By Robert Folsom | January 19, 2012
You might ask yourself this if you’re a business owner facing a recession or an individual pondering a job change.
But that is not the question you’re likely to ask yourself if you were a TV programming executive — at least not a typical one. But this was indeed the strategic question that Paul Lee, new Chief Programmer for ABC, asked himself this past summer — before he created a bold new lineup that appears perfectly suited to the times.
In turn, hits from the tough times in the 1930s and 1970s — such as Gone with the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, The Godfather, and Mash (and other “period” movies/shows like them) — have a direct influence on what you’re seeing the 2011-2012 television season, especially if you watch ABC’s prime-time lineup.
Lee had his detractors as the season began, but thus far his programming strategy has worked: A recent New York Times article, “New life, surprisingly, for ABC Prime Time” described his success. The story quotes a competing media company’s senior executive: “Everyone wanted to dis Paul Lee because he was an outsider from cable. But that was just what ABC needed.”
The ABC lineup includes genres and themes that are more likely to succeed during recessions/depressions. Modern Family, Suburgatory, and Last Man Standing are dark, edgy comedies, while the especially interesting Revenge and Once Upon a Time are dark, edgy fairy tales.
Once Upon a Time is unlike conventional bull-market fairy tales with linear plots and clearly good or evil characters. This show switches between fantasy and the real world, with its characters cast into ironic or even malicious contrast. An episode might show Snow White and Prince Charming in puppy love in the fantasy world, only to reveal Prince Charming in a coma as he withers away in the real world.
Revenge is set in The Hamptons during the summer, but there’s no frolicking on the beach. The lead character is a 26-year old girl whose father was framed and convicted, then died in prison. Now she hunts down the people she believes have wronged her father. Each episode serves up deceit, shady operations and little redemption. Any gesture of kindness or goodwill leaves the viewer asking, “What is this person’s real motive?”
In 1999 Bob Prechter said that declining social mood is characterized by “a collective increase in discord, unhappiness, anger, fear, somberness, pessimism, malevolence, dullness of focus, magical thinking, fuzziness of thinking and emotion…” Paul Lee is likely an “unaware practitioner” of socionomics yet he’s on the right track. If he continues to program prime-time shows that correspond to social mood, ABC should continue to achieve success.
Don’t be surprised to see more anti-heroes with a dash of escapism on the side later in 2012, and probably beyond.