Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Head Games

And now it's time to play every TV station manager's favorite game, "Wheel of Network Feed Screw Ups and Practical Jokes!" It's the exciting and unpredictable game where master control tries to outwit one of the Big Four network's technical operations center. Here's how the game is played.

One of the most pervasive misconceptions about how television works is the idea that local network broadcasters have full control over what they can air and when they can air it. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, there are many times when a local station is at the mercy of conditions beyond their control. As a player of "Wheel of Network Feed Screw Ups and Practical Jokes!" your job is to try to predict what kind of out-of-left-field programming move your network will make, while trying to pour through the 50 emailed contingency memos and revised timing sheets they sent, and discovering they've told you absolutely nothing at all... at about the same time the network goes to color bars. The player who runs their station the smoothest without the viewers seeing this...

wins the game! Let's meet our contestants and see how they're doing.

On the Fox board we have Smedly Katrowsky, who is running the 2011 World Series. He has 81 emails from Fox TOC with attachments for contingency logs for a rain delay, stand-by programming if there's a rain out, and a map detailing the precise location of the Ark of the Covenant, but no format sheet for the actual baseball game! During the National Anthem he discovers he has to go to the Fox Affiliate Relations website and download the ball game format sheet. He's on the phone with his department head trying to get the password he needs to access the format sheet. Right now, somebody is hacking a bank computer and stealing Smedly's credit card number in order to buy four hundred Easy Feets, but Fox World Series commercial rundowns require a user name and a password that gets changed every three months.

Over on the NBC board we have Cynthia Narcolepsy, who should have an easy time of it because, as everybody knows, NBC has no sports. It's "The Biggest Loser," two hours of overweight people stepping on a scale in their underwear. NBC: Proud as a Peacock.

Running the Alphabet tonight, we have Waldo Rathskeller. He's going to need lightning reflexes, because ABC never sends a printout of timings; you have to scribble them down from an electronic display on a tiny network monitor screen as they scroll by like the end credits on "Entertainment Tonight." Whoops! What's this? A message on the monitor says affiliates taking the seasonal option should insert their legal ID upside down only at :05 past the hour, wear a fedora, put their left hand in, take their left hand out, and take their local breaks following this formula:

(S=program segment time, c=the speed of light, d=Disney's stock price, t=the number of men watching "The View")

Oh, and "20/20" is live tonight. Good luck with that, Waldo.

Whoops! Fox is jumping to regular programming. Seems that instead of going for an hour, the big Ultimate Fighting extravaganza took about 30 seconds when one of the participants - get this - threw a punch. Quick, Smedly, cut to your recording of the back-up pre-feed that was sent at 4:00 this afternoon. What? Whaddya mean, "What pre-feed?" Hooboy. Looks like this Fox affiliate will be treating viewers to an extra hour of infomercials. Smedly is going to finish the competition in-

Wait a minute! We have a development over on CBS. Willie Fugett has dead air during the Republican Debate! Seems the moderator just told viewers that here in South Carolina we'll see the last half-hour of the debate... * but now the Eye has gone dark. And... wait for it...

Oh! I'm so sorry, Willie. Not only did you get hosed by a network switching error, but you just triggered a conspiracy theory that WSPA is run by dirty hippie liberals. But we have some lovely parting gifts for you backstage. Enjoy your next job answering the 800 number to order Easy Feet.

*Apparently, airing a debate in its entirety would have been a violation of the Letterman Act of 1992, which states that if the late night programs slide past midnight, Letterman will give the president of Viacom an atomic wedgie he won't soon forget.

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