Most things in life, TV shows especially, succumb to what I have always called “Fat Elvis Syndrome.” During the last few years of his life, Elvis just said “F**k it!” He let himself go completely. Contrast that with the way he looked and performed in his 1968 comeback special. He was hungry and still had to prove himself as a relevant performer in the time of The Beatles and progressive rock. He did it and also invented the “Unplugged” presentation at the same time.
TV shows pretty much follow the same path. For the first few years, the writing and acting are usually amazing. They are “hungry” and work hard to succeed. Once they’ve made it, the writing gets lazy and the actors start phoning it in. Here are some diverse examples:
The Beverly Hillbillies: A breakthrough comedy for its first few years. The writing was fresh and crisp and the actors were working hard to establish their characters. After a few seasons, the country mice meet city mice gags got old but continued to be repeated over and over again. The characters became caricatures of themselves, exaggerating the traits that initially made them great. The show remained on the air for several years due to the momentum it had created in its early days.
The Brady Bunch: Not only did the sharp comedy writing get stale, as the children aged the producers thought they could rekindle the show’s initial magic by introducing Cousin Oliver. Unfortunately the new kid was anything but adorable and the lazy writing did nothing to make him any more lovable. My Three Sons, The Cosby Show, Family Ties, and many other TV shows had little success introducing new children as their original kids aged.
Fringe: Initially a cutting edge work of imaginative science fiction. It evolved into a nightmare of frenetic plots and subplots, each added in the hope of reviving sagging ratings.
The list goes on and on. Show after show literally threw away its initial success due to bad writing and sub-par acting. The “Fat Elvis Syndrome” is also extremely evident in the world of TV shopping. The 3 major networks, QVC, HSN and ShopHQ are all in various stages of “Fat Elvisdom.”
HSN seems to be the least affected by their success, while ShopHQ and QVC are coasting and seem to be mired in their own former success. I have previously written about QVC’s “Narrow Branding” strategy. ShopHQ is also suffering from a lack of new products and innovation along with boring and predictable presentations.
On QVC, it almost seems like the executives are just coasting until they can retire. Nobody is rocking the boat or trying to push any envelopes. In fact, in most cases they have sealed the envelopes and nailed them to their desks.
In my 15 years on-air at QVC, I was often taken off the air early a shift and trained to demonstrate a “world premiere” product coming up in the next hour. We would actually scoop the rest of the retail world and debut new products before any other retailers. It was a very exciting time. Like other TV shows, the excitement evolved to apathy. It started to be the same old/same old thing every day. If the viewers liked a product, we started selling it over and over again. I once rode a whale to help sell merchandise from the film “Free Willie.” While a got a little crap from TPTB for the dangerous escapade, the video of my ride helped to sell a lot of T-Shirts and chackas from the film. Today, they probably fire me for doing something different.
Back in the mid-1990’s, QVC built a state-of-the-art mobile TV studio and cruised the highways looking for America’s best products. The QVC Local was a huge hit and helped to create many successful American entrepreneurs. It was “decommissioned” for financial reasons. I maintain that it was money well spent. The word-of-mouth factor alone was amazing. Something about spending money to make money comes to mind.
It is sad for me to watch a company that so many people worked their asses off to build simply wither and die. The repetition of products and cookie cutter hosts are holding their own in the short term. The lack of new and innovative products along with the staid and predictable presentations are making all the shopping channels unwatchable.
During my tenure (1986-2001) breakthrough products were the norm. Sales were growing at about 15% a year. It was an exhilarating place to work. One of the reasons I left was the growing lack of new and exciting programming. These days it’s pretty easy to predict what products will be sold on a daily basis, especially on weekends. Tablets, computers, super blenders, and an endless array of skin care products take up a majority of airtime.
While HSN and ShopHQ are guilty of the same “Narrow Branding,” QVC seems to be the worst offender. This is especially true since they were the “What’s New” network for many years.
I have previously predicted the death of the live TV shopping show. I believe that all their business will move to the Internet. There will still be hosts and guests but they will be available on pre-recorded streaming web presentations. The live TV show is already proving itself to be an unnecessary expense. Progress? Absolutely! Good progress? That remains to be seen.
I can’t help thinking if one of these networks tried to recapture the pioneering spirit that made QVC great in the first place, they’d own the TV shopping world. Although it’s like wishing that Elvis had lost weight back in the 70’s and squeezed into that leather comeback outfit. And, sadly, just about as likely.
(All posts ©2015 – No portion of this text may be copied and/or pasted elsewhere without written permission of the author.)