Open Mic

Memo to Oprah: Your OWNerous Assessment of TV Today Is Just Plain Wrong. But Here's What You're Getting Right, as Well

Chuck Ross Posted January 3, 2011 at 12:54 AM

Here’s a truism about TV that bears repeating: At every moment in its commercial history, TV has been accused of being a vast wasteland.

Yes, the exact phrase referring to TV as a “vast wasteland” wasn’t coined until FCC Chairman Newton Minow used it in a speech given at the annual convention of the National Association of Broadcasters in May 1961, but please, the sentiment has always been there: that what’s on TV is junk, mindless, crapola.

The latest person singing this refrain is Oprah Winfrey.

In the cover story of the January issue of her “O” magazine, Winfrey talks about why she wanted to start the Oprah Winfrey Network, which launched Jan. 1, 2011:

Interviewer (“O” editor-in-chief Susan Casey): Well, we need [the Oprah Winfrey Network] now more than ever. So much on television these days is unwatchable.”

Oprah: It's just created to blur the senses. It feels like Halloween candy. Gobble it down and at the end you don't feel better—you're like, Why did I do that to myself? In recent years I started to feel that, Gee, television has lost its mind. There's no mindfulness there anymore. You used to be able to watch shows and come away with something—like with my favorite program growing up, ‘The Andy Griffith Show.’

Susan Casey: Or ‘Wild Kingdom!’ I loved that.

Oprah: Or ‘Wild Kingdom.’ You would watch it, and even if you didn't learn something, there would be a thoughtfulness about it. An interesting aspect—something that sort of opened you up a little bit, that brought a little piece of light into whatever it is you were doing. ‘Bonanza,’ for goodness' sake! Any number of shows for a long, long, long time—television actually did that. And in recent years I started to notice it doesn't. Television doesn't make me feel good. There's nothing about it that makes me feel good. I literally do not have it on at any time in my personal space, be it in the office, be it in my makeup room. If I walk in and it's on, I will say, "Turn it off," unless it's something I need to know or need to hear. I just won't have it. I will not allow the mindless chattering of Halloween candy. I just won't allow it. If you wanted to drive me insane, that's what you would do. You would put me in a room where the television was never turned off.

Of course in 1961, when it was Minow decrying that what was on TV was a mindless wasteland, it was smack in the middle of Winfrey’s childhood (she was 7 years old at the time) and those shows she mentioned, “Bonanza” and her favorite, “The Andy Griffith Show,” were on TV.

Minow’s version of the TV is crap speech ran as follows: First, he asked TV station executives to watch their own stations for a day.

Then he said, “Keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that what you will observe is a vast wasteland. You will see a procession of game shows, formula comedies about totally unbelievable families, blood and thunder, mayhem, violence, sadism, murder, western bad men, western good men, private eyes, gangsters, more violence, and cartoons. And endlessly commercials — many screaming, cajoling, and offending. And most of all, boredom. True, you'll see a few things you will enjoy. But they will be very, very few. And if you think I exaggerate, I only ask you to try it.”

Winfrey is no less demeaning of and condescending about the medium that’s made her a billionaire.

With her remarks in O about how great TV was during her childhood, Oprah is on the record that Minow was wrong. No, it’s NOW that TV is a vast, mindless wasteland, Winfrey intones.

It’s only true if she’s tone deaf. From Larry David to David Shore & Katie Jacobs (“House”) to Jeffrey Jacob (J.J.) Abrams to Abramoff, Jack (documentary on HBO), ad infinitum, if Winfrey really believes TV today is the mindless chattering of Halloween candy, our reaction can only be non-plussed. We reply, “You Don’t Know Jack,” let alone not knowing other terrific characters--real and fictional--on TV recently, including Alicia Florrick, Sue Sylvester, Richard Whitman, Dexter Morgan, the late Capt. Phil Harris, Sheldon Cooper, Jax Teller, Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, Peter Lattimer, and Valentina Vilalba Rangel.

Despite Winfrey’s dissing of TV today, the idea of creating an Oprah Winfrey Network based upon the same theme as O magazine—living your best life—seems to me to be a good one. It’s a theme about which Winfrey is passionate, and that’s an important predictor for long-term success. Powerful people with passion—think Ted Turner and the creation of TBS, TNT and CNN, or Roger Ailes and the Fox News Network—are a huge plus in overcoming the inevitable pitfalls and obstacles most new networks face.

While Oprah says she long ago—in May 1992—thought of creating an Oprah Winfrey Network, kudos to her OWN partner, Discovery CEO David Zaslav, and his wife, who reportedly came up with the idea of a network based on the same theme O magazine is based upon.

