Monday, March 29, 2004

Your pledge dollars at work: The Selling of Chicago Tonight, aka the Bob Sirott show, or perhaps as Narcissism Tonight

Have you noticed that Chicago’s Public TV station is getting more and more into ads. It started with devoting more time on its shows to ads for its “corporate sponsors,” and to making the ads look more like, well, ads. But, today I noticed a trio of ads in between WTTW's Sunday programming about Chicago Tonight ("CT"), itself. And these are not promos telling you whom Phil Ponce might be interviewing on the next show or which portion of Crain’s the people from Crain’s will be reading to Sirott on the next show. No, not at all, these are ads that attempt to take CT and its anchor, Bob Sirott, into the modern age of glitzy advertising.

One CT ad has what purport to be adoring fans of CT talking about how wonderful CT is. The comments by adoring fans talk about how CT gives in depth perspectives, usually has a panel of three and gives in depth coverage of local issues. Although that ad says CT, it is clear it is not referring to Bob Sirott and his gadgets, but to Ponce and his panelists, who now generally are allocated only about one sixth to one third of the CT show. That is, the Ponce public policy issue segment has been reduced to a nightly 10 to 20 minutes, at most, and that only occurs if it is a slow day for sports. The rest of the CT time now goes to movie reviews, theater reviews, gadget reviews, Crain’s reviews, food reviews and hot sports reviews- apparently somebody high up at WTTW thinks the commercial market just isn’t filling the bill in such areas as sports and movie reviews and WTTW needs to plug these gaps in the market.

Another ad for CT has adoring fans of Phil Ponce talking specifically about Ponce, with comments about his good, educated questions and how Phil never lets “them,” slide. But the CT ad that really emphasizes just how far CT has fallen is the one consisting of the top dozen fawning fans of Bob Sirott [The Dirty Dozen?]. Let’s take a look at a transcript [unofficial] of the ad:

Male Fan 1 in a Building:
The host, Bob Sirott-- I think he is great. I think he is one of the best broadcasting personalities in the City of Chicago.

Female Fan 1 at a Department Store:
I have been watching Bob for a long time and I think he is a great asset [Asset? Isn’t that a CIA term of art?].

Male Fan 2 at a Department Store:
He is just very easy to watch.

Male Fan 3 in a building:
He is not afraid to ask questions.

Male Fan 4, getting off a bicycle: Yeah, I love Bob Sirott. Bob Sirott’s cool.

Female Fan 2, sitting down in building. I lovvvvvvve watching Bob Sirott.

Male Fan 5, walking down the street: Bob Sirott, Chicago Tonight

Male Fan 6 in a car: Bob Sirott

Male Fan 7, standing in a building: Bob Sirott

Female Fan 3, standing in a building: Bob Sirott (This young lady must be a big, big fan of CT, or somebody is paying her a lot, as she also shows up in the Ponce ad)

Male Fan 8, standing in building: Bob Sirott

Male Fan 9: I like [inaudible]

Female Fan 4, standing in a building, and making her second appearance in this ad. He [Sirott] has a wonderful personality, and he is very nice to look at.

The ad ends with the graphic--- We like him, too. Chicago Tonight.

Well, Well. So, the show that once was the place to turn each night for a serious one half hour discussion of public policy issues now has reduced the time for that discussion to 10 to 20 minutes and ends an ad about its host, Bob Sirott, with an adoring fan, stating—


So, Ch. 11[WTTW] has this promo for Sirott and his CT to convince everybody that if they want to be cool, they should watch Sirott. And, Ch. 2[CBS] has the jingle, “I’m a “2” watcher to convince everybody that, notwithstanding the low ratings of 2 News-- if they want to be cool, they should watch Antonio and Diane [After all, management decided these two were worth at least a few million dollars per year]. And, more importantly, the “2” watcher jingle is supposed to convince all that despite what everybody thinks, people really are watching 2 News.

So, the question is- Who is imitating whom?

I don’t know. Antonio and Diane are nice to look at, if that is your thing. Sirott is nice to look at, if that is your thing. And, their adoring fans [or whoever those folks are in the ads] seem to be telling us—that [the looks of the anchors] is the important thing about those programs. So, I am calling it a draw. CT is now up there with 2 News. Or, perhaps, more accurately, CT is now down there with 2 News.

As I said, your pledge dollars at work. What do you want? You got a tote bag. You think you should also have quality programming without silly ads that fawn all over those appearing on WTTW, too? Very demanding of you. Hold on, before you run off, could you pay this Check, Please?

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