Open Mic

September 2012

What Should Have Been the Midnight Call of Moonves, Iger, Carey and Burke Expressing Their Rage Over What Happened Because of the Replacement Refs on 'Monday Night Football'

Chuck Ross Posted September 25, 2012 at 1:03 PM

I am not a sports fanatic. But I do enjoy watching most sports on TV when I have the time.

I’ve watched some of the NFL games since the league has locked out the refs in a contract dispute, and the results have been bothersome at best.

But what happened last night, Sept. 24, 2012, on the last play of the game on “Monday Night Football” went beyond the pale.

To paraphrase Woody Allen, it was a travesty of a mockery of a sham.

It was a huge “you’ve got to be effing kidding me" moment.

What happened, is that Russell Wilson, the quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks, threw up a hail Mary pass into the end zone that was intercepted by Green Bay safety M.D. Jennings. And just before it was intercepted there was a blatant offensive pass interference on the play. The replacement officials missed the latter entirely, and, for reasons that will never be adequately explained, ruled the play a completed pass -- giving Seattle the win instead of Green Bay. If you click here you’ll hear a former real NFL ref analyzing the play for some ESPN commentators.

If I’m CBS’s Les Moonves, or Disney/ESPN’s Bob Iger, or News Corp./Fox's Chase Carey, or NBC’s Steve Burke, within five minutes of seeing this Monday night farce we’re all on a conference call with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

The conversation is short and one-sided. “Hi Rog. Yeah, that’s what we’re calling about. It’s really the final straw. We’re the camel, and yeah, it’s the broke our back kinda thing. Amongst us we’re spending how many billions for the rights to your games? And this is the shit we’re getting? You’re effing kidding us, right? After this blown call tonight at the end of ‘Monday Night Football,’ the fans are really starting to revolt. If this continues much longer we’re gonna be in deep doo-doo. All credibility will be gone. So listen, if this thing isn’t settled with the refs by the end of this week we’re gonna sue your ass. For trying to make us broadcast a product that’s far inferior to what we’ve contracted for. So we’ll stop showing the games too. And that’s gonna cost us some big dough, so we’re gonna tack that on as damages when we sue you. Listen, it’s late and we think we’ve made our point. You have a nice evening now, Rog. ‘Nite.”

I’ve only got one question. If Moonves and Iger and Carey and Burke -- or their legal reps – didn’t have such a call with Goodell last night on our behalf, why the hell didn’t they?

How Do You Solve a Problem Like Emmy? It's Not That Hard if the Guilds Have the Resolve to Do It

Chuck Ross Posted September 25, 2012 at 8:29 AM

Am I the only one who remembers this? In the days before TV and the Emmys, there was radio and the Mega-Hertzies.

I recall sitting on my mom’s lap years ago when FDR spoke into a mike to accept his Mega-Hertzie for the many great speeches he had given on the campaign trail. He had just been elected the first time.

“I am certain that my fellow Americans expect that on my induction into the presidency I will address them with a candor and a decision which the present situation of our people impel,” FDR said, continuing, “This is pre-eminently the time to speak the truth, the whole truth, frankly and boldly. Nor need we shrink from honestly facing conditions in our country today. This great nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that …”

And then, as I recall, he was suddenly interrupted by orchestra music cutting him off. Later, we heard that he was really pissed. What he was going to say next, evidently, was that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” But none of us heard it because his mike had been cut off.

OK, maybe not. But you get my point.

One of the best reviews I read of this year’s Primetime Emmys show -- which aired live on ABC this past Sunday, Sept, 23, 2012 -- was by our friend Matt Roush, the estimable TV critic for TV Guide and

Roush's review began, “No matter how hard they try to liven it up, and no matter how many winners they rudely play off the stage … the Emmy Awards remains a stubborn lumbering elephant of a show, the least likely of its type ever to win an Emmy itself, often just lying there -- like Tracy Morgan in the Epic Fail of a stunt from which this year's show never really recovered.”

