June has historically been a cruel month for network executives. Lately, though, January, April and May haven’t been much better.
In fact, half of the broadcast networks have seen top programmers exit in the last six months — Fox’s Sandy Grushow in January, ABC’s Susan Lyne and Lloyd Braun in April and the WB’s Jordan Levin last week, after the upfront market and official TV season closed. Even in a tumultuous business, that means the music has been stopping and chairs emptying faster than usual.
Nor do those high-profile departures include Viacom president Mel Karmazin, or the cable tumult as Disney and the newly merged NBC Universal shuffle their decks, with USA’s Doug Herzog bopping back to Comedy Central and E!’s Mindy Herman writing the coda to her own “True Hollywood Story.”
Against that rotating backdrop, it’s understandable that advertisers, affiliates and the press might look skeptically at those shiny sales presentations we witnessed through the spring — the ones where networks chat up past performance, wax eloquent about new programs and use words like “stability,” followed by cocktails and shrimp.
What’s called for, I think, is a more realistic tone to these events, where the speech writers and PR mavens (er, I mean, those wacky, off-the-cuff network execs) put the best face on matters but also leave wiggle room for the tenuous realities of these jobs. At the least, such an approach that would yield greater credibility for those rare programmers who endure for the length of a full presidential term.
Here, then, is an easily amended and updated, gender-neutral template for such addresses, providing an upbeat but realistic appraisal that incorporates the messy issue of people who championed a certain strategy not being there — either now or in the near future — to see it through:
“Wow, I can’t tell you how great it is to be here in [Madison Square Garden/Radio City Music Hall/the Renaissance Hotel] with all of you. With any luck, I’ll get to be here again next year. And let’s here it again for our musical guest, [Madonna/the Who/the one-hit wonder that plays the theme song on our lone hit], for starting us off in such rousing fashion!
“Anyway, we couldn’t be happy about our development and new programs that we [inherited/dreamed up on the fly/are throwing against the wall and praying stick] for the coming year. We’re looking forward to a period of sustained growth that should be beneficial to everyone — including, if necessary, our successors.
“Admittedly, there were some minor potholes in the road during the most recent season, what with the [mass layoffs/accounting scandal/charges of rigging a reality show]. And honestly, I don’t think my distinguished predecessor, who is now one of Hollywood’s most highly paid independent producers, could have handled them any better.
“Still, as Jethro Tull might say, that’s enough about ‘living in the past.’ We’ve got an exciting slate of series and specials that should dramatically improve our performance on [Thursday/Monday/every] night and create a real foundation upon which to build — the kind of lineup that will buoy this network, and whoever’s running it, well into next season.
“I’d also urge you not to believe some of the spin being thrown your way by [rival networks/that Senate subcommittee/Al-Jazeera]. This network is in great shape and has forged strong ties to [the creative community/advertisers/dirt-seeking private investigators] that will serve us in good stead and plant deep seeds that someone — perhaps even me — will eventually harvest.
“Now, I know better than to bore you with a lot of charts and graphs, but let’s recap some of our accomplishments that we can attribute to [a clear creative vision/sheer dumb luck/others, but I will take credit]. As you can see, we were dramatically up percentage-wise in several key time periods, particularly those [that followed the Super Bowl/where other networks made idiotic moves/where the ratings were so low before, any gain would look big percentage-wise].
“We’re especially happy to note that we have solidified our hold within our target demographic, which we will [steadfastly serve/pander to shamelessly/drop like a hot potato if we stumble on a hit that appeals to another demographic] in our future development plans.
“Our mantra coming into this season has been all about stability, taking this network’s established assets and using them to help launch and nurture a new generation of hits. Toward that end, we have [spent/brainstormed/lied] more during the last six months than at any time in our history, and I can’t wait to unveil the results — albeit with a few small disclaimers, since some of these projects might change slightly due to [recasting/re-editing/rehab].
“None of this would be possible, by the way, without the steadfast support we’ve received from our [sponsors/affiliates/therapists]. Although these are obviously difficult times, you have boldly recognized that we no longer operate in the 1970s and adjusted to the [unreasonable demands/onerous financial terms/veiled threats] that were necessary to help get our business on a sound footing for the years ahead, and for that, we thank you.
“Let me take a moment, too, to express my thanks to the best team of programming executives in the business, who have worked tirelessly to bring this schedule to fruition. Once I get back into the office and unpack some of those boxes, I look forward to meeting the rest of them.
“Thanks again for coming, and I look forward to [glad-handing/badgering/networking with, just in case] you at the party. And when it comes time to place your bets for next season, remember, the [address/place to be/network least likely to screw you over] is this one.”