Open Mic

August 2010

Freshness Quotient and Moments of Inspiration Kept 62nd Annual Emmys From Sinking Into Trophy Tedium

Hillary Atkin Posted August 31, 2010 at 10:08 AM

It’s all over but the hangovers from the afterparties and Ricky Gervais’ beer being served at the 62nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

The host of this year's Golden Globe Awards almost stole the show as a presenter with his line about Mel Gibson going through a lot lately, but not as much as the Jews.

That was just one of the many inspired and funny moments during this year's live coast-to-coast telecast, which will go down in history as breaking “30 Rock’s” three-year reign as best comedy with a worthy successor to the crown, "Modern Family." A slew of first-time winners including Kyra Sedgwick, Jane Lynch, Jim Parsons, Aaron Paul, David Strathairn and Eric Stonestreet added to the freshness quotient.

Comedy reigned from the beginning, with host Jimmy Fallon’s grabby opener starring the “Glee” cast, Kate Gosselin, Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Joel McHale and Betty White to the anthemic lyrics of Springsteen's "Born to Run" and then the proclamation-- after Tim Gunn began to transform his T-shirt into a tux—“Let's have some fun tonight."

Fallon confronted one of the most potentially awkward moments of the night right off the bat. Picking up an acoustic guitar and introducing himself as the host of the festivities, he said, "NBC asking a late-night host to come to L.A. and host a different show. What could possibly go wrong?"--as the audience saw a cutaway of Conan. "Too soon?" he asked, to more laughter.

But O'Brien would not win for outstanding comedy/variety series--a scenario that many on Team Coco thought would be poetic justice for his short-lived tenure as host of "The Tonight Show." In one of Emmy's longest winning streaks, "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" took home the gold for the record-setting eighth year in a row, beating out the “SNL” episode starring Betty White, along with other category regulars including Colbert and Maher.

Another Emmy favorite was finally toppled from its perch after seven years running. “The Amazing Race” just couldn’t keep pace with the cooks in the kitchen of “Top Chef” this time.

For drama’s top prize, there was no dramatic shake-up to the throne. Emmy voters have not tired of the sleek, sexy, sixties world of “Mad Men,” which took the trophy for best series for the third straight year. Icing on the cake, creator Matthew Weiner walked away with the writing honor. AMC also scored a one-two punch with "Breaking Bad." Bryan Cranston won his third lead actor award and newcomer Paul joined the celebration for his supporting role.

As usual, HBO dominated the miniseries and movie categories--with its programs based on real events or people. It was one of them, the real-life Temple Grandin, whose shout-outs from award winners Strathairn, Claire Danes and director Mick Jackson turned into unscripted moments of real emotion, as when Grandin, on stage, called upon her mom to stand up in the audience.

And how can you not be somewhat enthralled with the major motion picture element of TV’s biggest night? It was a movie star trifecta, with Tom Hanks, Al Pacino (both for HBO shows) and George Clooney sucking up a lot of air in the room. The ever-charming Hanks, as executive producer of the multi-nominated “The Pacific,” made multiple trips to the Nokia podium and saw the 10-part miniseries end the evening with eight trophies.

When the always edgy and dangerous Michael Corleone, er, Pacino took the Emmy for lead actor in a television movie for the title role in "You Don't Know Jack," he shouted out to Dr. Kevorkian in the crowd, "You're all right, Jack!" (Adam Mazur, the winning writer, had said he was glad Kevorkian wasn’t his physician.)

There were other memorable acceptance speech quotes. Steve Levitan, on winning with Christopher Lloyd for writing “Modern Family,” thanked “everyone still at ABC--and our wives, without whom we’d be dating around.”

Jane Lynch, while accepting the supporting comedy actress Emmy, remarked about the youthful “Glee” cast, “When I’m not seething with jealousy, I’m so proud of you.”

Edie “the original housewife of New Jersey” Falco, in her upset lead comedy actress win for “Nurse Jackie,” said, ”I’m not funny,” even as she became the first actress to take Emmy acting trophies in both comedy and drama.

Everyone knew that George Clooney would be accepting the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award for his work in bringing televised attention to world trouble spots and the people who have suffered and are still suffering from man-made and natural disasters.

But very few people knew he'd end up as a running sight gag, in bed with the cast of "Modern Family." It was another of the show’s inspired bits that kept it from sinking into trophy tedium--as did Fallon's musical tribute to three big shows that rode off into the television sunset last season, "24," "Lost" and "Law & Order." Channeling Elton John, Boyz 2 Men and Green Day’s Billie Joe Armstrong through some of their iconic songs, Fallon had the crowd rolling with lyrics like "The island it was mythical and everybody died. I didn't understand it, but I tried."

And as he closed the show by announcing the afterparty at Betty White’s house, Emmys 62 was really a night to remember.

It Was a Pleasure to Know You, Dave McElhatton

Chuck Ross Posted August 24, 2010 at 8:44 AM

He was the Fred Astaire of broadcasting. He was the Bing Crosby of news anchors. He was the Perry Como of local news.

All of these reference points are of bygone years and now, alas, our Mac has passed away.

If you lived in the San Francisco Bay area anytime in the latter half of the 20th century, you knew Mac, with the twinkle in his voice and the twinkle in his eyes.

They say that during his long reign on national TV that Walter Cronkite became the most trusted man in America.

It was during his 50 years of broadcasting in the Bay Area that Oakland-born Dave McElhatton became the most beloved, most trusted newscaster there.

They say one of the characteristics that made the Golden Age of Hollywood golden is that they had faces back then. It was seemingly before the cookie-cutter was invented.

McElhatton was of that era. With his round, balding face and a bit of a stomach paunch before paunch was in style, to say Mac looked like the guy-next-door might have been generous.

All you knew is that it was the friendliest of faces. Instantly familiar. The term avuncular was routinely used to describe Cronkite, but if anyone resembled your favorite uncle, both in looks and spirit, it was Mac.

