Open Mic

March 2012

'The Artist' Scene Stealer Takes Spotlight as Hollywood Goes to the Dogs for Genesis Awards

Hillary Atkin Posted March 28, 2012 at 7:45 AM

Just as he did in the Academy Award-winning “The Artist,” canine star Uggie nearly stole the show at the 26th Genesis Awards, presented by the Humane Society of the United States. The 22 winners were announced Saturday, March 24, at a ceremony at The Beverly Hilton.

The Genesis Awards honor the news and entertainment media’s work in raising public awareness of animal issues and confronting cruelty. The majority of the categories recognize television work, including local and national news, newsmagazines, talk shows, reality series and documentaries.

The scene-stealing terrier came out on stage as host Carrie Ann Inaba of “Dancing with the Stars” opened the program in the packed International Ballroom, after guests were served, naturally, a vegan dinner.

Then they rolled the first tape -- black and white and silent, of course -- featuring Inaba and Uggie in a charming vignette about his life, going from rags to riches, from the shelter to being rescued and then coached by a great trainer. Thus, a four-legged star was born, and a message was imparted: Don't buy pets, adopt them.

In the feature film category, "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" triumphed over its animal-themed rivals "Dolphin Tale," "Rio" and "War Horse."

"The Colbert Report’s" satire on animal rights issues hit the right comedic note to win the prestigious Sid Caesar Comedy Award for the second year in a row, with bits such as wagging a satirical finger at whale preservation by suggesting that whales are the real persecutors of humans. In an acceptance speech taped at his anchor desk in New York, the show’s host Stephen Colbert made a series of animal noises that could be possibly translated as expressions of gratitude in their respective dialects.

As the awards unfolded -- presented by, among others, Cloris Leachman, Jason Ritter, Moby, Rose McGowan, Wendie Malick, Wilmer Valderrama, Michael Vartan and Sophia Bush -- and clips from the honorees were played, the scope of the issues that concern the Humane Society and its members became apparent. They range from poaching endangered species to shark finning to egg farm cruelty, wild horse roundups, cruelty of the Asian reptile skin trade, cockfighting, torture at cattle ranches and abuses that can be involved in online puppy sales.

There were also uplifting stories, including several about pairing abandoned pets with homeless people and giving them new homes.

"The Ellen DeGeneres Show" picked up Outstanding Talk Show for an interview with HSUS President and CEO Wayne Pacelle about dogfighting and puppy mills.

In the field of documentaries and reality series, the Morgan Freeman-narrated IMAX documentary "Born to Be Wild 3D" took the Feature Documentary prize for its celebration of people who rehabilitate baby elephants and orangutans orphaned by poaching and habitat encroachment.

"Gordon Ramsay: Shark Bait" received best TV Documentary for its fearless expose of shark-finning and the well-known chef's quest to have shark fin soup banned from restaurant menus. The California lawmaker who led the fight to ban it in the Golden State was given a standing ovation when Ramsay gave him a shout-out.

"Animal Planet Investigates: Captive Hunting Exposed” received the Outstanding Reality Series award for pulling back the curtain on "captive hunting” -- shooting tame animals that are trapped in fenced pens.

In the world of broadcast news, ABC’s “20/20” was honored in the TV Newsmagazine category for exposing inhumane conditions at an egg factory farm. NBC’s “Nightly News” was recognized with the Outstanding National News award for multiple issues, including the fate of horses used by smugglers to cross the U.S.-Mexico border.

Anchor Brian Williams, appearing on tape from New York, said he always liked to err on the side of the animal kingdom. He went on to poke fun at his well-known love for dogs, but not so much for cats. "I would refute that, but the last cat story aired on ‘Nightly’ in 1996," he said with a smirk.

It was another win for the Peacock Network as the Morning News Show award went to NBC’s Jill Rappaport of “Today” for a series of reports on the dedicated rescuers of homeless pets.

“We paid tribute to an amazing array of works that address animal protection concerns, but the real winners of the Genesis Awards are the animals themselves, who rely on these invaluable voices to speak for them,” says Beverly Kaskey, senior director of The HSUS’s Hollywood Outreach program and executive producer of the annual awards.

The awards show will premiere as a one-hour special on Animal Planet on May 5.

For a complete list of winners, go to

After 18 Months, We Parse the 2-Hour Season Premiere of 'Mad Men': Kinky Sex, Greed and a Song for iTunes

Hillary Atkin Posted March 27, 2012 at 6:38 AM

The two-hour premiere of the long-awaited fifth season of “Mad Men” was a huge education.

First, it answered the big question: Did Megan actually get married to Don in the 17 months that have passed since the dapper Mr. Draper unexpectedly proposed to her in the cliffhanger season four finale? Oh, yeah, they did. And from the looks of it, it appears to be a relationship based upon truth -- as it is revealed that Megan knows about his real identity as Dick Whitman -- and judging by the last scene, kept spicy with kinky sex.

At the surprise 40th birthday party she gave for her husband, a centerpiece of the episode, Megan may not have been able to seduce Don, but she blew away partygoers with her daring rendition of the 1960s French schoolgirlish love song "Zou Bisou Bisou,” which roughly translates to "sweet kiss,” and is already rising up the charts at iTunes.

The Sterling Cooper crowd that populated the party weren't the only ones charmed. AMC says the show attracted a series record 3.5 million viewers, 21% more than the number who watched the premiere of season four in 2010.

Master “Mad Men” storyteller Matt Weiner has proved that the wait was worth it. He seamlessly incorporated the struggle for civil rights that was blowing up during the mid-1960s, along with referencing the Vietnam War and the viability of a gay lifestyle in New York City while exploring the motivations and machinations of the key characters, with one huge exception. We can only assume that January Jones as Don's ex-wife Betty was not seen due to a shooting schedule conflicting with her pregnancy.

