Monday, February 28, 2005

XM Wants To Bleed A Little Less; That Means You Pay More

For those of you who asked the question of how XM satellite radio can provide 150-plus channels of programming for just $9.95 a month, XM now has an answer: It can't.
As of April 1, the rate jumps to $12.95 a month, matching rival Sirius. To cushion the blow, XM's also going to provide access to 70 channels online -- something they now charge $3.99 a month for -- and unleash morning bad boys Opie and Anthony on all subscribers without having to pony up an extra $1.99 a month.
The last development is rather curious. When Howard Stern announced last year that he'd move to Sirius starting in 2006, he said he had also spoken with XM, but didn't want to be on a premium channel. From the outset, Sirius had said Stern would be available to all.
So is XM now giving its 3.6 million subscribers more value or has O&A bombed as a pay attraction? Nobody's saying out loud. But even though XM stock is trading north of $32, more than six times the value of Sirius shares, it's clear that both companies are still bleeding red ink by the bucket-full and that the current business model had to be a goner.
Still, for anyone who's spent any amount time listening to satellite, even $12.95 is a small price to pay for a stunning array of music -- all of it commercial free -- to go with a wide spectrum of news and talk.
For those of you who have long been disenfranchised from terrestrial radio because of its stultifying playlists, unimaginative programming and incessant commercials, XM is Shangri-La. You won't go back. Perish the thought.
I often find myself listening to four or five of XM's rock channels where they don't just play deep cuts, they're practically tunneling underground to find tracks you can't hear anywhere else. It's amazing when they get on a cut you may not have heard since college, although not as amazing as actually remembering the words 20-plus years later.
It's radio like it oughta be and except for a few particularly inspired nights I spent as a college DJ, likely never was. To get that feeling back, $12.95 is a bargain.

Dissing Dan A Rather Popular CBS Pastime

Nothing like kicking a guy when he's down. It's not enough that Dan Rather will sign off from the CBS Evening News on March 9 a year earlier than he wanted after getting ensnared in the Bush Air National Guard story.
Now in The New Yorker, no less than Mike Wallace, Walter Cronkite and Don Hewitt say they'd rather watch another channel come 6:30.
Wallace complains Rather's not as easy to watch as Peter Jennings, while Uncle Walter -- who's admitted to more than a few pangs of regret for vacating the anchor chair for Rather when he did -- says Rather's "showboating" by acting more like a reporter.
Meanwhile, Hewitt took note of Rather's longtime lock on third place to reflect that nobody likes a loser.
Of course, you can look at this as nothing more than a bunch of crotchety -- if still somewhat vital -- old men grousing about things because that's what guys in their 80s are particularly good at. But they may also have a point.
Still, what Cronkite may not want to acknowledge is that Rather's reportorial chops have for decades been second to none. They don't call him Gunga Dan for nothing. Which is why his comeuppance for the Memogate scandal was that much more bewildering. Even a confirmed newshound like him got tripped up by a producer who so desperately wanted a story she worked on to be true, she conveniently ignored all the red flags practically thrown in her face.
Even now, Rather is putting loyalty ahead of common sense. As he tells Ken Auletta:

"To people who have been so loyal and true, I'm not going to give up on them. If I had to move this afternoon on a big story, one that had the potential of being controversial, I'd be very happy to go on that story with the same people, each and every one."

Maybe Rather can find some level of redemption as he dons his reporter's fedora full time at 60 Minutes. Let's hope so. His legacy deserves better.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Weekly Read-Out--George Will's Version of Payola, Ties Are For Wimps, And Pickpockets Stoop To New Lows

Did George Will receive an honorarium? Payola?Or was he just the right guy in the right place at the right time?
Georgia lawmakers apparently like a little certainty in their high school football. Ties on the gridiron are apparently the stuff of wimps, so they may be legislated out of existence. Good thing they're worrying about the important things down south.
And if you're looking for new variations on pickpocketing, this one's a real loo-loo.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

D.C. Anchorwoman Played Spoiler For Miracle On Ice

There are few things in life that feel better than goosebumps. I just finished watching ESPN Classic's showing of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team's Miracle On Ice 25 years ago this day.

