Open Mic

January 2011

Comcast Has Already Bungled Its Takeover of NBC Universal, But It Can Be Fixed

Chuck Ross Posted January 31, 2011 at 7:59 AM

Right out of the box Comcast has taken it on the chin for its new NBC Universal logo, and rightly so.

And it actually matters. A lot.

First, here’s a picture of both logos, with the new NBC Universal logo on the bottom:


The New York Times reported that “NBC Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams discussed the new logo with new NBC Universal CEO--and up untl last week, also Comcast COO--Steve Burke at a townhall meeting for NBC Universal employees last Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011.

According to the Times’ account, Williams, noting that the new logo no longer contained the iconic NBC peacock, said to Burke, “‘It’s our Coca-Cola. It’s our Apple. It’s our Ford Motor Company, that instantly recognizable thing.’ Mr. Burke answered, ‘Today we rolled out a new corporate logo, which is actually going to be used in a very limited way for corporate things.’ He added, ‘The consumer’s not really going to see this logo.’ He said he liked combining the ‘NBC’ and the ‘Universal’ because ‘a hallmark of this company is going to be individual businesses working together.’ ”

I’ve had an interest in corporate logos most of my adult life, and I’m a huge fan of two graphic designers who designed some of best: Saul Bass and Paul Rand.

Unfortunately, both men are no longer with us. They both passed away in 1996. Bass, who I met in person and interviewed occasionally, died a few weeks before his 76th birthday. Rand, who I didn’t know personally, was 83 when he died.

Among the famous logos designed by Rand have been iconic images for IBM, UPS, Westinghouse and the ABC Television Network.

ibm secod.jpg

















Bass, who also designed movie titles and movie posters, did the iconic logos for AT&T, United Airlines, Minolta and Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, among many others.
















 So what’s wrong with the new NBC Universal logo?

Well, first, it sucks aesthetically.

Back in 1971 in the Graphis Annual of that year, Rand wrote that sure, you don’t need to market or represent products and services aesthetically: “The world of business could function without benefit of art--but should it? I think not, if only for the simple reason that the world would be a poorer place if it did.”

Even longer ago Bass, in 1958, said in an interview with ID Magazine, “The challenge in design is always to establish communication with human warmth--to create an emotional identification between the subject and the audience.”

Bass and Rand also had strong thoughts about what a logo is and is not.

Here’s Bass, from a 1986 interview in Art Direction magazine: “At first the logo has zero value, it simply has no franchise. It has to be absorbed, it has to develop recognition levels. As each year goes by, that mark becomes more valuable as it becomes more understood.”

Echoing that thought, Rand, in an interview on public access cable TV (“Miggs B on TV”) in Connecticut in 1991, said, “A logo becomes meaningful only after it’s used.” He was specifically talking about the logo he designed and then redesigned for IBM. Rand said that a lot of time clients don’t understand this, that they think a logo illustrates what the company does at the time the logo is first introduced. “Nonsense,” he said to that notion.

For example, he explained that people have always said part of what they like about his second IBM logo is that its stripes represent the speed of computers.

He said that’s not why he did it. The reason the IBM logo has stripes is that Rand said he was unhappy with the previous IBM logo--which he had also designed--because he thought its thick letters didn’t work aesthetically. So he was searching for some way to make the letters look less heavy, and he came up with the idea of doing them with stripes.

Rand's first IBM Logo (1956):                                        Rand's second IBM Logo (1972):IBMfirst.jpgThumbnail image for ibm secod.jpg

Noting that the IBM logo has been widely copied, Rand explained that, over time, a good design picks up the goodwill people have or associate with a company. IBM’s computers became popular, and thus so did the logo that was associated with them. At that point, if the logo had been a good design done using old English type, “then everyone would have” copied that, Rand said.

In an article Rand wrote that same year for the American Institute of Graphic Arts (now just AIGA), he explained what a logo does:

“A logo is a flag, a signature, an escutcheon.
A logo doesn’t sell (directly), it identifies.
A logo is rarely a description of a business.
A logo derives its meaning from the quality of the thing it symbolizes, not the other way around.
A logo is less important than the product it signifies; what it means is more important than what it looks like.”

Continuing on that last thought, Rand wrote: “Should a logo be self-explanatory? It is only by association with a product, a service, a business or a corporation that a logo takes on any real meaning. It derives its meaning and usefulness from the quality of that which it symbolizes. If a company is second rate, the logo will eventually be perceived as second rate.”

The effectiveness of a good logo, Rand wrote, depends on these seven factors:


Then Rand specifically talks about design itself: “Good design adds value of some kind, and incidentally, could be sheer pleasure; it respects the viewer--his sensibilities--and rewards the entrepreneur. It is easier to remember a well-designed image than one that is muddled. A well designed logo, in the end, is a reflection of the business it symbolizes. It connotes a thoughtful and purposeful enterprise, and mirrors the quality of its products and its services. It is good public relations. ... It says, ‘We care.’"

The new NBC Universal logo fails by almost all of the measures Rand and Bass talk about.

And for Burke to say that it’s OK because the public won’t really see it misses the point. First, we have seen it and will continue to see it. After all, it’s the corporate logo. And though he’s right when he says it won’t be as visible as the on-air logos the company’s networks use--or the one Universal uses on its movies--that’s beside the point.

It WILL be seen a lot by those who work at NBC Universal, both now and in the future.

Let me ask you something. If you wanted to be inspired by where you work, would you rather keep seeing the new NBC Universal logo on the memos and reports you and your colleagues do, or, let’s say, the Apple logo?

Fortunately, it’s not too late for Burke and Comcast chief Brian Roberts to correct this misstep.

My suggestion? Send the new NBC Universal logo to the recycle bin.

What to do then? Reinstate the old one? Not a bad choice, but not one Mssrs. Burke and Roberts may cotton to.

So how about this: Hold a contest among all the good folks at NBC Universal to design a new logo.

As for the guidelines, let me be so bold as to suggest the examples and thoughts about logos as articulated by Bass and Rand in this blog.

To narrow the entries down to a manageable final list of a half-dozen or so, I’d suggest a judging panel made up of some non-management NBC Universal employees, some management ones, a professional, well-respected graphic artist or two, plus Burke and Roberts, all with equal voting power.

Then you post the finalists on a company web site and let all the NBC Universal employees around the world vote for the new logo. Each employee who wants to vote has to register and can only vote once. Whichever logo gets the most votes wins, with a pledge from upper management that it will not override the decision.

