Open Mic

August 2009

Here's What Some Opinion Makers Think About the Disney-Marvel Deal

Chuck Ross Posted August 31, 2009 at 2:02 PM

Tags: acquisition, Disney, Marvel

Here are three analysis pieces about Monday's news that Disney is buying Marvel for $4 billion.

First up is Dorothy Pomerantz's piece for Forbes, "Marvel: How Good a Deal For Disney?"

Next is Rick Marshall's blog on MTV's Splash Page: "Three Burning Questions Surrounding Disney and Marvel's Deal." 

Finally, we have Julia Boorstin of CNBC writing "Why Disney's Surprise $4 Billion Marvel Acquisition Makes Sense"

Oh, oh, it's Tuesday morning and let's add this fun piece to the mix:

Jeffrey Anderson'a "Potential Changes in the New Disney-Marvel"...this one's a hoot!

Please leave a comment on my blog page here and let us know what you think about the deal. One facet that both DIsney management and others are emphasizing is the TV aspect of the deal, expecially how Marvel can make Disney's male-targeted XD channel be even more successful.

In a Special Guest Blog, Starz' Executive Tom Southwick, Who Once Served as Press Secretary for the Late Sen. Edward Kennedy, Talks About How Kennedy Worked With the TV Press, and How the TV Press That Covers Public Policy Today Is Failing Us

Chuck Ross Posted August 27, 2009 at 12:31 PM

The following is a guest blog by Tom Southwick. For the past six years Tom has been with Starz in Denver, where he is senior VP of corporate communications. Earlier in his career he was the founder of the trade Cable World, and prior to that he worked at Mutichannel News, where he started as a reporter after serving for three years as the press secretary for Sen. Edward Kennedy.

In this exclusive piece, Tom talks about how Sen. Kennedy approached working with the press, and the Senator’s understanding of the importance of TV in the public policy debate. Tom then talks about what lessons those covering public policy on TV today need to learn from Kennedy’s example.

The passing of a major public figure can serve as a catalyst for reflection and a renewed sense of purpose for those who serve in public life and the journalists who cover them. One hopes this will be the case with the respect to the death of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, for whom I had the honor to serve as press secretary from 1977-80.

I was 28 when I started working for him. Kennedy had a better understanding of journalism than I ever would. He particularly understood the nature and needs of electronic journalists. Because of his name and his flirtation with the presidency, almost anything he said or did could generate coverage.

But he had no interest in coverage for its own sake. He wasn’t interested in being a celebrity. Instead he carefully used his appeal to the press to advance the issues he cared about and to shine the light on subjects that would otherwise never have been covered. And he understood that the electronic media needed short and impactful sound bites and great visuals. He worked hard to supply those.

His long crusade on health care is a prime example. While I worked for him, he held a series of hearings around the country on health insurance. But instead of dry testimony, he would center the hearings around two average families, one from the city in which the hearing was being held and another from Canada. Each family would be facing the same medical challenges, and were given the chance to compare how they were able to cope under the U.S. and Canadian health care systems.

The two families might have a child with severe disabilities, for example, requiring expensive medical treatment. The U.S. family would be unable to obtain health insurance because of cost or preexisting conditions and would be forced into bankruptcy before receiving any government help under Medicaid. The Canadian family facing the same issue would be able to focus entirely on caring for their child without financial worries because the entire cost of care was covered under the Canadian health system.

This made for powerful TV, particularly for the local stations in the town where the hearings were held, and brought home in a dramatic and visual way the point that Kennedy wanted to get across.
He also loved to speak to groups that were hostile to his proposals. At one point he was invited to speak to American Medical Association, which had long opposed his plan for government-guaranteed health insurance for all Americans. With great glee, and a full understanding that he would be on the evening news, he opened his speech by declaring “Hello, I am happy to be here even though I know you think I am the cure that is worse than the disease.”

His self-deprecating humor and unfailing optimism disarmed the audience and he was able to have a civil and informative exchange of information. It tracked with his determination to find common ground even with his political polar opposites, leading to joint legislative efforts with senators such as Orrin Hatch of Utah and John McCain.

His willingness to work with those who had very different views was a hallmark of Kennedy’s career and a key reason for his many legislative successes. No individual, including presidents, in the history of the United States has had more influence on a wider array of legislation than did Kennedy. And his work improved the lives of billions of people in the United States and every corner of the world.

Yet today Kennedy’s spirit of cooperation and collaboration – his willingness to recognize that all of us deserve respect despite our political differences – seems to be on the wane. Some of this decline in civil discourse can be laid at the feet of the media, particularly the electronic media.
Journalists have an obligation to society that goes beyond the normal business. News organizations need to be profitable, but they also need to be responsible and to report the news in a factual, unbiased manner.

The media has failed when polls reveal that millions of Americans who voted for George W. Bush in 2004, for example, believed erroneously that weapons of mass destruction had been discovered in Iraq or that so many voters in 2008 believed the myth that Barack Obama was a Muslim or that so many people today believe the falsehood that the health care bill will set up “death panels.”

In addition to spreading disinformation, the partisans on television news and radio talk shows continually question the motives or patriotism of those with whom they disagree. People who opposed the war in Iraq were accused of wanting the terrorists to win. Supporters of health care reform are said to be secretly aiming kill senior citizens. Sen. Kennedy disagreed vehemently with other senators and presidents and he was not shy about expressing his views. But never once, in public or private, did I hear him question the motivation or patriotism of those who held opposing views.

