Friday, July 20, 2012

My Short-Lived Career as a TV Futurist

It turns out I'm very bad at making predictions. For the longest time, when I was a young man filled with hubris and self-importance (as opposed to now, when I'm a middle-aged man filled with hubris and self-importance), I thought I could predict the future.

Not in a psychic, you-will-meet-a-tall-dark-stranger kind of way. But rather, I would look at a certain set of facts, spot a pattern that no one else had, and then predict with 100% certainty that a specific thing would happen, or not happen.

I thought I wanted to have a career as a futurist, which is a fancy way of saying I would get paid a lot of money to give speeches about what technology trends we could expect to see in the future.

In high school, I did play with the whole psychic prediction thing, and even took a little test. I scored 30%, which meant I was slightly better at guessing than the average guesser, but I did not have what the Gypsies call "the Second Sight." And I needed glasses for my First Sight.

The only prediction I did get right was that I was never going to be a futurist.

I began to realize how bad I was in 1998, after the Indianapolis Colts released quarterback Jim Harbaugh in favor of some new kid. Harbaugh had just taken the Colts to the AFC championship game, where they lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Colts rewarded him by cutting him loose.

"What the hell are they doing, getting rid of the Comeback Kid?" I said with all the authority of a sports reporter. "Why are they turning the offense over to some hick out of Tennessee? Just because his dad played football doesn't mean he's any good."

I was right, because the Colts went 3 – 13 that next year. But after the 1999 season, when the Colts went 13 – 3, I decided that, okay, maybe Peyton Manning was a good pick.

But I was livid again when the Colts traded Marshall Faulk to the St. Louis Rams at the end of 1998, and picked up another rookie for their running back.

"Edgerrin James?" I exploded. "What the hell kind of name is Edgerrin?"

Apparently it's a winning kind of name, because in 1999, he was part of that 13 – 3 team of Peyton Manning's.

So when the Colts got rid of tight end Marcus Pollard in 2004 and put Dallas Clark in as the primary tight end, I didn't say a word, other than to mumble, "good choice, good choice."

I'm not that good at picking favorite TV shows either. When "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" from Aaron Sorkin premiered at the same time as Tina Fey's "30 Rock," I went with Sorkin. His show was canceled before the season ended. "30 Rock" has won enough Emmy awards to beat Aaron Sorkin senseless. (In my defense, I have since become a huge "30 Rock" fan and have almost all the seasons on DVD.)

However, I'm not a complete prediction failure either. Remember, I scored 30% on my psychic predictability test, and that's about how well I've done picking TV shows too. I would like to go on the record as having picked "Highlander" and "Xena: Warrior Princess" to have long, successful runs.

While this does redeem my reputation somewhat, it doesn't speak very highly of my tastes in television.

Of course, I'm not the only one to make bad predictions. Many stories abound of publishers who thought they knew what the public liked and didn't like, only to find they had passed on some blockbuster properties.

Jack Canfield, author of the "Chicken Soup for the Soul" series was rejected over 140 times before he found his first publisher. Poet e.e. cummings' first book of poetry, "The Enormous Room," is considered a masterpiece of modern poetry, but cummings had to publish it himself, because 15 publishers rejected it.

And J.K. Rowling is now richer than the Queen of England, thanks to Harry Potter. But she nearly wasn't, because the first book was rejected by 12 publishers before it was bought by Bloomsbury in England, and only after the chairman's 8-year-old daughter read the first chapter and insisted on more.

I can only hope the 12 publishers are kicking themselves at passing up an empire-building series, because they thought they were good at predicting what "the public" wanted.

If they had only listened to me, maybe things would have turned out differently.

But I can safely predict they probably never will.

My book, Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), is available on, as well as at Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores. I wrote it with my good friend, Kyle Lacy.

My latest book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing is also out. You can get it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million in October, or get it for the Kindle or Nook.


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