TV Programming Has Gone Haywire – And Isn’t It Magnificent?

TV content

TV contentAs a young boy, I could count my home entertainment options on three fingers: ABC, CBS or NBC.

Those were the Big Three networks that served up the TV shows I – and most other folks – cared about.

When my buddy Greg convinced his parents to subscribe to a new universe known as HBO, I looked forward to spending the night and enjoying an endless stream of (mostly R-rated) films.

The universe was truly my multiplex — at least when Greg invited me to share in the magic of his set-top box.

In high school, my folks agreed to sign up for the “expanded basic cable” package, which served up a burgeoning network of non-stop music videos known as MTV. Suddenly, I catapulted toward coolness and ordered an $8 logoed T-shirt so I could parade around school pretending I had arrived.

Exciting as these entertainment options seemed, however, they still required me to plant myself in front of the tube at a specified time to catch whatever program I craved – usually Mork & Mindy or The Love Boat (pitiful, I know).

VCRs were in their infancy, TiVo was a couple decades away, and content on demand was a concept straight out of The Jetsons (another one of my TV faves).

Teleport to today, and the options are dizzying…hundreds of TV channels, thousands of web options, and the potential for anyone – and everyone – to become a producer, director, lead actor, critic, or nonstop virtual couch potato. Thanks to the accessibility and portability of technology, compelling content is always just a couple of clicks away.

The big three networks still exist, of course, but they’re much smaller and less powerful than they once were.

And they sure are fighting like crazy to remain relevant to new generations of entertainment junkies who are no longer held captive by the notion of tuning in to prime-time TV.

Those traditional broadcasters also are scurrying to figure out how to connect with viewers who want to participate in programming through real-time engagement (a la Twitter, Facebook, blogs and other platforms yet to be pioneered). I’m still amazed that mainstream TV shows are embracing the use of hashtags and that serious news programs regularly feature viral videos. It makes perfect sense, of course, but it must be somewhat humbling for the formerly almighty oligopoly to be taking cues from young social media upstarts.

It also makes you wonder who’s really in the driver’s seat shaping the future of entertainment. One thing’s certain: the field is vastly wider and more diverse than it used to be.

The Great Content Explosion


As entertainment platforms and producers continue to morph and multiply, what’s surprising to me is that the most engaging programming is coming from unexpected sources.

Cable TV networks that originated as broadcasters of existing content are broadening their appeal by producing original programming. Can you say MadMen? The Walking Dead? Game of Thrones? Bates Motel? You can’t see any of them on ABC, CBS, NBC or Fox.

Netflix, which began as an online subscription service for distributing DVD movies, recently debuted a new model for delivering an original TV series. By releasing the entire first season of House of Cards concurrently, Netflix granted subscribers complete control over when, where and how they view it. (I’m counting down to May 26, when they usher in the triumphant return of Arrested Development, Season 4).

And it’s hard to deny the growing influence of alternative and user-generated programming being spawned by online platforms such as YouTube and Vimeo.

Meanwhile, the old guard is fumbling to discover/create their new reality amid a sea of tired franchises and blatant rip-offs of previous ratings bonanzas. I mean, how many different singing, dancing and/or dating reality programs can broadcast TV legitimately support???

You might say that the whole world of TV entertainment has been turned on its head.

What hasn’t changed is that the strongest programming will endure – and the quality of content is rarely based on who produces it, where it originates, or how much money is spent bringing it to market. Rather, it’s evaluated on how well the characters, narrative and plot resonate with our minds and emotions.

In other words, the best stories will win the day.

Underneath the sexy technology and glitzy marketing campaigns, we humans love a good yarn – whether it’s spoken around a campfire or streamed directly on our smartphone.

Not only do stories entertain and captivate us; they connect us with each other and to our shared humanity. It doesn’t matter if the protagonist is a close relative or a fictional TV character, we are naturally drawn to compelling storytelling.

Pearls of Wisdom from Dwight Schrute?

Why Rainn Wilson Shuns Happiness…and So Do I

Dwight SchruteI never thought I’d learn life lessons from the likes of Dwight Schrute.

But alas, that relentlessly annoying character from NBC’s The Office is played by a rather thoughtful and likable fellow named Rainn Wilson. And RELEVANT magazine recently featured him in a surprisingly touching cover story.

What struck me most from the interview were Wilson’s comments on happiness, a state we humans seem to be constantly chasing. Heck, it’s even written into the Declaration of Independence. Yet the whole concept of happiness seems so shallow, so fleeting. I’ve always thought we should be striving for something a bit more substantive, like fulfillment or satisfaction.

JOY, anyone?

