Open Mic

January 2013

Producers Guild Joins the 'Argo' Chorus -- and Lavishes More Honors on TV's Best

Hillary Atkin Posted January 30, 2013 at 11:46 AM

Chris Terrio did an excellent job writing the screenplay for "Argo," for which he's been nominated for an Oscar, and he could probably write a pretty good story about the drama itself coming from behind to take frontrunner status after its 1-2 victory punch at the PGA Awards and the SAG Awards.

On the television side, both guild shows cemented the status of current awards darlings of the small screen: “Homeland,” “Modern Family,” “The Amazing Race,” “Game Change,” “Downton Abbey,” “Hatfields & McCoys,” Tina Fey, Alec Baldwin and Bryan Cranston -- with just a few surprises along the way.

The producers held their 24th annual ceremony awarding excellence in film and television in the International Ballroom of the Beverly Hilton in a freewheeling, untelevised event that offered laughter, tears and abundant Jewish and cocaine jokes.

To get the awards party started, “The Colbert Report” took the prize for outstanding producer of live entertainment/talk television, although its nameplate anchor did not fly out to the coast pick it up. No matter, it’s still a point of pride as Stephen will no doubt tell his audience, many, many times -- and may even try to rub it in Jon Stewart's face, although Stewart is actually a credited producer on “Colbert” and therefore shares in the prize.

For some funny reason, “The Daily Show” was not among the contenders in the category, but Colbert can claim victory over “Saturday Night Live,” “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “Real Time with Bill Maher.”

Continuing their respective Emmy sweeps into the winter awards season, the producers of “Homeland” took the PGA award for episodic television drama and “Modern Family’s” producers nabbed the statuette for episodic television comedy.

Another awards favorite, longtime Emmy champ “The Amazing Race,” took the PGA for competition television.

Television and film producer/director J.J. Abrams (“Lost,” “Fringe,” “Alias,” “Felicity,” “Super 8,” “Star Trek” and now, drumroll, please, “Star Wars”) was honored with the Norman Lear Achievement Award, fittingly presented by Jennifer Garner, star of “Alias,” and oh, yeah, man-of-the-moment Ben Affleck's wife and the mother of his three children.

Abrams’ speech covered all the emotional bases, starting with his comment, “I stand before you accepting the Norman Lear Award. What the hell has happened to our standards?” He recalled watching Lear's shows as a kid, particularly “All in the Family,” before revealing to the crowd that Lear was there for him after his mother, Carol Abrams, herself a TV and film producer, passed away last June.

“I walked into my father’s house and there was one guest who arrived first. It was Norman Lear. We laughed and drank. I was there once again in my parents’ living room -- with Norman Lear.”

If you looked closely, the ghost of Archie Bunker was just offstage, with a smirk that could pass for a smile, aimed in Abrams’ direction.

 

One Wag, Talking About the Fake Details of College Football Star Manti Te'o's Fake Girlfriend: 'Look at the Bright Side -- No One Really Died.' All Kidding Aside, Here Are the Reasons the Hoax Lasted as Long as It Did. Guest Commentary

Chuck Ross Posted January 22, 2013 at 5:33 AM

[Hi. Chuck Ross here. This guest blog is written by David Klein. David and I go back almost 20 years. For all my time here at TVWeek, and for the four years before that when I was the media editor at our sibling publication Advertising Age, David has been my boss. A number of years before I met him, David was the ediior of Electronic Media, which is what TVWeek used to be called. David and I have worked together so long now that we can finish each other's sentences. Politically, David and I rarely agree. However, when it comes to the subject of journalism, we rarely disagree. And I wholeheartedly agree with what David has written below. It first appeared in Ad Age, where David's official title is Publishing/Editorial DIrector.] 

By David Klein

How much blame should sports journalists take for subjecting us to months of fake details of the fake girlfriend claimed by Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o?

Certainly it seems to be a massive failure of reporting, a de-pantsing of sports journalism, to have so many smart writers taken in by a young man with an inspirational backstory. Yet many top sports reporters now say it's not really their fault. They say they handled it like any normal person would -- who wouldn't believe such a nice young man in such tragic circumstances?

Here's how Sports Illustrated's Michael Rosenberg put it on the SI website, the day after Deadspin.com broke the Manti Te'o scandal, explaining that his own personal BS meter would not have caught any deception:

"Evidently, I'm not alone, because dozens of media outlets mentioned the girlfriend without wondering if she existed. In that situation, a reporter tries to talk to her family, other people who knew her -- you fill in the edges of the story. But if you don't get ahold of those people, would you really think, 'Hey, this is probably just a hoax, and this girlfriend doesn't exist'? Be honest."

Wrong question. It doesn't make any difference if it's a hoax. That's not why reporters question things. They question because it's their job and if they don't do it, no one does. There's a word for the people who happily repeat stories without independent fact-checking -- we call them the audience.

That said, there's no reason to ascribe bad motives to the reporters, or to think they're not top-of-the-game, aggressive professionals, at least when they think they're reporting news.

But they framed the story a different way: as a celebrity feature ("sports hagiography," as my Ad Age colleague Simon Dumenco calls it). And celebrity features are about marketing, not news.

The happy, feel-good stories on Te'o and his tragic fake girlfriend had a business goal, and everyone was party to it, consciously or not: sell papers, sell TV ads, sell the Notre Dame football program, sell Te'o himself. The reporters swallowed the marketing spin whole hog.

Nonetheless, it's still astonishing that not one editor at any of these major national sports-news outlets insisted on even the most basic fact-checking. No one wanted to talk to the dead girlfriend's pals or family, or see any record whatsoever of her history?

In fact, some reporters apparently did try, at least a little bit. The night the Deadspin story broke, ESPN senior columnist Gene Wojciechowski went on ESPN's "SportsCenter" and explained:.

"In researching it before I wrote the script, I remember trying to find an obituary for his girlfriend and could not. And couldn't find any record of this car accident. But we asked Manti, could we contact Lennay's (the fake girlfriend's) family and he said the family would prefer not to be contacted. Could we have some photos of Lennay? He said the family would prefer not to provide those.

"And so in that instance, and at that moment, you simply think that you have to respect those wishes."

No city editor I ever worked for -- or sports editor, for that matter -- would accept no checking whatsoever on a story of this size. Especially when the first queries keep coming back ... blank.

At least now we know one way to pull the wool over the nation's major sports outlets: Ask them to respect your wishes. I bet there are a lot of politicians who wish they could pull that off. They should go into sports instead.

Everyone Had a Great Time at the Golden Globes, but What About the Other, Much Lower-Key, Hollywood Awards That Took Place a Few Days Earlier?

Hillary Atkin Posted January 15, 2013 at 8:39 AM

Those who like to point out that the Golden Globes are the most fun awards show in Hollywood may not have experienced the Critics’ Choice Movie Awards, which rival it as an unbuttoned affair where the biggest names in show business booze and schmooze, on and off camera.

Perhaps noticeably because of the camaraderie they engender between awards voters and contenders -- although some might use a more profane term to describe the relationship -- both kudocasts are put on by journalists -- the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and the Broadcast Film Critics Association, respectively.

But one has a huge Sunday night audience on NBC and one just changed networks from VH1 to the CW, where its ratings and awareness are expected to grow over time.

In case you missed them, the 18th annual CCMAs aired Thursday, Jan. 10, from Santa Monica’s Barker Hangar -- an old airplane hangar all dressed up for the occasion -- hosted by KTLA entertainment reporter Sam Rubin.

Coincidentally, the ceremonies took place on the same day the Motion Picture Academy announced its Oscar nominations, which infamously left off the directors list one Ben Affleck (along with Kathryn Bigelow and Tom Hooper.)

The critics made no such omissions (nor has the DGA) and Affleck and his hostage drama “Argo” were the toast of the CCMAs, foreshadowing in whose hands statuettes ended up Sunday night at the Golden Globes.

In one of those great acceptance speech lines that becomes a catchphrase, Affleck grabbed the best director prize and immediately proclaimed, “I’d like to thank the academy,” and then joked about receiving the one honor of the two that counts.

