Memorable Entertainment Television big hit with classic TV fansWritten by Jim Beard | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Though relatively young as a network, Memorable Entertainment Television, or Me-TV, has already become a staple for many, offering a steady diet of classic television series for viewers across the nation. Neal Sabin, president of content and networks for Me-TV’s owner, Weigel Broadcasting, said the key to its success is knowing exactly who its fans are.
“We’ve had the same mission statement since the day we launched it, — to be the definitive destination for classic television and to treat our viewers with respect,” he said.
Those viewers are baby boomers, of course, ranging in age from 35 to 64, though Sabin said Me-TV has been attracting a good number of younger fans, too, introduced to its programs by parents and grandparents.
“There are a lot of families watching because they know we’re a safe harbor — we don’t have any content that would be objectionable to families,” he said.
Started in Chicago in 2003 as a block of local programming, Me-TV went national in 2010 as a broadcast network, not a cable network. It’s designed to air on digital subchannels; in Toledo, Buckeye Cablesystem placed it on its channel No. 111, WTOL’s 11.2. And its growth to now include more than 150 affiliates has been, in Sabin’s words, an “amazing, phenomenal process.”
“We’re nationally rated now,” he said. “When you look at second quarter, in daytime 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., if you compared us to all the cable networks we come in at No. 17, pretty good for a little broadcast network. We really have a very loyal and large audience that seems to be growing as we get more affiliates and word spreads about what we’re doing.”
What they’re doing is offering the classic shows that people want to watch.
“Another part of our success is that we’re so different from the reality television craze of today,” Sabin said. “The more of that there is, the better we do.”
“Our whole vision of being the definitive destination for classic television was that we had to have a lot of shows and we weren’t going to do this unless we got many of the greatest shows ever produced for television that are still available,” Sabin said. “And so we set out to buy iconic series that are real classics: ‘M*A*S*H,’ ‘I Love Lucy’ — as well as shows that we thought were great quality, but might not have the biggest audience in the world. Those may be kind of cultish, but we found a place for them on our schedule, like ‘The Fugitive,’ ‘Peter Gunn,’ series like that, that add to the credibility of being a network with a wide variety of programs.
“We also want to cast a wide net to build our audience by having so many different genres and types of shows from so many different decades that it just makes our fanbase larger. These are memorable shows; we want shows that give people a warm, fuzzy feeling.”
No cutting corners
Me-TV edits its shows as little as possible, claiming that it offers more content than any other similar nostalgic channel. While other channels may show “M*A*S*H,” for example, Me-TV can ensure that a viewer is seeing as much of the original edit as possible with modern commercial break demands.
“We also try and keep our network clean,” Sabin said. “If you notice we only have a little bug in the corner. There are never any snipes going across promoting other shows or sponsors, and we don’t talk over the credits. That’s another thing that people love — that we run the open and closes without interruption.”
Many popular re-run-based channels of the past have devolved into “original programming,” running newly created shows that eventually obscured their original formats. Me-TV recognizes that concern among their faithful viewers.
“We have about 22,000 fan letters from people and the No. 1 thing they say is, ‘Don’t become TV Land, don’t change, don’t do all of those things.’” Sabin said. “If we do any first-run programming, it will be either interstitial type things, like hosted shows, or it’ll be directly related to the Me-TV classic television series, like a one-time documentary about a series. A good example is when Peter Falk got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; we co-sponsored that and we put interstitial pieces between a ‘Colombo’ movie.”
The channel is also not afraid of potential controversy, as is evident in its recent acquisition of the 1960s comedy series “F-Troop,” which in more recent times has raised eyebrows over its depiction of Native Americans.
“I purposefully stayed away from it because I thought there would be a problem,” Sabin said. “So before we did it, I went online and looked at sites on the show and I looked for controversy and I really couldn’t find any. That doesn’t mean it isn’t out there, but as deep as I went I didn’t see any real problems. The ratings in its first couple of days were outstanding. I haven’t gotten any negative feedback. It’s all done in good fun.”