Picking a new logo this way would  be a great beginning to the new Comcast-NBC Universal relationship, and go a long way to saying to those thousands who work at NBC Universal what the logo revealed last week does NOT say: "We do, indeed, care."#

NATPE: New Area Transformed Programming Event

Hillary Atkin Posted January 30, 2011 at 11:35 AM

(Miami Beach)...A change of venue from the gaming tables of Sin City to the tropical breezes and Latin influence of Miami re-energized this year's NATPE market and conference, headquartered at the beachfront Fontainebleau Resort.

More than 4,500 attendees and 700 buyers descended on the hotel for three days of dealmaking, networking, information gathering and partying--something that has been sorely missing from the conference in recent years of economic belt-tightening, but seems to be back with sponsored cocktail parties for attendees every evening and a smattering of exclusive dinners and events.

One of the logistical challenges was navigating the hotel’s banks of elevators, which caused delays of up to 40 minutes in the Tresor tower where many exhibitors and distributors had suites. Some people described the crush as worse than the New York City subway at rush hour, and many meetings had to be postponed. Attendees who had rooms at the hotel got their daily workouts in by taking the stairs.

While conference panels on three tracks were peppered with vibrant discussions about topics including creative television content migrating to digital platforms and marketing it through social media, it was the stars of traditional media who took center stage at NATPE--all of whom seem to be leaving longtime perches of power for new ventures that have yet to be unveiled, and all of whom, it seemed, were shown the door when they may have preferred to stay.

NBC Universal's Jeff Zucker, forced out in the Comcast takeover after more than 24 years with the company, talked about his successes, including cable and theme parks, which just had their best quarter ever. The broadcast network, maybe not so much. Even its phenomenally successful "Sunday Night Football" reportedly lost up to $300 million last year. Zucker repeated the well-worn mantra that great content is what matters, and predicted that the future lies in mobile--even though no one knows how to make money from it yet.

Zucker, who the New York Post reports is starting a production company with an eye to doing a syndicated show with Katie Couric when her CBS contract expires, was tightlipped about Keith Olbermann's dismissal from MSNBC--as was everyone else who was asked about the hot topic. A previously planned session with his timeslot replacement, Lawrence O’Donnell, was canceled.

The man who Zucker once hired to run NBC Entertainment, Ben Silverman, also had a prime slot at the conference--and reflected on his tenure at the Peacock Network, which began in the midst of the WGA strike, a tough environment in which to make a programming impact. Silverman's entrepreneurial style, which clashed with the long-entrenched culture of the network executive suite, is coming to fruition with his new company, Electus, while he also produces shows and other content with the Weinstein Co. and Yahoo.

Electus is funding and will distribute programming from former MTV creative execs Tony DiSanto and Liz Gately in their newly formed DiGa, including several series with Jimmy Kimmel's production company, Nick Cannon and fashion journalist Jill Martin.

Yes, NATPE was all about partnerships and pairings. People who had worked together before, and might be back together again. Added to the list: Regis Philbin and Mary Hart?

It came out through very reputable sources--they themselves--that the two megawatt hosts had worked together on a show that nobody saw on NBC. It was a daytime talker, spearheaded by Grant Tinker, that shortly before air was cut from an hour to 30 minutes, therefore almost guaranteeing its failure. While Tinker had recruited Philbin, who was doing a very successful Los Angeles local talk show at the time, he himself brought in Hart, who was at the beginning of her career and hosting a PM Magazine show on KTTV (now Fox 11).

Could the twain meet again? Both luminaries, who were both recognized with Brandon Tartikoff Legacy Awards this year, seemed open to the idea after leaving their respective programs later this year.

For the record, Philbin admitted he handled his announcement that he’s leaving “Live! With Regis and Kelly” incorrectly, implying that he was going to retire--which he said is not the case. Off the record, his surprise departure is because of a contract dispute, of which the talk show icon made no mention.

For Hart, whose last “Entertainment Tonight” telecast comes this May, she’s looking forward to going out with a huge story--the royal wedding in London, where the show will set up shop for a week leading into the festivities of what’s predicted to be one of the biggest television events of the century.

Pairings, pomp and circumstance--something we’ll be seeing a lot of as the television landscape shakes up with endings, and new beginnings.

And Miami Beach, again next year? [NAPTE says it has about a month to decide whether it will return to South Florida.)

Why Fox News Should Hire Keith Olbermann When His Non-Compete Expires. Does Roger Ailes Have the Guts to Make the Offer? Does Olbermann Have the Guts to Accept?

Chuck Ross Posted January 24, 2011 at 12:42 AM

Keith Olbermann’s next stop—after the expiration of the non-compete clause that is reportedly in his exit agreement with MSNBC—should be Fox News.

Not only would such a move be non-intuitive, it’d also be bombastic, boisterous, thunderous, intimidating, outlandish, gregarious, attention getting as all get out, and seemingly crazy. In other words, everything that both Olbermann and Fox News have been called more than once.

In that respect, they are a perfect fit. As we know from Olbermann’s career thus far, fitting in isn’t his forte. Could he go to CNN? Yeah, that would last about a minute and a half. The traditional broadcast news divisions? NBC’s out, and of the other two, one’s owned by Disney, and at the other one Dan Rather attacking George Bush was too controversial. Olbermann is an incendiary Rather hopped up on ego and cerebral hullabaloo the likes of which would give Marx—Karl, Groucho and the Saint—a workout. PBS or NPR? For them, the mild-mannered, gentlemanly Juan Williams was too contentious.

Wait, wait, stop the madness, you implore. Everyone knows that Fox is the home of conservatism, which is about as far from the thinking Olbermann espouses as Archie Bunker was from Meathead.

Ah, but that’s the point. In all things TV, conflict works. If someone pitched you a show that would feature kids from all over the country aspiring to be the next pop singing sensation, most probably your first thought would not be “yes, yes, and we’ll get some acerbic asshole to be one of the judges and he’ll be the one who verbally shoots most of them down—deservedly so, of course—and he’ll be the most popular thing about the show.”

More to the point, in this instance, is if Fox News hires Olbermann is it so off-brand that it backfires and they lose viewers? That’s really the only danger.

But I think Fox could sell it. First, its “fair and balanced’ tagline would become more meaningful.

And there would be a way to make this palatable to the Fox audience. You start by making Olbermann the host of a weekly Sunday morning program, called “Olbermann and Friends.” His “friends” in this instance would be several of the Fox commentators, such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity and Megyn Kelly. It’s the ol’ fox in the henhouse idea. It would be terrific television and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t a ratings winner.

Furthermore, it would lighten things up a bit on Fox News.

