The president of TV Land, Larry Jones, has no doubt why more people watched TV Land in 2005 than during any other year since it opened for business in April 1996.
“It’s the baby boomers — people in their 40s and 50s, who I call the first TV generation,” says Jones. “A big part of their lives is viewing television programs.”
And in the U.S. now, there are 78.2 million people who fit the boomer category, defined as people born between 1946 and 1964.
Many of these people were kids or teens when TV Land’s five highest-rated reruns last year — “All in the Family,” “Three’s Company,” “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Good Times” and “What’s Happening” — were racking up big audiences on the broadcast networks.
“People in their 50s can get very nostalgic for shows they watched regularly more than 30 years ago,” says Steve Winzenburg, prof of communications for Grand View College in Des Moines, Iowa.
But the problem with a program schedule consisting largely of wall-to-wall repeats, says Kevin Sandler, assistant prof of media arts at the U. of Arizona, is that the cable operators that buy TV Land show a distinct lack of respect for such a strategy.
Despite a record average primetime audience of 965,000 total viewers in 2005, making TV Land the 19th highest-rated ad-supported cable network in the U.S., cable ops paid the almost insultingly low monthly license fee of 9¢ a subscriber, according to Kagan Research. (TV Land’s older sibling Nickelodeon/Nick at Nite pocketed 40¢ a sub in 2005.)
Sandler uses the phrase “cable-network inequality” for the low fees collected by TV Land. But one cable-op executive, who requested anonymity, says he can’t use TV Land as a lure to get new subscribers because just about all its programming originated on broadcast TV.
“I want cable originals,” the exec says, “so I can boast in my ads that these shows are not available anywhere else but cable.
However, relief may be on the way for these cable ops because of a reshuffling of the Nickelodeon division of MTV Networks last week brought on by the resignation of Scannell as president of Nickelodeon Networks.
In the reorganization, parent company Viacom lifted TV Land bodily from the clutches of Nickelodeon and placed it in the sheltering arms of Doug Herzog, president of Comedy Central and Spike TV.
Since Herzog’s expertise is the creation and development of original shows, it’s safe to say TV Land will become much more gung-ho about firstrun programming than it is now. The original that has drawn the most attention to TV Land was last spring’s seven half-hours of the reality series “Chasing Farrah,” in which cameras poked their noses into every aspect of Farrah Fawcett’s somewhat haphazard life. She made the rounds of all the talkshows to promote the series, but “Chasing Farrah” landed with a Nielsen thud.
“TV Land should still try to come up with a great reality show,” Winzenburg says, citing the hit series “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy” as a ground-breaker that turned Bravo from an also-ran to a hot network almost overnight.
Winzenburg says he’s amazed Viacom’s VH1 and not TV Land is carrying a batch of firstrun shows such as “Surreal Life,” “Celebrity Fit Club,” “My Fair Brady” and “Breaking Bonaduce,” all of which make fools out of former TV stars, who willingly participate in the humiliation.
But TV Land would hesitate to embrace shows like these, says Paul Ward, TV Land’s senior VP of communications, because “they just don’t feel right. TV Land celebrates the old sitcoms, and has respect for them.”
Jones is even more emphatic: “We tout these old shows, promote them heavily, and even put them on a pedestal.”
And “pedestal” is not a metaphor: TV Land has erected lifesize bronze sculptures of six of television’s most famous sitcom characters: Jackie Gleason as Ralph Kramden (“The Honeymooners”) in the Port Authority terminal in New York; Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Richards in the Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis; Andy Griffith as Andy Taylor and Ron Howard as Opie Taylor at Mt. Airy, N.C.; Bob Newhart as Dr. Bob Hartley at the Navy Pier in Chicago; and Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens (“Bewitched”) in Salem, Mass.
You can’t get much more reverent than that.