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.


Marianne Paskowski

Obama Inaugural Committee Says ‘No You Can’t’

January 19, 2009 12:38 PM

HBO's Inaugural Coverage

I couldn’t believe my ears while watching CNN on Saturday and its coverage of the pre-inaugural ceremonies at the Lincoln Memorial.

The event of the days was a free, star-studded concert for those in town for this momentous time in history, the swearing in of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama. But plenty of people at home could not see it if they didn’t have a computer or were not subscribers to pay cable channel HBO.

While the concert was going on, CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer repeatedly told viewers at home that CNN would not be covering the concert because its sister network HBO had the exclusive rights.

What kind of inclusiveness is that? And there’s more. HBO was not alone in making an exclusive media deal, having paid $2.5 million for the exclusive on the concert, according to published reports.

The Walt Disney Co. paid $2 million for two events that will run exclusively on its Disney Channel and the ABC network. Disney gets exclusive coverage of a children’s concert tonight on the Disney Channel. ABC, meanwhile, gets exclusive broadcast rights to air the first of the 10 official balls tomorrow night.

To me, this defies Obama’s mantra “Yes we can.” For viewers without cable television, it sure sounds more like “No we can’t.”

Support of DTV Transition Delay Grows

January 16, 2009 10:14 AM

I don’t know what’s so magical about June 12, but that’s the new date set by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, incoming chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, for the conversion of analog to digital signals.

Again, not to sound like a broken record, I’m all for the delay.

Separately, the House Appropriations Committee recommended earmarking another $650 million to fund the transition, which is looking more and more like it will not happen on Feb. 17 as originally planned.

This is all good stuff.

Yesterday, according to published reports, even Nielsen, the ratings giant, told its members that the TV industry simply was not ready to pull off a seamless transition.

Let’s face it: There were plenty of missteps along the way. Back in December, the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, which administers the DTV converter-box coupon program, notified Congress that it was about to run out of money.

Great move: According to USA Today, the message fell on deaf ears. Congress was not in session.

And just two weeks ago, when the NTIA actually did run out of money, leaving 2.1 million people who wanted the $40 coupons on a waiting list, that’s when all the angst grew.

Yep, our government at work again.

Why the Digital Transition Must Be Delayed

January 9, 2009 10:34 AM

This past summer I met a savvy and frugal college graduate. Having just landed his first job, he had no cable television in his first apartment.

DTV Converter Box Coupon

He also landed one of those $40 coupons to buy a digital converter box being offered by bricks-and-mortar retailers as well as online.

After extensive research, he found that most of the retailers were selling the boxes for $80, not the $40 he said the government had led him to expect. But he bought one anyhow, choosing not to subscribe to cable, a more costly proposition.

But there are millions of TV viewers who didn’t get one, and for now they cannot. The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration is empty-handed, having spent its $1.34 billion budget, and has started a waiting list for those who still need coupons.

Clearly the country, in the throes of a deep and long recession, is not ready for this transition. The nation’s new unemployment figures came out today, showing a 7.2% loss of jobs last month.

Clearly people without jobs and without cable should not be pressured into subscribing to cable if they can’t get one of these coupons.

Read More »

CBS First to Buy Ad on New York Times’ Front Page

January 6, 2009 11:37 AM

The New York Times

If we didn’t know for sure how bad things in the media economy are, the New York Times, the venerated gray lady of newspapers, sold its first front-page ad to CBS Television. The ad runs at the bottom of the page, spanning all six columns.

As a longtime editor and journalist, I’ve had a history of battles with publishers who wanted to cross what has become an ever-blurring line between church and state. Not that this example is a blur of that line, for the CBS ad is clearly marked as an ad.

I know a lot of journalists who are decrying the NYT’s decision, but I’m not one of them. Clearly media’s economics need tweaking during this pervasive recession, and if that ad keeps newspapers alive and prevents future job losses, I’m all for it.

I’m sure this was a difficult decision for the Times, which is already mortgaging its real estate in New York and selling its 17% ownership in the Boston Red Sox.

And for CBS, this was a coup. Am I wrong?

No Commentary From CNN’s Anderson Cooper

December 29, 2008 12:01 PM

Good piece in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, which addressed, in part, why CNN’s Anderson Cooper doesn’t insert his opinion into his newscast, as so many of his cable news net cohorts do these days.

Anderson Cooper

The L.A. Times wondered why Cooper doesn’t interject his opinions into the news as do, say, Rachel Maddow and Campbell Brown, who are not at all shy about throwing their own two cents into the news of the day.

Cooper’s answer was simple: “I’m just not interested as a viewer in listening to anchors’ opinions. It seems like there’s an awful lot of yelling, and this year yelling’s been replaced by sarcasm and snarkiness.”

Amen, I say. Cooper said Maddow and Brown are both very good and talented at what they do, but that it’s just not his thing.

Nor is blogging or Twittering. He admits to not being computer-savvy and prefers going to the frontline of a breaking news story in person.

Personally, I think cable news could benefit from anchors who don’t use their role as a bully pulpit. And that’s why I will make a point of watching Cooper’s New Year’s Eve special, as the year will go down in history as one of a global recession and ever-increasing geopolitical angst.

Is ‘Hardball's’ Matthews Too Biased to Anchor?

December 22, 2008 3:58 PM

"Probably" is my answer, as I stopped watching the bloviating, biased anchor of MSNBC’s “Hardball” months ago.

