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Queen for a Day

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Sandy Grushow of Fox, perhaps suddenly worried about the respect of his children and neighbors, canceled the rebroadcast of his marry-a-millionaire show (it was as though this whole replay of the fifties was compressed into a week, from the rise of game shows to the ensuing scandals and disrepute). But more likely, he's just trying to avoid some shocked, shocked outrage that might get in the way of the flood of other cheap, sideshow, spectacle-ish shows on their way here from the television laboratories of Europe.

It fits my theory of the return to the early days of the medium that sociologists are now applying the Lonely Crowd critique to the new-media world. In a lonely, atomized world, people had to turn to the mass media for their identity, which compounded their loneliness because of all the Queen-for-a-Day desperation you saw on television. This analysis faded during the great 30-year heyday of television. Television turned out to be a viable common experience (we may have been lonely, but we had things to talk about). But here we are again. If the Internet makes us lonely, we have only to turn on the TV to see people more desperate than we are.

That's a formula.

And here's another: Somewhat more than 30 percent of the country doesn't have cable and, apparently, never will (and, it's reasonable to assume, will never be Internet homes either). Now take away the small slice of the audience served by satellites and what you have left is a not-so-small forgotten-in-time part of America subsisting on not much more than a diet of network television.

The other America ("Alex, I'll take nonfiction of the fifties for $200"). If you're in the network business, that's who your real customers are.

The upshot of this is that Bob Iger, with wife Willow Bay, gets to move to Los Angeles and with a little luck becomes Disney's chairman. And running the network becomes someone else's rotten job.

E-mail: michael@burnrate.com


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