Like many of us, Roush likes Jimmy Kimmel, who hosted the Emmys this year. But given the number of awards the show has to give out -- 26 (!) -- and, as Roush notes, the predictability of repeat winners -- Kimmel never stood a chance.

I also agree with Roush’s conclusion, “In one of the night's more audacious spoofs, Kimmel sent up the annual ‘In Memoriam’ segment by staging a mock version dedicated to his own career, while Josh Groban warbled One Direction's cheese-tastic ‘What Makes You Beautiful.’ … Hosting the Emmys may not be career suicide -- the show is too easily and quickly forgotten -- but Kimmel's own clip reel reminded us how much funnier he can be given the chance. Doing the Emmys? He never really had a chance.”

A nip here and a tuck there and the Emmys can be fixed forever.

Commenting on the fact that his show once again won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series, Jon Stewart said live, during the ceremony, “When aliens visit they will find a box of these [Emmys with 'The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’ engraved on them] and they will know just how predictable these f---ing things can be.”

So, how can we improve the show? We’ll work from the premise that a show is needed at all -- that’s because the monies the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) receives from the Emmycast are essential to the Academy’s annual operating budget, I’ve been told.

Now, some new rules, as Bill Maher would say, for the Primetime Emmys ceremony and telecast.

First, we’re going to hold winners to a threepeat. A threepeat in achievement is quite an accomplishment. So if a person or show has won a Primetime Emmy three years in a row, they are not eligible to be nominated for a fourth year in a row. After sitting out a year they can be nominated again until they accomplish another threepeat.

Now, the first complaint you’re going to make is to say that’s BS. If the idea is to honor the “best” each year, why should one be penalized for being, in the eyes of one’s peers --  voted the "best" three years in a row by not being eligible to be voted "the best" in a following, fourth year?

Well, ATAS has made it clear that it is NOT honoring the “best” anything. The word “best” is not actually connected with any of the Primetime Emmy Awards. What the Emmys honor is “Outstanding” work, such as “Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series,“ or “Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special.”

“Outstanding“ is not “Best,” and making a distinction between the two has been a very conscious decision made by ATAS.

Next, you decide to give out 17 awards each year that will be permanent. Here are those awards:

Outstanding Comedy Series; Outstanding Drama Series; Outstanding Miniseries or Movie; Outstanding Series Featuring Primarily Talk, Commentary or Variety; Outstanding Reality Series; Outstanding Lead Actress, Comedy; Outstanding Lead Actress, Drama; Outstanding Lead Actress, Miniseries or Movie; Outstanding Lead Actor, Comedy; Outstanding Lead Actor, Drama; Outstanding Lead Actor, Miniseries or Movie; Outstanding Supporting Actress, Comedy; Outstanding Supporting Actress, Drama, Outstanding Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie; Outstanding Supporting Actor, Comedy; Outstanding Supporting Actor, Drama; Outstanding Supporting Actor; Miniseries or Movie.

That’s it. By cutting nine awards out of the show you give it much more breathing room to actually become more entertaining. Yes, I’ve cut all the writing and directing awards from the show. They’ll be joining the Creative Arts edition of the Emmys. And hey, I’m a writer. But what we’ll be putting on air is a show that caters to what most viewers most want to see -- the awards for acting and for the outstanding shows in the major categories.

Can this be done? Sure, if the guilds will go along with it. The time has come to make the Emmys a show that a lot more people want to watch.

'Mad Men,' 'Girls,' 'Hatfields,' 'Homeland' and More: Top TV Writers Sound Off About the Emmys

Hillary Atkin Posted September 21, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Television writers may not have the glitz and glam of actors, but they definitely have the wittiness and self-effacing factors down pat.

That's why it's always such a pleasure to attend the annual Sublime Primetime event, honoring Emmy-nominated writers.

