Monday, June 8, 2009

Give me 12 episodes, babe

Just when I was about to hang up the tuba, the industry sends word it could use my cover of "Enter Sandman”. What else could you make of the news that Pizza Hut is launching an in-store entertainment network?

The disclosure of Hut TV follows indications that McDonald’s, Hardee’s, Arby's and Wendy's, among others, are also installing proprietary entertainment networks for patrons to watch as they munch their fries. The trade is going on the air. Instead of placing fast-food products in TV shows, some brands are placing TV shows in fast food.

Which leads me to why I’m suggesting you pick a card, any card. I don’t know if you’ve seen any television recently, but clearly there’s not a deep pool of programming from which the established networks can draw. If Rob Blagojovich’s wife is being cast in a primetime show, “Paint Drying: The Mini Series” might already be in storyboards on some cable exec’s desk. My flaming baton work may finally get the showcase it deserves. Heck, the other guy from Wham! might end up a star. This could be the best news Vanilla Ice ever got.

Of course, there’s some concern about how my art will be received in a quick-service venue. I don’t know about you, but the last thing I need is more streaming entertainment. If Fast Food TV catches on, it’ll fill in that five-minute gap when I’m disconnected from computer screen, Twitter feeds, cell-phone calls, radio, television, land line and iPod. Whew. No more of that mind-numbing boredom of thinking without distraction. Or, even worse, relative silence.

The chains are betting the media-saturated will appreciate not having to struggle through a disruption in sensory input. They’re also counting on unique programming to provide a point of distinction, like a new sandwich or a head-turning bargain. Pizza Hut, for instance, reportedly views Hut TV as an integral part of recasting the brand as a cooler, more contemporary concept called The Hut.

It’s a bold wager. Done wrong, the entertainment could be seen as an annoyance, or the sort of background din that’s disparaged as elevator music. And picking programming is clearly dicey. Need I mention "Cop Rock," a musical police show that was backed by Stephen Bochco and NBC? Or the Fox Network's "The Tick," starring a regular from "Seinfeld"? If that's how the industry's luminaries can stumble, imagine what an upstart network could do.

But what do I know? I was sure my kazoo rendition of “Umbrella” would chart.

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