When I started the Mr. Television column for Mediaweek on February 16, 2004, my editor at the time, Michael Bürgi, suggested I focus on my ongoing obsession with the small screen. “Take us into your world,” he told me. “Put your programming hat on and call it like it is.”
That is exactly what I have tried to do over these past seven years. In that very first column, “Age Is Just a Number,” which focused on the medium’s obsession with youth, I opened by saying, “I feel old. In the not-so-distant future, the average TV executive, advertiser and media buyer will consider me obsolete.”
Flash to the present, and this is probably how some people do perceive me. But guess what? With age comes experience, and I have never felt more ready, willing and able to make an impact.
Over the years, I was never shy about sticking my nose into the networks’ business, putting on my programming hat and critiquing their schedules. I also had the great opportunity to interview some exceptional people (Judge Judy, Joan Rivers, Suze Orman, Hugh Hefner, Anderson Cooper, Betty White and psychic extraordinaire John Edward, to name a few). And it was ageless Hef who I naively asked, “What is your favorite room in the mansion?” “Why, it’s the bedroom, of course,” he replied. “Where else would it be?”
I also honed my skills as a TV critic, focusing on different shows from network, syndication and cable. I reported from places like the Television Critics Association Press Tour, the Banff World TV Festival, TV Norge in Norway and Honolulu with my annual Fall TV Preview. And I’ve always enjoyed looking back over the span of television as an entertainment and cultural force about some of those stellar days from yesteryear. “Make sure you put all that historical knowledge to good use,” Bürgi said. And that is what I’ve tried to do ever since.
One annual column which I always looked forward to was my TV Turkeys roundup of the worst on television, past and present, just in time for Thanksgiving. There was always a veritable feast of mediocrity for that menu. And I remember striking a major chord in just my sixth column called “One Lonely Critic” (March 22, 2004) when I said, “When one professional TV watcher for a well-read publication likes something, other critics tend to jump on the bandwagon—whether the attention is warranted or not.”
As far as I am concerned, no feedback is bad feedback. And I pissed off a lot of people with that little riff. I also didn’t realize when I started that I could incorporate my personal life into my weekly musing and rants about TV.
When my father died in 2006, I tried my best to honor him in “The Father I Knew Best” (March 6, 2006). Less than three years later, I turned to the column again—“I Remember Mama” (Jan. 5, 2009)—to help me cope with the passing of my mom. In both instances, I eulogized their too-short lives with references to the TV characters they reminded me of. They absolutely loved this column. I mailed it to them every Monday. And they read The Programming Insider religiously, normally answering the daily trivia question, usually getting it wrong but having a great time nonetheless. When I cleaned out their apartment, I found a stack of my columns neatly packed away in their wall unit.
It was a true blessing to have this forum. And I’m grateful to have worked with my editor, Jim Cooper, who always made me sound smarter than I really am. If my math is correct, this is my 330th column for Mediaweek, which, along with Brandweek, will be folded into a new, relaunched Adweek on April 18. The column in this form won’t make that trip. But I will continue to watch TV, cover the business and write for Adweek. So, as they say, stay tuned.
I’m proud to say I came close to matching the number of episodes for two of my favorite long-running series, Dallas (357) and Knots Landing (344). As Carol Burnett would sing, “I am so glad we had this time together.” Tug on the ear.