The Powers that be
The Powers that be

Paley; Time magazine and its cofounder Henry Luce; the Washington Post and successive publishers Philip Graham and his wife, Katherine; and the Los Angeles Times and publishers Norman Chandler and his son, Otis."--BOOK JACKET.

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excerpt He knew what was good and would sell, what was bad and would sell, and what was good and would not sell, and he never confused one with another. on 2/15/2020, 6:11:19 PM

excerpt Now broadcasting was obsessed with the ratings, and the ratings had a morality of their own, they dictated their own reality and their own truth. Those who argued against the system, who argued for doing better programs, were no longer realistic, they did not understand the big picture. on 2/15/2020, 6:17:34 PM

excerpt If CBS had a program with very high ratings, that did not mean it could therefore run a high-quality show, of great public service with low ratings; a quality show with weak ratings pulled down the average and canceled out the benefits of the show with high ratings. Nielsen was the new god of television; his truths were not truths they were commandments; what was rated high was good, and what was rated low was bad. There was room for nothing else, no other value systems, no sense of what was right and what was wrong. The stakes were too great, and became greater every year. on 2/15/2020, 6:19:27 PM

excerpt That was at the heart of it. The competition was so fierce and the weapons so inane. The costs for all the shows, winners and losers, were essentially the same; only when a show failed and the schedule had to be revised did the cost go up. Since all three networks sold by circulation, and the advertisers paid by circulation, the ratings were crucial. One network might, with the right formula, as CBS did for so many years in the late fifties and most of the sixties, make as much as \$20 or $30 million a year more than its rivals on the same production costs. There was an additional dynamic here, and that was the pressure that Wall Street began to generate on broadcasting in the late fifties. CBS had been public and listed on the New York Stock Exchange as far back as 1937, but it was only in the late fifties, with the soaring new revenues from television profits, that Wall Street really discovered the industry—and its potential. A lush new field to conquer. Soon the stock market was pushing its norms upon the industry. In the past the company’s business people had thought in relatively simple terms of profit, making a good deal more money than they spent, a practice that permitted some balance in programming. Now they reflected more and more what was best for the market. In the late fifties there was an almost feverish quality to the way CBS and Wall Street responded to each other’s seduction; inevitably the people within the company who best understood and followed the market gained power and influence over those whose “concerns were limited to producing good television. Wall Street’s pleasures were relative simply: much higher profits, lower production costs, the acquisition of more and more subsidiary companies. This was, after all, the era of the conglomerate, a time of quick corporate shuffling designed to add and subtract companies and avoid taxes. Companies like CBS became increasingly dominated by a new generation of bright young men who knew systems, how to take an existing structure and make it far more profitable, cutting quality here, adding a minute or two of advertising there, little changes which, when carried through for an entire year, might mean millions and millions of dollars. Their loyalty was to the bottom line. Whether or not they ever watched the programs themselves, no one knew; whether they thought there was any ethical consequence to the programs they showed was a question that did not arise. “The people from Harvard Business School,” Fred Friendly said years later, “taught the networks how to institutionalize their greed.” on 2/15/2020, 6:35:16 PM

excerpt What had always limited the sheer commercialism of broadcasting in the past was not the law, which was weak and fuzzy, nor even the marketplace, it was the inner restraint of men like Paley (who once as a young man had testified against potential congressional restrictions on broadcasting by pointing out how little of his schedule was commercially sponsored) and Sarnoff (who had not even wanted to have commercial programming). These restraints were now vanishing. The pressure from the market was simply too strong. on 2/15/2020, 6:35:28 PM

excerpt There had been a time when Bill Paley had orchestrated the rating system, he had been very good at it, the best in fact, and loved it, but by the mid-sixties he was more and more like the man who rode the tiger and then ended up; inside—as much prisoner of the system as its architect. on 2/15/2020, 6:35:41 PM

Audience Ratings references The Powers that be on 2/13/2020, 7:47:59 PM