You know what's going to happen. Still, you scream when every goal is scored. You're still willing the team to win. And suddenly you step back a quarter-century and remember how much the nation needed this result. No nostalgia is necessary. It's a moment that still matters and always will.

I was in college at the University of Maryland watching the game on WJLA-TV. ABC showed the game on tape delay. Many of us who had been caught up in the U.S. march toward the Soviets avoided hearing the result. We didn't count on Rene Poussaint.

Poussaint was one of WJLA's weeknight anchors and one of the better-known faces on Washington TV news. As is custom, she came on during a station break with one of those teases before returning to the Olympics. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except for her tease at 10:30.

"U.S. Beats The Soviets! At 11!'

Only problem: As far as we knew, the score was tied 3-3 at the time. Rene Poussaint: Party Pooper. She came on at the top of the news and profusely apologized. Not heard was a producer, who obviously let her read the tease live rather than pre-tape, which often happens.

Sports anchor Tim Brandt helped Poussaint lick her wounds by telling her even if you knew what happened, it was still exciting. Funny thing: He was right. Miracles have a way of doing that.

Lorena Bobbitt, What Have You Spawned?--Alaska Woman Hits Beau Where It Really Hurts

On the next Jerry Springer: Kinky sex, a niece doing it with her uncle and a knife that went south, along with a happy ending, at least for some microsurgeons in Anchorage.

And So It Begins--Race For The White House Bulldog Edition

Those of us squirreled away in that media bubble known as New York don't get a chance to see and hear from Mitt Romney, Massachusetts governor/matinee idol on a regular basis.
So, he definitely got our attention a couple of weeks back on one of the morning shows chatting about the snow in New England. He wasn't just another politician spewing out boilerplate babble between ribbon cuttings.
No, this was a guy who looked like he could, or should, be right on the couch with Katie, spooning out the sound bites smooth as silk in a friendly yet authoritative tone. In fact, it was just enough gravitas that we've come to expect from our network anchormen (Andrew Heyward and Less Moonves, are you listening?).
But the Mittster appears bent on not introducing the film at 11, he wants to appear on it regularly. Last night he was in South Carolina, and not just to get away from the latest storm. Never mind that Romney hasn't said whether he's going to run for the GOP nomination. Everyone thinks he doth protest too much.
The Boston Globe, perhaps used to this thing already, didn't drum the White House angle to the top of its story, but did note the reliably centrist Romney took a tilt to the right with his rhetoric in Spartanburg.
The righty Boston Herald spent more time parsing Romney's statements opposing gay marriage and an apparent flip-flop on civil unions that could come back to haunt him come New Hampshire.
Still, as the Spartanburg Herald-Journal revealed, however charming Romney may be, he's a long way from home and has a long road to hoe to get some street cred down South.

Indeed, some in the audience gasped when he told them that only 12 percent of Massachusetts voters were registered Republicans.Indeed, some in the audience gasped when he told them that only 12 percent of Massachusetts voters were registered Republicans.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

NHL On Ice: No Tears Shed In The Newsroom

It was all but inevitable. Still, when NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman officially pulled the plug on any hopes for a hockey season, it was treated as big news by most newspapers. Which is supposed to happen when a sports league, even one a distant fourth like the NHL, for the first time cancels an entire season because of a labor dispute.
The New York Times put the lead story on A-1, and had two inside sports pages devoted to the cancellation. Worthy and meaty coverage from a newspaper that doesn't always send its beat writer to all Rangers road games -- instead relying on freelancers and stringers -- and occasionally has even used AP for Islanders and Devils home games.
How much coverage the NHL's hari-kari received depended on where you sipped your latte. Big-city papers with teams in all sports, like the Chicago Sun-Times and Miami Herald had dutiful and thoughtful coverage, three or four stories and columns that are split on who to blame. The Sun-Times' Jay Mariotti was especially venemous ripping into Black Hawks owner Bill Wirtz for his rose-colored, clueless view of the lockout.

Then there was the Columbus Dispatch, which had no less than 12 stories devoted to the cancellation, not surprising when the only major-league team in town is shuttered. However, if this went down during Ohio State football season I suspect it might have been relegated to a brief on B7.

