Scrooge-Free Zone

By Erik Sorenson 

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Bloggers, present company included, can be so negative. In the spirit of Thanksgiving–suddenly just around the corner–I’d like to dedicate the next few editions of Remote Control to being, uh, positive. It’s so easy to bemoan the secular implosion of the media industry and its disintermediation by advances in technology and businesses on the internet. It’s easy to forget to be grateful and to show appreciation for quality and success within the struggling silos of the traditional media–especially Broadcasting.

The networks are easy targets. Through no great fault of their own, the five broadcast networks have been hammered by viewers with their 100+ channels and DVR remotes. Through regulation and affiliate agreements–and yes, a little bit of arrogance–the networks find themselves in a precarious position, with even their mogul bosses pointing out their single-revenue-stream vulnerability to cable and other digital competition.

We have four Tuesdays until Thanksgiving which is just enough time to give kudos to ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and the CW. While struggling, each is doing certain things well and those folks deserve recognition and appreciation. Let’s start with CBS, which among other things is #1 in many ratings categories for yet another season as we move deeper into sweeps month. I want to recognize three things in particular:

1) 60 Minutes – despite the deaths of Ed Bradley and Don Hewitt and the absence of Mike Wallace, the granddaddy of the news magazine shows is having a spectacular season with terrific pieces and strong interviews. Steve Croft has emerged as the next-generation Wallace with interviews this season of Barack Obama and mini-Madoff scammer Marc Dreier – and on the lighter side, his piece on human mountain jumpers flying at 140 mph. In the past month, the program has featured ground-breaking stories on Afghanistan, Iraq, sports concussions and epilepsy research. Executive Producer Jeff Fager has maintained the tradition of quality story-telling, while embracing a greater focus on topicality which provides traction and relevance almost every Sunday night. No reporting underscores that more than the program’s work on H1N1 over the past three weeks. First, a poignant and frightening look at the illness at its most destructive– up close and personal– followed by Sunday’s exclusive tour inside the nation’s top-secret vaccine factory in Pennsylvania. Fager has also been smart about leveraging his lead-in of football (and golf in the off-season) with pieces featuring Tom Brady, Michael Vick, etc.

2) NFL Football & Upscale Sports – CBS was smart to retrieve the NFL after losing it in the Tisch Era. While Fox has the stronger markets with its NFC package, CBS has done well with teams like the Jets, the Patriots, the Steelers and the Dolphins. CBS has also clung to golf and tennis, hanging on to many PGA events including The Masters – plus US Open Tennis. These may be loss leaders on paper, but they shore up prime time, give access to desirable demographics and serve as a marketing platform for other CBS programming.

3) Procedural Drama – Les Moonves wrestled away the criminal and courtroom crown from NBC a few years ago and hasn’t looked back. CBS’s ratings superiority is built on the back of terrific serials such as the CSI series, the Mentalist, NCIS, Cold Case and Criminal Minds. Add to that just enough reality with Survivor and The Amazing Race and it’s a blueprint for supremacy. Les has a formula based on superior actors, top-notch behind-the-scenes talent, and reliable formats–and it works!

Next Tuesday, I’ll take a look at ABC and try to continue the positive vibes.

Erik Sorenson is chief executive officer of, Inc. He oversees the strategic direction of the global, New York-based media company, including ShopTalk & TVSPY. If you would like to comment on Remote Control, or want to reach Erik, email remotecontrol@tvspy.