Sunday, May 19, 2013

The 60th Anniversary Special

The WLIO 60th Anniversary Show is complete, and by now has been aired twice on two channels, and will air twice more next weekend. I haven't said much about this project because, while I am not a superstitious person, more than one writer warned me not to tempt fate by talking about the show until it aired. Well, it has been broadcast, but there may be more on the way. I'd like to see a DVD release with the "Director's Cut" extended version, or at least some bonus features that would let us include some things we had to leave out due to time constraints. And, there is talk of an actual book. (My writer friends are gasping at this moment. I am tempting fate.)

This was my first jab at documentary. Yes, there was a ton of research, but most of it was more like solving a mystery. Who were these people? Why did they do the things they did? Why did they stop? And there was a grand misconception I was able to bust. And thanks to some great interviews from Grover Blazer, Valaire Orchard, and George Dunster, I had the evidence to back it up.

Overall, it went well. But it was a learning experience. A fellow writer/radio producer once told me sometimes I might find myself in over my head. When that happens, do that best you can and learn from it. He was right, and while I wasn't exactly in over my head, this project was a biggie. So, I present to you...

Lessons I Learned While Writing and Producing My First TV Documentary

No matter how many times you tell yourself there will be changes, some things will have to be cut, something will be rewritten by a talent or director or who knows who... you will still mourn the darlings that were murdered.

You cut the Danny Thomas strip tease? You bastards!

They always cut the segment you thought was worthy of an Emmy. But they keep the part you put in for filler.

We had another act scheduled for this time, but the bear died.

About ten minutes after it airs, a viewer will call with a factual error.

Yes. Yes. The actual name of the show was "Pink Lady and Jeff." I will certainly  pass that along.

You should collect the interviews first and write to serve them, not the other way around. Still, because of research done prior to the interviews, it worked out well.

OK, Mr. Bratton, the shoes are nice... but you are NOT the Great Gatsby.

Television is a MOVING image medium. It just might be necessary to (gasp) recreate certain activities. Plan for that.

OK, so the tower erection sequence didn't go as planned. We can fix this with CGI, right?

Don't spend a week researching a tangent that will be the first thing cut in the editing.

Why is this lady dancing with a plant? Man, I miss the '60's.

If there's time, give a trial section of script to the air talent who will be reading it and have them record some audio. This will give you a sample of that person's vocal style. From that you can write the script to better suit that style.

Let's all go to the Kewpee, Paul!

And finally... You don't want total control. Especially in TV. If it gets lousy ratings you always blame the brass for "tinkering" with your "vision."

Come to me, Christine. Behold the music of the night. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Where Are You, Lois Lane?

Some time back I poked fun at how my wife was sorta-kinda depicted in the movie "Runaway Train." It was an example of how Hollywood - more accurately the writers, directors, and producers - take great liberties with real life in order to make a movie so middling you probably have to look up "Runaway Train" just to get this reference. In the credits, the character is listed as "Findlay Reporter."

My wife chased a train halfway across Ohio because it was her job, not out of any desire to "get the story." Oh yeah, she wanted the story, and she knew as long as the train was in rural Hardin County the story was hers to be had. About the only thrills or humor to come out of the whole thing was when she returned to the news room to hear somebody say, "I'm sorry. She can't come to the phone. She left to catch a train."

News reporters don't get a very accurate portrayal in movies or on TV, but then again neither do cops, lawyers, surgeons, and advertising executives. Still Neda Semnani's article on Hollywood's depiction of female reporters is worth a read and further thought. Her listing of fictional female reporters leaves out one important figure in our pop culture: Lois Lane. Sure, Lois is a product of the comic books, but by the 1950's she was every bit as much a television character as Lucy, an entire generation thinks of Lois Lane as she was portrayed by Margot Kidder in the movies.

Lois played an important part in those golden age Superman stories, she gave Superman somebody to rescue. In the very first Superman comic she also provided a little eye candy with the dress-strap-falling-off-the-shoulder look. She was more pneumatically enhanced in the early days, and her snubbing of Clark Kent could be downright frigid. Over the years, she warmed up, but remained a competitor to Clark. Her first depiction in Hollywood actually wasn't from Hollywood. Superman cartoons were produced during the WWII era by the Max Fleischer studio in Miami, Florida. I those adventures, Lois Lane fired a machine gun at a gang of thieves, flew a plane, and basically bullied into any dangerous situation so that Clark could say "This looks like a job for Superman."

It was a variation of the Perils of Pauline formula, but somehow I usually didn't detect the sexism that normally comes with that formula. In the first Superman animated cartoon, Clark admonishes the editor for sending Lois out alone to interview a mad scientist. "Don't you think that's a little dangerous?" You can almost hear the "for a woman" waiting to end that sentence, but it's not there. The fact is it was more than a little dangerous... for anyone. This is followed by Lois piloting her own plane to the mad scientist's lab. (Apparently, she looked up his address in the phone book under "Scientists, Mad.")