At the beginning of the first show, “Olbermann and Friends” would sing this song, sung to the tune of that wonderful Lerner and Lowe song in “My Fair Lady,” “Why Can’t a Woman Be More Like a Man?”:

Olbermann talk-sings:
Why can't MSNBC be more like Fox?
Fox is so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair.
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Why can't MSNBC be more like that?

Why does MSNBC do what the other losers do?
Can't MSNBC learn to use its head?
Why do they do everything the Murrows do?
Why don't they grow up, well, like Murdoch instead?

Why can't MSNBC take after Fox?
Fox is so pleasant, so easy to please.
Whenever you're with them, you're always at ease.

Would you be slighted if I insulted you for hours?

Of course not.

Would you be livid if I spouted a liberal word or two?


Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?


Well, why can't MSNBC be like you?

Why is thinking something MSNBC executives never do?
And why is logic never even tried?
Straightening up their hair is all their executives ever do.
Why don't they straighten up the mess that's inside?

Why can't MSNBC be like Fox?
If I was a cable network who had a communicator that was a great draw,
Been hailed as a prince by one and by all;
Would I start weeping like a bathtub overflowing,
Or carry on if my prince was a bit unruly?
Would I run off, fire me, and tell me to get going?

Oh why can't MSNBC be like me?#

MTV's Tom Freston, Trailblazer Diahann Carroll, Newsman Great Peter Jennings, Cloris Leachman, Composer Earle Hagen, Writer Susan Harris and Game Show Impresario Bill Todman All Inducted Into the Hall of Fame of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences

Hillary Atkin Posted January 24, 2011 at 12:38 AM

Television history from its very earliest days came to vivid life during the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences 20th Hall of Fame induction gala at the Beverly Hills Hotel.

Seven television trailblazers, people who have had a major impact on the industry and American culture, received the lifetime achievement honor. They are now part of an exclusive club that numbers only 133 who have gained entry since the Hall of Fame was created in 1984 by the late John. H. Mitchell, a former ATAS president.

Acting/singing legend Diahann Carroll, cable visionary Tom Freston, composer Earle Hagen, network news anchor Peter Jennings, writer Susan Harris, actress Cloris Leachman and producer Bill Todman were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

The evening was at times funny, sad, poignant and inspirational. Ably hosted by Jeff Probst, he quickly handed things off to comedy god Carl Reiner--who was actually filling in for an injured Dick Van Dyke in presenting ATAS’s highest recognition to the late composer Earle Hagen. Hagen was responsible for the theme song and scoring "The Dick Van Dyke Show," "The Danny Thomas Show," "The Andy Griffith Show," "Gomer Pyle," "I Spy” and 400 other television programs during an illustrious career that began in 1947 with his work in film.

When he transitioned to television in 1953, Hagen was a pioneer of original music created especially for the medium, which at the time was mainly licensed from existing music libraries. In short order, he was arranging, composing and conducting for as many as five shows a week, including "That Girl" and "The Mod Squad," setting a high bar for other TV composers who would follow in his footsteps.

As Hagen’s wife, Laura, stepped to the podium to accept the award for him, Reiner quickly put her on the spot by asking her to sing the Dick Van Dyke theme song, which she skillfully performed--and then gave a moving speech urging the music community to "run with it," as her late husband did.

Probst, who as host of CBS’s “Survivor” has won more prime-time Emmy Awards than any other reality host, said he was blown away by the opening act, yet the ceremony kept reaching new peaks.

Former network executive Fred Silverman, the only person to run programming at ABC, NBC, and CBS, inducted writer/producer Susan Harris into the Hall of Fame. The scope of her work was shown in a video tribute showcasing clips from shows including "Soap," "All in the Family," "Maude," "The Golden Girls," "Benson," and "Empty Nest."

Harris told the audience how she got into the television business out of desperation, after her husband left her for another woman and she was raising a 2-year-old son and looking for work she could do from home. While watching TV one night, she was inspired to write a spec script with a friend. Soon, she was in business with Garry Marshall and Norman Lear, and then Tony Thomas and Paul Junger Witt, whom she married. The three later formed Witt/Thomas/Harris Productions.

Harris gave Silverman a shout-out for sticking with the ABC comedy “Soap,” which launched Billy Crystal's career, when Vlasic pickles was its only sponsor. She also reflected on the groundbreaking nature of the beloved and multiple Emmy Award-winning "The Golden Girls," which tackled sexism and ageism head on by putting older women as the lead characters.

Another of television's grand dames, Florence Henderson, had the honor of posthumously inducting producer Bill Todman. In a trip down television memory lane, she recalled his iconic game shows, produced with Mark Goodson, including “What’s My Line,” "To Tell the Truth," "The Price Is Right," "I've Got a Secret" and "Password." The audience was treated to clips and the surprise delight of seeing contestants like Elizabeth Taylor and Bing Crosby on some of the early episodes.

Todman’s son Bill accepted the honor, recalling that his dad loved packaging new shows—some of which remain on the air today, 50 years later—being in the control room and the manic production schedule required by the Goodson-Todman empire, which at one point had more than 50 half-hour shows on the air every week.

Tom Freston was also a television pioneer, leading the way during the early days of MTV and cable television. He was introduced by Bob Daly, who recalled the financial trouble that Warner Communications had in 1985 with game company Atari and American Express, which led to MTV Networks being sold to Viacom--where it grew into a worldwide cultural phenomenon and spawned new networks like VH1, Nickelodeon and Comedy Central. "We could've had it all," sighed Daly.

Freston had absolutely no industry experience in 1980--he had just returned from eight years abroad in India and Afghanistan--when he got his first job as one of the original team of six people who developed MTV. By the mid-1980s, it was a huge cultural force and Freston would go on to climb the corporate ladder at Viacom, without forgetting that the creative side of the business was the most important to him. He recalled launching "The Real World" in 1992, the progenitor of many reality shows on the air today, saying that one of the reasons was they couldn't afford writers but were strong in postproduction.

Since leaving Viacom a few years ago--dismissed by Sumner Redstone--Freston has become chair of the anti-poverty advocacy group founded by U2’s Bono, the One campaign, and was also instrumental in the recent launch of OWN. "Working with Oprah is a long way from working with Beavis and Butthead," Freston remarked to the appreciative audience.

Hall of Famer Cloris Leachman has been in the entertainment business for nearly 60 years now and the crowd got to see highlights of her early turns on "Lassie" and "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" all the way up to her more recent roles on "Joan of Arcadia" and “Two and a Half Men."

