What's cable TV got that classical might want?
On today's Morning Edition, co-host Renee Montagne spoke with entertainment reporter Kim Masters about the new fall TV season. When the subject turned to network TV vs. cable, Masters said something that caught my ear: "If you look at a show like 'Mad Men,' which makes a lot of noise on AMC, that show is so tiny, it wouldn't last a week on a broadcast network."
Huh! For all the articles in the Times, all the interviews on Fresh Air , all the overall "noise," "Mad Men" still isn't a popular show, in the commercial sense. If that's true about "Mad Men," I bet it's true about other widely discussed cable series, like "Breaking Bad" or "Game of Thrones." It probably also goes for some movies that "everyone's talking about," but which, compared to the box office blockbusters, hardly anyone actually sees. Even public radio has the equivalent, a show that's practically generated more newspaper articles than listeners, "This American Life."
And that's not a bad thing. Hey, if you can't turn a huge profit, you might as well enrich the culture, add to the conversation and create an outsized buzz. TV shows do this. Movies do this. Indie rock and other non-chart-topping CDs do this. Even little ol' public radio does it.
So, how 'bout it, classical music? Isn't it your turn? Listen, you'll never be the most popular music around, no matter how many corny crossover projects you come out with, or how much inspiring oratory you spout about how noble, universal, healing, bridge-building, peace-fostering and overall smart and healthful you are. You'll always be a niche. But there's a big difference between being a nearly invisible, inaudible niche, and a niche that gets noticed, talked about, and heard by the same people who like the stuff in the preceding paragraph. And you're currently at a fork in the road. Keep going straight ahead, the way you're going now, and you'll get more of what you've got now. Take the alternate route, the one that leads to modernity, engagement, relevance, and a wide-open, no-holds-barred rethink (not the same as rejection) of everything you do, from repertoire to venue to presenting style to technology to marketing to economic model, and there are still no guarantees on where you'll end up. But won't it be fun getting there? And who knows — maybe someone outside your neat little circle will notice. If you can't be network, classical music, you can at least be cable.
(Photo: Actor Jon Hamm as Don Draper on AMC's "Mad Men")