Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Bill Melendez directed the seminal holiday classic on a wing and more than just a proverbial prayer, in six months, with a nervous CBS network and Coca-Cola company breathing down his neck. When A Charlie Brown Christmas first aired on the 9th of December, 1965, Christmas specials were supposed to be filled with singing, dancing, big production values, and the main characters schlepping the sponsor's product in between the schmaltz. Producer Lee Mendelson, along with Melendez, and Charles Schultz, were having none of that. In fact, they dared to let Linus quote The Bible.
Ironically enough, Melendez and Schultz first met when Bill was called upon to create animated commercials featuring the Peanuts gang extolling the virtues of the 1962 Ford Falcon. (If somehow, Linus and Lucy selling cars seems inappropriate, let me remind you that to this day Snoopy still appears in commercials for the decidedly unchildlike Met Life insurance company.) From there, Melendez struck up the that rarest of gems: a friendship with Schultz that reached the echelon of always calling Schultz "Sparky." Actually, that should come as no surprise, for anyone who met Melendez met a man who was far too jovial for the manner in which his chosen profession had treated him.
J.C. Melendez, as you'll see his name in credits for classic Warner Brothers cartoons, was born in 1916 in Hermosillo, Mexico. He grew up in Arizona and California, and started his career going straight to the top: Walt Disney Studios, where he worked on Pinocchio, Bambi, and a number of short cartoons. The artists strike of 1941 made Melendez one of those disgruntled outcasts in the eyes of Uncle Walt, so Bill made his way to Warner's where he animated Bugs and Daffy in some of the greatest cartoons ever to come out of Hollywood. As the major studios cut back on the cartoons, Melendez moved to Playhouse Pictures, where he directed commercials. And that's what led him to the Ford Falcon account. Ford wanted the Peanuts gang in their commercials. History was about to be made.
Listen to Bill in the audio commentaries he recorded for the Looney Tunes DVD's. You'll hear somebody you want to hang around with. That positive outlook must have served him well, because making the half-hour show that would become a holiday classic wasn't easy. Real children provided the voices of the Peanuts characters, and voice directing children is no small feat. Bill modeled the characters almost directly from the comic strips, which raised a myriad of problems in animation. Schultz, a fan of Picasso, designed his characters "flat" in order to read clearly on the newspaper page. Melendez had to design the Peanuts style of animation where the third dimension is cheated when a character turns. A character could only raise his hand above his head in profile. And in Sparky's cartoon world that bears no room for adults to intrude, after all these years, we still have no idea who answers the command when Linus calls for, "Lights, please."
Watching the show today, we see all the warts, of course. The TV print used for many years was carelessly hacked - edited to provide more commercial time. DVD releases have restored the missing "snowball throwing" scene. The animation glitches at times. Digital TV and DVD remastering is not kind to the "graphic blandishments" as Melendez titled animation in the credits. The child voice actors needed a few more tries to get the inflection right here and there. There's a nasty cut in the film just as the "Linus and Lucy" dancing gets into high gear, causing the music to jump like a dropped record. Vince Guaraldi's piano is a little out of tune, and some of the cues come in rough, giving the whole thing a classroom production vibe that stuck with me as a child. And it stuck with a whole lot of people who watch it every Christmas and love it... warts and all.
Christmas, and life I guess, is not about making things perfect, but rather making something you love. Bill Melendez loved creating this cartoon. And we love him for making it.
Merry Christmas, Bill.
Wednesday, December 10, 2008
The film version of "Lovely Bones" should've won the Oscar for Best Picture last year.
There should be an action/mystery TV series called, "Plum's Level" based on the Stephanie Plum character created by Janet Evanovich.
Nickelodeon should be airing a cartoon series entitled "Petra and Calder" based on the Blue Balliett books.
"A Tale of Desperaux" should've been produced in traditional "2-D" hand-drawn animation.
The "Chronicles of Narnia" films should've been produced in the chronological sequence that C.S. Lewis intended, not in the "Star Wars" jumble format we're getting.
Dan Brown should be as recognizable on late night talk shows as Steve Carell.
Artimis Fowl should be as recognizable as Harry Potter.
Just in time for the holidays, we should be going to theaters to watch "Bridges of Madison County 3," starring Brooke Shields and that Dr. McDreamy guy.
All these things should've happened, but somehow the publishing industry dropped the ball. Instead, as the economy slides, we hear of major cutbacks and reorganizations at the publishing houses. Random House in now a house of random layoffs. Simon and Schuster is hanging on by a thread. And Scholastic still can't figure out how to make money without a Harry Potter release. In other words, the publishing industry is rife with mismanagement, corporate greed, and Peter Principled incompetence within the ranks.
All the same symptoms being suffered by the ailing U.S. auto industry.
I think you can see where I'm going with this.
What the literary world needs right now is a government bailout. Billions of dollars granted to the faltering publishing giants would save jobs within the industry and beyond.
I'm serious. Think of the domino effect if we allow the publishers to fail. Without publishers, there would be no editors wining and dining up and down Manhattan's midsection, thus hurting the business of dozens of restaurants all along Fifth Avenue. Chefs, waiters, dishwashers, and the guy in the uniform who opens the door to the Town Car and expects a twenty for doing so would be out of work. Imagine the hardship. Where else but in Midtown can you get twenty bucks for opening a car door? Plus, bailing out the publishers will shore up the American as well as the worldwide economy. After all, if an American publisher goes belly up, think of all the printing presses in China that will go idle.
And then there's that entire subculture based on hopeful aspiring writers called The Writer's Conference. Each year, dozens of conferences from Maine to Maui are held, offering a wellspring of useful information to the growing author that can't be found anywhere else. Where else can novice writers of children's books be told not to write in rhyme, only to watch Dr. Seuss continue to sell like sub-prime mortgages every year? And where else can devoted mystery writers hear law enforcement officials detail proper procedure and pinpoint the legalities of not cooperating with the law, only to return to your hotel room and read the most acclaimed mystery of 2007 with a final chapter that basically says, "And so the cops just let her go to Mexico. And, while we were at it, we made up a fictitious grave site. And not one reporter in the major news media market of Baltimore questioned any of this." You can't just pick this kind of knowledge up off the street.