Here is an excerpt from the piece on Wilson:

“I truly believe that happiness is not an if/then statement,” he says. “I think through most of our culture it’s, ‘If I get this, then I will be happy. If I get this job, I will be happy. If I make this much money, I will be happy. If I find my mate, I will be happy. If I have success in my career, I will be happy.’

Whatever it is, there’s this series of if/then relationships. I think that’s not how happiness works.”

“I don’t like the word ‘happiness,’” he clarifies. “I think we have it in the United States—‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ What is the pursuit of happiness?

Happiness, to me, is like my son when you take him to Santa Monica pier and he goes on a roller coaster and eats cotton candy. He’s happy. And then eight minutes later, he’s not happy. He wants to do it again to get happy again. Or he wants to go on the merry-go-round so he can get happy. He wants to go swim in the ocean so he can be happy. Happiness is this thing that you’re chasing.”

“I think that the better word is ‘contentment,’” he says.

“Contentment lies in living fully in your life’s purpose. Living in God’s purpose for you breeds a contentment that’s not contingent on achieving certain things or doing certain things … The ancient Greeks believed in a concept called eudaimonia, which translates as ‘human flourishing.’ That was the highest ideal in the Greek world.”

He wonders aloud, “Can you imagine if our natural motto was, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of human flourishing?’ It’s not happiness; it’s human flourishing—deep, soul-enriching stuff. It’s connection. It’s service. It’s work. It’s creativity. It’s beauty.”

Then he settles into that thought, declaring, “I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of human flourishing.”

Can someone please give Dwight an “Amen”?

Call Me (anything but) Maybe

2013 New Year's Resolution

You must have lived under a rock if you managed to escape Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 breakout hit “Call Me Maybe.” This catchy ditty quickly escalated into a pop culture phenom that spawned scores of clever parodies.

Co-written by Jepsen herself, the lyrics tell the story of a coy girl sharing her phone number with a boy she just met and inviting him to call her (maybe). In the throwaway world of pop music, the song struck a collective nerve.

Although I join the bulk of humanity in celebrating the eventual decline of this overplayed anthem, I’m grateful it planted a seed that would become my official 2013 New Year’s resolution.

Ms. Jepsen reminded me just how often I use the word “maybe” to delay or avoid making a decision.

For those of us who struggle with the demon of indecision, “maybe” buys us precious wiggle room to avoid making a wrong choice – whether it involves a simple social event or a pivotal life decision. It’s the polar opposite of a knee-jerk declaration.

I’ve convinced myself it’s wise to consider all possible scenarios and their potential ramifications before putting a stake in the ground. But if I’m being honest, what I’m really trying to do is hone in on the SAFEST option – the one least likely to inconvenience me or lead to eventual regret (or, heaven forbid, public humiliation).

Sometimes, my lack of a definitive decision ends up becoming a decision as various options evaporate. Sure, this can lead to disappointment and missed opportunities, but it also lets me off the hook from having to make a deliberate choice.

And so, at the dawn of 2013, I resolve to banish – or at least curtail – my use of “maybe” (along with its cousins “perhaps,” “possibly” and “we’ll see”).

Instead, I will strive to live more decisively and deliberately.

Will this lead to poor choices that may come back to bite me? Probably.

Strike that.





New Year’s Resolution statistics

Are You Stronger Than Your Resistance?

About a month ago, a ton of us made proclamations to lose weight, kick a bad habit or become an all-around better human.

The dawning of a new year always seems like the most opportune time for making personal commitments we hope to keep.

An estimated 40-45% of American adults make annual New Year’s resolutions, yet studies show only 20% of us actually keep those proclamations. That means four out of five people fall flat on their (oversized) keisters.

Keen to this reality, my gym recently unveiled a motivational campaign inviting its members to make public declarations of the personal demons we wish to squash.

Several “Stronger Than…” banners appear around the gym, accompanied by markers beckoning people to fill in the blank with a personal answer.

The disclosures are quite touching – and telling.

As expected, some are straightforward and food-related.

Stronger than…  

…Steak ‘n Shake.

…Wine and beer.

…A 400-calorie two pack of Pop-Tarts.

Many are light-hearted and clever.

Stronger than…  

…The snooze button


…Mitch’s crazy workout sessions.

…I smell.

A few of them, however, allude to deeper, more serious issues.

Stronger than…  

…The crazy ex-boyfriend.

…The 47 pounds I gained since my birthday.

…How I feel.

In a building filled with barbells and weight machines, the “stronger” theme is a natural. Most people who join a gym aspire to pump iron and strengthen their bodies — which only comes through resistance (as anyone who’s followed a rigorous fitness program will attest).

I think we forget this principle, however, when we step outside the gym. If we’re honest, ANY attempt to strengthen yourself — whether body, mind, spirit, or character — demands strength through resistance. That resistance may come in the form of doubt, temptation, mind games, or others intentionally standing in your way.

