WHO REALLY IS RESPONSIBLE?
I woke up Monday morning to hear the news, oh boy.
The NBC executive who coined the phrase, "Must See TV" had died.
His name was Don Ohlmeyer.
A veteran of NBC Sports, Mr. Ohlmeyer was also the man responsible for having Norm MacDonald fired from SNL for too many jokes about his friend, OJ Simpson.
What about this smells wrong?
And how surprised is Dan Holm going to be?
DAN HOLM IS THE WRITER/PRODUCER WHO SAT DOWN AND WROTE THE PHRASE, "MUST SEE TV"
Of course, the success of NBC's famous Thursday-night promotion is going to the executive who happened to be sitting in the chair when it all happened.
In TV, nobody celebrates writers.
Except maybe the other writers.
And as the story is told, Mr. Holm didn't exactly trot out "Must See TV" as the powerhouse tagline to promote Thursday nights.
The story goes that Mr. Holm used the phrase in a promotional script. A gentleman named Vince Manze, who ran the network's promotional agency, saw the genius in it and cherry picked it for greater things.
This happens all the time. For one of my own clients, I've written a tagline that began its life buried in a piece of body copy.
THAT TAGLINE IS WORTH FAR MORE THAN THE CLIENT EVER PAID FOR IT
But it also required the ability to recognize its value, and be plucked from body-copy obscurity, and thrust into the spotlight as a defining statement for the brand.
And nobody's going around saying, "Hey, look at the tagline Blaine wrote!"
They're going around, repeating the tagline.
It belongs to the brand, not the person who wrote it.
And that's OK. If I go to my grave being known only for the brand tagline for a specialty product for the construction industry, it's going to be a grand disappointment.
I'd prefer to go to my grave for being known as a fabulous dancer.
But I digress.
Credit for copywriting notwithstanding...
FOR A WHILE, "MUST SEE TV" WAS A BRAND JUGGERNAUT FOR NBC
That was the era of the coveted Thursday-night viewership domination.
Shows like Mad About You, Wings, Seinfeld, Friends and ER all happened during that period.
And certainly, much good did come out of NBC during Mr. Ohlmeyer's tenure as president of the network's west-coast division.
That said, the gentleman also had a reputation.
Mention of that reputation probably won't be popping up in any of the obituaries-and it's a reputation for a trait that is so common in marketing.
The Fabulous Honey Parker has seen it repeatedly in her career in Big-Agency Advertising.
I've seen it repeatedly during my career in Small-Business Advertising.
THAT REPUTATION IS ONE FOR BEING A PREVENTION DEPARTMENT
Depending on the environment, sometimes it's called The Advertising Prevention Department.
In the case of Mr. Ohlmeyer, it might be called the Programming Prevention Department.
According to the Infallible Oracle Of Everything, Wikipedia, Mr. Ohlmeyer's reputation at NBC was that he was "...not the inspiration behind NBC's hits in this period, but was often a roadblock they had to work around to make them happen."
The article goes on to say that he insisted the hugely popular NBC drama, ERwould get destroyed by Chicago Hope at CBS.
Of course, ER went on to win a total of 23 Primetime Emmy Awards, 124 Emmy nominations (making it the most nominated drama program in history), and picked up 116 awards in total during its tenure.
AH, BUT WHAT ABOUT BEING BASHED IN THE RATINGS, AS PER OHLMEYER THE ORACLE?
Besides being a critical powerhouse, ER spent a couple of seasons as the most watched show in North America, and for years fought with Seinfeld, another NBC show, for the #1 ratings slot.
Mr. Ohlmeyer also didn't want to give the go ahead to Will & Grace.
He insisted a TV show with gay characters couldn't reach a large mainstream audience.
As the highest-rated sitcom among adults 18-49 from 2001 to 2005, and winner of 16 Emmy Awards out of 83 nominations, it seems that Mr. Ohlmeyer's nose for what people would buy was not 100% dead accurate.
And this is not a slam at all at Don Ohlmeyer.
Far from it, in fact. He helped make some amazing things happen.
BUT IT'S A CAUTIONARY NOTE FOR ANYONE PUTTING CREATIVE WORK INTO THE ETHER
And the cautionary note is perhaps best illustrated by a line given to us by a CoupleCo interview subject.
If you don't know, CoupleCo is a nascent project being launched by The Fabulous Honey Parker and me.
It will start life as a podcast about and for couple entrepreneurs, and grow into other media.
We were interviewing a couple who have a photography business, and are a raging success.
We asked each of them, "What is the single most important piece of advice you could give a couple who wants to be in business together?"
Without hesitation, he said, "Don't think your opinion is always right. Because 99% of the time, it's not."
AND THAT IS A FINE BIT OF ADVICE FOR ANYONE
Especially in a business where one either has to help create a brand, or has to put that brand before the public (I'm talking to you, all you writers and small business owners-you're all in this together), fear and ego are your enemies.
Again: Fear And Ego Are Your Enemies.
We've talked about this before.
We will talk about it again.
Fear says things like, "Oh, I can't do that, it'll insult someone."
We've literally had a client be afraid of a piece of copy that talked about how hard it is to read a menu in a dark Chinese restaurant.
Without using this exact phrasing, the client said he was afraid it would be considered a micro-aggression against Chinese people.
WHAT HE DIDN'T REALIZE IS IT HAD ALREADY BEEN RUNNING FOR YEARS
We were asking him to approve not the entire advertisement, but just an edit to the advertisement.
It had been on the air for seven years. In those seven years , no one had ever called him on his politically incorrect micro-aggression.
As for Ego, that's the little voice in your head that tells you things like, "Yes, those are the rules for other people, but I'm above that."
Or, "I don't like that so nobody will."
Ya know what?
I love olives. Happy to eat them.
Ya know what else?
Honey Parker hates olives. Will not eat them.
We will never come to an accord over this. It's just the way things are.
ONE THING WE DO AGREE ON IS THAT WE DON'T ENJOY WILL & GRACE
We are not the Will & Grace audience.
But we do not begrudge the TV viewing public its fondness for that NBC sitcom.
And we admit, it was well done.
And one of the brightest spots for us is Megan Mullally's supporting role as Karen Walker. This character is described (in know-it-all Wikipedia, of course,) as "'a spoiled, shrill, gold-digging socialite who would sooner chew off her own foot than do an honest day's work.' She is also a promiscuous borderline alcoholic/drug addict with an often tenuous grip on reality and very few morals."
Really, Ms. Mullally is just damn funny, and a stellar comic actress.
SO, WHAT ABOUT THE SMALL-BUSINESS OWNER?
After all, TV programming is an incredibly complicated big business. What can the small-business owner take away from this mayhem of convoluted mega-business mishegas?
Well, don't be afraid of good creative.
Don't let Fear & Ego rule your decision making.
And ultimately, it helps to turn to one of NBC's iconic leaders, the late CEO and Chairman Grant Tinker, who also co-founded MTM Enterprises with his then wife, Mary Tyler Moore.
Mr. Tinker was known for his distinctive approach to all things business, "First be best, and then be first."
Of course, that requires defining the word, "Best."
What is best?
That's a topic for a whole different screed.
But be guaranteed, it isn't fueled by fear or ego.
If you'd like to know more about couples who are not ruled by Fear & Ego, check out this teaser video for what's to come at CoupleCo...
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
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Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.