Let us hope that the death of Sen. Kennedy and the example of his life might spark a bit of introspection among those who run our electronic news organizations today. Let us hope they can present more accurate news accounts that will produce a better informed public. Let us hope they can tone down the rhetoric a notch so we can have a better, more civil public. And let us hope we can move toward a society in which even the most partisan among us can acknowledge that their opponents are not enemies, but simply fellow Americans with a different view.

A democracy cannot function otherwise.#

With the New TV Season Almost Upon Us, the Biggest Issue for All Stations With Newcasts is How the Leno Move Will Affect Them. Here Are the Concerns—and the Strategies—Stations of All Affiliations Are Discussing

Tom Petner Posted August 24, 2009 at 7:37 AM

Tags: affiliates, Jay Leno, NBC, newscasts, tv stations

Comedy is big news this season, particularly in September, when NBC goes from dark and bloody to light and funny - dropping Jay Leno into the 10 p.m. prime slot traditionally reserved for scripted drama.

It's a move, however, that's no laughing matter for NBC affiliates and local news operations across the country. It could alter the viewing landscape forever.

Many local NBC managers are hoping for - but not banking on - a big Leno lead-in.

But others say they are concerned Leno will hurt their 11 p.m. newscasts. The worst-case scenario: Viewers watch Jay’s monologue, check out the guests and then it’s sayonara. It’s off to bed, or a quick switch to a Fox station to pick up their quick news fix and weather before bed.

“By their very nature, these type of late-night talk shows are designed for casual surfing," marketing maven Graeme Newell of 602 Communications told me. "Dramas have a story plot line that carry you methodically through the hour and keep you glued to the set. For me, I am a big fan of [Leno's]monologue and the skits, but have little interest in the interviews. That means I watch the top of the show and then I'm gone.“

It’s that “and-then-I’m-gone” factor that has general managers and news directors at the rival stations champing at the bit. They're looking for the upside in any Leno downside to grab new news viewers.

Talk to a CBS affiliate news director and you hear one word repeated often: opportunity. They can’t wait for the new season of CSI, and it’s the same with ABC and Fox station management, who are anticipating the halo effect of programs like “Lost” and “Idol.”

Timing can be everything, and it's NBC's timing that Jim Willi regrets. He's Senior Vice President of Dallas-based consultants AR&D.

"They waited to introduce Leno only a week before the other networks launch their season," said Willi. "It would have helped Leno and the stations if there was more time to develop Leno's audience against reruns."

So how do the local news directors feel about the timing, and Leno's impact on their late newscasts?

Try getting a TV news director on the phone, or reaching one by email for a comment. It’s really pretty easy. But try getting one of them to go “on the record” about the Leno-factor. That’s an entirely different story.

Who could blame them in this environment of you’re here today, and gone tomorrow.

 The universal email greeting these days is:
“Hey Tom, I’m here and I’ve got a job, for now…” You can read a lot of paranoia into those three dots.

There’s a lot of pressure on local news directors – and general managers - to figure out a strategy for one of the biggest decisions facing them in the fall: how to prepare for life with Leno.

Back in April, management of the NBC affiliate in Boston, WHDH, thought they had the perfect strategy - don't run Leno, run news instead.

It was a very public on the record squabble between NBC and one of its largest affiliates. It involved some tough talk about the Leno change.

You had to love the ensuing headlines:

WHDH-TV snubs Leno as 10 p.m. program
Channel 7 opts for news battle, drawing NBC's ire

NBC gives Boston station an ultimatum on Leno show
The media giant says it will yank all of its NBC programming from WHDH-TV if the station carries out its threat to ditch Leno.

But NBC persuasion apparently worked. Ed Ansin, owner of WHDH’s parent company, Sunbeam Television, backed down:

As the WSJ reported, "the resolution offers a display of NBC's muscle as it faces talks with other affiliates on how to shape the show."

Boston Station Won't Ditch Leno's Show, Ending Dispute with GE's NBC

"While no other stations followed the Boston station's lead in pulling support for the show, several large affiliates have been pushing NBC to compensate them in some way for moving Mr. Leno to primetime. The concern: If the show offers lower average viewership in the 10 p.m. hour, it could reduce the audience for 11 p.m. newscasts, where local stations count on significant ad revenue, even if its lower cost makes it more profitable for the network.”

Ansin and NBC execs did their behind-the-scenes handshake and WHDH went away quietly.

So, like or it not, in Boston and across the country, Leno is here. NBC Stations now have to deal with the reality of a Leno-factor leading into their late newscasts.

Okay, so now what?

To get some answers, I took an informal survey of news directors and GMs.

How will stations play it? What impact will Leno have on the late newscasts? How will viewers behave during and after Jay Leno?
Here's a sampling of what they had to say:

kmir6.jpgLyle Schulze, VP & General Manager of the NBC station in Palm Springs, California:

"KMIR6 has a consistent record of over-indexing on NBC programming; this should bode well for Jay here. This is a huge benefit for NBC stations in that Jay Leno and the 'Tonight Show' is an institutional brand. ABC, CBS and FOX do not have anything that comes close. The insertion of Leno at 10pm ultimately gives us a promotional leg up for our 11pm show.“

quincy.jpgDennis Kendall, Director of Broadcast News for Quincy Newspapers Inc. (the group owns a half-dozen NBC stations):

“We’ll be taking advantage of every topical opportunity Leno will be providing and treating them effectively as a news in progress update to insure they’re fresh. Further, uncertain about how Leno will fair, we’ll beef up our topical promotion in the prior hour in an effort to make an impression on those who’ll surf away.”

Are you planning to shift your coverage strategy inside those 11s?

“Not at this point. NBC’s research about audience flow from Leno seems sound but until the public is viewing the actual show we won’t really know. We’ll call that one in progress.”

Quincy also owns and operates Fox affiliates. Isn’t there a positive for Fox affiliate where you also have news?

“Absolutely. One of our Fox stations does an hour in that time period. We’ve already looked at their format to make certain we are in solid content each time Leno goes to break—the time surfing will most likely occur.”

Do you think Leno will help or hurt your late newscasts at the group’s stations?

“I’ll let the public decide that one but surely it can’t be any worse than NBC’s May performance in prime.”

One Midwest (Central Time Zone) news director - one of those CBS news directors champing at the bit – who sees his late newscast as appointment viewing:

“I honestly think this is an opportunity. It’s tough to sustain a variety show at 9pm. And there’s no real interest – judging from the research – in a 9pm variety show. I don’t think Leno will help or hurt us. I think it will most likely benefit the Fox station…the audience will sample the first few minutes of Leno and then go to Fox show for recap and off to bed. We’re just hoping to get viewers to watch our late news just one more time.”

An East Coast ABC station news director:

“Our position is that we will assume (until proven otherwise) that Leno will be a pattern disruption for viewers and thus we will need to do more direct teasing to stories in our 11pm, particularly prior to 10pm. We see it as a potential opportunity for our 11pm, as our best thinking (or maybe it’s wishful thinking) is that Leno at 10pm may have the same viewer retention challenge as his show at 11:35pm did.

"One thing that I haven’t heard a lot of discussion about - that we are considering - is the potential opening for a 10:30pm news presence.

"We currently produce a 10pm half-hour newscast for our MyTV9 duopoly station…if Leno shows any inability to carry his audience through the hour, we would have to take a look at moving our 10pm down to 10:30pm as an opportunity to catch viewers defecting early on Leno."

A West Coast ABC news director:

“Personally, I think 10pm Leno will hurt NBC's late newscasts. I'm sure they'll move heaven and earth to try to make those last 15 minutes really entertaining, but I think they'll be fighting decades of viewing habits which dictate that talk shows peter out after the first half hour. Will that help us at CBS? Doubtful. I don't really see people flipping over to catch the last half hour of our dramas at 10:40 or whatever. I think most Leno viewers will just go to bed once the monologue and first guest are done.”

If the consensus is that NBC stations are in danger of losing lead-in audience to switching and turn-off: What should stations do?

Graeme Newell at 602 Communications has some advice for the NBC stations:

“For those of us in the 11 o'clock news game, his show presents some gigantic challenges. Lead in is our biggest viewing driver. Without that, we are forced to rely on habit to get people to the newscast.

"What this means is that your in-show night-to-night marketing will be critical. Most newscasts still treat themselves as an island. The shows are not produced or marketed as a nightly habit. My recommendation is that the promo team create an in show promo that masterfully teases tomorrow night's show.

"We also need to do more in-story marketing on the big stories that will continue from day to day. That means reporters must craft marketing to embed within their stories that talks about how they will cover the continuing developments of that story, the next day."

Similar counsel is coming from the AR&D consultants. They're feeding NBC clients ways to hope and cope with a Leno lead-in. Looming large, of course, is the local station challenge to hold the audience throughout the Leno hour and get viewers to their newscasts. As the AR&D playbook warns:

"Stations must be fully prepared in the first internal break to sell their news assets very effectively. They have to convince viewers to watch late news regardless of whether they continue to watch all of Leno or not. The break immediately following the number one celebrity guest is another significant opportunity and stations must seize it. Tune out is high during this part of the program, so stations must find ways to: Make a strong coverage promise about timely news (no repetition from earlier newscasts)."

Jim Willi, AR&D's lead consultant on the Leno project said, no matter the Leno numbers, "even the best lead-in won’t guarantee NBC stations sure-fire numbers." Willi recalls how “Fox learned the hard way with 'Idol' that it’s not easy to carry viewers into your newscasts.”

The one big mistake the NBC stations can make, Willi says,"if they (the NBC stations) try to alter their newscasts to entertainment material – softer materials at 11p.m...I think that’s suicidal.”

So, come September, local station managers will know if Leno’s comedy can deliver a punch line to their local newscasts – ratings.

 I wouldn't bank on it.#

Memo to Paula and All the Rest of Us: Are You Happy Doing What You're Doing? If Not, Here's a Blueprint for What to Do Now (And No, You Cannot Let It Be All About the Money) [Well, This One Oughta Crash Our Servers ... ]

Chuck Ross Posted August 20, 2009 at 7:20 AM

Tags: Brain Graden, Career advice, MTV

Well, the headline tells it all here. And I'm not gonna be your guide. Instead I'm gonna send you off our site to read a terrific piece about Brian Graden.

Brian is the president of entertainment at the MTV Networks. I've always thought Brian and his predecessors have one of the toughest jobs in our business. How to keep reinventing those networks to please the most fickle of demographics, generation after generation.

I don't know Brian well. We've met a few times--dunno if he'd even remember me. Clearly he's a smart man, and he's got an excellent reputation.

Brian announced a little while ago that he's leaving his job at the end of the year.

In a piece that I guarantee will inspire you, you'll read how Brian got to where he is, decided where he wants to go from here, and how he's going about achieving his goal. The writer who was clever and gifted enough to put this together  for us is Felix Gillete (don't know him), and it's in the New York Observer. It's called "The Reinvention of Brian Graden," and it's time well-spent reading. Click here to read it. When you're done come back and lemme know what you think. You can post a comment here or you can always Twitter me at Chuckmedia.#

A Show I'm Mad About, And it's Not on HBO. Come Join the Fun

Aaron Barnhart Posted August 19, 2009 at 1:52 AM

Tags: AMC, Mad Men

This may not be the golden age of television, but perhaps it’s the titanium age: high quality in large quantities.

There are so many good shows now that the people who watch TV for a living are being forced to specialize. For instance, I would say “Battlestar Galactica” was a very good show; my ardor for the fantasy genre simply doesn’t burn hot enough to make it a great show in my eyes.

But if you have an hour to kill, I could rank the top 20 late-night hosts of all time.

At any given time, though, there usually is one program that sweeps through the critical community so powerfully that resistance is futile. There is such a show on TV now.

And for the first time in a decade, that show is not on HBO.

“Mad Men” begins its third season at 9 p.m. CT Sunday on AMC, and those of us who love great TV — even those of us with plenty to watch this summer — have been counting the days.

Much like the critics’ previous long-term crush, “The Sopranos,” “Mad Men” pushes hard on a multitude of pressure points in the body politic, creating that satisfying feeling that reminds us why we seek solace in popular entertainment.

In 1999, as the walls of the dot-com bubble began to strain, “The Sopranos” exploited our growing suspicion that the American dream was available to only the few. Here was a show about a corporation built on shady Internet start-ups and the control of industries ranging from construction to crack, where competition was not only frowned on but rubbed out.

“The Sopranos” also hit a cultural bull’s-eye, a hilarious, single-camera comedy at a time when viewers had tired of sitcom predictability. And it tapped the audience’s knowledge of the mob genre, making “The Sopranos” one of the most referential shows to date. Both creative trends, borrowed from cinema, would prove hugely influential in reshaping the landscape of television drama.

“Mad Men” comes along at a time when our collective suspicion has reached new levels, and it has become Wal-Mart-fashionable to question everything you’re told, whether it’s the premise for foreign war or the need for health care reform.

It’s also a time of tremendous upheaval in the media industry, as consumers learn to play hide-and-seek with traditional advertising methods and cause chaos behind the scenes at the companies built on them.

It is, in short, the perfect time for a revisionist account of American persuasion, told through the eyes of a deeply flawed yet oddly sympathetic figure who understands primal needs and has mastered the black art of pretending to satisfy them.

That man is Don Draper, as sold to us by Jon Hamm. He is, his new bosses remind us, the face of Sterling Cooper, the old-school, early 1960s Madison Avenue agency that, in the mythology of “Mad Men,” has taught choosy smokers to choose Luckies and insecure husbands to preserve family memories on Kodak slides.

Sterling Cooper also urged the undecided to select Dick Nixon as the voice of a new generation — one of the more obvious clues dropped into the first two seasons that Don and company don’t have a clue as to what changes are in store for the country — or them.

(Kind of like the way Tony Soprano didn’t see the end of a way of life coming, either … but let’s not get started again comparing these two shows. Suffice it to say that one of the first to tell “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner he had a helluva script there was his boss: “Sopranos” creator David Chase.)

One of those shocks to the system happened at the end of last season, when Sterling Cooper voted to be taken over by a British agency. That action will result in someone’s head getting lopped off in Sunday’s premiere, touching off an in-house battle to succeed him.

Don missed the merger vote because he was off sowing his wild oats in California. But now he has returned home, and wife Betty (January Jones) has taken him back into their family, which is about to increase by one with her surprise pregnancy. If you thought that might cause Don to give his wandering eye a rest for, oh, 12 hours or so, you would be mistaken.

There has been lots of online speculation about what will happen when JFK dies or the Beatles arrive in the fictional world of “Mad Men.” In interviews, Weiner has suggested the answer will be: not that much.

If the show’s depiction of election night 1960 is any precedent, recall that several Sterling Cooper minions barely paid attention to the Kennedy-Nixon vote drama. They were too busy getting drunk and hitting on each other. And yet, that same episode featured one of the show’s most dramatic developments, as Don’s dark secret was discovered by a jealous rival at the firm, Pete Campbell (Vincent Kartheiser).

“Mad Men,” in other words, is not a 1960s Hertz ad where characters fly into a car speeding down the fast lane of history. The show pursues the more intriguing alternative strategy of shaking up the characters’ little worlds at work and home. Even the Cuban missile crisis — the backdrop for Season 2’s final episode — couldn’t hold the office’s attention as the merger date of Sterling Cooper approached.

In that same episode, Betty Draper goes horseback riding after learning she's pregnant. Her doctor even tells her, "No riding." We don't see the ride, only her dismounting from the horse, but the intent is clear. And the viewer — well, the obsessive "Mad Men" viewer — might contemplate whether that's always how women dealt with unwanted pregnancies pre-Roe ... or whether it took a million women like Betty to bring about Roe.

While there is the underlying assumption that the squares at Sterling Cooper won’t know what hit them when the seminal ’60s events unfold, I wouldn’t be so sure. In fact, it’s safe to assume that some Eisenhower-era types there will learn to be groovy, just as they did in the 1960s America that “Mad Men” tries so strenuously to replicate. That is one of my anticipations for the third season — that some characters will start to let their hair down.

Honestly, though, the cast is so superb, the dramas of each episode so exquisitely told, that if I were Matt Weiner I would slow down the clock as much as possible. We’re in no hurry here to get to the moon landing. The endless possibilities for “Mad Men” are a product both of its large, appealing ensemble and the X-factor of history.

That’s one way in which it is not like “The Sopranos,” a show that revolved around one man whose incapacity for change finally exhausted the show’s creative potential. I’m not sure “Mad Men” will be as creatively influential as HBO’s signature series was; period dramas are not exactly popping up all over TV.

(Another way it's not like "Sopranos" is audience size. The Season 2 finale drew just 1.75 million viewers, or one-eighth a typical audience for "The Sopranos." Still, that’s almost twice the number watching “Mad Men’s” first season finale, and Season 3 numbers should grow as new viewers catch up on DVD.)

If I were to handicap its legacy, I would say it could be twofold: “Mad Men” has shown that you cannot overload an audience’s craving for information (check AMC’s hugely detailed Web site and the scores of fan blogs if you don’t believe me).

And, last but not least, “Mad Men” proves it is possible to shock 21st-century TV watchers without dropping a single frontal bra cup or F-bomb.

WHO’S WHO IN THE MADIVERSE

DON DRAPER (JON HAMM) In Season 3, the adman will have a vision that gives more detail behind his mysterious upbringing. He’ll also have to assure an old client that the takeover of Sterling Cooper won’t change a thing in their relationship. (The ’60s are another matter.) And Don will show again why he’s TV’s successor to Tony Soprano as the Great Philanderer.

BETTY DRAPER (JANUARY JONES) Expecting a third child and eager for a happy home to bring the baby into, she has welcomed back Don despite his infidelity. Everything seems like old times. She has kept emotions in check, until she needed to take her frustrations out on the neighbor’s pigeons.

PEGGY OLSON (ELISABETH MOSS) The fastest-rising woman in Sterling Cooper history has to deal with a corporate takeover and Pete’s confession that he loves her more than his wife.

PETE CAMPBELL (VINCENT KARTHEISER) The British invasion of Sterling Cooper could be a huge boost to his career or a huge road bump. It’s all in how he plays his cards. Given his history, that doesn’t bode well.

JOAN HOLLOWAY (CHRISTINA HENDRICKS) The queen bee of the secretaries, Joan reacts only as Joan can when a young executive begins taking liberties around the office.

ROGER STERLING (JOHN SLATTERY) The son of the firm’s founder has left his wife for a young secretary, but he might be the one jettisoned now that Sterling Cooper has new owners.

SAL ROMANO (BRYAN BATT) “Closeted gay man” is redundant in 1963. Acting straight was an unfortunate part of the bargain for career men, and Sal’s resolve will be tested on Sunday.

BERT COOPER (ROBERT MORSE) Regretting the merger that brought “British rule,” co-founder Bert continues to bring an old-soul perspective to the agency.

mad men.jpg

Now That I'm on a Roll, Here's What The Primetime Emmys Need to Do to Survive

Chuck Ross Posted August 13, 2009 at 6:30 AM

Tags: broadcast, Emmys

Yesterday I wrote about what Fox should do about replacing Paula Abdul on “American Idol.”

Having solved that crisis, I now feel it’s my duty to suggest to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) what it needs to do with its Primetime Emmy broadcast.

It seems inevitable that at some point most anyone connected with the TV business—or, for that matter, even a fan of a particular TV show—has a beef with the Emmys.

Usually the complaining is about someone or some show not getting nominated or winning, along with an exclamation that “I can’t believe” that a certain other person or other show did get a nomination or a win.

And depending upon where you are sitting, a lot of times the difference is between what many feel the Academy should be doing—honoring excellence—and honoring what’s popular. Yes, sometimes the two converge, which generally makes everyone happy, but many times they do not.

This basic dilemma between what is excellent and what is popular has now taken on a new dimension and could lead to a serious crisis for ATAS.

That’s because the major funding for ATAS comes from monies it gets in association with the Primetime Emmys. I'm told that if you add up the entry fees, the broadcast license fee and all the other revenues associated with the Primetime Emmys, you've got close to a whopping 75% of the monies ATAS brings in on an annual basis.

So the bottom line is that it’s essential for ATAS to have an Emmy broadcast that draws a decent rating. If not, the show’s value plummets, and its revenues suffer considerably.

Emmy officials have thought that one way they can increase ratings for the broadcast is by making it shorter. They claim that was behind their ill-fated attempt to force the time-shifting of eight awards—that if they cut out the walking to the podium by the winners the show’s pace would be quicker.

But that ain’t the problem guys.

The problem is that shows such as “Arrested Development” and “Mad Men”—excellent series both—very deservedly win Emmys. But not a lot of people watch those shows. So not a lot of folks have any interest in tuning into an Emmy broadcast that honors them.

Who amongst the subscribers to HBO and Showtime don’t love at least one or two of their great original programs? And HBO’s mini-series about John Adams was terrific and deserving of its multiple Emmys, but, come on, how many of us actually watched the entire mini-series? And most of us are in the business.

Unless the Emmy ceremony becomes more populist focused, it seems inevitable that the audience for its broadcast on the traditional networks will continue to dwindle.

So here’s my solution to this dilemma:

The Emmys should continue to honor excellence. It should not turn into the People’s Choice Awards. I applaud ATAS for the various changes it has made and continues to make as it strives to make sure that excellence is indeed rewarded. But every so often it takes its eyes off the prize and makes a decision that leads one to think it’s more interested in a popular choice rather than an excellent one, and I would urge ATAS to resist those inclinations.

Next time the Primetime Emmy broadcast comes up for license renewal, license it to cable. And license it to multiple networks. For example, maybe Time Warner will pony up, and show it on all of its HBO and Cinemax channels plus TBS, TNT and truTV.

Perhaps by licensing it to multiple cable outlets the cumulative monies ATAS will get will match what it typically gets from the broadcasters. But let’s assume it falls short.

How does ATAS make up the shortfall? This is where some outside-the-box thinking is necessary.

ATAS needs to produce another TV show, or series of shows.

The American Film Institute, for example, over the years, has produced shows on various movie themes. Maybe ATAS does something similar focusing on popular TV themed-material.

Maybe it produces some reality show.

Oh, oh, here’s one. Let’s say ATAS does indeed license the Emmy broadcast to Time Warner. If the show stays in September, how about a reality series leading up to the Emmy broadcast called “America Picks the Host of the Emmys.” The contestants could be the A-list of stand-up comedians who are connected with HBO—such as Robin Williams, Chris Rock and Margaret Cho.

“America Picks the Host of the Emmys” would air weekly, and, again, it could be shown on HBO, Cinemax, TNT, TBS and truTV. And America would vote for the winner as we do on a number of other reality shows.

And the runner-up could be the next Bachelor or Bachelorette. And if that runner-up is already married, so much the better. Come on, it’s Hollywood. How happy can that marriage be? And to make it even more interesting, we could give the Bachelor or Bachelorette the eight kids that used to belong to Jon and Kate, and…

Sorry about that. I got carried away.

But you get my drift here. The idea is to preserve the Emmys as awards that truly award excellence, and give our colleagues in the TV business their due. If that means the show is not watched by a mass audience—and it most likely does—so be it. Again, the awards themselves are not the popular People’s Choice Awards, and nor should they be.

But in order to preserve the Emmys there is no reason ATAS cannot produce other, money-making programming that is popular and can bring in the monies ATAS needs to preserve both the Emmys and the other great work it does in preservation and with its foundation.#

What Fox Should Do About the Paula Abdul Situation

Chuck Ross Posted August 12, 2009 at 6:48 AM

Tags: American Idol, Fox, Paula Abdul

Based on my conversations with some Fox insiders and others close to the situation, here's the skinny:

A number of folks at Fox were pissed when Abdul went public with her negotiations.

Personally, I think Fox is playing with fire by not re-signing her. Yes, as the show's former showrunner, Nigel Lythgoe, has said, 'American Idol' is really about the contestants and their aspirational dreams, and the audience's connection with that. 

And, as Lythgoe has also pointed out, "Idol" has been successful all over the world.

But...there have been other shows that have basically tried the 'Idol' format here and have failed. How much of the success of the show is because of the chemistry between the original three judges, Randy Jackson, Paula Abdul and Simon Cowell? And clearly that love/hate thing that Abdul and Cowell have going on is palpable in our living rooms.

When I mentioned that to one person close to the situation, here was the response: "Yeah, but Paula's incredibly polarizing as well."

This person was doubtful that an accommodation will be made with Abdul to re-sign her at this point.

Indeed, another person close to the situation said that, "The list of people who have called the 'Idol' producers to take Paula's place would make your head spin. It's a Who's Who of the music industry."

Wow. That's quite a statement. And maybe it's true. Let's assume it is.

If so, here's what I think Fox should do. One of the key elements that makes 'Idol' successful is the input we viewers have. Ultimately, we choose who wins.

So even though Fox didn't ask our opinion about how important we thought it was or wasn't to keep Paula, now that we're affected by this mess, they should ask us to help them clean it up.

Give us a list of potential judges, give us which phone numbers to call to vote for them (or text our vote if we're with AT&T---hey, let's not miss a sponsorship opportunity on this) and America will decide.

Let's have some fun. Hmm, who's gonna be on the list? Who's called Fox already? Maybe pop vet Tina Turner. Cyndi Lauper's name has been bandied about. Is Fantasia available? Beyonce? Is Bette Midler still in Vegas?

It doesn't necessarily have to be a woman. What's Snoop Dogg doing? Or Jay-Z? Is Berry Gordy available?

And why limit it to folks in the music biz? The only reason 'Idol' is on American TV at all is that Rupert Murdoch gave it the high sign after hearing from his daughter Elisabeth, who had seen the U.K. version and said she thought it would be terrific here.

If they know something about music--and who among us would say we DON'T--wouldn't we love to see a Murdoch on the judge's panel? I don't know about you, but I'd actually pay to see Simon mix it up with Rupert.

What's Warren Buffett doing? Or Warren Beatty? Or Warren Moon? Warren G? Is Lesley Ann Warren busy? I KNOW Nikki Finke has strong opinions.

Can Condoleezza Rice make it out here to Hollywood a few days a week? I know that Sarah Palin can.

You get the idea.

