Friday, October 22, 2010

Mailbag: Atmosphere is overrated


Our building is an absolute dump. The place is falling apart, the walls need a paint job and the carpet is worn thin. Even though we're a strong number one station no one seems to care that we're working in these conditions. Why doesn't management do something to improve the environment?

There used to be a chain of restaurants in New York called Horn & Hardart. They were actually automats, in which there were no waiters, but a wall of doors behind which you'd find food. You'd put change in a slot and pull out a bagel, a sandwich, or a slice of pie. Their slogan was, "You can't eat atmosphere."

Guess what... the viewers can't see anything but the set. They don't care if your desk is falling apart or your computer is out of date. All a viewer cares about is content and what's visible. Same strategy as the's substance over style.

And if you're already number one, management sees no reason to change anything. So they pump money into sets and equipment and anything that will improve the on-air product.

Dear Grape,

Our station is adding an hour to our morning show but no people. What's the deal?

Ah, the old news-expands-to-meet-its-needs strategy. To understand this, we must look at spaghetti sauce. (I'm really into analogies today.)

Say you've got a pot of thick, rich sauce and some extra people are coming for dinner. So you add a little water to stretch the sauce. It's a little thinner but still good. But if you added a lot of water eventually you'd have tomato juice.

Same deal with staffing. Eventually you stretch people so thin they become tired and ineffective. But the beancounters don't see it that way. They figure people are already in the building in the middle of the night producing two hours of news, so why not let them produce three? Since morning shows are basically the same stories over and over again on a half hour wheel, the beancounters don't see this as a problem.

Meanwhile, the viewers get tomato juice for breakfast.


Consultants say no one cares about local sports and yet stations go all out to cover Friday night football. Isn't this a contradiction?

Excellent observation! What's even more puzzling is that the people who care are at the games and not home in time to catch the late news. Why stations don't create a half hour Saturday morning show with all these highlights is beyond me.

But that would actually make sense. Forgive me.


You keep mentioning "Palookaville" in your posts. Where exactly is this place?

It's down the road a short distance from Podunk.


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