In the fall television season, every new show seems either to mimic the sexy soap opera success of "Dallas" and "Dynasty" or the imitation Hollywood made-for-TV excess of "The Winds of War."
Every neighborhood corner bank seems to be starting a discount brokerage service; the brokers retaliate with credit cards, check writing services and if-you-can't-beat-'em, join-'em banking services.
Computer companies are selling telephones, telephone companies are selling computers, and everybody is as confused as can be. One sports team looks just like another in a world where dynasties are a thing of the past and player allegiances last no longer than a New York Yankee's manager.
It's all part of the increasing trend toward the homogenization of American life. Not unusual in network television, where every season's most aggressively touted new programs are inevitably carbon copies of last year's successes, the copy-cat syndrome is infecting fields as diverse as telecommunications and finance.
The trend toward the blending together of everything comes at a time when American business leaders loudly decry the lack of innovation and productivity among their peers. Even the most creative sounding industries seem as tied to last year's innovations and successes as the traditionally mirror-image world of network television.
All this comes to mind on the eve of the opening of the fall marketing season, an annual phenomenon that extends from network television programming into product development, advertising, new auto introductions and the Christmas gift that everybody has to have this year.
The 1960s produced the conglomeration of American life, bringing businesses as diverse as publishing and frozen foods under the same corporate umbrellas--by and large disasterous corporate strategies that are only now beginning to untangle. The 1980s may be remembered as the time when everything really began to look the same.
Sears Roebuck, through its ownership of insurance and brokerage businesses, is virtually a full-service financial institution. Citibank--through its Diners Club subsidiary--sells clothes. AT&T, or what's left of it, is selling computers, while IBM is preparing to peddle telephones.
Unfortunately, it's only going to get more and more bewildering to most consumers. Grocery shelves are only going to get more jammed as this developers and marketers this fall are promising more "new" foods than ever before.
With the enormous success of "Diet Coke" still sending rumbles though the soda bottling business, there will be even more new drinks on display in the nation's supermarkets this fall. The New York boom in designer ice creams and large, soft, similarly-overpriced cookies has already spread to Washington and soon will be in supermarkets and shopping centers across America. Madison Avenue is closely monitoring Procter & Gamble's move into fancy cookies through its Duncan Hines brand and readying more clone cookies.
The simultaneous but contradictory boom in diet foods like Lean Cuisine and in salt-free, low-sugar specialty foods is spawning dozens of imitations. And the salad bar and gourment-food boom is not about to fade, either. The salad-bar-in-the-burger-joint phenomenon is heading toward the trendy world of cold pasta salads and fish spreads.
Perplexed by the dozens of computer magazines at the corner newsstand? More are on the way. According to Adweek--the advertising magazine that is itself a new alternative to Advertising Age--at least a half dozen more computer magazines will debut this fall and there are at least 70 already.
If you're not satisfied with the rash of investment advisory services out there or the boom in business magazines and television shows, more of them are on the way, too. Among the season's new magazine titles is something modestly titled "Wealth." That's precisely what it takes to keep up with it all.