Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny: Book Review: "The Story of Viewers for Quality Television"

Is this where I put in key words such as sex, lesbians, vampires, Christopher Lloyd and others things to which this blog do not pertain, but by putting them here, I may get hits from all the Christoper Lloyd lesbian vampire fans (and you know who you are)? This is the primarily humorous and occasionally rambling writings of Leon Tchaikovsky, humor writer. Enjoy.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Book Review: "The Story of Viewers for Quality Television"

Tchaikovsky Sounds Funny

At last, a book that dares to tell the truth about Hollywood. And Dana Delaney and Linda Ellerbee have written introductions. And I’m mentioned in the book. This book definitely has this reviewer’s attention.

“The Story of Viewers for Quality Television” tells how the television industry has failed to make quality programming a priority and what viewers may do about this. This book presents true and successful stories of how viewers banded together to demand superior television shows. This is not the story of how groups with political agendas seek to achieve their interests. This tells how viewers may demand shows that challenge us, make us think, and (although this is often difficult for them to accomplish) maybe even entertain us.

Television has, on occasion, provided quality TV shows, some whose quality are widely recognized, (such as “X Files”, “The Practice”, and “Frasier”) to others the networks sought to kill shortly after they emerged, such as “Designing Women”, “Seinfeld”, “Cagney and Lacey”, and “China Beach”. In recent years, outraged supporters of quality shows have helped save the shows by banding together and expressing their outrage. In an industry driven by short term decision making in reaction to weekly Nielson television viewer data, viewer opinion is often ignored. Television executives wish to know which programs get the attention of key age groups regardless of whether consumers actually like their product. All that matters to these executives is: are enough of the right demographic purchasing group watching? If so, keep it on. If not, get rid of it.

It is interesting to observe consumers organizing on a level not unlike a political campaign. Like an issue campaign, these people organize to improve their lives. As we recognize that entertainment is an increasingly important component of our lives, it is remarkable to see people organize to demand improvements in how they are entertained.

The book begins describing how a few outraged people were upset that shows such as “Cagney and Lacey” and “Designing Women”, excellent but low rated shows, were going to be cancelled. We see that a few people who work hard can bring about change. By writing letters to television networks, and in urging others to join them in contacting the network executives, the television industry discovered there were dedicated and interested viewers watching these shows. Impressed by the numbers the group organized and convinced each thoughtful letter represented thousands of other viewers who did not know to write, the shows were saved and ran several seasons afterwards.

The book shows how the dedication of one person can organize others and change decisions at higher levels. It is a remarkable story. Not every campaign to save a quality television show resulted in success. Still, for people with political interests, this book serves as a great resource on organizing skills, even if such organization was for non-political purposes.

An important lesson is viewers organizing for quality in television achieved a high degree of respectability. They were not banding together on a religious or political effort seeking censorship. They are joining together to praise what is good in television. It is their goal that the television industry also recognizes what is good and then delivers top of the line products. It is remarkable to observe the how the efforts of concerned people reach and influence industry decision makers.

Another important lesson this book presents is to always retain your integrity. These groups of people who sought to influence television programming legitimately were viewers with no interest or connections to the television industry. A group that develops such a connection, it is shown, loses its credibility and its influence. Groups that refuse contributions and connections with the industry receive proper recognition for their independence.

This is a great book. Of course, it gets special accommodation for quoting my thoughts on industry innovation. So, I admit I am biased. While it is not a book on politics, it is a great book on organization with a remarkable story on how one woman helped change an industry.


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