Open Mic

September 2009

Some of You are Thinking it, So We'll Say it: What's up With Oprah, of All People, Giving Airtime to MacKenzie Phillips Saying She Had Incest With Her Dad? Is it a Ratings Ploy?

Chuck Ross Posted September 24, 2009 at 5:35 AM

Tags: incest, mackenzie phillips, oprah, ratings

Being journalists, people whisper things to us that they might not otherwise say out loud.

In the last 24-hours those whisperings to us have become a loud roar: Should Oprah, perhaps the most well-respected and influential person on TV today, be giving significant airtime to the most uncomfortable, squirm in your chair—and yes, many say, disgusting—story of this or any year—Mackenzie Phillips’ claim of being raped by her father and having an ongoing incestuous relationship with him.

The most cynical amongst us will say that all Oprah’s doing is a ratings play.

Indeed, in Michelle Kung’s Wall St. Journal’s Speakeasy blog she writes about Oprah’s show so far this year—including the Phillips’ interview: “Ratings decline? What ratings decline? Though average viewership for Oprah Winfrey’s talk show dipped below 7 million last season — according to Nielsen, one July rerun had its lowest rating since the show’s 1985 debut—the talk show matriarch has unleashed a torrent of not just A-list stars, but wounded celebrities with sordid tales, seeking redemption. O-loids, if you will. The results so far have been record breaking.”

But such cynicism is a disservice to Oprah. Truth be told, Oprah is no stranger to tabloid fare, as any regular Oprah-watcher will tell you.

From this couch-potato’s viewpoint, however, Oprah’s intent has never been tabloid for tabloids sake. Her show isn’t the Springer show. Oprah’s has always had a more serious intent.

Like most of us, I have no way of knowing if Phillips is telling the truth. A cynic would say she’s made it up to sell books.

But what is true, as you know and I know and Oprah knows, is that there are indeed victims of incest out there. Just as we all know that there are victims of domestic violence and other horrible behavior that most of us don’t usually want to talk about.

And if seeing Phillips talking about incest on Oprah allows just one victim of incest to get out of that situation, it’s worth the discomfort to the rest of us.#

Handicapping the Emmy Race for Best Comedy

Hillary Atkin Posted September 18, 2009 at 5:21 AM

Right out of the gate of its debut 2006-07 season, “30 Rock” grabbed the Emmy for outstanding comedy series, and then took home the trophy again last year. All indicators this year point to the sitcom about a sketch comedy show maintaining its tight grip on the golden statuette.

“’30 Rock’ still seems to be the preeminent critical and industry favorite, and is seen as a hip and hot comedy,” says TV Guide critic Matt Roush. “There’s nothing that’s come along to dethrone it.”

According to betting men like’s CEO Mickey Richardson, “Rock” has a whopping 75% chance of again taking the top comedy prize at the Emmys. (See table below for his odds on all the nominated shows.)

“This is ‘30 Rock’s’ time, and it continues to set the pace,” says media reporter Brian Stelter of The New York Times.” What’s heartening about ‘30 Rock’ is that more viewers are discovering it, and that patience is paying off for NBC—although ratings-wise, it’s never going to be ‘Two and a Half Men.’” (Which didn’t get a nod this year, but did in 2006, ‘07 and ’08.)

These are the other nominees:
Family Guy
Flight of the Conchords
How I Met Your Mother
The Office

So it’s three cable series versus three network programs: score two for HBO, two for NBC, one for Fox and one for Showtime. Young Hollywood Turks up against slacker musicians, young professionals, office workers, TV show staffers, pot dealers—and cartoon characters, the Griffin family.

“Family Guy” has been on the air for 10 years now and was nominated for outstanding animated series in 2000, ‘05, ’06 and ‘08. It’s the first time an animated series has been recognized in this category since "The Flintstones" made the cut in 1961.

“Entourage,” which earlier this year took home a prestigious Peabody Award, is still on the hot list for Emmy voters, but its heat may be waning. “The thing with long-running shows is you never know when their time in the Emmy lottery is going to come up,” says Roush about HBO’s half-hour series and “The Office,” which took home the outstanding comedy statuette in 2006 before it lost its perch at the top to another NBC series. Yet most critics agree the Dunder-Mifflin bunch had a very strong year.

Another HBO series, "Flight of the Conchords” picked up steam in the second season. “It is one of very few shows during which I actually laughed out loud,” says Dave Walker, television columnist for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“I thought it was goofy, inventive and unlike anything else anywhere, with a deep and wide cast. The supporting and guest stars were really funny. It’s broken through and reached a lot of people who found it through word of mouth. They’re blown away by it.”

“Weeds” is more of a dark comedy than a full-on laugh fest, but the series, which recently wrapped its fifth season, has a rabid fan base that eats up the exploits of Mary-Louise Parker and crew in and about their suburban milieu.

It’s "HIMYM’s" first Emmy nomination, meaning the CBS sitcom is finallly hitting its stride with awards voters, and Emmy host and the show’s star Neil Patrick Harris will have butterflies in his stomach when the winner is announced.

If “Mother” or any of the other entrants takes the prize from “Rock,” it will be quite the shock.

30 ROCK                                              (75%)
THE OFFICE                                        (28%)
FAMILY GUY                                        (22%)
WEEDS                                                (20%)
ENTOURAGE                                       (18%)
HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER               (18%)

Handicapping the Races for Best Actor and Actress in a Comedy

Hillary Atkin Posted September 17, 2009 at 8:15 AM

Tags: Actress, Best Actor, Comedy, Emmys

New blood is always a good thing, and the marquee Emmy category for best actor in a comedy series is comprised of 33% of it.

But those fresh faces are up against four major comedy heavyweights, including last year’s winner, Alec Baldwin.

 And the other nominees are:
Steve Carell, The Office
Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men

As the reigning king of Emmy comedy, most pundits and odds makers agree that Baldwin will keep the throne for his role as network television executive Jack Donaghy on "30 Rock." He also won the Golden Globe earlier this year for the role.

As The New York Times’ Brian Stelter noted, “The plotline with his romance in the middle of season gave him some great opportunities that he didn’t have in the last season.”

More than that, many Emmy voters don’t necessarily identify with the character, but resonate to their familiarity with real-life versions of Donaghy, the pompous, self-centered boss everyone loves to hate.

Mickey Richardson, CEO of, gives Baldwin a 61% chance of adding an Emmy to his trophy case.

But Baldwin has other Emmy royalty to contend with—like Shalhoub, as the brilliant but annoyingly neurotic San Francisco detective Adrian Monk, who carted home the statuette for his role on “Monk” in 2003, 2005 and 2006, and has been nominated every year since 2003.

And then there’s the drolly funny Steve Carell, who’s logged a nod in each of the last four years for the clueless, idiosyncratic boss he plays on “The Office.” He won a Globe for the role of Michael Scott in 2006, but so far, no golden Emmy true love.

It’s the same exact scorecard for Charlie Sheen, recognized four years running now for his turn as the womanizing Malibu beach house bachelor Charlie Harper on “Two and a Half Men.” Sheen can certainly nail the ladies, but maybe not the trophy.

Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" is getting some strong Emmy buzz for his performance as Sheldon Cooper, a geeky physicist who is both oblivious and imperious to everyday life and human relationships. "Sheldon is right up there. It's a classic comedy performance that keeps getting funnier," says TV Guide’s Matt Roush.

The other first-timer, Jemaine Clement, not only co-stars in HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords” but composes music, writes and produces the cult hit show. He’s one of New Zealand’s biggest stars, but as part of a “digi-bongo a cappella-rap-funk-comedy folk duo” gigging around New York City, he plays a barely coping loser doomed to musical obscurity. He’ll enter a whole new dimension if, as a long-shot, he gets the last laugh on Sunday.

-----------The Funniest Women on Television--------------------

They may know she was "F-ing Matt Damon," but Emmy voters may not know that much else about the surprise entrant into the exclusive club of the funniest women on television. Yet Sarah Silverman nabbed one of the six coveted slots in the lead actress in a comedy series race.

Silverman's brand of edgy comedy, bringing her sexuality and Jewishness to the fore in a way many people find offensive—and others find uproariously funny—is shaking up the contest. The other spots are all occupied by acclaimed actresses in more traditional shows who are veterans of the awards show circuit, proud owners of multiple trophies.

These are the other leading ladies in contention:
Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?
Toni Collette, United States of Tara
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds

Julia Louis Dreyfus, Mary Louise Parker and Tina Fey have all been here before (and I've had the pleasure of interviewing all of them, as well as their fellow nominee Christina Applegate), and they all deserve to be this time as well, joined by Toni Collette, whose star turn as a mom with multiple personalities in Showtime's “The United States of Tara” obviously turned Emmy voters’ heads.

Fey will be riding the tidal wave not only of "30 Rock's" record-breaking 22 nominations, but of her win last year in this category. Not only did her character Liz Lemon get a new love interest this year (fellow nominee Jon Hamm), but Emmy voters are clearly still madly in love with her.

And of course, her buzz from this season was intensified by her deft, iconic portrayal of Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin on “Saturday Night Live” last fall, which drew critical raves and huge numbers of viewers—and just won her a Creative Arts Emmy last weekend.

Was it all part of a master plan by Fey, who as well as taking home the statuette last year as the lead actress in a comedy series also grabbed Emmys as a producer and writer of "30 Rock?"

Tina Fey is ruling the world right now, and we’re just living in it. gives Fey a 67% chance of adding to her collection of Emmys. But the competition is stiff, stiff, stiff. The Emmys love JLD and MLP, and Ms. Applegate may draw a large sympathy vote, both for “Samantha Who?” being shown the door and for her high-profile battle with breast cancer.

Even Silverman might have trouble coming up with some jokes about that.

Handicapping the Race for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy

Hillary Atkin Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:11 AM

It's not often the host of an awards show is himself up for one of the trophies, but "HIMYM’s" Neil Patrick Harris will be holding his breath when the winner of the outstanding supporting actor in a comedy series is announced at the Emmys Sunday.

Three-time champ Jeremy Piven is out of the running this year, and this is the rest of the field:
Jon Cryer, "Two and a Half Men"
Kevin Dillon, "Entourage"
Jack McBrayer, "30 Rock"
Tracy Morgan, "30 Rock"
Rainn Wilson, "The Office"

As in the supporting comedy actress category, actors on broadcast network comedies are the dominant force here, with Dillon the only rep from cable. For “Entourage’s” Johnny “Drama” Chase, this is well-tread territory—it will be his third year in a row as a contender.

Cryer and Wilson also are well-honored veterans. For Cryer, this is his fourth straight nom for playing Alan Parker, and as the show’s EP Chuck Lorre told me, “Cryer always brings it. He’s a comedy writer’s dream.”

The same could be said for Wilson, who’s on his third nom for playing Dwight. He recently told Vanity Fair the Emmys should be more like a contact sport, with screaming at competitors part of the game: "You're going down, Tracy Morgan! I'm going to wipe the mat with you! You say you can win this Emmy? I'm gonna take this Emmy and… shove it in your nose!"

Everyone would expect Morgan to do something crazy/funny on stage if he takes home the Emmy, which would be a highlight of the telecast. He and McBrayer, both first-time nominees, are part of “Rock’s” record 22 nominations for a comedy series.

McBrayer had a big moment earlier this year at the expense of co-star and Emmy winner Alec Baldwin when Baldwin hosted "SNL" and in an opening skit, the audience fawned over Jack and ignored Alec.

Handicapping the Race for Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy

Hillary Atkin Posted September 14, 2009 at 12:09 PM

Tags: Comedy, Primetime Emmys, Supporting Actress

Take two newcomers and four lauded pros—with last year’s winner Jean Smart out of the mix--and there’s a lot of drama in the race for the Emmy Award as best supporting actress in a comedy series.

Vanessa Williams is used to being the best-dressed queen of the castle in “Ugly Betty,” and with this, her third nomination in a row, she’s definitely a front-runner.

Here’s the rest of the playing field of contenders in the category:
Kristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock
Elizabeth Perkins, Weeds
Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live
Kristin Wiig, Saturday Night Live

In “Betty’s” season finale, Williams’ role as Wilhelmina Slater found her playing tennis with Billie Jean King, singing with Christine Baranski and undergoing acupuncture on camera.

Williams—who hosted the Daytime Emmy Awards in August—has said playing Wilhelmina makes her step up to the plate and learn to do something new.

Chenoweth and Poehler were both also nominees last year. Neither of them still performs the role she is nominated for—Poehler by choice (moving on to NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”) and Chenoweth because her show was cancelled.

This is the third time Elizabeth Perkins has gotten an Emmy nom for playing
Celia Hodes on “Weeds.” She’s another Emmy voter favorite, having been nominated in 2006 and 2007, as well as receiving nods for her work from the Screen Actors Guild and the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn.

The two new comediennes in the category are way beyond learning the ropes, although this is the first time each will be making the Emmy rounds.

Wiig has really come into her own in the past year as SNL’s breakout female star--playing signature roles like Penelope, the hilarious serial one-upper and exaggerator, Gilly, the mischievous schoolgirl and the crazy collector Target cashier lady—as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Diane Sawyer and Suze Orman.

But Krakowski, who plays the fictional late night sketch comedy show’s Jenna Maroney on “30 Rock” could be swept up to the stage as a winner, as part of the comedy’s record 22 nominations.#

The U.S. Supreme Court Heard a Case on Wednesday, Sept. 9th, That Could Affect Millions and Millions of Dollars Spent on Networks and Local TV Stations. And It's Very Possible the Decision Will go the Way That Will Allow This Spending to Happen

Chuck Ross Posted September 10, 2009 at 6:25 AM

Tags: Ad Spending, FEC, Federal Election Commission, networks, Political Advertising, TV stations, U.S. Supreme Court

The case in question involves corporate and union funding of political ads. Here's the long and short of it: right now, for all intents and purposes, corporations and unions cannot fund these ads. But that could change, and if it does, it could mean a windfall for TV stations and networks during political campaigns.

How much of a windfall? Well, according to the report below, "if Exxon Mobil had spent just one percent of its 2008 profits on political advertising in that year's election, it would have outspent both Obama and McCain combined."

Now, that's real money, as they say. And press reports of the oral arguments from Wednesday's Supreme Court session indicates that the conservative majority on the court may very well overturn the current rules preventing the corporate and union funding of these ads.

To really understand this, here's the transcript from a report that ran on Tuesday, Sept. 8th on a program entitled "Marketplace" from American Public Radio:

Show host Kai Ryssdal: The Supreme Court is going to hold a rare instant replay tomorrow. Instant at least in judicial time. The justices are going to re-hear a case from last spring, called Citizens United vs. The Federal Election Commission. As you can gather from the name of one of the parties to that case, and from the fact that we're covering it on this program, it's a case about money in politics. About whether companies can buy ads to support or to attack candidates in federal elections. Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.
STEVE HENN: The case the Supreme Court hears tomorrow could remake American elections. But when it began, it looked like a minor fight about a pay-per-view documentary called "Hillary: The Movie."

DICK MORRIS: Hillary is really the closest thing we have in America to a European Socialist.
Voice Over: If you thought you knew everything about Hillary Clinton, wait until you see the movie.

HENN: David Bossie is president of Citizens United, the nonprofit group that made the movie.

DAVID BOSSIE: We are a political group. We make political films. We make films that are timely.

HENN: And Citizens United accepts individual and corporate money to do it. Groups that accept individual contributions can air ads about candidates right up to election day. But corporate money changes that. And that's why Bossie always runs into trouble with the Federal Election Commission, or FEC.

BOSSIE: We made this movie knowing we were headed to the Supreme Court.

HENN: Bossie planned to run his film during Hillary Clinton's campaign. But officials at the FEC thought it was really a 90-minute attack ad. And because Bossie took a little corporate money to make the film, the FEC told him he couldn't run it on pay-per-view or air ads for it on television without facing consequences.

BOSSIE: I would open myself up to five years in prison. That's the penalty. It's not like, oh, they slap you with a little fine. We are talking about criminalizing speech. Not just criminalizing it, but with a massive jail sentence.

HENN: So Bossie sued. Michael Toner is a former chair of the FEC. In this case, he filed a brief supporting Citizen's United.

MICHAEL TONER: Congress didn't intend to focus on pay-per-view programming and advertising of this nature.

HENN: Originally, that's what this case was about: Can the FEC legally ban a pay-per-view film? But instead of deciding that issue, this spring the Supreme Court surprised everyone by asking for a new hearing addressing a different issue: Do corporations have a first amendment right to political speech? Michael Toner...

TONER: It's a very unusual situation to have the court ordering rehearing in a case, and it usually only occurs when a number of justices are seriously contemplating overturning established precedent.

HENN: Toner believes campaign finance laws have been on a collision coarse with the first amendment for years. And this isn't the first time the FEC has interfered with a documentary film.

CLIP FROM FAHRENHEIT 9/11: You had some airplanes authorized at the highest level of our government to pick up Osama bin Laden's family members and transport them out of this country.

HENN: Back in the summer of 2004, the FEC began investigating Loinsgate and Michael Moore, asking questions about the promotion of Fahrenheit 9/11, which skewered President George W. Bush. Here's David Bossie.

BOSSIE: And they actually took their ads off the air, as opposed to fighting it. I found that to be kind of incredible actually. That the biggest distributors, the biggest movie companies in the country, would be afraid of the Federal Election Commission.