But it was Leachman's irreverence--also shown off recently as a contestant on "Dancing With the Stars"--that got the audience rolling in the aisles. Peppered with profanities, Leachman went into a rambling speech that became a comedic motif for the rest of the evening. She concluded by reading a lengthy poem dedicated to one of her ancestors before getting the equivalent of a hook from both the crowd and Probst--all in good fun, and in keeping with the spirit of the evening.

Television news is by nature very serious, but the tribute to ABC news anchor Peter Jennings for his posthumous induction also showed the lighter side of the business. For decades, Jennings and his counterparts at CBS and NBC, Dan Rather and Tom Brokaw, were the undisputed kings of network evening news. And both of the latter eminences saw fit to pay tribute to their esteemed colleague via videotape.

Rather talked about Jennings' long career in the field, the dangers he faced and the ratings pressure, while Brokaw reflected that Jennings was born to be an anchor--and joked that the three men, fierce competitors, actually were friends with each other because they didn't see one another very often, yet shared a mutual respect and a commitment to excellence.

Jennings was a mentor to, among many others, ABC News correspondent Bob Woodruff, who took the podium to pay tribute to the esteemed anchorman--and to show off some very funny clips, such as his infamous pants-less stand-up. And who knew, until Woodruff told us, that Jennings was a sartorial expert, who would rail on his correspondents about why they chose to wear a certain suit or tie. In Woodruff’s case, it was a phone call to his home after a live shot, warning him to never wear that coat on the air again. Meanwhile, reputable sources say that Jennings would often shine his shoes up to 10 times a day.

Kayce Jennings, Peter's widow, accepted the Hall of Fame honor and talked about how he made a difference in the world of journalism and would be unrelenting in his advocacy of it today--and excited by the new platforms and technologies that were emerging when he passed away in 2005.

Tavis Smiley captivated the audience in his heartfelt introduction of Diahann Carroll, saying that she was the first woman he fell in love with--after his mother, of course.

Carroll began her storied acting and singing career in the mid-1950s with roles on film and on Broadway. But it was her defining role on the television show "Julia," as a nurse raising her young son, that broke racial stereotypes and forged her path as a trailblazer for other African-Americans on screen. She was the first African-American woman on TV to headline her own sitcom wherein the character she played was not in a subordinate role.

To a standing ovation, Carroll took the stage and immediately joked how she felt like Cloris Leachman, talking about her life and career so much that she couldn't take it anymore. She said that like Leachman, talent often does not come in a package of complete sanity. But Carroll did not let the audience down. She reflected on the early days when she was starting out in the business and was welcomed into the television industry when it was so new. She recalled meeting Hal Kanter at the hotel's Polo Lounge in haute couture Givenchy--and him thinking she was dressed as a typical Middle American housewife, and thus perfect for the part in "Julia."

"I had very profound concerns about coming to L.A. [from New York], and I still do," she joked to the crowd, while admitting that she has basically happily resided in the City of Angels ever since.

After all the pressure of being a role model in "Julia," Carroll gloried in her time on "Dynasty," which she lobbied for by saying she wanted to be “the first black bitch on television”--and producer Aaron Spelling immediately agreed. Her beautifully dressed, sinfully delicious character was modeled on a wealthy white male business owner.

Carroll talked about what a hoot the phenomenally successful prime-time soap was and how the actors came to work laughing, trying on clothes--and then, finally learning their lines.

Carroll said she still enjoys her work, recently appearing on “Grey’s Anatomy” and currently starring in USA’s caper drama “White Collar.”

The courage, character and drive she has shown throughout her career--and her sense of humor--was a fitting way to cap a very special evening that paid tribute to some of the industry’s brightest lights.#

'Put Another Candle on My Birthday Cake, I'm Another Year Old Today.' Actually, It Was This Past Monday That the First Lady of TV, Betty White, Turned 89. And Here's Part of the Celebration That Took Place in Kansas City

Aaron Barnhart Posted January 21, 2011 at 7:34 AM

Brad Moore, president of Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, gave the cue. As America’s favorite octogenarian turned around, the Hallmark Gospel Choir, a volunteer group of employee serenaders, tore into their version of “Birthday” by the Beatles.

We know it’s your birthday! Your 89th birthday! We know it’s your birthday! We hope you have a good time!

Let the record show that Betty White was having a very good time indeed.

“What more can a girl ask?” she told the VIP gathering at Crown Center as confetti fell from the ceiling.

It was a surprise party, though perhaps not too much of a shock to White, who was in town to attend a special screening of her upcoming “Hallmark Hall of Fame” movie, “The Lost Valentine.” After all, she is in the midst of a weeklong, coast-to-coast celebration that caps off a remarkable year for the person one tastemaker called “the new ‘it’ girl.”

She was feted earlier this week in New York, following her appearance on several talk shows there. And there will be more celebrations awaiting her when she goes home to Los Angeles.

Betty White is an overnight sensation more than seven decades after she first stepped in front of a television camera.

“I’ve been embarrassed all week,” she said. “I keep telling people, I haven’t gone away! I’ve been working steady for 63 years.”

But she has never been as in demand as she is now. At 89, White has become more than a Hallmark feel-good story. She is showing the world what old age can be like for anyone lucky enough to live as long as she has.

“It’s wonderful to see exemplars of later life like this,” said David Ekerdt, director of the gerontology center at the University of Kansas. “But lots of people can be the Betty Whites of their families as well.”

Born Jan. 17, 1922, Betty Marion White broke in professionally through radio, then moved to TV in 1949. Other than the occasional movie part — playing a young senator from Kansas in the 1962 movie “Advise & Consent” — she has worked in TV, in many game shows, dramas and sitcoms.

On “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” in the 1970s she developed the character of the sweetly smiling she-devil that audiences couldn’t get enough of. “The Golden Girls,” which began in 1985 and has been in reruns ever since, added to her popularity.

“I’ve been lucky that the young people have grown up with me,” White said. “Of course, some of them are now grandparents.”

Shortly after her 88th birthday, White was featured in a commercial that aired during the Super Bowl. And that’s when all hell broke loose.

In the TV ad, a clever bit of special effects put White in the middle of a pickup football game, where she was tackled and driven face-first into a mud puddle. It was widely judged the Super Bowl’s best commercial and inspired a 29-year-old Texan named David Matthews to start a Facebook petition.

Matthews, who knew White mostly from “The Golden Girls,” titled his petition, “Betty White to Host SNL (please?)!” Half a million signatures and an avalanche of publicity later, Matthews got his wish.

That appearance earned White an Emmy Award nomination, her 20th dating to 1951, and her seventh win.

