Is Soft AC like a bad but successful sit-com?

I’ve been thinking about what it means to do “great” Radio.

Last night I actually watched some sit-coms. I do this very rarely because I find most of them to be poorly written and insipid. And, by the way, I am by no means a snob. My tastes are notoriously and painfully middlebrow.

But there I am, watching a couple of the more popular sit-coms – with quality actors sprinkled throughout – and they suck. Big time.

How can they be so bad – yet so popular? In fact, all of these shows passed the gauntlet of research obstacles the networks set out before every show. What’s going on here?

I was reminded how the forthcoming US version of The Office left pre-test audiences befuddled, thus receiving the lowest scores ever for any sit-com in the US. I was reminded of the reaction of one of my relatives who, upon seeing the hilarious British version for the first time, was confused and puzzled – she didn’t know how to react to it. What WAS this show? Was it supposed to be funny? Well, The Golden Globes and tons of critics thought so. What’s going on here?

Then I realized what it was. Many of the sit-coms, most probably, are no good. But they are, at least, familiar. They’re comfortable. They may not be Friends – but they look like Friends, they sound like Friends, the musical cues prior to commercials are just like Friends. Further, they are non-challenging, inoffensive, and bland, like a big bowl of macaroni & cheese – heavy on the cheese.

Most importantly, they’re familiar and comfortable. Recall that Seinfeld was nearly cancelled when it failed after year one – and again after year two. It was too…weird and unfamiliar. From the now well-known musical cues to the plotting to the “show about nothing” theme to the unfamiliar and “bizarre” characters. It wasn’t like Friends, folks. And whether this show could make it alive out of the gate today is questionable if not downright doubtful.

Now switch gears to Radio.

We all consider the big in-office monster Soft AC’s to be hugely popular and enviably successful. But while they’re successful, are they really that “popular”? Take LITE in New York for example. A market-dominant legend. But is it really “popular”? Or is it simply “familiar and comfortable”? It’s non-challenging, inoffensive, and bland, like a big bowl of macaroni & cheese – heavy on the cheese. Do listeners “love” this station? I sincerely doubt it. Is the music “great”? I sincerely doubt it

This is not to diminish what LITE has achieved. It’s only to say that LITE lives according to a standard that’s different and in a category that is probably exactly one station deep in every market. .

So before you go into battle against a Soft AC with a “brighter” music mix, keep this in mind. The war for “bland and inoffensive” is not won with “better music.” It’s won the minute there’s a station occupying the position.

The road to success is littered with the carcasses of paradigm-breaking Seinfelds. What makes a hit on HBO is different from what makes a hit on ABC. Before you launch your format, consider what “network” you’re launching it on.

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