Network Television SAGs Painfully

05/25/2011 12:35 pm ET

As the Screen Actors Guild nears the wire in its negotiations with the AMPTP multinational corporations, many hurdles remain. Perhaps the biggest is that as long as anyone other than the CEOs are negotiating for the AMPTP, they are only empowered to say "No." When the CEOs show up, they'll make a deal.

This too shall pass. But until that arrival, all that exists is a flurry of words. And the one most notable pronouncement from the AMPTP is a carryover from the Writers Strike, and used as a bludgeon to ward off dissent.

It's the current Common Wisdom being offered in the background throughout SAG negotiations that the Writers Strike Destroyed Network Television. Take that to the bank. Book it, Dan-o.

Hey, honestly, it sounds reasonable.

As long as you don't think too hard. Or at all.

It's important to note that Common Wisdom in Hollywood is neither common, nor wise -- and worse, generally non-existent.

Network television isn't destroyed, of course. And of course, whatever lower ratings network television does have can be attributed to many factors -- not the least of which is that people today watch television in countless ways other than on television. They record programs on Tivo, or watch on the Internet, or as downloads, or wait until season-DVDs are released -- none of which count in Nielsen ratings. But the network shows are still being watched. And in many cases, actually paid for.

But, oh, no, the reason ratings are down is because -- the Writers Strike Destroyed Network Television.

Or...or...maybe there's yet another reason, too. Maybe -- just maybe -- the networks are mucking things up themselves.

Last week, on July 2 to be exact, I was browsing a TV schedule, wondering what there was to watch. There were 12 separate programs listed that night on the four main networks. The complete 12 were -

"Baby Borrowers"
"Baby Borrowers" (again. A second episode)
"Wife Swap"
"Celebrity Circus"
"So You Think You Can Dance" (two hours)
"America's Next Top Model"
"Pussycat Dolls Present: Girlicious"
"Price is Right Million Dollar Spectacular"
"Primetime: Crime"

Also, repeats of "Criminal Minds" and "CSI: NY".

These aren't the worst shows on television all week. These are every network show that was on the air that one night. If you wanted to watch network television on July 2, this was what you had to choose from. Period.

If you were an evil mastermind who wanted to come up with a devious plot to drive the audience away from network television, that might be it.

One show gave away babies. Another then gave away their mothers. A third gave away all parental responsibility. And the networks gave away the store.

And the AMPTP and "crack analysts" dare blame low TV ratings on the Writers Strike??! If you looked up the word "gall" in the dictionary, the dictionary would be too embarrassed to even define it. At best, it would say, "See July 2, 2008."

To be fair, it's the summer, so we're not seeing networks put on their regular product. But that's no excuse. So what if it's summer? There is a public responsibility that goes with having a broadcast license. Just because it's summer is no excuse to not respect your audience. To put on only material that makes your brain hurt -- and then blame the Writers Strike for driving audiences away.

Admittedly, this is only a very tiny snapshot of a very large landscape. There's good television, and mind-numbing television. But whether it is the summer or not, this signifies network thinking, because this is what all the networks -- every one of them -- chose to put on.

And then blamed the Writers Strike for driving audiences away.

Dear AMPTP corporations: your industry is not in dire straights, and the problems you face are largely your responsibility. For underestimating your audience shamelessly and too often going for the basest common denominator. For cancelling programs before they have a chance to develop and build a following. For having corporate business executives give artistic "notes" to artists commanding how they must create. For you choosing uninteresting, uninspiring, uninvolving, soul-crushing programs to put on your schedule.

And then blaming the Writers Strike for driving audiences away.

And then continuing that blame throughout SAG negotiations. What timing. What a shock.

Of course, if you have another union's contract running out, and you plan on making low-ball offers, and want to scare people about why your industry is supposedly in such dire straights, then it's probably the only argument you can make.

Much of the same pattern with writers is being repeated with the actors. And if the AMPTP multinational corporations again decide to play chicken with a creative union -- then once again another 3-1/2 months could pass before a contract offer is made that could have been made on Day One. And more network audience will leave.

Perhaps an accommodation can be reached. Hopefully so. But until then, they'll blame others for...well, everything.

Even "America's Biggest Fart."

Don't laugh, it's probably being developed.