It turns out the broadcast critics’ choices were eerily similar to those of the HFPA, but let's give credit where credit is due, the BFCA was the first to anoint Jessica Chastain as best actress in Bigelow’s “Zero Dark Thirty,” Jennifer Lawrence as best comedy actress for “Silver Linings Playbook," Quentin Tarantino for his original screenplay "Django Unchained," Anne Hathaway for her supporting actress role as the tragic Fantine in "Les Miserables" and "Amour” as best foreign film. Not to mention the revered Daniel Day Lewis in his performance in "Lincoln."

All of those people, with the exception of Tarantino, were in attendance at the ceremony, as were other nominees and presenters, including Naomi Watts, Tommy Lee Jones, Christian Bale, Matthew McConaughey, Harvey Weinstein, Amy Adams, Joaquin Phoenix, Sally Field, George Clooney and others too numerous to mention. But you get the idea: The event drew an A-list turnout that rivaled that of the Globes -- minus the sizable contingent of middle people like agents and publicists. As one guest was heard to remark, "This is a real insider Hollywood crowd, without the BS, yet it's so casual that it's totally fun."

The fun began, as it often does, with a preshow cocktail reception. But during the actual two-hour broadcast, guests were encouraged to congregate at a bar inside the main "ballroom," which made for some nice bump shots going in and out of breaks.

Those commercial breaks also served as timed schmooze-fests during which guests table-hopped and offered their congratulations to the winners.

While the Globes had Jodie Foster taking the Cecil B. DeMille honorary award, the CCMAs honored Judd Apatow with the Louis XIII Genius Award.

And while Rubin’s hosting job, understandably, couldn’t begin to rival Amy Poehler and Tina Fey’s comedic emcee abilities exhibited at the Golden Globes, we might offer a suggestion for next year’s edition of the CCMAs: Give the gig to Kristen Wiig and Will Ferrell.

When Cable TV Was Young, How Three Pioneers Worked Hard to Get Cable Programming Noticed

Chuck Ross Posted January 4, 2013 at 2:02 AM

With the winter 2013 edition of the Television Critics Association tour set to start today, Friday, Jan. 4, I was struck recently that most of the TV shows nominated recently for Golden Globes this year -- as well as for the just announced Producers Guild Awards -- are on cable.

When TV critics -- and the general public -- think of quality TV shows these days, many, if not most of them, are on basic and pay cable.

‘Twasn’t always so.

Back when I was selling cable TV subscriptions door-to-door in Los Angeles and Santa Monica in the mid-70s until the early 1980s, my sales pitch generally consisted of two things. If you didn’t get good TV reception, cable would help. And if you liked movies, we had a service called the Z Channel that basically put a screening room into your home. After Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” won Best Picture at the Academy Awards in April 1978 -- almost a year after its release to theaters -- I would quote Charles Jaffe, one of the film’s producers, saying that he attributed the movie’s Best Picture Oscar to the screenings the film received on the Z Channel during the time Academy voters were marking their ballots.

Since we had the Z Channel to sell, for many years the cable company -- Theta Cable -- didn’t carry either HBO or Showtime. So I couldn’t hawk the shows on those two premium services. And most of what was on the basic cable networks at that time wasn’t really worth writing home about.

But that was soon to change. When I left Theta I was hired as a reporter at the trade magazine Cablevision, and then as the cable reporter at The Hollywood Reporter. And cable programming started getting better. However, it took awhile before TV critics, the Hollywood guilds, and the general public realized it.

And it took the efforts of some cable pioneers to make it happen. Three of them were Char Beales, Louise Rauscher and Jim Mooney.

Beales currently runs the cable marketing organization CTAM, which will be shepherding the cable part of the TCA tour starting today. Char was interviewed in 2008 by the Cable Center, and here’s an excerpt. [Please go to the Cable Center site to read the entire interview with Char.] We pick up the interview when Char starts talking about working at the National Cable Television Association (NCTA) in Washington, D.C., and taking over the management of the ACE Awards in the early 1980s. The ACE Awards were the cable industry’s way to honor -- and publicize -- the best of its programming.