As the Facebook campaign picked up steam, producers of a new sitcom, “Hot in Cleveland,” added White in a recurring guest role.

White stole the show and won a SAG Award from the Screen Actors Guild — which gave her a Life Achievement Award the year before.

In September, White was featured on “Inside the Actors Studio.” In October she was the female headliner, alongside George Clooney and Tom Hanks, at a gala fundraiser. In December, Barbara Walters selected White as one of the “10 Most Fascinating People of 2010.”

And Hallmark came calling.

“The Lost Valentine” is about a widow who learns what happened to her husband since he vanished in World War II. She’s helped by a TV reporter played by Jennifer Love Hewitt.

The “Hall of Fame” executive producer, Brent Shields, said White was contacted after the Super Bowl commercial.

“Who else would you cast?” Shields said.

She has been fortunate with her genes. The majority of people don’t make it to 89 — and, very likely, most people never will, despite advances in medicine, say experts. So instead, researchers are investigating ways that the elderly can enjoy optimal health for however long they live.

“The principle is to delay as much as possible the onset of chronic illness,” said Ekerdt. “And the only anti-aging drug I’m aware of is exercise. It’s universally good under all circumstances for man or beast.”

White gets plenty of that.

“I have a two-story house and a very bad memory,” she said. “So I’m up and down those stairs all the time.”

A prominent animal advocate, White also spends quality time with her golden retriever — another factor that may extend life, studies suggest.

Her director on the Hallmark movie, Darnell Martin, observed that White engages the world around her.

“When Betty wasn’t in scenes, she was there (on the set). The whole time,” Martin said. “The only time she left was to go across the street to pet someone’s dog. If you want to talk to Betty, get a dog.”

So, does White enjoy good health because she loves animals, has purpose and is optimistic?

Ekerdt cautions that it’s impossible to know. The reverse could be true.

As she prepared to blow out candles on yet another birthday cake, White made a wish for the year ahead.

“Just to keep working,” she said. “That’s the best thing.”#

Just Where Did Ricky Gervais Go Wrong in His Stinging Golden Globes Performance?

Hillary Atkin Posted January 17, 2011 at 2:32 PM

Why are people so surprised that Ricky Gervais made a series of (not particularly funny) jokes at a lot of people's expense during his second outing as host of the Golden Globes telecast?

It's the Globes, folks, the awards show best known for its festivities fueled by free-flowing alcohol, leading to a lot of loose lips and funny slips on stage at the Beverly Hilton.

Let's review some of the Gervais gaffes that will almost certainly guarantee he won't be asked back again. Robert Downey Jr. was in rehab? Oh, no--that was the first anyone had ever heard of that … ancient news. Scarlett Johansson Jewish? OK, maybe some new information but not particularly germane to the proceedings except to work in a weak Mel Gibson joke. Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher's father? A simple case of getting some familial relationships in the Moore household mixed up. And let's face it: Kutcher could technically be Willis’ child. Suggesting that a bribe scheme was the only reason "The Tourist" was nominated? Cringe-worthy on many levels.

But it was his jab at Philip Berk, the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, as in, ahem, helping him off the toilet and with putting his teeth back in, that really lost Ricky his pulpit. Since Berk calls the shots of the Golden Globes, he was the wrong man to target with this extremely tasteless and inappropriate barb.

Gervais himself, in a statement released today in the wake of his polarizing performance, said, "I was allowed to choose who I would introduce in advance. I obviously chose presenters who I had the best jokes for, and who I knew had a good sense of humor. Everyone took it well and the atmosphere backstage and at the after-show was great."

Comedians who push the edge of the envelope, as Gervais does, simply don't have a good track record as repeat award show hosts. The poster child: David Letterman hosting the Oscars, and his insipid “Uma, Oprah” routine, still infamous for its inanity--and its inability to draw any laughs. And we’ll note that Chris Rock and Jon Stewart haven't hosted anything for a while, perhaps because despite their popularity, some of their comedic shots landed in the wrong places, politically. Meanwhile, the more mainstream and less offensive Jimmy Fallon and Neil Patrick Harris are the current golden boys when it comes to award show hosting.

Some actors are known for needing a script--and a Teleprompter--and not having any ability to speak, much less makes jokes, extemporaneously--much less on live television. So you have to give credit to Robert Downey Jr., Tom Hanks and Tim Allen for their quick comebacks to Gervais’ zingers.

As for the awards themselves, Steve Buscemi apparently rules not only the Atlantic City boardwalk, but also the hearts and minds of the 80-plus members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. In somewhat of an upset, he took home the trophy for best actor in a drama and HBO’s "Boardwalk Empire" took the gold as top drama in its freshman season, toppling the three-year reign of the highly respected and much-loved “Mad Men.”

In another changing of the guard, Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" took the comedy acting crown from "30 Rock’s” two-time champ Alec Baldwin.

Last year, HFPA voters showered then-new "Glee" with some of its first major trophies and this year the adoration continued, with the Fox show winning best comedy and stars Jane Lynch and Christopher Colfer taking trophies on the acting side.

Another big story on the TV side was Katey Sagal’s win for her role as a motorcycle mama in FX’s "Sons of Anarchy." She took home the award over such lauded drama actresses as Julianna Margulies and Kyra Sedgwick. Show creator Kurt Sutter, Sagal’s husband, had created a stir at the Emmy Awards in a similar category by blasting voters, and Mariska Hargitay in particular, in a series of scathing tweets--thus nearly guaranteeing the unwelcome mat at that awards show.

Those mats can be rolled out with quite a fury, proving once again that comedy goes down best without being laced with a large dollop of arsenic.


The Folks Behind 'American Idol' Have Become Tone-Deaf. Season 10 Is About to Premiere. Why It's Going to Be Like Jay Leno at 10 p.m. All Over Again

Chuck Ross Posted January 12, 2011 at 9:09 AM

“American Idol” is in trouble.

I know this because I asked some of the key executives about the show yesterday, and I didn’t find their answers encouraging.

The problem is that, fundamentally, they don’t understand why most of us watch the show.

For millions of us, what’s kept us coming back year-in and year-out can be reduced to two words; Simon Cowell.

He was the truth-teller with the wit of the Oscars: Wilde, Levant, Madison, and hosts Hope, Carson and Crystal.

And we loved Cowell because he told it like it was, his barbs memorable and engaging and as entertaining as if he were Dirty Harry asking some snotty, overly self-confident pop-star wannabe, “You need to ask yourself one question: ‘Do you feel lucky?’ Well, do you, punk?"

[Please note, that was Dirty Harry who enthralled millions of us. I don’t think a cop nicknamed Clean Harry, who followed all the rules, would have been the same box-office success.]

