Sunday, February 16, 2014

TV: Mergers mean less diversity

Overblown business mergers rarely work out -- and, no, we're not talking about Kanye and Kim.


Last week brought news that two cable giants -- Comcast and Time Warner Cable -- had decided to merge.

We were only slightly surprised by the whoring of the mainstream press.  Only slightly.

After the sour effects of 'synergy' from the 90s, Time Warner should never be allowed to merge with anyone or thing.  Or have we all forgotten AOL Time Warner CNN HBO et al?

They dumped AOL and, in 2009, Time Warner Cable.  And now the government's going to let Time Warner Cable merge with its biggest competitor?

Warner got away with a merger a few years back.  UPN and The WB were two separate TV netlettes.  They didn't offer much programming other than prime time and couldn't seem to provide that seven nights a week.  But each had their followers.

UPN hit with the sitcoms Moesha, Girlfriends, The Parkers and Eve,  with the dramas Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek Enterprise and with the reality show America's Next Top Model.  The CW specialized in programming for tweens and their hits were Buffy The Vampire Slayer (for five years before moving to UPN for its final two seasons), Dawson's Creek, Charmed, 7th Heaven, Gilmore Girls, Smallville and Supernatural.

At the start of 2006, it was announced The WB and UPN would be merging to form The CW.

This was thought to be a good thing.

The WB was airing the hits Charmed, Gilmore Girls, 7th Heaven and Supernatural and UPN was airing the hits America's Next Top Model,  Eve and, they hoped, Veronica Mars.  

There were enough sitcoms doing well (if not hits) on the two netlettes to have a comedy night.  There were five solid one-hour long dramas that, when Veronica Mars was added, gave them six hours.

A night of comedy and three nights to use the six hours of drama?  And UPN's wrestling could move to Saturdays or stay on Friday.  That was five nights worth of programming from two netlettes that only did six nights previously.  That meant they could fill the sixth night with new programming and get to work on a seventh night as well or maybe continue the UPN weekend movie.

The CW was going to be something to see.

But those hopes faded quickly.

The CW was going to keep Gilmore Girls (for only one season, it turned out) and Veronica Mars so they couldn't keep Charmed.  That's what they said.  The WB, they maintained, had failed because the network was identified with teen girls and Charmed starred three women (Holly Marie Combs, Alyssa Milano and Rose McGowan).  Charmed delivered Sunday nights for The WB.  The Gilmore Girls was not a bad show but it was a glib show and those tend to fade.  It wasn't a surprise that The CW's first season would end with the cancellation of that show.  Nor was it a surprise that Veronica Mars -- which never found a sizable audience on UPN or CBS (yes, CBS broadcast an episode) -- was also unwanted on The CW.  (Next month, the film Veronica Mars opens -- it'll be interesting to see if they've learned anything about entertainment since their show was cancelled.)

None of that was surprising.

It also wasn't a surprise that, having refused to pick up Charmed, The CW lost Sunday nights.  Everything they tried failed -- each one a bigger failure than the one before.  And finally they gave up on Sundays.

Charmed had delivered and could have done so for five more seasons easily.  

Its final season average was 3.5 million.  

The next fall, when The CW unveiled their programming, they'd miss those numbers as Veronica Mars would churn out a 2.5 million season average, One Tree Hill would offer up 2.9 million season average, 7th Heaven would pull in 3.3 million and Supernatural would serve up 3.1 million.

The merger didn't serve the needs of the viewers.

The 'too many women' fear was also why  Eve wasn't being moved over to The CW. This despite an identical rank and audience share as Veronica Mars.  Eve also starred rapper Eve and was the only sitcom carried by an African-American actress.  (Girlfriends was an ensemble cast.)  That wasn't an issue worthy of championing for CBS and Warner Bros as they built The CW.

But it's an issue that matters.  In UPN's final season, they aired one reality program hosted by an African-American (Tyra Banks' America's Next Top Model) and eight sitcoms with African-American casts.  Over on The WB that same season, there was nothing that starred an African-American or that featured an African-American cast.

UPN is dead and gone and, after a season or two, so are The CW's claims that the merger would lead to more diversity.

This season on The CW, Tyra returned to provide the network with a ratings hit (America's Next Top Model).  


Only The Originals can be seen to have any diversity.

Yes, there's Diggle on Arrow.  

David Ramsey does a great job but he does so in a bit part.

Stephen Amell is Arrow (Oliver Queen).  He's going to be the star.  We grasp that.

We just don't grasp why it seems like every other male actor on the show gets more to do than Diggle?

The bulk of the subplots go to the one-time gay model (to be clear: he modeled gay scenes for photography books and his management has apoplexies whenever those kissing and making out photos turn up briefly online) Colton Haynes.  

It's Haynes' Roy that's had two seasons of romance with Oliver Queen's sister.  It's Haynes that runs with Black Canary's repulsive sidekick. (The sidekick is every lame minor 'tough' female character in any bad 80s action movie.)  It's Haynes that can't keep his shirt on.  It's Haynes that gets the kissing scenes and the fighting scenes.  It's Haynes that gets to play a character with newly found super strength.

Where are Ramsey's love scenes?  Why isn't Diggle involved with Thea (Oliver's sister)?  Or Black Canary?  Or Laurel?  Or any regular -- female or male -- on the TV series?

And where are Ramsey's shirtless scenes?  

No, Diggle's little more than a butler and the creators really need to address that before they add yet another White Anglo actor to the cast. 

David Ramsey's a great actor.  He's just not used.  Except maybe as a token.

One reality show and eight sitcoms turned into one reality show and one drama (The Originals) where people of color (such as Shannon Kane, Daniella Pineda and Charles Michael Davis) portray characters who are as important on the show as their White Anglo counterparts.

The merger of UPN and The WB  into The CW destroyed diversity on TV.

That's not in question, that's not debatable.  

And the same will happen if Comcast and Time Warner Cable are allowed to merge.

The lie will be that consolidating the two cable providers will increase diversity.

But that's not what happens.  It's never what happens.

Going from two competitive cable providers to one would mean they'd look for 'new' channels to air.  The 'new' ones are going to be ones geared to and featuring White Anglo males.  As the bulk of the channels the two currently offer demonstrates.  Those not geared towards that segment of the population?  They're the ones that'll be culled in a: "Well we have ___ so we don't also need _____."

Times change.

We grasp that.

AT&T has, for example, prepared their telephone installation people for the expected reality that AT&T will be out of the landline phone business in a decade (and the employees will either need to find new jobs at the company or leave the company).

Good or bad, change happens.

And we're not opposed to change.

We are opposed to the lack of diversity that already exists and we're fully aware that mergers mean less competition, less choice and less diversity.

If you'd like to make your voice heard on the issue, The Free Press has an easy online forum you can use.

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