Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Restless knee-jerk syndrome

Restless knee-jerk syndrome: (noun) A malady affecting television managers who cannot resist the urge to change something at the first sign of bad news. Side affects include unhappy staffers, weird memos, draconian station rules, and an increase in resume tapes leaving the building.

There's a great line in a movie (and I can't remember which one) in which someone says something to the effect of, "American businessmen look at the next quarter. The Japanese look at the next quarter century."

What that means is that those who run American companies don't necessarily look long term when making changes. And those who run television stations or companies can be a lot worse.

I used to work at a station in which both the GM and corporate knee-jerked so much they probably practiced in their offices with a soccer ball. A viewer calls with a complaint about an anchor's hairdo? Knee-jerk! Tell her to cut it immediately! A ratings book shows a dip in the ratings on Wednesdays? Knee-jerk! Load up Wednesdays with all your best sweeps stories! Someone forgot to turn off the coffee machine in the break room last night and burned the pot? Knee-jerk! No more coffee for anybody!

The most common time to see knee-jerk reactions is right after the ratings come in. You might be the brand new co-anchor on a morning show, but if your first book comes in and the numbers have taken a dip, you might be the victim of a favorite game played by those affected by restless knee-jerk syndrome...

Musical anchors.

Yep, if one book shows a downward trend, let's blow up the entire news team and try something else. And if that doesn't work for the next book, let's nuke it again.

If you're the victim of knee-jerk reactions, don't beat yourself up, as you may be the victim of managers who simply cannot look long term. It is generally accepted that true ratings actually run on an 18 month delay. The groundwork you lay today will show up a year and a half down the road. Viewers are slow to change, and what they don't like... is change.

Keep the style of management in mind when you see changes made or get caught in the middle of one. It may actually have nothing to do with you... and everything to do with who is pulling the strings.

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