Why Buffalo Bill Got the Ax, and More

by Jay Nordlinger

Today’s Impromptus has a number of subjects, as befits such a column: journalism, IQ, Russia, and more. Our country is roiled with the question “What is ‘fake news’? What is real news?”

Along with my column, we have an image of the National Enquirer, for which the president has a lot of respect. He and the paper’s CEO, David Pecker, are close. During the Republican primaries, Trump touted a story from the Enquirer: the one about Ted Cruz’s dad and the Kennedy assassination. He also said that the Enquirer should win Pulitzers.

We show a particular cover of the Enquirer because it’s about Trump: “Trump Takes Charge!” It talks about all the wonderful things that Trump will do. “Apple’s 4.5 million jobs COMING HOME!” “PEACE between Israel & its enemies!” But I could not help noticing a story bannered in the upper left: “Malia Obama REHAB: 18-year-old HITS ROCK BOTTOM.” This is a “WORLD EXCLUSIVE!” And a photo of the subject is captioned “LAST SEEN WASTED 3 MONTHS AGO!”

Is this real news? Or, as the president and his admirers say, “fake news”? The president slams CNN as “fake,” “fraudulent,” etc. Would he ever say something similar about the Enquirer?

Enquiring minds want to know (or at least mine does).

In Impromptus, I also quote a tweet from the president: “Word is that @Greta Van Susteren was let go by her out of control bosses at @NBC & @Comcast because she refused to go along w/ ‘Trump hate!’” I then comment, “I am pretty sure she was let go because her ratings were low, the TV business being what it is.” But the point I really want to make has to do with Trump’s phrasing: “Word is …” (which reminds me a bit of Harry Reid).

Here on the Corner, I’d like to tell a story, which taught me something about television many years ago. There was a show, a sitcom, called “Buffalo Bill.” It was about a talk-show host, played by Dabney Coleman. I liked the show a lot. It lasted only two seasons.

Some time later, I read an interview with Brandon Tartikoff, the head of NBC. He was saying that he regularly received angry letters from viewers, asking why he had canceled their favorite shows. What did he have against those shows? Didn’t he know they were good?

He explained that these decisions were made by Nielsen: by ratings. If viewers didn’t watch a show in sufficient numbers, the show had to go.

Tartikoff had to cancel Buffalo Bill — his favorite show on television. Or rather, he didn’t cancel it, really: Nielsen did. The viewing public did.

Anyway, that was my lesson. Sometimes the public goes against you, in shows, politics, and other things.

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