So start sending those emails to your congressman today. Tell them you want a bailout plan for the American Publishing Industry. Save the economy. Save the freedom of speech. Save a way of life. And save jobs.
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Radio programming innovator Bill Drake died recently at the age of 71. Drake, along with his business partner Lester Chenault, created the top-40 format known as Boss Radio that took stations such as KHJ in Los Angeles, KGB in San Fransisco, and WOR-FM in New York to the top of the ratings. It was a music driven, hyper speed format designed to get you to listen, and to maximize ad revenue. Depending on your point of view, it was the dawning of a new day, or the beginning of a real drag.
The format hinged on the delicate blend of personality DJ's who could condense their patter down to the essentials - sell it during the eight second intro Petula Clark's "Downtown" and make sure your last syllable hits just before she sings "When" - power jingles, newscasts at 20 after and 20 'till, and MORE MUSIC. Fourteen or fifteen songs, compared to Station X down the dial where the jocks have diarrhea of the mouth and the newscaster sounds like Walter Cronkite played back at half-speed. Youth-driven, powered by the Beatlemania-fueled/psychedelic Motown sound of the 1960's, Boss radio was a product of its time. No sad songs from folkies on this station. Take your hootenanny somewhere else. You know in the deep recesses of the windmills of your mind that getting airplay on Boss stations was the real reason Dylan went electric.
But as groovy as this happening was, the Man was actually calling the shots. The jocks had a short leash. Keep it short, and no dead air, or else the Bat phone lights up. BUT, there were no liner cards.
Drake and Chenault had grasped a fundamental business reality of radio: economy of scale. Winning LA is great. But taking this gig nationwide is where the real bread is, baby. Step one: trademark "Boss Radio." Make it your brand, man. Don't let some square steal your idea in Cincinnati or Santa Fe and harsh your mellow. Then, you sell the format to stations around the country. Prepackaged, condensed radio. Just add water. You know, like that can of soup Warhol painted.
What's that? You're stuck sitting in your nowhereland, and the air talent is hard to come by, and the jocks you have just don't dig what you're puttin' down? No problem. You can buy the whole format in automation. Yeah. Just load those ten-inch reels of tape, load the jingles and spots on cartridges, punch in your commands, and before you can say, "Hal, open the pod bay doors," you're in the groove. And here's the best part: computers don't smoke pot in the studio.
Hey, don't get all uptight about this syndication jazz. Wolfman Jack says it's all personality. Yeah, but dig it, the Wolfman you hear in Cleveland is actually a vinyl record. Some high school kid is punching in a cart of Wolfie with the local call letters. But who cares? It sounds great, right? And there's always going to be room for good local air talent. It's not like someday the station managers are going to let radio stations just shovel the music at us and then dump a ten-unit, five-minute commercial break on us. Yeah. Like that could ever happen.
So, was Boss Radio the pinnacle of top-40 radio? Or was it the siren song that led to our destruction? Heavy. All I know is my CD changer and my MP3 player doesn't help any radio stations make money.
Tuesday, December 2, 2008
I found this photo on Michael Barrier's website. It combines three things I love in life: Dr. Seuss, Chuck Jones, and a whopping big audio board.
From Michael Barrier's site:
From my files, this photo, probably taken a little over forty years ago, of Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) and Chuck Jones at a recording session for the 1968 TV special How the Grinch Stole Christmas. The men at the console are an engineer, Thorne Nogar, and a producer for MGM Records, Jesse Kaye.
I'm not one to contradict Mr. Barrier, but according to the filmography in "Chuck Amok" Grinch premiered in 1967. Plus, "Grinch" won a Peabody Award, so if you care to look it up, that should be the definitive word on the matter. Therefore, this photo is likely from a scoring session in late 1967. Notice the musicians in the studio. Recording the score is usually the final step in the process, assuming no further effects are added.
I can't identify the make of the audio mixing console, but this is typical of the mid-sixties in spite of it's ancient appearance. Rotary faders were still in wide use in the US until the 1970's. It's a mono board, as stereo wouldn't come to American television until the 1980's, and most film soundtracks were still optical mono. Looks like it can mix eight sources at a time. There are five meters on the bridge, but that doesn't mean there were five audio tracks being recorded. Four-track was the common technology of the day, but I can see what appears to be only three sub-mix outputs on the far right of the board. That means they may have still been using three-track, a very common format in recording studios on the West Coast in the late 50's to mid 60's. EQ settings on each input were critical due to the temperamental microphones of the day. Notice the turntable on the far left above the engineer's head.
This was back in the days when recording engineers, and everyone else, still wore a tie. Jones was being counter-revolutionary with his bow ties in the 1960's. Squaresville, man.
Wednesday, November 26, 2008
Of course, this being the Internet, I'd get a lot more hits if I wrote "Shore nuff. Ah saw it. Happind rat chere at the house. Ah wuz sittin' on the camode readin' "People" magazine, when it hit. BOOM! A live turkey crashed through muh ceilin' and landed right in the bathtub. Ah hollered out at muh wife, 'Hey, Malvina! When did we git a bathtub?'" But that would be blatant sensationalism. And besides, if I was worried about getting hits, I'd write about something far more important, like if Jack ever goes to the bathroom on "24."
Yes, the Turkey Drop episode was based on a real event, but it didn't happen in Cincinnati. Somebody somewhere dropped turkeys - the frozen variety, so I was told - and proceeded to smash windshields and do the kind of property damage caused by tossing icy bowling balls from a helicopter. Lessee, 20 pounds dropped at 500 feet accelerating at the rate of gravitational acceleration of 32 ft/sec/sec equals... Well, I'll let you do the math. Let's just say you wouldn't want to be standing under one of these things.
The version I'm more tempted to believe is the Money Drop variation. According to radio legend, a station manager decided it would be a good idea to drop money from a helicopter over a shopping center parking lot. (Depending on the storyteller, the aircraft may be a helicopter, a small airplane, or a hot air balloon.) Somebody noted that loose cash would fly all over the place due to the hurricane force wind kicked up by the aircraft. (Thus, supporting the helicopter theory.) Being the genius that is required to be a radio station manager, this guy decided to put the money in bags and toss them onto the parking lot. Sounds good, right?
Again, our friend Physics enters the picture. A ten pound bag of money dropped from 500ft, accelerating at approx. 32ft/sec/sec equals property damage, personal injury, and numerous lawsuits. You can't write this kind of comedy.
In the aftermath of the WKRP Turkey Drop episode's first airing, radio station managers, being the original thinkers that they are, tried legal, safe turkey drops of their own. Usually, pillows, water balloons, or some other softer safer alternative was used for the stunt, although I did hear of one genius who missed the punchline of the TV show and used live turkeys. He probably works in middle management at Clear Channel now. Figures.
In celebration of the Turkey Drop, here are some facts about Cincinnati radio during the time of WKRP that you will, no doubt, find both fascinating and completely useless:
* There has never been a real station in Cincinnati with the call letters WKRP. In the 1980's, I worked for a manager who tried to change the calls of his station to WKRP, but the prized letters already belonged to a station in Georgia. The station owner in Georgia, knowing what he had, wanted too much money for the letters. (Call letters are not for sale as a rule, but if you want to persuade another station to trade, they can ask, "What's in it for me?") Spending money was beyond the capabilities of our owner, so the real WKRP remained in Georgia.
* There is a WKRC in Cincinnati. The makers of the TV show were not aware of this until it was too late. WKRC radio is one of the older stations in town and at one time was owned by CBS, the network that first aired "WKRP in Cincinnati."
* WKRC hired the musicians who performed the TV theme to cut a sound-alike jingle, replacing the "P" with a "C" for proper identification.
* The title of the TV show caused no end of headaches in the Cincinnati market. People thought channel 9, WCPO, the CBS station airing the show, was changing call letters. People got it confused with WKRC-TV (ironically now the CBS affiliate in Cincinnati). Nielson had to be notified that viewers would be entering "WKRP" under "WCPO" or vice versa, or claiming they watched "WKRP Channel 9." Fortunately, once the show premiered and people understood it was a sitcom about a fictional radio station, the confusion died down.
* The pilot episode shows WKRP to be a 50,000 watt station. In later episodes, this was changed to 5,000. Apparently, the writers felt a 50,000 watt station couldn't possibly suck as bad as WKRP. In the real life late '70's and early '80's, however, Cincinnati's two 50,000 watt stations made WKRP look positively progressive. WLW was, in the words of radio executive Randy Michaels, a "sleeping giant," and WCKY (the original at 1530) was still playing Johnny Mathis.
* Many take claim for being the inspiration for Les Nessman, but the hilarious fact is that during that period in radio many big signal AM stations in the Midwest would play The Little River Band, and then follow that with a farm report. Ag was big business to those stations. And to some, it still is.
* The tower shown in the title sequence is actually an FM tower for 94.1FM. This is one of those stations that has changed formats and call letters too many times to track, but I believe at the time these shows originally aired the call letters were WWNK. For people my age, we remember it as WSAI-FM, a station who at one time had a manager named Les Rau.
* In one episode, we hear a series of radio station calls announced as part of a city-wide promotion. Those call letters are real. And most are still on the air with those calls.
* In 1981 a lone gunman got into WCPO television and held the station hostage for several hours before he was apprehended. No one was injured. The gunman did not identify himself as Bobby Boogie, and he did not shoot a speaker.
Wednesday, November 19, 2008
Of course, some folks would say that the first horseman of The Apocalypse rode by when they gave the Superbowl to NBC. But the fact is it would've made little difference what network had the Superbowl this year; when GM cuts its advertising, we all lose a little.
For years, General Motors has been the leading spender in sports advertising, standing far ahead of the second place rivals Toyota, AT&T, and Anheuser-Busch. You might remember those clever Budweiser frogs and horses with a warm glow, but GM made sure every time a referee blew a whistle, John Mellencamp started singing.
And that may have been the problem all along. You see, while there's been a lot of talk about why GM and the Big Three are hanging by a thread - the UAW is to blame, bad designs, too much reliance on SUV's and big trucks, front office management that makes the Cincinnati Bengals look like Lloyd's of London - the one thing that rarely gets mentioned is the ad campaigns. Or rather, the tendency to bash us over the head every nine minutes with a lame jingle for a truck I don't want, or a Cadillac I can't afford. (An article on GM's ad spending cuts appeared in last Sunday's New York Times, followed immediately by a half-page ad for Cadillac's Red Tag Event, so apparently the memo had yet to get out.)
Over exposure, or media saturation, can result in a backlash effect that undoes everything the advertiser is trying to accomplish. Last Sunday's New York Times Magazine ran an article explaining how companies need to carefully manage their brand exposure to avoid a backlash. Car companies, in the throes of a sales manager induced panic, tend to forget all these concerns and simply blanket the air with their message. If I heard Toyota's dreary "Saved By Zero" spot one more time, (For the musicians reading this, doesn't anybody teach anybody to avoid parallel fifths anymore?) I was ready to buy a Hummer just for spite. Further complicating matters are the local car dealers, wedging their ads in during the local breaks with even more clutter. And for a car company that's been on the brink since the day I was born, Chrysler manages to be on the air more than anybody, often running two fifteen second "bookend" spots that start and end the break set. "Bookending" is the bane of television advertising. For the same amount of money, you get on twice as often. It's a technique that monopolizes ad scheduling - there's no room for another car ad within the break - cheats the network's or station's inventory, causes no end of headaches for the trafficking department, and builds even more backlash from the consumer who's sitting at home saying, "Didn't you bozos just run this?" In the interest of fairness, Arby's, Macy's and Elder Beerman (Federated Department Stores) bookend us half to death as well.
As the NYT article suggests, perhaps less is more. It's not about over saturating the media, but rather carefully selecting when and where your message is shown, and crafting that message to implant the right emotional response.
NBC just cancelled "My Own Worst Enemy." The first thing a coworker said to me about this was, "I would've watched it, but they hit me over the head with the promos so much I got resentful and said to hell with that." Backlash. Scroll back to my blogs during the Olympics, and you'll see me complain about this back then. "Enemy" was meant to be, to a certain degree, a product placement device for the new Chevy Camero. Apparently, it did not work. Perhaps GM's announced cutbacks had a hand in the decision to cancel "My Own Worst Enemy."
