“I want more ratings! I need more ratings!!” The veins on the side of Simon’s neck bulge like they’re about to burst, pumping his chemically enhanced blood towards his redding face.
The Executive Producer of the station’s already top-rating breakfast shop just sits there smugly. She’s put in the hard yards and endured the botox injections for long enough top know that Simon isn’t yelling at her. She’s built the ratings juggernaut that is the The Big Breakfast Show to the point where her stars, Dylan and Brianna, don’t even have to endure these ‘Emergency All Staff’ Meetings.
Such leniency doesn’t apply to us poor saps who are trying to rebuild an audience in the 6 to 9 pm slot. Last year’s disastrous launch of “The Dinner Bell” has left us with no-one listening to the station in the early evening. This not only dragged down the figures overall, but left the station bleeding from the outrageous long term contract they pay to the Creepy Old Guy who does Late Night Love Songs from 9 until midnight. He’s not at the meeting either — no one I have spoken to has ever even seen him. Apparently he broadcasts his show from his basement.
Simon is really building up a head of steam.
“Come, on! What about another big give way?! What’s the latest from the States?”
The Finance Director should not have been caught with a mouth full of decaf soy latte just at that moment. He didn’t need to say anything, as our downtrodden and budget deprived Head of Marketing knows what to say, and how to say it with gravity.
“Simon, the latest analysis from the US is that large-budget give aways are not as effective as they once were in building audiences outside the promotional period — and not even that great during the promotional period.” That’s all he’ll have to do this year to keep his Porsche.
“So? What do we do?” Simon isn’t going to publicly come up with something himself. He knows that everyone knows that “The DinnerBell” was his idea from start to finish, and he’s not sticking his neck out this time.
The meeting goes on and on. No one is game to contribute anything really innovative as the result is always the same — instant ridicule is guaranteed, followed later, in some cases, by Simon stealing the idea and offering no credit to the real brains behind it, whatever the idea is.
Jilly and I sit down with Jason our producer over a tray of six takeaway macchiatos.
“What’s got into Simon’s bonnet? The ratings are all going up.”
“Not fast enough, Alex old chum.” Jason our producer is well connected around the place. He hears things before we ever do.
“For who?” I ask.
“For Simon. I think I know why.” We lean forward. “The Chairman issued Simon and the head of the station in Melbourne with a challenge. Apparently, he’s made this year’s bonus for station managers ‘winner takes all.’ So what it boils down to is that only one of Simon and Moaning Mike from Melbourne will be getting a bonus this year.”
“No wonder he’s so tetchy.” If Jilly used a word like “tetchy” on air with our demographic, she’d be subjected to an intervention.
“And not only that, Simon went straight for the jugular with a ‘double or nothing’ side bet with Moaning Mike,” says Chris.
“What?” I say. “Is he insane?”
Jilly and Jason just look at me. Simon’s insanity is the bedrock of the Standard Operation Environment around here, and we all know it.
“So, that sounds like Simon’s got seven figures on the line, he’s four tenths of a percent behind Melbourne, and if we bust a boiler and close the gap he’ll get to go and blow it all on some luxury resort for New Year.”
“I think Simon might have some other more pressing financial issues than how to fund his annual New Year’s trip. Believe me.” Jason knows something that he’s not telling.
I’m so tired. So very tired. “Is there anything in it for us? I mean, if we really manage to pull a rabbit out of the hat and close the gap, will we get any thanks?”
“I’ll settle for some cash, honey.” Jilly is not in radio for the fame.
“Look, he hasn’t promised us anything. But everyone knows that evenings is the weak link this year, and if we can give it a lift there’s leverage into Creepy Old Guy’s show.”
“It’s good to know that they’re backing up that knowledge with support and resources.” I get up and wander around the room, looking under tables and inside an old credenza, feigning shock that all I find is a whole bunch of redundant promotional material for The Dinner Bell.
“What more can we do? We’ve got the music content analysed down to the note, we know what TV shows to talk about, we know what celebs to gossip about, we even know what words we’re supposed to say a lot so we sound ‘connectively adjacent’ with out target audience.”
“Is that a word?” I ask. “‘Connectively adjacent’? Really?”
We sit in silence for a moment.
“It’s soul-less, isn’t it?” I challenge them.
Jason is about to defend the show, but thinks the better of it. He knows I’m right.
“Formulaic, over researched, afraid,” he concedes.
“Well, that’s a forthright analysis of the show,” says Jilly with a resigned air that says that she agrees.
Jason passes his iPad over to her. The picture spins around and refuses to go right side up for her inspite of a few shakes and twists. “That’s what our latest review in The Herald says, anyway.”
“But does Simon want risky or edgy?”
“He only wants one thing. He wants the cheque from Moaning Mike in his bank account.”
“Well, we’d better get our thinking caps on, then.”