Posted at 10:30 AM on July 22, 2008
by Jeff Horwich
Blogger Daniel Holloway has an unusual read on NPR's decision to cancel The Bryant Park Project:
The grandly obscene part is that after spending all of 10 months trying to lure listeners...NPR has decided it's not worth the trouble. They'll just stick to what they know, thank you very much. What they know and whom they know.
Holloway (who did movie reviews on the BPP) seems to be letting his personal affection for it guide his analysis.
Were NPR truly giving up, in a global sense, any interest in listeners under 35, it would be as stupid as he suggests. But I find that hard to swallow:
* The show had an annual budget of (insert Dr. Evil voice here) $2 million dollars. In the world of commercial TV, of course, that's peanuts. But for a new show in public radio, that's an big ol' pile of money -- especially for a studio-based show that involved a lot of host interviews and little original reporting. By comparison, our show -- with all its live audience bells and whistles, live band, and a full production staff -- was prepared to proceed with a budget about half that size (which was still deemed too big to fund at the moment). With a budget like that the BPP was rolled out as an all-or-nothing proposition. When stations weren't signing on, there was no money coming in to support a budget of that size.
* While it had a rabid ban base, it's just not clear BPP was really very good. At present, it's sitting with a 3.5 star rating on iTunes. Amazingly, that's worse than Fair Game -- which I thought was a weaker program. I'll be honest: I'm right in their demographic, and I believe in the philosophy behind what they were doing -- and I just didn't especially like it. The show often tried too hard to sound like my new best friend, presuming that young people (especially the subset of young people who might be in the orbit of public radio to begin with) somehow speak a language of made-up-words like "ridonculous," harbor a deep cynicism about the world, and would rather skim along the top of the news than actually engage with it. (What's our iTunes rating, you ask? Five stars -- though given that we're not NPR, our exposure has been limited. I'd gladly take a dent in that to pile up a few more reviews ;-)
* Time slot: They show's planners also failed to consider that Morning Edition (its main competition) has already made a pretty successful turn toward a younger sound. Booting Bob Edwards was tough -- but doggone it if it didn't work in the end.
* BPP had ridiculous (or is it "ridonculous?") staff turnover, deeply undercutting the drive to develop a consistent new sound. By the time the show was canceled, both original hosts were gone (one resigned months before, the other on maternity leave). Hard for listeners to get attached to such a changing cast of characters -- not to mention a trying management hassle for the NPR bosses -- which no doubt contributed to their waning enthusiasm for the whole thing.
* The name. As my wife said the other day, "what the hell does that mean?" As a show title, "Bryant Park Project" was a real gamble: It says nothing (at least to someone who doesn't live in New York City) about the show's content, attitude, approach, philosphy, tone...nothing. I thought from the beginning it was an odd choice. (If I recall, it was the internal working title for the effort -- but they kept it on with the official launch.)
* Maybe most important: Holloway seems to narrowly presume that no one else is working on these things and that NPR is somehow all there is to public radio. Because NPR cancels one program hardly means the end of public radio efforts to attract new audiences. In fact, younger listeners who miss BPP have lots of places to turn (let's see: Sound of Young America, The TakeAway...um, In The Loop, anybody? The Public Radio Talent Quest is trying to spawn some new programs).
Some of these will be good, some not so good. But canceling the Bryant Park Project (for a whole host of rational reasons) hardly adds up to public radio giving up on anyone under 35. All BPP did is prove that it ain't gonna be easy.