And surprise, surprise, Canadians en masse are not laying prostrate outside the Hockey Hall of Fame bemoaning their fate. Much to their amazement, life marches on, even if the nation's puckheads still long for their heroes to be on ice instead of iced. Still, The Toronto Star's Damien Cox says the season that wasn't is a case of destroying the league in order to save it -- in a good way.
Less sanguine is the Edmonton Sun, which warned that all the shrugs of indifference by fans yesterday could translate into a lack of fannies in those expensive seats if and when this thing is ever resolved.
Indeed, the prevailing sentiment in the Great White North is a pox on both of your houses, perhaps best expressed by Jack Todd in the Montreal Gazette:

Now one season is down the drain and the league itself teeters on the brink. There is more than enough blame to go around. No matter how they try to spin it, both sides made enormous, perhaps fatal miscalculations. Both thought the other would buckle under the threat of losing a season or more; both thought they could come out of a prolonged and vicious dispute with a good deal.
Both were wrong.

Spring training arrived in the nick of time.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

The Naked Truth From Jose Canseco

Looked like Jose Canseco was doing a full-frontal confessional on "60 Minutes" tonight. In the intro to the piece, there was a picture of the well-chiseled HGH poster boy behind Mike Wallace sans modesty and clothes.
The photo gave every indication Canseco was letting it all hang out, but it appeared someone at CBS didn't do that good a job of cropping out Jose's, um, midsection. Hence, we were treated to either a poorly placed shadow or a smattering of Jose's pubes.
CBS may have a graphic design malfunction on its hands.
As for the report itself, Canseco spent a lot of time explaining how he and several baseball superstars were "butt buddies" with him, taking turns injecting each other with steroids and human growth hormone. Whatever happened to just going out for a beer after the game?
It's interesting to note that Mike Wallace told The New York Times on Saturday: "I believe some of what he said, and some I find a little far-fetched."
However, not so far-fetched to prevent Canseco from being on another segment on "60 Minutes Wednesday."

Friday, February 11, 2005

Brilliant But Canceled? Fox Setting Up Arrested Development For A Fall Instead Of Fall Schedule

By now, you've heard volumes about how Arrested Development is one of the most brilliant, funny and original shows to get on TV. All of it is true.
Rare is the show that provokes gales of laughter, giggles and sheer pee-in-your-pants moments episode upon episode. But despite Emmys, Golden Globes and other accolades stacking up like so much cordwood, all of that hilarity has been lost on much of America, save for 6 million or so loyal viewers.
To its credit, Fox brought the ratings-starved show back for another season, realizing a laugh-trackless comedy that used handheld cameras to track multiple plotlines in 22 minutes needed time to grow. The network moved it to 8:30 on Sundays, to benefit from The Simpsons lead-in. It hasn't worked.
The Nielsens are still in the Dumpster, and now the ides of May are coming to haunt A.D. Instead of finishing the season in a blaze of glory during sweeps, only 18 episodes instead of 22 were ordered. In comes American Dad, the lots-of-potential cartoon that did well after the Super Bowl.
Could Fox be ready to proclaim a bold experiment has failed, and that two seasons was a good-faith effort to reverse fortunes? Could be. But such a move would be horribly short-sighted, given the hole Fox is in from 8-9 p.m. ET going up against Cold Case and Extreme Home Makeover.
Beyond the need to counter-program, sticking with A.D. can demonstrate to top Hollywood talent it's committed to trying something new beyond the standard sitcom, a format with which it has generally failed miserably at since Married With Children (to the extent the show can be considered a success).
Having A.D. top honchos Ron Howard (also the show's narrator) and Brian Grazer of Imagine in your camp might go a long way toward getting first looks from other film types looking to mine video gold. And there's no doubt that A.D. has stuck around for as long as it has, in part, by wanting to stay in the good graces of Howard and Grazer. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
At the very least, if Fox gives the heave-ho, let's hope a network like HBO or Showtime will keep A.D. from being on the next installment of Brilliant But Cancelled, and not just so we can hear the curse words Fox bleeps out. A.D. would also be right at home on Bravo or A&E. Would more people watch Growing Up Gotti than A.D.? OK, don't answer that.
For now, just watch and laugh. A lot.
And if you'd like to get your one-and-a-half cents in to save the show, an online petition has been started at
If you've never been goaded by a friend or relative to watch Arrested Development, here's more on what the fuss is all about:
A visit to the Fox Arrested Development site is worthwhile, not just for the many interactive features, but for a note from the network insisting that the show has not been canceled and that they "love" Arrested Development. But Fox says what it would really like is for more Nielsen families to start feeling the same way.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

