The new economics of network television Analysis: Fortune offers an insightful -- and well-timed -- article about the increasing importance of hits like 'Seinfeld' to the networks.


January 04, 1998|By Don Aucoin | Don Aucoin,BOSTON GLOBE

Jerry Seinfeld's decision to hang it up couldn't have come at a worse time for NBC -- or a better time for Fortune.

The Jan. 12 issue contains a smart piece by Marc Gunther on the new economics of network television -- written before Seinfeld announced his sitcom's days are numbered -- that explains why hit shows such as "Seinfeld" are more crucial than ever to networks, even though they cost preposterous sums to produce.

Because shrinking audiences for network programming mean they can no longer depend on automatic profits, Gunther writes, networks are "rethinking their businesses, often before your very eyes."

No longer are networks the be-all and end-all of the companies that own them; now, networks are simply a means for entertainment conglomerates to "deliver programming to their moneymaking TV stations, introduce shows they own that can later be sold at enormous profit, and promote their more lucrative operations."

In order for all this to happen, however, a network must dominate its rivals, and the only sure way to do that is with a linchpin show like "Seinfeld." So, while for most of us the first Thursday without "Seinfeld" will be the day the laughter died, it could be the day the profits died for NBC.

Out in the NFL

Nothing quite demolishes a stereotype like a gay football player.

Dave Kopay was the first NFL player, active or retired, to come out of the closet. He was a rugged running back and special-teams player for the Packers and other teams whose ferocity got him nicknamed "Attaboy Dave" from no less an avatar of machismo than Vince Lombardi.

When Kopay acknowledged his homosexuality in 1975, it caused a sensation in the world of pro football, but he had few followers. The homosexuality of former Redskin Jerry Smith was much talked about after Smith died of AIDS in 1986, and former New York Giants guard Roy Simmons acknowledged he was gay on "Donahue" in 1992, but that's been it for known gay football players.

Author David Kamp catches up with Kopay, now a 55-year-old flooring salesman, in the January GQ. Kopay still watches football on Sunday, still loves the game, but wonders why the NFL hasn't done more to combat the homophobia in its ranks so today's gay players might feel free to come out.

Bleak prospects

Annie Dillard's essay in Harper's, "The Wreck of Time," is brief and bleak -- sort of how Dillard seems to view life.

Dillard relentlessly adduces evidence of an individual's ultimate insignificance in the cosmos. Her description of the workings of time, comparing it to the intersection of two wave systems, is terrific, and the piece overall is hard to argue with, I guess. But it's equally hard to recover from.

Pub Date: 1/04/98

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