Stop talking and listen to what America wants

By Dino Corbin, General Manager, KHSL-TV in Chino, California and President of the California Broadcasters Association

May 1996 – On October 20, I canceled the talk show Jenny Jones on KHSL-TV. I canceled the program because the show seriously stepped outside the guidelines of decency that KHSL television stood for in this community.

I prepared for a deluge of negative comments and complaints from our viewers. To my surprise, the opposite happened.

The silent majority spoke and spoke loudly. To date I have over 2,400 cards and letters. Eight have been in opposition to my decision. These 2,400 cards and letters have come from all across the United States and Canada.

Richard Conveny, executive vice president at Multimedia, stated in a recent article that “a few individuals cannot be arbiters of what America wants to see on talk shows.” He further states, “Viewers should be able to vote with the remote control.”

Mr. Conveny is correct in that a viewer should vote with the remote. However, we as general managers, whether we like it or not, are gatekeepers.

Jenny Jones was No. 2 in my market. (So much for the argument I dropped it because of low ratings.) The interesting and alarming realization that became evident is the ratings don’t measure how many people do not watch, or how they happen to feel about a station in total.

It was also interesting to find that the average viewer does not distinguish between network programming and syndication. If a viewer found a talk show distasteful or insulting, they carried that same feeling over to the network as a responsible party. After all, “name branding” is a big buzz word today in our business.

The message that came across loud and clear in 2,400 cards and letters, (from all walks of life, thank you) was that we either do not watch television as much any more, or it is never turned on. Sad commentary for the greatest medium on earth.

The really frightening part was that these people never spoke up until now. I prided myself after 23-plus years in my community on being in touch. I did not have a clue. The viewers never said a word to me. Why? Apathy, frustration, a misunderstanding of how things work.

The important factor now is that they have spoken, loudly and clearly and what they are saying is that Joe and Jill America are not happy with television in general.

I have been told that 20 million people watch talk shows, therefore there is value to them. Of course, they watch, it is human nature. People will also watch a train wreck. Does that mean we should have them all the time?

The talk show format is a great forum for communications. I think Oprah has proven without doubt that it can work and people will watch.

Imagine if 50% of the talk shows today took the same approach Oprah has taken. We might have 40 million viewers!

By the way, I guess she is still making millions doing it with intelligence and professionalism. Hello, McFly!!!!

We tell all our advertisers that we can change minds, affect buying habits, etc. Yet we turn our heads and ignore the effect violent and trash programming has on our society. I’m not an advocate of censorship. I enjoy the programs designed for adult viewers in the evenings on the networks as much as anyone.

However, for all of our sakes both socially and financially we better wake up to the fact that we do have an effect. This is the most powerful tool on the planet! Why do you think government wants to control it?

If we do not exercise common sense and responsibility in the administration and operation of this medium, then the public will demand that the government get involved. If that happens we might as well kiss everything goodbye.

The responsibility rests with all of us who exercise control and future vision in this industry on both the production side and the broadcast side of the equation.

The question is: Are we willing to take a stand? It does not take a rocket scientist to see that we are capable of reaching a higher standard in quality, and that the American people deserve it. We have done it in the past.

It is evident that by doing so we will experience greater wealth and success and we might even see a growth in our ratings. What a novel concept.

Those that listen closely to what America is saying in small to major markets will succeed as history has proven. Those that ignore the message will disappear. What side of the fence do you want to be on?