Chris Mathews

For a while now, he’s been said to be privately discussing his plans to run for the Democratic seat in Pennsylvania against GOP Sen. Arlen Specter.

Privately? Hardly, if every media outlet seems to know about this stunt.

Various newsgathering outlets say he’s already shopping for a home in Philadelphia as he maps out his plans with MSNBC as his contract expires in June. Other reports say it’s just a ploy in his negotiations to renew his contract.

MSNBC President Phil Griffin is saber-rattling in the press, too. He recently told the Hollywood Reporter that he expected to see Matthews remain on board “for a long time.” Is that a nice way of saying he can’t wait to get rid of Matthews?

Matthews used to be a breath of fresh air. But unfortunately, as his popularity soared, he stopped listening, often not giving interview subjects time to answer his questions and putting words in their mouths.

I wish he would keep his political views to himself and let viewers hear what his guests have to say.

The decision on Matthews’ move going forward is expected soon, and I hope this Keystone Kop returns to the Keystone state to bully Specter instead of his viewers.

Nyet, I Say, to Russian Disney Channel

December 17, 2008 11:21 AM

Have to admit I shook my head in disbelief when I read that the Walt Disney Co. is trying to launch a version of the Disney Channel in Russia, pending final regulatory approval.

Hannah Montana

Disney, working with Media-One Holdings Ltd., a Russian broadcaster that runs 30 TV stations, will create a separate joint-venture company. Disney will get a 49% stake in that new company and provide cash, programming and marketing.

The new Russian Disney Channel will run staples such as “Hannah Montana” and “The Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” as well as programming created in Russia.

On the surface this all sounds dandy. Russia remains one of the world’s last untapped TV markets. But Russia is hardly a bastion of security. Since this past fall, the Russian stock market seemed closed every other day and the value of its stock market is down anywhere from 70% to 80%.

I can’t tell you the value of a ruble today, but I have seen plenty of coverage about how Russian citizens don’t trust their country’s government and refuse to keep money in Russian banks.

So what does Disney know about Russia that its own citizens don’t? I say nyet.

Critics Blast ‘SNL’ Paterson Parody

December 15, 2008 11:17 AM

The National Federation of the Blind found nothing funny about Saturday’s “Weekend in Review” skit on “Saturday Night Live,” where show cast member Fred Armisen did his impression of New York Gov. David Paterson, who is blind and has admitted to doing drugs in his youth.

The Paterson parody was puerile. Even Paterson, who is known for his sense of humor, told the New York Daily News that he found it offensive.

He said only 37% of disabled people are working, and that he and the NFB fear the skit reinforces the stereotype that blind people are not capable of holding jobs.

“SNL’s” skit was off-putting to me. He sat at the desk appearing confused, not knowing where to look at the cameras, and held up a sign upside-down.

To make matters worse, later Armisen, still portraying Paterson, stumbled about looking lost when another “SNL” cast member, Amy Poehler, made an official announcement that she was leaving the show.

So let’s give “SNL” some fodder for future parodies. Here’s my vote: How about a skit on former financier Bernie Madoff, who was arrested last Friday for allegedly stealing $50 billion from his clients.

Any other ideas for the SNL writers?

Leno’s Move to Prime Time Saves NBC Millions

December 9, 2008 11:24 AM

I don’t know why some people are so upset that NBC is keeping Jay Leno but moving his new talk show to 10 p.m., where it will serve as a lead-in to Conan O’Brien, who takes over “The Tonight Show” this fall.

Jay Leno

These are tough economic times, and according to CNBC the move will save NBC $13 million a week because it won’t have to invest in a scripted show for that time period. Generally, the going tab for a scripted episode is $3 million per episode.

Things would have been far worse for NBC had Leno bolted for ABC or Fox. And maybe he’ll attract more eyeballs in his new time period.

What I want to know is what Leno’s new format actually will look like, as few details seem to be available for now. It’s not a variety show, but Leno will do an opening monologue and man-on-the-street spiel.

At a press conference Tuesday, Leno was short on the details, but said he’ll be taking the show outside of the studio more often.

If this is a talk show, Leno obviously will need guests, which raises an interesting question: If you were a celeb or newsmaker, which show would you rather appear on, Leno’s or O’Brien’s?

That’s a no-brainer for me, given that I find O’Brien a snore.

Viacom’s Cable Nets Aren’t Recession-Proof

December 4, 2008 10:35 AM

As the heads of the U.S.’ carmakers are begging again at the Fed window for a “bridge loan,” Scrooge arrived at Viacom, announcing that the company was laying off 7% of its workforce, eliminating 850 jobs.

Sumner Redstone

On top of that, Viacom, parent company of MTV Networks, is suspending senior-level managers’ raises for next year and is looking to write down certain programming assets that the company would not identify.

Although Viacom was the first cable programming company to announce large layoffs, it won’t be the last, said the president of an executive search firm. Layoffs are everywhere, she said, with “many under the radar.”

But Viacom has been hit particularly hard, falling behind its cable competitors in ad sales, which in part led to a huge drop in its stock price, a whopping 62% this year.

Maybe it’s time for Viacom chieftain Sumner Redstone to line up at the Fed discount window. After all, this is the second wave of widespread layoffs for the media titan in two years, and some industry observers say the company is still bloated.

And maybe it’s time for Redstone’s salary to be capped at $1 a year, like executives at ailing financial companies are doing during this prolonged depression.

Sound like a plan?