As for the quality of the shows on OWN, it’s clearly too early to make a judgment about them. I watched a few over the weekend and mostly liked what I saw, despite how derivative of other programs they may be. “Oprah Presents Master Class”—OWN’s nod of sorts to Sundance’s “Iconoclasts” (though without its brilliant pairing of two creative people at once)—is fairly insightful.

One show I particularly liked was “Season 25: Oprah Behind the Scenes,” which chronicles this final season of Winfrey’s daily syndicated program. (Maddeningly, though, in the manner of cable shows that don’t really have enough footage to fill their hour or half-hour time slots, too much footage is repeated just before and right after commercial breaks.)

In the most telling moment of the two “Behind the Scenes” shows I saw, two producers of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” had a confrontation over the decision to revisit Williamson, W. Va., the site of a controversial Winfrey show back in 1987. The controversy was over a young man, Mike Sisco, who had AIDS, and who had used the city swimming pool. When he was outed, the city closed the pool. The original program showed that most of the townspeople supported the closing of the pool, and condemned the man for being gay. Sisco died in 1994.

In this segment of one of the “Behind the Scenes” shows, senior producer Jack Mori is telling co-producer Brian Piotrowicz that he is shocked and fascinated that now, 23 years later, they had not been able to find anyone in Williamson whose opinion had changed about the incident.

Brian: You find it fascinating and I find it hurtful. I don’t get why we’re giving these people a voice again. As a gay man I have a strong opinion about the Williamson show. There are millions of people watching, so we have to think about ‘Is this person worth interviewing?’ and 'What do they really have to say?’ Because what I’m hearing from the [advance producing] team is that [the townspeople] haven’t changed—they still don’t like gay people, they still think it’s a sin.

We have 130 slots left to change the world, to make our mark, and I don’t understand why this would be one of them.

Jack: What can I say, Brian? Forty-three percent of America believes the same thing they do—

Brian: Eighty percent of Germany agreed with Hitler.

Jack: That’s a perfect example. If you’re a journalist do you ignore World War II just because you don’t want to spread hate?

Brian: But we don’t portray the reality on our show. We pick and choose what we want based upon criteria of how the show is produced.

Jack: I’m sorry you’re offended by that, but—

Brian: What do you mean you’re sorry I’m offended by that? It’s offensive. Of course I’m offended.

Brian then said that the only way the show would work for him is if a bunch of the townspeople had had epiphanies over the past 23 years that what they said and how they thought about gays in 1987 was wrong.

As it turned out, on the show one person, a 74-year-old man, did admit to having such an epiphany, and apologized to the gay man’s family.

It would have been worthwhile then to hear Brian’s reaction to the finished show. However, we didn’t get that, perhaps because it would have put a damper on things and ended the episode on a sour note. And as any regular reader of O magazine knows, the philosophy of living your best life almost always calls for cheers, not jeers.#

We Wuz Robbed! Russell Hantz Was Not the Only One Blown Away that He Didn't Win 'Survivor:Samoa,' and This Viewer Thinks The Producers are Playing with Fire

Chuck Ross Posted December 21, 2009 at 1:18 AM

Tags: CBS, change, Mark Burnett, Natalie White, picked wrong winner, Russell Hantz, strategy, Survivor

We wuz robbed, plain and simple.

If you're not a fan of 'Survivor,' here's what it's like that Russell Hantz didn't win the $1million on the latest edition of the show, which concluded Sunday night, Dec. 20th: It would be as if the great football linebacker, Lawrence Taylor, who was named the NFL's Most Valuable Player in 1986 based on an incredible season he had, was denied the honor because certain of his peers on opposing teams thought he wasn't nice enough, and that he played too intensely to win. That he was too enthusiastic when he clobbered an opposing player or broke up an offensive play.

If Taylor had not gotten the award because of that criteria, you'd say that was crazy. In fact, it was just the attributes that those on the opposing teams objected to, you'd say, that were exactly WHY Taylor was so great and why he did indeed deserve that Most Valuable Player Award in 1986.

It's analagous to what happened to Russell on "Survivor." He was never nice, and it was never pretty, but he was absolutely brilliant and he deserved to win.

If you didn't watch "Survivor:Samoa" this season, buy the DVD when it comes out. You may very well dislike him intensely, but it's also clear that Russell is likely the most cunning strategist yet to have played the game.

But, alas, he didn't win. Here's what both he and winner Natalie White said to E! Online after the vote: " 'It's amazing to me how people play the game," Russell told us, still visibly shocked by his loss. 'You want to be honest, have integrity, in the game? You ever play Monopoly, where you take people's houses and kick 'em out in the street? That's a game. But,' he added ruefully, 'it's part of it, I guess.' Natalie explained how that 'part' figured in her own strategy: 'There's different criteria to play the game. The majority of the people on the jury are not deceitful people, they just don't play that way in real life or in a game. I made it my mission to get to know them and try to figure out what that voting criteria was going to be. I think because of the genuine relationships that I built, they wanted to give it to someone they truly know and will do well with the money.'

