Sunday, October 30, 2005

A Red Flag Over A White Tie on "The West Wing"

Show That Prides Itself On Getting The Details Right, Makes A Flub That's Sure To Send Political Junkies Fuming
OK, first things first, this is TV. But we're also talking about "The West Wing," which has gone to great lengths in keeping it real, or at least giving us a brilliant facsimile of the look and feel of real.
Often, the characters sound like they know what they're talking about, and maybe they actually do. That involves a lot of homework by the writers and producers, which has been evident in the show's resurgence this season.
But snappy writing with sly references that few in the audience will latch onto (e.g. the throwaway by Josh about "Monster Chiller Horror Theatre" that was an SCTV staple) isn't enough. It's the details that don't take a lot to get right.
So, the centerpiece of Sunday's episode had both presidential candidates attending the Al Smith Dinner in New York, a real event that's a must for any major-office hopeful that's a major fundraiser for Catholic charities.
As it was described on West Wing, it's the biggest "non-political political event" around. And it's also one where men where a white tie with their tux. Old-fashioned, quaint, even, but that's the way it is, and woe to the attendee who tries otherwise.
Yet, everyone descending upon the event on the show was wearing black tie. An off-day for the prop master? Was the wardrobe guy on a break? Did the production designer assume the average American would get confused by a white tie?
Whatever the answer, it's unavailing. Paying heed to this minor but necessary detail would have taken so little effort, and it's disappointing "The West Wing" chose to take the expedient way out.
It's sort of like the "Law and Order" franchise, where the cops visit suspects at addresses that any New Yorker would know would have to be in a river because the number is too high. It's not hard for a little reality and dramatic license to co-exist. You just have to work at it. "The West Wing" usually does.
But such are the hazards of the trade when you write about New York and you're based in California, which is where the "Law and Order" writers ply their craft. And it shows.

N.Y. Times Lets Sports Section Slip Into Abyss

Already-Limited Hockey Coverage Totally Falls Off The Radar; Are The Nets Next?
No doubt, the budget chieftains at The New York Times are serious in their mission. Just ask the sports department, where the bylines are fewer and farther between.
We've already written about the pathetic attempts at hockey coverage this year, with coverage of the Devils and Islanders relegated to the A.P., even for home games. Now, even the Rangers were hit with that treatment.
All three teams were on the road last night, and Rangers beat writer Jason Diamos didn't make the trip for the game at Montreal. Ordinarily, the Times would have a stringer or freelancer in place. But these are not ordinary times at the Times, which is buying out lots of bodies in the newsroom.
Still, this is the Times. They'll send a critic to review the Wagner cycle in Bayerurth, have 20 foreign bureaus and parachute in squadrons of reporters when the Big Story hits. And they can't even staff a lousy hockey game?
Yeah, yeah. Hockey's become the distant number-four sport and last year's season-long lockout didn't help. The miniscule cable ratings for the local teams are almost comical. But there they are. Since 1978, the local teams have won eight Stanley Cups. That should count for something.
Hockey hater Mike Lupica once cracked there were 25,000 hockey fans in New York, and most of them were the ones at the games. Still, his employer, the Daily News, has beat writers for all three teams.
Hell, even The Journal-News -- never known for its free spending ways -- in the northern suburbs of Westchester and Rockland, cover the Rangers and Devils.
This doesn't bode well for coverage of other teams. If you're a fan of the New Jersey Nets, be afraid, be very afraid. Not of the team, which looks like it'll be fun to watch again. Just of the team's coverage, which if the bean counters have their way, may not show up regularly in the pages in these troubled Times.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Andrew Heyward Gets The Boot At CBS News

Moonves names Sports prexy McManus as his guy to take News to the next level, whatever that is
The other shoe dropped.
CBS head honcho Les Moonves continued his inserting his pawprint on CBS News by removing Andrew Heyward as News Division President and replacing him with Sean McManus, who will continue in his current role as head of CBS Sports.
A statement from Moonves said Heyward would remain on until the end of the year as an advisor to assist in the transition, though one suspects McManus really doesn't need the help. It so happens Heyward's contract runs until the end of the year.
At least publicly, Moonves was effusive in his praise for Heyward:

Andrew has held the post of President of CBS News for almost 10 years, and served in a wide variety of roles before that during his 24-year career at CBS. Under his leadership, our News Division has been recognized with many of the industry’s highest honors: 57 Emmy, 13 Peabody, 13 Alfred I. duPont/Columbia University, six Overseas Press Club and 46 RTNDA/Edward R. Murrow awards, including most recently the Murrow for Overall Excellence for three years running. He is, quite simply, a man of great character, whose integrity and experience has guided our News division through a time of tremendous change, and I want to thank him for his unwavering commitment to the core values of journalism, and for his years of creativity, dedication and loyalty to this company.

Good, but not good enough.

A lot of people were left wondering how Heyward was still standing after the National Guard story scandal, which brought down Dan Rather, two senior executives and a top producer. The buck didn't stop at his office and that rankled many inside the news division.