When I asked “Idol” executive producer Nigel Lythgoe at the TV Critics Association tour in Pasadena how he saw the role of the judges this year, in light of the fact that Cowell is no longer on the show and neither Kara nor Ellen worked out as judges, he said, basically, that this will be the year of nice, not nasty.

"It's about giving the right information to (the contestants) so they continue on their journey as an artist.” Lythgoe said. “It is a lot more about searching for that eventual winner than stopping people getting there.”

He added, "In the past, we may have been accused of putting barriers up against them or making glib remarks, rather than trying to help them through the whole process."


To paraphrase that famous song from “A Chorus Line”: Nice and kind? That ain’t it, kid. That ain’t it, kid.

Later, I asked “Idol” executive producer Cecile Frot-Coutaz, who is also the CEO of FremantleMedia North America, “Please name in order the top three things the audience looks to see from ‘Idol’.”

She said,” They are watching great talent. That’s the overriding thing. It’s about the kids--both their ability as singers and who they are, in terms of their personality and their performance style.”

“Number two, it has to be entertaining. I think what you’ll see from this new panel of judges is that they have fun, they are passionate, and they are entertaining.

“Those are the big things. The third thing is that we have to find a way for the kids to let their personalities out.”

Hmm. I tried a more direct route. “How would you rate Simon’s importance when he was on the show, and now that he’s not going to be on the show?”

Frot-Coutaz replied, “That’s a really interesting question. I don’t have a crystal ball. Television is about formats and it’s about on-air talent. If you look at other examples in the history of television, for example when Bob Barker retired from ‘Price Is Right,’ there was a huge succession planning exercise. And it’s been successful. Drew Carey is doing incredibly well and the show is back up in ratings to where it was before.

“With ‘Idol’ I think we’ve done a really good job of finding people who are very different from Simon. None of them are like Simon, none of them can be compared to Simon.”

I interrupted her and asked, “Was that deliberate? You could have tried to find someone who you thought was like Simon.”

She answered, “It was completely deliberate. If you do that you get very paralyzed very quickly. Then you are looking for somebody who is like him, and nobody is going to quite compare.

“What you have to do is say, ‘What’s the show about? What are we trying to achieve?’ Going back to your first question, from a process standpoint, let’s just find people who are good pickers of talent. Let’s just find people who are passionate about music, passionate about talent. Who have the right eye and the right ear to find the right American Idol.”

Listen, I have nothing but respect for Lythgoe and Frot-Coutaz. They are clearly smart, talented people.

But so are a lot of the folks over at NBC (stop your snickering, they really are) who decided to put Jay Leno on at 10 p.m. That was a wrong move, a train wreck that many of us could see coming.

So is this.

Yes, the contestants on the show are clearly an important factor on "Idol."

But let’s look at the one previously unknown singer who most captured the attention of the public in recent years. Hands down, it’s Susan Boyle, who wasn’t on "Idol," but was on “Britain’s Got Talent,” which also features Cowell as a judge.

Boyle immediately captured millions of hearts worldwide with that expertly edited video showing this frumpy, middle-aged woman getting laughed at and disrespected by Cowell, who then stunned everyone when she opened her mouth and out came the sound of the most melodic of sea nymphs, a mythical siren moving us to tears.

She continued her hold on us as we watched her overnight celebrity break her down, and we then watched her struggle with recovery.

That’s a reality show story and a half, and good luck to ‘Idol’ in trying to find a contestant that compelling.

Much easier, I would have thought, to find at least one compelling judge to hold our attention.

I don’t think Jennifer Lopez is that person.

Steven Tyler might be.

But an impediment is that they are both performers and can identify with the contestants who are trying to break through, which can lead to the kind of judging that finds something to praise in almost every performance.

One of the reasons Simon could be so brutally honest is because he’s a producer, and not a singer.

I find it fascinating that the producers of ‘Idol’ so deliberately ran away from trying to find the next Simon for “Idol.”

The producers can’t control who tries out for the show to become the next “Idol.” But they--along with Fox--do have control over who they pick as judges.

If I were producing the show I would have thought to myself, OK, we’re losing the person who is drawing millions and millions to this show. In Frot-Coutaz’s way of processing things, it was like losing Bob Barker on “The Price Is Right.”

Thus I would have tried to find someone who could be as compelling as the person I was losing. Not a carbon-copy, of course, but certainly someone who could wear the same T-shirt, who could be as acerbic yet spot-on candid, despite the boos the audience will shout. And someone who didn’t have the word pitchy in his or her vocabulary. (By the way, was Cowell on "Idol" actually that different than Joan Rivers with a music background?)

Instead, the thinking at "Idol" seemed to be, let’s make sure we find judges who can be nice, namby-pamby mentors who will make all the contestants feel good about themselves.

Oh yeah, that’s gripping television.#

Oprah, Part 2: We Get Some Unexpected Support for Our Position That Oprah Is Wrong About TV Programming Today. Plus Some Ideas About Where OWN Must Go

Chuck Ross Posted January 7, 2011 at 11:13 AM

Las Vegas--Greetings from Las Vegas and the annual Consumer Electronics Show. I went to a keynote session this morning (I’m writing this on Thursday night, Jan. 6, 2011) and watched Ivan Seidenberg, the chairman and CEO of Verizon, interview Jeff Bewkes, the chairman and CEO of Time Warner.

It was as if Seidenberg and Bewkes had read my blog entry earlier this week, wherein I criticized Oprah Winfrey for dumping on TV programming.

In the January issue of her O magazine Oprah had said, “In recent years I started to feel that, ‘Gee, television has lost its mind.’ There’s no mindfulness there anymore.” She continued, “Television doesn’t make me feel good. I literally do not have it on at any time in my personal space. ... If I walk in and it’s on, I will say, ‘Turn it off,’ unless it’s something I need to know or need to hear. I just won’t have it … I just won’t allow it. If you wanted to drive me insane that’s what you’d do. You would put me in a room where the television was never turned off.”

At CES, during the keynote session, Verizon’s Seidenberg asked Time Warner’s Bewkes, “Jeff, I’ve heard you say that we’re in the golden era of TV. What’s that mean?”

Bewkes replied, “I think the first golden era was when TV was invented. The second one is now.

“You can look at that two ways. Since we’re here at CES I think we should look at the data: Everything’s up. Viewership is up. Subscriptions are up. Ratings are up. Advertising is up. Programming budgets are up. Diversity of networks and shows are up. So all this is happening. Very vital and healthy business.