So back to the lessons learned:

-- Lane is a perv. After he finds a stranger's wallet in the back seat of a cab and decides to handle the return of it himself because it has nearly $100 in it (and apparently because the taxi driver is black), he discovers a picture of a buxom brunette. He later engages in the 1960s version of phone sex with her, and somehow becomes hopelessly enamored of Delores. What's up with that, Lane? Aside from dealing with your stiff upper lip wife, who seems to be completely consumed by worry about the family's financial situation, it's funny that this woman should be the one to rouse your inclination to stray.

-- Harry is a bit oversexed as well -- and he can be easily bought by a big wad of bills. Cases in point: his vulgar depiction of what he'd like to do to Megan in the swanky Draper apartment -- which she overheard him foolishly trumpeting in the office canteen; his almost-telling of his sexploits after the party to Roger, who didn't want to hear about it; and his acceptance of $1,100 in cash to give up his office to accommodate the petty, ladder-climbing Pete. Clearly greedy and not that bright, he asked if it was going to be a monthly payment.

-- Pete is as weaselly and as ambitious as ever, but a family man at heart who has moved out to the suburbs with wife Trudy and their new baby. This is proven on almost a daily basis on his train ride into the city with other men who complain about their marriages and kids and plot to come home as late as possible, or not at all. That won't be Pete. He is more concerned with getting a bigger office to impress all the clients he's bringing in to the agency and competing with senior partner Roger -- even stooping to playing juvenile practical jokes on him to trip him up.

-- Peggy is taking herself way too seriously. Her campaign for Heinz baked beans, an animated ballet of beans called "The Art of Dinner," was absolutely the worst advertising strategy the show has portrayed. But Peggy didn't have a backup plan and she didn't take it well that the client absolutely hated it -- and was much more in tune with the marketplace and the image of their product than she was. She mistakenly thought Don would sell the campaign to them anyway. Another bonehead move: Peggy made a major social gaffe by complaining to Don at his birthday party about her workload, leaving him pretty much speechless, only to be whisked away by Megan. She later admitted she shouldn't drink at work functions, or perhaps at all, and did apologize, but she really needs to lighten up.

-- Joan’s new baby and her visiting mother appeared to be getting the best of her -- until her competitive juices get revved up by the company's ad in The New York Times, poking fun at rival Young and Rubicam for their racism -- which she misinterprets as a want ad that will leave her out of a job. Joan sure does clean up nicely. That hot pink dress she wore into the office, armed with the unwieldy baby stroller model of the time, almost brought us to tears -- just like she broke down in Lane's office that she was lonely. Guess what, baby? Joan is almost back at work -- three more weeks, she said, and we can't wait.

-- Speaking of Joan’s son, Roger doesn't seem to be fazed that it's actually his bio-child. Roger appears to be almost completely marginalized in this episode, becoming the court jester of the office who even as a senior partner is reduced to peering at Pete's schedule and trying to undermine him while beefing up his popularity with clients by plying them with even more drinks. His marriage doesn't seem to be going all that well either. At least on her side. When, after Megan's party performance, he asked, "Why can't you sing like that?" she replies, "Why don't you look like that," referring of course to the ever-handsome Don.

-- Don is having a midlife crisis at the age of 40, even though his actual birthday as Dick Whitman was six months before then. In the 1960s, 40 was kind of old. Now, 40 is the new 25, maybe 30 -- and as we've noted, the newly married, season five Don Draper is looking exceedingly well. We hope this age storyline is dropped quickly as it didn't really grab us as anything that substantial. What's much more interesting are the two divergent takes of Don that are expressed in the show. One, by Megan, who says, "You're a dirty old man." The other, expressed by Peggy, is that Don is now patient and kind -- and she's very concerned about that.

We patiently await next Sunday's episode.

Connecting the Dots Between Steve Jobs, Ira Glass, Truth, Fiction, Theater and 'The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance'

Chuck Ross Posted March 22, 2012 at 7:17 AM

The favorite entertainment of my grandfather on my mother’s side was the movies. I don’t remember ever seeing him read a book or a magazine or a newspaper, but he adored the movies. Especially Westerns.

My grandfather was a serial entrepreneur, and I think he particularly liked Westerns because so often they portray the individual vs. everyone else. And he liked that there were good guys and bad guys and not a lot of gray.

When I was eight he took me to the movie that’s been my favorite Western ever since: “The Magnificent Seven.”

Then, when I was ten, we saw “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” It’s a John Ford Western, penned by James Bellah and Willis Goldbeck, and starring two Western icons, Jimmy Stewart and John Wayne, with a hugely entertainingly nasty Lee Marvin as the bad guy. The movie is about a topic that's garnering a lot of interest today -- bullying. It also included one of the most famous exchanges in movies:

Person A: You're not going to use the story, Mr. Scott?
Mr. Scott, a newspaperman: No, sir. This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.

Actually, a newspaper, in the West or anywhere else, should be in the business of printing the facts, not the legend. Such is the journalistic endeavor.

This subject has been in the news of late because one of the truly great showcases of journalism around, public radio’s “This American Life,” was bamboozled but good recently by one Mike Daisey. Daisey is the author of a theatrical monologue titled "The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs."

The monologue is about Apple and the Chinese workers who make its products, and abuses these workers have suffered making the millions of iPods and iPhones and other Apple products that so many of us love. Daisey has repeatedly said that the piece is non-fiction, based on what he saw on a six-day trip to China.

“This American Life,” in turn, did a show about the abuses Daisey claims he saw in China. And “This American Life” is not the only journalistic outlet to feature Daisey and his claims of abuse of Chinese workers in Apple's employ. He’s been on TV news shows, other radio outlets and even wrote an op-ed piece in The New York Times about the abuses he said he saw.

