In the executive offices of the four major networks, sweeping changes are taking place and billions of dollars are at stake. Now Bill Carter, bestselling author of The Late Shift, goes behind the scenes to reveal the inner workings of the television industry, capturing the true portraits of the larger-than-life moguls and stars who make it such a cutthroat business.
In a time of sweeping media change, the four major networks struggle for the attention of American viewers increasingly distracted by cable, video games, and the Internet. Behind boardroom doors, tempers flare in the search for hit shows, which often get on the air purely by accident.
The fierce competition creates a pressure-cooker environment where anything can happen . . .
NBC's fall from grace--Once the undisputed king of prime time, NBC plunged from first place to last place in the ratings in the course of a single season. What will be the price of that collapse--and who will pay it?
CBS's slow and steady race to the top--Unlike NBC, CBS, under the leadership of CEO, Leslie Moonves, engineered one of the most spectacular turnarounds in television history. But in this ruthless world, you're only as good as last week's ratings . . . .
ABC's surprising resurrection--Lost and Desperate Housewives--have brought ABC the kind of success it could only dream of in the past. So why don't the executives responsible for those hits work there any more?
The End of the News As We Know It--In a stunningly short period of time, all three of the major network news anchors--Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw, and Peter Jennings--signed off, leaving executives scrambling for a way to keep network news relevant in an era of 24/7 information.
Crazy Like Fox--They're outrageous, unconventional, and occasionally off-putting, but more and more people are watching Fox shows. Most of all they keep watching American Idol. How did Simon Cowell snooker himself into a huge payday? Stay tuned . . .
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April 30, 2007
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Excerpt from Desperate Networks by Bill Carter
On a sunny Tuesday afternoon in Manhattan in mid-May 2005, few people in the great city had reason to be as buoyant, as self-satisfied, as downright gleeful as the reserved, handsome, impeccably dressed fifty-four-year-old man sitting in a prominent aisle seat in the orchestra section of Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center.
For Robert A. Iger, this was a day of real triumph, not merely because ABC, the network he had been associated with for virtually his entire career, all the way back to 1977, had emerged from a seemingly endless dark night of failure and financial loss to sudden, spectacular success, but also because he had survived one of the most precarious apprenticeships in media history. He had finally been designated as the successor to Michael Eisner, chairman of the Walt Disney Company.
That appointment had come just two months earlier, and it was due in no small measure to the startling turnaround at ABC during the just-completed 2004--2005 television season. Iger, once the top programmer at ABC himself, had presided, in his capacity as the number-two Disney executive, over nearly ten years of flops. The network seemed to be allergic to hit television shows. A batch of the biggest hits in recent years-Survivor, CSI, American Idol, The Apprentice-had all turned up first at ABC, only to have the network recoil in rejection.
Much of the blame for those mind-blowing misreads had been laid at the feet of Iger and Eisner, in constant stories of how their crippling control over the network's decision making had under mined the efforts of the network's creative executives to find the shows ABC needed so badly. Iger dismissed the stories as inaccurate, but certainly they had some effect on his increasingly challenged aspirations to succeed Eisner. If he could not fix ABC in years of trying, why would anyone think he could master the more complex issues facing the Disney Company?
Nor had the 2004 season begun with any great expectations. Just one year earlier, in April, there had been yet another multi-executive pile-up at ABC, as Iger axed both of the managers running the entertainment division and installed a new boss less than a month before the upfront. Nobody ever did something like that in April, because the upfront, an annual sales presentation of the new selections of network prime-time shows, was so important to every net-work's bottom line.
At the upfront, so called because clients purchased commercial time in network shows before the season commenced, the big advertising clients in New York piled into some elegant midtown hall, watched as the network trotted out clips of the new series it had picked up, and then attended a loud, crowded, lavish after-party where many of the young ad buyers lined up at booths to get their photos taken with-and autographed by-the new "stars." For ABC in recent years, that had meant more Ernie Hudson than Tim Allen. Even when ABC did seem to build a successful show with a real star, like the comedy 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter, something awful seemed to happen, like the shocking sudden death of that show's star, John Ritter. ABC had the feel-and maybe the smell-of the chronically snakebitten.
Iger's appointment of Stephen McPherson that April, accompanied by the announcement that he would create a new, improved ABC schedule from the pieces left behind by people who had just been ashcanned, seemed like an engraved invitation to every rattler, cobra, and asp in Hollywood to come and dine again on the carcass of ABC.
This time the snakes went hungry. Now, a year later, no one in Lincoln Center, with the possible exception of McPherson himself, had benefited more from what ABC had wrought in the preceding twelve months than Bob Iger.