Fox, the next move is yours. Get us a great list together, put it out there, and let us vote. America will get you the next judge on "American Idol." 

This idea has got to be incredibly seductive to anyone at Fox. No business plays the blame game better than people in Hollywood.

But this way, if 'Idol' now tanks, when Chase Carey goes looking to take it out on somebody and give him or her their walking papers, everyone at Fox can say, truthfully, "Hey, I didn't pick the judge. America did. Go fire them."#

Notes on Comedy Central's Rollicking Rivers Roast

Hillary Atkin Posted August 10, 2009 at 3:43 PM

Ah, the good old days … drinking, smoking and telling dirty, filthy jokes at the Friars Club—all in service of roasting the top comics of their time. Minus the smoking and drinking but with plenty of bleeped out vulgarity, Comedy Central is continuing the tradition with probably the best televised bake-off yet: its roast of Joan Rivers.

If you missed it last night, don’t worry, you’ll have many other opportunities to catch an hour and 40 minutes of pretty hilarious proceedings—hilarious if you like a few inappropriate jokes about the recent deaths of David Carradine and Michael Jackson, along with a huge dose of lewd descriptions of sex acts, mostly of the homosexual variety. This brand of humor is obviously not for the feint of heart—or for those without a vibrant sense of humor about their sexuality and/or ethnicity, age or religion.

Roast mistress Kathy Griffin, herself the butt of many plastic surgery jokes, looked sparkly and new in a black sequined getup and launched things by saying that when she is the biggest star in the room, you know you're f-ed. She then introduced the woman she called a "legendary bitch," Joan Rivers, who brought out a batch of multi-ethnic kids from what she said was Brad and Angelina's yard sale—and sent them off to make jewelry. It was all downhill from there—in an LOL kind of way, of course.

Taped before rollicking crowd on a soundstage at CBS Radford, the dais of roasters included comedy legend Carl Reiner, Howard Stern sidekick Robin Quivers, actor Brad Garrett, Gilbert Gottfried, Greg Giraldo, Jeffrey Ross, Mario Cantone, Tom Arnold and newcomer Whitney Cummings—who almost stole the show with her rat-tat-tat series of disses. (“Joan, I loved you in ‘The Wrestler.’)

And speaking of blood sport, the comedians went pretty easy on the other legend in their midst, Carl Reiner, only subjecting him to some old-age jokes and a couple of jabs about how he never did anything to top "The Dick Van Dyke Show." For his part, the 86-year-old Reiner made good sport of saying a few words that would have been unthinkable in those days of yore—and still have to be bleeped in this day and age.

Brad Garrett and Tom Arnold suffered through the inevitable savagery for their links to Ray Romano and Roseanne, respectively. And how can anyone make child molestation funny? Everyone who's ever listened to her knows that Robin Quivers has spoken quite often and openly about being molested by her father. To make this funny … well, trust me, people were rolling on the floor.

Jeff Ross joked that Rivers was so old that she was on both Craig's list and Schindler's list. And forget about f-ing Matt Damon, she was f-ing Charlie Chaplin. Things got really down and dirty when he suggested that Kanye West’s mom had a better plastic surgeon than Joan Rivers. Ouch.

The 76-year-old Rivers gamely sat through their sets, which did tend to hew to those few predictable themes—her face and sex acts, not necessarily in that order—until it was her turn to completely destroy them … and that she did. After all, the woman has more than 40 years experience of bringing down the house.

Am I Being a Twit Because I Wish Tweet Was Just the Sound Tweety Bird Made?

Chuck Ross Posted August 9, 2009 at 5:43 AM

Tags: Twitter

My colleague Elizabeth Jensen told me of this item in the New York Post today: That the romance between "Dancing with the Stars” pro Derek Hough and last season’s contestant Shannon Elizabeth (“American Pie”) is over.

And how does the world know this? Because the couple announced their break-up over the weekend in tandem Twitter posts.

Of course they did.

Listen, I don’t think I’m a Luddite or even a new media fuddy-duddy.

OK, maybe a little.

But paaaleeese, doesn’t it bother you just a bit that seemingly any input of importance or interest that we’re getting these days is via Twitter?

Consider this: What if writers in days of yore were limited to 140 characters? Every poem, every speech, every line of dialogue…

An example from Shakespeare:

Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate.
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer

Or this speech by Abraham Lincoln:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposi

Or this classic routine from “Seinfeld”:

George: The sea was angry that day, my friends - like an old man trying to send back soup in a deli. I got about fifty feet out and suddenly the gre

Jerry: Mammal.

George: Whatever.

Kramer: Well, what did you do next?

George: Well then, from out of nowhere, a huge tidal wave lifted me, tossed me like a cork, and I found myself right on top of him - face to face wi

[George reveals the obstruction to be a golf ball]

Kramer: What is that, a Titleist?

[George nods]

Kramer: Hole in one, huh?#

UPDATE: 8:54 AM...Oh boy...My boss was a little upset with me when he saw this. He wanted me to mention that if you need to reach me faster than just leaving a comment on this story that you can reach me at my twitter account, where I'm known as chuckmedia....

Matt Damon’s ‘History’ is made (finally), With Marisa Tomei

Aaron Barnhart Posted August 5, 2009 at 11:21 PM

damon.jpg     In the movie “Good Will Hunting,” Matt Damon’s character sees a book on a shelf. It is “A People’s History of the United States” by radical historian Howard Zinn.

