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
been no more unusual than for me to have encountered Jon Alpert,
now consider a passing friend.
He was, I thought, sitting on the edge of my bed, another
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
replacement structure rapidly rises. In New York, as New Yorkers
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
It's that ordinary course of business going on that has been
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
for whom I once worked] is taking The View and airing it the
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 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
It makes a great deal of sense but I still find it disturbing.
I spent much of the late '80's and the early '90's on the
cable networks, talking about the cable promise: bringing
different quality programming to television audiences.
In the '90's I was working at Discovery, which was flourishing
program entity under Greg Moyer [now at Rainbow Networks and
one of the,
if not the most, brilliant programming minds I've found].
beginning to surpass the BBC as the creator of more non-fiction
programming than anyone else and programming decisions were
by gut than by focus groups - cable networks were just discovering
There was occasional talk at the time of taking some Discovery
programming and putting it on network or in syndication but
conversations ended because cable operators were concerned
betraying that promise.
But a funny thing happened at the end of the '90's and the
the '00's, everyone began buying everyone else, network erosion
accelerated and media companies began to look at their cable
as interesting businesses growing as a hedge against erosion
saviors for the core business of the company. ESPN has, I
long more profitable than ABC.
My concern is that all this repurposing is doing in reverse
operators fought in the '90's. I think programs should be
cable to broadcast, not the other way around. The economics
television production are changing and we should be adapting
changes as opposed to shoring up the old economics of broadcast
repeat airings on cable networks.
Cable made a promise two decades ago to the public in order
their licenses from communities. It has been keeping that
now it must, in the world of changing economics, continue
to find ways
to keep that promise. Personally I believe that the best television
been coming out of the cable networks, West Wing and a few
exceptions. But on a normal, day to day basis, cable networks
creating cost effective, decent programming, good programming,
great programming. It's time for them not to be "repurposing"
reviewing their purpose and take another long look into the
see how they can take that promise made to the public in the
franchises were being awarded and translate that promise into
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
back at home networks and programmers are making decisions
as to whether
or not they will be great.