In fact, if he reminded you of anyone on the national news scene, it wasn’t Cronkite, it was the soothing folkstyle of Charles Kuralt.

In a long career that was split almost equally on radio followed by TV, Mac’s persona came over much the same way as those reference points I mentioned: Astaire, Crosby and Como. They made everything they did seem brilliantly simple, as if singing and dancing really was just second nature for them.

So it was with McElhatton. He delivered the news simply and straight-forwardly, in his indelible easy-to-take manner.

Not only did he seem to be a nice guy, he actually was one. He was self-effacing almost to a fault.

When I was the TV reporter at the San Francisco Chronicle back in the late 1980s, I remember doing a story about the shifting of some local news anchors. It was said that one of the anchors lacked energy, that another seemed uncomfortable most of time. But for McElhatton, no one had anything but praise. So I asked him what is it that makes a really good anchor. His reply was pure Mac. “Heck if I know. I’m just glad that people seem to like what I do.”

Mac retired 10 years ago. He died yesterday, August, 23, 2010, of complications from a stroke. He was 81.

I want to close with these two anecdotes that I read this morning in Peter Hartlaub’s piece about Mac in today’s San Francisco Chronicle.

The stories are told by two primary co-anchors Mac had at KPIX, Wendy Tokuda and Kate Kelly.

“Tokuda and Kelly…tell similar stories of being put at ease on their first days anchoring with Mr. McElhatton. Kelly said she was so nervous she was shaking, and botched one of her first lines, referring to ‘Nightcast’ as ‘Nicecast.’

" 'He came back (after the break) and said 'Good evening, Wendy Tokuda is off, Kate Kelly is sitting in. And topping Nicecast ...' ' Kelly said. 'He said it on purpose with a twinkle in his eye - to put me at ease and kind of acknowledge that I had misspoken but he was there with me. He just had that kind of empathy for you. He was a very special man.'

“Tokuda remembers when one new young employee complimented Mr. McElhatton's tie, which was designed by Jerry Garcia. The next day the employee found two of the ties, with no note, on his desk.”

I can see Mac this morning up at the Pearly Gates, laughing and joking with Jerry Garcia about their great memories of living and having fun in and around the Golden Gate.



Being There: You Want To Rebrand, But a Lot of Your Customers Have No Faith In The New Name You’ve Chosen

Chuck Ross Posted August 23, 2010 at 6:52 AM

That seems to be the dilemma Krista Tippett faces.

Tippett is the creator and host of one of the most enjoyable, enlightening programs I’ve ever heard. It’s not on TV—it’s on radio and available as podcasts on the Internet.

Most regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of National Public Radio. Here in L.A. we’re in our cars a lot, and I listen to a lot of NPR.

What’s interesting about a lot of NPR stations is that they also take programming from the nation’s second largest producer of public radio shows, American Public Media.

American Public Media produces Garrison Keillor’s popular entertainment program “Prairie Home Companion,” the financial show “Marketplace,” the food show “The Splendid Table,” and Tippett’s program.

Like a good many of Tippett’s fans, I found the show by accident years ago. It’s called “Speaking of Faith.”

Shows dealing with religion are generally a tough sell—unless you are really into religion. But before you click your mouse to go to another story, stick with me a little longer.

What so many of us find appealing about Tippett and her show is that it may be the most intellectually stimulating program in media today, but not in a boring, didactic way.

Thanks to Tippett, it’s damn entertaining as well. Besides being blessed with a voice that almost shouts out to you “this is compelling and don’t touch that dial,” her choice of subjects and subject matter is practically flawless. Most of the shows are interviews, and in the way some music critics say that country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons never made a bad record, Tippett may never have done a bad interview or asked a question that wasn’t spot on.

Many of the guests on “Speaking of Faith” I’ve not heard of before I hear them on the show.

The subject matter on “Speaking of Faith” is exactly what it should be as it encapsulates the name of the show in both the most specific and general of ways.

From the show’s website, here’s an explanation of what I mean by that: “From elephant vocalization (Katy Payne) to quantum physics (John Polkinghorne), from the Sunni-Shia divide (Vali Nasr) to the novelist as God (Mary Doria Russell), from forensic pathology (Mercedes Doretti) to torture (Darius Rejali), from parenting (Sandy Sasso) to play (Stuart Brown), from the meaning of intelligence (Mike Rose) to Obama's theologian (David Brooks + E.J. Dionne), what we cover as "conversation about religion, meaning, ethics, and ideas" drives towards ancient, animating questions at the heart of the great traditions and beyond them: What does it mean to be human? What matters in a life? What matters in a death? How to love? How to be of service to each other and to the world?”

The show has been airing on a weekly basis for the past seven years. It’s won everything from a Peabody to a Webby. The show's website can be found here, at

One of the biggest surprises to regular listeners like myself came several weeks ago in a blog Tippett wrote on the show’s website. The blog itself that she wrote can be found here.

Tippett wrote that come Sept. 16, 2010, the show she created would be rebranded from “Speaking of Faith with Krista Tippett” to “Krista Tippett on Being.”

Tippett explained in the blog that, “We believe that Being is also a title with room to grow into, while Speaking of Faith has taken us as far in public media as it could. As much as we filled it with new meaning, the program’s title remained an obstacle for many programmers and listeners. The story we have heard again and again is that people have had to get over the title, or find themselves listening to the show by accident, before they were ready to give themselves over to our content. We have heard that, for religious and non-religious people alike, the title Speaking of Faith makes it hard to talk about the program with friends and family — to spread the word “virally,” as word spreads in our time.”

Tippett also said she wasn’t crazy about the “Being” at first, but that it’s grown on her.

She also made this statement, “This process of discernment that we might want and need to change the name of the program has been one of the most surprising learnings of the past year, which has been a period both of solidifying the program’s strengths and of continuing to experiment.”

I’m not sure what that means. Sounds like perhaps she hired a consultant to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of all aspects of the show, and one of the recommendations by the consultant was to change the name of the program.