But another reporter, Rob Schmitz of public radio’s “Marketplace,” investigated and found out that Daisey has been lying, that he didn’t actually see a number of the abuses that he said he saw.

This revelation, in turn, caused “This American Life,” and its venerable host, Ira Glass, to devote an entire show to how the program, which bills itelf as a journalistic endeavor, was bamboozled.

That show, titled “Retraction,” was posted on “This American Life’s” website on March 16, 2012, and is one of the most compelling hours I’ve heard lately, and I urge you to find the time and listen to the entire show -- click here to find it.

Most fascinating on this show is Daisey himself, and his various rationalizations. He finally apologizes to Glass and the show’s listeners, as he admits that not all of his material meets journalistic standards of truth.

At the same time Daisey is adamant that even though he’s billed his monologue in the theater as non-fiction, because it’s done in the theater, it’s OK to fudge there.

In other words, even though he says to theater audiences that his piece is documentary, not docu-drama, that’s OK, because they are theatergoers and the truth is more elastic in that setting.

Ira Glass wasn’t buying it. Here’s an exchange between Glass and Daisey from the “Retraction” episode of “This American Life”:

IRA GLASS: Are you going to change the way that you label this in the theater, so that the audience in the theater knows that this isn’t strictly speaking a work of truth but in fact what they’re seeing really is a work of fiction that has some true elements in it.

MIKE DAISEY: Well, I don’t know that I would say in a theatrical context that it isn’t true. I believe that when I perform it in a theatrical context in the theater that when people hear the story in those terms that we have different languages for what the truth means.

GLASS: I understand that you believe that but I think you’re kidding yourself in the way that normal people who go to see a person talk -- people take it as a literal truth. I thought that the story was literally true seeing it in the theater. Brian [Reed, a producer on 'This American Life'], who’s seen other shows of yours, thought all of them were true. I saw your nuclear show, I thought that was completely true. I thought it was true because you were on stage saying, ‘This happened to me.’ I took you at your word.

DAISEY: I think you can trust my word in the context of the theater. And how people see it --

GLASS: I find this to be a really hedgy answer. I think it’s OK for somebody in your position to say it isn’t all literally true. … I feel like that’s what’s actually called for at this point, is just honest labeling. … [Y]ou make a nice show, people are moved by it, I was moved by it, and if it were labeled honestly, I think everybody would react differently to it.

DAISEY: I don’t think that label covers the totality of what it is.

GLASS: That label -- fiction?

DAISEY: Yeah. We have different worldviews on some of these things. I agree with you truth is really important.

GLASS: I know, but I feel like I have the normal worldview. The normal worldview is somebody stands on stage and says, ‘This happened to me,’ I think it happened to them, unless it’s clearly labeled as ‘here’s a work of fiction.’

Daisey clearly feels that at this point Glass is badgering him, and just repeats something he said earlier in the interview: “I really regret putting the show on ‘This American Life’ and it was wrong for me to misrepresent to you and to Brian that it could be on the show.”

Interestingly, at least one of Daisey’s colleagues in the theater agrees with Glass’ point of view on this. This comes from a post by Alli Houseworth on that was posted on March 19, 2012:

“In 2010 I worked at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, when ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ was ‘birthed’ at the theatre, and the following spring was the marketing and communications director who worked on the show at Woolly. Today, as an independent consultant, I write as a former marketing director who is no longer bound by the public statement of her institution in this matter, and what I would like to say is this: Mike Daisey, you should be ashamed of yourself. And to members of the American theatre: we should be disappointed in ourselves too.

"For months and months four major non-profit organizations across the US (Seattle Rep, Berkeley Rep, Woolly and the Public Theater [in New York City]) worked to put ‘The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs’ on the stage, bringing the story we all felt was so enormously important -- a story Mike told at least me time and time again was true. He insisted that ‘This is a work of non-fiction’ be printed in playbills.”

Later in the post Houseworth writes, “So to the producers of the American theatre, I urge you to boycott this work. Boycott Mike’s gorgeous, amazing piece of theatre that is based on a true story. Boycott it until you get the apology that you deserve and do not ever, ever re-mount it or produce a work of his again until you know for sure what is true and what is not so your audiences are never ever misled again. Stand by your desire to uphold the truth and value of art, of what you work so enormously hard for day in and day out, until you get an apology from the man who calls himself one of you, who is our field’s 'leading man' in the fight for theatre as truth and activism. He let us down and we deserve better.”

Houseworth’s post brought lots of impassioned response on both sides of the issue.

Commenter Kent disagrees with Houseworth and Glass, and wrote, in part:

“Hmm. I understand that you are upset and feel betrayed by this very public admission of wrong doing, but I think this reaction borders on the hysterical. Mike is not wrong that the context of the theater changes the equation of the way the facts were presented. If you think there aren’t equivocations and fabrications in other works of documentary theater you’d be wrong. Plays like The Laramie Project and Fires in the Mirror may not make stories up, but they do edit, arrange, and structure themselves to create a point of view, sometimes a point of view which may make a real person look foolish or wrong headed, when they aren’t. This is also a form of 'truthiness' for lack of a better word. Additionally, journalists such as Hunter S. Thompson and Tom Wolfe often fabricated or changed elements of their work to make a better story. David Sedaris, also a ‘This American Life’ contributor has been caught hyperbolizing his stories regularly, and Ira Glass has never retracted a single one of those.

“Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not apologizing for Mike’s behavior and I find the whole event more than a little embarrassing for the theater and the form. I also understand that there are huge differences between David Sedaris creating a story out of his life and Mike Daisey claiming he met people he didn’t. But the point still stands: context does indeed matter. Is it an article of faith that everything you see on stage is true? Ira Glass certainly seems to think so, but I’m not so sure. Someone is writing a point of view and that means that other points of view are not represented. By definition it can’t be journalism.”