       CHAR BEALES: [The] ACE Awards were a convention kind of award where we'd give it out at the NCTA show. We started saying, gee, maybe we could turn this into a little bit more; perhaps we ought to take it a little more Hollywood. Showtime had launched and once they started there was some competition to HBO for high profile programming. [The first big competition between HBO and Showtime was 1982, when HBO had Simon and Garfunkel in Central Park and Showtime had Diana Ross in Las Vegas.]

       We used to get hundreds of entries in those days, and the judging process was we'd box them all up and we'd ship them to an exotic resort in Florida. We'd bring twenty industry producers and network executives to the resort, and sit in rooms for 20 hours a day, watching the TV programs, judging, and never take advantage of the resort. So I changed that, and we moved the judging back to Washington.

       By then Tom Wheeler had left NCTA and Jim Mooney had become the president. He saw some real value in promoting programming, getting the word out. He particularly wanted to promote local origination C-SPAN and CNN, but he understood that consumers were really keen on the emerging cable network programming. So we took the ACE Awards to Beverly Hills.

       For our first show [Turner executive] Robert Wussler persuaded Ted Turner put up the money to produce it and broadcast it on TBS in primetime. We really struggled in those early days getting talent for the show. They hadn't really heard of cable out there in Hollywood and we were busy violating everything the Director's Guild and the Writer's Guild wanted, and so it was a little contentious. For that first show I think actually the only talent we had that was a household name was Mickey Mouse.

       STEVE NELSON, for the Cable Center: Did he make a personal appearance?

       BEALES: He did, he did. I learned all about the union requirements for the mouse.

       NELSON: And there was obviously Disney Channel at this point.

       BEALES: Disney Channel was huge. I think at the last minute we persuaded Cloris Leachman to be the host, and we had a lot of folks nobody had ever heard of yet. Of course they went on to be very well known. I mean, Bernie Shaw was in that first show, and at that time nobody knew Bernie Shaw, but of course after the first war in Iraq everybody knew Bernie Shaw. We had Chris Berman, the MTV VJs, etc. So they were the up and coming talent, but it was pretty exciting that we produced that first show.

       …We were all over LA with the ACE Awards as the years went on... I think all of us in those early days had a sense that we were there to change television, and I don't think any of us thought we would ever do it so fast, and we really did. Cable has just changed the face of television. It's so exciting to see. At the same time, though, on the cable company side, they were delivering this new programming that was popular with consumers -- they had gotten deregulation through Congress, so financing now was becoming available.

       They won franchises in the urban markets, they were starting to build them out, when CTAM was founded. Of course it was a very small organization that had been founded in 1976 when HBO went on the satellite and the marketers all looked at each other and said, whoa, we've got to get consumers to pay for something that they can get for free from ABC, CBS, and NBC. How are we going to do that? Let's get together and share information.

Around 1982 or 1983, Beales, still working at NCTA, was simultaneously made a board member of CTAM.

       BEALES: And so [CTAM, was made up of] marketers, of course, [who were] trying to launch cable in these urban markets, [and] they're struggling. They've got a whole set of programming that we know is great but consumers have never heard of. Marketers had to figure out how to sell this stuff. So of course they all wanted research, and so I said, no problem! I do research. I'll do a research project and NCTA will contribute this to the marketers. Jim Mooney backed me and funded a major study. I don't remember now how much it was, but at the time it was an enormous amount of money.

       NELSON: Because CTAM itself couldn't possibly have done...

       BEALES: Or even the companies themselves at that point didn't invest in research. I commissioned Opinion Research Corporation in New Jersey to talk to consumers and find out what they were looking for and identify messaging that could get across to them. The project leader on that study was Howard Horowitz and his colleague was Grace Ascolese, and they came up with the term 'truck chaser’ for the phenomenon that was going on in the market because people were so anxious for program choice that they would chase the cable truck down the street in order to sign up. That really was a turning point in a lot of ways in the marketing because it gave us all enormous confidence that we had something that consumers really wanted. We just had to tell them about it and we had to be clear about the virtues of this great new programming that we were delivering. By then MTV had signed on and USA was becoming powerful, BET moved from sharing time on USA to their own channel. So we had programming that appealed to different target segments, of course ‘truck chasers’ was a clever name, but it also captured the excitement of the moment.