As you might expect, since Tippett first posted that blog several weeks ago, all hell has broken loose.

There are a number of one-off comments to the blog supporting the name change. Not a lot of other users then check off that they “like” these comments. .

On the other have there are a lot of negative comments that get checked by about two dozen or more people who agree with the negative comment.

A sample of the latter:
DFerrar commented, “I've been listening to the show for some time, so I understand the reasoning behind the title change. I am, however, not in favor of it. ‘Speaking of Faith’ clearly delineates the subject matter of the program: discussions of faith, belief and philosophy, and I know from my experiences of the program that this subject matter is also discussed in terms of its impact on daily life.

“ ‘Being’, however, is impossibly vague. No potential listener will understand the oeuvre of the program from this title. It could be a diet or exercise program. It could be a listener call-in program about relationship problems or psychological health. It could be about poetry. It could be about a lot of things, and does not succinctly depict the focus of the show at all. Yes, it is a title to ‘grow into,’ because it's so hopelessly vague that it can encompass thousands of disparate things.

“Is Krista Tippett now such a global celebrity that people will instantly understand what it means to hear her discuss ‘being’? I don't think so. The fact that my local NPR station ‘downgraded’ the show from a Sunday 11 am slot to a 6 am slot rather demonstrates that people weren't actively seeking it out with the original title. The title change will, I think, cause the unwitting to shrug their shoulders and move on, without having listened to a single episode of this enlightening and uplifting show.”

In fact, a number of people who have commented are appalled that Tippett’s name comes first with the rebranding.

Kate Moos, the show’s managing producer, has repeatedly responded on the blog that “The idea of Krista's name in the title is not about celebrity. Our research showed that her name was as closely associated with the program as the title SoF itself, and we felt it was important to let people know that Krista remained the host, and central to the program's editorial vision. "Being with Krista Tippett" didn't work, for many reasons.”

One of the main reasons it doesn’t work, Moos writes in other posts, is what she says is the unfortunate double-entendre meaning of “Being with Krista Tippett.”

Moos also says that the plan is for the show to really be referred to as “Being” and not “Krista Tippett on Being.”

Here’s another comment from someone not in favor of the rebranding. This is from someone calling himself Prince Lackadasia: [“ ‘Speaking of Faith’ ] has always been about speaking with passion and creative engagement about those things which are of central importance but exceptionally difficult to talk about in our culture.

“Even the name itself challenged conventional categories and simplistic meanings about the boundaries of religion, belief, spirituality and ethics. Given the show's content, the name “Speaking of Faith” was as much a challenge to Christians as non-Christians, believers as well as atheists. The name change feels a bit like you are caving in to the narrow categories of our culture, searching for the lowest common denominator that puts no one off. Disappointing....”

We’ll quote one more commenter, Frank Toia: “My first tendency is to say ‘Anything Krista Tippett does is OK with me.’

“But when I'm honest with myself I really don't like the new name AT ALL!

" ‘Speaking of Faith’ with its subtitle stretches the meaning of the word ‘faith’ for religious and non-religious people alike. It is precisely because so many of us have too narrow a definition of the word ‘faith’ that I would like to see it stay in the title.

“By using that title and then having people on the show who have something important to say to us, even though they may not be interested in religion, says something important to believer and non-believer alike about what it means to be faith-full.

“Krista, I tune in to ‘Speaking of Faith’ for two reasons: First, because you always have somebody on who has something important and insightful to say, and second, because you have an incredible skill at drawing out that person, probing meanings beneath the surface and underlining the insights. You frequently contribute some important insights yourself and I'm grateful for those.

“But what draws me to your show is not ‘Krista Tippett... on anything; it's Bill McKibben on, or Allan Rabinowitz on ... or Shane Claiborne on ... or Sandy Sasso on ... or a hundred other people of whom I would never hear if it weren't for Krista Tippett. I am deeply indebted to you for these introductions and for stretching my own faith in a multitude of directions. But I hope it never becomes ‘The Krista Tippett Show.’ ”

[Note to self…You might wanna put the brakes on consideration of “Crain Communications Presents Chuck Ross’ TV Week.”]

Count me among the naysayers regarding the name-change. I love the title of the show being “Speaking of Faith With Krista Tippett.” Sorta like “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” Or “With” Leno or O’Brien.

Yes, it was Tippett’s idea to create the show, but she had the good sense to put the name of the show before her name. For one thing, it allows others to carry on with the brand at some point if Tippett moves on to other projects.

And I like the name “Speaking of Faith” for all the reasons those commenters have mentioned above.

Rebranding is always tough. To this day, the most comments TVWeek has ever gotten about a story was one Jon Lafayette wrote several years ago about the Sci-Fi Channel changing its name to Syfy. We received close to 1,000 comments on that story, most of them complaining about the name change.

And we’ve gone through this ourselves. For most of our close to 30-year history we were known as ‘Electronic Media,” and were primarily known as a publication about the business of TV syndication.

But about a decade ago, as the syndication marketplace became more consolidated, we broadened our coverage to cover other areas of the TV marketplace in a more serious, concentrated manner than we had previously.

So to reflect that, both editorially and on the business side, we became TVWeek.

Of course the irony is not lost on us that we now publish 24/7, are online only, and really cover a marketplace that is better reflected in the phrase “Electronic Media” than TVWeek.

Fortunately, our loyal readers have remained faithful to us as we have evolved, and we have picked up a lot of new readers along the way.

I dunno, maybe it’s time for us to rebrand again as well. I sorta like the idea of having readers who have kept their faith in us.

Hmm. I understand the title “Speaking of Faith” might be available in a few weeks…#

This is What Happens When You've Been Raised With Too Much Frank Capra and Not Enough Barry Diller (Starring Bill O'Reilly, Fox News, Comcast and Introducing Barry Nolan)

Chuck Ross Posted August 17, 2010 at 6:47 AM

Frank Capra specialized in David vs. Goliath stories. We’re all familiar with his Christmas classic “It’s a Wonderful Life,” wherein Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey comes to realize that as long as one has family and friends it doesn’t matter what Goliath—Mr. Potter—is throwing at you. And, if you do have family and friends, then “right” will prevail anyway.


In “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” Stewart plays the wide-eyed, naïve junior Senator Jefferson Smith, who faces being crushed by the political machine of Goliath, James Taylor.


With the words of screenwriters Robert Riskin and Sidney Buchman, the rhetoric of Capra films is powerful and seductive.


Consider, for example, this classic scene from “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”:


Senate President: The Chair recognizes -- Senator Smith!


Senator Smith:  Thank you, Sir. Will I guess the Gentlemen were in a pretty tall hurry to get me out of here. The way the evidence is piled up against me, I can't say I blame them much. And I'm quite willing to go, sir, when they vote it that way. But before that happens, I've got a few things I want to say to this Body. I tried to say them once before, and I got stopped colder than a mackerel. Well, I'd like to get them said this time, sir. And as a matter of fact, I'm not goin' to leave this Body until I do get them said.


Senator Paine: Mr. President will the Senator yield?

Senate President: Will the Senator yield?

Smith: No, sir, I'm afraid not. No, sir. I yielded the floor once before, if you can remember, and I was practically never heard of again. No, sir. And we might as well all  get together on this yielding business right off that bat, now. I had some pretty good coaching last night, and I find that if I yield only for a question or a point of order or a personal privilege that I can hold this floor almost until doomsday. In other words, I've got a piece to speak and blow hot or cold, I'm going to speak it.

Senator Paine: Will the Senator yield?

Senate President: Will Senator Smith yield?

Smith: Yield how, sir?

Senator Paine: Will he yield for a question?

Smith: For a question, alright.

Senator Paine: I wish to ask my junior colleague -- this piece he intends to speak: Does it concern Section 40 of that Bill -- the dam at Willow Creek?

Smith: It does, sir.

Senator Paine: Every aspect of this matter, the Gentleman's attack on that Section -- everything -- was dealt with in Committee hearings.

Smith: Mr. President.

Senator Paine: I wish to ask my distinguished colleague: Has he one scrap of evidence to add now to the defense he did not give and could not give at that same hearing?

Smith: I have no defense against forged papers!

Senator Paine: The Committee ruled otherwise! The Gentleman stands guilty as charged. And I believe I speak for every member when I say that no one cares to hear what a man of his condemned character has to say about any section of any legislation before this House.

Senate President: Order. Order, gentlemen.

Smith: Mr. President, I stand guilty as framed! Because Section 40 is graft! And I was ready to say so. I was ready to tell you that a certain man in my State, a Mr. James Taylor, wanted to put through this dam for his own profit -- a man who controls a political machine and controls everything else worth controlling in my State. Yes, and a man even powerful enough to control Congressmen, and I saw three of them in his room the day I went up to see him.

Senator Paine: Will the Senator yield?!

Smith: No, sir! I will not yield! And this same man, Mr. James Taylor, came down here and offered me a seat in this Senate for the next 20 years if I voted for a dam that he knew and I knew was a fraud. But if I dared to open my mouth against that dam, he promised to break me in two. Alright, I got up here and I started to open my mouth and the long and powerful arm of Mr. James Taylor reached into this sacred chamber and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck --

You get the idea. Powerful stuff. And when we baby boomers were growing up, many of us saw the Capra movie repertory played over and over as old movies made up much of what was shown on TV.


That was certainly true of me and most of my friends. And I’m going to guess that it was also true of Barry Nolan.


I don’t know Nolan personally. I’m a National Public Radio junkie, and Nolan is on one of my favorite radio quiz shows that many NPR stations carry: “Says You!”


He’s clearly bright and witty and is excellent with wordplay, which is a primary focus of “Says You!”  It turns out that Nolan, 63, is a member of Mensa, which doesn’t surprise me.


For TV viewers in the New England area, Nolan is better known. In Boston, more than 20 years ago, he co-hosted “Evening Magazine.” He also co-hosted “Hard Copy” in the 1990’s, and about ten years ago was a reporter for “Extra.”


Most recently, and most germane to today’s blog, Nolan hosted “Backstage With Barry Nolan” on CN8, a regional cable channel owned by Comcast.


Nolan was fired from his hosting of that show in May, 2008. The story of that firing—and the subsequent $1.2 million wrongful termination lawsuit that Nolan filed against Comcast—are the subject of a feature article published this week by the Columbia Journalism Review. The piece, by Terry Ann Knopf—who years ago wrote some pieces for TVWeek when we were known as Electronic Media—is titled “The O’Reilly Factor: How the Fox host used raw corporate power to crush a critic.”


Here’s what happened. The Boston/New England Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences decided to give their Governor’s Award to Bill O’Reilly.

According to the article, Timothy Egan, then president of the Chapter, said, “Bill O’Reilly was selected because he hosted the top-rated talk show on cable seven years running. He worked at TV stations in Hartford and two in Boston. He wrote for The Boston Phoenix. And he holds master’s degrees from Boston University one from [Harvard’s] Kennedy School of Government. He is someone who understands New England’s journalism industry and honed his skills here.”


In a piece Nolan later wrote for, he said, “O’Reilly was an appalling choice, not because of his political views, but because he simply gets the facts wrong, abuses his guests and the powerless in general, is delusional, and, well, you might want to Google: Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

“Plus there was that whole sexual harassment thing – the lawsuit he settled for an estimated $10 million. Not the kind of guy you normally think of when it comes time to pass out honors.”

So Nolan then emailed the board members of the Chapter, urging them to reconsider their choice of honoree. Some of the board members agreed with him, but according the Columbia Journalism Review article, “The vote stood.”

Furthermore, Nolan “went public,” the CJR article said: “ ‘I am appalled, just appalled,’ he told the Boston Herald’s gossip column, Inside Track, calling O’Reilly ‘a mental case’ who ‘inflates and constantly mangles the truth.’ ”


Next, according to the article, “Rumors spread that Nolan might try to disrupt the ceremony or even bring to the event, as his guest, MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann, O’Reilly’s liberal nemesis. (Nolan admits sending an e-mail and a letter to Olbermann, but says he never got a reply.) Five days before the awards, Eileen Dolente, Nolan’s supervisor, traveled from Comcast’s Philadelphia headquarters to Boston and warned Nolan not to make a scene.”


Nolan showed up at the ceremony, not in the traditional tuxedo, but in a blazer and slacks. He’d gone to Kinko’s and ran-off 100 copies of a six-page handout that he had put together. According to the CJR article, it contained “what Nolan thought were some of O’Reilly’s more outrageous quotes—such as, ‘I just wish Katrina had only hit the United Nations building, nothing else, just had flooded them out’—as well as excerpts from an infamous 2004 sexual harassment lawsuit filed against O’Reilly and later settled out of court, complete with details about ‘loofah’ and ‘falafel.’ ”


According to the CJR article, “Nolan dropped off his handouts in the lobby, where partygoers were having drinks, and on tables in the Grand Ballroom. He refrained from plopping any on the guest of honor’s table. ‘My grandmother would not want me to be unnecessarily rude,’ he explains.”


When O’Reilly was introduced to accept his award, Nolan left the premises.


Says the CJR article, “Two days later, on May 12, 2008, Nolan got a call at work from his boss, instructing him to go home. The next day, he received a formal letter notifying him that he had been suspended for ten days without pay. A week later, on May 20, he was fired.”


This past December--one year and seven months later--David L. Cohen, Comcast’s Executive Vice President spoke to Los Angeles Times reporter Matea Gold. Cohen, according his official Comcast’s bio, “has a broad portfolio of responsibilities, including corporate communications, government affairs, public affairs, corporate administration, and serves as senior counselor to the CEO.”


Gold spoke to Cohen about Comcast’s view on news organizations, since the company will inherit NBC News if its deal to acquire NBC Universal is approved.


Gold brought up the Nolan firing. According to Gold’s article, “Cohen declined to respond in detail because of the ongoing litigation, but said that Nolan was not fired because he spoke out about O'Reilly.


“ ‘Barry Nolan was not fired for expressing his opinion as a journalist or for anything he did or said on the air,’ the Comcast executive said. ‘He was fired for repeated violations of company's policies and rules and insubordination.’


“Cohen said Comcast will not seek to interfere with NBC News' coverage or curtail its independence, adding: ‘Professional journalists need to have the right to express their opinions without fear of correction or retribution from a corporate parent.’ ”


In his piece, which Nolan wrote just a few weeks after getting fired, he said, “ ‘Normally, in the great scheme of things – this should be a total non-story. ‘Overpaid White Guy Gets Fired from Cushy Job for Shooting Mouth Off.’ Yawn. But these are not normal times. After the word got out that I was fired – I started hearing from people from all over the country who were outraged. A guy in Texas who had once worked with O’Reilly and had seen a meltdown like the one on Youtube – a weather anchor in Arizona – a woman in China no less.

“And it all got me to thinking about the myth of free speech. In today’s America, speech is only ‘free’ when you are talking down to someone less powerful that you. Speak ‘up’ – and look out.

“In your work life, they can fire you, as I found out, for quietly saying something that is widely known to be true. Put a lid on it.”

Of course, Nolan was warned by his boss not to make a scene at the ceremony. While some may say Nolan’s passing out of his handout was not making a scene, Comcast would clearly disagree.

And clearly O’Reilly would disagree. He wrote a letter to Comcast CEO Brian Roberts calling Nolan’s behavior “outrageous,” according to the CJR article, which added, “The letter was written on Fox News stationery and was copied to Fox News CEO Roger Ailes.  Pointedly, O’Reilly began by noting their mutual business interests. ‘We at The O’Reilly Factor have always considered Comcast to be an excellent business partner and I believe the same holds true for the entire Fox News Channel. Therefore, it was puzzling to see a Comcast employee, Barry Nolan, use Comcast corporate assets to attack me and FNC.’ Telling the Comcast CEO that Nolan had attended the Emmy Awards ‘in conjunction with Comcast,’ O’Reilly apologized for bothering him but let him know he considered this ‘a disturbing situation.’

Here’s where the story takes a turn, and makes one wonder about the veracity of what Cohen told Gold of the L.A. Times.

Knopf’s CJR article says that in response to a question asked by Nolan’s lawyers in his lawsuit, Comcast gave this written response last August:

… Mr. Nolan’s protest at the NATAS Award Ceremony and of William O’Reilly as the recipient of the Governor’s Award jeopardized and harmed the business and economic interests of Comcast in connection with its contract with Fox News Channel, and its contract negotiations with Fox News that were ongoing at the time.”

Whoa, you may be saying to yourself. The smoking gun.

Cue Jimmy Stewart, playing Barry Nolan,  Alright, I got up here and I started to open my mouth and the long and powerful arms of Fox and Comcast reached into this sacred chamber and grabbed me by the scruff of the neck…”

But before we do, let’s temper our Frank Capra idealism with a dose of reality, courtesy of Barry Diller.

During a keynote panel at a cable convention some years ago the discussion turned to the power of cable operators, which some found outrageous. Diller calmly pointed out that companies that were allowed to act as oligopolies, or monopolies, would. That if they were left unchecked, it was in the interest of their shareholders to act as such, and why would anyone find that surprising?

It’s a simple and profound truth.

Back in the late 1980s, I was the TV reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle. At a time of much less media consolidation, the Chronicle also owned the NBC affiliate, KRON.

As the TV reporter at the biggest newspaper in town, I tried to be scrupulous in treating all the TV stations equally. I think I was fairly successful in doing so.

One day I learned that KRON was sending local anchor Sylvia Chase to China for a series of special reports. As I recall, talking to some sources at the station I learned that the reports were being done in conjunction with a third party, and that it was an idea they had taken to a number of cities.

In the other cities the special reports were accompanied by similar special reports in the biggest local newspaper.

So I called up the editor of our paper and asked if the Chronicle had been offered the same deal. He said yes, and then proceeded to tell me why he didn’t like the deal and had decided that the Chronicle would not participate. He heard me typing as he spoke and asked me why I was typing what he was saying.

I told him that I was doing a story about KRON’s participation in the deal, and wanted to include why the Chronicle wasn’t participating.

“Oh no you’re not,” he said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“We’re not going to piss on what KRON’s doing on this.”

I decided to leave the newspaper not long thereafter.

In a deregulated environment, media consolidation is the byword. In that environment, Comcast’s actions in this case were very rational.

The CJR article also talks about this case in terms of media consolidation: “In hindsight, the Comcast firing is less about two warring TV personalities than about the corrosive influence of over-concentrated corporate power. It was never a fair fight. Think Nolan at 5-foot-9 inches up against O’Reilly at 6-foot-4—with two giant media conglomerates behind him. Think Dustin Pedroia, the little Red Sox second baseman, up against the whole New York Yankee lineup.”

As for Nolan, he tells the CJR that “I don’t think they had the F-ing right to tell me what I’m allowed to say. In the end, I think they were trying to suck up to Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch and Bill O’Reilly in a way that’s spineless and appalling for a company [Comcast] that aspires to run a major network news operation [NBC]. What happens when Keith Olbermann goes after O’Reilly? I think that’s scary.”

Idealism is a great quality.  Naiveté not so much. Many of us have spent plenty of time battling windmills.

These days we hope we’re smart enough to pick our battles with some care, and devise strategies and accompanying tactics that at least give us some chance of winning.#  

The PGA Tournament is in Milwaukee, and the Big Story on Local Milwaukee Newcasts is About An Appearance of One of Tiger's Alleged Mistresses, Joslyn James, at a Strip Club

Chuck Ross Posted August 13, 2010 at 8:35 AM

Is this the story the Milwaukee TV stations should be focusing on? That's one of the questions explored in this provocative guest blog by Milwaukee Journal Sentinel radio/TV columnist Duane Dudek. We are indebted to Duane for letting us reprint his column. It originally appeared in the Journal Sentinel.  And Duane can be reached at

By Duane Dudek

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


I understand the impulse because I share it.

Everything is a story. And when it falls into your lap and writes itself, it's hard to say no.
But I only have to fill this tiny corner of the universe now and again. Imagine filling up to seven hours' worth of television newscasts on a daily basis.

It explains a lot. But does it justify dueling stories on Tuesday about Tiger Woods' alleged stripper girlfriend?

And was her appearance at a local "gentleman's" club this week really news?

Three out of four local news directors thought so, since that's how many stations reported it.

Woods, of course, has only himself to blame for any of this. Difficulties first in his marriage and now in his game have made him fair game and a big target. In fact, the first question at a press conference this week at the PGA Championship here at Whistling Straits was whether "it's fair to say things have gone backwards in terms of both your golf and your life."

I've asked questions like that myself, ones that hint at what everyone really wants to know but which I was too polite, too professional or too cowardly to ask directly.

I am of two minds about covering the visit by Woods' "alleged" mistress. In this case, I understand the impulse but don't share it.

WDJT-TV (Channel 58) mentioned her during a story on Woods' appearance here. But WISN-TV (Channel 12) and WTMJ-TV (Channel 4) gave female reporters the thankless job of going out to the club and interviewing her.

Their stories were more or less identical. She is not stalking him, she told WISN-TV's Colleen Henry, but "getting booked at different locations that either have a golf situation or where he's competing" around the country.

She told WTMJ-TV's Heather Shannon "you can't help who you fall in love with." Shannon resisted asking her what love's got to do with it.

Henry called her a "porn star"; Shannon said "adult film star."

But Henry added three salacious details: That, during her three years with Woods, she had two pregnancies, a miscarriage and an abortion; that during her act, she wears and takes off ("Of course I do," she giggled) a green jacket, the symbol of the Masters Tournament; and that she refers to herself using a crude golf-related reference for being Woods' 11th mistress.

"Where is the news in that?" wondered an outraged viewer and reader in an e-mail after watching WISN-TV's story. She called it a "totally inappropriate 'story'&ensp" and a "garbage segment."

By Thursday, the story had drawn 92 comments on WISN-TV's website, some outraged, some not.

"It amazes me how 'simple' Milwaukee news editors can be," wrote one, adding: "This is National Enquirer type reporting." Another wrote "This is like Channel 4's 'Dirty Dining' where gossip and drama rule."

As of Thursday, it remained the most-read story on WTMJ-TV's website.

In an e-mail statement, WISN-TV news director Lori Waldon wrote that Woods' visit is "a very big story, and the primary focus" of the station's PGA coverage. "But the scandal that brought him down and tarnished his image is also a news story. And when there's a local connection...that's news."

Henry, Waldon wrote, took a "straightforward, non-sensational approach" and the story ran late in the newscast "after other important local and national news of the day."

Steve Wexler, executive vice president of radio and TV for Journal Broadcast Group, which owns WTMJ-TV, expressed similar thoughts in an e-mail. Woods' appearance is "big news, as is the scandal that is following him," Wexler wrote, and "we were able to hear first-hand from one of the principals in this story."

But at what point does a story like this become like beating a dead horse or lying down with dogs?

Not yet, apparently.

You can read transcripts and watch video of the stories at and

And you can read a transcript of Wood's Tuesday press conference at

Summer TCA Has Come to a Close. Here's the Buzz, Memorable Quotes and Party Highlights For Each of the Major Broadcast Networks' Presentations

Hillary Atkin Posted August 9, 2010 at 12:43 AM


The buzz: “The Big Bang theory" is moving to Thursday nights. New cop shows with old-school vibe—the reboot of “Hawaii Five-0” and “Blue Bloods,” starring Tom Selleck as an NYPD commissioner with family members that are cops and prosecutors. Justin Bieber will star in the season premiere of “CSI.” No pesky management changes to muck things up. Nina Tassler being asked whether Julie Chen get her slot on "The Talk" because she is married to Les Moonves, and explaining it was creator Sara Gilbert's concept from the start.

