When was the last time a television station admitted a mistake, apologized to viewers and reversed a bad programming decision?
Extraordinary as it seems, that's what happened this week at Me-TV, the Weigel Broadcasting outlet for reruns of classic comedies (seen on WCIU-Channel 26.2, Comcast 223, RCN 14, WOW 17, AT&T U-verse 23, DirecTV 23 and Dish Network 23). Just one week after rolling out what was billed as its "new spring schedule," the station bowed to the will of its late-night audience and issued an inspired mea culpa on the air.
The controversy involved the decision to replace "The Honeymooners," "Dick Van Dyke" and "Taxi" with "Roseanne," "The Nanny" and "3rd Rock From the Sun" from 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., effective April 12. Virtually overnight, the station was inundated with angry calls and e-mails. Late-night ratings -- particularly among the target demographic of women between the ages of 25 and 54 -- declined noticeably.
"We just got a big lesson in how engaged and passionate our viewers are," said Neal Sabin, executive vice president of Weigel Broadcasting. "People really were upset that their favorites weren't there."
As of this week, the station not only restored the old shows to their rightful places on the lineup but began airing a clever promo suggesting that it was all just a "bad dream," borrowing clips of dream sequences from old sitcoms. (Here is the link.) To those who'd complained, the station responded with a note announcing the news and adding:
We've done our part, now we need you, our loyal viewer, to do yours. To keep these shows where you want, we need you to watch Me-TV and get your friends and family to watch‚ too. We want to keep Me-TV viable and growing. We make our programming decisions to enhance ratings and appeal to a larger audience. We rotate our programs for variety and to introduce different programs to viewers of specific time periods. When programs don't perform well in a time period, we make adjustments. That's why your viewing of shows like The Honeymooners' is critical.
Since then, Sabin said, the feedback has been gratifying and enthusiastic. One grateful viewer wrote: "My brother calls from Arizona and every night he asks, "What is Ralph doing tonight?' We all know the words by heart. Thanks again for your help in putting it back to 11 p.m. for us."Another wrote: "Hooray to you, Me-TV, for returning to this perfect TV lineup.‚ . . . Glad our numbers spoke up and that, as you say Frasier would say, you "Ëœwere listening.' "
In a similar vein, sister station Me-Too (seen on WCIU-Channel 26.3, Comcast 247, RCN 22, WOW 171 and AT&T U-verse 48) logged close to 300 calls and e-mails shortly after 11 a.m. last Sunday when the audio from a "Superman" episode accidentally played over the video of a "Hart to Hart" episode. "That's an incredible number of responses especially for that hour on a weekend," Sabin said. "Our viewers are watching -- and listening -- very carefully."