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What’s in a Word: From ‘Eyeballs’ to ‘The Creative,’ a List of Really Annoying Jargon Used by TV Executives
August 28, 2016  | By Alex Strachan  | 1 comment

Just last week — days ago, in fact — Oxford Dictionaries launched a worldwide online vote to determine the least popular word in the English language.

The word ‘moist’ proved to be an early frontrunner in what Oxford announced would become the world’s largest survey of people’s language gripes. The least popular words would be categorized by country, age, and gender. In so doing, the dictionary publisher hoped to shine a light on similarities and differences around the world.

Naturally, this got me thinking about television.

As a member in good standing of the Television Critics Association, I have sat through more than my share of press conferences over the years, featuring executives from the broadcast and cable networks. And I’m here to tell you they don’t talk like you and me.

In their world, there’s no such thing as good TV shows or bad TV shows. There’s no such thing as scheduling anymore or lead-ins. The expression ‘time shifting’ went out with the VCR, never mind Betamax or Laserdisc. Even the word ‘ratings’ has become passé, and not just because hardly anyone trusts ratings methodology these days. Welcome to the digital age.

Every business creates its own jargon over time, of course. Language changes, just as audience habits do. 

Still, there’s something disquieting about a business that takes itself so seriously when the end-product result can just as easily be Angel from Hell or Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life as The Night Of or OJ: Made in America.

Trying to understand the TV universe from The Big Bang Theory (left) to Brain Games is not made any easier by TV executives who bang on about “brand evolution,” “key demos,” “double-digit growth,” “mobile first consumption,” “multi-screen viewing” and “commercial inventory.”

And those are the relatively benign words. You don’t need a business degree from Trump University to know that “brand evolution” means the dumbing down of National Geographic to NatGeo, for example, or that “key demos” doesn’t include you if you’re old enough to remember the first George Bush administration.

Admittedly, there are some expressions favored by TV executives calculated to strike a responsive chord in any discerning viewer, from “original content” and “destination television” to “a better viewing experience” and “room for improvement.” (You don’t hear that last one often.)

Over time, though, some expressions are bound to prove irksome. To “drop” — drop a new album, drop a new TV show, etc. — strikes me as something one might do on a toilet. Sure, “release” takes more effort to say, let alone spell, but is the extra syllable really so difficult?

Other words that irk me:

Real estate. To hear TV executives talk, there’s no such thing as a schedule anymore. It’s all “real estate” — property to be bought, sold, developed and redeveloped, much like a Donald Trump-branded casino in Atlantic City.

Monetization. Money, money, money, money [6x] / Some people got to have it / Some people really need it. That was the signature theme of The Apprentice, back in the day when Donald Trump was a mere real estate broker and reality-TV personality in the making. 

Now, it’s all about monetization, as in: Sure, Netflix is a cool TV destination, but it’s not like any of those shows make any money. How do you monetize the Internet, anyway? Any number of media companies would like to know.

Eyeballs. This has become network executives’ shorthand for viewers, even though it’s confusing and misleading. Do you divide by two to get an accurate audience reading? Does it count if you have one eye on the TV and the other on your smartphone?

The visual imagery is also unsettling, like a particularly creepy episode of Criminal Minds. Might there be a serial killer out there somewhere, gouging out people’s eyeballs and forcing them to watch Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders on an endless tape loop?

The Creative. Yes, in TV land, ‘creative’ is now a noun. The Oxford Dictionary — remember them? — defines creativity as the use of imagination or original ideas to create something. Aka inventiveness. 

In TV terms, ’the creative’ doesn’t refer to a person, though, but the end product. ‘The creative’ is any TV show or group of TV shows that brings in eyeballs. In other words, it’s another way of simply saying ‘TV shows.’

Takeaway. ‘Conclusion’ is too unwieldy and implies that you’ve had to actually think, whereas ‘takeaway’ just happens, like osmosis. My conclusion after watching Criminal Minds: Beyond Borders was that it was quite possibly one of the worst things I’d ever seen in my life, and an affront to Gary Sinise’s considerable acting abilities; my takeaway was that I never wanted to see it again. 

Still, to me, ‘takeaway’ is analogous to takeout food. Call it a cultural thing, but if someone says ‘takeaway’ to me, I immediately think of chicken chow mein and sweet and sour pork.

Sadly, less than 48 hours after announcing its online survey, Oxford Dictionaries abandoned its effort to solicit readers’ least favorite words.

Oxford’s website was flooded with offensive choices, it seems. What was intended to be a lighthearted quest for the least popular word in the English language fell victim to “severe misuse” — Oxford’s words — of its site.

‘Moist’ topped the list at first in the UK, US, and Australia, according to The Guardian newspaper, only to be overtaken by ‘Brexit’ on the UK list.

It was the other words that provided the fatal blow, though. The dictionary publisher declined to identify the offending words — to name names — except to say in a statement that they were “a mixture of swearwords and religiously offensive” terms.

Which got me thinking about TV again. My takeaway from the last press conference I attended featuring network executives was that I never want to hear the words real estate, eyeballs, monetization or ‘the creative’ in that context again. Pass the Kung Pao chicken.

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Bob Lamm
Great column. Reading all this is both hilarious and profoundly depressing.
Aug 29, 2016   |  Reply
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