Monday, May 25, 2015

The Motive Matter

Yesterday my son asked me what spurred me to start this project. The effort to come up with a relatively concise answer reminded me that my motivation has definitely shifted over the past couple years. Initially, it was almost a lark, a project to prove to myself that I hadn't forgotten everything I learned in film school, using a topic I loved as a means to an end. As I pursued both interviews and research,  though, one thing did strike me. Perhaps the most fascinating thing about Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar is that the circumstances that led to it being such a smart, character-driven show - particularly during Bob Bailey's tenure - are the same ones that ensured its ultimate end.

During the decade-long shift from television to radio, the sponsors who dictated the content of the network airwaves as much as - if not more so than - network executives were paying much more attention to the new medium. This intersection of the sponsors' benign neglect and an overall more sophisticated listening audience created a window of relative creative freedom for radio. Through  this opening came such talented writers and producers as Jack Johnstone, Ernest Kinoy and Norman Macdonnell (to name just a few), for which I am hugely grateful. As much as I love The Shadow and I Love a Mystery, shows like X-Minus One, Frontier Gentleman and Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar are the ones that have stuck with me the most.

Working in the television business at a time where another new technology in the form of online delivery is changing both form and content, it's not hard to see similar patterns playing out. The principle of "least objectionable programming" has long dominated mass media, especially in the United States, and many smart people in the TV industry insist that this dominance is now over. However, it's worth remembering that even the smartest people in the business are lucky to be right more often than they're wrong. It's tempting to believe that quality will win out, and in the long run it often does. At any given moment, though, this is far from certain.