April 13, 2010

UTB - Upfront TV Buying. No Schmooze, You Lose


Ever wonder who picks the family values-based programming that enters into almost every US TV household on a daily and nightly basis? If you could pick'em, do you think you would do a better job? No, really... we're serious.

There are a few reasons America has the current mix of programming options to choose from. Believe it or not, there's a freudian element to the process that dominates the business. In essence, the TV programs the networks decide to produce are based on the mental health, key subconsious drivers and whimsical fantasies of national network TV buyers. Let us explain.

First, let's begin with TV producers vs. national TV buyers.

Producers are the ones who pitch the potential programs to network buyers. They are the "enablers." Picture them as race horses; steroid-laced, testosterone-filled ponies at a horse race.

Now, imagine network buyers as "co-dependent patients" that the producer-enabler-horses serve. If the community of male-dominated national TV buyers do not think the horse (program) will make it 'round the bend, either the TV network "Daddy/Mommy/overindulgent authority" will scrap it immediately, or put it in a self-perpetuating low rated slot so its chance of winning the ratings race its a long shot.

Make no mistake, it's a job that requires intense pyscho-therapy and training (among the enabler and mom/dad set), combined with a thirst for gambling and macho burrito-like packaging (among the buyer set) that creates an alternate universe most normal people would have a difficult time relating to.

John Wayne said, "Courage is being scared to death - but saddling up anyway." Talking to the network buying community, each one believes he is a modern-day John Wayne, out-gunning each other and their Mommy/Daddy-counterpart bad guys


This spagetti western takes place at the upfront TV presentation race tracks. If the testerone laced enabler horses don't get the John Wayne Buyers to bet on them, the producer's pilot will never make it to the starting gate.

Since the chance of a show getting produced and then being a success is a gamble, perhaps that is why NATPE (National Association of Television Production Executives) structures the process and the data, like an exciting day at the races!

Each year NATPE publishes a handicapper sheet titled to reflect its importance, the NATPE PILOT TV BIBLE to help TV buyers select "horses/programs" they respect and have a "gut feeling" about. However, the most important program component of whether it will get on-air is dependent largely on the program' name.

With a simple glance at The NATPE TV PILOT BIBLE one can see it is structured very much like the daily racing sheets. While a small minority of racing fans use scientific analysis and history of the horse and its trainer, the bulk of all horse race bets placed are based on intuition about the name.

That's why NATPE created the same kind of score sheet to help network buyers place their programming bets. This aformat they feel most comfortable with and since it's the bible, that shows how esteemed the guide relied on, to make $$ million dollar decisions.

Since there are no stats, since the programs have never aired (or "raced" in track terms) what else can network buyes rely on but their seasoned "intuition."

Still, not to throw water on the process, but as compared to other businesses - where the category "heavy user" consumers' are considered the most important group to quiery and serve - in today's TV marketplace, producers instead focus all their efforts on the network buying community. They don't really care what heavy TV users want. They'll watch anyway, or so the thinking goes.

Heavy user prefences do not determine what gets produced for television. Network buyer's preferences do. Heavy TV viewers simply consume the product.


Here's another key insight worth noting. The majority of people who work in the TV business, in front of the camera, behind the camera, or those who buy advertising to sponsor the camera are male.

Yet, the majority of all television viewers are female! So besides ignoring heavy users across both genders, the primary gender overall (65/35 female/male) is not a programming consideration either.

Okay, the cynical bromide on 6th Avenue goes that "no one ever went broke "underestimating" the tastes of the American public". Perhaps it's unfair to condescend network buyers. As they say, it's anyone's bet if a program succeeds or not on TV.

Forgive us if we come off as spoil sports, but if the networks focused a little more on satisfying its female core audiences and its heavy users, perhaps TV program successes wouldn't be such a high-risk poker business. Our bad for using logic here. We promise not to do that anymore.


Now let's talk about that all important seasoned network buyers "gut feeling" or "intuition." By definition, the word "in•tu•i•tion" means:

1. The act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of rational processes; immediate cognition...reason.

2. Knowledge gained by the use of this faculty; a perceptive insight.
A sense of something not evident or deducible; an impression.

With all the sex, violence and personality-roulette going on in virtually all elements of TV, it's clear that TV producers are aiming all their attention on a network buyer's "gut feeling."

We wouldn't have a problem with this except for the fact that when you look at TV programming today, it's hard ignore that the target of focus the producer/enablers are aiming at, is an area of the male anatomy below the gut. It seems more likely that the focus is on an area in fact even below the belt. Hopefully, one does not need a Phd in psycho analysis to get the point here.

Considering the human urges that buyers are driven by, we must wonder how much TV do network buyers let their children watch on a daily and nightly basis? For many, the programming is so edgy, so over the top and often so completely inappropriate for kids that it makes many in America uncomfortable viewing it with their children in the room.

From cartoons, to sit-coms, to nighttime prime, game shows and sports, references to adult topics and slang are being thrown around in virtually every programming type. Perhaps buyers only buy the stuff. They let females and heavy viewers "eat cake."

The food reference here actually is relevant. The whole network buying therapy session with their codependent buyers begins with Mommy & Daddy over-indulging their patients with lavish wining and dining, appealing to each of their big-wig, fat-cat, John Wayne-stud mentalities.

Then, once they sooth their egos, they excite them even more with programs that will appeal to them, on a personal level, to their "guy" feelings. Once the programs are bought, producers and networks into production and in the next season, all this quality programming runs into American households.

