Sunday, November 15, 2009
It's Not About You, Lou
After meeting Lou Dobbs at the Economic Summit at Baylor University in 2003, I couldn’t help but notice his ego matched his physical stature and girth. He was outside on a break from anchoring on CNN, smoking a cigarette, when I approached him and asked what he thought of the summit. He couldn’t be bothered. He was on his way to marginalizing himself in an industry where you need an ego, but can’t be consumed by it.
So last Wednesday night when Dobbs suddenly announced on his cable news show that it would be his last broadcast on that network, I wasn’t surprised. Lou, like so many who have come before him, made the easily attractive but fatal mistake of believing he was bigger than the network, and more importantly, thought he was bigger than his audience. Here was a man who thought he was a blowtorch, only to realize he was a disposal lighter in the conflagration that is broadcast cable.
Dobbs and CNN president Jon Klein reportedly had been butting heads about the direction Dobbs was taking on his show. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter was; it could have been anything. But Dobbs’ massive ego felt that he knew better than the audience, and even more ludicrous, he knew better than the bosses at CNN.
I’ve been broadcasting for over 15 years and have seen too many times this cautionary tale play itself out. When someone thinks they are bigger than the station, they are doomed to fall.
When I played Top 40 music as a DJ, did I like every song? No. Did I stick to the play list that management created for the station every day? Yes. Why? Because it wasn’t about me – it was about playing the songs that people wanted to hear to maximize the ratings for the station.
If Gaydos and I only myopically talked about stuff that interested us, you’d be listening to four hours of NASCAR, the Yankees, why Gaydos hates parades, why Michael Buble makes my skin crawl, or how I want Regis Philbin’s gig. Actually, you wouldn’t be listening and management would have a serious Stop N Chat about our show.
The show ain’t about us; it’s about ratings. The show is what you, as an audience, want to hear going on in the Valley and the nation.
Lou Dobbs was perennially third in his time slot on CNN. That’s not ratings success. Heck, that’s not even being in the ratings game.
Much research and strategizing go into how to make KTAR or CNN or FOX or NBC 12 successful. Broadcasting is like taming a cobra. It’s always a dance between snake and snake charmer and if the charmer starts believing that he truly he has control, the snake will fatally remind him with one strike.
Once a host thinks they’re bigger than the network or station that gives them a paycheck, it’s over. Ask Imus, ask Stern, ask Dan Rather how it feels to marginalize one’s self in an industry called Broadcasting. Not Ego casting.
Last Wednesday, Lou Dobbs corpulent corpse was thrown on the bone yard of previous hosts and talents who are now vague and irrelevant afterthoughts because their own ego ultimately undid their successful careers.