Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Am I just supposed to turn it on and wander aimlessly around the dial?*

If you thought Frank Costanza was on the verge of full-blown conniption when Elaine returned his cucumber sauce smudged TV Guide, just imagine how he’d react to the upcoming changes the weekly publication recently announced. Their plans to forego the digest format for a traditional magazine layout is utterly incompatible with Frank’s carefully catalogued collection of past issues. There was no word whether the beloved fall preview issue will continue to be published.



Frank, however, is in a distinct minority in finding TV Guide an indispensable viewing companion. Media experts throughout the country are commenting that the vast number of cable channels, programming on demand, and digital recorders have all contributed over time to making a printed listing of television programs an impractical and unprofitable venture. Preview channels and programming menus are a much more efficient manner to disseminate that type of information.

TV Guide is cutting program listings down to about 25 percent of its content and filling the rest with television-related articles. Their plan is to find a niche among entertainment magazines such as People and Entertainment Weekly. Experts expect that they’ll discontinue the listings altogether once they wean off loyal subscribers like Frank.

The local angle here of course is how much longer will the SJ-R continue to publish its TV Week supplement. As the most casual of TV watchers, I’m probably not in the best position to assess its usefulness to the average taker of the SJ-R, but as a paid-in-full subscriber I would like to see them devote that valuable news print to something with more substance. Maybe it could be used as a weekly wrap-up of Milford Frank’s letters-to-the-editor, printed in their full, unabridged version with the corresponding rebuttals from Marshall Selkirk.

I rarely give the supplement a second look anymore and haven’t since Wayne Allen graced those pages with his reporting from the entertainment world. For nostalgia sake, I would like to think that Allen’s Alley was much more hard-hitting and insightful than that publicist-driven drivel that Walter Scott dutifully passes along in Parade each week, but the truth is I was probably just more susceptible to fawning reports over celebrities’ personal lives as a lad.

I’m not much for prognosticating, but I give the SJ-R’s TV Week another 15 months before those pages are either taken in another editorial direction or returned to the forest.

As for TV Guide, I predict that in a year’s time they’ll be completely out of the publishing game. Magazines are having a rough go of it right now and despite TV Guide's strong brand name, I think that they will have a tough time competing with more established titles.

If there is a potential upside to all of this, it’s that the larger format will allow lovers of the Guide to make more bountiful origami bouquets to give to women they meet on the subway.

*Frank Costanza from episode 74 of Seinfeld, "The Cigar Store Indian."

2 comments:

JeromeProphet said...

Dan,

I hate to disagree, but I must, with your negative prognosis for TV Guide.

I believe the idea of a magazine dedicated to television is still a good one, and that reworking the magazine could be a great way to increase its sales.

With outrageous glossy photos, exclusive behind the scenes interviews, and just enough scheduling information to make it useful - it could become a less serious version of People, but a more credible version of The National Enquirer.

Of course for the magazine to work at all, articles will have to be kept simple, and short enough to be read in the time an average person uses in the bathroom.

If it can keep to that formula it could find itself at the checkout counters for decades to come.

QC Hawk90 said...

Dan,

I think that the answer for TV Guide is to "go nude", or at least have a swimsuit edition like SI (which has become the same as nude)!! We all know the old adage, sex sells. I, for one, have never purchased a TV Guide, but may consider a subscription if it would only follow my advice.