This year's edition, held September 19 at the packed Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills, was another no-holds-barred evening filled with inside jokes, laughter, insight into the behind-the-scenes workings of top television shows -- and even a little snarkiness.

"The Walking Dead” showrunner and EP Glen Mazzara hosted the confab and pulled no punches as he grilled nominees Dave Boone (65th Annual Tony Awards and 84th Annual Academy Awards), Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner of “Mad Men,” Lena Dunham ("Girls”), Ted Mann (“Hatfields & McCoys”), Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon of "Homeland" and Billy Martin ("Real Time with Bill Maher” and 84th Annual Academy Awards (Special Material)).

The 64th Primetime Emmy Awards, airing Sunday night on ABC, will honor outstanding writing in eight categories: comedy series, drama series, miniseries, movie or dramatic special, variety series, variety special, nonfiction programming, animated program and short format-animated program.

The cast on stage was a good representation of the first five of those categories. Among them, multiple nominees like Martin, big past winners like Weiner and in the case of Dunham -- who’s nominated not only for writing, but also for directing and acting -- an Emmy first-timer.

Martin calls himself the Susan Lucci of the Primetime Emmys. He's been nominated 17 times, including three nods this year. That's why he keeps renting a tux, instead of going out and buying one to wear to all the award shows he's attended. But maybe if he would just own one, his luck would change.

Weiner, like Gansa, is also a showrunner, and has racked up nine Emmy Awards, two for writing on “The Sopranos” and -- do the math, he said to Mazzara -- seven for “Mad Men.” It's walking-on-eggshells time for Weiner on Sunday. If his show wins for best drama series, it would be the first time in Emmy history that a drama series has taken home the trophy five times.

In their own words, here are some of the highlights of the writerly discussion:

Weiner: "Emmy voters are not as old as they say. They're geniuses. Our show has no real genre, but it's reliably depressing and cathartic. We tell stories outside of the era, of human life -- how hard it is to be a person. The show doesn't have a formula. There are many talented people who contribute their experiences to the show."

Boone: "People are convinced they're going to kill on award shows with their own jokes or something someone told them in the limo on the way over. Theater actors who respect playwrights are the only ones, on the Tony Awards, who read every word we write for them."

Dunham: "Everyone asks about the scene in the show where she explains to her parents that they should still support her so she could be ‘the voice of her generation.’ It seemed funny, but she said it when she was on drugs."

Mazzara, to Gordon: "Claire is bipolar. What network executive is she based on?"

Gordon: "Her character wasn't about being likable, it was about being confident, so she didn't appear unbalanced."

Martin: "With 17 nominations, I can truly say there's no honor like being nominated. Jon Stewart has been drinking from the same fountain. I’m Bill Maher’s wing man."

Weiner: "’Mad Men’ is about flawed characters. Everything is motivated. I wish I was Don Draper, but I'm more like Pete Campbell. They used their own taste at HBO regarding likable characters. At ‘The Sopranos,’ there was a lot of breaking rules, like Carmela having an affair.”

Chellas: "There's a standard on the show of doing what we haven't seen before, and we’re committed to that. We don't protect the characters."

Mann: "With ‘Hatfields & McCoys,’ all of the historical incidents are accurate. The task was to find the motivations of the characters and how they came to that."

Gansa, on the difference between “Homeland” and the Israeli series “Hatufim,” on which “Homeland” is based: "One is a family drama, and one is a psychological thriller."

Boone: "The Tony people initially wanted a playwright to write the television show. The first choice was Neil Simon, then Wendy Wasserstein, then David Mamet. None were available. I was the fourth choice."

Mazarra, to Dunham: “If you had your choice and could only win one Emmy of the three that you’re nominated for, which one would it be?"

Dunham: "You're kinda making me look like a dick. But to be given director would be a validation."

Won't Get Fooled Again. Simon Cowell Is Not Quite the Truth Teller We Thought He Was -- He's Got More P.T. Barnum in Him Than One Might Have Suspected. What Cowell Left Out of Last Week's 'X Factor'

Chuck Ross Posted September 19, 2012 at 8:40 AM

As “The X Factor” begins the second week of its second season tonight, Sept. 19, 2012, one hopes that the show will become more transparent.

Yes, I realize that almost all “reality” shows involve a certain amount of audience manipulation, but last week it seems to me Simon Cowell and his “X Factor” crossed a line.

The show ended last week with a performance by 13-year-old Carly Rose Sonenclar that wowed just about everyone -- the show’s judges, the live audience in Providence, R.I., where the audition performance took place, and most of us watching at home.

On “The X Factor” we first met Carly backstage, sitting with her parents. Addressing the camera, she says: “Hi. My name is Carly Rose Sonenclar. I’m 13 years old. I’m from Westchester, New York. I love music. I just sing from my heart."

As Sonenclar is saying this, superimposed on the screen we see the words: “Carly Rose Sonenclar, 13, Student.”

Sonenclar continues, saying, “My parents are extremely supportive.” Then she says what her mom does for a living, and what her dad does. She adds, “I want to be a superstar.”

Then Sonenclar’s mom tells us, “If she gets four 'yes' [votes], I’ll be the proudest mom in the world.” Then she looks at her daughter and adds, “But I already am.”

Sonenclar’s dad then says to Carly, “Now all you have to do is sing before a few thousand people.”

A discussion about nervousness ensues, with Carly concluding that some nervousness is OK.

Carly goes on stage and announces that she’s going to sing Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good.” Simon and L.A. Reid are clearly skeptical about this song choice from someone so young.

Carly belts out the song, hitting a home run. The judges give her a standing ovation. Judge Britney Spears says, with amazement, “I wasn’t expecting that.” Judge Demi Lovato, equally impressed, says “You’re really confident. It’s effortless for you, which blows my mind because you’re only 13.”

And that’s exactly what most of us watching at home are also thinking. (By the way, you can watch all of this on video if you click here.)

However, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, let me ask you this. Suppose our backstage introduction had gone more like this:

“Hi. I’m Carly Rose Sonenclar and I’m 13. I started singing at the age of two. I made my singing debut on Broadway when I was seven in the revival of the hit musical ‘Les Miserables.” I played the part of Young Cosette and was the understudy for Gavroche. I was in the show for more than a year. Then from 2009 through 2010, I was in the national tour of ‘Little House on the Prairie, the Musical.' I originated the principal role of Carrie in that show. Last year, I was back on Broadway in a new musical called 'Wonderland,' where I originated the part of Chloe, again one of the principal roles. Unfortunately, the show only lasted a month. However, I got great notices from the New York critics, including one that said I sang better than some of the adults in the show. Let’s see. Oh yeah. I’m also currently in 'The Electric Company' on PBS, where I love acting and singing the part of Gilda Flip.”

Just before she was about to sing “Feeling Good” on “The X Factor," judge L.A. Reid asked Carly whether she had rehearsed the song. She answered yes. Period. What Carly could have said is, “Not only have I rehearsed it, I performed it about 18 months ago at the world renown Birdland Jazz Club in New York.” (And you can watch that performance if you click here.)

Methinks that if all of these facts -- which are true and can be easily found on the Internet -- had come out before she sang her number on “The X Factor,” the reaction to her breathtaking performance would have been quite different.

With the expectations now realistic, the audience reaction might have been more subdued. Certainly Britney and Demi would not have said what they said after she performed, since they would have expected her to be both poised and a very good singer.

But Cowell, who is more than just a judge on “The X Factor” -- he created the show -- is not interested in realistic expectations. He’s interested in creating memorable TV moments. And if he can make that happen by leaving out a factoid -- or two or three -- what’s the harm in that? It certainly worked for P.T. Barnum.

The problem is that eventually, as the audience realizes how manipulative you are, they begin not to trust you. And that’s not good.