Counters a commenter calling herself or himself “Bewildered”:

“>no one holds theater to a journalistic standard

“I keep seeing defenders of Daisey equivocating when it comes to this ‘journalistic standard’. Yes, Daisey’s work was in the theater, but he explicitly labeled it ‘non-fiction.’ Does ‘non-fiction’ mean ‘truth’ only if you’re a journalist? Does it mean ‘mostly truth’ if you’re a regular person? Does it mean ‘whatever I want it to mean’ if you’re an artist? You don’t have to be a journalist to understand that it’s wrong to go on TV, to go on the radio, to write an op-ed for the New York Times and tell stories about what you saw with your own eyes, when you didn’t see those things with your own eyes.

“Just to clarify, many of Daisey’s critics are not primarily objecting to his theater performance. We’re primarily objecting to his insistence that the performance -- an artful mingling of his own experiences and imagined experiences based on things he read in the news -- is classified as “non-fiction”. More than that, we’re objecting to his continued insistence in media outside of the theater (newspaper, TV, radio) that he really saw these things. He didn’t.

“Each time he wrote an op-ed/went on TV/was interviewed was an opportunity for him to disclaim: ‘remember, I’m not a journalist, I’m a performer, we all have different languages for truth, etc.’. Isn’t it odd that he waited until he was caught red-handed to remind us of this fact?”

Hey Daisey, I was telling all of this to an agent I was having lunch with the other day. Or maybe I wasn’t. No matter. Here’s the point. He, or she, whoever this person was, thinks you’d be great on a reality TV show they want to build around you. Man, you’re gonna love it. Please, call me. This debate wouldn’t happen there. It’s reality TV, my friend, and trust me, the only thing real about it that anyone cares about is the ratings. In reality TV, the director only shouts “Print” not after he has captured the legend, but only after he’s got the legend behind the legend …

After Spending $200 Million in 2 1/2 Years, Cable MSOs Have Given Up on Canoe's Big Ad Plans. It Was Touted as 'Groundbreaking.' TVWeek Looks at How It Ran Aground

Chuck Ross Posted March 12, 2012 at 11:16 PM

Of all the young turks of media who emerged during the late 1980s and early 1990s, David Verklin was always the most gregarious -- outgoing, social, smart, articulate, a superlative communicator with seemingly boundless enthusiasm and energy.

We’re talking about the media part of the advertising world, which was for so long considered the step-child of that business, compared to the golden child that was the creative arm of the ad agencies.

But that began to change during the late 1980s and early 1990s, as the importance of the media part of an ad campaign became more apparent. Furnthermore, it became clear that media could be a profit center for agencies and their big holding company parents.

At the time Verklin was at a hot creative shop, Hal Riney & Partners in San Francisco. He arrived there in 1987, just five months after Riney had left ad giant Ogilvy & Mather to start his own shop. When Verklin showed up there were just 12 people at Riney handling the media part of the business.

Five years later, in 1992, Riney was handling the ads for General Motors’ Saturn brand, and the agency’s billings had increased from $65 million in 1987 to $350 million, according to Adweek . While many of his up and coming colleagues at other agencies were press shy about their work and what they were doing for their clients, Verklin, Riney’s media director, wasn’t.

With the increase in billings, Verklin’s media department had grown to 80 people. And Verklin was named 1992 Media Director of the Year by Mediaweek and its sibling publication, Adweek.

Near the top of the article, which ran in both publications, it said, “Verklin, a boyish-looking 37, is describing the all-star qualities that helped him win recognition as Mediaweek’s Media Director of the Year. ‘I present like an account person. I’m good at relationship building, I have a marketing orientation, and I’ve combined that with the skill of a media person…' ”

Verklin speaks in the article about the importance of good relationships. And then, the article notes, “This approach [of maintaining good relationships and treating people square] is paying off in spades. Riney got a lot of attention for its outdoor Saturn blitz. ‘But it was Patrick Media that came to us with that idea,’ [says Verklin.] ‘They knew we’d be able to do a straight deal. It’s a competitive advantage that helps us overcome being a mid-sized agency.”

Later in the piece, Verklin talks about his media philosophy: “We are leaders in longform communications -- :60s, [magazine] spreads, full-length [TV] programs. There’s a tradeoff between the higher quality of longer messages in return for less frequency. And we have an overall strategy of high-intensity media in return for shorter duration. If you stretch a limited budget too far, there’s a threshold where your media becomes invisible. We’ll advertise for a short period of time. It’s the only way to survive in the media environment of the ‘90s: you’ve got to shout louder.“

Near the end of the story the article says, “What’s next for Verklin? ... Down the road, Verklin would like to move up the agency ladder. ‘Very few media people have gone on to agency management,’ [Verklin says.] ‘Maybe in five or ten years.’ “

He didn’t have to wait that long. Within the year he was named managing director of Riney.

Five years after that, in 1998, Verklin and his wife were just putting the finishing touches on a dream project -- a home they were building across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco, in picturesque Marin County. But they never moved into the house.

Instead, Verklin was offered -- and took -- his dream job: becoming CEO of Carat Americas. After living in the Bay Area for 11 years, Verklin and his family moved to the East Coast.

Verklin’s skill set served him well at Carat. Along with Charlie Rutman, the well-respected media director at DMB&B who joined Carat shortly before Verklin did, they built Carat into a media power player. “The two of them, Verklin and Rutman, were the yin and yang of the business,” said one top media executive at a shop that competes with Carat. “David, the always eloquent face of Carat, with Charlie more the quiet COO kind-of-guy. They were a great team.”

