Commentary

Like it Or Not: TV/film business Is More Than Ratings

"Sometimes, they just don't like the guy!" said Roger Sterling, during a scene on "Mad Men" a few weeks ago.

Sterling, who is a partner in the fictional Sterling Cooper advertising agency, was talking loud and serious to Pete Campbell, the co-head of accounts at the agency. Campbell had been pushing the idea to TV set manufacturer Admiral, a Sterling Cooper advertising client, that it should shift media dollars to targeting African-Americans because research seem to suggest that was proper way to go.

The client didn't like it; and therefore, Sterling didn't like it.

No matter what some non-emotional research suggests, sometimes "they just don't like the guy."  In the advertising business -- no doubt the TV business, and other businesses as well -- this rings true. Executives can do great work, research, sales results, but fail in one important area: Likeability.

A number of TV and film executives are now moving on -- possibly because of likeability, but more likely because of recent performance failures.

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They include TV programmer Ben Silverman of NBC Universal, Dick Cook, who was the head of Walt Disney movies, and most recently, Marc Shmuger and David Linde , co-heads of Universal Pictures.

These departures always seemed to be followed by some Monday Morning quarterbacking - focusing on who was liked and who pissed people off. The big question in the entertainment capitalist world: How much does this really matter?

The great thing about "likeability" is that this is no defense for it.

It's a pure subjective play by those in control of the entertainment strings - no further explanation is needed. This can be no response from those on their way out.

The likeability factor naturally extends to fictional TV and film characters as well. U.S. TV viewers generally want to like their TV stars -- even with their faults. Those who are more un-liked, than liked, generally don't last long. It's a quick and easy decision.

On the flip side, the cast of "Seinfeld," who recently made a return engagement on "Curb Your Enthusiasm," were not generally likeable characters. Unlike virtually all sitcoms up until that time, there was never a serious "lesson-learned" moment at the end of each episode to rectify an episode's particular caper-gone-wrong. So "Seinfeld"-ers stayed un-liked, until the next episode.

David Letterman must be well-liked for his talent. His ratings were already climbing before his alleged blackmail scandal and his admission of sexual relationships with members of his staff. Now that his faults have been revealed, ratings have gone even higher.

An easy decision for TV viewers or senior TV entertainment executives is spending time with someone who is nice -- but is not very talented or successful, and/or someone displaying noticeable human faults.

For a TV executive, it's probably a disaster. But for a TV show, it's could be a hit.

4 comments about "Like it Or Not: TV/film business Is More Than Ratings ".
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  1. Jackie Fishman from BCBSA, October 7, 2009 at 1:50 p.m.

    Displaying noticeable human faults is good for TV programs, characters and personalities but not so good for elected officials.

    Letterman's approach was unique and refreshing... and since he has always been a bit mysterious personally, it revealed him as a person with flaws and solidified his persona to his fans.

  2. Jonathan Mirow from BroadbandVideo, Inc., October 7, 2009 at 1:54 p.m.

    Try as a might - I just don't like this Friedman guy...

  3. Roger Goff from Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin, LLP, October 11, 2009 at 1:48 a.m.

    Wayne, it's business -- pure and simple. You make money for the company, they like you a lot.

  4. Roger Goff from Wolf, Rifkin, Shapiro, Schulman & Rabkin, LLP, October 11, 2009 at 1:48 a.m.

    Wayne, it's business -- pure and simple. You make money for the company, they like you a lot.

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