So New Year’s resolutions are not for the faint of heart. That’s probably why the vast majority of them fail. We think mere desire is enough to propel us to success — and sustain us indefinitely.

It rarely is.

Gender Wars: The Battle for Thermal Dominance

‘Tis the season to be steamy.

That is, if you’re a typical red-blooded male seeking to peacefully co-exist with a typical uber-chilly woman.

Such thermal inequality was in full force during my annual Christmas pilgrimage to the motherland (Ohio, land of my mother).

Mom, of course, was perpetually frosty, in direct contrast to my absolute stuffiness.

Navigating this duality required some creative ingenuity on my part: closing the vents in my bedroom, sitting close to drafty windows, dressing in a single paper-thin layer.

This silent battle reached its breaking point during the two-hour drive to my sister’s house.

Even though I had rented a car for the visit, mom insisted we drive hers (with me at the wheel, natch). She claimed taking her car was more convenient and would relieve her from having to transfer critical items (e.g. the garage door opener) from one car to the other.

But I’m no dope. I know the real reason was so she would have complete familiarity with the temperature and blower controls.

And she certainly took advantage of her advantage. No sooner did I turn the key that she maxxed out the heater (all the way to the right on both blower and temperature dials).

That was OK for those first few warm-up minutes. In fact, I actually craved the initial warmth to counter the 40-something degree temperature.

But it wasn’t long before I was overcome by visions of fiery saunas in endless deserts.

I countered by simply closing the vents on my side of the car. Which successfully slowed the direct barrage of steamy air, but hardly solved the problem.

My next move was much bolder, gradually turning the dial from red-hot to simply hot. Mom immediately moved it back. We continued this back-and-forth until she finally relented and acknowledged that the temperature might be a bit excessive.


Living in a 20-Minute Time Warp

This year marks the 20th anniversary of my 20-minute lapse in judgment.

That’s when I first set the clock radio in my bedroom a full 20 minutes fast.

And while the clock radio has been replaced by a slick Bose Wave Radio, the 1,200-second time warp endures.

I must have read about it in some productivity article or self-help book as a way to trick my mind into thinking it was running behind schedule. To a recent college grad, inevitably juggling his love of sleep with the demands of a full-time job, that concept must have seemed appealing.

And it probably worked. For the first few days.

But my mind clearly figured out this charade and has long since compensated for it.

There’s absolutely no way I can correct the clock now, of course, or risk irreparable psychic confusion (like I need any more of that…) As previously reported, the biannual government-imposed time changes provide quite enough personal stress, thank you very much.

So here I stay, stuck in my own self-imposed 20-minute time warp

I’ve Got a Catch Phrase…How ‘Bout You?

I find it amusing whenever I observe that someone has a favorite catch phrase. You know, it’s one of those personal buzzwords/phrases that (s)he involuntarily favors and repeatedly inserts into conversations.

Sometimes it’s a simple filler word, as in “um” or “like.” Often it’s a more full-fledged anchor phrase, a la “Quite frankly.”

One of my co-workers (let’s call him Frank) loves to insert “sort of” into every verbal nook and cranny. Another (we’ll call her Betsy) has an affinity for “At the end of the day” (which, unfortunately, is an expression that has crept its way into many a current lexicon).

True to form, I have created a pseudo-game out of identifying and charting these individual catch phrases (after all, man can’t live on Snark Central alone…)

Amusing as that exercise has proven to be, trust me when I admit that it becomes much less enjoyable upon discovering that you rely on your own embarrassing catch phrase and hadn’t realized it.

Turns out mine is “You know.” Those two inane words infiltrate far too many of my statements.

When first confronted with the reality of my verbal addiction (following an intervention-like encounter something along the lines of, “Mike, you have a problem…”), I initially denied it…as most addicts do.

But upon further reflection and analysis, I realized it was painfully true. And there are few things as frustrating as knowing you cling to a throwaway phrase and are unable to halt its transmission before it passes your lips.

I believe I’m making some progress toward controlling this habit. But clearly, it’s not going to be easy to scrub these unnecessary two words from my speech.

Guess that’s just the way I roll. You know?


Why I’m Still Spooked by Butterfingers

For a sweet-toothed male like myself, Halloween remains a highlight of my fall season. I love candy and sweets as far as the eye can see.

Yet the holiday also evokes some remnants of trepidation – and not because of the ghosts, goblins and witches wandering the neighborhood.

You see, my prime trick-or-treating years took place during the 1970s, when stories of treat tampering ran rampant. Caramel apples and popcorn balls (two of my favorites) were said to be effective receptacles for razor blades. I don’t even remember why Butterfingers were off-limits, but apparently they were magnets for sharp objects as well.