HENN: The FEC's power has alarmed the ACLU, and the Reporters Committee for the Freedom of the Press, and major unions. They are all backing Bossie in this case.
But campaign finance reform advocates like Trevor Potter say there are half a dozen ways Bossie could have made his movie legally and aired it on TV without breaking campaign finance rules.
Potter is a former chairman of the FEC. Now he runs the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center, which promotes enforcement of campaign finance laws.

TREVOR POTTER: There isn't a problem. This is an artificial crisis created by people who have another agenda.

HENN: Potter thinks Citizen's United real agenda has always been to challenge the ban on corporate money in elections and overturn a law that's been on the books for 62 years. If they win...

POTTER: In essence, you would be giving corporate America the capacity for dominance of our electoral and our decision-making process.

HENN: Fred Wertheimer lobbies for strict campaign finance laws at Democracy 21. He points out that if Exxon Mobil had spent just 1 percent of its 2008 profits on political advertising in that year's election, it would have outspent both Obama and McCain combined.
In Washington, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

To read one of the many accounts of yesterday's arguments before the U.S. Supreme Court, click here. It's the report from the Los Angeles Times.#

Why Ellen Degeneres is a Great Choice For 'Idol'

Adam Buckman Posted September 10, 2009 at 6:00 AM

Tags: American Idol, Ellen Degeneres

Anyone who is complaining about the decision to add Ellen DeGeneres as the fourth judge on “American Idol” doesn’t understand show business.

It doesn’t matter whether or not Ellen is some kind of expert on singing, though, as an entertainment professional for her entire adult life, she likely knows a lot more about the subject than some are giving her credit for.

Her abilities as a judge of talent have nothing to do with her hiring. She was hired for the simple reason that she happens to be one of the world’s most popular and likable personalities on television. That’s it — you don’t really have to spend too much time analyzing it further.

She’s hugely appealing and at the top of her game. Sure, we’ll all miss kooky Paula, but Ellen DeGeneres? It’s a no-brainer. Whoever did the deal to land this huge star deserves a bonus.

Why Do the Tea Leaves Still Say Diane Sawyer Will Be Put Under Scrutiny That No Man Has To Endure?

Hillary Atkin Posted September 4, 2009 at 4:59 AM

Tags: ABC, Anchor, Diane Sawyer, News, World News

Whether you watch them or not-- and their audiences are dwindling, yet still a potent force -- the anchors of the network news broadcasts are among the most powerful people on the global stage, able to snag an interview with the president or just about any other newsworthy personage and jet into world trouble spots and history-making events, backed by the full resources of their respective news organizations.

It seems only fitting that in the wake of the passing of one of the greatest anchors of our time, Walter Cronkite, that there is a rare shake-up in the three coveted chairs that historically have been occupied for years and even decades at a time.

With Charlie Gibson passing his “World News” throne on to ABC's Diane Sawyer at the beginning of 2010, we will enter a new era of network news royalty--with two of the three seats being held by women for the first time in history.

Remember a few years back when Dan Rather was dragged kicking and screaming, which he still is, from the “CBS Evening News” desk and Katie Couric took over? Under an intense spotlight, the perennially perky (and yes, she rightfully hated that word) television veteran tried to redefine the genre of the tradition-bound evening news broadcast, with little success. Not to mention the scrutiny of her hair, clothing and makeup that just wasn't part of the equation when Brian Williams smoothly assumed the “NBC Nightly News” desk from long-time popular anchor Tom Brokaw.

Gibson inherited his mantle following a rocky, tragic period at ABC, after Peter Jennings died and then his successor, co-anchor Bob Woodruff was seriously injured in Iraq. He's done an estimable job, bringing in his newscast at number two, after top-rated NBC.

Yet the rumbling currents of criticism are already being directed at Sawyer, who's done some very softball interviews and puff pieces during her long and successful tenure at “Good Morning America”-- as well as hard-hitting broadcast journalism.

She's a tough cookie and a classy woman, although I've never gotten the part where she willingly worked as an aide to the most reviled president in modern history, Richard Nixon, before she made a major career change and became the media doyenne she is today.

But the tea leaves read that Sawyer's hairstyle, hair color, lipstick, weight and wardrobe will be as much as part of the discussion as her journalistic credentials. Aside from Couric’s elevation, it's been more than 25 years since the last female network news anchor, Jessica Savitch, made headlines for helming a network newscast (and she only held the weekend slot on NBC before her untimely death in a traffic accident).

Shamefully, much of the discourse about women in broadcasting has not evolved much beyond the superficial since then.#