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TelevisionWeek is teaming up with TV industry veteran Marianne Paskowski. The blog will give Marianne a forum to convey her deep knowledge of the industry and pass along some of the juicy morsels she's hearing on the grapevine. Marianne has covered the TV industry from the inside out and top to bottom, and TVWeek's readers are bound to benefit from her sharp eyes, ears and wit. TVWeek.com invites readers to jump online, chime in and pick Marianne's brain on the latest industry news.

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January 2007 Archives

TBS ‘Adult Swim’ PR Sinks to New Low

January 31, 2007 11:46 PM


Well. How would you like to be me today, getting a morning call from my husband en-route today on a business trip by car to New Hampshire, saying all traffic was diverted because of an alleged terrorist package found under a bridge on Rte. 93, here in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts?

Of all places. Some 10 similar devices were found later, twisting the Boston metro area into knots.

As this day progressed, much later, we finally learned, of all things, it was just a publicity stunt gone awry from TBS’ Adult Swim. What the Time Warner-owned company actually did was place magnetic lights near billboards next to roads and under bridges. How incredibly insensitive. And for what purpose?

This stupid PR stunt caused enough alarm to shut down all traffic, get one person arrested, and totally tick off Gov. Deval Patrick enough to speak to the state’s attorney general about future recourse.

Well at the end of this long day, my husband is at home safe. Frankly, I can’t believe how stupid or low TV can sink at hawking its wares. Do you agree? Right now, I’m not feeling particularly warm or fuzzy about Adult Swim. I expect an apology to the Commonwealth. And I have not seen one yet.

Warning: Do Not Move My Cheese

January 31, 2007 7:42 PM

I know there’s some best seller, self-help , how to get ahead book, “Who Moved My Cheese?” I did not read it. Nor do I plan to. But this is a heads up to all programmers, whether linear or non-linear: Don’t mess with me with your constant schedule changes and “upgrades.” Aren’t you just sick of not finding what and when you expected to find the whatever, either on TV or online? I am.

OK. I got used to “24” airing on Monday, instead of its long-held slot on Tuesday night. So I altered my pre-recording options for my life. Pathetic? Yes.

But online, it’s the wild west. I wasted a good hour today trying to find things on verizon.net, email by Yahoo, and Mozilla Firefox trying to find stuff I needed fast, to write a column. All of those entities upgraded me without my permission. BTW: Nothing was an improvement.

I learned from past experience, never to volunteer for those so-called beta enhancements. And I don’t. So leave me and my toolbar alone. So please vent your own spleen here about how you cope with those unwanted changes. You will feel better and find a supportive ear.

New Genre: State of the Union

January 29, 2007 12:00 AM

Last week's coverage of President Bush reading his State of the Union Address from a TelePrompTer made for surprisingly good TV. It was a combination drama-reality-based show that was far better than the usual song-and-dance production staged for the benefit of the voting public.

It certainly wasn't the president's actual words that saved the show, nor that he made any of his usual gaffes. After all, he was reading from a TelePrompTer, not shooting from the hip and hitting his own foot in the process.

This go-round it was the buoyant emotions on display in a room now packed with more Democrats than Republicans that made for good imagery and suspense. There was the unforgettable image of Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi sitting perky and poised directly behind the president.

Vice President Dick Cheney, who by contrast looked as though he was having a Maalox moment, or needed a good stiff drink, slumped in his chair and looking grumpy.

Apparently I'm not the only one who thought this would be pretty good entertainment. At press time last week, Nielsen Media Research had just begun crunching initial tune-in ratings that showed combined viewing of the address on the four broadcast networks was up 14 percent compared with last year's presidential address. Together, ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC attracted 31.4 million viewers to the two-hour-long speech.

Fox led the pack, attracting 10.5 million viewers, an increase of 24 percent. NBC came in second with 7.5 million viewers, CBS had 7 million viewers and ABC trailed with its 6.3 million total viewers.

TV newsgathering organizations did their part, too, to make this annual snore more interesting to endure. NBC actually managed to get Campbell Brown at the soiree, the first time a journalist was ever allowed to mix it up with the legislators. And many of the camera angles were simply fabulous.

Among my favorite moments was when President Bush made a beeline for the doors the instant he finished reading. Then there was Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y. You could tell she had a great night's sleep and a shot of Botox. Not a wrinkle on that forehead as she beamed throughout the two hours, almost making love to the cameras. Would love to know her TVQ scores for that performance.