The Passing Of A Broadcasting "Giant"

Lesley Stahl rightly calls George Herman a "giant" of broadcast journalism. His 43-year career at CBS News spanned the radio newsroom to the far reaches of Asia to the moderator chair at "Face The Nation."
To those who appreciate the history of broadcast journalism and the authority and grace of a seasoned correspondent at the top of his game, there was no one better. provides an adequate obit of Herman, once you find it in the entertainment section after a story about the Robert Blake trial. Suffice to say, he deserved a better send-off from the network he served so well.
One crucial aspect of Herman's career -- its unceremonious end -- is conveniently left out of the CBS obit, and is left to The New York Times to recount. Herman was laid off in 1986, but offered a chance to resign. The long-time union supporter's reply: "Put me down as one of the fired."

Maybe These Penguins Should Move To Massachusetts

A German zoo wants to scare its gay penguins straight and we're not talking about taking away their Liza Minnelli albums:

Satellites Killed The Radio Star, But Then Again....

A JP Morgan survey found most people turn to satellite radio for the lack of commercials and not because it offers original content.
But that shouldn't be taken as bad news for those of us who've been disenfranchised by "terrestrial" radio and have embraced XM and Sirius for delivering salvation from the calcified remains of the airwaves.
On the one hand, broadcasters have only themselves to blame for the growth in satellite radio. Industry consolidation and fear of innovation have led stations to put songs on only after they have been researched, consulted and focus grouped to death. Most deejays, at least those who are live and not doing voice tracks, are scared robots reading cards who only dream about being creative.
But while Clear Channel and Infinity and the like have sucked the fun and wonder out of radio, they also continually added commercials, to the point where sometimes over 20 minutes an hour would be handed over to spots. Not only did you hear shitty songs, you heard fewer of them.
Recently, Clear Channel admitted its advertisers were victims of their own wretched excess and announced it would reduce spot loads in many markets --- though it also raised rates for advertisers "lucky" to get on the air.
Still, it's apparently not enough for many listeners who've scaled back or essentially eliminated the time spent listening to commerical stations. JP Morgan forecasts XM and Sirius will have 35 million customers by 2010.
Yet, as delightful as a continual flow of music is, it's hard to believe the absence of spots is the main reason millions of people are willing to shell out $10-$13 a month for satellite. Could Sirius have made a serious $500 million mistake betting on Howard Stern to lead them to the promised land, or at least their first profitable quarter?
It's also hard to fathom a nation that only wants to hear the Top 40 played over again without benefit of Clearisil and Budweiser ads. All those satellite channels means there's bound to be something for everyone. And what a something it is.
Among XM's offerings are adult alternative channels The Loft and XM Cafe that sound awfully like modern-day versions of the freeform progressive stations from the 60s and 70s, when buying a transistor radio with FM cost extra. You felt part of something special, and it was.
Not that their modern offspring aren't carefully thought out and programmed. But the range of music they offer, giving credit to listeners who want to hear things new and different while playing deep cuts that unearth tracks long since relegated to distant memories makes for compelling radio.
Another XM channel, called Fred (there's also Ethel and Lucy), focuses on the New Wave vanguards from the late 70s and early 80s. Only on satellite could the Ramones' "Blitzkrieg Bop" still segue into "Blank Generation" from Richard Hell and the Voidoids. It's the same kind of I put on music I put on while residing in the utopia that was high school and college radio twentysomething years ago. It's not just nostalgia that's in play, just some damn good tracks that deserve a good home.
Simply put, XM and Sirius offer radio for people who hate radio.
However, don't expect Clear Channel to be running scared anytime soon. JP Morgan expects satellite to eat into only 3.5 percent of the terrestrial audience over the next five years. But the report also noted that those who have satellite spend two-thirds of their listening time with XM or Sirius.
But if, or more likely, when that percentage starts to inch upward, don't be surprised to see commercial broadcasters looking to the sky and cursing their rivals, when all they have to do is look in the mirror to find out what went so horribly wrong.