The question now is: will Christian Slater be appealing to congress for a bailout?
Friday, October 31, 2008
"We don't care if it's the first act of Henry the Fifth. We're getting out of here."
Okay, now this is just getting silly. Really. Is anybody at the Republican National Headquarters listening to what they're doing? Apparently not, or at least their voice actors on the robocalls have never heard of the Republican Vice Presidential nominee.
Look, I want to make it clear. I used to be a conservative. I voted for Reagan. I voted for the George Herbert Walker Bush. I marched in a parade with John Boehner back in Hamilton, Ohio. I worked at WLW, for crying out loud. It's not like I was raised by hippies, or wolves, or hippie wolves or something.
But this stuff coming out of the McCain campaign is straight out of the 1950's. The Commies are coming! The Commies are coming! Hell, with congress being run by liberal extremists, they're already here. This stuff is not just embarrassing to the GOP, it's embarrassing to the entire human race.
Robo Call just rang me again a few minutes ago. "Joe" told me how appalled he was that Obama said that Georgia should "show restraint" in the face of Russia's military action back this summer. You may recall both sides needed to show restraint, but that's beside the point. Joe shows well-inflected outrage at this, and asks is this what Obama will say when "Putin invades our homeland." Really. I'm not making this up.
So, Russia is marching towards America. And only McCain can stop them. That's funny. No, really. The answering machine recorded it, and I'm saving that one for history. Who needs Comedy Central with these bozos on the phone? But wait, it gets better. At the end of the message, the voice actor - and he is an actor, okay? They paid a guy to do this. - says this message was approved by the "McCain Pallin' Campaign."
I had to listen a second time to make sure I heard it right. Yes. That's what he said. He pronounced America's favorite MILF with a short "a" like we're just hanging out with my pal Sarah, and we're just Sarah pallin' around.
I'm dying. And I swear, I am not making this up.
That's the truly scary part.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
There's an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune about the decline of the Morning Zoo - those wild and crazy guys who used to dominate local morning radio. Patrick Kampert sights six reasons for the taming of the morning shows:
1 Federal Communications Commission fines
2 Jocks have matured
3 Advertisers don't like it
4 What's so shocking? (Cable and the Internet are relatively uncensored.)
5 The absence of Stern (He's on satellite radio dropping F bombs right and left.)
6 The tenor of the times
To that list, I'd like to add a seventh reason: the brain drain in the radio industry.
Years ago, major market stations kept boxes overflowing with audition tapes from hopeful applicants. These tapes came from the medium markets, where air talents polished their craft after paying their dues in the small markets, where they made their mistakes and found their personality. Only after years of work could a DJ hope to advance to the big leagues. (There are exceptions, of course, but those talents usually held a background in a similar field such as acting or TV.)
Today, the small market stations are owned by Clear Channel or other giants. These companies don't want their small market outlets to sound like small market outlets. Like the Big Mac, they want their stations to be the same all across the country. So, instead of employing a staff of fledgling professionals at their small stations, they bring in 20something sales managers who's only knowledge of the programming side of the business is to hire board operators to make sure the voice tracks imported from other stations get inserted between the songs correctly and sit through "Bob and Tom." These thousand-watt cubicle farms have no room for the Sterns and Dahls and even the Soupy Sales of tomorrow.
Not that Soupy Sales would be caught dead in one of these flea trap organizations. Once a proud part of their communities, many of these stations are now embarrassments. The staffers who were active members of the Kiwanis, Boy Scouts, Optimists, Shriners, and 4-H advisers, were told to take retirement. The hoodlums who run these stations today are far too busy searching for kegs, or crack, or whatever, or whoever they can "tap" next to be bothered with helping with the local Soap Box Derby. My personal experience was to have bar fights break out at my last remotes. A charity event at a bowling establishment turned into an embarrassment when station staffers of the Clear Channel variety got drunk and fell down on the lanes. In my last months working there, I used to half-joke that I'd rather tell people I sell child pornography than work for Clear Channel.
The result of all this is that the promise of talent that would've sent in tapes to the major market radio stations is now making a living in IT, selling cell phones, teaching, farming, or still searching for something, anything that can make them an honest living with their dignity intact. After all, some of these people are raising children.
Right now, there's a man who just issued a notice of foreclosure on somebody's house. He's walking away, feeling small and dirty. In order to bolster his spirits, he thinks back to the day he had to host the ultimate fighting matches for his station and a client who was soon indicted for money laundering. And he says to himself, "Could be worse. I could be in radio."
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
There was a time when Election Night meant constant coverage. Local and national anchor teams sat in front of massive maps giving us the state-by-state breakdown, numbers were posted with magnetic numbers on metal boards, rear projection screens, or even black markers on white boards. On radio, you just read the results. But either way, Election Night meant a long night. The news director ordered pizza. You sat in a board of elections lobby gabbing with your fellow reporters, catching up on media gossip while you waited for more precincts to report in. And when they did, the results were usually written on a white board, or a chalk board, or at one courthouse I worked, they used an overhead projector.
On radio, results were phoned in, which meant you had to share the courthouse phones with your journalistic brethren. Banks of phones would be set up for the media, and you would be using them most of the night, as results trickled in from the hand counting of the ballots. During the 80's cell phones starting showing up. Reporters would unfurl their "bag phones" searching for a "hot spot" much the way laptop dogs hunt for WIFI today. Early cell phones went through batteries like the Tasmanian Devil goes through a Golden Coral. After two or three calls, reporters were searching for electrical outlets. More than a few election wrap ups were phoned in from dark hallways or the men's room. I usually did my final report in the car, with the phone plugged into the power outlet for the cigarette lighter - back when cars had cigarette lighters.
Those were the days. And now they're gone.
You see, there's not much call for wall-to-wall team coverage at the local level anymore. Sure, the presidential elections have been controversial gabfests for the national networks and cable news giants. But for many local stations the contest for sheriff or common pleas court judge really isn't worth the bitch calls they'll get breaking into "Dancing With The Stars." So they run a crawl throughout the night. And these days you can get the numbers on any number of websites faster, easier, and more detailed than you'll find anywhere else. And for the reporters, unless you happen to be at a county where the chads are hanging or a 69 year-old poll worker gets lost with the last precinct of ballots, you're done and on your way home by 10:00.
It's all fast and efficient now. And that's the way it ought to be.
But just once more, how I'd like to taste a soggy pizza in a stuffy newsroom after midnight.
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
A writer's observation: notice how the car is gifted with the ability to transform into any four-wheel vehicle of the Ford family - the easier to update the 'Tang to the 2010 model should the need arise, without a plot device. In the original "Knight Rider" KITT had to be wrecked in order to update the Trans Am. (A pointless exercise, since GM product designs tend to evolve at a glacier pace.) Note how KITT has evolved from the 2008 model.
So, if McCain wins the election, will Ford team up with a network to bring back "Maverick?"
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Some of things I'm seeing and hearing from McCain and Palin rallies are scaring me half to death. At least McCain finally told a little old lady, No. He's not. He's a good man. But Palin and the GOP are reminding me of something out of "All The King's Men." Or worse, George Wallace. (Irony Alert: Wallace was a Democrat.)
So why is this hi-octane crap being shoveled into my phone? Because political candidates are exempt from the National Do Not Call Registry, a loophole in the law that is intended to allow political freedom.
Also, it's a lot harder to track this bovine excrement when it comes over your telephone. Automated dialers - illegal for business oriented telemarketing - can be set up and taken out of any basement in any city in any state... or country. If anyone were to actually take the effort to track these guys down, all they'd find is an empty room by the time they found it.
But, if you buy advertising time on TV, local or network, somebody has to sign for it. There's a paper trail. The FCC is watching. Everybody has to be at their best behavior. You can say, "Obama voted to kill babies," as long as you sight your source by putting that little graphic at the bottom of the screen in microscopic font that even we in master control with HD direct monitors can't read.
But the question I have is this: Why aren't political ads held to the FTC's Truth in Advertising law? If it's illegal for Coke to run an ad saying "Pepsi is poison, with a liberal agenda that'll raise your taxes," why is it legal for McCain and the Republicans? If Viagra can't show a person taking a pill and saying, "Wow. Good thing I didn't take Cialis, which has terrorist friends," why should Palin get away with it?
According to the FTC website:
As with any other form of advertising or promotion, claims made through telemarketing must be truthful and substantiated.
Don't tell me it's for the sake of political freedom. The First Amendment doesn't cover libel, slander, or outright deception. If political campaigns were held to the same ethical standards in advertising as a local window company, these party politics flunkies wouldn't have any feces to sling and they'd have to get real jobs.
And my phone would stop ringing.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Dr. Swill: Folks, I gotta tell ya. This has got be the worst relationship since Bristol Palin told her boyfriend she's keeping the baby. I'm talking with John and Marsha Wineguard. Marsha, let's start with you. How did this all get started?
Marsha: When Mr. Wizard here brought home that new digital TV.
John: Don't you judge me!
Dr. Swill: Alright, John, you'll get your turn. But thanks for getting that cliche out of the way early in the show. Seems to me digital TV was supposed to make the viewer's experience better, with more channels, a clearer picture...
Marsha: But we weren't told we had to get an antenna on our roof in order for any of that to work. So, then, John goes up on the roof to aim the antenna. Did you know if you don't aim those things just right... (breaks into sobbing) We couldn't get anything, Dr. Swill. That shouldn't happen to anyone. I mean, after all... We live in America!
Dr. Swill: OK, now, John, I'll let you pick it up from there. You went out on the roof to aim the antenna. Then what?
John: Well, you know, I can't see the TV from up there, so I needed Marsha to watch the antenna aiming display on the TV. That's all I needed her to do. Just tell me when the bar hits one hundred.
Marsha: What bar? I don't know what he's talking about.
John: The bar. You know, the big honkin' signal display that you have to be either blind or stupid not to see.
Marsha: Well, you'd turn the thing, and all I could see was blue.
John: Turn the thing? You see what I've got to deal with? I never would've taken those vows of I had known I was marrying a techno-moron.
Dr. Swill: OK, now that's a bag of popcorn you can't unpop. I want you to think about-
Marsha: Oh, this coming from the genius who tried climbing up on the roof holding a four-by-eight piece of metal modern art AND a can of beer. Guess which one he dropped when he lost his balance.
John: The wind caught it.
Marsha: The wind caught it. And I guess it was the wind that nearly caused it to kill that man in the Buick.
John: I had him believing it was an alien spacecraft, until you had to open your big pie hole.
Dr. Swill: OK, now that rooster won't crow. I think what we're dealing with here is a communication issue.
Marsha: Oh, communication. You want to hear about communication? Let the genius here tell you about his Master Plan with the cell phones.
John: It was working fine. We both had our cell phones on so I could give her directions from the roof.
Marsha: You mean curse and call me names from the roof.
John: It was working fine!
Marsha: Yeah, until Marconi here dropped his phone and watched it slide down into a gutter where he can't reach it. It's still up there. Turned on. Now, every time he gets a call the entire neighborhood gets treated to the Bitch Song from South Park... again.
Dr. Swill: OK, what I'm going to suggest is that you two get professional help.
John: A marriage counselor?
Dr. Swill: No. A professional TV tower and antenna installation company. Because, unless you're a HAM radio operator or a professional stuntman, you've got no business trying to install your own TV antenna. A pro might cost you money, but it's money well spent if you want to enjoy over-the-air digital TV and get the most channels available in your area. Doing it yourself won't save you a plug-nickle if you end up in the hospital eating through a straw. Now, coming up, we're going to hear from a couple who tried to take their kids shopping for clothes. Can this marriage be saved? Stay tuned.
Is Lima, Ohio ready for the switch? Based on the number of calls I got the night our 1964 RCA analog broke down right before the vice-presidential debate, I'd say Hell No! According to the FCC, the people most likely to find their TV's inoperable on February 17, 2009 are the poor, the elderly, and the disenfranchised. That pretty much describes the core population of Lima.
Maybe we should air this.
Shout out to John Sandor for pointing out this video.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
NBC has made it official that the fledgling all-weather network is being phased out by the end of the year. The reason: NBC just bought The Weather Channel. Oops.
It wasn't that Weather Plus was all that bad, but rather the timing was the worst since the introduction of the 2008 SUV line-up just in time for $4 a gallon gas. It was envisioned that Weather Plus would offer a 24-hour a day alternative to The Weather Channel's increasingly chatty programming. In reality, it was relegated to the "point 3" channel on most NBC affiliates' new digital signals. Compare that to The Weather Channel's seemingly omnipresence during hurricane season, and it was clear the little dog never had a chance. Furthermore, many local TV stations use their own Doppler radars as the visual backbone for their continuous local weather channels. The Peacock's graphically cluttered theme, combined with oft repeated automated segments, sealed its fate.
The television landscape may support multiple ESPN's, a Fox Sports channel, two C-Spans, multiple children's networks, four PBS signals to every affiliate, and a plethora of religious channels... but there's still room for only one Weather Channel.
Cable TV providers seem to be running into a number of "disputes" with local TV stations these days. In my general region alone, Time Warner had pulled the plug on two different major network affiliates in two markets last week. What gives? Here it is in a nutshell:
Once upon a time, a cable operator had to provide local channels whether they wanted to or not, 'cause the FCC said so. The "must carry" law went away some years ago, but most cable systems remained unchanged simply because things were working fine they way they were. But now, with the economy in the johnny flusher and ad revenues already off, local TV stations are looking for any means they can find to raise a little cash. The solution: inform the cable operators in your area that they are infringing on your rights by retransmitting your signal without fair compensation. Now, gimmee your money.
Naturally enough, the cable company's response to this is going to be, "@*%# you." They turn off the reception of the local station and put Starz Kids in its place. As a result, instead of Payton Manning and the Colts, you get "Bee Movie." Remote controls go flying. Screens are smashed. TV stations, cable operators, congressmen, and senators find their voice mails melted on Monday morning.
I'm not a lawyer, but it seems to me that if any of these disputes ever came to trial, I would want to know why, oh, say WANE in Fort Wayne, for example, hasn't felt motivated to taking action for the theft of their intellectual property in the any of the previous 50 years that their signal has been retransmitted all over the region. And what makes their signal in 2008 more valuable than the signal they transmitted in 2007, 2006, 2005, etc... Market value? Potential sales revenue? The court will take a 15 minute recess for the jury to stop laughing. YOU'RE A CBS AFFILIATE.
Wednesday, October 1, 2008
Thursday, September 25, 2008
Sure, I can point out the political details that are often glossed over or ignored by the copywriters in order to stoke an emotional response. Like the McCain ads that lean on the tried and true Republican tactic of proclaiming that Obama and his Liberal friends in congress want to raise your taxes, thus planting the seed in the dittohead brain that somehow taxes won't go up under McCain. Pretty ironic stuff coming from the party whose president is about to engineer the biggest economic bailout since FDR.
But I'd rather leave that sort of thing to the political pundits. My specialty is spotting the technical and production gaffs that can pop up in a hastily produced political ad. It may come as surprise to realize that ever since Ike appeared in the first TV spots for president, the same film techniques that sell you soap and aspirin have been employed to influence your vote. Some Eisenhower commercials were produced by Walt Disney studios, using the same talent pool of animators and technicians that brought you "Cinderella" and "Sleeping Beauty." From the very beginning, the bar was set high. As a result, it never occurs to the average viewer that a photo of a rumpled woman with a look of concern on her face only represents a haggard working mother, but in reality she is a paid professional model. Or that it took 15 takes before your senator could master the finer points of jumping off that John Deere tractor and shaking the hand of a dusty farmer (civic theater thespian) in letterboxed slow-mo. These people are in the image making business, and reality is a lose concept lost somewhere between the Bridge to Nowhere and a swiftboat.
Currently, my favorites are the ads for Ohio's Issue 6. Now I'm not necessarily against opening a casino in Clinton County. In fact, Wilmington could use the jobs. But the "Vote Yes" spots contain a number of distractions that make me wonder just how much care and research really went into this campaign.
The most recent ad I just ingested into our station's spot server is an answer to a negative ad by the opposition. At one point we see a car crossing the boarder into Ohio, meant to represent the image of an Ohio resident staying in Ohio to spend his gambling dollars in his home state. Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that if an Ohio resident is staying in Ohio he doesn't need to reenter a state he never left, this image would be a whole lot more convincing if the car shown driving into Ohio had an Ohio license plate.
The first ad in the campaign is even more fun. Here we are shown cars, trucks, and buses driving across the various state lines representing "Ohio dollars leaving the state at 65 miles per hour." It would be a great visual if those damn details brought on by a short production deadline and a limited budget didn't get in the way. "We're surrounded by states that allow casino gambling," states the voice over. Make that nearly surrounded. Kentucky does not have casinos, but you're more than welcome to drive down to Turfway or Churchill Downs and watch your money gallop around the track, so that's a wash. What I can't get past is how the same tour bus shown crossing into Michigan is then shown crossing into West Virginia. Neat trick.
And I'm still trying to figure out how those trucks and buses are entering West Virginia rolling right past the state line sign without crossing the Ohio River.
Maybe what they need is a bridge to nowhere.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
A victim of changing musical tastes - if you can call the current self destruction of Hip Hop a musical taste - Soul Train ceased production at the end of the 2005-6 season. Since then, stations have been sent "The Best of Soul Train" episodes, which were actually quite fun to watch. The fashions and the music of the '70's and '80's made for some great viewing. Unfortunately, nobody ever made it a priority to promote these shows, and the dead zone time slots the show usually ran in didn't help. Advertisers bailed. Hats off to McDonald's and Proctor and Gamble for sticking with it to the end. Gone were the Afro-Sheen commercials, half the fun of watching "Train" for us middle class white kids in the the burbs.
And that was the beautiful thing about Soul Train. It was accessible. Sure, it was aimed at African Americans, or an "Urban" audience as Black programming was called back in 1970 when Soul Train began on WCIU in Chicago. When the show went into national syndication it broke ground as the first successful national program aimed unabashedly at a black audience. Nat "King" Cole had a network show in the 1950's, but some affiliates in the South refused to air it, and let's face it, Cole's appeal crossed race barriers. Bill Cosby on "I Spy" and Lt. Uhura on "Star Trek" were aimed at all audiences. But from the moment that animated train chugged across the screen and you heard Don Cornelius' voice, you knew this show was Black with a capital "B." And no matter who you were, you just had to watch.