Ten years later, in the spring of 2008, Verklin announced he was leaving Carat. Here’s what Ad Age wrote at the time:

“David Verklin once gave a speech in which he coined the phrase ‘the crackle of change' as a way to get at the digital transformation sweeping the ad business. The crackle caught up with the loquacious media thinker last week, when he announced that he's leaving Carat, the platform from which he became one of the industry's most visible figures during the past 10 years.

“Mr. Verklin's departure seems to be based on a number of different factors. There has been some tension between Mr. Verklin and Mainardo de Nardis ever since Mr. de Nardis came on as Aegis's worldwide CEO [Aegis owns Carat]. ... Those tensions were stoked, these people say, in part by Mr. Verklin's clear pursuit of other interests such as writing a book and becoming a media-business celebrity in his own right.”

The article added that some sources said Verklin was departing so he could head up a cable MSO joint venture called Project Canoe. The idea behind Canoe, the story said, “is to make a hyperfragmented market more scalable for advertisers and more universally measurable.”

All Verklin would tell Ad Age at the time was: "I am convinced that [in] the next three years an enormous amount of the focus will turn toward the TV set. I am convinced that the TV space is ripe for invention and reinvention.''

Verklin left Carat at the end of 2008. According to published reports, he had been making $1.5 million a year at Carat, and his severance, according to MediaPost, was $1.1 million.

In June 2009, the formation of Canoe Ventures was formally announced. It was a joint venture of the nation's six largest cable operators: Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Cox Communications, Charter Communications, Cablevision and Bright House Networks. Verklin, 52, was announced as the CEO.

Five months later, on Thursday, Nov. 13, 2009, Verklin felt comfortable enough in his new job to deliver a 20-minute speech -- billed as a “mini-keynote” -- at a conference in San Francisco called NewTeeVee Live.

It had been 11 years since he left San Francisco. That November day was beautiful, practically cloud-free, with the Mercury hitting 70 degrees, and Verklin told the crowd how pleased he was to be back in the City, and how lucky those in the audience were to live in the Bay Area.

And then he told them about Canoe.

“Its mission is clear, direct and simple. Open up and use cable’s unique two-way infrastructure to turn television into a platform, nationally.”

Then he said, “Write some of these numbers down. There are 101 [million] multichannel households in the United States. Seventy million of them are cable households. Thirty-one million get their TV from satellite. Canoe represents about 60 million of the 70 million cable households as of today.

“Canoe has a digital set-top box in over 32 million households as I speak to you today, and it’s growing rapidly. Canoe is also the ISP for over 35% of American households.

“We get it. We see it. We see the threat and we see the opportunity the digital revolution is creating. And if we act quickly, we intend to take advantage of it.

“The TV advertising business is a $60 billion business (annually). The cable MSOs get about $5 billion out of that $60 billion today.”

Then Verklin talked about what Canoe had to offer: “Let’s get specific. Two new features are coming to your television set. Interactivity and addressability. … Interactivity will come in four flavors. If you’re interested, write them down:

“Voting and polling. Request for information. T-Commerce. And telescoping.” He defined T-Commerce as buying product by just hitting a button on your remote control. Telescoping, Verklin said, is the ability of pushing a button on your remote while watching a commercial for an upcoming movie and getting the entire trailer. Or pushing a button while watching an auto commercial and getting a short video about the car.

“And addressability, [which] is the ultimate promise of the new platform called ‘television,’ " Verklin intoned. “No more diaper ads if you don’t have or are not expecting a baby. No more dog food ads if you don’t own a dog. And no more denture cream ads if you have a really good set of choppers.”

“This isn’t Buck Rogers stuff that I’m talking about, ladies and gentlemen. It’s merely a small technological evolution from video-on-demand, which has been used by 80% of all cable households with a set-top box.”

Verklin then said the MSOs would be able to carry off addressability because of the data in the 32 million set-top boxes that the owners of Canoe reach.

“Finally, when?” Verklin said to the crowd. “When? When’s all this going to happen? ‘David, you’re part of the cable operators. They’re slow and they never make anything happen. When’s this platform going to start?’ Faster than you think.”

Interactive advertising, he said, will come to 15 million to 20 million households by November 2010. “As for addressability,” Verklin said, “Canoe hopes to bring you a fairly basic version of it -- something called network addressability -- or national addressability -- into the marketplace in 100 days.”

So that was it. The vision and the promise.

Most of it never came to pass.

In July 2011, it was announced that Verklin was leaving Canoe when his contract expired at the end of last summer. It had been widely believed that despite all of the setbacks in getting product out, Verklin’s contract would be renewed. A number of sources said they believe that Neil Smit, who had replaced Steve Burke in running the Comcast MSO, had much input in not renewing Verklin’s contract. A Comcast corporate communications executive said Smit was not available to comment for this story.

Last month, on Feb 22, 2012, Todd Spengler at Multichannel News broke the story that 120 of Canoe’s 150 employees would be laid off, as most of what Verklin had outlined that November day in San Francisco -- addressability and four flavors of interactivity on a large-scale basis -- was being abandoned, having never been achieved. From now on, with the 30 employees left, Canoe will focus on ads for video-on-demand.

Verklin had been replaced by Kathy Timko, who had worked with him as the COO at Canoe. She’ll be among the 120 leaving the company.

The MSOs that own Canoe publicly said they were spending $150 million on the joint venture, including, according to a separate article in Multichannel, an annual salary to Verklin “commensurate with” the $1.5 million he was making at Carat when he left there. Sources say that, in fact, the MSOs will have spent closer to $200 million on Canoe from the time it was announced in June 2009 to the time all of the laid-off employees leave in May 2012.

What happened? How come this highly publicized venture that was to change the shape of a platform called “television” went south in what was a relatively short period of time?

