The decision by NBC News to make a pilot for a show called "Trends" suggested a remark MCA Inc. president Sid Scheinberg made recently in Los Aneles.
We were talking about the success of "Roots" and whether the audience had benn sitting there all the while, impatiently awaiting both the form and the content of the eight-part drama. Said Scheinberg: "What happens is that the audience is usually ahead of the filmmakers or the programmers.
"It's a form of elitism that makes people who are in the business beleive that they are somehow ahead of an audience. The audience is usually ahead of the people who are making the product, and the people who are making the product simply have not perceived that fact. We are not leaders in that sense."
"Trends" is an idea that has been floating around in NBC News President Richard C. Wald's brain for some time. It is an attempt to get ahead of the news if possible - to be a kind of electronic Distant Early Warning of ideas and movements in our society while they are in their gestation.
A capable producer, Stuart Schulberg, has been selected. He was the executive producer of NBC's recent three-hour show on violence. He worked on "The Today Show" for eight years, and with the late Ted Yates was co-producer of "David Brinkley's Journal." The host of the show might be Tom Snyder.
The projected series which would be shown in prime time, could prove to be interesting and timely. But I will not hold my breath. I cannot forget what Scheinberg said about programmers usually being behind their audience.
Having spent most of my adult life either in television or writing about it, I have come to the come to the conclusion that the people responsible for television journalism are far behind the the entertainment people in judging what people are ready for.
My guess is that people like George Schlatter ("Laugh-In"(, Norman Lear ("All In The Family" and "Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman"), Larry Gelbart and Gene Reynolds ("M A S H "), Danny Arnold ("Barney Miller"), and all the talented producers and writers who made "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" such a glory have been ahead of their counterparts in the network news in spotting societal trends and elaborating on them in comdey form.
Most of us who work in journalism ferent from being able to spot trends. Television journalism is worse in this regard than print journalism because its practitioners feel that their medium is a fleeting, fast-moving one. Hence, they must move back and forth between trends at a greater velocity than their colleagues in print.
The worst failing of television journalism is its inability to control its enthusiasm when confronted with the obvious. That is what worries me about "Trends." That is what has worried me about CBS's "Who's Who," which promised much and has delivered little.
We are now in the Golden Age of Gossip. Perhaps we have always been. (Clare Booth Luce once remarked to me: "All history is gossip.") The difference between what was and what now is may be that we are bombarded with gossip about people, places, institutions and, above all, trends.
My instinct is that while newspapers, magazines and television are gearing up to give us even more such gossip pur audience may be in search of more substantive fare.
Substantive does not always have to mean serious. Life can be (it usually is) very serious. But it is also very comic, often a bad joke that just goes on and on. Most of us know this. And when we are confronted with someone telling us that this or that is a new trend, we tend to react: "Oh, my God, not another new trend. If you've seen one trend, you've seen them all."
I wish Schulberg and his colleagues at NBC nothing but the best. But I do caution them not to get carried away with the title of their undertaking. If they do, they will soon find themselves chasing mercury across a linoleum floor. That's how elusive the business is of telling an audience spotted it long ago and passed on to other things.