And the music kept you watching. In the early days, performers sang on the show live - most notably Mimi Rippeton, who could prove without a doubt those outta sight high notes were hers. (You know Maria Carey was watching.) I remember The Daz Band performing on The Train, and there was no way to lip sync that. As the years progressed, the bands took a back seat to the disco singers miming to their own records being played on a turntable in the control room. (In master control you can hear the record's surface noise and the "wow" pitch distortion caused by a slightly out-of-center spindle hole.) But in those pre-MTV days, who cared? Black kids watched with pride, seeing their musical heros on a show they could call their own. White kids watched with curiosity and the thrill of taking in a part of something a little forbidden. This is a Black show. My parents will raise the roof if they catch me watching this. Cool.
The rise of cable channels MTV and BET surely took a bite out of Train's audience. After all, Michael Jackson was limited in what he could do in that cramped Los Angeles TV studio compared to the Thriller video. But the Train chugged on through the '80's and 90's. Don Cornelius and his crew insisted on a positive show, eschewing gansta rap and lewd Hip Hop in favor of clean rappers and true soul artists. And sadly, that may be the main reason for the show's demise. Advertisers want the kids to watch, and the kids are watching uncensored rap videos on the Internet.
Also, Don Cornelius isn't a young man anymore, and he's finding it hard to pass the torch. A number of hosts have stepped in to fill his shoes since 1993, but it wasn't the same. It's a sad statement when nobody is able to take the torch from a legend like Cornelius. And the television business hasn't helped. The future of Soul Train was truncated with the announced closing of Tribune Entertainment's syndication division in December of 2007, which left Don Cornelius Productions to seek a new distributor for the program. Cornelius singed a deal with Trifecta Entertainment & Media, who, alas, as it happens with so many other minority programs, dropped the ball and left what stations that were still running Soul Train stranded without a show. Our station didn't get the word until after our operators tried to record the next scheduled satellite feed... and it wasn't there. A sad coda to a great show.
But the times have changed. These days the music is about a series of rappers marking their territories like so many stray dogs whizzing on telephone poles. It's defenders say the music tells it like it is; this is life on the block. Yeah, well, maybe I'm just a geezer, but Marvin Gaye told it like it was, and still is, without excluding anybody. And anybody who thinks social inequities are an excuse for rude and immoral behavior ought to take a listen to The Staple Singers' "Respect Yourself."
I'll just keep an eye out for DVD's of classic Soul Train. Until then, I wish you...
Peace, Love, and Soul.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Anyway, back to the DVD's. Seems some folks are disappointed in the audio quality of certain releases, such as The Three Stooges, Looney Tunes Vols. 1-5, and numerous old Hollywood classics. Even episodes of "Columbo" seem a little flat. Dialogue is hard to hear. The score is way back there. That car explosion damn near took my head off. What gives, you ask? You thought "Digital Remastered" would be better? Well, it ain't necessarily so.
The reason for all of this gets into the arcane area of audio processing sometimes refereed to as Psychoacoustics. No, it's not the name of Alfred Hitchcock's favorite string quartet. It's the study of how we perceive sound. The key word being perceive. It's not about how our ears work, but rather how we hear. You see that pair of priceless microphones perched on your head are connected to nature's perfect preamp, your brain. And your brain has as much to do with - in fact, more to do with how you hear things than your eardrums or Eustachian tube.
Film Sound vs. TV Sound
Our parents watched Larry, Curly, and Moe poke and slap on the big screen in movie theatres via 35 millimeter film, the way the producers intended them to be shown. Along with the big picture, there was the big sound. A full-fidelity soundtrack reproduced the audio content of the movie by way of the theater's speaker system. These sound systems used big amplifiers to drive big speakers with a level of quality that was pretty much unknown even in the record industry. By the 1950's, after the introduction of magnetic tape, the range of soft to loud sounds capable of being reproduced in a film was quite wide. This is what engineers call Dynamic Range, and as the technology improved, sound engineers put this range to use. Dialog was kept down, while extreme noises were brought up to ear-splitting levels. Thus, in theatrical release Road Runner cartoons from about 1955 on, the music remained at about 60%, while the Acme Rocket Car hit the speakers at 90% or more. And the kids loved it.
Most of us living today have only seen The Three Stooges or Bugs Bunny via a very imperfect contraption we in the biz call the consumer grade television receiver. Gone are the days of the Saturday matinee. Baby Boomers, and we Tweeners, grew up watching these little gems through the static and the fuzz as they were transmitted by our local television stations via grainy, faded, splice-riddled reels of 16mm film. This arrangement was filled with compromise, and television engineers knew the limitations. So, certain adjustments were made.
First, consider that the TV broadcaster is restricted by the FCC (or the equivalent government agency in Canada) as to how loud they can broadcast the audio. If Wile E. Coyote's dynamite is too loud, there's going to be hell, and a hefty fine, to pay. But that bomb is going to go off far too quickly for any master control engineer to catch it in time. Second, consider that many of us, including John K, watch television with fairly simple equipment. Thirty foot CinemaScope curved screens became relics to be replaced with the 13-inch Trinitron with a 3-inch mono speaker. No Voice of Theater speaker cabinets in the living room. Believe me, I've tried. The wife put her foot down.
Furthermore, with a few exceptions, advertisers want their commercials to be LOUD. (No. The commercials are not really louder on the air than the show - but they are fed from the network much louder than the show, and that causes the local station's compression to "pump." More on that in a later post.) So, TV stations are under pressure to be LOUD, whether it helps the programs or not. Trust me, the studio audience on "Oprah" doesn't get any more musical when it's pumped up with 30 decibels of gain.
So, electronic solutions are employed. Audio compression - not to be confused with file compression used in the digital world - is inserted into the audio chain to manage the sudden bursts of frenzy, and make everything more or less the same volume level.
As a result, generations of TV viewers have been watching Warner Brothers' cartoons, the Three Stooges, and "The Wizard of Oz" on analog television with the audio compressed, or "optimized," or "squeezed to death," or "turned into AM radio," or whatever phrase you want to use.
