July 11, 2012
Vijaya Prasad

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HBO 1: Advertising 0

AdAge published an article criticizing the lack commercials on Aaron Sorkin’s The Newsroom. I think of the magazine as the Foreign Policy of the media set, the go-to source for all things media and advertising, you get the idea. The article  Some Shows Need Commercials. We Nominate HBO’s ‘The Newsroom’ both surprised and infuriated me – not because it was badly written but because I thought the arguments were just  bad.

Normally,  I have nothing but respect for the publication and a quick look at their TV section revealed, there wasn’t one positive review on the first page of article listings of any show. The author, Brian Steinberg’s main point is that The Newsroom needs advertising to break up the dialogue:

My words will fall on deaf ears. HBO, after all, has renewed this still-embryonic chronicle of a fictional newsroom for a second season. And the network has accumulated millions of paying subscribers on precisely the understanding that there are no ads. But Mr. Sorkin needs something to make him pace the program and deliver something more palatable for the common viewer. Interruptions from paying sponsors would do nicely.

There’s an inherent conflict of interest given the article’s source, since premium cable channels don’t have advertising during the shows.  But to Steinberg’s point that the premium network has  paying subscribers who know they won’t have to deal with ads, is a flawed one. That audience may tune into the network but the true test is if they tune into the show, because the powers that-be care about their audience numbers.

The show which is marketing itself as an opinion on the state of cable news and news shows can hardly criticize paid advertising in one breath (the third episode) and cut to commercial the next.

Also, choosing a network  to air the show would mean catering to political realities of big media as a business, again a point the show touches on. They can hardly be on a channel that’s right-leaning and simultaneously mock the idea of “fair and balanced” with the obvious reference.

Finally, the author writes:

‘Sports Night, however, shows what ad breaks can do for Mr. Sorkin’s work. The half-hour drama, which debuted on ABC in 1998, was the writer’s first TV series and an early signal of what he could do with the platform.

Perhaps, the half-hour drama worked then. But networks have quite the trigger finger these days: in 2006, Studio Sixty on Sunset Strip (on the same network as Emmy-winning West Wing) got canceled in its first season.  HBO has given the show and Sorkin a vote of confidence by announcing the second season pickup before the third episode aired with a response of an increase in its audience.

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