How About That Teri Garr?
An email conversation about the news of the day.
March 11 2002 12:20 PM

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If previous versions of this discussion on Slate are any guide, most people seem to sit at the breakfast table and declaim mini op-eds to each other. What would be closer to reality is probably something in the spirit of Larry King's now (sadly) defunct column in USA Today—a series of non sequiturs. A quick take on the latest twist in the Middle East process, followed by the observation, "Isn't Teri Garr terrific!!"

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Speaking of Larry King, there's something I wanted to raise that isn't in today's papers—at least the ones I saw—but will return. The Koppel case. This week we will probably learn whether David Letterman jumps ship to ABC, thereby sinking Nightline. I really haven't watched Nightline enough in years to say how good it is, but I was struck by this set of facts. It actually attracts a (slightly) larger audience than David Letterman. The people who watch Nightline are richer on average than those who watch Letterman. The problem is that they are, on average, three years older than Letterman's crowd. This has meant that Nightline is mildly profitable while Letterman is wildly profitable.

Now the divergence between these two shows seems to rest on a theory—that younger people form allegiances to brands, which stay with them forever, while older people are set in their ways. (Our friends, the TV writers Rob Long and Dan Staley, created a sit-com that pulled in a good audience, but they were mostly older men. It got canned within a few weeks.) I wanted to ask you since you follow this stuff, how serious a theory is this? Does it rest on telephone surveys of consumers and things like that? Isn't much of that research pretty soft? I would think you'd want to target people who actually have money and can buy things, which means older folk. Is this considered absurdly naive in the hip world of advertising?

My suspicion is that, despite better objective statistics, Nightline loses out because of a notion that advertising executives have convinced themselves is true. I've heard of the power of ideas, but this is ridiculous.

Anyway, we can get to other things—Middle East peace process, 9/11 six months on, Arthur Andersen—but I did want to get your take on this. Oh, and isn't Teri Garr terrific?

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and the author of The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad.