Wednesday, November 30, 2005

An Interlude From The "Arrested Development" Death Watch

The Web site has a nice interview with Michael Cera, who plays the confused, cockeyed optimist, eternally hopeful son George Michael on "Arrested Development."
It's both refreshing and sad to see how the cast took a fatalistic approach to this third season. If the last five episodes, which begin next week, truly are the end, then we can expect the show to finish out on a high and verrry dark note.'
Elsewhere on the site are interviews with A.D. cast members David Cross and Alia Shawkat, neither of them happy about the episodus interruptus pulled by Fox, which turned a full-season order into just 13 episodes.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Making Sure "Lost" Doesn't Lose Its Way

Despite Ratings Juggernaut, Now Is Actually A Good Time To Start Planning Show's Finale
With word over the weekend that "Alias" would be wrapping up after five seasons, series creator and producer J.J. Abrams should perhaps also contemplate the future of his current cash cow "Lost."
Now, you might think that to even talk about wrapping a show that's one of the lords of the Nielsens in its second season, and is creatively still firing on all cylinders is cause to think I've been spiking my latte with all manner of illicit substances.
But let's pause for just a moment. I'm not one of the Others, you know somebody who works for another network. Like you, I wait for John Locke to morph into Colonel Kurtz. I enjoy watching Evangeline Lilly all hot and sweaty as much as the next guy. And no, I don't assume it's Greg who's behind Dharma.
But the show's very nature means it's constantly flirting with the shark, let alone threatening to jump over it.
Eventually, there are only so many mysteries to uncover about the island. The real Others? Well, how long are we going to keep them in the brush? You know there'll be a rumble in the jungle before long, and it's sure to be a doozy. Even the most dedicated blogger will soon tire of figuring out what Walt's saying backwards.
As for the hatch, no problem in stringing us along -- at least for now -- but don't expect viewers to have endless reservoirs of patience.
So far, "Lost" has delivered. The larger question is how many variations on the same theme will keep us hooked?
Five years would be a great time frame to compact all of the tension, twists, action, premature deaths and cliffhangers that we could stand to presage a dynamite finale that, if done right, could deliver ratings that would be the latter-day equivalent of a M*A*S*H or "The Fugitive" finale.
Of course, that's too much to expect, assuming "Lost" maintains its ratings juggernaut. There are simply too many spots to sell, too many millions for Disney, J.J. Abrams and Darren Lindelof to pocket for the show's natural arc to play out. And don't forget the DVDs, iPod downloads and $24.95 T-shirts.
Rare is the program that goes out on its own terms. Usually, it's more of a case of overstaying one's welcome ("Seinfeld" and "NYPD Blue" quickly come to mind) before riding off into syndication sunset.
Instead, the legacy of "Lost" could be a package of 110-120 episodes that allow the writers and producers to hit us with the good stuff right away, and not string out storylines merely because they have to.
With "Alias," the decision to end was made easier by declining ratings. Better for "Lost" to go out on its own terms so it can one day be found in the annals of TV's best programs.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Alessandra Stanley Sends Us Scrambling To The Dictionary

Cowardly N.Y. Times Editors Decline to Force Star TV Critic To Write In English

Alessandra Stanley is smarter than you and she wants you to know that.
The multi-lingual N.Y. Times TV critic is obviously slumming on the Arts pages. So, until Bill Keller can find a more suitable assignment to stimulate her out-sized brain, she's left to "The TV Watch" to spew out comments that are sometimes saucy and trenchant, but just as often puzzling and even incomprehensible to the English speaker.
To wit: Stanley's column on tonight's final "Nightline" with Ted Koppel in the anchor chair that revisits the program's wildly popular visits with Morrie Schwartz of "Tuesdays With Morrie" fame.
"He built his career on being different -- professorial, not telegenic; cerebral, not entertaining; coolly amusing, not genial or avuncular. "A Tuesday With Morrie" tonight is Koppel's last chance on ABC to epater les bourgeois."

OK, I realize there are a lot of educated people who read the Times. And a groupe of them even know some French. But epater les bourgeois? Sacre bleu! It actually means to "shake middle-class attitudes," the best I can reckon (do the French reckon?).
The point is Stanley writes like she's still pining to be the foreign correspondent she once was rather than stooping down to our level to write about something so crass as TV. And shame on her editors (copy readers, in this case) who let her get away with that.
It's interesting to note that at the same time she takes the high-and-mighty road, she jabs Koppel in her lead when she writes he "quit Nightline in the same wry, superior way he began it 25 years ago."
But then she contradicts herself by observings how tonight's farewell is not a clip show laden with testimonials or a "foreboding look at what network news will be like without him."Stanley appears to praise Koppel for "eschewing the self-referential pomposity" that infects other anchors by dwelling on somebody besides himself on his valedictory broadcast.
So how is that superior?
Stanley's use of superior is more in the "above it all" way than the "better than the rest" vein.
Yet, it is the latter approach that enabled Koppel to last as long as he did. He asked the questions we wanted answered, but didn't put himself front and center -- a lesson many a cable anchor badly needs to learn -- yet was always in control; a ringmaster who rarely had to crack the whip.
Alas, the same cannot be said for the Times arts editors, who are apparently so impressed by foreign words and pronunciation symbols, that they blithely let them run in the paper, even when they don't make any sense.

P.S. Gawker, which has made Alessandra bashing something of a cottage industry, also makes note of one of her many excursions into Error-land, including a doozy from the Koppel article.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

NPR Duped Into Playing Delta's Union Blame Game

Delta Airlines is the only legacy carrier where only the pilots are in a union, which has helped them win some of the highest wages in the industry. So, it's no surprise the bankrupt airline wants to slash their pay 20 percent.
But in a report on yesterday's bankruptcy-court hearing where Delta sought to have the pilots' contract voided, NPR this morning made mistake after mistake, which -- even if unintentionally -- stacked the report against the pilots' position.
First, Renee Montagne's story introduction called the Air Line Pilots Association "one of Delta's most important unions," when it's actually the only one.
Then, in Jim Zarroli's report, he said the airline "has already won wage concessions from some employees." The more accurate statement would have been that Delta imposed wage cuts on its employees.
Later, he said pilots made an average of "almost $170,000" a year, when Delta itself said its average pilot pay is $149,520, according to today's Wall Street Journal.
That's a lot of facts to get wrong in a short space, something that's especially problematic when the rhetoric and the gamesmanship among both sides in this case is already at a fever pitch.

Monday, November 14, 2005

If the French Get The Riots Story Wrong, Then What Hope Is There For The Rest Of Us?

Oh, you mean we have a race problem?
"On The Media" had an interesting discussion on how the riots are being covered in France, other European countries, the U.S. and the Muslim media. Only recently has the French press awoken to the fact that the riots burrow deep into societal ills and are not simply a pretext for a political skirmish between Chirac's would-be successors.

Fun With Stolen Species

Catching Up With Animal Lovers Who Are A Little Too Passionate

Polly Want A D Cup?

Are Those Eggs Or Are You Just Glad To See Me?,,2-1343-1347_1833414,00.html

Friday, November 11, 2005

"Arrested Development" Shows That Being Funniest Show On TV Isn't Enough As Fox Pulls Plug

The End Is Near As A Full-Season Pickup Becomes 13 Episodes
It's the day the laughter died.
Fox has finally given up on "Arrested Development," pulling it for the rest of sweeps and will then start playing out the string in December, Golden Globes and Emmys be damned.
It's easy to blame Fox for giving up on the show and not figuring out where the show could thrive. After all, it's cheaper to put on repeats of "Prison Break," right?
Then again, when back-to-back episodes on Monday draw in a mere 4 million viewers, you reluctantly concede that the network is a business, not a labor of love/loss leader.
By the time all of the eight remaining shows air -- and it's not clear yet when that'll happen --we will have seen 53 A.D. episodes, nearly all gut-busting, pee-in-your-pants funny all the way through. And that's not nearly enough.
That A.D. was never a ratings winner says something about Fox realizing it had something good and not make it fodder for "Brilliant But Canceled" fodder too soon. Not canceling A.D. was also a way to stay on producer/narrator Ron Howard's good side.
A very vocal fan base also had a role in ensuring A.D. had a place on the schedule, but that translated into zero ratings momentum. Now, all the letter writing and emails in the world, will not carry the day.,1002,271985151,00.html.
When Gail Berman left her job as Fox TV head honcho to lead Paramount, A.D. lost its biggest ally, and that left the show vulnerable to the Nielsen gods and network beancounters.
Is A.D. good enough, and can it be cheap enough for a cable network to pick up? Somebody at HBO or Showtime, please say yes.
Meantime, you can join other like-minded individuals in venting on this forum that Fox has conveniently provided:

Free Annyong now, before it's too late.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Sid Rosenberg Gets Yet Another Chance To Get A Clue

Foul-Mouthed Sports Guy Tries To Put His Addictions On Hold For Shot At Redemption In Miami
A litle late, but..... Sid Rosenberg has resurfaced in Miami, after basically leaving his career and what was left of his reputation, in the Dumpster in New York.\
The Sidster's doing weekends and fill-ins on the number-two sports station in Miami, 790 The Ticket. Better than nothing, but nothing was all he had after he got dumped first from Imus In The Morning for thinking that Kylie Minogue's breast cancer was worthy of a comedy routine, then from co-hosting a midday talk show for not showing up for his stint on the New York Giants pregame show.
Rosenberg, a recovering alcoholic, drug abuser and gambling addict, hasn't said which, if any, of his demons came back to help show him the door at WFAN.
Not to worry, The Ticket knows what it's getting. As program director Alan Brown told the Miami Herald: "We're being very cautious in how we move forward."
That's evidenced by the fact that Rosenberg was originally skedded for a regular weeknight gig. Not so fast, Sid, who was apparently told by his new bosses that one strike and he's out. You can hear for yourself whether he goes down swinging.

The Bell's Not Tolling, At Least Not Yet: Survey Finds Most People Still Prefer Traditional News Sources

Blogs Don't Get Much Love, Especially in Executive Suites and on Capitol Hill
It appears we won't stop cutting down trees to make newsprint anytime soon. And network radio and TV news divisions won't be shriveling into nothingness.
A new poll by Harris Interactive and the Public Relations Society of America Foundation finds that, despite circulation drops and lower viewership, most of us still prefer to get our news pretty much the way we always have.
Blogs, chat rooms and other alternative media still have a long way to go in being relied on heavily as sources of information.
For now, though, the good news is most people are still interested in the news.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Explaining The French Riots In A Way Even Lovers of Freedom Fries Can Understand

Wall Street Journal Goes Beyond The Burning Cars And Schools
Context and perspective. Those were buzzwords often uttered by a guy I used to write for named Dan Rather.
From a news standpoint, that meant going beyond the obvious headlines and trying to discern the "why" of a story, not just the "what."

A story in today's Wall Street Journal titled "French Labor Model Fuels Riots" is an excellent primer for coming to grips with the French riots.

On this side of the pond, most coverage, broadcast and print, has focused on the violence, as if the deaths of two Muslim youths trying to escape the cops was the French version of Rodney King.

But there had to be more to it, and the article was a model of simplicity and clarity in focusing on the 40 percent unemployment rate among younger Muslims, and the discrimination they face because of the specter of long-term work contracts that are hard to terminate.
Employers don't want to take a chance on being stuck with someone who might not be qualified, a conclusion they're apparently more bound to reach with someone of North African descent.

As Marcus Walker and John Carreyrou write:

A stagnant national labor market that needs few new workers leaves minority applicants prone to discrimination. A recent study by a scholar at the Sorbonne ... found that a job applicant with a French-sounding name was more than five times more likely to be invited to a job interview than an applicant with the same qualifications but with a North African-sounding name.

We're so used to media quick hits, especially with foreign news, that it's gotten to the point where we're conditioned to get just enough about a particular story, as if to see or read about riots in 200 French towns is to know what this story is all about.

Such events are significant to note, of course, but as the WSJ piece shows, there's so much more to tell. Yet, far too often, it's that kind of information we rarely get to hear or read anymore.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Avoiding Hari-Kari In The Circulation Department as Readers Say Sayonara To Newspapers

or Mama, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Publishers
If you want to have a good cry, check out the latest FAS-FAX numbers that show 18 of the top 20 newspapers reported circulation drops.
The loudest alarm was sounded in San Francisco, where the Chronicle saw its daily run plunge by 16.5 percent and 13.5 percent on Sunday.
Things were only slightly less grim at the Boston Globe, which dropped about 8 percent. Last week, I wrote about how I got a call from a telemarketer beseeching me to take the Sunday Globe for just 88 cents, notwithstanding the fact I live just outside New York.
At the time, it seemed like a desperate gambit from a circulation department devoid of sound ideas about how to stop hemorrhaging readers.
Now, that desperation appears to be well-founded even if believing there's an underserved population eager to read the Globe in the New York suburbs remains a lunkheaded notion.
It's interesting to note that at the same time the Globe's far-flung circ grab is underway, execs spun Editor & Publisher by proclaiming they were "managing down its 'other-paid' circulation."
I'd like to say that we all know newspapers still matter. But that's obviously not the case.