TVWeek asked that question to a number of people who have intimate knowledge of Canoe, and their thoughts on the matter follow. All of the people we spoke with said they would only talk to us if we did not use their names, since they all have business dealings with the MSOs who make up Canoe’s owners. Oddly, even the one person authorized to speak on behalf of Canoe asked that his or her name not be used, saying that they are in the marketplace looking for a new job since they are being laid off by Canoe.

One statement concerning full disclosure. Several years ago Verklin and I met about my perhaps joining Canoe. Outside of a discussion with one other person at Canoe, nothing came of it.

“What happened with Canoe?” one source parroted my question. “About five years ago or so -- don’t hold me to an exact date, the MSOs did a study with McKinsey or someone like that -- it was basically a review of their business. And one of the outcomes was the recognition that the MSOs had ad inventory, but that it paled next to the inventory the networks have that gets passed through the pipes owned by the MSOs. So the question was raised, 'Is there a way for us to play in that sandbox?'

“That’s where Canoe came from -- out of this review that indicated a potential to marry up the technology of the cable industry -- most importantly the targetability of the data cable has -- with the massive amount of advertising revenue that comes through the networks. As Verklin mentioned in that 2009 speech we talked about -- at that time the MSOs were getting about $5 billion out of a pie of $60 billion. There’s surely opportunity there, the MSOs decided.”

Said another source familiar with Canoe: “The MSOs realized that they have a restricted territory in which they can operate. They can’t grow their territory unless they buy another MSO. They had -- and still have -- tough competition from satellite, and increasingly, from the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world. You can try and increase your share of market against your satellite and telco competition, but that will dilute your margins and profits. And they were maxing out on their revenue per sub with their triple plays and such. So, for them, the ‘Bingo!’ moment was to try and figure out how to increase their ad revenue. So they came up with Canoe.”

Yet another source put it this way: “Because of the billions that are spent on TV advertising, you’re always going to have companies looking for a seat at the TV ad table. The table has seats at it for television networks -- cable and broadcast, for TV stations, for MSOs, for media agencies and their clients. All those who do business and support national and local advertising. That’s the table those who circle the TV business want to sit at.

“Canoe clearly had an advantage. They had a seat at the table. Canoe was owned by the MSOs. They had access to ad inventory. They had access to data and technology. So, in a way, they had a much, much better chance of succeeding than an outsider who’d come up with a device that could enable addressability and interactivity. So the flaw wasn’t coming up with the idea for Canoe. It was the execution.”

So what about the execution didn’t work? There are varying opinions.

“Ultimately, Canoe was about national TV advertising. But where at Canoe were the national buyers and national sellers?” asked one knowledgeable source. “Yes, Verklin came from Madison Avenue, but at a high level. How many years since he’d really been in the buying and selling trenches? On the other hand, David’s not a cable operator with that background, which is very insular. You have no idea how insular. “

There were two major issues, this source said. “Where in Canoe was the national ad sales culture? I love David. I really do. Bright, bright guy. But I think Canoe needed to build a sales organization. The model at first was that Canoe was to sell the ads, and then that moved to a model where the networks would sell them. That’s more time consuming and more of a challenging sale. As important as the technology side of what Canoe was trying to accomplish was, I think David needed a No. 2 like he had Rutman at Carat -- an operational sales guy, not a No. 2 who was basically a technology guy, which is what he got.

“But the second big issue was the technology. Canoe would come out with product and technically couldn’t align all the MSOs. So one of the core issues was getting these technologies to work in the same fashion and work consistently and in the same way amongst all the cable operators. Big challenge that never got met.”

Another source put the issue of technology this way: “When you’re a cable MSO, the perspective from the engineering side is always ‘don’t do anything that might cause me a problem. Because if I have a problem we could lose subscribers. We know what that costs us. We have no idea what the real value is of your proposition. So leave us the f alone.’ In so many words, that’s their attitude.”

Unfortunately, said this source, Verklin wasn’t able to overcome that attitude.

More on the tech issues. In Verklin’s San Francisco speech he explained there was supposed to be two parts to what Canoe would do: addressability and interactivity.

Of the two, it’s addressability that’s the Holy Grail as far as Madison Avenue is concerned. It’s the making sure that only the dog owner and potential dog owner get the dog food commercial.

A number of sources on Madison Avenue said in their eyes Canoe basically failed because it never did the addressabiltiy. When technically they realized how tough it was to do the addressability, Canoe went directly to trying to do interactivity. The argument goes thus: First you do addressability, then you enable interactivity. Because if you’re reaching the wrong target, you’re not going to get a response on the interactivity.

Said one source: “Canoe fairly quickly understood that there was less of an internal obstacle among the MSOs to interactivity than there was to addressability. The core of that internal obstacle to addressability is that the MSOs want to build everything themselves. Nothing off the shelf. They say, ‘Anything not invented here we don’t want.’ Which is why every cable MSO has a different infrastructure.

“Building addressability is not only difficult, but you start to step on other people’s intellectual property. So building interactivity, that Canoe thought they could do. But even the Canoe solution for interactivity was built by a committee of MSO technical people. The graphics were 1980 Pac Man. It was embarrassing. And then, when the viewer clicked on something, the marketer in question would mail the viewer something.”

That last point seemed especially galling to some on Madison Avenue. Said one source: “The mail thing Canoe set up as its interactive fulfillment had two problems. First, we live in a world where someone pushes an electronic button and they expect instant gratification. Not a coupon or brochure or whatever delivered several days later in the mail.

“And the second thing is the cost of mail. People don’t realize when you’re talking a 10 dollar per thousand on cable TV that’s a penny an impression. Now you change the equation to -- including stuffing and production and everything -- somewhere between 50 cents and a dollar. That’s an economic shift that’s just flat-out untenable.”

One source, when asked where and when Canoe went wrong, said: “Right at the beginning. It was the chutzpah and naivety of the MSOs to get into this. Marketplaces exist for reasons. They are very efficient. They might be ugly, and you might not know all the hand signals and cocked eyebrows and whatever, but they work. So say what you will about the upfront, it enables trillions of impressions to be exchanged pretty easily for billons of dollars. It’s an efficient marketplace and people participate knowing what to expect.

“Anybody that tries to introduce something to change that marketplace generally finds that it’s not all that easy. Because anything that complicates the flow of the money, or that requires a shaving off of dollars, or of shares, or whatever it might be, the players in the marketplace are not interested. Basically, the networks aren’t interested and the media agencies are not interested.

“So the MSOs formed Canoe and hired Verklin. And he tried what, five or six versions of a business model. My sense is that any of them would have required heavy lifting by the networks, by the agencies and by the marketers, and none of the players actually thought it was worth it.”

This source continued: “I thought Canoe was an odd play. Most of the MSO members of the consortium are also partners in the cable spot business, through NCC. It’s a good business. They run it well, have brought some smart products to market and make some good coin. If not for the fact the MSOs seemed to want to make a big splash, I don’t know why they didn’t try doing some national Canoe-type things layered on top of NCC.

“But I think making a splash was part of it. I don’t know how you can have 150 employees with basically zero revenue while you spend $200 million, which Canoe did. They acted like a venture capital-funded start-up from 1999.”

Officially, here’s how the decision was made to change Canoe’s mission, according to a Canoe spokesperson who asked that his or her name not be used:

“New management and some other industry leaders have been reviewing Canoe’s mission and product roadmap.

“In the course of doing that we looked very closely at our technology, the processes, the product roadmap. We looked at current market trends, emerging market trends. And at the end of that analysis, the board of directors [i.e., executives at the MSOs that own Canoe] decided to completely redefine Canoe’s mission to be entirely focused on serving national programmers in the monetization of video-on-demand.

“By that we mean, first, through the current platform capabilities for VOD dynamic ad insertion. And, then, eventually, in support of TV Everywhere. Both VOD inside the home and TV Everywhere outside the home.

“So, if you think about that, it’s like a domino effect. Consistent with that focus, all the other businesses -- the business and technical initiatives that were going on at Canoe -- are no longer going to continue, including all of our activities associated with the ITV business.

“Therefore the redefined Canoe is going to be a much smaller, leaner organization. It will be engineering focused, based in Denver at our current technical facility. We’re scaling from 150 employees to approximately 30. The New York office is closing as of May 23rd.”

So Canoe is adopting a new mission and scaling down. The word scale, in fact, is a key one in discussing what happened to Canoe.

Canoe scaled up, in terms of people and expenditures, before it had a viable business model in place. Scale, in terms of homes reached on a national level, with addressability and then interactivity, was one of the major promises of Canoe.

On Madison Avenue addressability and interactivity have been talked about for years. One source told me: “I’m forever optimistic that we’ll get there with addressability and then interactivity. DirecTV and Dish have made great strides. They should have 15 million to 18 million set-top boxes by the end of this year. And you’ve got to like what the MSOs are doing individually with the interesting things they’re trying on advanced platforms, led by Cablevision, Comcast and Time Warner. So hypothetically, you take what DirecTV and Dish are going to have, you layer in the No. 1 market with Cablevision, and Verizon’s FiOS on top of that, and you could end up with 20 million to 23 million set-top boxes. That should be enough scale for marketers to try some very interesting ads.”#

Here's David Verklin's speech delivered on Nov. 13, 2009, at the NewTeeVee Live conference in San Francisco:

An 'Insanely Rich' Night of Honors for Television Academy Hall of Fame Inductees

Hillary Atkin Posted March 6, 2012 at 11:37 AM

It was an evening filled with laughter and reminiscing as the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences inducted eight new members into its prestigious Hall of Fame, three of them posthumously.

Although “I Love Lucy’s” Vivian Vance and William Frawley and reality TV pioneer Mary-Ellis Bunim were not there last Thursday night at the Beverly Hills Hotel to bask in the glory of the honor, memories of them and their illustrious television careers burned brightly as they joined inductees Michael Eisner, Chuck Lorre, Jonathan Murray, Bill Klages and Mario Kreutzberger.

There are now 142 members of an elite group that represents the top level of creativity, innovation and talent in the industry. Each new member has an opportunity to receive a bust or a plaque in the Academy's Hall of Fame Plaza in North Hollywood, although in the past, some have chosen not to be so immortalized.

As host of the gala, Jon Cryer called it the first show of the new awards season -- requiring another trip to the dry cleaners for him -- and immediately pointed out that none of the honorees were French. But nationality and religion were referenced many times throughout the ceremony, mostly with humor, but several times with sobering reality as it was noted that Kreutzberger, also known as Don Francisco, was the first Latino to be inducted since Desi Arnaz.

Gail Berman made the presentation to the late Bunim, who passed away in 2004, and partner Jonathan Murray, who has kept her name on their production company. "Twenty years ago, they gave the MTV audience something edgy and fresh. ‘The Real World’ shape-shifted the television industry and represented the birth of modern reality TV," Berman said.

Since then, Bunim/Murray Productions has gone on to produce shows including "The Simple Life," "Project Runway" and "Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

“It’s nice to be at the big kids’ table with all these fancy scripted people,” said Murray, who is working on, among other projects, the 27th edition of "The Real World."

The mood switched to one of a roast when it came time for uber-executive Michael Eisner to take his place in the HoF, inducted by longtime friend and colleague Garry Marshall.

For those who know him well, Marshall’s schtick is a given. But to those in the audience who didn’t, it was a revelation. "There are so many people here I can't get on the phone," he said before he regaled the room with tales of the early days of "Happy Days," when very few people except Eisner thought a 1950s period piece would be popular -- until "American Graffiti" came out.

