Sunday, October 19, 2008

Shame On America Sunday: Where Will We Ever Get The Money Edition?

This week, I got a little caught up on my magazine reading, and I was both concerned and given the idea for today's Shame On America Sunday when I first read, in Newsweek, that the next president would have a big mess on his hands (true enough) because he would not have the money to pay for ambitious social programs (a lie, and a stupid one, at that.)

Then, I read in Entertainment Weekly, that there are currently six shows filming in one of the boroughs of New York City, and that it costs an average of $3 million dollars per episode to film in New York City. Those shows film there for various reasons, including (in the case of "Life on Mars,") that Brooklyn can look like Boston but has wider streets, and including for realism.

Six shows. Most regular series have 22 episodes per year, so that means that the cost of filming those six television shows, alone, $396 million. It always looks more impressive with the zeroes, so here goes:

$396,000,000 is what the United States can afford to make Life on Mars and Ugly Betty more realistic.

I also like to break it down to the basic units, so here goes that:

We spend $1,084,931.50 per day to make sure that when Brooke Shields goes shopping on Lipstick Jungle, viewers will see real New York stores behind her.

We spend $45,205.47 per hour to make sure that Fringe's outlandish plots are adequately grounded in the gritty streets of New York City.

We spend $753 per minute in order to keep the Gossip Girls gossiping in stylish locations.

We spend $12 per second, every second of every minute of every hour of every day filming just six TV shows in New York City.

It took you two seconds to read that sentence. That's $24 America just spent filming six tv shows.

That's just the very tip of the iceberg. In years past, statistics suggested that it costs $1.3 million per episode, total, to film a sitcom -- more if the stars are paid a lot. The book Entertainment Industry Economics by Harold L. Vogel said that the cheapest programs to produce were daytime soaps, at $125,000 per hour.

So that gives us costs of $125,000 per hour to $3,000,000 per hour, roughly speaking, for each new show on TV. Let's use the $125,000 per hour figure just to give us an estimate. Let's assume that each hour of new TV programming costs $125,000 per hour for daytime soaps and primetime TV.

If I leave out basic cable -- for which people pay, so it's not purely advertiser supported, which is important for reasons I'll get to in a moment -- and leave out reruns and assume 2 hours of daytime soaps per day on the 'big 3' networks, and if I assume no new programming in the 13 weeks of summer, it works out like this:

Daytime soaps: $250,000 per network per day, five days a week, 39 weeks per year = $48,750,000 per year on soap operas alone.

Nighttime TV: Three hours per night, four networks, equals $375,000 per night per network, or $1,500,000 per night for all networks. They spend that seven nights per week at a minimum cost of $10,500,000 per week, for 39 weeks, for a minimum of $409,500,000 per year on prime time TV programming.

In other words, using the most minimal estimates possible, we spend $458,250,000 per year on new TV shows. It's probably more, but using the bare minimum America spends at least that on TV shows per year. (At the $3 million per episode cost, America spends $10,998,000,000 per year on TV shows.)

Now, here's why I used only broadcast TV: Broadcast TV costs you nothing. It is entirely advertiser-supported. The networks spend at least $458 million per year on TV shows and they get zero dollars from you for that; it all comes from Charmin and Sonic and McCain ads and the rest of the commercials you (but not me) complain about.

So where do Charmin and Sonic and McCain get that money? From you. You buy Sonic burgers for the whole family, like I did on my last vacation, because you saw those cool Sonic ads on TV and so you made sure to go there on vacation. You can't help squeezing the Charmin. You go see Beverly Hills Chihuahua because you saw an ad on TV, and you think that Barack Obama is an Arab because you saw an ad on TV.

If Charmin and Sonic and McCain were not getting money from you -- and more money than they spent on advertising -- they would not advertise and TV would not be free.

So you, America, spend at least $458,000,000 on new TV shows, each year. It's probably more; it may be as much as twenty-four times that amount. But you spend at least $458,000,000 on new TV shows.

In light of that, let's re-examine Newsweek's contention that there simply won't be money to pay for ambitious social programs, shall we? Let's ask ourselves, as a country, why it's okay for us to spend $458,000,000 watching Charlie Sheen make boob jokes but it's simply unimaginable that we could spend $458,000,000 to fix the roads, or institute a health care policy that will actually provide coverage for people so that nobody needs to raise money to pay for an organ transplant, or to effectively police our food and drink so that we don't have to have melamine in pet food and children's candy, or to institute actual financial reform to have regulators oversee banks making risky loans and securitizing them to pass the losses onto the taxpayer?

What kind of country can spend at least $458,000,000 watching TV but is going to tell the next president there's no money to do anything to improve the country? Shame on America for being willing to spend money watching fake privileged kids text each other, but not for spending money to make sure that real kids can go visit the doctor.

The Fix: As before, I've advocated a sales tax or consumption tax equal to 50% of the value of any goods that cost more than $500; and as before, I'm advocating increasing the highest marginal tax rate to 50% or more.

What you can do until the Fix is In: Every hour of TV you watch, take $5 and put it in a jar. Once a week, send it to a charity that does something valuable for society or a person who needs it more than you do. Here are three to begin with:

Ryan and Angie Shaw and their twins, McHale and Mateo: Insurance companies won't pay for Mateo and McHale's medical bills, because these twins who were given a 5% chance of survival at birth (and who are surviving quite well, thanks, at nearly 3) have had so many surgeries they've maxed out their coverage. Society decided that it would rather watch Survivor: Whereever they Are Now than let two little boys get medical care; you can fix that by sending tax-deductible donations to the trust fund that helps pay for their care; send them to the Mateo and McHale Shaw Irrevocable SNT, c/o Kohler Credit Union, 850 Woodlake Road, Kohler, WI 53044. (Find out more here; once on that page, type mateoandmchale into the box labeled "Visit a Caring Bridge Website.")

Help a Kid Get His First Book: "Books For Kids" is a New York-tristate-area program that helps set up children's libraries, promotes literacy, and gives away books -- sometimes the first book a kid has ever owned. Local, state, and the federal government don't make sure that kids read great books; you can, though, by donating money through their website.

Keep Some People Warm: Governmental policies have made fuel more expensive than ever. THAW: The Heat And Warmth Fund accepts donations to help low-income families in Michigan pay their heating bills in the winter; in addition, the group lobbies for longer-term relief through legislation.

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