Execs go to great lengths to shun stodginess

In the media version of the seven deadly sins, stodginess has become the most irredeemable — a description that executives go great lengths to shun.

Unfortunately, in their determination to avoid the stodgy label, channels ranging from A&E and its sibling History to public broadcasting have traded the dreaded adjective for “stupid,” or at the very least “silly.”

Take History, which hasn’t fulfilled its name for quite awhile — veering from covering the past to dramatically recreating it, ignoring it (think the nonhistorical “Ice Road Truckers”) and finally concocting reality-TV versions of it. In the latest iteration, “Survivor” impresario Mark Burnett announced plans to replicate Stanley and Livingstone’s famous 19th-century trek across Africa with a History series titled “Expedition,” in which participants will use only the tools available during that time.

A&E Networks CEO Abbe Raven told the New York Times the goal is to awaken History from its status as a “sleepy network,” which is a not-so-polite way of saying “old” and “stodgy.” Loosely translated, what she meant is, “We want younger people to watch our channel, without so startling those previously inclined to tune in as to stop their frail hearts.”

Then again, A&E is hardly alone in this blinding “Youthify the brand” ambition. Consider a few recent programming announcements designed to signal “We’re hip,” as opposed to “Our viewers might fall down and break a hip”:

  • G4 will introduce a speed-eating competition show this summer titled (ugh) “Hurl!” Per the release: “Those who devour the largest quantity and keep everything down move on to the second stage, where they must face nausea-inducing physical challenges.”

On the plus side, this might be the first program to successfully combine product-placement deals for both fast food and bathroom cleansers.

  • CNBC is beginning its second “Million Dollar Portfolio Challenge,” inviting viewers to catch Wall Street fever in a stock-trading game using a fictional account and “CNBC bucks” — which, sadly, are currently worth more than the U.S. dollar.

For the millions facing a grim economy and home foreclosures, there’s no better time-passing escape, apparently, than playing the market with fake money.

  • CBS will try to reach young men with a series of mixed-martial arts broadcasts beginning May 31, “EliteXC Saturday Night Fights.” This lends further credence to a made-for-TV sport combining the brutality of boxing and the showmanship of wrestling with the free-for-all attitude of “The McLaughlin Group.”

Most MMA combatants have their own colorful nicknames, like Scott “Hands of Steel” Smith, Murilo “Ninja” Rua and James “Colossus” Thompson.

All brought to you by the toughest badass of them all, CBS CEO Les “Dividend-Cruncher” Moonves.

Even public broadcasting — an enterprise theoretically shielded from the demographic tyranny of adults age 18 to 49 and their ad-friendly preferences — has contracted its own case of this mind-altering bug.

PBS boarded the pander express with “Carrier,” the five-part military documentary featuring “Top Gun”-style music and montages that occasionally resembled a recruiting video. Although the young service members interviewed do express occasional qualms and doubts, it’s still a lobotomized project — especially when presented as the bookend to a season that began with Ken Burns’ sobering and stirring “The War.” Not exactly PBS being all that it can be.

National Public Radio, meanwhile, has undertaken various initiatives to broaden its base — that is, tap into a less-geriatric audience — despite the tremendous success its stations have enjoyed as an intelligent alternative to the rabid ranting of commercial radio.

The fear of stodginess exhibits no signs of abating, as the cable news nets demonstrate with their awkward devotion to pop culture’s scandals du jour. The only hope is that the concessions will cease before Joy Behar winds up mud-wrestling Elizabeth Hasselbeck every Friday on “The View.”

It’s not much of a reach, in fact, to see how stodginess leads to more conventional sins: Gluttony for ratings and greed for profits inspires lust for younger viewers, as well as wrath and envy toward those attracting them.

The tactics employed, though, are enough to make anyone with a brain feel a trifle slothful, and even when the stunts work, there’s very little in which anyone should take pride.

A correction was made to this article on May 5.

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