Seems like CBS has been sending a lot of mixed messages lately. Or else just demonstrating the confused nature across the television landscape. CBS is just a particularly good example, given all the fervor surrounding the cancellation, then renewal of Jericho. (See Nancy Baym's following of the Jericho phenomenon; I link to her here and here.
I've been e-mailing with Lynn Liccardo lately, who pointed out an interesting distinction in the CBS timeline. It was back on June 07 when CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler told The New York Times, "We want them to watch on Wednesday at 8 o'clock, and we need them to recruit viewers who are going to watch the broadcast."
Then, just three days later, Les Moonves said in an interview with The New Yorker's Ken Auletta at a Newhouse School/New Yorker breakfast:
You know, we started this company a year and a half ago when we split from Viacom, and people said, "Oh, CBS. That's the old media company." We prefer the word traditional. The people that were downgrading or denigrating us--"this is the slow growth company"--weren't acknowledging that this is a major time of transition, where our goal basically is to get our product--our content--everywhere it can be, anywhere it can be. So at the end of the day, as long as I'm getting paid for it, I don't care whether you are watching CSI on CBS at 9 p.m. on Thursday night, on your DVR, if you are getting it on Amazon.com, or CBS.com. So once again, the distinction, you are still watching CSI.
Of course, it would seem that one statement contradicts the other, that the former indicates the honesty of a business model still predicated on a previous form of viewership, while the latter demonstrates a reconceptualization of what television even means, divorcing it from its current linear constraints. This is not to pick on CBS in particular, but rather to show the fractured logics that industry voices have right now, the lack of solidarity within any media company about how to handle the fact that it's increasingly obvious that the way the television industry is constructed isn't really reflective of the true realities of consumption, yet there's no clear and easy way to just switch over to some new system.
While Lynn, points out the ironies between these two statements, I would like to direct your attention back to a post I wrote late last month, where it was Moonves at this point saying that the network didn't realize how popular Jericho was because so many people were watching on DVR and the Web, and those fans need to "show up on the television." At the time, I mused about how I found it strange that the DVR isn't considered television in the first place and further wrote:
The problem is that viewers are traditionally conceived of not as the consumer after all, in the TV industry, but as the product, and advertisers are the consumers. But losing viewers makes the whole process fall apart. I find it ironic that, even as change moves at a slow pace, the industry seems intent on moving at an even slower one, so that it still remains unable to account for these gradual changes in the media environment.
I imagine that, if Jericho doesn't perform better this fall, it will likely be deemed a failure by the network, and fans may be blamed further for not getting those viewers to the televisions on Wednesday nights (but, please, only those who have Nielsen boxes are really important...), instead of figuring out how the system failed a show that people wanted to engage with, perhaps just not in the traditional broadcast model.