Actually, they probably gave it to her because they felt she was the lesser of the three evils, the three evils being Russell, Nick and Natalie.

The problem, however, is that she was the wrong choice.

"Survivor" also arranges through a sponsor to give $100,000 to the person viewers vote as the one they think is the best player on the show. Russell did win that.

Here's my suggestion: CBS and Mark Burnett, the producer of the show, should switch who decides will win the $1 million and who wins the $100,000.

So when it comes down to the three finalists, America votes for the player who has best outwitted, outplayed and outlasted the field and who will win the $1 million first-place money. And the "jury" of nine players on the show can decide who wins $100,000 as their top choice.

Yes, one of the elements that has set "Survivor" apart from the "American Idol"-type of reality show is that viewers do NOT vote for the winner.

But there's an argument to be made that given how upset I would guess the majority of this season's viewers are with the results, "Survivor" is seriously in danger of losing a lot of loyal fans if this change isn't made and we feel betrayed by the results again come spring after the next arc of the show.# 

Whoooa Nellie! When Brands Go Horribly Wrong: Psst--Vince McMahon and the WWE Are No Longer In the Wrestling Business. Publicist Alerts the Media.

Chuck Ross Posted March 18, 2011 at 7:57 AM

If you are a boy baby boomer of a certain age, and grew up in the Los Angeles area, like I did, one of your fondest memories of TV as a kid was watching Dick Lane and wrestling on KTLA live from the Olympic Auditorium in downtown L.A.

Lane’s signature call was “Whooooa Nellie” as he watched some wrestler like Freddie Blassie climb up on the ropes and post of the ring and leap down, stomping another wrestler, or at least seeming to. I remember that tag team matches were my favorites. Reading a blog by Ed Fuentes remembering Lane, it reminded me that he was also endlessly promoting pro wrestling and urging us viewers to attend the matches live.

As a kid getting into almost daily fights and getting stomped by my older brother, wrestling on TV as narrated by Lane was mesmerizing.

If you grew up in New York I guess the equivalent experience was watching Dennis James announce wrestling on TV.

In the book about TV called “The Box” by Jeff Kisseloff, James talked about his days announcing wrestling: “When I went to my first wrestling match, I said, ‘I can’t play this straight.’ Yet, I had to find some happy medium so that the wrestlers wouldn’t hate my guts, so I added sound effects. If a guy was twisting another guy’s leg, I had a crackle bone that I would twist. If he pulled on his trunks, I would tear a window shade. I got hold of a slide whistle when they went up and down. I did one whole wrestling match in rhyme: ‘They’re out of the ring, but now they’re back, and when they do, two heads will crack.’ ”

Most of the wrestlers knew they needed to develop outlandish personalities to distinguish themselves for the TV audience.

Noted one observer in “The Box,” talking about a wrestler from those early days of TV named George Wagner, “When he wrestled as George Wagner he wasn’t a drawing card. Then he came up with Gorgeous George, and television made him a star.”

Another wrestler from those early days, Lou Thesz, remembers in “The Box” that Gorgeous George “got a lot of what we call in the business ‘heat,’ a big response from women. After that, a lot of guys took it upon themselves to come up with some kind of gimmick, like Farmer Jones, who would enter the ring with his pig. I wouldn’t wrestle on the same card with girl wrestlers or midgets or when some idiot brought in a bear, because then you are guilty by association--although I did train a kid who wrestled a bear in Tennessee and kicked the hell out of that bear. He was booked with that bear about a week later. The bear [was in the ring] and saw the kid coming, and it left. The bear remembered him.”

While wrestling never really disappeared from the nation’s airwaves, it didn’t hit a second golden age until Vince McMahon and his World Wrestling Federation (later called World Wrestling Entertainment, or WWE) made it bigger than it had ever been, primarily by taking what had been a local phenomenon and making it national. Many say the event that marked professional wrestling’s great comeback was WrestleMania in 1985 and the appearance of a WWF wrestler named Hulk Hogan. That, in turn, led to the boom of WWF (and later, WWE) shows on national TV, from ‘’Smackdown” to “Raw.”

I hadn’t given the WWE much thought lately when we here at TVWeek received a press release the other day that we wrote up and published as follows:

Drew Carey Inducted Into Pro Wrestling Hall of Fame. Huh? Drew Carey??!!

Comedic actor and game show host Drew Carey is the newest member of the WWE Hall of Fame.

