Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Terrestrial superstation blogging – – MGM's the Works

[The over-the-air television industry continues to show remarkably strong and steady growth both in revenue and in number of stations (the last time I rescanned my television, I found well over 100). Press coverage has grown too, but at a far, far slower rate. The cynic in me might point to this as yet another data point in the argument that 21st-century reporters are only interested in stories that focus on the top quartile of the income distribution and have massive PR budgets behind them. Whatever the reason, there is remarkably little being written on the subject, so I thought it would be a good idea to do an occasional series of posts introducing some of the players.]

From Wikipedia:
The Works is an American digital broadcast television network that is owned by the MGM Television division of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.   …  Through its ownership by MGM, The Works is a sister network to This TV, a joint venture between MGM and Tribune Broadcasting which also focuses on films and classic television series from the 1950s to the 1990s and carries programming from The Works' corporate cousin MGM Television.

Compared to most studio--affiliated terrestrial superstations, the programming here is a bit of a hodgepodge, ranging from old movies to stand-up comedy shows to the odd sporting event like the Home Run Derby to HuffPost Live. This does not necessarily have to be a bad thing if the people running the channel know what they're doing, but no one at The Works appears to have put any thought whatsoever into pulling together the various strands. Nor has there been any apparent effort to come up with interesting and distinctive branding ideas.

The Works is also not at all insomniac friendly. While most of its peers program 24/7 (NBC/Universal's trainwreck COZItv -- which, for some reason, throws in a couple of hours of paid programming a day -- being the most notable exception), the Works runs late-night infomercials. I feel this is almost always penny-wise and pound-foolish. Late nights are a great time to build viewer loyalty, reinforce your brand, and just play around. To take an example from the world of cable, look at Cartoon Network and Adult Swim.

I do, however, have a couple of very nice things to say about the channel, One general and one specific.
Like all terrestrial superstations, MGM's the works is a good thing. For starters, you don't have to pay for it. More importantly(And this is the part I really, really like), you don't have to pay a cable company for it. I know I'm not alone in my feelings toward cable providers, phone companies, and satellite services. All of these industries have horrible reputations and long records of despicable business practices. This pattern of bad behavior is largely the result of operating mostly under monopoly or near-monopoly conditions. Even with the internet, you still have to deal with many of the same providers. For the moment, over-the-air television represents by far the healthiest competitive force in the field of live TV.

The second reason is specific to the Works. As you probably know, virtually every major piece of  popular art you can think of that is still under copyright is owned by a tiny handful of major players. Most of those companies appear to own or be in a relationship with at least one terrestrial superstation and these stations have been aggressively mining their owners' libraries. Furthermore, many of these stations are either operated by Weigel or modeled after their channels. As a result we have a lot of smart people who know what they're looking for digging through a fantastically rich collection of material.

Someone at the Works must've realized that MGM currently holds a great collection of major and minor gems of British cinema from the 30s through the 70s. A given week is likely to have multiple showings of something vintage from the likes of Alfred Hitchcock, David lean, or Noel Coward. There are also lots of not necessarily good, but interesting and hard-to-find films like Richard Lester's unique surrealist black comedy the Bed-sitting Room or First a Girl (the English remake of the German film Viktor und Viktoria which was in turn later remade by Blake Edwards as a vehicle for his wife Julie Andrews). I even saw a very nice print of Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 film the Lodger, nicely restored with an original soundtrack and tinting of selected done, I assume, to match the original.

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