Going Rate for Talking Head Blather Approaching Zero

Television networks are dying, so they've stopped paying "experts" to come on their news shows. Does that stop the "experts" from showing up at the Today studio at 6:30 a.m.? No, they do it for nothing.

Broadcasting & Cable's Marisa Guthrie surveys the market for on-air experts to talk about stuff on cable news and and morning shows, and finds that, like everything else, it has collapsed:

There was a time, not long ago, when on-air contributors with expertise on a particular topic would command lucrative contracts from networks, sometimes earning as much as $5,000 for one appearance on a network morning show. But the financial contraction has choked off many of these deals. Now, networks pony up very little or, in most cases, nothing at all for talking heads.

According to Guthrie, some analyst contracts used to range into the six figures or higher for a few dozen appearances per year. So what happened when the networks reined in those outrageously cushy deals?

One agent recalls a multi-year deal worth nearly $250,000 for a medical expert. When the deal expired, according to the agent, the network suggested a strikingly different arrangement: The client could continue to appear-without getting paid.

There are of course innumerable people willing to go on TV for free, which places something of a drag on wages for those who would like to be paid. Guthrie cites Rosalind Wiseman, a child-care "expert" who's happily made the rounds at Today, Good Morning America, The Early Show, and CNN without earning a cent. As one agent told the paper, "Anyone can talk about anything. But if someone has perspective or access to specific information that the network can't get anywhere else, the network is probably more flexible." So basically you can be on TV if you want to just talk. If you actually know something worth talking about, you might get paid. But when was the last time you saw anyone on TV who knew something worth talking about?