The Boob Tube

Or Oops I Did It Again!

Media Post/April 2004

There must be four or five billion female breasts in the world,  many of which appear uncovered at times. The uproar over the one that popped out at the Super Bowl demonstrates, if nothing else, the old maxim that timing is everything.

For CBS, which, like all the networks, wants to reacquaint males in the 18-34 demo with the television, the timing was all wrong. If you’re trying to get young men to watch TV again, the Super Bowl is the last place you need to try, right? This is the one show they actually do watch with religious fervor, and chances are they didn’t even see the half-time show because they were outside tossing a ball around waiting for the third quarter to start. CBS fumbled, but it’s only the first quarter in the race to exploit wardrobe malfunction devices (WMDs).

I’m not suggesting that Oprah bending over and showing a thong strap (easy, boys!) or Jane Pauley having her dress blown up over a grating are going to pull the lads away from their role-playing video games and Maxim mags, but there is a way to play this.

First, network heads need to make friends with FCC Chairman Michael Powell and a couple of key senators and congressmen. Take them out to lunch, talk up relatively virtuous shows like Joan of Arcadia and Gilmore Girls, and offer some lip service to the effect that “we’re cleaning things up over here.” Get the message to Dubya that TV somehow  is an effective weapon against terrorism. He’ll believe it; he believes everything.

Step two is to get the bean counters working on a spreadsheet that links WMDs like the Super Bowl Incident to actual numbers. Compare potential FCC fines and miffed advertisers pulling spots to spikes in record sales and other indicators. A simple scenario works like this: Halle Berry appears on Saturday Night Live and has a WMD during one skit. NBC execs apologize up and down, talk about prolonging the delay, accept a few broken contracts and the fine, then start working the room to let everyone know that, in two weeks, Britney Spears is going to be on the show. She’ll play a stripper in one skit, but promises abound that it’ll all be quite innocent. The lads return to TV for a night, spot sales surge and one little ol’ nipple makes an appearance. Oops! Same spin drill is implemented, then in two weeks, Christina’s coming on. Who says Lorne Michaels is out of ideas?

This works even better with vertically integrated companies. If Sony Music artist Beyonce appears on Sony Pictures Television’s Ricki Lake show and has her skirt yanked off by a toppling boom mic, any fines or advertiser complaints can be offset by increased album sales. And when pix of the sheer thong she was wearing on the show make their way around the internet, it sets things up nicely for the lame movie she has coming out on Sony Pictures Movies. Can she act? Who cares! Send a fruit basket to Michael Powell and crank up the marketing machine.

I know you’re thinking this kind of thing couldn’t happen in a decent country like the U.S. Or perhaps you’re thinking this already IS happening to some degree, but you’re skeptical that it could be so overtly orchestrated. But bear a few things in mind about your fellow citizens: Voters in California recently voted to let Governor Arnold pay off a $15 billion or so deficit with a $21 billion loan. Half of American surveyed really do believe Iraq was complicit in 9/11. And millions of tubby people in the U.S. think they can lose weight on a bacon-and-eggs diet.

Time was, there was a sucker born every minute. New estimates put it at every .003 seconds.

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