The Emmy Ratings Drop

Viewers 2013-2020

2013: 18 million
2014: 16 mm
2015: 12 mm
2016: 11 mm
2017: 11 mm
2018: 10 mm
2019: 7 mm
2020: 6 mm

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You can’t say nobody was home, that there was competition for the flat screen. The truth is we live in an on demand culture and awards shows are not such and if you want the results you can get them instantly when it’s over, even during the show, so why watch it, and if you’re talking about celebrities, we’re overloaded with them online, it’s not like they’re scarce, and movie stars are not even movie stars anymore, never mind flat screen stars, it turns out two-dimensional is passe, we’re looking for a little more depth, or those who admit they’re two-dimensional whores selling out for the bucks. As for Kim Kardashian…she’s now saving inmates and going to law school, she’s got more gravitas than nearly everybody on the flat screen.

But TV drives our culture!

It most certainly does, but that does not mean we’re interested in awards therefore. They blew apart the center, they got rid of the scarcity, we all watch different shows and are quite happy with that, sure, we pay attention to the scuttlebutt, we’re interested in who won, but all these years later the awards shows are industry scrums, the rest of us really don’t care.

Over the past decade we’ve switched to an on demand world. We want to do it when we want to do it. As for live events, there must be something at risk, in the balance, like presidential debates or sporting contests, with ardent fans on the edge of their seats. As for who won television awards? Didn’t they try once to have web awards, i.e. the Webbys? Do they even have those anymore? They never got traction, because it’s the WORLD WIDE Web, and almost nothing is world wide, nothing gets that kind of traction other than the platforms themselves, and the only advantage of winning is the ability to put it on LinkedIn when the truth is if you’re a star you don’t need a LinkedIn page, you’re turning down work, it comes to you, you don’t have to seek it out, everybody knows where to find you, at no time in history have the prominent, what used to be called “celebrities,” been more accessible. Furthermore, the true stars of today, the Tim Cooks, the Mark Zuckerbergs…they’re nearly impossible to get ahold of, they live in a rarefied world only accessible to a few, you might be able to get on reality TV, but you can only dream of having access to the techies, the people who really run this country, and have no doubt, the hoi polloi know who they are.

Hollywood used to be secret, a LaLa land that required you to move to Los Angeles to TRY and become a part of. But then incentives had producers making shows all over the country, the world, and then everybody got 4k with their smartphone and the ability to post on YouTube for free and the magic evaporated. There’s no magic in Hollywood anymore, at most in its productions. As for mainstream fare…today’s youth don’t even have cable, they don’t see the networks and so much more, they borrow their parents’ credentials to watch Netflix and Amazon Prime into their thirties. They can live without everything. That’s the story of today, everything is at your fingertips but you can live without almost any of it, except that which resides in the tiny niche you’re attracted to.

As for myself, if it’s in English I’m probably not interested, unless it was made in the U.K. In America the stars are beautiful and it all works out, the production qualities exceed the stories, this is what happens when you attempt to please the most people, you end up with something that reaches very few, emotionally, intellectually.

And the public is now the arbiter, we hate gatekeepers. We’ll listen to what our friends have to say, we have our own trusted sources, who cares what the biased insiders have to say. Which is one of the reasons there’s no longer a Grammy bump and chances are most of the shows that won last night you have no interest in seeing, even if you missed them the first time around.

I guarantee you most of the shows I watch would not appeal to everybody. Hell, it seems most people can’t even abide subtitles! This is no longer the sixties, when we had no choice, not even the nineties or the first decade of this century, there’s an unlimited number of channels and there’s too much on and if no one else is watching what I’m watching, that’s cool with me.