According to the WWE, "Carey established his place in WWE history as a surprise entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. However, Carey’s fortunes quickly turned, when the massive WWE Superstar Kane entered the ring, prompting Carey to eliminate himself from the match."

The announcement adds, "The WWE Hall of Fame induction ceremony...will take place at the Philips Arena [in Atlanta] on Saturday, April 2, and the one-hour TV special will air Monday, April 4, at 8/7c on USA Network."

Next thing I know, I’ve received an email from one Kellie Baldyga, a publicist for WWE, DEMANDING that we correct the story. She also copied our owner, Rance Crain, on the email.

What had drawn her ire was the headline. Baldyga wrote in her email, “We are no longer a wrestling company but rather a global entertainment company with a movie studio, international licensing deals, publisher of three magazines, consumer good distributor and more.”

No doubt WWE is into more things than just wrestling, which is its bread and butter, I thought, but this can’t really be a big deal. I was busy and emailed her I’d call her the next day, which was yesterday, March 17.

First thing yesterday morning I received this email from her: “Chuck, did you mean call me today (Thursday)? I apologize but I really need the correction made sooner than later if possible…”

As regular readers to this blog may recall, for most of my career as a journalist I haven’t gotten along with most publicists. Most of them don’t like me, and I don’t have patience for many publicists.

Baldyga was beginning to bother me. First, our headline was perfectly fine and accurate. Second, what was this “demand” about changing OUR headline?

I called her and introduced myself. The conversation then basically went as follows:

Me: Your release says that Carey is being recognized as being an entrant in the 2001 Royal Rumble. I believe that was a wrestling event.

Kellie: No, we don't do wrestling events. They're entertainments. And we don’t call them wrestlers. They’re superstars and divas.

I’m thinking to myself, is she kidding me? Is this woman mad? The company’s official name is World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc. Its crown jewel is an event called WrestleMania. In the best tradition of wrestling on TV since its earliest days, they put on terrific shows (and events), with athletes who are performers and they’ve got storylines that are far more elaborate than any Gorgeous George and Freddie Blassie would have ever imagined. Why would they want to run away from who they are, from what’s made them wildly successful beyond most people’s dreams?

Me: Kellie, I really don't have time for this. WWE presents wrestling events. I'm not going to change the headline or anything in the item. If you'd like, I'll just remove it.

Kellie: Huh? What?

Me: Kellie, I don't have time for this. What do you want me to do?

Kellie: Remove it.

So I did.

Kellie sent me a follow-up email saying “I hope nothing was contentious in our conversation…” She added, “I know the perception is that we are a wrestling company but we are actually much more than that--we are a global media company which is how our Chairman and CEO, Vince McMahon, positions us.”

Whatever. Take away wrestling from WWE and what do you basically have? I don't think WWE is quite as diverse as global media companies such as News Corp. or Time Warner or Viacom, but what do I know.

As I went to sleep last night I kept thinking about what I had read in Ed Fuentes' remembrance about wrestling in L.A., and hearing Dick Lane’s voice in my head from decades ago: “Call Richmond 95171. That's Richmond 95171 to reserve your tickets now!! Whoooa Nellie!"

Why Charlie Sheen Will Basically Get a Pass While Tiger Gets Crucified

Chuck Ross Posted December 29, 2009 at 7:02 AM

Tags: Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods, Treated Differently

Actor Charlie Sheen's latest run-in with the law sounds very serious. According to initial reports, he allegedly brandished a knife and threatened to kill his wife when she said she might divorce him. He denies it.

Can you imagine the uproar, even now, if Tiger Woods was accused of doing something like that if his wife said she might divorce him?

It may surprise some to realize that Sheen's alleged behavior won't even come close to the negative fall-out Woods has already received in the past month. "How can that be?" they'll exclaim.

It's got to do with expectations. Sheen is a notorious bad-boy who's been in lots of trouble before. That means in the eyes of the media--and yes, much of the public--he's much more comparable to Bobby Brown than Chris Brown. That's also why if Bobby Brown got in more trouble tomorrow the public would basically shrug, and why we were so shocked when Chris Brown--who, like Woods, had a clean image--hit Rhianna.

Furthermore, I'd be surprised if Hanes drops Sheen as an endorser. It was only about 18 months ago that they hired him to wear their underwear, and his reputation as a bad boy was already well established. In other words, if anyone at Hanes is surprised by this latest trouble that Sheen's gotten into, THEY should be fired.

Nor do I think CBS will sanction Sheen, who TVGuide says is the highest paid actor on TV making about $20 million a year. No, these charges against Sheen are not funny, but he does play a cad in his hit sitcom "Two and a Half Men." And did I mention the show's a big hit?