By contrast, Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., looked as though he didn't give a hoot about the whole thing. Cameras showed him not even looking at the president, let alone with respect. Instead his eyes were riveted on the actual copy of the speech in front of him. Well, if I were his age I wouldn't ham it up for the cameras either.

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., looked like a fish out of water. When the president spoke about health savings accounts, Sen. Kerry stood up and applauded, and smiled, but not convincingly. In other words, a tepid TVQ score for the patrician from Beacon Hill.

Other great moments were when President Bush began his reading by first sucking up to Ms. Pelosi, congratulating her for being the first female Speaker of the House. He then threw a bone at the new Democratic majority, congratulating them too. Fun to see the thinly veiled sour-grapes demeanor.

But then he immediately jumped into his usual spiel, talking about how great the economy was with the creation of 7.2 million new jobs. He vowed to balance the federal budget and take a whack out of the deficit, but the Democrats in the crowd-judging from their somber faces-weren't buying that as he again vowed to send more troops to Iraq.

In defending his position, he spoke about the need to "take the fight to the enemy," and rattled off several examples of how his administration had staved off several terrorist attacks in the wake of 9/11. By that point, I started to nod off, thinking I was watching the next episode of "24."

But unlike "24," there was no cliffhanger here, just the everyday reality of the difficulties of keeping the country running and getting over bipartisan struggles. So there you have the drama and the reality elements of the new genre: State of the Union addresses.

Peacock Net Not Preening Its Feathers Today

January 25, 2007 6:21 PM


I was stunned to learn today that former NBC Universal Treasurer Victor Jung, 34, was arrested and charged with scamming more than $800,000 from his former employer.

First: Why is he a former employee? I don’t know today. Do you?

The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York reported that he would be arraigned in New York late today. Jung reportedly created a fake account to wire transfer funds last year to his own accounts.

So how did he do it under this now-mandated era of fiscal scrutiny? Nobody is really talking about this, and I find it hard to believe that NBCU didn’t have the proper safety nets in place to detect and protect against this sort of crime. Something smells here.

So much for corporate transparency, a la the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. So how do businesses protect against this odd ilk of corporate abuse in the future? Or was it just a hole in the safety net at NBCU that the S-O act was supposed to protect against?

Need the financial people to weigh in here.

Why Viewers Love TV Sports

January 22, 2007 11:58 PM

Yikes, you would think “24” counter-terrorism agent Jack Bauer was just knocked off, given the stunned reaction of anyone today who lives in area codes 617 or 508, the stomping grounds of the Boston Patriots, who played against the Indianapolis Colts in what was the highest-rated TV show of the season. The Pats lost in a white-knuckler and every newspaper and TV outlet here showed the dejected face of Pats’ QB Tom Brady on page one. Well, true, he is a hunk.

Carried on CBS, the game drew a 28.1 overnight household rating and a 40 share, according to Nielsen. Newscasts reported today that at halftime, Boston fans left early to secure their airline reservations for the Super Bowl on Feb. 4 in Miami. Hope they got refundable tickets.

I, for one, don’t get the allure of televised sports events. Guess it’s an escape valve for many. I find football, in particular, tedious: Three yards forward, three yards back, flags on the field, blah, blah, blah.

But tomorrow we all can all watch President Bush hem and haw his way through his State of the Union Address. Can’t wait to see the TV camera angles, especially on the Republicans, who are starting to break ranks with their commander- in -chief. That, to me, will be far more engaging TV than last night’s Pats upset. But I don’t think the TV ratings will be as high as last night’s game. Will you be watching with me?

Hallmark Channel Takes Some Heat

January 19, 2007 3:54 PM

The folks at Crown Media Holdings’ Hallmark Channel are probably on the ceiling right now, given the Business Week piece that appears in the Jan. 29, ‘07 issue. BW said the Kansas City, Mo. based parent of Hallmark is “an object lesson in how not to run a media company.” But BW gets the irony of the channel’s core woes. It’s losing money even though it consistently rates as one of the top 10 basic cable ad-supported networks.

BW says that Crown Media’s new president and CEO Henry Schleiff was brought into the company to sell the network. That’s not entirely true. Schleiff’s mission, as he has told me, is to serve shareholders by increasing the channel’s value, even though the net had earlier been on the block for nine months with no successful bidders. That means that if Schleiff can increase shareholder value, it might not be for sale.

But here’s the real kicker: Former Crown Media Chairman Robert A. Halmi suggested that if a buyer emerges, the first thing the new owner would do is to dump the name Hallmark. So marketing mavens, weigh in: Is Hallmark a strong brand? I think, without question, yes.