Hollywood still believes it’s top down. That it’s in control. That the starmakers are insiders, part of the club. But the truth is control is exhibited online. And the younger you are, the less you pay attention to mainstream media and the more your heroes are those outside of traditional television. Jimmy Kimmel? He’s a nice guy, really nice, but if the Emmys wanted to appeal to a broader audience they should have been hosted by Jake Paul, or Ninja, online stars I doubt those in charge of last night’s show are even aware of. The younger generation has options, millennials and Gen-Z do not care whether they watch it on the big screen or on their phone, they’re drawn to content, and it does not even have to have a traditional narrative style. Hell, there isn’t even a television outlet/channel that appeals to these people other than the smorgasbord behemoths of Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu. Kids have no idea what’s on MTV, and that station stripped “music” from its moniker years ago.

Some things you can’t save. You just scrub them and leap into the future. We’ve had twenty five years of disruption yet the “industry,” and in this case I’m talking about both TV and film, believes everybody should still be interested in their product, in their awards shows which haven’t changed in decades. You’ve got to reinvent it. Maybe everybody in Hollywood should read Clayton Christensen’s “The Innovator’s Dilemma.”

You can be sure that Reed Hastings has.

Reed Hastings…dared to open movies on the flat screen as opposed to the theatre, dropped all the episodes of a series at once and the old guard still hasn’t stopped complaining, HBO Max and AppleTV+ are still dribbling episodes out once a week. No one goes to the office anymore, and if they do they bring their own water, they don’t hang out at the cooler. You’re lucky if anybody is paying attention at all, and if they are, people want the opportunity to binge, watch it all at once, that’s more satisfying than a week to week experience.

Yes, Reed Hastings won. Because he got ahead of the public. Going to streaming when people still wanted DVDs by mail. But he had the last laugh. Turns out when you can get it instantly, whenever you want, and there’s new product like “House of Cards” and “Narcos” that no one else will make that is superior to the competition, it’s a fait accompli, that’s what the people desire. And, once again, the road to access is easy. You just need a fat pipe and the price of one movie ticket to luxuriate in all kinds of product. Choice…try and purchase a product on Amazon, you’re overwhelmed!

And people are overwhelmed with television too. The old paradigms, the old tropes, the old awards shows just don’t work anymore. Reinvent them or die.

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Tune in tomorrow, September 22nd, to Volume 106, 7 PM East, 4 PM West.

Hear the episode live on SiriusXM VOLUME: HearLefsetz

If you miss the episode, you can hear it on demand on the SiriusXM app: LefsetzLive

An Artist

Endures negative feedback.

Takes risks on a regular basis.

Does not create to satiate the audience but themselves.

Creates because they need to.

Works without the audience in mind.

Knows that they will oftentimes be ahead of the audience.

Knows to ignore their most vocal critics. It’s usually more about the person who is criticizing than the work.

Knows the audience has expectations, but is not concerned with fulfilling them.

Is willing to go broke.

Knows the more you know, the longer you’ve been doing it, the harder it gets, even though you are that much more skilled.

Realizes that putting one’s foot in the pool is the first step and most people are unwilling to do this.

Is willing to learn.

Knows that inspiration creates the best work, but that sometimes creation begets inspiration. In other words, once you grease the wheels you might be inspired to do something great.

Knows that those who respond first are the ones to be most ignored.

Knows they are not a brand. Brands are consistent, artists are not.

Needs to grow. Once they stop doing this, they’re dead.

Gets frustrated but carries on.

Gets angry but doesn’t respond.

Knows the most ardent supporters are those who are silent.

Finishes.

Is savvy enough to know they are not always the best judge of their work.

Has to create or they risk depression.

Is internalized. At best they can relate to another artist.

Is a member of a separate tribe. The public can appreciate the work, but can never really understand the germ of creation. At best the artist can relate to other artists.

Speaks through their work.

Their work needs no explanation, it stands on its own.

Is willing to change. The greats reinvent, the middling class rests on their laurels.

Is challenging their audience on a regular basis, if they’re not getting a mix of feedback, both positive and negative, they’re not doing it right.