Finally, I saw one blog post that said Sheen will be treated differently than Woods because Sheen is white. In fact, Sheen's real name is Carlos Irwin Estévez, and his grandfather on his dad's side is from Spain.

The truth of the matter is that not all of our celebrities are treated equally. And if one is known for behaving badly and once again behaves badly, he or she gets a pass.

To be crude about it, it's the new, fresh meat that we like to grind up. Leftovers have always been of less interest.#

'The Daily Show': Escape from Iran

Hillary Atkin Posted June 24, 2009 at 5:48 PM

Tags: The Daily Show

“How did you make it out of there alive?,” I somewhat seriously and somewhat facetiously asked “Daily Show” senior investigative foreign correspondent Jason Jones and producer Tim Greenberg about their recent trip to Iran. Their mission, and they chose to accept it, thinking they were going to France, was to somehow find humor “Behind the Veil,” as they’re calling their multi-part series documenting their ten-day journey to the land of the ayatollahs. .

After all, the two fake journalists could have easily become the male versions of Laura Ling and Euna Lee, or Roxana Saberi, thrown in jail by an oppressive Axis of Evil regime.

So how did “The Daily Show” manage to get two of its people into the country, with seemingly free rein? Believe it or not, they've been working on it for about a year, hustling both the United States government and the Iranian consulate’s press attaché for permission -- with assurances that Jones would not strip down in a mosque, or do anything else crazy. “You are mistaking us for real reporters," they assured the bureaucrats, even while knowing there's not a lot of laughter in bullets and death.

When the official okay finally came through, it was with this caveat -- they were not allowed to bring any electronic equipment with them. No computers, no cameras. Not great for TV, but more on that later.

The timing was perfect. They were able to go during the lead-up to the disputed June 12th election, before things got completely crazy and blood was literally running in the streets. They were safely back in an edit room in New York when the street demonstrations broke out, and would have probably been forced to leave the country anyway as other Western journalists, real journalists, have.

They hired a fixer who then hired a crew with equipment-- maybe not quite up to par, but good enough under the circumstances, until it wasn’t-- a guide and a van. As Jones and Greenberg were trying to sleep off the jet lag shortly after arriving in Tehran, the fixer summoned them: they could actually go to a campaign rally for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. They quickly jumped out of bed and headed out.

If you missed this initial piece in the series, you have to catch it online. We are talking laugh-out-loud funny, and the backstory is nearly as good. Without a translator, Jones, doing a standup with the hard-line Holocaust denier ranting and raving in the background, had to take it upon himself to translate. It was basically along the lines of, "He hates the Jews." Pause. Turns to look at the bearded one and then back to camera. "Yes, he still hates the Jews."

But what you didn't see may have been as funny. Jones and Greenberg told me when they were setting up in the crowd, an elderly, scarved woman looked at them and asked: "Zionistas?”

“Jason said, ‘Just my producer,’” Greenberg said, laughing at the memory. “That's as close as I've been to a Holocaust denier since [former Daily Show correspondent} Rob Corddry," added Jones.

Their time in Iran was enough for the two to discern that the political divide was akin to the red state-blue state thing we have here. Uneducated, fundamentalist, poverty-stricken residents who live in the desert and in small towns outside Tehran are most likely to be Ahmadinejad supporters, and sophisticated city-dwellers wearing green are in support of the other guy, Mousavi—no great shakes as a choice of leader if we had our say….which, of course, the wackjobs who have retained control of Iran seem to think we do. Yes, the series of deadly street demonstrations was a Zionist, British and American-orchestrated plot to destroy the democratic will of a great civilization. With more than 100% of the voted counted.

But back to Jones and Greenberg. Driving out to the desert, somewhere maybe near Qom, they were trying to shoot a funny bit with some camels, but the camels kept running away. It was a 13-hour day, and they got about 10 seconds of a shot, but Jones said even that was ruined by "cheap Iranian equipment."

Unbelievably, they were actually given access to clerics and opposition leaders—who were later thrown in jail. In a rare bit of serious journalism Monday night, Jon Stewart actually brought on the son of one of the dissidents to give an update about his father's condition. The man had been pulled out of a hospital bed and jailed. None of this is/was funny.

In a play on Jay Leno’s famous Jaywalking segments “TDS” is calling Jihadwalking, Jones also managed to conduct many person on the street interviews in which he questioned people about their knowledge of the United States and its government, and-- to his astonishment, and visible disgust-- just about all of them passed with flying colors. The Iranians he interviewed were able to name the three branches of government, the date and year of our independence day and a list of presidents going back for the past 50 years, in order.

