An Open Letter to William Morris

05/25/2011 12:25 pm ET

Attention Jim Griffin,

It's about time that William Morris recognized the entertainment potential of the Democratic presidential primaries. Now is the time to move -- the Democrats have no money to pay for the Michigan and Florida primary re-runs that they are demanding. The states don't want to pay either. Florida spent about $15 million on its first run primary; Michigan spent $11 to $12 million, both states think that's enough. But consider what the primaries have done for the cable news networks.

Eight point three million viewers watched CNN's coverage of the LA Clinton/Obama debate -- that's 10 times as many prime time viewers as CNN ordinarily gets. Seven point eight million viewers watched Clinton and Obama battle each other in Texas last week on MSNBC -- that's about 15 times as many viewers as the network gets most nights. Why don't the political parties who control the rights to the debates act like the NFL and auction off the television rights to the events to the highest bidder?

I would suggest that over the next 10 weeks the Democrats and the candidates agree to three, four or five 90-minute head to head Clinton/Obama face-offs in both Michigan and Florida. That's 15 hours of prime time programming. A broadcast network, ABC, had 9.36 million viewers when it carried the Democratic New Hampshire debate on a Saturday night. ABC usually gets half as many viewers on a Saturday. Given this success, the network might be an eager bidder particularly if some of the debates were held on weekends. Even Fox, despite its Republican credentials, might join the fray -- ratings are ratings no matter what your politics.

That's where William Morris steps in. It stages the auction, negotiates the best deal and then takes bids for naming rights. Consider "The Primerica Primaries" -- what a celebration of Primerica's recent merger with Travelers Insurance. Guarantee Primerica, or whoever else wins the auction, at least one mention every ten minutes and a tag line like, "provided by Primerica (or some other sponsor) as a public service to better inform the American electorate."

For the past six months, millions of Americans have been highly entertained first by the prospects of the primaries and then by the primaries themselves. They've become an enormous revenue builder for the cable networks and even for ABC. It's about time the political parties stopped giving all this entertainment away.

In addition to its usual commission, your Agency will earn the good will of the citizens of Michigan and Florida for saving them the cost of funding another round of primaries and the eternal gratitude of the Democratic Party for saving it the embarrassment of refusing to seat delegates from two states that they may need if they are going to win the general election in November. It's a win-win situation all around.

Jim, as an old friend, I offer this advice freely and hope you take full benefit of it.


Reese Schonfeld