Backtalk:&nbsp Shark Week


Hey, it's August, and just like Jaws, I'm back,fresh from completing a round of weird assignments, including an incredibly weird stint onjury duty.

And now once again entrenched in my comfortable old habits,I'm watching The Today Show. Perky Katie Couric and her dashing co-anchor MattLauer babble in the background as I perform my morning ablutions. But last Tuesday Inearly slashed my tongue on dental floss when a segment for Discovery's "SharkWeek" series popped up on NBC. Like its broadcast competitors, the network has beenbellyaching for months that its economics no longer work in the multichannel environment.

I'll say. Those economics have resulted in NBC, the leadingbroadcast network -- which apparently can't afford to produce a series like Discovery's"Shark Week" -- not only featuring a cable series to fill its own airtime, butpointedly telling its viewers to watch that series, which started last Sunday night.

So the broadcasters wonder why more and more of theirviewers are turning to cable. Hmmm, any lightbulbs going off yet? Well, maybe, just maybe,it's because their own network anchors are urging them to do so.

The Today Show segment, which featured Gordon Hubbel,an expert on prehistoric sharks, was very informative, especially given the timing: themonth when most folks make tracks for the shore to thrash around in the briny sea. Hubbelwas indeed comforting, telling us that most shark attacks are not lethal. Instead, mostsharks just chomp off a limb or two and spit up the rest of the carcass, because theyreally don't cotton much to human flesh.

The segment ended with the NBC anchor telling viewers that"Shark Week" begins on Sunday at 9 p.m. (EST) on the Discovery channel. The NBCanchor might have well said, "Don't bother watching our insipid reruns during the dogdays of summer, when cable has all the fresh programming."

Nor was this an unusual occurrence. The segment on"Shark Week" was not the first time that NBC featured and plugged, with day anddate info, a Discovery series, according to Lynn McReynolds, vice president ofcommunications, Discovery Networks U.S. McReynolds says that back in April, The TodayShow did a segment on Discovery's Eco-Challenge, a five-part series the cablenetwork was debuting that month. Daredevil Couric was featured in that piece, climbing andeventually getting stuck on the top of a rock wall. Again, the reporter who did the piecedutifully notified viewers that the series would begin airing on cable the followingSunday at 9 p.m.

McReynolds also notes that Discovery has forged arelationship with NBC's Dateline. That program has featured Discovery fare such as Eco-Challenge,but has not necessarily encouraged viewers to watch the series on cable.

NBC has historically plugged its own cable networks, whichis understandable, unless you happen to be an NBC broadcast affiliate, which might look atthe matter differently. For example, last week, when the stock market dropped 300 points, TheToday Show team urged its audience to tune in to CNBC to watch how the marketprogressed in the aftermath of that bad day.

That kind of promotion makes sense, because at the end ofthe day, all of the eyeballs and ad dollars are going to benefit NBC. But turning viewersto Discovery does nothing for NBC.

Nor is NBC the only network that's steering its own viewersto cable. McReynolds notes that ABC has done it as well. Last October, Good MorningAmerica did a segment on the Discovery documentary Wolves At Our Doors,plugging the programming and pointing viewers to cable.

So thank you, NBC, for being a good broadcaster byproviding a public service announcement for "Shark Week." I'll be watching and Ibet a lot of Today Show viewers will, too. Think about those economics.