The highlights: After the second year in a row of receiving a failing grade from GLAAD on the number of gay and lesbian characters on the air, the network added LGBT roles to freshman hit "The Good Wife," “Rules of Engagement" and "$#*! My Dad Says." “Mike & Molly” looks to be the latest title in the Chuck Lorre hit parade.

Memorable quotes:
Jim Belushi, waxing euphoric about shooting "The Defenders" at CBS Radford, where he shot "According to Jim": "Same stage. I've got the same dressing room. I'm so excited. There's a Starbucks on the lot…five sushi restaurants on Ventura Blvd. It's about the life, too, you know."
Jerry O'Connell, on Sin City, where his show is set but not shot: "I used to go to Vegas with about 20 or 30 friends, and we'd share one hotel room. So that's how I remember Vegas, but now that I'm married, look, I go there with my wife. A lot of shopping is done. To be honest, my credit card maxed out the last time we went there.”
Nina Tassler’s reaction to Steve McPherson’s abrupt departure from ABC: "Damn it, he got out of doing press tour. I think that was his whole motivation and ‘I'd like a case of chardonnay over the holidays.’ He's a great guy. He's a good friend, and I wish him the best.”

The party: An open-air tent at the former Robinsons-May building. Lots of fatty, high-carb foods like chicken and waffles served in cones, pizza, Chinese chicken salad, cookies and milk and a gelato bar. Not a fork in sight. Chuck Lorre wanted one for the carved roast beef and in lieu of bread opted to use the only other alternative. Les Moonves and Julie Chen made the rounds, as did talent from the Eye, CW and Showtime, including Tom Selleck, William Shatner, Ed Westwick, Maggie Q. and Sela Ward. No champagne at the bar coupled with the hard-to-eat, caloric food and the porta-potty trailers left some grumbling. Next year, perhaps, some healthier alternatives and utensils.

NBC Universal

The buzz: “Undercovers,” featuring two little-known lead black actors who are impossibly gorgeous. Will that revolutionize television casting? The departure of Steve Carell from “The Office” and how he’ll be replaced. “The Event” aims to fill the holes left by “Lost” and “24.”

The highlights: Jimmy Smits returning to series television in “Outlaw.” Terrence Howard playing a D.A. in “LOLA” (Law & Order: Los Angeles) Questions about whether the concept and execution of “Outsourced” is offensive. Bravo’s “The Real Housewives of Atlanta” join Syfy’s “Ghost Hunters” as special investigators.

Memorable quotes:
Angela Bromstad on “The Office” soldiering on without Carell: “Would we have ended ‘ER’ when George Clooney left? That would have been a mistake. Otherwise, I could not go home and face my 14-year-old son.”
Jimmy Fallon: “One thing I’ve learned is that hosting “Late Night” is a one-way ticket to not hosting ‘The Tonight Show.’”
Jesse Metcalf, on his new role in “Chase,” about U.S. marshals hunting down fugitives: “The ‘Desperate Housewives’ shipped has sailed. I have high hopes, and this is something new and special, fresh and exciting.”

The party: Held in the same location as many of the network’s recent Golden Globes soirées, the rooftop parking lot at the Beverly Hilton. Barely warmer than in winter, guests flitted from heat lamp to heat lamp and moved in and out of the Zucker zone. The NBCU honcho spent a lot of quality time schmoozing those brave enough to speak with him. Talent from USA Networks and Bravo shows also worked the crowd, and Michaele and Tareq Salahi didn’t have to crash to get in, since they’re now on “Real Housewives of D.C.” On the menu, tray-passed sushi and a buffet that included roast beef and grilled asparagus. Bubbly at the bar and silverware were in plentiful supply. Bathroom benefit: in private suites on the top floor of the hotel.


The buzz: The elephant in the room became literally an elephant in the room. A stuffed pink one brought in by communications chief Kevin Brockman to represent what wouldn’t be discussed—the abrupt departure of Steve McPherson. Through his attorney, McPherson denied a report it involved a sexual harassment investigation possibly involving other ABC employees or talent. “I’m not going to talk about Steve,” said newly promoted Paul Lee, as he did his best to field questions about the network’s programming slate.

The highlights: “Modern Family” winning the TCA award for outstanding comedy. Officials of Motor City apparently not thrilled about the new drama “Detroit 1-8-7,” cop and gang code for murder. Maura Tierney replaces Joely Richardson on the legal drama “The Whole Truth.” “No Ordinary Family,” starring Michael Chiklis, melds family drama with superhero fantasy.

Memorable quotes:
Paul Lee, on taking over the presidency of ABC Entertainment: "This is one of the premiere iconic storytelling brands, but I am super unprepared. I've been on the job 36 hours. I'm looking forward to rolling my sleeves up and getting to work."
Matthew Perry, on his role in “Mr. Sunshine,” for which he wrote the pilot: "My character is selfish because I knew someone for whom that was the case for a long time. If you want an answer to that, just pick up any newspaper from 1996, or look on any magazine cover. They say write what you know. It's an interesting road for someone to take, to change terrible behavior and become a better guy."
James Malinchak, on being a real-life benefactor in “Secret Millionaire”: “We’re doing a show, but these are their lives.”

The party: No need for a jacket to ward against the summer chill at the indoor Beverly Hills ballroom. Shaquille O'Neal and some Disney characters also heated things up in the room—as did Sofia Vergara and Paul Lee. Menu featured various buffets on the perimeter of the room including an extensive sushi bar, cold cuts, caprese salad, pizza and ravioli. And yes, champagne was being served—along with a whole lot of brewskis.


The buzz: The questions on everyone’s minds were the questions that could not be answered. Who were going to be the new “American Idol” judges? How many ways could Fox execs not answer reporter queries? The only thing for sure was that Ellen DeGeneres was out. Meanwhile, the rumor mill was humming with Kara DioGuardi being kicked off the island and Steven Tyler and J. Lo having a place at the table.