Still, it was apparent that Heyward was on borrowed time. Moonves had given Heyward a qualified thumbs-up at the time of the Guard blood-letting, but in a New York Times Magazine piece last month, talked about "blowing up" CBS News, though exactly in what form that explosion would take he didn't say at the time.

Consider Heyward's ouster the first stick of dynamite.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Silent Potty Mouth On "The Apprentice"

Seems you can't curse on network TV, but if you can mouth a profanity without being heard it's OK.
On last night's "The Apprentice", as the task to create a parade float to promote the new movie "Zathura," was unveiled, Marcus, one of the members of the male team was plucked to hopefully bring order and civility to the women's team, which has distinguished itself only for its new variations on cat-fighting while losing to the men every week.
When the women chose Randall, at the invitation of The Donald, his now ex-colleague Josh was seen saying "Shit," but not heard.
Did it get past the censors, or did they just not care as long it wasn't verbalized. Maybe they assumed nobody out there knew how to read lips. Whatever. The Trumpster didn't seem hot and bothered about it. Instead, what's got his coif more orange than usual is "The Apprentice: Martha Stewart," which Trump says is dragging down ratings at the mother ship.;_ylt=ArvIYRMPSOY3Yp.bM..wdSRb.nQA;_ylu=X3oDMTBiMW04NW9mBHNlYwMlJVRPUCUl
No word yet, on how the doyenne of domesticity feels about the diss. But with only 6.6 million viewers a week, it's not just Trump who's saying she just doesn't fit in.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Can't Tell The N.Y. Times Sports Staff Without A Scorecard

Updated 10/12, 11 a.m. ET

Constantly Shifting Beats Result in Confusion and Possibility of Missed Stories
The New York Times is the paper with arguably the most schizophrenic sports section in the country.
It employs a phalanx of compelling columnists like Selena Roberts, George Vecsey and Bill Rhoden. It also has young turks like Lee Jenkins and Tyler Kepner who know how to report and write with equal flair, while graybeards like Murray Chass provide valued historical perspectives while writing about today's players.
And Times sports writers are hardly pigeon-holed. One year, Damon Hack's covering pro football. The next year it's golf. Lynn Zinser's on the Giants beat? Nope. Now she's covering the Olympics. But wasn't that Jere Longman's bailiwick. Oh, he's covering the Katrina aftermath.

Not that what he's writing about has much to do with sports, but that's never mattered much at the Times. Remember one Richard Lezin Jones, who covered the Jets last season? Now he's on the front page of Wednesday's paper with a piece on New Jersey's failed child protective services program. The Times is rife with sports multi-taskers who transitioned to hard news, and good for them (Jane Gross, Robin Finn, Joe Sexton and Michael Janofsky, for starters).

There's nothing wrong with rotating beats every now and then so reporters don't get too cozy with their players, or despise them beyond the point of no return.

But too much shuffling means there's also the danger of losing out on the good story, even the outright scoop when you play musical reporters. One day Lee Jenkins is covering the Mets. The next day, he's at the Little League tournament.

Fortunately, for the Times, the Mets folded after a few fleeting moments of playoff grandeur, and didn't lose out on crucial storylines. Also, new guy Ben Shipgel from the Dallas Morning News did a more than workmanlike job covering the late-season swoon. But the danger remains.
At least the Times covered the team. Often, it has an annoying tendency to all but ignore some teams on non-game days. Can you imagine not a single story about the Jets when they had a game on Sunday? It happened last week.

And woe to the fan of the Nets, Devils, or Islanders looking for regular coverage of their team on off days.
If the Post and News can cover those teams, so can the Times. Don't cry crocodile tears about budget problems. Every newspaper has them, and these comments are being made with full knowledge that the Time is trimming newsroom staff through buyouts.
Still, covering local teams is part of a newspaper's mission. Just do it.

Hockey's Back At The N.Y. Times, Sort Of

The Puck Doesn't Stop At West 43rd St.

Updated 10/12, 11 a.m.
No doubt, the bean counters in The New York Times' sports department were elated when the NHL season was canceled last year. Fewer road trips, expense reports and freelancers to be paid add up rather nicely during the course of an over-long season.
Now that the Zambonis are once again in action, the Times is slow to wake from its hockey slumber.
To be sure, it had long ago relegated the sport to a distant fourth in coverage, even though it's had perennial Stanley Cup contenders The New Jersey Devils in their backyard. The Rangers get regular if perfunctory coverage. Jason Diamos is the only staff writer covering one of the three local teams. But he's often well ensconsed on the back pages, if at all.
In Wednesday's paper, there was not a single story on any of the three local teams, only a few hockey items in a wire-service roundup. It's a long way from the Rangers' 1994 championship season, but has it come to this? The Devils have won three Cups, one as recently as 2003. But it might as well have been a field hockey championship, the way they're treated in the Times.
Then there are the New York Islanders. Remember them? It's been a long time since their streak of four straight Stanley Cups ended in 1983. Since then, the team has mostly been toiling in mediocre obscurity in the Nassau Coliseum.
But it's still a local team in a still-major sport. The Times begs to differ. The paper had long ago stopped sending reporters on the road or used stringers for most Islanders and Devils road games. However, there have been warm bodies in the press box at home games. Alas, that was not the case for Monday's loss to the Florida Panthers, which the Times recounted with AP copy.
The Daily News, the Post and Newsday, all of whom have Islanders beat writers, were all there. When it comes to sports, the Times is the paper of record only when it feels like it.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Identity Crisis At The Los Angeles Times

