Back in the day of non-reality, scripted-but-supposed-to-be-reality-television, there were these things called “made-for-TV” programs. This involved real script writing, trained actors and plot lines that involve more imagination than hitting the shower to recover from a weekend bender.
Now, we live in a day when every producer out there is coming up with a stranded island, chefs who hate each other, strangers living together or that certain “music television” network that forgot to make shows about music…or television for that matter.
In 1984, there was a network that embraced that nouveau original programming thingy. And for a decade, Arts & Entertainment TV became the commercial counterpart to PBS. Back then, it had Biography. It won Emmys. It was heralded for production. And after 10 years of all that fame, meh!
It was considered “Arts” was too elitist for ratings. So, A&E was born — the initialism was supposed to make people forget they gave a crap about content and was TV for the people. Ratings struggled. Audiences waned. And producers cried for something better. They created docudramas and seemed to be focused, until they stumbled upon a trailer park and tripped over “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”
And that, as they say, was that.
Fast forward to today as A&E has decided to scrap all that intellectual ballyhoo and go for reality all the time. Broke by The Hollywood Reporter, the network is going to “Be Original.” You know, allegedly.
“Be original” is more than A&E’s new tagline; it’s a rallying cry for the cable network. In a bid to reflect the direction of parent A+E Networks’ flagship, which has shifted to a 100 percent original primetime schedule, the “bearded” A&E is rolling out a refreshed brand.
“Be Original” will replace “Real Life Drama,” which was implemented by A&E in 2008. Although the previous tagline had been key in moving the network past its arts and entertainment legacy, according to [A&E marketing EVP, Guy] Slattery, it no longer is accurate for A&E programming. “The environment is very different than it was two or three years ago in that it’s a much lighter, more fun place to come and spend time,” he says.
Good times. The network is now going full boar on thoughtful shows like “American Hoggers.” (See what I did there.) Other insightful and whimsical programming from A&E will include the aforementioned “Duck Dynasty,” “Bad Ink,” “Storage Wars (in three different states, no less)” and “Modern Dads.” I’m sure more shows will be created as “Wars,” but does it matter?
I don’t think the PR for the network is going to be that good, but who cares when the strums of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” means 10 million viewers weekly. TV is not about quality; it’s about ratings. And therein lies the rub. When we are moved by what matters to the business versus what matters to the audience, the wrong people become responsible.
Anyone have a client who believes they know PR better than you do? Welcome to PR…and now, TV.