Knows that execution is secondary to inspiration. Just because you completed it, that does not mean it’s art.

Is gobbling up information in their field. Not so much to suss out the competition, but to marinate in the artistic field in which they endeavor. Writers read. Painters go to galleries. Musicians listen to music.

Knows that art is viewed in a context. And that by challenging the context people oftentimes can’t understand what you’re doing and castigate it.

Knows that if you listen to all the feedback you’ll be unable to create at all.

Their best work is done when they’re in a zone. It can’t be artificially created, it’s something you feel, not something you can explain.

How We Got Here

Change happened while we weren’t paying attention, and it started in the seventies.

The fifties were a somnambulant decade. Eisenhower was president, boomers’ parents, damaged by the Depression and World War II, put their heads down and built their families, averse to risk all the while, and the issues of minorities were ignored, whether they be of African-Americans, gays or…

But then came the sixties.

They started with President Kennedy. Who was all about hope. The future. Not the bogus, empty words of Obama, people truly felt like we were on the cusp of change. And as the boomers crested into adolescence, everything was up for grabs, everything hidden in the fifties came home to roost. Martin Luther King, Stonewall…the eruptions were frequent. Furthermore the younger generation detached from their parents, started questioning for themselves, and untethered they started testing limits. Ergo the advances in the arts and eventually the adoption of drugs and ultimately the sexual revolution, as a result of the birth control pill. Anything was possible, there was turmoil, but a sense of optimism, but that ended in the seventies. Boomers decried the election of Nixon, but after Kent State the generation started licking its wounds, retreating inward and also to the hills. Sure, Nixon resigned, but that was really a carryover from the sixties. Boomers were now out of school, they were looking to advance their careers. The hippie scene had died. Altamont killed the love one another culture. And when Carter gained power…there was massive inflation, dashing their hopes and dreams.

And then along came Reagan. Never underestimate his history in Hollywood. That appealed to a public that wanted to believe in myths. Reagan promised to right the ship, to make the economics work, and when he lowered taxes the boomers were ecstatic, they finally had money which they could use to grow their families and their nest eggs. They were sick of fighting the system, they’d had enough of that in the sixties.

But the eighties ushered in new forms of communication. In the sixties there were three TV networks, everybody knew the headlines. In the eighties we got CNN. We also got MTV, which reversed the broadening of artistic culture, along with blockbuster movies. Now it was about a monoculture, you wanted to belong, you needed to belong, whereas in the sixties you let your freak flag fly. They called it “The Big Eighties” on MTV, and still on radio, there was no equivalent moniker for the seventies.

And when Clinton got elected in the nineties, there was a sense of self-satisfaction, that the boomers were finally in charge. But having lost the Arkansas governorship once, Clinton was all about compromise, and when he eviscerated the welfare laws to keep the right happy, immediately a whole swath of people were disenfranchised. But unlike in the sixties, the middle class whites did not care, they were reaping the rewards of the Reagan years, and the economy was booming. It was suddenly a world economy and Clinton ushered in global agreements that had production shifting to the cheapest location and everything was groovy…only it wasn’t.

First and foremost you had Newt Gingrich and his minions. The right was licking its wounds. It was losing culturally, and despite Reagan it did not feel in control of the narrative. There was abortion, gays came out of the closet, ergo the culture wars…along with a desire to shrink the federal government, the lowering of taxes was religion, supply side economics were religion, didn’t matter whether it worked or not, the point was everybody wants lower taxes, at least in theory, and the left was asleep and the right hammered its message and…the rich got richer and the poor fell further behind.

Then came the tech revolution. For fully fifteen years that was all anybody could talk about, from the mid-nineties until the turn of the decade from the aughts to the teens in the twenty first century. Once again, it was about possibilities, and boomers were in charge, and we became enamored of our gadgets and the ability to communicate and… Disruption was rampant, but it seemed to affect companies more than consumers, there was no underlying complaint from the public about industries tanking. So now corporations and the public were on different sides. And not only were boomer techies becoming billionaires, but CEOs were operating behind the scenes to obfuscate the truth, lower taxes and get rich. And it took years for the public to catch up with all this.

