Open letter to TV network executives

Dear TV Network Executives,

I realize this letter is a shot in the dark, but, I’ll use a modern colloquialism, WTF…I don’t have anything to lose.

I won’t bother you with what I hope you already know (you know, the rapid decline in television viewership based on the fictionally representative Nielsen ratings system) and this letter is not about the past, or even the present, it is about the future.  And the future is now.

I write this letter in the hope you may actually be looking for outside input (which is about as likely as Brad Pitt staring in a food cooking reality show…on PBS).  What I propose is something kind of radical, and by radical I pretty much mean not what you are used to.  So, I am guessing that is almost anything, but I digress.  Today’s current television programming is a mess.  That’s not news to anyone.  Least of all you…I hope it’s not news anyway.

The program development landscape is simply not what it used to be.  WHOA! I realize that is probably not a revelation to you.  now it has been said time and time again that content is king.  If that is indeed true, then the king is powerless and the bottom line is supreme overlord.  Oh, TV Network Executive, your emphasis has drifted from original programming to bottom line driven programming.  Why do you do this to us, your faithful viewers?  The people who actually want to see good television.  If we are being truly honest, the word “development” is really a misnomer.  I know, I know you are probably aghast that someone like me feels confident enough to speak to you this way (see previous colloquialism, WTF).

You are probably reading this thinking “Who the hell does this guy think he is?”  I’m nobody.  I do not have an MBA from Harvard or Stanford.  I do not have an Ivy League pedigree of any sort.  I do not have any development experience in broadcasting, which, I might argue, makes me way more objective.  Or at the very least, someone with a fresh perspective.  Recycling development people from network to network as their contracts come up or as they fail upwards is hardly a business practice that seems to be working anymore.  I would argue it was only nominally successful for you in the past.  So who am I?  No one.  I’ve written some off off Broadway plays (I mean WAY off-Broadway), some short films, some short stories, nothing any of you would have seen or read.  But, I have 35+ years of active television viewing.  And not just the dreck you try to cram down our throats, I refer to myself as an actively engaged viewer.

What I propose to you is this.  A shift away from “program development”.  That is to say, a radical re-think.  A paradigm shift of proportions you are obviously not thinking about.  Now, if you have made it this far you are probably either intrigued or incensed…I am guessing more of the latter.  But allow me a moment.  Let me throw two words at you, content and curator.  Now come with me as we combine those words and create “content curator”.  THAT is what you need to start thinking about.  That needs to be your starting point for new television shows.   Television, for better or for worse, is an art form and you really need to start treating it as such.  And all art deserves a proper curator, wouldn’t you agree?  And most curators don’t have MBA’s or a history of failing upwards.  And for the record, “The Jersey Shore” is NOT art.

Now you are probably thinking, “What?! TV as art?!  That is crazy talk.  It’s revenue driven.  Art is not revenue driven!  WTF do we need a curator for?  Wha, wha WHAT are you talking about?”  Relax, that windsor knot must be too tight.  What I mean by that is this.  There absolutely must be a shift in mindset away from program development into one of curation.   Those given the power to green light a show need to take great care to see that shows are properly nurtured in order be successful.  That is not to say they don’t now…oh wait, actually it is to say that.  A show needs time to find its footing AND its audience.  The curator must work with the creator in developing the shows to their maximum potential.  Whatever that may be.  EVERY show will be different in its life cycle and SHOULD be different.  Do we need to bleed every show creatively dry over time?  No.

Secondly, I propose the creation of a Content Curating Department, formerly known as “program development”, that works with producers and creatives in the similar manner that a curator may work with an artist.  They work with the creatives and not the non-creatives.  For example, a pitch may be made for a show and it would be up to the curator to determine if that show is worth curating (nothing terribly radical about that, I know).  And then, working in tandem with the show creator(s) and producer(s) the curator grows the show as needed to insure the predetermined success benchmarks are met.

Look, end-to-end shows are the future.  Shows need to be pitched as complete concepts with a beginning a middle and an end.  Once again, I posit, do we really need to bleed every show creatively dry?  NO!  Curating shows from start to finish will cut your costs overall and increase viewership or, at the very least, increase the incalculable “buzz”.  This is not rocket science, this is television.  The revolution could actually be televised.

On paper, I would not be your ideal candidate to help any of you create an entire content revolution.  I know that.  I also know that the likelihood of any of you reading this is as slim as taking the “Law & Order” franchise to Lincoln, Nebraska.  But I’m tired of seeing you all completely screw up one of the most powerful and creative tools in media history.

I like to say that balls and brawn made Hollywood what it is.  And at the end of the day you can analyze all the data and trends in the world, and I am sure you will.  Because most of you are afraid of taking the big step forward you absolutely need to take.  As anyone can tell you, the greatest triumphs come from the gut.  I can promise you guts are not found in a spreadsheet or in a Power Point presentation.  They’re not in a group think over focus groups.  Your figurative guts are in your head and in your heart.  Your literal guts are made up of you stomach and intestines, and we know what those create.  I’ll give you a moment to come up with your own analogy there.  You can shape your own future?  Sure, it will not be without bumps and bruises and failures, but isn’t the only real failure not trying at all?  Now, of course, you can always take the other, as Robert Frost said “more well worn path”.  You know, the one paved with mediocrity, banality, production deals and platinum parachutes.

America has long been driven by creativity, determination and rebelliousness.  I know I am probably not saying anything you don’t already know.  You’re all, by textbook definitions, bright people.  You’re bright people making poor programming decisions.   As you know, the future is content and the future is now.  Help restore the monarchy.

I look forward to hearing from you.


Keith R. Higgons