For example, my wife, who, like most of us, had been blown away by Sonenclar on last week’s "X Factor," after hearing the real story of the girl, said, “I feel somewhat betrayed. I was going to root for her this season, but now that I know the real story, I think I’ll root for that single mom who’s struggling to raise her kid while trying to make it.”

My feeling is that reality shows can be successful and be somewhat real at the same time. For example, watching some of “The Voice” this season I’ve noticed that they seem to be more forthcoming in telling the TV audience what professional experience their contestants have before they sing.

As Simon has discovered with the ratings for “The X-Factor” falling beneath his expectations, audiences can be fickle. Simon needs to be less manipulative. We need him to be that truth teller we fell in love/hate with when we first saw him on “American Idol.”

Creative Arts Emmy Awards Marked by F-Bombs and Other Awkward Moments That Aren't Likely to Make It Into the TV Version

Hillary Atkin Posted September 18, 2012 at 10:41 AM

There are many things viewers will not see when ReelzChannel airs a cut-down version of the Creative Arts Emmy Awards that took place Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles.

It should not diminish any of the winners, but half of the nearly three-and-a-half-hour-long ceremony (yes, it went from 4 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.) will need to be edited out to fit the telecast's two-hour time slot on Saturday, Sept. 22, beginning at 8 p.m. ET/PT.

Although that's admittedly a tough editing job, there are several moments we witnessed live that should definitely hit the cutting room floor. First and foremost, comedian Kathy Griffin's diatribe against heavyweight awards magnet “The Kennedy Center Honors,” which has racked up countless Emmy Awards in its long and stately 34-year history.

With two new pieces of hardware from the Creative Arts, and potentially more to come at Sunday night’s 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, Kennedy Center may be a punching bag akin to “The Amazing Race’s” Emmy dominance in its category, but Griffin went too far.

Her stand-up special “Tired Hooker” was up against the program in the category Outstanding Variety Special, and whether it was staged or not, she “accosted” "KCH" producers Michael M. Stevens and George Stevens Jr. in the aisle of the theater when their show was announced as the winner, taking up some of the valuable 45 seconds that all winners are given to make it to the podium and make their acceptance speech before they are played off the stage.

Later, when it was Griffin’s turn for one of the mini-hosting slots in presenting a group of categories, she literally got up on stage and said, “Fuck the Kennedy Center.” Not once, not twice, but three times, seemingly mistaking the Emmys ceremony for some sort of raunchy comedy roast where it’s not only acceptable, but expected to totally trash others, all in the name of laughs -- and ratings, as in the recent Comedy Central “Roast of Roseanne.”

This was not that occasion, and the reaction in the audience of working television industry-ites, many of them Emmy winners at that late point in the ceremony, was stunned silence.

Griffin went on to say if there were attendance awards, she would sweep them, pretty much admitting she goes to the proverbial opening of the envelope.

Another bit that could well be cut, “Homeland” actress Monica Baccarin’s co-presentation of the category Picture Editing for Short-Form Segments and Variety Specials, during which she admitted she had no idea what that meant, before handing the Emmy to the "2012 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony."

The Creative Arts Emmys recognize outstanding achievements in crafts including art direction, costume design, casting, hairstyling, makeup, children's programming, reality programming, picture editing, voice-over, animation, visual effects, stunt coordination, title design, main title theme music, music direction, music composition, sound mixing, technical direction, lighting design, directing, writing and cinematography in a range of program categories -- 77 total.

Guest performances on drama and comedy series are also recognized, with Emmys awarded to Kathy Bates ("Two and a Half Men"), Martha Plimpton (“The Good Wife"), Jeremy Davies (“Justified”) and Jimmy Fallon, for hosting “SNL.”

Trophies were also given for outstanding creative achievement in interactive media/original interactive television programming (“Dirty Work” on and for interactive media enhancement for a television program or series, which went to the Team Coco sync app, a second-screen experience for Conan O’Brien's eponymous TBS show.