Yes, corporations were hiding in plain sight, with their power, but we believed in corporations more than musicians, it was corporations that were delivering this exquisite future, musicians were just trying to catch up.

Meanwhile, the public was ignorant as to the rise of private equity, begun back in 1982 by William Simon, the former Secretary of the Treasury, whose investment vehicle Wesray Capital made double digit millions seemingly overnight via its purchase and sale of Gibson Greetings. Outsiders ignored this, they were busy reveling in the Big Eighties culture and economic run-up. Meanwhile, Wall Street noticed. And investments/takeovers became rampant. Sure, Michael Milken ended up going to jail, but no one else did. As a matter of fact, this was the seed of cultural resentment that came full circle with the government rescue of banks but not the public in the wake of the 2008 meltdown….the people had to pay, but not the bankers, not the corporations.

So, Bush ends up president. But a sour taste is left in the mouths of Gore supporters. Bush’s team fought hard, the Supreme Court gave him the office and Gore was the gentleman and conceded.

But once Bush and the Republicans had power they further lowered taxes and income inequality continued to grow. That is the story from the eighties on, the growth of income inequality.

So, Obama gets elected in 2008 and now the aged boomers believe everything is hunky-dory, all the sins of the past will be instantly wiped away. No. First and foremost, Obama was so worried about appearing the angry black man that he wouldn’t stand up to the right, and the right had made so many inroads into the infrastructure that it could not be excised.

This was not 1992 and Clinton. Clinton ushered in economic supergrowth and caved to the right to maintain power. This giveaway ended up hamstringing Obama. And when 2016 came around, Trump was elected.

So let’s go back to the undercurrent. The top line is about boomers raking in all this money, paying few taxes and being envious of the billionaires and the rich who paid low rates on capital gains, even those who ran hedge funds, via the carried interest rule. The boomers on the left, the Democrats, were self-satisfied and if anything they wanted more, they didn’t want to give anything up. Meanwhile, those on the right were raking in the dough and with no new taxes…incomes went up and up and up.

Then there was everybody else. Those who worked on the line, in manufacturing. Well, manufacturing went overseas as a result of globalization. And despite all the talk of retraining, there were no good-paying jobs available for the newly unemployed. So, life got harder and harder for those working for a wage. The minimum wage didn’t keep up with inflation and America turned into a lottery system, via the actual lottery and entertainment and tech. If you just pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, you could make it, you could succeed. Only you couldn’t, statistics said otherwise, but it’s hard to fight a dream with statistics.

In the fifties and sixties if you were rich you inherited the money. But in the twenty first century if you were rich you’d worked really damn hard to make it. Maybe went to umpteen years of school. You had contempt for those who didn’t apply themselves, especially for those on dope. And there was no safety net for those left behind, thanks Bill Clinton, and they started to resent the snooty left wing rich and still do.

As for the rich right… It focused on bogus issues like “freedom” and cultural issues like abortion and gay marriage to align these sudden free agents. The blue collar defected from the left. And when Trump said he loved his uneducated, he meant it!

But the left believed facts would rule, that people voting against their own interests would wake up, see the benefit of the ACA. But suddenly facts were fungible, and everybody relied on a different source as a result of the internet and…everybody wanted to pay less taxes, the right owned the mantra and convinced America of it.

The lefties were asleep. They were so busy making money hand over fist that they couldn’t see the changes in the landscape. Of course the poor should align with them, but what had the Democrats actually done for the poor lately? As for the leadership of the left, it was out of touch, not realizing that Hillary Clinton was a flawed candidate who was promising the status quo when that was anathema to most people, it didn’t work for most people, what did James Carville famously say? “It’s the economy, stupid!” But the left, the elite, equated the economy with the stock market, and that didn’t help the so-called “little people” whatsoever.

