thinking, "If you’ve really got the goods on the President and most of his people, why haven’t you acted like a conscientious citizen and given it to any willing prosecutor, investigative reporter and Congressman (of which there would have plenty), instead of peddling it like a sidewalk tabloid hawker?" I really hadn’t given Falwell much thought up to that point; he was just part of our Sunday morning gasbags-for-God lineup. But that shameful piece of hucksterism (which I should point out was separate from his regular show and in which, if I recall correctly, he did not actually participate) wrote him off as a credible person to me.

Over the years I took a number of telephone calls about station programming choices such as that one and the frequent preempting of Meet the Press, with viewers frequently accusing the station of bias of some type. I always told them that as far as I know there was no non-financial agenda at KEVN. As long as your check cashed and you didn't violate any laws or cause too much trouble for station management you could get on the air, and at just about any time you wanted if the check was big enough. (I once had to start Matlock 30 minutes early to accommodate a paid program, which meant tape-delaying an early feed by half an hour instead of taking it right off the satellite. It also meant that it was already half over at its usual start time.) TV preachers were just like any other paid program as far as the station was concerned. What mattered was that they paid very well; well enough for the station to preempt NBC’s NFL pre-game show when necessary.

That anything-for-a-buck philosophy is probably necessary to some degree in small-market TV, but it did become tiresome after a while, particularly when I had to answer the angry calls. (Those Matlock viewers were a loyal and vocal bunch.) I personally found the frequent preempting of the weekend NBC Nightly News for a paid program to be somewhat unseemly. Since I left I understand they occasionally did the same thing to the weekday NBC News; the local news crew must have been just giddy to have an infomercial as a lead-in instead of Tom Brokaw. They eventually sold their soul to Rupert Murdoch and became a Fox affiliate, which I’m sure happened purely because FOX wrote a large check, but it seems like a good philosophical match as well.

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