Issue: "Year in Review 2003," Dec. 27, 2003

Conservative TV

For all of the liberal spin in network news, as documented in Bernard Goldberg's bestseller Bias, conservatives finally started exercising some clout on the small screen.

The right-leaning Fox News Channel far surpassed CNN in the ratings, not to mention the pipsqueak MSNBC, and has made itself a force to be reckoned with in television journalism.

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The Pentagon's innovation of "embedding" journalists with military units in the war with Iraq actually led to pro-American reporting from the whole gamut of TV news.

When CBS planned to show a docu-drama hatchet job on Ronald Reagan, the conservative internet journalist Matt Drudge broke the story, which was picked up by conservative talk radio and Fox News reporters, leading to a firestorm of criticism that made CBS yank the whole series.

And when Fox News recruits new talent from its floundering competitors, such as Greta Van Susteren and Chris Wallace, they have a way of changing from liberal bias to fair and balanced. This suggests that the reason many journalists are liberal is not so much their core beliefs but their susceptibility to peer pressure.

Gay TV

Television gladly joined the homosexuals' crusade for social acceptance. Not only did gay characters abound but TV spun a specific propaganda line.

According to television, homosexuals are oh-so-domestic, just like heterosexual couples. The ABC sitcom It's All Relative featured two gay men, together for 20 years, who are "fathers" to a teenage girl. The CBS reality show Amazing Race 4 portrayed two homosexual men as being "married" to each other.

Another motif is that a gay man can be a woman's best friend, since he is sensitive, not out for sex, and not a slob like heterosexual men. This is the subtext of the hit comedy Will & Grace.

Then there was the breakout hit from Bravo/NBC Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, in which homosexuals straighten out all of the faults of heterosexual men.

fall of the networks

This was a bad year for the major television networks-ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox-whose free, over-the-air broadcasts used to be the only game in town. But in 2003, the plethora of small, specialized networks now available on cable TV and satellite caught up with the big players.

The networks could claim 48.2 percent of the audience, but cable had 47.5 percent, virtually a dead heat. Some weeks cable pulled ahead. This summer cable shows claimed as much as 52.6 percent of the audience, with the broadcasters getting a mere 39.8 percent share.

But television watching as a whole is also in decline. Nearly all of the new shows that premiered last season were bombs. NBC lost an average of a million viewers a week from last year.

In the demographic most prized by advertisers, men ages 18-34, ratings for the broadcasters are down 7 percent, a catastrophic drop-off that has studio executives doubting the instrument, insisting that the Nielsen raters must be making a mistake.

But the networks have an even bigger problem with younger viewers. Among women in the younger demographic of 18-24, viewership has dropped 20 percent. With young men in that age bracket, the drop is 18.3 percent.

And they are not all going to cable. Despite its relative success, ratings for ad-supported cable among men 18-24 is down 3.7 percent. Nor are they going to pay channels like HBO, despite their much-hyped series like The Sopranos and Sex in the City. Ratings for that age group on pay cable are down 25 percent.

Maybe a generation that has grown up on so much TV has finally gotten tired of it.


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