“The second way to look at this--and I’d really ask all of you to think about this--is look at the quality. And I realize it’s a subjective thing. But if you think of the talent, in front of the camera, behind the camera, that’s now working on television, that we used to think of working primarily on the big film screen, we’ve now got more and more talent doing more and more diverse, breakthrough things on television than ever before.

“The programming originality, the role it has in the life of our culture and your lives, has never been stronger than it is today.

“Now, I’ve got some biases, so I think of shows like ‘Boardwalk Empire’ or ‘The Pacific,’ on HBO. Obviously my bias. Many more than that. ‘Rizzoli & Isles’ and ‘The Closer’ on Turner. ‘Mad Men’ on AMC, Discovery Network, your favorite sports. Every one of you has really strong engagement and connection with some of this programming. More diversity and, actually, more different things than you used to have 20-30 years ago. So this is the best programming explosion in more than a generation.”

While Bewkes’ support of my position was unexpected, it’s not unexpected that the chief of a major media company with major dealings in the TV business would be a fan of TV.

We just happen to think he’s right.

Still, as I also mentioned in my last entry, Oprah is not alone in thinking that what’s on TV is crap, and I cited the fact that it was back in 1961 that then FCC Chairman Newton Minow coined the term “vast wasteland” in a speech to describe what was on TV.

Minow has said a number of times since giving that now-classic speech that he would have hoped that what would have been remembered from what he was saying was that TV should do more programming in the “public interest.”

Indeed, that’s one of the big knocks on TV.

Three years before Minow’s speech, the TV pioneer perhaps most influential in the early days of TV programming made the same complaint. That pioneer is the late father of actress Sigourney Weaver, Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, who was president of NBC before being forced out in 1956. He is credited with coming up with the ideas for the “Today” and “Tonight” shows, as well as creating a number of other business and entertainment concepts adopted by TV at the time.

Weaver is legendary for writing long memos when he was at NBC, and in one he wrote about TV’s mission: “Television must be the instrument which prepares us for progress into tomorrow’s good society or steels us to fight for our democratic way of life.”

Two years after he left NBC, Weaver was asked about that memo when he appeared on “The Mike Wallace Interview” on Sept. 8, 1958. It was a time when the Cold War was heating up. Here’s what Weaver told Mike Wallace::

“I’m disappointed in what’s been happening in the last couple of years.” He continued: “[TV’s] really reducing its overall mission to doing nothing but some news and largely a story-telling medium. That is, all the shows are really either game shows or story-telling shows. [TV] should reflect, as a communications medium, the whole richness and pluralism of our society. In other words, we should have all the magic of live performance in the New York theater, we should have the great issues in the documentaries and telementaries presented--we should have all of the people passing across our sets. It’s a port, you know, through which you can look out on the entire world. But if you aim it only at a film projector and show the cans out of Hollywood, together with some game shows that can be presented cheaply and get pretty good audiences on a commercial value, you are degrading the service, and I’m afraid that’s what’s happening.”

Later in the interview Wallace asked Weaver what TV needs to do. Weaver said: “I think we should be having a great important report to the nation at least once a month by each of the networks, at night, in [prime time]. I think we should have a news service that really spends a lot of money in developing a coverage of this country and everything that happens in it, live and with tape, that is far beyond what we are presently doing. I think that beyond the information programs--and there should be all sorts of informational telementaries--that we should be going into the cultural field and presenting all the good things that we know people, when they have a chance to learn about, will become interested in. Their tastes upgraded, their standards elevated.”

Of course now we have a number of all news networks that are on 24/7.

On the cultural side, TV has struggled with showcasing what might be referred to as the “classical” arts. In the 1980s CBS Cable was critically acclaimed but didn’t make it as business proposition, and neither did The Entertainment Channel. No relation to E!, The Entertainment Channel was a now mostly forgotten joint venture between RCA and Rockefeller Center that got 40% of its programming from the BBC. Furthermore, a planned PBS channel focused primarily on the “classic” arts never got launched. Two other channels that were somewhat broader in scope, Bravo and ARTS, became much broader, the latter evolving into A&E.

Which brings us full circle back to the Oprah Winfrey Network and Oprah’s vision that programming on her network should reflect the mantra “living your best life.” Of course Oprah is no snob, so she has always focused mostly on popular culture with a smattering of “classical” culture.

But given Oprah’s rant about TV today in O, I’d be surprised if she wouldn’t say much of what Weaver was saying applies today. And given that belief, OWN does need to set its bar higher.

In the short time since OWN’s debut last weekend, I’ve heard some grumbling that its programming thus far, both on-air and what’s been previewed to come, is somewhat disappointing given that the network has had two years to prepare since it was first announced.

I understand the complaint.

Given the great support team Oprah’s put together, they should be able to do better. There’s Christina Norman and Tom Freston, both proven veterans from MTV. There’s Peter Liguori, who was a marketing maven in the consumer product and Madison Ave. worlds long before honing his content skills at FX and Fox.

And there’s Lisa Erspamer, OWN’s chief creative officer, who is a longtime veteran at Harpo, the company that produces Oprah’s syndicated show. Erspamer is the only member of this group whom I don’t know, but clearly Winfrey thinks she has the chops to be among OWN’s inner circle.

To be successful, Oprah needs to come out with some more ideas based on her living your best life theme.

First, don’t stick to a strictly non-fiction formula. Her partner, Discovery, doesn’t with its new network with Hasbro, and with some of its international fare. Oprah should insist that it doesn’t with OWN either. Fiction programming likely means more costs, but the rewards can be greater as well.

Also, in her piece in O, Oprah decried that there were not more programs on TV today like she remembered loving in her childhood. Well, if some of these old shows aren’t already airing on TV Land or Nick-at-Night, she should buy the rights and show them on OWN.

She shouldn’t limit herself. The networks have largely abandoned soap operas, both in daytime and prime time. Well, OWN, come up with one. It’ll exemplify living your best life, including some cheating, conniving adulterer or adulteress who is living their best EVIL life.

That’s another must-do: Don’t take yourselves all that seriously all the time.

Given the talent behind the scenes that OWN has now and can get, there’s no reason they can’t find shows that work. Will a number of them fail? Yes. So what? That’s what TV’s all about. And yes, that’s also what much of the journey of living our best lives is about.#

Memo to Oprah: Your OWNerous Assessment of TV Today Is Just Plain Wrong. But Here's What You're Getting Right, as Well

Chuck Ross Posted January 3, 2011 at 12:54 AM

Here’s a truism about TV that bears repeating: At every moment in its commercial history, TV has been accused of being a vast wasteland.