The right played the long game, with the Federalist Society. The left was asleep, believing its heart was in the right place so what could go wrong?

And everybody agreed the poor had flat screens and smartphones so why should they complain?

And the right forges off in a new direction. Trump gains the nomination and the RNC lines up behind him, as do the representatives and senators and…the left just wants a return to what once was. Yes, all those boomers who cashed in over the past decades want a return to the days where they didn’t have to worry about the government and they could continue in their rich lifestyles. Meanwhile, not only was the blue collar left behind by the Democrats, BUT THEIR OWN PROGENY! But unlike the children of the right, the children of the left couldn’t get off the couch, they were depressed. The right kept hammering an inane optimism as lifestyles decreased, blaming it on bogeymen like immigrants, and the left abandoned its own children, there was no message. The right owned the messaging war, the left ran on feelings. And so many of the elite left could afford college for their kids, they didn’t care about those who could not.

Yes, we got here via Democratic boomers. Who were so busy raking it in that they took their eye of the ball, to the point that their constituency is shrinking so much that they have trouble winning. They’re disorganized and not planning for the future as they myopically live their elite lives where it’s all about what’s in your head, meanwhile everybody else has to work with their hands, even the children of these boomers, at least those without rich parents with connections getting them internships.

But you cannot say all this. Because the boomer left’s heart is in the right place. Biden is the only option. Meanwhile, the younger generation is so pessimistic that they can’t come out to vote for Bernie or Warren and their future is so compromised that they cannot get worked up by McConnell’s desire to fill RBG’s position on the Supreme Court instantly.

This is how it is in authoritarian countries. The general public accepts the reality and tries to live its life, do its best not to touch the third rail and get arrested. Of course there are always active protesters, but the public at large…

Then again, the public at large came out in the wake of George Floyd, there was spontaneous combustion. There might be spontaneous combustion if there’s a new right wing justice, or if Trump steals the election, one cannot predict the future.

But one can plan for it.

It’s always about hearts and minds, after economics, of course, if you can’t put food on the table and a roof over your head there’s nothing else you can think about. And the left sacrificed hearts and minds while the right indoctrinated its constituency to the point they’re blind followers hoodwinked by the party’s elite to believe that if Democrats gain power America as they know it will cease to exist, even though life would get better for almost all of them.

So it doesn’t pay to criticize the right, as heinous as its activities might be, the only way forward is via a left wing agenda that works for all people. Even if Biden gets elected most problems will not be solved, not that you can say this, but the truth is Biden is not gonna get rid of the carried interest rule, because private equity pays too much for influence. Once again, money in politics is rampant to the point that the left is disillusioned completely. Bernie shows it’s about rallying the people, that you can raise more money that way, and Biden can’t raise almost any from the public, which is a bad sign, but the DNC ensured that Biden became the candidate and you must vote for him or else. How appealing is that?

But it’s really not about politics, it’s about money, lifestyle. The creeping income inequality has eviscerated the middle class and those without, struggling to make a living on both the right and the left, don’t trust the government to help them. Washington, D.C. is show business for ugly people, and they’d rather watch Netflix than the news.

But no one can be guilty in America. Or, if you are, you go to rehab and are instantly cured. No one can take responsibility. When you’ve got no values, your culture becomes desiccated. Yes, values are a left wing issue too, but they’re only mentioned by the right.

The American Dream is already in the rearview mirror. It’s not only climate change that we’ve let persist unaddressed for all these years.

And you wonder why a strongman promising a solution to these problems, however fallacious, succeeds. The people need hope. That their lives can improve, that the playing field will no longer be tilted. But the truth is no one with a dollar, no one in power truly wants that, they just want to keep the proletariat mildly happy as they continue to rape and pillage.

And that’s where we’re at.