Yesterday Was Streamed.

So yours truly actually got a chance to be a guest on a national platform yesterday, a return visit to Simon Applebaum’s TOMORROW WILL BE TELEVISED program on BlogTalk Radio.  My last appearance was smack in the middle of the pandemic in October 2020, so you’re forgiven if you missed it or, at best, forgotten it.  Apparently, so did Simon.

I got the opportunity for this because I quickly e-mailed the answer to a trivia question which Simon regularly sends out on weekends to his mailing list, with a bounty of “seven special prizes” at stake.  I somehow got it quickly and correctly enough, but per his very specific rules, since according to him I had somehow been a winner within the past year, my bounty was denied.   But, frankly, I need media exposure more than I need tzatchkes, so when he agreed to schedule me, and on short notice, I considered myself a far bigger winner.

I’ve known Simon since his days as a print trade reporter; we’d often bond at conventions and try to stump each other onTV trivia.  He’s a Queens native, as I am, and he truly loves media and television.   Kindred spirit of a sort.  He actually takes full advantage of BlogTalk’s live format in a way few in digital media do these days, making references to the time and local temperature as if he were on air on terrestrial New York radio.  And he encourages phone calls as part of his format.  It’s a true throwback format, and I personally love it.

But it seems that I’m very much an outlier in that regard.  Even with the presence at “the top of the hour” of a far more prominent “get” than I, the senior producer of NETFLIX’s OUR LIVING WORLD Ben Roy, calling in from Bristol, England in the midst of a multi-platform promotional car wash orchestrated by the platform’s PR team, both of us got exactly zero phone calls.

So Simon did with both of us what he does quite well–pull additional questions out of his arsenal on the spur of the moment, and capture our off-the-cuff reactions.  In my case, he threw me a few curve balls, including one on the new network MERIT STREET MEDIA, launched late last month in what the network claims is 80 million households.  My initial reaction was scoffing, since there was (and still is) minimal publicity out there about it aside from a few interviews from its founder and face, Dr. Phil McGraw.  McGraw’s also doing a book tour, so I probably missed some of the details that I should have paid more attention to.  Fortunately, the HOUSTON CHRONICLE’s Ariana Garcia did pay attention, and she gave McGraw a pulpit to preach from last week:

I think that Merit Street Media is a hero network,” McGraw said. “I really believe this is going to prove to be a clarion voice network.” Expounding on his vision, McGraw said that when history looks back at the “game-changing” network, he hopes people will agree that it formed at a time when “common sense” and “clarity” were needed regarding “values and what was important to keep this country on track—culturally and societally.” 

(H)is recently released book dubbed We’ve Got Issues: How You Can Stand Strong for America’s Soul and Sanity… served as a “blueprint” for the show, his new show Dr. Phil Primetime, and the network. The book touches on so-called “cancel culture,” a decline in what he calls patriotism and American values, which also served as subjects of a later segment on the morning show.

And as it turns out, upon further review that 80 million HH estimate might be closer to truth than I initially thought, particularly when I discovered that this is being backed by the Trinity Broadcasting Network.  TBN has more than four decades of relationships and leverage with cable and satellite operators, and currently owns 35 over-the-air TV stations; per Wikipedia, TBN was the third largest over-the-air television station group in the country as of 2010, besting the station groups of CBSFox and NBC, but behind Ion Media Networks and Univision Communications.  It’s basically the blueprint that Pat Robertson and CBN utilized to grow that company, and having worked for that company at one point I’m quite familiar with the power and opportunities that faith-based media can open up even for secular enterprises.  So in hindsight, I’ll allow that Merit Street probably does have a significant footprint.

But it also appears to be a gameplan that has been tried many times before, and failed even in far less fractionalized times.  A good deal of the programming that is being offered and planned is from a singular vision of a talk show host, which was Oprah Winfrey’s initial playbook when she launched OWN.  Repeats of his long-running syndicated show (ironically, some of those episode are currently running on the current OWN).  A few other familiar faces in repeats, including the version of Steve Harvey’s talk show that failed to deliver for NBCUniversal.  And, per the NEW YORK POST’s Michael Starr, some other familiar faces and ideas that once populated ratings and demographic-challenged cable networks:

The 24/7 network’s lineup features a newsy morning show, “Morning on Merit Street” (8 p.m. to 10 p.m.), with the primetime lineup anchored by “Crime Stories with Nancy Grace” (6 p.m. to 7 p.m.), “The News on Merit Street” (7 p.m. to 8 p.m.) and McGraw’s new show, “Dr. Phil Primetime” (8 p.m. to 9 p.m.), which has a live studio audience a la “Dr. Phil.”  On the programming horizon is a new morning show helmed by former “Bachelor” host Chris Harrison and his wife, Lauren Zima. (Harrison is also working on a primetime dating show.) Other shows include “Bear Grylls: The Island,” “Somebody’s Gotta Do It” — with “Dirty Jobs” guy Mike Rowe.

McGraw does his best to separate his “vision” from a political or ideological bent.  As he offered to Starr:

This is a family-oriented network and I want it to be a destination network that you can turn on in the morning and leave on and not be worried about what your kids are going to see during the day,” he said.  “We’re not a religious network, and we’re not pushing our values on anyone. But I do think we’re consistent with family values.

But judging by the lineup and knowing the skew of his show, not to mention those of his fellow Merit Street shopkeepers, it’s difficult for me to imagine anything close to a kid wanting to watch.  And the content of his show and the newscasts has a distinct Epoch Times bent.  Tonight’s episode of DR. PHIL PRIME is entitled Was COVID Mismanaged?, with the logline Meet guests who claim the government’s response to COVID-19 was grossly mismanaged, and caused life altering effects on children and adults.  

It’s indisputable that there is an audience out there for this kind of content; the ubiquity of both print and digital versions of EPOCH TIMES and podcasts hosted by the likes of Ben Shapiro and Charlie Kirk are among the most popular available anywhere.  The open question is why would any of their loyal audiences want to see the same topics and opinions offered up by McGraw and a few other relics from daytime TV?

And since I discovered that it is indeed available on DIRECTV (channel 306!), and on the digital channels of TBN stations, I actually sampled a bit of it.  I saw nothing that would suggest my initial opinion should be altered.  The newscast is anchored by veterans of local Texas television, and looks and sounds quite a bit like the faux newscasts that surround infomercials or ambulance-chasing lawyers.  An extended segment on the safety of air fryers actually put me to sleep.  And these days, that’s not a given for me.

I wish I had advance notice of this from Applebaum so I could have sounded more intelligent than I did yesterday.  But you probably know I’m quite hard on myself by nature.  So here, you take a listen and judge for yourself.

And if you’re even a little impressed, please share and encourage others to listen as well.  If we do this right, we might be able to have a bigger audience than Dr. Phil.

Until next time…


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