Tony Robbins, perhaps America’s best known personal coach and motivational cheerleader has just been dealt a very public blow with the cancellation of his prime time “Breakthrough” show on NBC. Successful people can usually count a string of failures that don’t make the resume, but some collapsed ideas leave an extra sting. He is an accomplished business owner and already knows that every successful entrepreneur has bouts of disappointment and heartbreak. For example Tony speaks about having to sleep in his car and the 400 square foot Venice California apartment he lived in. Despite his wonderful track record and enlightened point of view the breakdown of Breakthrough must be a challenge for him and his production partners.

Though I’ve never met Mr. Robbins, I admire what he’s been able to do by creating a sizeable business based on positively impacting the lives of many people. I watched two episodes of Breakthrough before it was yanked from the air by NBC and found it enjoyable because it featured real people wrestling with some pretty thorny problems. One story involved a couple who’d jumped into a franchise business which failed and left them in debt for about $100,000. The network airwaves are crowded with what are being labeled reality TV shows, but most are really contorted kinds of entertainment reality. If you head to the Jersey Shore looking for the dysfunctional crowd depicted in the MTV “Shore” series, run the other way if you actually find them. When a series about life in a Tattoo parlor (Miami Ink) debuted a few years ago, I began to wonder if the 500-channel universe was a bit too wide for me. In truth, the programs are not so much based in genuine reality but are usually more like enhanced performances by non professional actors.

The failure of Breakthrough to find a sizeable audience puzzles me. I saw the show as being about real people being helped to develop effective solutions to problems that were dominating their lives. I thought that at this time when as a country we are all feeling a plague of fear and uncertainty that a shot of helpful reality would offer some hope and inspiration for a lot of people. Instead the show attracted an average of 3.1 million total viewers according to the Nielsen ratings company. On Twitter that would be a giant audience, but on a broadcast network that means your name gets taken off the parking spot. It is one of the poorest NBC program debuts in recent history. When I worked as a network programmer we had a joking term called “negative ratings.” We imagined not only were people staying away in droves but that they were even calling their friends saying don’t watch this show!

When you give a casual glance to the types of theatrical films and TV shows attracting the largest audiences these days a common factor among them seems to be escapism—big time. The truth is that as a nation we have problems to solve that could be characterized as monumental and growing. General Motors and Chrysler had that level of problems and we saw the results they got from ignoring them. Every experienced business owner knows that you can’t begin to solve a problem until you clearly understand the truth behind it. Escapism—OK but truth is certainly more useful.

Was Jack Nicholson’s character in “A Few Good Men” right about Americans when he shouted “You can’t handle the truth?” Are we only happy looking in on programs where somebody is always being voted off the island or thrown out of the house? Can we only feel good about ourselves when we get a glimpse of the trashy swamps that someone else has created in their life? Is our fortitude so feeble that we can only muster the strength to text our vote to American Idol?

There is an interesting observation from Mr. Robbins that I recently read. He states it as a formula, LC=BP. “Happiness is when your life conditions (LC) are the same as your blueprint (BP).” I can relate to that. Hopefully we all have mental pictures of the people, places and outcomes that we want and can see ourselves in those pictures. Star athletes often speak of the time they spend visualizing their performance before the game starts. Sometimes we need help in learning how to use that tool in our daily lives. The truth is that our lives are the product of what we think, say and do. Looking around at people from many walks of life and listening to media, I’d say that our republic hasn’t been this insecure and fractious since the time of the Civil War. I’d hoped that Breakthrough would offer people some tools to paint themselves a more positive and hopeful picture. I wanted tall Tony with the big smile to succeed in reaching those of us who suffering great stress and pain. I’m sorry that Breakthrough broke down before Mr. Robbins reality medicine could really kick in.

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