- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 7, 2000

Finding no audience

"The leading show for much of the 1990s, 'Seinfeld,' was receiving both widespread critical disdain and poor viewership well into its first season before turning into a nine-year ratings winner for NBC.

"Before that, 'Hill St. Blues,' 'St. Elsewhere,' and 'Cheers' were all late bloomers that would have been killed off early if their initial ratings were translated into today's environment… .

"But the number of airings a show gets to find its audience has continued to shrink. In the 1950s, networks typically ordered 39 episodes of a show. In the 1960s it dropped to 26, then in the 1970s to 13. By the late 80s, and early 90s, eight was standard. Today, networks order six shows at a time, and sometimes only three.

"The problem is the economics behind those placing the orders. A one-hour drama such as 'Deadline,' 'NYPD Blue,' or 'ER' costs between $1 million and $2 million. But networks now have less than two-thirds of the audience they had in the 1970s which affects the rates they can charge advertisers, the price they pay for programs, and the money they can pay out while a show is still 'finding its audience' if it ever does."

Daniel B. Wood, writing on "TV cancellations come quick as a click of a remote," in yesterday's Christian Science Monitor

Deep lightweight

"I think it's time to abandon the universal conventional wisdom that it's Bush the lightweight airhead versus Gore the heavyweight intellect. Yes, George Bush is a lightweight but Al Gore is a heavyweight intellect in much the same way that Alec Baldwin is a heavyweight intellect (in fact, in exactly the same way).

"Al Gore is the D.C. equivalent of that oxymoronic phenomenon, the Hollywood intellectual: someone who reads a couple of books of lit-ra-chure in a town where everyone else in effect reads 'coverage,' and who thereby elevates himself in his own mind to deep-thinker status.

"If George W. Bush is a lightweight, Al Gore is a deep lightweight: deep on the surface, profoundly shallow down below.

"He is just so irritating and, frankly, ridiculous in his clownish pretensions to being an intellect… . Al Gore is the kind of intellect who studied hard and tested well, but never learned how to think for himself beyond mimicking the pretentious formulations of others."

Ron Rosenbaum, writing on "Al's Screwy Scrawlings Can't Pass for Intelligence," in the Nov. 6 issue of the New York Observer

Prissy performance

"The St. Louis debate should go down in history as one of the most stunningly successful uses of TV by a candidate (in this case Bush) since Sen. John F. Kennedy's charisma overshadowed another experienced, knowledgeable vice president, Richard M. Nixon, in 1960.

"Those who thought that Gore won the third debate evidently know little about TV and its relation to the mass audience. After over two decades in politics, Gore showed that neither he nor his advisors fully understand live TV either.

"Vainglorious about the '1,000 town meetings' he claims to have conducted, Gore plunged into the debate thinking he had to impress and convert the immediate audience of allegedly undecided (but suspiciously liberal-sounding) voters sitting in front of him. But after his poor showing in the prior debates, it was the great, invisible array of TV viewers nationwide that he needed to reach.

"[The Gore campaign] made a massive misjudgment about presentation. Gore's pirouettes, finger-pointing and constant crossing and recrossing of the pit between the bleachers may have struck in-house observers as dynamic and dominant, but his choreography was not keyed to the camera, of which he showed little awareness except when he was prissily sitting or stiffly standing."

Camille Paglia, writing on "Rage in the Middle East," Oct. 26 in Salon at www.salon.com

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