Ordinarily that's when the networks and producers would really have to keep their fingers crossed, though in fact in this case, it's no gamble at all, since the networks and producers already have the advertisers money in hand, before the program ever airs.

With such a sweet deal set up, with the adveritisng community sitting quietly on the sidelines allowing it to perpeturate, that's why the rules don't apply to the network buying business. If you were part of this process, would you want to see it changed? Highly doubtful.

It's just that simple. So see? you could do it, just was well as they could, that is, as long as you can sit well on a horse.

For you entertainment, we have detailed the summary of TV pilots by their name, along with their 25 word elevator pitch provided in the "BIBLE" aimed specifically at men (in the network buying community that is). In 2005-06, programs like "Wife Swap" and "Desperate Housewives" have of course been renewed.

Besides the normal sex, lies and videotape progamming we now come to expect on TV, the big additions format-wise this season are "paranormal-based" and "mid-life crisis-based" shows.

Our John Wayne buying studs are all getting older. Their tastes, dreams and anxieties are changing. Therefore to win their bet requires a more better psychological understanding of network buyers than ever before.

You don't have to be Sigmund Freud though to see the coorelation between the likes, dislikes and dreams of network buyers and the network lineups. Here's a detail of the programs pitched to buyers, with names and story lines taken directly from NATPE's BIBLE racing sheet.

Also provided is a psycho-analytic thesis of the drivers which we envision motivated buyers to select these programs, based on their mental health and life-stage that producers analyzed correctly:


Analysis: Dr. Freud would comment this as the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" sure bet. In the medical and TV production businesses, it's also referred to as, "Howard Stern Envy."

1. MISCONCEPTIONS - A comedy about a woman who had a daughter with an anonymous sperm donor and is challenged when the daughter meets her father.

2. INCONCEIVABLE - A dramatic nighttime soap set in the world of a high-end fertility clinic.

3. SOUTH BEACH - A dramatic series about a guy from New York who follows his model girlfriend to Miami and gets caught up in the glitz and glamour of it all.

4. FREDDIE - A comedy about a bachelor who struggles to find balance in his life after taking in his sister, sister-in-law, neice and grandmother.

5. WHAT ABOUT BRIAN -A drama about a guy named Brian, the last single guy in his group of friends.

6. THICK AND THIN - A comedy about a formerly fat woman who struggles to fit into her new body while still surrounded by her still fat family and friends.

7. FREEBIRDS - A comedy about a former "Big Man On Campus" who returns to his hometown.

8. THE LOOP - A single-camera comedy centered on a twentysomething guy named Sam, who tries to balance working hard and playing hard.

9. FOUR KINGS - An esemble of comedy about four lifelong friends living together in New York.

10. MODERN MAN - A comedy series about three single guys who hire a life coach to help improve their technique with the ladies.


Analysis: The urge for paranormal-based fantasies are based on the need for "out of this world" experiences which network buyers begin to feel as they age, and have attended many, many, many, many many network boondoggles which after 300 or so, begin to feel "ho-hum". This is called, "The GroundHog Day" effect.<

1. NIGHT STALKER - A dramatic series about crimer reporter Carl Kolchak, who is trying to solve the mysterious death of his wifeby investigating similar crimes with the same "supernatural" components.

2. THE GHOST WHISPERER - A dramatic series centering on a paranormal investigator. Inspired by the work of James Van Praagh.

3. THRESHOLD - A "paranormal" drama in the vein of The X Files, centering on the response of the U.S. Government when "aliens" threaten the country.

4. FATHOM - A dramatic series about alien sea creatures who are trying to make Earth inhabitable for more creatures to come.

5. INVASION - A dramatic series in which aliens secretly invade a small town and live among residents.

6. SUPERNATURAL - A dramatic series about two brothers who travel the country hunting down supernatural beings.


The good doctor would say that this is a result of the two urges (gut feelings) detailed above (sex-based and paranormal-based needs) are in conflict with each other. This is called the, "Starsky & Hutch Syndrome"

1. HEAD CASES - A dramatic series centering on a superstar attorney who has a nervous breakdown and has to reconnect with his family.

2. MY NAME IS EARL - A single-camera comedy about a guy named Earl who wins the lottery and sets about righting the wrongs of his life one by one.

3. THE WAR AT HOME -An irreverent comedy that shows what really goes on inside the heads of a modern family.

4. TWINS - Grown fraternal twins who have nothing in common inherit the family undergarment business.

5. CRUMBS - Estranged brothers Mitch and Jack Crumb reunite in their small hometown to deal with their largely crazy eccentric family.

6. OUT OF PRACTICE - A comedy centering on a family of doctors.


Analysis: Now that Arnold Schwartenegger has "Governor-ed up" from action-adventure films, buyers have begun to discover their inner cowboy. Some have identified this behavior as the "Ken kills GI Joe psychosis". Others refer to it as "The Woody Toy Story fantasy."

1. PRISON BREAK - An engineer installs himself in a prison he helped design, in order to help his brother, a death-row inmate who insists he didn't commit the crime for which he's been sentenced to die, escape.

2. E-RING - A dramatic series based on the Pentagon.



So, as John Wayned used to say, "Listen up Pilgrim, if you're "a betting man" and you have the kind of "gut" it takes; if you frequent the track, OTB or see yourself as me or anyone of my buddies here, get the hell off that shrink's couch and "Saddle up" to be a rootin' tootin' cowboy to the network buying business.

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