The TV Equivalent of Castor Oil: "West Wing" Debate Slips On Its Own Flop Sweat

Wasted Opportunity May Be Final Nail for Extreme White House Makeover
On paper, the notion of a live debate between two presidential candidates, albeit fictional, was intriguing. Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits are veteran stage actors in addition to their fame on screens large and small, and they seemed poised to make the most of this opportunity.
They were game. Their material wasn't.
The conceit was Alda's Republican Arnold Vinick proposed dumping the usual debate format for a freewheeling discussion, one his hero Lincoln was more accustomed to. Democrat Matt Santos, played by Smits, went along.
The "proceedings" were moderated by Forrest ("Whatever Happened To") Sawyer, either playing himself or a journalist named Forrest Sawyer, it wasn't clear.
It was a chance to let the fur fly, but writer Lawrence O'Donnell Jr. could not break free of his political past to author what could have been a dialogue for the ages. Instead, he refused to trust his candidates, and fell back into the protective cocoon that was so familiar to him, back when he worked for Sen. Daniel Moynihan.
Santos and Vinick sounded like slightly livelier versions of Bush and Kerry, which isn't saying much.
At the first commercial break, my wife turned to me and asked "Are you fading?" I was, and so was she.
Throughout "West Wing's" run, we have been thrust inside a White House anchored by a president many of us would love to have in charge right about now. With Santos and Vinick, the show offered up a liberal, though not an annoyingly strident one, and a moderate Republican even Democrats could grudgingly acknowledge. The nation would be in good hands. But first we'd have to sit through a ponderous debate.
One benefit of last night's episode is that it did burnish Vinick's GOP credentials. If you thought he was a reluctant Republican, out came the tax cuts, ANWR drilling, support for the death penalty and doubling the Border Patrol.
It was nothing we haven't heard before from real candidates, which is part of the problem. No one needs those kinds of bromides and bombast on "The West Wing," especially when we could otherwise be watching someone sobbing uncontrollably on "Extreme Home Makeover" or catch the latest Treehouse of Horror classic on "The Simpsons."
In the past, "The West Wing" has gotten away with being a civics lesson when it was also entertaining and even funny. But when you have the former without the latter, it's merely a chore. And Sunday nights at eight, you don't want to do any more chores.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Free Advice To Sean McManus: How To Fix The CBS Evening News

Finding A Way Not To Kill The Newscast In Order To Save It
You want to root for Sean McManus even if you don't envy his position. Having assumed the mantel of chieftain of CBS News in addition to being the big cheese at CBS Sports, he has been charged with elevating The Early Show and the CBS Evening News, both firmly stooped in third place in the Nielsens.
Let's dwell on Evening News (where during my tenure at CBS I filled in now and then as a writer), once the grande dame of broadcast journalism that now more resembles the tomboy who desperately wants to play with the older kids.
And getting older. CBS, like NBC and ABC, face an increasingly grayer audience among the 25 million or so left still tuning into the nightly broadcasts. True, the shows still make money, but ads for Lipitor, Depends and Aleve will only take you so far.
At this point. CBS has nothing to lose by essentially nuking the traditional format and giving viewers a newscast that's largely filled with information they can't get anywhere else or presented in a way so radically different that they will learn something new.
At a time when cable and the Internet provide instant media gratification, that's not only desirable, but essential for survival, not to mention relevance. Toward that end, a few modest proposals:

1) Assume We Already Know Much Of What You Now Tell Us. But at least hit the highlights early on. Do a five-minute whiparound with three or four correspondents summing up the most crucial events people need to know about. Need more time? See below. Right now, Bob Schieffer does some Q&A with correspondents. This format could be adapted more readily and even replace taped pieces.

