By Al Herskovitz
BRANDENTON — The cry keeps emanating from the media world and beyond. “Radio is dying or is already dead!” Particularly AM talk radio. Then a question comes to mind. If the format is dead then why does a prime time, long-running, TV hour crime drama devote the theme of one of its shows to the murder of an AM radio conservative, talk show host?
Did any of you watch this past Thursday night’s (10/9) episode of “Bones?” If you haven’t ever seen the program, the theme of the entire series is simply about a female scientist who appraises the remains of murder victims and partners with her FBI agent husband to solve the crimes.
In this particular episode the victim was an AM radio conservative talk show host who was named “Hutch.” Hmm…
They also portrayed him as overweight and, for a little extra spice and color, a sadomasochist in the thrall of a dominatrix.
Unless I’m suffering from serious paranoia, most of the elements including the name, with some slight exceptions, minor exaggerations and a few twists, strike me as a barely-veiled description of someone in our business with whom we all are familiar.
The story itself was typically on the lightweight side, but the implications and the “attack” on the murdered victim seemed clear. There also were a number of not-so-subtle digs at the victim’s political stances.
A dramatic, fictional TV series that indicates political points of view is not unusual and is readily accepted. Two current examples: “The Good Wife” and “Madam Secretary.” And a couple of recent seasons of “NCIS” in every episode had a camera pan over a coffee cup on a desk in which was sitting a small Israeli flag. The flag’s presence had nothing to do with the action, but just was there. Yet the camera lingered for a number of seconds.
But, rare, if at all, is AM talk radio and its conservative hosts, the target of such violence.
The print world, particularly in its editorial pages and columns, take shots at AM radio and conservative hosts all the time. That’s a legitimate part of its business. And politicians up to and including the White House have been doing it and specifically naming names, as well. However, I have never seen anything quite like this on a network television dramatic series. There are numerous ramifications. (a) If AM radio is really dead, why bother? (b) Talk show hosts who are the “attackees” love it. It gives them prominence and something special to talk about. (c) And there is blow-back from viewers who are fans of the radio host as well, and the action may even cause the TV show to lose audience.
It’s hard to believe the medium — AM radio — troubles the TV producers to that degree. The only logical conclusion is they object to the talk host’s political positions and find this a way to use their program to get out their message while still keeping it under the umbrella of entertainment.
Or perhaps, they are simply trying to appeal to what they believe are the predisposed beliefs of their target viewership and shamelessly illustrating (and amplifying) a nasty caricature based on a stereotype.
There are numerous conclusions for us that can be drawn from this. But one really important one. Don’t sell short your format. Talk radio continues to make major impact on our society. Obviously it has some TV producers concerned.
Al Herskovitz is president of H&H Communications and a TALKERS marketing consultant. He can be emailed at: firstname.lastname@example.org.