They also learned that Ayatollah Khameini (which Greenberg insists is pronounced like a rhyme for "hominy") is almost, but not quite as scary as that mullah from 1979 “Death to America” hostage hell, Ayatollah Khomeini. To most Americans, there isn't really a difference.

Yet while Jones seemed to find a lot of intelligent and friendly people, again, much to his surprise, he was a bit confused by the men’s room facilities. Apparently--and we don't have to get graphic here -- there is no toilet paper in Iran, but rather a hose.

And Jones was thirsty, so he drank from it.

(“The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” airs at 11 p.m. Monday--Thursday ET/PT on Comedy Central.)

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.”

Bravo's 'Miami Social': A Cure for Reality Fatigue?

Jonathan Reiner Posted May 31, 2009 at 2:42 PM

Tags: Bravo, Miami Social

To quote the prolific Broadway composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, “You gotta get a gimmick if you want to get ahead.”

That axiom applied to the strippers in the Broadway musical, and it also applies to producers and networks trying to stand out in today’s immense ocean of reality programming. No longer is it enough to have a killer concept or compelling material. And gone are the days when you’ll automatically get eyeballs just because you launch on a big network with a major publicity blitz. (Raise your hand if you watched “High School Musical: Get in the Picture.” That’s what I thought.)

I work in the reality biz. It’s my job to stay on top of trends and sample as much programming as possible.

But even I’m suffering from chronic “reality fatigue.” I can only imagine how Joe and Jane Six Pack feel about the bottleneck on the reality highway.

Today you need a hook -- and a big one -- if you’re going to convince viewers to invest in your product week after week. For that matter, you need a hook if you’re going to convince viewers to even sample your program in the first place.

Enter Bravo’s “Miami Social,” a “ “Real Housewives” -style docusoap about hotties living and loving in (wait for it...) Miami. The show doesn’t premiere until July 14th, but it’s already in my DVR queue.

Why? Well, besides the promised intrigue, romance, glitz and catfights we’ve come to expect from Bravo, “Social” also features two reality pioneers making their long-awaited (at least by me) comeback to the genre.

Hardy Ames Hill (the hunky boy scout from the long-ago-but-not-forgotten “Big Brother 2”) and Katrina Campins (the young real estate diva from the landmark first season of “The Apprentice”) have been cast to stir things up, and hopefully reconnect with past fans. This is big news in a world where we’re used to seeing the same faces year after year on MTV’s “Real World/Road Rules Challenge” or VH1’s “Celebrity Rehab”... or even (God help me) “I’m a Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here!”

It’s certainly not a re-invention of the wheel, but stacking a new show’s cast with long-lost reality vets from a kinder, simpler era and putting them in a new situation is certainly fresh and somewhat innovative. Given the insatiable appetite viewers have for Bravo’s delicious and decadent docusoaps, out-of-the-box ideas like this can only help Social’s prospects. If the show succeeds, I would think the Burnetts, Fleisses, Grodners and Roth’s of the reality world will certainly be combing their archives for graduates of their franchises who might be ready for a comeback.

What do you think? Will you be watching “Miami Social”? And what stars from the reality history books would you like to see return to the screen in a different vehicle? I’ll go first: “Survivor’s” Sue Hawk on the next season of “Ice Road Truckers.”

Nancy Dubuc, are you listening?

ABC Blew an Opportunity When It Announced It Was Killing 'All My Children' and 'One Life to Live'

Arthur Sando Posted May 4, 2011 at 6:40 AM

[Editor's Note: This is the first entry from a new TVWeek Open Mic blogger, Arthur Sando. Sando is a public relations/corporate communications specialist who has worked with some of the most dynamic individuals and companies in the TV industry, most notably Ted Turner and his Turner Broadcasting, and Roger King and his King World. This commentary first appeared on Jeff Grimshaw's The TV News, which can be found at, and we appreciate Jeff letting us reprint it.]

It’s really not so much what ABC did, but how they did it when the network recently announced it was canceling "All My Children" and "One Life to Live."  Nobody disputes the fact that the audience for soap operas is aging and shrinking, and that soaps are becoming economically unfeasible to produce.

But ABC’s canceling of two 40-year-old institutions with practically no notice was a tremendous jolt to an extremely loyal audience.

There are probably no fans more loyal than soap fans. Many of them schedule their day around what they affectionately call “my shows,” and a lot of them have done that for a long time, and have developed a very personal relationship with the characters in these shows. So it should be no surprise that this news has caused a profound sense of loss and anger among those viewers who are really going to miss their daily dose of soaps.

Certainly, the writing has been on the wall for some time that this day would come, so I think ABC blew an opportunity to prepare its audience. Six months ago, it could have told viewers that if the numbers didn’t improve, the shows would be canceled. That really could have motivated fans to take some action.

