The Television Business:

Corporate "Suits"

emptysuit.gifAnother factor that affects the quality of programming is the fact that the big networks are now owned by even larger, multinational corporations, and are run by MBAs instead of people with creative credentials. In the business, actors and directors refer to these folks as "the suits."

Carol Burnett, whose long-running variety show was one of the all-time ratings hits (and whose 2001 Showstoppers special on CBS also pulled in almost 30 million viewers) blames much of the deterioration of television on "the suits," corporate business executives who have little or no experience with the creative process. In an interview with James Lipton on Inside the Actor's Studio, Burnett related one of her last experiences taping a network special - and the reason she won't do any more.

During a rehearsal for the special, Burnett relates that a whole line of "young humorless suits" walked into the theatre. Rather than watching the actors, they sat reading along in the scripts they had brought along. They began getting restless as she and the other actors began improvising in the skits. "They were upset that we were doing something that wasn't in their scripts," Burnett said. "So I finally stopped the show and told them all to put their scripts in their seats and sit on them. We were doing something creative."

Today, the television business is being run more by corporate money managers than by creative types; decisions are based more on multinational corporate policies than whether a given show is good or bad. As in much of corporate America, the emphasis is very short-sighted: increasing earnings for the next quarterly report. There is little or no long-range perspective. And like Enron, WorldCom, Tyco and other huge businesses that were riddled with financial tricks and chicanery, the entertainment business has long been legendary for it's lack of business ethics and creative accounting techniques.

This has been accelerated hugely by the massive consolidation over the last several years; today only eight gigantic companies control nearly everything you see in movie theatres, on TV, and hear on the radio.

Of course, like any sweeping generalization, wholesale condemnation of the "suits" is very unfair to some of the individuals in the business. There are many executives in the television business that continue to push for better, more creative, positive programming. But the corporate pressure placed on these people is huge, and they often must choose between values and their careers.

NEXT: Out of Touch >