Speaking of late-night, the nominees for writing for a variety series, who typically include staffs of “SNL,” “The Colbert Report” and “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” (which won this year, adding to the huge cache of “TDS” Emmys), try to outdo each other comedically with outlandish taped pieces listing off their names.

This year, the audience was treated to videos of the nominated writing staffs getting punched in the pants and masquerading as little girls from TLC shows, including Honey Boo Boo. “SNL’s” simply showed Lorne Michaels.

Now you can see why the show goes on for about three and a half hours. The format is typically that a performer and a producer from the same program co-present a group of similarly themed awards such as those for casting in a drama series, in a miniseries, movie or special and in a comedy series.

This also gives them an opportunity to shamelessly plug their own shows for future Emmy consideration. Those taking advantage of the opportunity included Lisa Kudrow, Emily Deschanel, Nigel Lythgoe, Chris O'Donnell, Bill Prady, Padma Lakshmi, Greg Garcia and Ryan Murphy.

The prewritten bits -- where was Bruce Vilanch when we really needed him? -- often fell flat or veered off into awkward territory, as when Lakshmi said something about sexually harassing Charlize Theron on "Top Chef," as her producers, flanking her on stage, fidgeted.

"This show is longer, but there are fewer assholes," Garcia said in comparing the Creative Arts Emmys to its more glamorous, network-televised sister.

“Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner also had the crowd going with his remarks, after relating how he originally wanted a live-action opening of a man falling from a skyscraper, and then stop-action before he hit the ground, but AMC said “no.” He realized they were right, but went to bat for the now iconic animated title sequence that concludes on a man's hand holding a cigarette, to which they objected to the smoking part.

Weiner also said he initially wanted lyrics and vocals in the opening theme music of the 1960s era drama, until he heard an instrumental interstitial on NPR that grabbed him.

"I called my assistant [Gennifer Hutchison] to find that music," he said. "Do you know how hard it is to find a tiny bit of music between segments that ran on a certain time of the day on the radio? Well, she did -- and she's now a writer on ‘Breaking Bad.’”

Before presenting awards for variety series, producer Ken Ehrlich and LL Cool J reflected on the tense moments heading into this year’s Grammy Awards, when they learned that Whitney Houston had died and pondered how to best acknowledge her on the show. By all accounts, they succeeded.

For the first time, the CA Emmys presented an "In Memoriam" segment, with scores of names that you recognize, like Marvin Hamlisch and Ernest Borgnine, and many that you wouldn't know, like the cinematographers and art directors who spent long careers in the business and passed away during the past year.

Television Academy Chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum presented the Syd Cassyd Founders Award to Dick Askin, a former ATAS chair.

Instead of being awarded to a person, the Academy’s Governors Award went to the grass-roots video campaign “It Gets Better Project.” Created by Dan Savage and Terry Miller, who were ostracized as teenagers for being gay, it is aimed at giving hope and inspiration to LGBT teens who are bullied, often leading to their becoming suicidal.

"You have saved lives," said project participant Neil Patrick Harris as he presented them the award.

Six envelopes were opened for HBO's "Game of Thrones," making it the most awarded program of the evening and contributing to the pay cabler’s leading 17 Emmys during the ceremony, followed by 13 for CBS and 11 for PBS, including two for "Downton Abbey."

Three shows each took home four trophies: “Frozen Planet," "Saturday Night Live" and "Great Expectations (Masterpiece)." "Hatfields & McCoys,” “Boardwalk Empire" and "65th Annual Tony Awards" took three Emmys apiece.

In addition to the hardware that was handed out, the Creative Arts Emmys served as a tech rehearsal of sorts for the 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards airing on ABC Sept. 23, with Jimmy Kimmel hosting. The staging, the lighting, and particularly the audio in the venue all seemed to be working smoothly, except for all those f-bombs that were dropped.