"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 19 July 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Prime Time Gold Mine



If you were born after 1946, you

have never known a world without

television. Easy enough to

imagine. But what about a world

without TV Guide?


While TV hasn't always been there

for us - hell, we turned it off

for several years soon after

"The Dukes of Hazzard" was

cancelled - TV Guide has always

been a touchstone. The rest of

you can have your New York

Times Sunday crossword - the

thrill of our week comes from

solving the mind-bending clues

of the TV Guide puzzle (1 Down:

"McMillan ____ Wife").


[Um, you know, Pfiles]

We're not alone in our devotion

to "The Bible" (as it's known

here) - the little tabloid is

second only to Reader's

Digest (another favorite) in

U.S. magazine circulation.

Nearly 50 million fellow

worshipers thumb through its

pages on a weekly basis. Indeed,

an editor we're inordinately

fond of likes to cite the

perhaps apocryphal (but

nonetheless convincing) fact

that TV Guide makes more profit

annually than the three major

broadcast networks combined. The

fact that this statistic has yet

to be seen in print only adds to

its air of divine truth.


The inordinate and unassailable

popularity of TV Guide hasn't

been lost on at least one group

of desperate publishers, now

attempting to capture a

similarly exploitable niche for

themselves on the net. Crowbar

yourself into that level of

indispensable vapidity now,

they're thinking, and you'll be

making fat wallet long after

most Internet businesses go the

way of the Challenger.



And a TV Guide-sized cash machine

can also offer cryonic

suspension of the persona that

would make Walt Disney melt with

envy. After the most exotically

extravagant, highly visible

career of philanthropy conducted

by a filthy-rich old man since

Andrew Carnegie underwrote a

couple of public libraries,

Walter Annenberg was able to

schedule his way into permanent

Prime Time, eventually being

named as Ambassador to the Court

of St. James. If you're someone

who looks like Alan Meckler or

Michael Leeds, what more do you

have to look forward to in life?


[Be Cool Stay in School]

No hero achieves immortal status

unless he dispenses first with a

few challenges, of course, and

the owners of the net magazines

are each staring at a couple of

whoppers. Number one: none of

them is Walter, the scion of a

newspaper family which knew how

to pander to the masses long

before television itself

arrived. Add to that

considerable skill the fact that

Walter's dad was once imprisoned

for tax evasion and you've got

righteously pouty lips wrapped

around a silver spoon - a potent

combination of motivation and



Contrast that path with the

putative publishing careers of

Meckler and Leeds: both have

fallen into their careers as

net.moguls without ever

intending to do so, and, from all

appearances, against their best

efforts to fail.


[Net.Mogul: He's Famous]

Of course, it's hard not to give

props to Meckler - he managed to

make a flagship property out of

a magazine whose prime demo was

library science professionals,

best known for their ability to

collect nickel and dime fines

from patrons who needed an extra

day or two to finish the latest

Judith Krantz novel. Today, he

milks lukewarm dollars from the

soporific but lucrative twin

cash cows of Internet World

trade shows and Internet World

magazine. All appearances

suggest that it was only blind

luck that caused Meckler to add

coverage of CD-ROMs to his

portfolio in the first place,

which positioned him perfectly

in subsequent years to become

yet another multimedia expert to

have his ass saved by the



[Some Techy Thing]

Leeds is better positioned to

make out like Annenberg - at

least his family topiary bears a

familiar shape. Mom and Dad Leeds

built their company around

thrillingly-named trade titles

like VARBusiness. Later, the

company expanded into computer

publishing, an area where the

fields of subject matter and

format are as easily filled as a




The constant churning of software

and hardware upgrades gives the

editors of CMP magazines like

Windows and Mecklermedia

magazines like Internet World

their bread-and-butter fodder

for thrilling cover stories such

as "Ten Top Time-Saving

Utilities!" and "Internet

Explorer and Netscape Navigator

Face Off!" Not a single one of

these companies' magazines has

ever even tried to focus on what

makes consumer magazines like US and

Entertainment Weekly as crucial

to our diet as Nescafé and

Marshmallow Munchies: people.


Of course, Meckler, Leeds, and

rest of the folks trying to dip

their inky fingers into the net

mag pie are at a distinct

disadvantage: with minor

exceptions, the net has yet to

demonstrate the ability to churn

out and exploit its own brand of

cheap celebrity.



Think about the challenges that

face a TV Guide editor compared

to, say, a NetGuide editor. At

TV Guide, the formula for

picking a cover story out of the

mountain of press releases is

easy: put a well-known face on

top of air-brushed and

well-developed secondary sex

characteristics - if it breeds,

it leads. What happened to

Family Television, indeed.


The Net Guide editors, on the

other hand, can't count on

having any familiar celebrities

to grace their covers. The

"Courtney Love Spams America

Online" phase of coverage is

long over. And beyond Courtney,

the celebrity pickings get real

thin, real fast. The Motley

Fools are no lookers. And what

MOR editor in his right mind

wants to put Jon Katz on the

front of a family publication?


[Another coupla rich guys]

Even the rich-on-paper Jerry Yang

and his newfound friends at

Yahoo! Internet Life face this

problem. Though they might be

tempted to follow the lead of

the GBN fanzine, how often,

really, can they feature



What the net needs - and more

important, what net publishing

needs - is celebrity. And the

cheaper the better. We're not

just talking Roseanne or Pamela

Anderson Lee. Only the kind of

fame associated with a Sinbad or

a Connie Sellecca is going to

provide a consistent-enough flow

of "news" to make for TV

Guide-level success. When we

start hearing the staff of

Cocktail being compared to "The

Single Guy," when we find out

about Kinsley's Gap ad, when the

Stim CU-SeeMe is featured on

America's Funniest Home Videos,

we'll know a net magazine has

the opportunity to make a mint.

Look for our own embarrassing

personal confessions on a

newsstand near you sometime in


courtesy of A.C. Needlesome