2) After The Headlines, Stretch Out: Offer up one or two long -- at least in TV terms -- pieces that can offer up more substance than a typical 90-second package can ever hope to achieve. It could be an extended takeout on the big story of the day, e.g. examining the Alito nomination with more than five-second soundbites. It could be the basis for investigative reporting (remember that?), an extended interview with a newsmaker or a combination of all of the above.

3) Redeploy The Troops: All of those correspondents cooling their heels because they can't get pieces on the air because of the headline segment can now dig into some meaty work that can truly inspire great journalism. Right now, too much TV news is merely serviceable work that has the pulp squeezed out of it because producers feel compelled to cram too much into a 22-minute space.

4) Finish Up With Some Commentary: Already, CBS has no shortage of commentators who could be shifted or borrowed from other shows and can provide nifty endpieces. Steve Hartman lost that job when "60 Minutes Wednesday" was axed. Nancy Giles and Ben Stein never fail to be provacative during their stints on "Sunday Morning." And Jon Stewart's just a few blocks away and he's off on Friday. It'd be great to see the likes of Carl Hiaasen lobbing grenades or Dave Barry providing some zing. David Sedaris, call your office.

5) Get Some Sports In The Show -- This should be a "duh" suggestion, given McManus's current position and being the offspring of sportscasting royalty (all hail Jim McKay!). But this is hardly an alien concept, just one that's fallen by the wayside. Heywood Hale Broun routinely contributed sports pieces to CBS broadcasts. Ray Gandolf and Armen Keteyian did the same on the weekend editions of ABC's "World News Tonight." So, why not during the week? There are so many stories of interest to a general audience that have nothing to do with a game, as HBO's "Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel" routinely points out.

Sure, it doesn't hurt to skew younger, just not too young. Don't expect MTV loyalists to drop what they're doing at 6:30 (earlier in other time zones) to see what you've got. It's no sin to cater to their parents. I'd worry, though, if it's only their grandparents who watch.

Anchors? The real toughie. The larger question is, how much does that choice really matter. The Big Three all changed who was in their seats, but the ratings didn't notice. In the end, it may be all about the lead-ins, and in major markets, CBS is often picking up the rear and then some.

One possibility: A rotating cast. Maybe Russ Mitchell one day, followed by a moonlighting "60 Minutes" correspondent the next. John Roberts could parachute in when things are slow at the White House, while Harry Smith or Hannah Storm can make an appearance and cross-promote "The Early Show."

Lots of possibilities. More than anything, what the CBS Evening News needs is patience. McManus has acknowledged that ratings shifts are "glacial" for programs like these. Still, there's always that temptation to panic. But so long as McManus doesn't waver from his belief that the status quo has got to go, CBS has the potential to redefine broadcast news and once again be the leader that it was for well over four decades.

Good night and good luck, Sean.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Boston Globe Casts Wide Net In Desperate Circulation Bid

UPDATE: The Boston Herald picked up on this entry. Not suprisingly, the Globe isn't talking, at least not to the Herald. Here's the link:

It Doesn't Matter If You Don't Live Anywhere Near Beantown, Buy Us Anyway!
Desperate times, desperate measures.
I'm not accustomed to hearing from telemarketers given that I've been on Do Not Call lists from the get-go, even with companies with whom I already do business and who would otherwise be exempt.
So, imagine our surprise during dinner when my wife picked up the phone and The New York Times was calling. Seems it wasn't just a hearty thank-you for being loyal subscribers despite our periodic bitching and moaning about late delivery.
Now, for just 88 cents, we had the chance to get its sister paper the Boston Globe every Sunday. Which might be enticing were it not for the fact that we live over a three-hour drive from Boston in New York's northern suburbs.
Now, of course, the Globe -- despite recent cutbacks -- still has much to recommend it, not least of which is one of the best sports sections, if not the best, to spread out with on Sunday. But home delivery?
We have a difficult-enough time getting through the Times, along with that newfangled Saturday Wall Street Journal without more recycling to deal with.
The guy on the phone tried to push it by telling us it even came with all the circulars, as if the I needed to know what dresses were on special at Filene's.
Of course, as newspapers continue to leak readers, getting creative to find new eyeballs is not only desirable but essential. But does the Globe need to travel this far south for circulation salvation? How much money can they be making on my 88 cents? Or, is that not the point?
Boosting numbers for the sake of boosting numbers doesn't impress advertisers, especially when some of those new numbers might come from the homes of Yankee fans.