To this day, I think twice about consuming a Butterfinger – unless I’m feeling particularly rebellious.

I know this apprehension is unnecessary, but I’m a slave to stern warnings from my youth.

Like the caution against getting into cars with strangers, this one boils down to trust — or the lack thereof (in this case, questioning whether one of my neighbors might be trying to maim me with a razor-filled popcorn ball).

Which brings up an intriguing question:

Does trust need to be earned, or should it automatically be bestowed on someone unless/until that bond is breached?

I tend to favor the “need to earn it” position. It’s definitely the safer option, but likely causes me to miss out on some opportunities and relationships.

I’m always surprised (and a bit jealous) when I encounter someone with a seemingly endless bank of trust.

Are they truly that naïve, I wonder? Or maybe they believe the potential rewards trump the potential risks. They probably don’t give it much thought at all.

It’s interesting to consider the many times that I blindly trust – knowingly or unknowingly. I trust that the car whizzing past me in the next lane won’t suddenly swerve and collide into me. I also willingly hand my credit card to the random waiter, oblivious that he could be in the back room copying down my account number.

The whole concept of trust can be confusing and deceptive, to be sure.

I’m just grateful for my trusty friends (pictured, in part, below).

Previous Halloween post: SomeChum’s a Bum!

Hello, Mulva?

Celeste? Gipple? Mulva? No, Delores!

One of my favorite Seinfeld episodes is the one where Jerry starts dating a woman whose name he doesn’t know.

His only clue: she discloses how tough it was growing up with a name that rhymes with a female body part.

So, he and bumbling buddy George brainstorm some possibilities:

Celeste? Aretha? Gipple? Bovary?

Finally, they settle on Mulva, as they can’t think of anything more plausible.

After a series of failed attempts to get her to disclose her name, Jerry is finally forced to reveal his ridiculous name guess.

It’s only after she storms out of his apartment that he realizes what her real name must be: DELORES.

Of course!

I find this episode amusing on so many levels, but the most primal of them is that it aligns with one of my primary weaknesses.

I suck at remembering names.

Which is not a particularly helpful deficiency for someone who works in PR. But I do what I can to work around the handicap through lots of “Hi Theres” and “Nice to See You Agains.”

It’s unfortunate that I haven’t made it a priority to improve my name recall skills.

I’m quick to acknowledge how good it makes me feel when someone remembers (and recites) my name, yet I don’t give others the same level of respect.

If I’m honest, I think I stumble in this area because I’m more concerned with making a positive impression on whomever I’m meeting than actually getting to know whomever I’m meeting.

Having a Mulva-like clue to ponder would certainly give me a helpful (and fun) leg up on conquering this issue once and for all.

The great irony is that I’m quite adept at remembering obscure names from my childhood – from random neighbors to minor actors in TV sitcoms.

Like Susan Walters, the delightful actress who played the part of Delores.

The Great Window Illusion

I remember when I first discovered how deceptive the notion of privacy could be.

It happened during a nighttime game of hide-and-seek with my neighborhood pals. I was scurrying in front of my house in search of a suitable hiding place when I noticed I had a crystal-clear view into my kitchen. Bright light streamed out the large windows, beckoning me (and anyone else in the vicinity) to take a look around.

“That’s weird,” I recall thinking.

Like any naive kid, I assumed that when I couldn’t see out the windows, no one could see in.

It was a perfectly logical conclusion for my little-boy mind. Except it was perfectly wrong.

Parading through the house in my underwear would never be the same.

Fast-forward more than three decades, and I’m living in a fishbowl of a different kind.

Today’s privacy issues are eminently more complex and challenging to manage, with most of us striving to walk that delicate balance between living full, open lives while maintaining some degree of personal space.

Unfortunately, it’s easy to fall prey to the same naïve notion: if I can’t see you, you can’t see me. Or, more precisely, if I’m not aware of being exposed, I must be fully protected.

Just how exposed we truly are, however, is becoming increasingly evident. Whether it’s surveillance cameras or Facebook shell games, the concept of personal privacy is increasingly a façade.

Mark Zuckerberg dubs it “frictionless sharing,” but it may as well be called “evaporating privacy.”

I’m shocked when I consider just how many stalkers are tailing me. Websites remember my name. Advertisers know my hobbies and habits. My cell phone tracks my every move.

Most of the times, I’m oblivious to these breaches or brush them off as a necessary evil of living in our highly connected, somewhat Orwellian society.

But every once in a while, I’m hit with an unexpected photo, note or online relic that I assumed was long gone.

It isn’t.

I’m not ready to batten down the hatches and sacrifice the many benefits of engaging with others online.

If only I could have a wee bit more control over my personal life.

Things were so much simpler when all I needed to do was kill the lights or pull down the shades.