“This,” Damon tells his shrink, “will knock you on your ass.”

That line turned out to be one part product placement, one part prophecy.

 Damon grew up next to Zinn, who taught at Boston University, and the young actor-to-be read “People’s History” when it was published in 1980.

“It had a huge impact on my life,” said Damon, who co-wrote the “Good Will” screenplay with Ben Affleck.

 Zinn’s book was American history from the bottom up, telling our story not from the POV of the country’s great men, but the ordinary men and women who led popular movements to organize labor, fight for equal rights, end slavery and the Vietnam War and other causes.

Damon [pictured, left,  in the photo at the top of this page, with producer Chris Moore] had no intention of limiting his enthusiasm for Zinn’s book to a shout-out from Will Hunting. As soon as he and Affleck exploded on the Hollywood scene, the two men, along with producer Chris Moore, began a crusade to get “People’s History” adapted for the screen.

“From the moment that we had any kind of influence in this town,” Damon said, “we were trying to get this project off the ground.”

And now it’s off the ground. But before we get to that news — part of the fall previews for TV critics in Pasadena — let’s have a short history lesson.

In 1999 Fox announced it was developing a 10-part miniseries based on Zinn’s book. The news made many folks who cover the television industry do a Scooby-Doo double take.

 Fox? Really? The conglomerate owned by right-wing troublemaker Rupert Murdoch putting “A People’s History” blowout in prime time? It made no sense.

Damon told the critics that the Fox folks were “really nice.” But Zinn’s book is not so nice. It paints a dark vision of oppression and injustice in America and tells of its victims, who often served as road kill in the relentless push to colonize and industrialize the nation.

As the narrative began to take shape, Fox got cold feet.

“At some point in the middle of one of these two-hour sessions, we’d say, ” Damon recalls. ‘Are you guys sure that you want this?’

 Eventually, the deal fell apart.

Then along came HBO. The anything-goes channel proposed fictionalizing each chapter of the book. John Sayles was engaged to develop the screenplay. It was a massive effort that would’ve made “John Adams” look like a police procedural. Alas, it finally tottered over from its own weight.

Had it been another historian, the project might have ended right there at HBO’s doorstep. But the guys had more than a scholar on their hands in Howard Zinn. They had a force of nature.

tomei-zinn.jpgNow in his late 80s, Zinn [at the right in the picture, next to Marisa Tomei] seemed 20 years younger as he carried on animatedly during the press conference. He’s not shy about promoting his own work, and he has a teacher’s ability to engage a room, even one filled with jaded journalists.

I asked him if he’s surprised that any TV channel besides C-SPAN was interested in broadcasting his ideas.

“Of course!” he replied, getting a laugh from the audience. “The four of us started 10 years ago, when Fox television evinced an interest, which turned out to be temporary” — he shrugged, got a laugh — “and then HBO. So yeah, there have been doubts all along about whether anybody would pick it up.”

What saved the project was Zinn’s insatiable need to get his ideas out to the public. Working with publisher Anthony Arnove, Zinn in 2003 developed a spoken-word performance of characters from his book called, aptly, “The People Speak.” Marisa Tomei, Kurt Vonnegut and other notables lent their voices, embodying such diverse Americans as Frederick Douglass, a Gulf War resister and a worker in the mills of Lowell, Mass.

The live readings were a hit. Chris Moore, who had seen two TV adaptations end in frustration, attended one of the performances. And the two paths merged.

“In 2007 we started filming the performances on the theory of ‘if we build it, they will come,’ ” Arnove said. And eventually the History channel came along and said yes.

“This was (the) third incarnation, and it’s actually the most sensible way to do it because it’s using words, actual words, and that makes it so much more compelling,” Damon said.

The centerpiece is a two-hour film, “The People Speak,” airing this fall on History. But there will be a multi-disc DVD set and a live road show as well. Nancy Dubuc, the executive in charge of History — and a onetime student of Zinn’s — called the film “truly a celebration of democracy” and a collection of “unforgettable everyday stories that shaped our landscape.”

Then she showed a clip, and it looked inspiring, all right. But that is just not the “People’s History” that I read way back when. Though energetically written, the book was a depressing chronicle of death, destruction and defeats suffered by minorities, women and lower-class Americans over 300 years.

I mean, what’s next — “Manufacturing Consent: The Musical”?

“There are people who read the book, and they read about the struggles that people have made and the oppression that people have endured, and they come away depressed, which then depresses me,” Zinn said when I raised the topic.

“But if you read through the whole book — and I’ve had so many reactions like this — so many people are inspired by the fact that people fought back all the way through. The slaves fought back. The ex-slaves fought back. The Revolutionary War soldiers fought back against their conditions. The working people fought back against employers. Victories were won. There weren’t just defeats.

 “And the victories were won not because the government — the three branches of government — came through and did the right thing. The victories were won because ordinary people, ordinary citizens got together and struggled, whether they were against slavery or for the eight-hour day or for the rights of women or against war.”

Marisa Tomei, sitting to his right, chimed in.

“It took awhile and a few readings for me to really understand this,” said Tomei, who was one of the more vocal celebrities speaking out against the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

 “Sometimes in protests and things that I’ve been involved in, I’m like, ‘I’m tired of this. Isn’t this battle over?’ And what this is talking about is that it is our right and our duty to engage in, as Howard says, an antagonistic discussion with the powers that be.”#