In the course of a lengthy recollection of Eisner's career, which began in the programming department of ABC, Marshall revealed his own real Italian last name, how he himself was the inspiration for The Fonz and how they cast his sister in “Laverne and Shirley.”

Eisner, for his part, was unduly modest during his acceptance speech, and gave Marshall 100% of the credit for “Happy Days.” Adding to the origins, he told the story of how he and Barry Diller saw aspiring actor Henry Winkler, after he auditioned for the role of The Fonz, hitchhiking outside Paramount Pictures and decided not to pick him up. Each still blames the other for the cold-hearted decision to leave him standing on Melrose Avenue.

Another classic Eisner project from that era was "Pretty Woman," a film he said was originally titled “3000” and for its lead character, required a hooker who was a virgin. Speaking of morals, Eisner revealed that when he was at Paramount Pictures (from 1976-1984) he forbid everyone to go to the nearby Nickodell’s, a restaurant where lunch was frequently drunken rather than eaten, resulting in countless hours of lost afternoon productivity on the lot's soundstages. Surprisingly, Eisner made no reference to his massively successful tenure at Disney, transforming it from a $1.8 billion film and theme park company into an $80 billion media and entertainment behemoth by the time he stepped down in 2005.

In its time, "I Love Lucy" was its own media empire and created stardom for its second-banana couple played by Vivian Vance and William Frawley opposite Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz. Vance’s younger sister, Lou Ann Graham, accepted the ATAS HoF honor, and recalled the comedienne and her life offscreen during a rambling but charming speech, which she ended by offering to sell the Indian jewelry from New Mexico that she was wearing.

Frawley was recalled as a daily regular at Nickodell’s with his own table in the rear, and a soft spot in his heart for the child actors he went on to work with on another classic sitcom, "My Three Sons," one of whom realized how fond Frawley was of him when Frawley gave him a 9-foot-long surfboard for his birthday one year, found lodged in his dressing room.

Univision President Cesar Conde had the honor of inducting his role model and mentor, Mario Kreutzberger, more commonly known as Don Francisco, the host of the Spanish-language variety show "Sabado Gigante" (“Giant Saturday”), which has been on the air for, drum roll, please, 50 years. It airs on Univision on Saturday nights, and Don Francisco has missed only one appearance -- in 1974 when his mother passed away.

After attending college in New York, Kreutzberger returned to his native Chile and jumped into its fledgling television industry, becoming a huge player in the business who has also turned his attention to philanthropy. Modeled on the Muscular Dystrophy Telethon, he started a similar effort in Latin America to help children with special needs, which has raised more than $300 million to date.

The character of Don Francisco was born during Kreutzberger’s early days as a stand-up comic, when he created it as an impersonation of a Jewish man who didn’t know how to speak Spanish. When the young entertainer won a talent contest sponsored by a local radio station, the host asked if he had another name, saying he couldn’t pronounce the Germanic “Kreutzberger,” and thus the newly adopted name Don Francisco stuck.

“I like to tell people that my show is part Letterman, part Carson, part Larry King and part Jack Paar,” said Kreutzberger. "Sabado Gigante," based in Miami since 1986, has also been spoofed on “Saturday Night Live” and “The Soup.”

Award-winning lighting designer Bill Klages recalled his early days in the business with Sid Caesar and Milton Berle, before moving on to work with Dick Clark and Barbra Streisand, who told him that he did the "worst lighting ever."

Clearly, members of the Hall of Fame committee disagreed with that assessment, lauding him for his work on award shows including the primetime Emmy Awards, the Grammy Awards and the Golden Globes, not to mention several Olympics, inaugurals and specials for entertainment luminaries including Streisand, Bob Hope, Liza Minnelli and Bette Midler. His credit list encompasses more than 300 titles over a nearly 60-year career that has continued into the 21st century.

Along the way, he has developed techniques emulated by other designers and currently consults on television facilities design.

No television producer could have possibly had a brighter light shone on him -- in a negative way -- than Chuck Lorre did last year during the meltdown of his "Two and a Half Men" leading man, Charlie Sheen.

But in his introduction, Warner Bros. Television President Peter Roth skipped over that part and lauded Lorre for his exceptional work ethic and comedic writing skills. "Years from now, Chuck Lorre will be in his grave, rewriting his own headstone," Roth said.

Egged on by a sizable contingent from Warner Bros. and CBS, Lorre first said he would not say anything mean, and then went on to skewer other talent he's worked with that are known for, shall we say, being difficult, including Roseanne Barr and Brett Butler. Self-deprecatingly, he called himself an “incredible shit magnet.”

“Perhaps it's a Jewish thing," he mused before going on to say that he had been already held to a higher standard by his colleagues after they heard that he was going into the Hall of Fame. "I guess it's too late to get it posthumously," he said. "Another year like last year would do the trick."

In other rip-roarious remarks, Lorre let it all hang out. "Most people in these speeches thank their agents and managers. Fuck those people," he said. "It's the writers that are important. And I stand on many of their shoulders, with cleats."

After more such bluntness, he said, "Listen closely. You can hear the sound of Peter Roth's sphincter tightening."

Talent from his three current shows, among them Ashton Kutcher, Melissa McCarthy, Johnny Galecki, Holland Taylor, Billy Gardell, Kaley Cuoco, Jim Parsons and Swoosie Kurtz, roared with laughter. The Lorre talent stable in attendance also included “Dharma and Greg’s” Thomas Gibson.

Lorre looked back at his early days as a musician trying to break into the business when he wanted to join the WGA mainly to get dental insurance for his two children, lamenting that he may not have been the greatest dad to them, but in the long run, as he put it, "You'll remember your dad left you both insanely rich."