How To Get TV Respect

Despite what you think are its political leanings, the Fox News Channel has hit a nerve for viewers concerned with American politics. Its chairman, Roger Ailes, would rather get the nerve of respect.

All this has been in effect for about 10 years. Fox News Channel just celebrated its decade-long anniversary.

During that same time period, NBC's "The West Wing" also had a big following. Whether you believed in the Bartlet administration or not, you always hoped that our government officials were that passionate about helping Americans or anyone else-- whether in some poor Detroit neighborhood or some neighborhood in Uzbekistan.

It didn't hurt that "West Wing" was conceived by one great writer--Aaron Sorkin. I remember NBC upfront presentation at Lincoln Center when "West Wing" was in full power. The cast members came out, and advertising executives gave them a standing ovation. You could tell that even among business executives, the show represented what they thought government officials should really be like.



And that brings us to Sorkin's new effort--"Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip." While the writing is still superb, this show isn't about life or death issues. For example, in one recent episode, the problem for the show's writers, producers, and talent was whether it could retain 90 percent or more of the previous week's rating. "Studio 60" did in fact accomplish that task. Well, thank god for that. Call back the fighter jets.

But do American viewers really care about retention of ratings, 18-49 viewers, or focus groups? Well, I do. But that's my job. However, saving a Senate bill that will give more money to education is seemingly more important. So viewers from the both coasts and the so-called fly-over country could be attentive to "West Wing."

Of course, the real acid test of any TV show is whether viewers give a crap about the characters. Do we give a crap about "Studio 60" characters? NBC's Kevin Reilly says there is a core group of viewers who do.

But the track record of TV shows set behind the scenes of a TV show isn't all that good. Perhaps too inside, say critics. If it were meant for a limited number of viewers and ran on HBO or Showtime, it might make sense. Didn't "The Larry Sanders Show" do well on HBO?

Fox News showed us just the opposite--that insider politics has a broad appeal, especially if there is yelling and screaming that you can probably hear from your neighbor's living room.

Roger Ailes, chairman of the Fox News Channel, says he gets no respect. The situation is different with Sorkin and perhaps "Studio 60"--most critics give him tons of respect. But in the case of "Studio 60," there's a lot less disturbance--you don't need to call the police on your neighbors.

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