Once you get used to not having Monica, Chandler, Phoebe, Rachel, Ross and Joey around on Thursday nights, you'll soon have to get accustomed to not having the NBC broadcast network around on Thursday nights. Or CBS. Or ABC, WB or Fox. Not on Thursdays or Mondays or Saturdays-at least, not over the air.
This latest advertising feeding frenzy, in which such varied advertisers as Allstate, Nissan, Anheuser-Busch, Coors Light, Burger King, Cover Girl and HP got suckered into $2 million per 30-seconds, ushered out one of the few programs that make a prime-time network buy merely ludicrously expensive-vs. the new status quo of absolutely insane.
Audiences are shrinking so fast, and costs per thousand have been increasing so steadily, that the networks depended on a handful of shows to generate the few mass audiences to sustain profitability. "Friends" and "Frasier" were two of them. Most of the rest are "reality" shows, a trend which sooner or later (probably sooner) will go the way of westerns, super-hero comedies, "Who Wants to be a Millionaire" and all TV things.
No doubt there are many brilliant comedies and dramas in the wings, but nobody can afford to make them. Which will give viewers even less reason to keep watching, and so on right down the drain.
The upfronts start next week. Stay tuned.
Meantime, there was this bittersweet goodbye event, punctuated by a dozen mainly unremarkable commercials, most of which will be fast-forwarded through by anyone with the capacity to do so. We're tempted to focus on the Burger King spot featuring a Eurotrash fashion model, a commercial even more wasteful and irrelevant than nakedly derivative of other peoples' jokes. We could also single out another gorgeous United Airlines rotoscope, or Nissan's Quest minivan for a strong selling idea or Gatorade for a cute, superstar twist on "Can Jimmy come out and play?"
The fact is, though, only one spot broke through-not because its message burned into our psyche (on the contrary), but because its surprise ending will put us on the lookout for whenever it may run again. Then we'll be paying very close attention.
The spot, from BBDO Worldwide, Troy, Mich., is for the Dodge Magnum muscle wagon. It begins with all the hackneyed shots-framed within a black letterbox-of the Magnum powering along twisting mountain roads at dusk. But then, just as you're getting annoyed by the triteness of it all, the car stops and the driver emerges. Then he walks toward the camera and grabs what turn out to be two actual black boards cropping the shot. These he stows lengthwise through the Magnum's rear hatch.
"Velocity meets versatility" is the tagline, and yes, it does. Furthermore, unlike most of the $40 million of ad inventory-and unlike the drippy last "Friends" episode itself-it sure does make you want to see the thing one more time.