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Friday, April 06, 2012

Five Ways To Improve Current TV


Dear Al Gore:

If life were fair, you would be enjoying a post-Presidential career after two successful terms in your shiny new foundation in Tennessee. But life, of course, isn't fair as Kennedy warned us so prophetically. This is, as you know, not a good time for Current TV, your post-Vice Presidential project. Ratings at the startup are so bad that you could get kicked off of Time Warner. Further, there is a loud and potentially embarrassing lawsuit from Keith Olbermann, which, incidentally, will be covered exhaustively by the media (particularly Page Six, which has always had an odd thing about Mr. O).

What were you thinking when he hired a man who has had highly publicized, acrimonious feuds with his last four employers? That is about as bad a decision, perhaps, as bringing on the cantankerous Joe Lieberman as your running mate all those years ago (Averted Gaze)-- but, we digress...
Back on point, namely, how do we make things better: What are five ways that you could improve Current TV:
1) Hire Bill Maher. Elliot Spitzer is, quite frankly, a hugely competent man who knows how government works and who knows how Wall Street works. He is a former Governor, a formidable debater -- AND his show In The Arena was also cancelled from CNN for flagging ratings. We get it: you, Mr. Al Gore like Elliot Spitzer because Spitzer is, essentially Al Gore (with a much stronger sex drive). He is also a magnum of chloroform (zzz), with all due respects Mr. Former Vice President. But can Elliot Spitzer match and surpass Olbermann's ratings? Becayse that is what he needs to do (via Reuters):

"If it was not for Olbermann's show, which averaged a total of 177,000 viewers per night, Current TV likely would have missed Time Warner Cable's viewership benchmark, said one of the sources.

"The appointment of Spitzer, another outspoken news commentator, led to speculation among Time Warner Cable executives that Current is courting controversy to attract viewers.

"Based on the 47,000 total viewers who tuned into the initial broadcasts of Spitzer's "Viewpoint," the source said that "just enough people are tuning in to keep Current over the quota."

"... Still, prime time is where the cable news networks that Current seeks to compete with generate their largest audiences, which means a lot is riding on Spitzer.
But what about Bill Maher? Maher is smart, ruthless in the pursuit of skewering bullshitters AND funny. That is a good formula for cable TV's hyper partisan nightly battles. Maher is an expert in the art of the interview and, in many ways, is more like Al Gore than Spitzer. For all his humor, Maher is also a tireless environmentalist as well as a champion of Reason -- both subjects have been at the center of Al Gore's post-Vice Presidential life. No one on television on a regular basis champions reason and ridicules the lack of it more effectively than Bill Maher. Bill Maher should also be more than just a benchwarmer -- he must become an executive at the channel, a managing editor and senior vice president of something or other. Bill Maher's voice should be running through the channels various shows.

Finally, a few of the show hosts on Current TV -- Cenk Uygur, Jennifer Granholme -- got their break from appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher, where they proved to be effective debaters and telegenic. Why not bring on Bill Maher, who, it seems, is running Current TV's triple-A farm team over at HBO on Friday nights anyway?

Clearly you, stung by his experience with a controversialist like Olbermann went to the opposite extreme and hired a bland pundit like Spitzer. But Spitzer will not bring ratings or fire to the network: Bill Maher will.

2) Become THE Occupy Wall Street cable Network (up to the convention). The run up to the conventions of both parties are going to be perhaps the most turbulent since 1968. Current TV needs to be at the forefront, al sharp elbows and shoulders against Fox and MSNBC -- which will be towing the right and left corporate lines, respectively -- covering the protests, having correspondents embedded within the Occupy Wall Street movement. To that end, hire Liza Sabater, the tireless social media explainer of the movement. Allow her and other OWS members to explain what is happening. Create a platform -- or a partnership with something like Livestream -- where OWS protesters can engage the audience of Current TV 24/7.

3) More Al Gore. Why is Al Gore so absent from the network? Take a page from Oprah's Master Class, from the social TV success of Oprah's interview with Whitney's parents. You, Mr. Gore, should be doing important specials for your network -- a place, we cannot fail to note, where you have a financial obligation -- like Barbara Walters does for ABC, but only more serious. We are no longer, unfortunately, a book nation anymore. You should not be writing books anymore, Mr. Former Vice President. Make videos, make podcasts and tell your audience directly about the things you believe in, like reason and the effect of greenhouse gases on the planet's temperature.
4) Hire Anthony Weiner. I've already written about this. Here was my conclusion as Anthony Weiner -- then still in Congress -- was in the media meatgrinder:
"Current TV, remaking itself as a freewheeling non-corporate progressive cabler, is the perfect fallback for Weiner to play to his strengths as a combative and partisan fighter. No one in the House of Representatives was better than Weiner at creating viral video moments out of his TV appearances. Perhaps it is time to put the House behind him and put those talents to use not as a legislator but as an 'opinion journalist.'
Weiner is perhaps the most underutilized resources of the Progressive movement. Even in political exile, Weiner draws Page Six stories, is chronicled. Put that notoriety to use. He is, aside from being brilliant (and, in a previous life, brilliantly self destructive), one of the most formidable skewerers of bullshitters -- see a trend in my suggestions? -- around. His cable TV appearances were instant viral classics.

In another life Weiner was the brightest shining acolyte of Chuck Schumer ("the most dangerous place in Washington is between Chuck Schumer," the old Washington adage goes, "and a camera"). When Schumer ascended to the Senate, defeating that gassbag Al D'Amato, Weiner, as the best and the brightest, inherited the Congressional seat. Some hubris later, he was dislodged. The House's loss is your gain, Al Gore.

5) Weekends. By not programming on the weekends, you automatically concede a front in the battle with MSNBC, and, make no mistakes about it, it is a battle. Besides, the way this blogger understands it, MSNBC programs a lot of very odd shows about inmates and serial killers on weekends -- so you're good. Weiner might even be best here, on weekends, conducting roundtables, wrapping up the week's news.
Just some suggestions, Mr. Gore. Because right now Current TV is at rock bottom, with ratings and with reputation. And after Air America's embarrassing decline, the disintegration would be almost too tough to bear for Progressives. And it would prove to conservatives what they have always suspected about you. That Progressives are doe eyed idealists that don't know a whit about running a business, even a business in "the liberal elite media."
Look to it, Mr. Gore.



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