       ….And the ACE Awards were growing. We started to poke around and said, gee, it would really be better if we won awards through the Emmy process because it would be better to beat them at their own game on their own air, and get exposed to a broader audience. We knew we needed a bigger audience for the ACE Awards, and we really needed a way to figure out how to get in the Emmys because they would not allow cable to even enter.

       They had a wonderful rule that as a national network you had to reach 20% of the country, and of course no cable network reached 20% of the country, not the least of which was HBO and Showtime because they were premium networks. So we thought, oh my goodness, this is an insurmountable barrier. How will we get in?

       We said, well, why don't we start our own academy? And so we created the National Academy of Cable Programming. Our first chairman was Ralph Baruch, who was chairman of Viacom, and they owned Showtime. Ralph was an historic joiner and organizer, and we put together a pretty darn impressive board of the heads of all the cable networks – Michael Fuchs, Tony Cox and John Cooke, who was at the Disney Channel. Studio executives like Jonathan Dolgen who went on to be the chairman of Paramount, [and Mel Harris.] Producers like Don Ohlmeyer.

       ….We were still miniscule, absolutely miniscule, but it taught us that we could work together, even on the cable network side. It taught us that there was some value in collaboration even though the networks were competing. I think those lessons have laid the groundwork for a lot of the things that we ended up doing today.

       Back then we were forming, out of that collaboration, a really healthy partnership to go before the television critics because we knew that was the other piece of the puzzle. Louise Rauscher had a PR firm in LA, and she had the idea to bring all the networks together before the critics. Louise inspired us to show what's happening with cable programming. We started, through my department, this outreach to the TCA that still goes on, and lived at NCTA for a long time. Ironically, it's full circle back with CTAM now and I'm back with the television critics. But it was important to reach that audience as another avenue to reach consumers. We would invite those critics to come be final judges in the ACE Awards so that they would have to watch the programs.

Louise Rauscher was (and is) a force of nature. She liked and respected reporters and critics, and loved hanging out with us. And we loved hanging out with her.

Seeing how smart and effective Louise was, Jim Mooney eventually offered her the job of running industry communications for the NCTA.

Louise and I kept in touch after she left L.A. and moved to Washington. Several years after she was there I was talking to her on the phone one day when she told me she had exciting news: she and Mooney were getting married.

A day or two later I was talking on the phone to Jim Boyle, who worked for Louise at NCTA, about some information I was seeking. As I recall, the end of that phone conversation went something like this:

       ME: Well, I guess you’re all excited there about the wedding.

       BOYLE: What wedding?

       ME: You know.

       BOYLE: No, really, I don’t know.

       ME: Louise and Jim.

       BOYLE: Very funny.

       ME: Really.

       BOYLE: Look I’ve gotta go. Tell me. What wedding?

       ME: Louise and Jim.

       BOYLE: Chuck, if that were happening, I’d know. They’ve never even dated. Are you serious?

       ME: Yes.

       BOYLE: Someone’s pulling your leg.

       ME: Check it out.

A few hours later Boyle called me back to say, “My god, you’re right. We’re all stunned here. We hadn’t a clue.”

I don’t know if I’ve ever seen two people more in love. Jim and Louise eventually moved to one of the most beautiful spots anywhere to live: Bainbridge Island, outside of Seattle. Their wonderful son, James P. Mooney IV, was born in 1991.

I was deeply saddened some time ago when Louise told me that Jim was battling kidney cancer. Jim, 69, lost that fight a few weeks ago, on Dec. 21.

Char and I emailed each other that day. She said, “Everyone in the fledging cable biz assumed 40-something Jim Mooney was a confirmed bachelor. He was set in his ways with old world manners and a colonial mansion. Louise owned a trendy PR boutique flacking for MTV, the Western Cable Show and ACE Awards. She lived on the cutting edge of the cable revolution. In their case opposites did attract. They skipped dating and went straight to engagement, shocking us all. It was a 24-year love affair as strong at the end of Jim's life as it was in the rosy beginning.”

Next time you watch a cable TV show you fall in love with, please take a moment to think of three of the pioneers who championed cable programming when almost no one else was paying attention: Char, Louise, and Jim.

Char Beales:                                       Jim and Louise Mooney in 2009:

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