Or How Everything Old Is New Again Even If It Didn't Work The First Time
The Los Angeles Times is accustomed to getting a lot of Pulitzers, but not love from its corporate overlords at Tribune. Of course, that may be understandable when your circulation has slipped 18 percent in the last five years, while ads have plunged by 26 percent in that period, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Still, it remains a great paper, especially if you're looking for penetrating enterprise pieces, thorough foreign coverage, and entertainment coverage worthy of its location. But it's not enough.
So, now look for more coverage of Tinseltown, celebrities and, gasp, shorter stories.
We'll work from the assumption that editor Dean Baquet is smart enough not to dumb down the paper with reams of gossip and Lindsay Lohan sightings.
But maybe he's also throwing in the towel to concede that not everyone is reading all the way through a 3,000-word Column One piece, which no matter how well-written or reported, could wind up being the journalistic equivalent of cod-liver oil.
The key is striking a balance, no easy feat when you have frantic executives in Chicago pleading for more black ink, while you try to avoid sacrificing the editorial product at a time when the staff continues to shrink.
And those newsroom reductions come when the Times also wants to concentrate more on its sprawling backyard.
"We won't out-local the local papers. [But] I think you will see us placing bigger bets on regional coverage," publisher Jeffrey Johnson told the Journal.
Good luck.
Not only are the 16 dailies the Times goes up against not giving up without a vicious fight the Times can ill afford to wage, the paper has already been chastened in years past from editions that failed, such as the one for San Diego County.
Just because you are the better paper -- and for all its pullbacks the Times is the superior product in Southern California -- doesn't mean people will automatically plunk down their quarters at will. That's why The Register in Orange County, the Daily News, serving the Valley and The Press-Enterprise in Riverside, among others, are still in business.
They are perceived as the local papers, whereas the Times is the 400-pound gorilla from parts unknown, or at least parts where many prospective readers don't want to travel to.
Moreover, you can't siphon readers on the cheap. Sticking a few reporters in bureaus here and there just won't cut it. And don't think people will buy The Times and another paper. Most folks barely have the time or inclination for one, if that.
Given that the Times provides 20 percent of Tribune's revenue, there's a lot at stake here, not just for circulation and profits, but for a fiercely proud journalistic institution that has managed to maintain standards in the face of difficult odds.
There's nothing wrong with reinventing yourself so long as you remember what made you great and tenaciously hold on to that foundation. Dean Baquet is too good a journalist to forsake that mission.
Now, he just needs to convince his bosses to be a little patient while he figures out the right mix. The past has shown patience has been anything but a virtue with Times execs, however.
If Baquet doesn't get the time he needs, we should all fear what may happen next.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

"SNL" On The Comeback Trail At the Expense of CNN

Surprise, surprise. The show was actually funny.
Taking potshots at "Saturday Night Live" isn't fun anymore. It's just too easy. The cast is too thin on talent, the writers fall back too often on characters who were never that funny to begin with, and "Weekend Update" is often a slog waiting for the few good jokes.
So, it was more than a pleasant surprise to see "SNL" open up season 31 with some laugh-out-loud funny sketches, including one focusing on celebrities lending a hand in New Orleans with Seth Myers showing more than a few flecks of talent with a dead-on impression of Anderson Cooper at his too-fast, staccato worst, while new featured player Bill Hader nailed Al Pacino big-time.
Later, a sketch on a passenger on that troubled Jet Blue flight where the passengers could watch their planes emergency maneuvers on their in-flight TVs was highlighted by Darrell Hammond adding Aaron Brown in all his laconic glory to his arsenal of impressions. Didn't appear that everyone in the audience realized who he was doing, but if you did, you knew it was brilliant.
And Kanye West killed with his numbers, but not before a hysterical reunion with Mike Myers, who just happened to be hanging out backstage. It's moments like that when "SNL" is at its best, taking broad swipes at our highest and lowest moments in pop culture.
The rest of the show, save for a fun "TV Funhouse," was on the humdrum side. And Horatio Sanz, as expected, laid a big-time goose egg subbing for Tina Fey on "Weekend Update."
"SNL" manages to resurrect itself every few years, and it's long overdue. This show offered some glimmers of hope. Still, with Fey -- and soon Maya Rudolph -- out on maternity leave, the show will have to do more with a lot less. And that's nothing to laugh about.