Now, judging by activity on Facebook, it’s clear that many fans are up in arms, so while it may be too late to save "All My Children" and "One Life To Live," the network should show that it cares and reach out to these fans, solicit their thoughts and engage them in a social media dialogue to let them know that their ideas are being heard, that their feelings are being considered and that they are, indeed, part of the process.

By making viewers feel shut out, ABC risks breaking a bond of trust with a significant and reliable core audience. And in today’s fractured television universe, that’s the last thing a network should be doing.#

A Fond Remembrance of Tom Snyder on the 5th Anniversary of His Death. A Larger Than Life Personality. A Favorite of Many, From Letterman to O'Reilly. He Appealed to 'the jokers and the smokers, the drinkers and the thinkers' Who Watch TV Late at Night

Chuck Ross Posted July 26, 2012 at 7:03 AM

NOTE: This remembrance of Tom Snyder is by Michael Horowicz

Tom Snyder died on my birthday, July 29th, 2007, and I’m still pissed at him for that. Did he think I’d forget him? I was Tom’s producer at ABC, CBS and NBC. (We couldn’t hold a job.) He was the biggest single influence in my professional life.

Tom’s name has come up a lot lately. Most prominently, Bill O’Reilly is quoted in Douglas Brinkley’s new biography of Walter Cronkite as saying when he was growing up, Snyder was a bigger influence on him than Cronkite.

Tom was the greatest TV interviewer. From the first time I ever saw him on the "Tomorrow" show while doing my homework, he held me spellbound.

Tom’s spirit made a TV appearance earlier this month on CNN during Ashleigh Banfield’s now famous exchange with Illinois Congressman Joe Walsh. (“Ashleigh, Ashleigh, Ashleigh.” If you haven’t seen it, go to YouTube.) Banfield held her ground, didn’t get angry, and never got flustered. As I watched it, I thought Tom would’ve been proud of her. He would’ve handled the situation the same exact way. If he were still on the air, he would’ve phoned me and ordered Banfield to be booked on that night’s show.

Snyder would’ve thought Will McAvoy -- the news anchor portrayed by Jeff Daniels on the new HBO/Aaron Sorkin series “The Newsroom” -- was an asshole. Despite all of Tom’s pomposity, he genuinely wanted people to like him, unlike McAvoy. Tom would’ve watched one episode of “The Newsroom” and given up. He didn’t like to be reminded of work when he wasn’t working.

I first met Tom on Labor Day 1982, when he debuted as the anchor on WABC-TV’s 11 p.m. "Eyewitness News" and I was one of his young producers. His assignment was a bad fit from that very first day, when the newscast led with a story by Louis Young about dead gerbils in a pet store fire in Queens. To make matters worse, Lou had no b-roll, so I asked our courtroom sketch artist to drive in from the Hamptons to draw an artist’s conception of dead gerbils on the floor of a charred pet store. It seemed like a good idea at the time. In spite of it, Tom and I became fast friends.

Tom had an amazing ability to ad lib, which I saw firsthand on December 31st, 1982, when four bombs blew up in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, all between 10:30 and 11 p.m. It was the work of the FALN, the Puerto Rican terror group that demanded independence from the U.S. I couldn’t keep up with the changing details, and at 11 p.m. we had no script. Tom just said, “Mikey, don’t worry. Give me the latest wire copy and I’ll wing it.” That night, he gave an incredible performance.

But the very next night, Tom couldn’t bear the indignity of having to work New Year’s Eve AND New Year’s Day. When he came up from the studio back to the newsroom, Tom threw his script up in the air, kicked a trash can across the room and shouted, “Well, at least my FICA’s paid off for the year!”

Tom Snyder was great because he knew his audience well. He loved late-night. He said the late-night audience was made up of “the jokers and the smokers, the drinkers and the thinkers.” He respected the audience.

Tom demanded thorough pre-interview notes from all his producers, and then once on the air he would go off on a tangent no one could’ve predicted. When former Defense Secretary Robert McNamara was doing his “mea culpa” book tour, Snyder chose to spend the entire segment asking him about his days running the Ford Motor Company. (“Mr. Secretary, tell me -- how’d you come up with the Ford Falcon?”) When I complained about not asking McNamara about Vietnam, Tom told me he’d already heard McNamara talk about that on other talk shows. “I’m not going over old ground,” he said. “I’d rather talk about Ford.” And so he did.

With Courtney Cox from “Friends,” Tom spent eight minutes talking about the challenges of renovating homes, which both of them were doing at the time. And he made it great television. If a guest was from Chicago, they’d talk about the steak at Gene and Georgetti. But somewhere in that roundabout way of conducting an interview, Tom would come up with gold. The night Dinah Shore died, Burt Reynolds broke down and confided in Tom that he always regretted not marrying her. Tom's Midwestern sincerity and hearty laugh got people to open up. And to Tom, “Mr. Brisket” was as good a guest as David Letterman.

