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Weekly Features
Letter from New York
Mathew Tombers is the President of Intermat, Inc., a consulting practice that specializes in the intersection of media, technology and marketing. For two years, he produced the Emmys on the Web and supervised web related activities for the Academy, including for the 50th Anniversary year of the Emmy Awards. In addition to its consulting engagements, Intermat recently sold METEOR’S TALE, an unpublished novel by Michael O’Rourke, to Animal Planet for development as a television movie. Visit his web site at

A Week's Musings
By Mat Tombers

I have wondered all week about what I was going to write when I finally sat down in front of my computer, hearing the reassuring sounds of the keys rising and falling as words formed electronically on the blank page in front of me.

This week has had lots of varied thoughts but no one thing has struck me as the most important. One day I woke up and heard in my sleepy state as I stood up that Daniel Pearl was dead; a horrific video of him having his throat slashed had appeared in Pakistan. I remember I sat back down on my bed, a little of what wind I had at six a.m. in the morning knocked right out of me.

I didn't know Daniel Pearl but I could have known Daniel Pearl. It was
not impossible that at some point our paths would cross. It would have
been no more unusual than for me to have encountered Jon Alpert, whom I
now consider a passing friend.

He was, I thought, sitting on the edge of my bed, another victim of
9/11. They keep piling up.

Today, as I write this, I am in Washington, D.C. and on my way to the
hotel drove by the Pentagon, where the hole has been cleared and a
replacement structure rapidly rises. In New York, as New Yorkers are
wont to do, there is a fractious argument going on about what to do with
the site and who should do it.

It is an amazing experience for all these things to be going on at once.
Daniel Pearl is dead; we are rebuilding - or arguing about how we should
rebuild - while at the same time the ordinary course of our business
goes on.

It's that ordinary course of business going on that has been attracting
my attention lately. I sense, as do many of my colleagues, that we are
going through a radical change in our business.

Have you noticed how many networks are "repurposing"? How many programs
are being "repurposed?"

The latest example of it was that I read this week that A&E [a network
for whom I once worked] is taking The View and airing it the day after
it airs on ABC, twice. Once at 1 p.m. and once at 7 p.m.

It will provide better flow into Biography than Law and Order. And Law
and Order is about to leave the network anyway, as A&E's license is up
at the end of this summer.

Lifetime is doing it with Now and Again, USA is doing it with Law and
Order: SVU.

It makes a great deal of sense but I still find it disturbing. You see,
I spent much of the late '80's and the early '90's on the stump for
cable networks, talking about the cable promise: bringing new and
different quality programming to television audiences.

In the '90's I was working at Discovery, which was flourishing as a
program entity under Greg Moyer [now at Rainbow Networks and one of the,
if not the most, brilliant programming minds I've found]. It was
beginning to surpass the BBC as the creator of more non-fiction
programming than anyone else and programming decisions were ruled more
by gut than by focus groups - cable networks were just discovering them.

There was occasional talk at the time of taking some Discovery
programming and putting it on network or in syndication but all those
conversations ended because cable operators were concerned about
betraying that promise.

But a funny thing happened at the end of the '90's and the beginning of
the '00's, everyone began buying everyone else, network erosion
accelerated and media companies began to look at their cable cousins not
as interesting businesses growing as a hedge against erosion but as
saviors for the core business of the company. ESPN has, I think, been
long more profitable than ABC.

My concern is that all this repurposing is doing in reverse what cable
operators fought in the '90's. I think programs should be moving from
cable to broadcast, not the other way around. The economics of
television production are changing and we should be adapting to those
changes as opposed to shoring up the old economics of broadcast with
repeat airings on cable networks.

Cable made a promise two decades ago to the public in order to obtain
their licenses from communities. It has been keeping that promise and
now it must, in the world of changing economics, continue to find ways
to keep that promise. Personally I believe that the best television has
been coming out of the cable networks, West Wing and a few others as
exceptions. But on a normal, day to day basis, cable networks have been
creating cost effective, decent programming, good programming, and often
great programming. It's time for them not to be "repurposing" but
reviewing their purpose and take another long look into the future and
see how they can take that promise made to the public in the days when
franchises were being awarded and translate that promise into these new
economic times.

I have wandered far from Daniel Pearl. But this is the world we live in.
Great journalists go out to get good stories and risk their lives while
back at home networks and programmers are making decisions as to whether
or not they will be great.