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In a Flyover State: In Last Place, and Damn Proud of It

I hate college basketball. I hate that the round when the 16 seed plays the one seed is now stupidly called the second round. I hate how all the good players leave after one season. I hate Gus Johnson. OK, nobody hates Gus Johnson, but you get my point.

Why am I so bitter about March Madness? Is it because the team I grew up rooting for from the University of Minnesota went from being ranked 13th in the nation to missing the tourney in the same year?

Well, yes. But even more so, how about this: I am last—and I mean dead last—in my company’s bracket contest. Yup, everyone else is above me as of presstime. So when you hear about the entire staff of B&C getting fired next week, you have the scoop on why.

I am not thrilled about being in last place whatsoever, but I am actually happy with how I ended up there. And it’s a pretty good lesson for the TV business. Heck, for any business.

See, every year, I analyze the field and make my usual safe picks. And every year, I am good, but save for one stars-aligned year, never great. Every year at bracket time, I go conservative and end up respectable.

So this year I decided to dare to be great. I made my normal picks, and then went back and changed about half of them to the opposite of what I had picked. I took a shot. And it imploded. But I’m OK with that. I wish more people in TV were as well.

The problem is too many of us operate from a place of fear. As I’ve written before in this space, we all have that lease on the nice car and the kids in private school and we tend to bunker in and protect that. Well, actually, you guys have the fancy stuff; I drive a five-yearold jalopy and my kid will probably need a golf scholarship just to get into kindergarten.

But we see all the time that when people try something new and it blows up in their face, they rarely get lauded for taking a big shot. Instead, hindsight takes over and they get ripped.

We’ve seen plenty of risky bets in recent years fail big. You could look at trying new kinds of shows, like a series about coupleswappers on CBS called Swingtown. Or trying to take people who are really good at one job, like Katie Couric or Ellen DeGeneres, and plugging them into unfamiliar territories like The CBS Evening News or AmericanIdol.

None of those big ideas worked. In fact, those plans rarely do. But when they do, tides turn and genres are born. And so is great television.

Besides, I don’t know about you, but every year at pilot season, I usually just can’t get excited about one more CBS procedural, one more Fox comedy with an edge, or one more ABC medical drama.

That’s why when Fox pushed back Terra Nova and that network’s rivals sniped about how the show had been a disaster from the start, I found myself saying a big “so what.” At least they were trying something big and bold.

If it fails, it fails. They won’t all be Glee.

So go make a show about zombies. Or coupleswappers. Or couple-swapping zombies.

Just make those big bets, please. Worst-case scenario is you fail miserably, get fired, and have to start a “new media company” or whatever the latest quote is for “I just got sacked and have no idea what the hell to do next but I need to say I am moving on to something so the press release doesn’t say I got fired.”

And I will put my money where my mouth is and take a big shot. I am going to restart my internal battle to run Page 3 girls (and guys) in B&C, a la The Sun in England.

What’s the worst that could happen? If I get fired for my 10,371st HR violation, at least I can’t finish in last place in the B&C March Madness contest next year. Plus, I’d have significantly more time to work on my picks.

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