Most of all, Tom loved mischief and to rebel against management. In a story he loved to tell over and over, Snyder was sent to Paris by NBC News during the Iran hostage crisis. He was told not to venture far from his suite at the George V Hotel because in a matter of days a top aide to the Ayatollah would come to Paris for an interview. Needless to say, the $10,000 cash advance he was given evaporated quickly while Tom wined and dined his fellow NBC staffers. So he called back to 30 Rock with a story. “I told them my room was robbed. They said, ‘What did they steal? The money?’ I said, ‘No -- the receipts!’ And it flew!” Within a few hours, the company wired him another ten grand. Note to Brian Williams, one of Tom’s biggest fans -- don’t try that now. The Comcast people probably won’t go for it.

When CBS executives agonized over what the set of “The Late Late Show” would look like, Tom got fed up and told them off. “Nobody ever left a Broadway show humming the set!!”

For years, Tom convinced WNBC weatherman Frank Field that the “network coffee” in the “Tomorrow” show offices at 30 Rock was better than the “local coffee” in the WNBC newsroom. Every afternoon, without fail, Frank visited his friend Tom and grabbed a cup of “network” coffee. Frank still swears it was better than the “local coffee.”

When we were based in L.A., every Thursday Tom would treat me to dinner at the Bel Air Country Club. It wasn’t because he liked me. Members had to spend $300 a month at the club’s restaurants whether they actually ate there or not. I didn’t complain. We’d be joined by other members such as Vin Scully, Jack Wagner, James Woods and Al Michaels, among others. The conversation was salty, and I never dared open my mouth.

Tom also loved dining at the old-time places, such Musso and Frank, The Smoke House in Burbank, The Grill on the Alley and Giambela’s in Manhattan. Once every six weeks or so we’d go to back to New York to do shows. Snyder was a nervous flyer and after landing we’d head straight for P.J. Clarke’s for a burger and a few adult beverages, and Regis Philbin, Kaity Tong, Andy Friendly or Spencer Christian would join us. I have no doubt that if he were alive today, Tom would be a regular at Fresco, and that special chopped salad that’s not on the menu would be his regular dish.

Those trips to New York were magical -- especially for Tom, once he discovered the suites at the Waldorf Towers. He stayed in the kind of apartment Hoover did when he left the White House. So they had to put me around the corner at the Waldorf, and I was happy too.

Anyone who has worked with Tom Snyder will tell you that every moment with him was a treasure. (Except on days he went to the dentist. On those days he was unbearable.) Now, whenever any one of us suffers a career setback, we console each other by saying, “Tom never would’ve let this happen.” He was as loyal to his staff as we were to him.

If you’ve ever been touched by an interview he did, on July 29th, make yourself an adult beverage and salute the master.

tom snyder and friends.jpg

PJ Clarke's, New York, summer 1994. From left: Then NBC executive Andy Friendly, WPIX anchor (and one time Snyder co-anchor) Kaity Tong, WCBS-TV reporter Louis Young, producer Mike Horowicz (the author of this remembrance), Tom Snyder.

Here's Proof of Jay's Hypocrisy

Aaron Barnhart Posted January 18, 2010 at 6:01 AM

It's been amusing to watch apologists for NBC and Jay Leno explain away Conan O'Brien's brilliant and shockingly candid "People of Earth" letter.

But lest anyone think that the Dick Ebersols of the world are anything less than lying, despicable jerks for stabbing Conan in the chest, let's go to the record.

[Directly below you'll see] the video of Jay Leno in 2004, explaining to his "Tonight Show" audience why he wanted to hand the reins over to Conan in 2009.

Listen carefully as Jay tells his (somewhat) disappointed fans, "I don't want to see Conan go anywhere else ... There's only one person who could do this into his 60s and that's Johnny Carson ..."

B.S. B.S. B.S. B.S. B.S. B.S.


Sorry, that was my detector going off.

Now that Leno has betrayed all of that, can we be done with the "Jay is a nice guy" meme once and forevermore? And can we please stop thinking of Jeff Zucker and his pals as engaging in anything but the most desperate form of CYA — the kind that happens just before you get fired, or suddenly lose $200 million of the company's money, or both? 

The only part of that whole talk I agreed with was when Leno said, "Conan is a gentleman, funny ..."

Yep, he's both and you're neither.

Kudos to the poster who saved the clip from the Tonight Show.

Jay's 2004 Announcement - watch more funny videos