Lois Lane evolved with the times to become a consistent representation of the female journalist. I'll stop short of calling her a role model only because I assume most women actually want to avoid needing to be rescued from mad scientists. But she was an influence. In an era when a woman's choices beyond the kitchen were limited, Lois Lane was a career woman in a respected occupation.

So what happened? Why have female reporters in movies and on TV become fluffy airheads? Have scriptwriters grown lazy and simply go to the first thing they think of? Are there not enough female writers in Hollywood to set the record straight? Or could it be that in an era when Kathy Lee and Hoda fill an entire hour on "Today," when networks hire and give soft soap assignments to the daughters of former presidents' daughters who don't possess the voice over skills of even a small market rookie, and when anchors of once proud network news divisions prattle on with the latest unconfirmed rumor or something somebody said on Twitter during live coverage in Boston... maybe Hollywood isn't that far off.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Why CBS News Got It Right

John Miller is getting credit for making the CBS News coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and arrest superior to the other networks. The sentence...

Miller sat calmly in the newsroom eating a sandwich while other news divisions were frantically reporting and unreporting an arrest

...pretty much says it all.

Monday, April 29, 2013

I Swear...

It's a sad day in Television when the most famous news anchor making the rounds on the morning talk shows and various other venues is not from a local Boston station talking about harrowing coverage of the Boston Marathon bombing and the apprehension of a suspect. Nor is it any of the other reporters, live crew members, or even the producer who got linebacker treatment from the police because she was carrying her gear in a backpack. The rest of the nation is not on a first name basis with the anchors, reporters, or news directors of WBZ, WCVB, or any other Boston news station.


The most famous news person of the moment is A. J. Clemente, a former rookie weekend anchor in Bismark who, as the opening of his first show was concluding, forgot broadcasting's First Commandment (Thou shall respect thy microphone and assume it to be HOT at all times) and uttered Carlin Words #1 and #3 on the air. Yep. First and LAST day at work at, appropriately enough, KFYR. (K-Fire - as in "We FIRE knucklehead anchors who say #1 and #3 on the air.")

The gaffe went viral in a matter of minutes, thus in the minds of far to many news program producers made Clemente a "legitimate" news subject and justified contacting a guy who can't be trusted with a live microphone and putting him on live television. Listen close and you can hear one of the horsemen of the apocalypse riding past.

At about the same time this happened, somebody released a survey that listed "reporter" as the worst occupation. I assume the category "reporter" includes newspaper journalists, who as an endangered species should be on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. Even so, television news programs glorifying the lack of professionalism demonstrated by A. J. Clemente is only helping to make journalism even less trusted, and news programming even more trivial than it already is.

But then...

The FCC has forgiven Boston Red Sox slugger David Ortiz for proclaiming "This is our [synonym for copulating] city!" And the thousands in attendance didn't seem to mind at all. Maybe society has grown far too jaded to give a damn about profanity. In TV the F-bomb and the C-word are about all that's really subject to FCC action. Tune in at any given time and you're bound to hear "bastard" or "son-of-a-bitch" coming from a character on Family Guy. Perpetual reruns of Law & Order in its various guises give viewers graphic descriptions of heinous sexually oriented crimes. And the news channels can pretty much go anywhere ever since the day the story broke that Bill Clinton got a Lewinsky. Maybe I need to just let it go.

Granted, I think we still need some reasonable guidelines. I don't think Dora the Explorer should be telling her viewers, "Wake up, ass clown, and help me find the [fornicating] map!" And I expect the talent on ESPN to show restraint and be professional. But if we're in the locker room right after the game, I'm mature enough to deal with a little locker room language. And maybe that's what really annoys me about making A.J. Clemente a celebrity du jour... I left the seventh grade a long time ago.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

And We're Back

After a long break from the blog while working on a TV project... more on that later... I thought I'd like you to some cool stuff.

Over on the right you'll see a link to Jose Friz's ARCANE RADIO blog. I don't know Jose, but I love his blog and how he finds really cool stuff relevant to radio. For example, check out his post of an episode of the The Goon Show,* the BBC radio show that gets the credit, or blame, for inspiring Monty Python, Fireside Theater, and launching the career of Peter Sellers, who is about two years away from "Dr. Strangeglove" in this episode.