“F-Troop” entered the Me-TV line-up as part of its new fall prime-time programming, along with “Gilligan’s Island” and “Hogan’s Heroes,” a block that Sabin calls a “fun, goofy, younger-skewing lineup” that’s already pulling in high ratings.
“‘Gilligan’s Island’ I call a guilty pleasure,” he said. “It was not the ‘Masterpiece Theatre’ of CBS when it was on, but people love that show. They keep watching it thinking one of these times they’re really going to get off the island. And the ratings have been phenomenal just in the first couple of days we had it on.
“What else is exciting,” he added, “is that our viewers have asked for us to put more of the cop shows on the air, so we put a block of ‘Kojak,’ ‘Remington Steele,’ ‘The Rockford Files,’ ‘Cannon’ and ‘The Streets of San Francisco’ on Sunday afternoons every week. It starts out at 2 p.m. with ‘The Love Boat,’ which is one of our most requested shows. We’ve got about 65 different shows every week and that is so different from any of the other cable or broadcast classic TV outlets. We just have more shows, more variety, and that’s part of who we are. We’re old-school programs in an old-school format.”
Where no network has gone before
One of the most fascinating blocks of Me-TV’s programming, its “Sci-Fi Saturday” line-up, has captured the acclaim of fantasy television fans everywhere. Beginning at 7 p.m., it includes “Batman,” “Lost in Space,” “Star Trek,” “Svengoolie” and “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.”
“We bought those shows with the intention of running them as a block around our hosted horror movie,” Sabin said. “‘Svengoolie’ has been on the air in Chicago for more than 30 years and he has a huge following here and in other cities. It’s a cheesy throwback to the ’60s and ’70s horror hosts that used to be on the air. We had him and we wanted to build around it and so we did that.
“Saturday prime-time is a hard time to get ratings no matter who you are, so we decided to go with the Sheldon and Leonard ‘Big Bang Theory’-type of guys who are home on Saturday night and families who want some fun stuff. Those shows are sort of over-the-top with kitsch, like with ‘Batman.’ We’ll be adding some more to that, but we’ll have ‘Batman’ on for a long time.”
One of the shows that will be added is the classic 1970s Lynda Carter “Wonder Woman” series, most likely replacing “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea” in the block, Sabin said. That rotation and replacement of shows is something that will continue on the network.
“We’ve bought many shows and people say, “Where’s “Happy Days” and “Cheers?” and the reason they’re not on the air currently is because we need to keep this fresh for many years,” Sabin said. “Down the road those shows are going to be on the network, but you own shows for a certain period of time and we want to maximize the time we have with certain shows. Some things will go away and then come back; other things will go away and not come back, depending on business arrangements and what’s doable and not.”
Some series stand as tough nuts to crack for Me-TV, owing to the fees involved in their purchase. The residuals that need to be paid to both the casts and crews on the shows make them cost-prohibitive to a young entity like the network.
“It’s interesting that cable networks have a much different and lower scale than broadcast does for these things,” Sabin said, “That’s left from the days when cable was the poor step-child just coming of age and broadcast was always a big gorilla.
“It’s kind of slipped the other way, at least in our case, so they’re things like ‘The Sonny and Cher Show’ or ‘The Carol Burnett Show’ that have terrible music licensing problems — its just way, way too expensive to be able do them right now. Hopefully some day that can be worked out or we’ll be so successful that we can afford crazy money.”
To infinity and beyond
Sabin said that the Me-TV website, www.metvnetwork.com, will get a makeover in the coming months, all part of the drive to be the ultimate destination for fans of vintage television.
“Our goal is to have a website for when people want to know something about a classic show, they’re going to find the information whether we run the shows or not,” he said, “and links to things about classic TV, the ability to buy product, to watch some shows online, and some other things we’re working on.
“This is a small company and not some giant network and there’s very few of us doing all this, so it takes some time to get these things done. The philosophy is to have a website that can stand as itself, for classic TV viewers even if you’re not watching the network.”
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