Apparently the '80s will go to the highest bidder. That's the morality of the decade. "Liberty Weekend," a national celebration of freedom on the centennial anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, went to the highest bidding network: ABC, which owns the rights to televise many of the Liberty Weekend events.
That made the other networks mad. It dawned on them that ABC had bought itself a juicy patriotic tie-in. After they protested, concessions were wrangled. One stipulation of the compromise is that at one event, the other two networks will be able to cover what happens on stage, but only ABC will be able to carry "cutaway" shots of the crowd's reaction.
Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice after she fell down the rabbit hole.
We'd love to read the final "Liberty Weekend" agreement thrashed out among the three networks and their lawyers. Do CBS and NBC have dibs on the rockets' red glare, while ABC owns the bombs bursting in air? Nothing is too absurd to happen. We crossed that boundary ages ago.
Now there are new peaces to breach. After all, this Statue of Liberty thing might not be such a bad idea. Yeah, it might have possibilities. The business of Megamerica is megabusiness. Life is a series of commercials. Other national ceremonial events could go the same route as Liberty Weekend. Make it pay. That's the ticket.
For example, why couldn't rights to televising the political conventions be auctioned off to just one network, as a way of raising money and also of sparing the other two networks from having to cover the conventions? One problem with this is that all the networks would be bidding high to cover the 1988 Republican presidential convention, whereas the Democrats would probably have to pay one of the networks to get coverage of theirs. They might be relegated to Pacifica radio stations or something.
Still, we just know that NBC News President Larry Grossman ld,10 sw,-2 sk,2 would love the idea of being able to advertise with the slogan, "NBC -- Home of the 1988 Republican Convention! Let's All Be There!"
The next time President Reagan has a bombshell like a new Supreme Court nomination to announce, Larry Speakes could get on the horn and offer the scoop to the network most willing to pay for it. After all, the Reagan administration loves nothing so much as private enterprise; private enterprise should take over this, private enterprise should take over that. Pretty soon there won't be any public enterprises left -- and what's wrong with that? You wanna make something out of it?
Of course, these events will need a little more glitz and schmaltz if they're going to justify the high prices networks will have to pay for them. Instead of "Supreme Court," which is a little on the stodgy side, the term "Super Court" has a bit more zip. Chief Justice Warren Burger always opposed TV coverage of the court, but he's almost gone now, and his successor can think about opening up some landmark cases to television.
For a price, of course!
As for the White House, it's missing a good bet when it comes to its own star attraction, Ronald Reagan. People were never much inclined to pay to see Reagan when he made movies, but for free on television, they can barely get enough of him.
The networks, meanwhile, don't care much about pictures of Reagan when he is in the White House. They're more interested when he leaves or enters a helicopter, waving or cupping his hand to his ear, while the family dog yanks Nancy across the lawn on a leash. It's when the president goes to his ranch in Santa Barbara that the networks develop wild mad lusts for pictures of him. They hang out on nearby mountaintops and spy with long long lenses.
They should get their precious pictures. But They Should Pay. The White House could sell camera rights to one network and leave the other two on the mountaintop. Whoever paid up would get nice crisp footage of the president chopping wood, and building a tree house, and paddling around in his canoe with Nancy.
The other two guys would get long shots of presidential stand-in Buddy Ebsen clomping around the ranch grounds on a frumpy old plug.
Certain occurrences, like a presidential inauguration, would probably have to stay within the public domain, and it's doubtful that television coverage of either the House or the Senate would fetch much of a price on the old network bargaining table. Perhaps, if the House and Senate had agents who could go to network pitch meetings and rave on about them, things would be different.
Of course it would be by definition a package deal. To get Ted Kennedy, you'd also have to take Chic Hecht. To snare that funsy Silvio Conte, you'd have to endure that insufferable Newt Gingrich. And so on.
The big question now is this: who will get the rights to Ronald Reagan when he leaves the White House? Here is a president more popular than Mr. Whipple, Cap'n Crunch and Morris the Cat rolled into one. He could be a keen marketing tool. He should be reserved for the quality, upscale stuff, and not stoop to doing the commercials for senior citizen insurance policies. Besides, Danny Thomas and Lorne Greene need the work. They'll probably never get to be president.
It remains to be seen who will win the rights to put Ronald Reagan's picture on weenies, on sneakers, on boxes of high-fiber cereal and white radials and frozen entrees and puppy chow. Reagan seems to be plotting his post-presidential course already. Surely he was opting for a guest shot when, yesterday, he volunteered the information, at a White House ceremony, that NBC's "Family Ties" is his "favorite TV show."
He didn't mention Bill Cosby, the only man in America with more product tie-in potential than Reagan has. He's probably just jealous, that's all.
When Reagan ordered an invasion of Grenada and banned news media, there was a furious outcry. Surely it was the wrong approach. It would be better if, the next time, one network were allowed to go along. For a nice fat fee, naturellement! Something like an amphibious assault could do wonders to spice up "ABC's Wide World of Sports." Revenue the White House collects could be used to help pay off one ten-thousandth of the national debt. Or it could be channeled to needy fashion designers in Beverly Hills.
Don't laugh -- and I have a feeling you aren't. After all, these are the '80s. This is the time for striking it rich, cornering markets and cashing in.