Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Stand By For Astonishment

It’s “Spring Sweeps” for the TV industry – from April 25th through May 22nd – and if you’ve been wondering why you’ve been seeing a barrage of promotional announcements on the local news channels for sensational stories coming up on the news at 6 or 10, you now know the answer.

It’s ratings time.

This is why one of the local news channels just did an expose’ about prostitution in Madison. And why you’ll likely see stories about germ counts in local restaurants (“would you eat here, knowing what you know now?!?!?!?!), merchants caught swindling folks at the cash register (can you trust ANYONE these days?!?!?!?!?), and bedbug infestations at local hotels (“would you want to sleep here?!?!?!?).

OK, maybe it’s not that bad, but – there was that local prostitution story.

Married, as I am, to a woman who worked in local TV news for many years, I can attest that most of this sensational stuff is the bane of the local reporter’s existence.  The spring rating period is one of the most important ones for the TV industry, and while the local ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox affiliates can’t do much to control the ratings for the network shows they carry, they can – and do – vie for your attention in their local newscasts.  And sweeps month is when they do it the most aggressively.

In some markets, it’s far worse than it is in Madison.  Reporters will be ordered to do outrageous things like spend a week as a homeless person, to “show us what it’s like”; and they’ll trot out the most absurd stretches of the concept “could this happen here?”, which has been a staple in the broadcast news industry for decades.  Houses in a small subdivision in northern California are slowly slipping into unexplainable sinkholes, and people’s homes and huge investments are crumbling – COULD THIS HAPPEN HERE??????????

Take it all with a grain of salt.  They do what they have to do to get your attention, to make you watch, to drive up the ratings.  It’s simply the way the game is played.

What’s sad is the story behind the story, which you can hear from broadcast news practitioners when they gather at local watering holes to commiserate: the legitimate investigative stories that they’ve done, documented, and produced – where they really get the goods on somebody – only to have the story be “spiked” by the station’s legal counsel as “too dangerous to air – we might get sued”.  Well, that’s the point, isn’t it: when you get the goods on somebody, they’re going to sue you!

So, relax and enjoy the expose’s of dirty restaurant kitchens and bedbug-infested hotels ….laugh at the outrageousness.  

It’s sweeps month.


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