The highlights: Lunchtime table read of the gory Christmas episode of “American Dad.” Cloris Leachman, the belle of the ball at the “Raising Hope” panel. Steven Spielberg’s “Terra Nova" will preview next May before premiering in the fall. After a fast and furious serve by waiters, Gordon Ramsey running a “guess the ingredients in the gazpacho” contest, with the winner receiving dinner for two at The London on him.

Memorable quotes:
Cloris Leachman, on whether she’s competing with Betty White to be the new “it” girl: “I’m so sick of Betty White. I never liked her.”--then adding that they’re doing a movie together, “You Again.”
Gordon Ramsay, on how the recession impacted the restaurant biz: “It removed the arrogance. There’s a lot more flexibility. They’ve stripped out the foie gras and become more creative with cheap products. The cream rises to the top.”
“Glee”’s Ryan Murphy, on some of the high points of the past year: “I got a mix tape from Paul McCartney. I thought I was being punked…I was gobsmacked.”
“Lone Star” creator Kyle Killen, who pitched the show as “Dallas” without the cheese: "I have no idea if this was a good idea for a network show, but I feel like [Fox is] willing to find out with the boldest, craziest version of it. If it's a failure, I think it's going to be a spectacular failure, and I like that idea."

The party: Fun, games and a massive quantity of guilty-pleasure junk food at the Santa Monica Pier’s Pacific Park, the section with the Ferris wheel, roller coaster and those “skill” games where the lucky winners walk off with large stuffed animals. If you like Taco Bell, Pizza Hut, potato tornadoes, mini donuts and churros, you could eat your heart out—and many did. Matthew Morrison and Lea Michele made it a Glee-ful night. Gordon Ramsey, Jon Voight and Keri Russell made the rounds, but alas, no “American Idol” judges, past, present or future. Hands down, the best bash of the bunch.

And Now It's Jimmy Fallon's Turn to Host the Emmys: Look For Fun, Wit, and Not Too Much Sweat

Hillary Atkin Posted August 3, 2010 at 6:28 AM

Jimmy Fallon's parents won't be coming to the Emmys to see him host the 62nd edition of the awards show on August 29. They want to come, but he doesn't want them there. Why? Because he might sweat too much.

The affable host of "Late Night" has seen his perspiration level drop in the 18 months since he took over the program and interviewed his first guest, the notoriously incommunicative and sweat-inducing Robert De Niro.

But Fallon wouldn't have had it any other way. As he told reporters at the fall press tour, there was nothing to do but jump in, feet-to-the-fire style.

It’s the same thing with the Emmys, airing on his home network of NBC. Although it’s been awhile, he’s not a novice at emceeing an awards show—he co-hosted the MTV Movie Awards in 2001 with Kirsten Dunst and then solo in 2005, and hosted the 2002 VMAs.

The Emmys have a long history of turning to late-night personalities to front the ceremony. Johnny Carson did the honors many times, including a string of shows in the early 70s. Conan O’Brien took the reins in 2002 and 2006. David Letterman, Jon Stewart and Jay Leno have all co-hosted with other television personalities.

The stock of Emmy hosts has been on the way up since the debacle of 2008, when a group of reality hosts including Heidi Klum, Ryan Seacrest and Howie Mandel bumbled their way through the telecast, embarrassing the Television Academy and bringing down the level of the proceedings of what is the industry’s most prestigious awards ceremony. The fallout was and is so negative that this year, the reality hosting category for which many of them are nominated won’t even be televised.

Last year, Neil Patrick Harris made hay of many of those bad memories with his song and dance routines and what turned out to be an overall star turn as Emmy host.

Fallon’s support system includes a man who knows his way around awards shows better than almost anyone, executive producer Don Mischer—and the comfort of bringing over six of his writers from “Late Night.”

Mischer, a decorated veteran of producing Oscars, Tonys, Super Bowl half-time shows and Olympics opening ceremonies (whose name got continually botched at TCA as Mischner) took the stage with Fallon and Academy head honcho John Shaffner and handled reporter questions about the telecast. They included two separate inquiries about whether working with ATAS is like dealing with the Politburo. Um, let’s see. The answer to that was a resounding “no” from Mischer and Fallon, as Shaffner joked about being Brezhnev.

They spent time explaining how presenting the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award to George Clooney relegates some of the other categories like the reality hosts to non-broadcast status at the creative arts ceremony a week before the Emmys—and how guild regulations require that other categories be among the 27 awards televised in the three-hour show.

Fallon was tight-lipped about whether music will play a role in his Emmy hosting gig, saying he wanted to surprise the audience, but you can surely bet he’ll be picking up an acoustic guitar and crooning some bits that’ll bring belly laughs.

Meanwhile, the former SNL star is still giddy about his day job, thrilled to see people in the 30 Rock studio audience wearing “Late Night” T-shirts and warming to recurring skits like “Thank You Notes” and “Slow Jamming the News” with his fabulous house band, the Roots.

Fallon’s also proud of the catchy protest song he wrote and performed about the BP oil spill, (tar) “Balls in Your Mouth,” with him on guitar and the Roots doing backup vocals. He’s also still amazed that he got Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and the Rolling Stones on the show. And in a side conversation, he promised me he’ll be doing “Barry Gibb” again.

But when it comes to the late night wars, Fallon is like a warm and fuzzy Switzerland. He’s friendly with both Conan and Jay, keeping his nose to the grindstone and just doing his job as mortar shells blew up around him in the drawn-out controversy over “The Tonight Show.”

Instead of competition like the nearly two decade “battle” between Leno and Letterman, Fallon feels only kinship with time slot buddy Craig Ferguson, trading on-air waves with the Scotsman on CBS.

And should Conan take home an Emmy for his short-lived “Tonight Show” gig, there won’t be any awkward moments with Fallon—on stage or off. #