Yes, the exact phrase referring to TV as a “vast wasteland” wasn’t coined until FCC Chairman Newton Minow used it in a speech given at the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters in May 1961, but please, the sentiment has always been there: that what’s on TV is junk, mindless, crapola.

The latest person singing this refrain is Oprah Winfrey.

In the cover story of the January issue of her “O” magazine, Winfrey talks about why she wanted to start the Oprah Winfrey Network, which launched Jan. 1, 2011:

Interviewer (“O” editor-in-chief Susan Casey): Well, we need [the Oprah Winfrey Network] now more than ever. So much on television these days is unwatchable.”

Oprah: It's just created to blur the senses. It feels like Halloween candy. Gobble it down and at the end you don't feel better—you're like, Why did I do that to myself? In recent years I started to feel that, Gee, television has lost its mind. There's no mindfulness there anymore. You used to be able to watch shows and come away with something—like with my favorite program growing up, ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’

Susan Casey: Or ‘Wild Kingdom!’ I loved that.

Oprah: Or ‘Wild Kingdom.’ You would watch it, and even if you didn't learn something, there would be a thoughtfulness about it. An interesting aspect—something that sort of opened you up a little bit, that brought a little piece of light into whatever it is you were doing. ‘Bonanza,’ for goodness' sake! Any number of shows for a long, long, long time—television actually did that. And in recent years I started to notice it doesn't. Television doesn't make me feel good. There's nothing about it that makes me feel good. I literally do not have it on at any time in my personal space, be it in the office, be it in my makeup room. If I walk in and it's on, I will say, "Turn it off," unless it's something I need to know or need to hear. I just won't have it. I will not allow the mindless chattering of Halloween candy. I just won't allow it. If you wanted to drive me insane, that's what you would do. You would put me in a room where the television was never turned off.

Of course in 1961, when it was Minow decrying that what was on TV was a mindless wasteland, it was smack in the middle of Winfrey’s childhood (she was 7 years old at the time) and those shows she mentioned, “Bonanza” and her favorite, “The Andy Griffith Show,” were on TV.

Minow’s version of the TV is crap speech ran as follows: First, he asked TV station executives to watch their own stations for a day.

Then he said, “Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”

Winfrey is no less demeaning of and condescending about the medium that’s made her a billionaire.

With her remarks in O about how great TV was during her childhood, Oprah is on the record that Minow was wrong. No, it’s NOW that TV is a vast, mindless wasteland, Winfrey intones.

It’s only true if she’s tone deaf. From Larry David to David Shore & Katie Jacobs (“House”) to Jeffrey Jacob (J.J.) Abrams to Abramoff, Jack (documentary on HBO), ad infinitum, if Winfrey really believes TV today is the mindless chattering of Halloween candy, our reaction can only be non-plussed. We reply, “You Don’t Know Jack,” let alone not knowing other terrific characters--real and fictional--on TV recently, including Alicia Florrick, Sue Sylvester, Richard Whitman, Dexter Morgan, the late Capt. Phil Harris, Sheldon Cooper, Jax Teller, Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, Peter Lattimer, and Valentina Vilalba Rangel.

Despite Winfrey’s dissing of TV today, the idea of creating an Oprah Winfrey Network based upon the same theme as O magazine—living your best life—seems to me to be a good one. It’s a theme about which Winfrey is passionate, and that’s an important predictor for long-term success. Powerful people with passion—think Ted Turner and the creation of TBS, TNT and CNN, or Roger Ailes and the Fox News Network—are a huge plus in overcoming the inevitable pitfalls and obstacles most new networks face.

While Oprah says she long ago—in May 1992—thought of creating an Oprah Winfrey Network, kudos to her OWN partner, Discovery CEO David Zaslav, and his wife, who reportedly came up with the idea of a network based on the same theme O magazine is based upon.

As for the quality of the shows on OWN, it’s clearly too early to make a judgment about them. I watched a few over the weekend and mostly liked what I saw, despite how derivative of other programs they may be. “Oprah Presents Master Class”—OWN’s nod of sorts to Sundance’s “Iconoclasts” (though without its brilliant pairing of two creative people at once)—is fairly insightful.

One show I particularly liked was “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes,” which chronicles this final season of Winfrey’s daily syndicated program. (Maddeningly, though, in the manner of cable shows that don’t really have enough footage to fill their hour or half-hour time slots, too much footage is repeated just before and right after commercial breaks.)

In the most telling moment of the two “Behind the Scenes” shows I saw, two producers of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” had a confrontation over the decision to revisit Williamson, W. Va., the site of a controversial Winfrey show back in 1987. The controversy was over a young man, Mike Sisco, who had AIDS, and who had used the city swimming pool. When he was outed, the city closed the pool. The original program showed that most of the townspeople supported the closing of the pool, and condemned the man for being gay. Sisco died in 1994.

In this segment of one of the “Behind the Scenes” shows, senior producer Jack Mori is telling co-producer Brian Piotrowicz that he is shocked and fascinated that now, 23 years later, they had not been able to find anyone in Williamson whose opinion had changed about the incident.

Brian: You find it fascinating and I find it hurtful. I don’t get why we’re giving these people a voice again. As a gay man I have a strong opinion about the Williamson show. There are millions of people watching, so we have to think about ‘Is this person worth interviewing?’ and 'What do they really have to say?’ Because what I’m hearing from the [advance producing] team is that [the townspeople] haven’t changed—they still don’t like gay people, they still think it’s a sin.

We have 130 slots left to change the world, to make our mark, and I don’t understand why this would be one of them.

Jack: What can I say, Brian? Forty-three percent of America believes the same thing they do—

Brian: Eighty percent of Germany agreed with Hitler.

Jack: That’s a perfect example. If you’re a journalist do you ignore World War II just because you don’t want to spread hate?

Brian: But we don’t portray the reality on our show. We pick and choose what we want based upon criteria of how the show is produced.

Jack: I’m sorry you’re offended by that, but—

Brian: What do you mean you’re sorry I’m offended by that? It’s offensive. Of course I’m offended.

Brian then said that the only way the show would work for him is if a bunch of the townspeople had had epiphanies over the past 23 years that what they said and how they thought about gays in 1987 was wrong.

As it turned out, on the show one person, a 74-year-old man, did admit to having such an epiphany, and apologized to the gay man’s family.

It would have been worthwhile then to hear Brian’s reaction to the finished show. However, we didn’t get that, perhaps because it would have put a damper on things and ended the episode on a sour note. And as any regular reader of O magazine knows, the philosophy of living your best life almost always calls for cheers, not jeers.#