Tell Me, Mr. Moonves, Who Should Be Guaranteed a Job?
I want to propose some legislation. If Al Gore, who has nine-tenths of the Hollywood money in his campaign coffers, is elected President, he should immediately draft the Gore-Moonves Act to provide welfare payments for writers displaced from work by prime time game shows.
Further, since this class-action lawsuit by smokers and states have pounded the tobacco industry financially, I hereby propose all game show producers, creators, emcees,
announcers, contestant coordinators, question writers and Fred Wostbrock all file a similar suit against every television network. Let's face it----they all entered into collusion to deny most of these people work in prime time for nearly 30 years.
Pardon me if I take off the gloves here. However, I will illustrate for you in a few short moments the hypocrisy of CBS President Les Moonves, along with people such as NBC's Scott Sassa and producer Aaron Sorkin.
During the recent tour of television writers, a CBS programming executive was quizzed about the influx of game show and quasi-game show programming since the onset of Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Said the programmer: "Les says every time we schedule one of these, we're killing 100 jobs." Make no mistake what she meant. Moonves has said it publicly himself. His formula suggests every game or reality-game show, including his own Survivor, which makes a network schedule costs 100 jobs for writers, producers, actors and production people for his beloved "scripted entertainment."
Tell me, Mr. Moonves, who died and made fictional scriptwriters king? I am not guaranteed, nor should I be guaranteed, that my job will be secure tomorrow at Union University. Since when---except for the arrogance of network executives---has that kind of guarantee been afforded non-reality creative personnel?
Sorkin also weighed in with the whining this week. In a story in The Los Angeles Times, the producer said: "There are no writers writing Survivor or Big Brother." Sorkin suggested such shows were a slap in the face of people who should be developing so-called "quality entertainment."
Let me tell it like it is. Between 1971 and 1999----with the exception of a few scattered token summer attempts and the ill-fated Fox tries with Family Double Dare and Big Deal which had little network enthusiasm----the networks engaged in a collusion of blackballing anything which had the label of "game" on it in prime time.
When you go through the microscope, that probably started in 1967, when CBS cleaned house of its remaining nighttime panel and game shows. Only a few months ago, Monty Hall told me of the beginning cracks in the relationship which led him to move his Let's Make a Deal from NBC in the late '60s. "We had the biggest hit of the summer in 1967 when we were on Sunday nights," said Hall. "You remember it. We beat The Ed Sullivan Show and The FBI every week we were on and some weeks, we were against first-run episodes. We were on for 15 weeks and we were in the top 10."
Ordinarily, the networks would have killed to put a success of that magnitude back on as quickly as possible. "We were even getting young demographics on Sunday night," said Hall. "So, I went to NBC and said, 'Why don't we just keep this going? If we can't stay on in the fall, at least in January, bring us back at night." Hall said he was sickened by the response: "They didn't say it in these exact words but I was told, 'Oh, we don't put programs like that on in the fall in prime time.' I said, 'Why not?' I was told, in so many words, 'Shows like that are beneath our dignity during the regular season.'"
Steve Allen had a similar reflection in a phone conversation last January. "There's a built-in bias against anyone who's made a living as an emcee of these kinds of shows, or these shows themselves," Allen said. "It's always existed. These shows or these personalities don't bring them the kind of prestige the networks think they want."
So you're worried about denying 100 or so people jobs per game show or reality show you schedule? Well, tell me, Mr. Moonves, are you saying the people who produce your game shows (and for the sake of their jackpots/payoffs, we'll call Survivor and Big Brother games, though the latter has only the loosest connection with a game) are unworthy of work in prime time? Are those people's jobs inconsequential to you? Does Mark Burnett providing you with your network's first breakthrough number one hit since Dallas pale next to a Steven Bochco, who is yet to deliver you a solid success under the long-term contract he's had with you? You renewed a Bochco drama for this fall which drew poorer ratings than most Winning Lines episodes.
I've heard all the whining about ABC expanding Millionaire to four hours a week. Most of it comes from rival networks or producers who can't get on ABC's schedule because the public continues to enjoy Regis play Michael Davies' simple little game. My suggestion to those violin-playing producers and writers: go out, produce a show which is more compelling than Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, which will draw better ratings. Earn your way onto the schedule.
Mr. Moonves, you were one of the first to publicly decry this trend in prime time. Scott Sassa followed. I'll venture you this: Michael Davies has to work much harder to achieve his slot on the schedule than any of your fair-haired "scripted entertainment" people (if you think I'm sick of that two-word phrase, it's about as cockeyed as in the '80s when someone from ABC developed the term "appointment TV" for putting China Beach and Twin Peaks on Saturday night, both of which bombed there). He has had to produce more episodes of a series at the request of his network in less than one year than in any five years of a Bochco or David Kelley scripted series. To be running a hair-breadth second in the Nielsens to this year's newest "phenomenon" is nothing less than phenomenal itself, considering the sheer volume of material required to produce.
So Aaron Sorkin can't get another show on a network schedule? So Jennifer Love Hewitt doesn't get a second year of that gosh-awful thing she plopped in on Monday nights? So Fox can't put on another filthy cartoon show? Well, Mr. Moonves, what about people such as Regis, who hadn't been in prime time since Almost Anything Goes was canceled in 1976? What about the late Mark Goodson's company, which has been shut out of prime time for 15 years? What about Bob Barker, Wink Martindale, Pat Sajak, Chuck Woolery, or even the newcomer on the block, Jeff Probst? These people have made millions for networks for decades. But since they aren't products of "scripted entertainment," I suppose they are second-class citizens. Or people such as Burton Richardson, Randy West, Johnny Gilbert, Charlie O'Donnell, Charlie Tuna, or Rod Roddy? Quality broadcasters all. These people have been blackballed from prime time for years.
Watch the failure rate of this new Fox schedule with five new dramas. I'll wager you Fox will be in a deeper ratings hole than it was this year but it has this grand new committment to "scripted entertainment." Tell me everything Moonves puts on the wall this fall will stick. Watch the bulk of ABC's and NBC's new comedies this fall. Measure their ratings, particularly ABC's Friday night malecoms and NBC's historic bombs in the 8:30-9 and 9:30-10 slots on Thursdays (which ultimately end up on USA in the morning). Tell me that every time you place a script against a game or a reality-game, you'll wind up with something better.
So don't tell me, Mr. Moonves, what a tragedy this trend of games or reality-games is for the poor writer or producer who can't give us another preachy message drama or another profanity and sex-laden sitcom. The game show people have been not just relegated to the bench, they've been kicked out of the stadium for more than a quarter-century. Your precious "scripted entertainment" will have plenty of time for its return and its high percentage of failure when the public tires of this current wave, as it ultimately will.
In the meantime, I think the Gore camp ought to prepare the Gore-Moonves Act to guarantee these scriptwriters and sitcom and drama producers an entitlement check on a graduated scale, based on the numbers of game shows and reality shows which displace them from prime time. Surely, a government program will be the answer to allay their distress at having to wait their turn. A turn which game show creative folks have waited on almost as long as the return of Halley's Comet.
If Al Gore doesn't make the White House, then I would certainly support a class action suit against the networks of all of the game show people who were denied opportunities for work between 1971 and 1999 in prime time. The collusion which kept that ban in force was surely as prevalent as that which juries are ruling tobacco companies are guilty of conspiring to create. Perhaps game show fans would join in such a court case. After all, weren't we likewise denied our favorite entertainment in prime time for a long, long, long, long time? I rest my case, Mr. Moonves.
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