Friday, February 04, 2005

The Weekly Read-Out: A Prom Gigolo, Bad Vibrations, No Swimsuit Competition, Taxing Semen & Trashed Books

I didn't go to my senior prom and have made it through life thus far without being scarred by the trauma of a big tux and limo rental bill and the futility of finding a date to get past second base with. But here's a guy who's been getting good at proms, a little too good:

The New York Times is commonly positioned by itself and those on Broadway as the first and last word on everything theatre. That may be the case when it comes to reviews and sober profiles of the auteur of the moment. But they're commonly left in the dust when it comes to breaking theatre news by the Post's cheeky theatre columnist Michael Riedel, who can be as vicious as he wants to be without fear or favor. For those of you who haven't caught up with his gleeful skewerings, his latest offering:

Would any of us miss Miss America? As Carolyn Starks reports, it could be an ugly end to beauty pageants in the Chicago area.,1,7037350.story?coll=chi-news-hed.

It's not every day that the AP has a story slugged SemenTax. And we're glad about that. But what prompted that has a lot of farmers in Maine angry, as Bill Nemitz relates in his no-bull (sorry) column in the Portland Press Herald.

And Gwen Florio in the Rocky Mountain News reports First Lady and former librarian Laura Bush's seal of approval wasn't enough to convince some small minds in Colorado to round up copies of an award-winning book and send them to the local landfill.,1299,DRMN_21_3522696,00.html.

Dear Prudence, It's The Headline Of The Day

It's nice to know not every media outlet has written off anyone over a certain age (OK, 40). The NY Times headline about the tamer Super Bowl halftime show featuring Paul McCartney was a winner for those of us who wore out the grooves on our copy of the White Album: "At This Halftime, Prudence Will Come Out To Play."
Too bad the Buffalo Bills aren't playing Sunday.
Bonus quip: In the Richard Sandomir piece about the show, McCartney noted: "I don't have a wardrobe to malfunction."
Sir Paul's loyal subjects are no doubt grateful.

Networks Go Wacko For Anything Jacko--Katie Reluctantly Says Hi To Geraldo

Now that the Michael Jackson trial is off and sort of running, the networks are so desperate for anything and everything Jacko they'll even flog a rival's scoop for some fresh face time.
To wit, Geraldo Rivera's appearance on "Today" to talk about his interview with Jackson that'll air tomorrow on Fox News Channel, which is apparently the official network of the Jackson defense team (an hour before Mike's Mom speaks to Rita Cosby and tells the world her boy doesn't like boys in, you know, that way).,2933,146352,00.html.
It should be said that Katie Couric looked none too happy on this morning's "Today" to be sitting across from Geraldo, whom you may remember was within the fold of The Peacock with a five-year $36 million deal hosting some of his "investigative" specials along with a regular talk gig on CNBC that was well-rated, at least by CNBC's meager standards. Oh yes, he also was a semi-regular on "Today."
Despite all that, he was hardly a favorite in the news division. Many eyes rolled when he went to China for "Today" to cover a trip by President Clinton. That meant veteran foreign affairs honcho Andrea Mitchell was bumped from the trip (More on Rivera's NBC days can be found in a thorough New York magazine article by David Brock from 1998.
But NBC newsies wouldn't give Geraldo any love from the get-go. Despite all those awards, including a Peabody and a piece of 10 Emmys, he was viewed as long on swagger and short on substance. So he decamped to Fox, where it's OK to wear your heart on your sleeve and he's thrived, more or less, ever since as a war correspondent and host. Yes, there was that incident in 2003 when Rivera "voluntarily" left Iraq, after he was accused by the military of revealing details about an operation, but who hasn't done that once or twice?
The fact is, Geraldo's a trophy on the network the other networks love to hate. Still, there he was on the number-one morning show getting a coveted segment just after 7:30. Not only did he run some innnocuous clips, but came to Jackson's defense, calling the King of Neverland's accusers "grifters" and said the prosecutor was more interested in publicity than the truth. Geraldo made sure we didn't forget he was a former assistant D.A. in a past life in order to give his perspective some patina of legitimacy. He predicted Jackson would be found innocent.
Not so are Today's producers, for letting the FOX into their henhouse.