This is also the roots of The Beatles, or at least the persona of The Beatles. George Martin was running Parlophone by 1955, and recorded Peter Sellers as part of that label's then mainstay of comedy and novelty artists. Martin loved The Goon Show, and a Goon Show performance was released on Parlophone. Richard Lester must've been a fan too. Watching this, it's easy to see where the surreal nature of "Hard Day's Night" with lines like...

"How do you find America?"

"Turn left at Greenland."

...and John Lennon's nonsensical conversation with an actress he's never met before, originated.

And gearheads, check out those 1960 era AKG 414 mics.

*NSFW due to a bit of naughty British word play here and there. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rumor Mill

The TV special that has kept me away from this blog is written. It needs to be revised, and then I'll try putting together a storyboard using Power Point. In the meantime I have to heard some cats in order to get the interviews shot. Wish me luck. More on this coming in the months ahead.

I thought I'd chip in a little on the latest Late Night Broo-ha-ha, since everything else being released seems to be coming from sources as reputable as myself. Friends ask me, "You work at an NBC station. What are you hearing?" And I say, "Nothing." That's because most affiliates are the last to know, and we're lucky we get notification of anything. However, I can give a few hard facts to chew on. Make your own predictions based on these.

  • Most NBC affiliates are perfectly happy with the status quo. Albeit they realize Leno and his core audience is aging, and he has exactly one funny routine... Headlines. Still, he delivers what are called "old media" viewers... us geezers who still watch the 11:00 news and stick around for the monologue.
  • As I write this on the first Monday morning since the rumors began, there is a line of tourists forming at the Burbank studios to see what they believe will be "one of the last Leno Shows." They will cheer vociferously as soon as the band starts. The opening applause will ring on past the usual time. Every joke in the monologue will be a clapper. Every guest announced will be cheered like a surprise visit by Robin Williams. In other words, the theme park that is a Tonight Show taping will take on even more enthusiasm and urgency than ever before... and on the air, that translates into a broadcasting "event." Just what the Peacock wants.
  • Early ratings of this past weekend's "Saturday Night Live" show that Justin Timberlake's fifth appearance as host was a stunner. Best numbers in months. He can do it all: sing, dance, tell jokes, sketch comedy, acting, and host. Lorne Micheals loves him. Which leads to...
  • Didja notice Justin Timberlake is on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon" all this week? Hmmmm.
  • Right now, NBC is filling the 2AM time slot with replays of Kathie Lee and Hoda's hour on "Today." An hour of Howard Stern just standing in front of a brick wall and talking would actually attract advertisers to that slot. 
  • The one name from any network that doesn't come up in all this conversation is Craig Ferguson. Ouch. 
Yeah, I know. There's a mixed message there. Leno's still number one, and you really shouldn't mess with success. But spend any time in television and you soon learn they mess with success all the time.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Dropping the Ball

New Year's Eve is the Black Hole of Calcutta for television. People with disposable income and active lifestyles are out at a party, not sitting in front of the TV. The event itself is a build up to about a minute of reveille, and then back to real life. Actual residents of New York City stay away from Times Square in droves while the tourists and the hapless cram the square to be seen on TV, wear silly product placement hats, and cheer for musical acts that are coasting through the last seconds of their 15 minutes. (With the exception of Taylor Swift, who must've lost a poker game and had to show up on ABC to pay off a bet.) The show's target demo is Meg Griffin. The only advertisers interested are Weight Watchers, tax preparation services, fake live remotes at Disney Parks (a interdepartmental trade positioned by the Mouse overlords), and oddly enough Google who ran minute-and-a-half spots on all the New Year's network shows to convince you Chrome doesn't suck. The technical crew on these shows is either the A-list being paid holiday overtime - yeah, that's going to happen - or the low men on the totem pole who aren't in the truck at a bowl game or back in the safe, cozy confines of master control watching this mess thinking, "God, I'm glad I'm not out there."

There are good reasons why Dick Clark and only Dick Clark could host New Year's Eve. I'll take a post-stroke Dick Clark over Jenny McCarthy or Fergie any day. Everybody else should just stick to regular programming, or perhaps sign off and let the guy in master control have a good time. But, the sales department wants a live event in order to avoid a night otherwise filled with PSA's and per inquiry ads for the Sham-Wow. So a New Year's Eve show is slapped together, whether the network, or in some cases a local station, is really prepared to pull one off.

And that leads us to this fine little spectacle that aired on KDOC, Orange County, California. NOT SAFE FOR WORK, unless your workplace is a locker room.

First, I feel sorry for Macy Gray's band. Second, always place ringers in the crowd directly behind the talent. Third, the price of a protection delay system is far cheaper than fines from the FCC. But for me, the best part was the audacity of actually rolling credits on this thing. Thanks. Now we all know exactly who not to hire to do our live events. Expect to see many of those names on the name badges at the Orange County Steak 'n Shake.