Cox’s Esser Blasts WSJ

January 16, 2007 3:11 PM


Don’t miss today’s “Letters to the Editor” section in the esteemed Wall Street Journal. Cox Communications president Pat Esser took umbrage with a WSJ editorial that accused cable operators of slowing down the process for phone giants like Verizon and AT&T to enter into video franchises.

Esser is referring to the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to speed up the franchise approval for telcos just now entering the video turf. And Esser is right. Cable has had to live with cumbersome franchise renewals for 40 years and is simply asking for the same treatment the telcos just got from the FCC. In his heated, but well reasoned letter, Esser pointed out several mistakes in the WSJ editorial and said he welcomes competition from the telcos.

So do you think we’ll see a heated response from the telcos? Not on your life, I would wager. Why kick up the dust after such a stunning victory?

Big Apple ‘Big Stink’

January 9, 2007 8:25 PM


Well, can you believe, we still don’t know what the cause of the malodorous stench that sickened New York City residents yesterday was actually all about. But the news made national coverage impelling citizens there to call 911 and forcing NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg to later reassure, in a press conference, that everything was OK. That it wasn’t a terrorist attack. Oh? Who really knows?

Tonight, 36 hours later, national and local officials still don’t know what sickened denizens of Manhattan, sending some to emergency rooms and prompting commuter rails to be derailed. The media scurried looking for answers from officials who knew, and still don’t. New York blamed New Jersey and New Jersey blamed New York. But don’t blame the media. Reporters remain on the job, looking for answers that are not forthcoming.

So, TV comics Jay Leno and Conan O’Brien had a ball with this in their respective broadcasts Monday evening. I don’t find this funny at all. Do you? I just want some straight answers.

Dishies Want Their Court TV

January 5, 2007 6:14 PM


It’s been only several days since Court TV went dark on the Dish Network, as their respective parent companies, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. and EchoStar Communications, were unable to negotiate a carriage renewal deal. It’s a rare day when a top 20 cable net, which Court TV is, goes dark, but both sides seem to be at a dead draw.

But as of this writing, more than 31,000 Court TV junkies have called an 800 toll free line to find out where else they can get the net, according to TBS spokesperson Misty Skedgell.

If you call 800-710-1922, the phone menu will prompt you to either call Dish Network’s arch-rival DirecTV, or hit another number to find out who the cable provider is in your area. To read more about what’s behind this very public spat, don’t miss my column next Monday online or in print.

So the burning question is how long will the stalemate last? I bet at least several weeks. Any takers?

GSN Yanks ‘Hang Saddam’ Game from Site

January 4, 2007 12:15 PM


Well, here’s something I just stumbled across in my battle with keeping bi-coastal hours. GNC, which has brought us many online game diversions like the wildly popular “Throw The Book at OJ,” decided on 12/30, the date of Saddam Hussein’s hanging, to yank its own short-lived game, “Hang Saddam.”

Bummer, never got to play it. GSN spokesperson Cindy Ronzoni said the net never intended for its game to coincide with an actual event. “Based on the way things occurred in Iraq, we determined it was appropriate to remove the game from our site," she said.

Good move. Given the subsequent, heavy tomes from the New York Times and other news-gathering orgs that decided the USA and media screwed up the whole Saddam mess.

I’m not getting rabies here. Just sending you all a little FYI, not to go to GSN to try to play the game, which I suspect not many of us actually played. It was up for only a New York minute.

Now that I have stayed up so late to write this, did anyone actually figure out how to play the GSN “Hang Sad am” game? It was beyond my aptitude.

Saddam Hussein’s TV Hanging

January 2, 2007 6:55 PM

What did you think of TV’s coverage of Saddam Hussein’s hanging for all of us to behold in shock when we awakened from wherever, Dec. 30?

I was stunned to see it on CNN. I only saw, then, that the net was carrying footage of several executors wearing black masks, while putting the noose on Saddam. It made me cringe.

Since then, or so I hear, you can see the whole execution online, or more of it on various TV news-gathering organizations, if you choose to. I opted out. I’m sure all of the news honchos had some very difficult decisions to make here. But I remember the time, just awhile ago, when no news outlet would ever show coverage of any execution, especially of someone like Saddam Hussein’s importance, given the repercussions it could provoke.

Sure, I want to know. But not necessarily see. Unfortunately, I think the media mucked this story up and might have, inadvertently, made him even more of a hero for radical Muslims, by giving him so much world-wide TV coverage. Tough call.

But that’s just me. I also think he shouldn’t have been buried, where his grave will now become the new Mecca for radicals who want to blow us all up. Your thoughts? Please weigh in.