Wide, Wide World
Along comes home video. Early VHS tapes weren't much better than broadcast television - in fact, they're worse. But DVD is a format that exceeds the limitations of analog NTSC North American telecasting. And the engineers who master DVD's want the people who've shelled out for home theater systems to get the most bang - and boom, and crash - for their buck. If you hook up your Blue Ray to a Surround system and sit down to watch "Star Wars" in your home theater, the Death Star blowing up better be the loudest thing in the show, by golly. Obi Wan talking to Luke about the Force is supposed to be soft - just like it was in the theater.
And that's the crux of the whole matter. DVD engineers are trying to recreate the movie theater experience. When they master the audio track, they follow the guidelines of the original production notes whenever possible. New films shot these days really aren't "films" anyway, they're shot in an HD video format at 24 frames per second, again to recreate the film experience. Since the "film" is mastered in an HD format anyway, the content is simply downconverted to the NTSC format for DVD release, with the original audio integrity retained - all 100 decibels of it. In the case of old school content shot on film, the engineers don't "ride the gain," but rather expand the dynamic range even more for an even bigger impression on the home theater viewer.
In other words, new "digitally remastered" or "restored" DVD releases are not put out there for the casual TV viewer still getting by with an RCA Colortrack console. You're supposed to run out and buy a plasma and hook up seven speakers to the thing and let Batman blow the freakin' roof off the place. I'm not exactly sure what artistic merits there are to expanding the audio on any of the Three Stooges repertoire. Fortunately, some newer TV's, like my big screen Trinitron, offer an automatic volume control intended to compensate for the wild variations in audio levels from one cable channel to another. The auto volume does a great job of throttling the audio of "over mastered" DVD's, so I never miss an eye gouge or a face slap or a "Nyak, nyak, nyak." Ah. Now that's technology making life better.
Monday, September 15, 2008
WERT-AM in Van Wert, Ohio was a victim of Sunday's high winds.
And that's a short tower, not high enough to require lighting. Those of you who know these things might notice the FM bays in the wreckage. Those were not active, just a leftover from the days when WERT-FM was "Stereo 99" at 98.9. Yep. Before The Bear, this was it.
Nobody was hurt. And yes, that's a cornfield in the background. Ha, ha.
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
Don is in that rare class of voice actor who became famous solely by performing in his chosen profession. Others in than class include Mel Blanc, June Foray, Stan Freeberg, Don Pardo, and, at least among fellow VO artists, Ernie Anderson. (With all due respect, Orson Wells is more famous today as a movie actor. Still, he was great.)
So, who gets to VO the trailer for "King Kong II?"
Tuesday, August 26, 2008
Every year Ohio State fair has a butter sculpture contest. After it was over, the Dispatch gang said, "Now, what do we do with this thing?" Seeking a featured video placement on YouTube, they set their entry on the roof of the building - it was mighty hot last week - and time-lapse videoed it melting. Mmmm. Yummy.
The poster won't let me embed the video, so click here to watch the gooey fun.
To my knowledge, this the most viewed item on the web involving the Ohio State Fair.
Friday, August 22, 2008
Man: Did you hear the one about the Ohio State Fair?
Man: Neither did I. I'm in Lima. (Drum kick.)
Every year, the Ohio State Fair chugs along and manages to do nothing for me except sneak under the radar. The Ohio State Fair is the ant under my shoe, the Goodyear blimp flying over my house at midnight, Fred Thompson running for president. It is persona non gratis: I ain't going unless I can get in for free. And even then, I'll probably miss it, because we here in the outback corner of the state never hear about it.
Sure, in Columbus, the fair is a major media event, surrounded by major corporate sponsorships and up-to-the-minute news coverage. Big name entertainment travels to the fair, I guess. The rides are bigger, I'm assuming. And the bullshit gets deeper, that I know.
The Columbus Dispatch reports attendance was up this year. "Our prayers have been answered," fair manager Virgil Strickler told the Dispatch reporter, in reference to the weather. It must've been divine intervention that brought thousands more to the fair this year, because it sure wasn't the advertising in Ohio's other markets. You know, places other than Columbus.
You can't blame the fair management for wanting to put their money where it'll do the most good. With recent fuel prices and a bad economy, a trip to the Ohio State Fair is a low-cost obvious option to families in the Columbus metro. Add to that the Dispatch Group's long standing connections to the fair, and you have built-in media coverage from a major newspaper, WBNS-TV, co-owned radio stations, and The Ohio News Network, which covers the majority of the state via cable, albeit on the higher priced digital tier.
Now, you can't have an event this size in a highly competitive media market like Columbus without the other news media outlets crying, "Me too! I wanna go! Lemme cover the fair!" The result? It's impossible to turn on a TV, radio, or open your eyes in greater Columbus during the fair without on the spot, 'round the clock, team coverage you can count on from the station where news is first, fast, dedicated, live and late breaking reports from the Ohio State Fair. Anchor teams host the news from the grounds. Helicopters provide live shots of the traffic and parking situation. If the Ohio State Fair is the largest state fair in the country, then second place goes to the media carnival that surrounds the fair. I call it the Dispatch Effect.
If you live in Columbus, this is a month or so of OMG media frenzy.
If you live in Cleveland, Cincinnati, or Toledo, the state fair ranks on the agenda somewhere after the sports. It's the kicker... if we have time.
If you live in Lima, the Ohio State Fair doesn't exist.
Airtime devoted to the state fair on WLIO this year can be measured in seconds. There are no ad campaigns, no guests from the fair, no news crews sent to Columbus, no coupons for admission in the newspapers, no links to local websites, no wacky morning show remotes, no billboards, and nobody cares. When was the last time there was a Lima Day at the Ohio State Fair? Probably the last time Bob Braun did his shows there.
OK. If the Ohio State Fair doesn't want rural Ohio citizens showing up and ruining their wine and cheese tasting affair, then that's fine with me. After all, who needs them? After years of shoddy management throughout the 1980's and 1990's, the Ohio State Fair scaled back, downsizing to what has basically become a really big Franklin County Fair, a temporary alternative to King's Island and Cedar Point for the children of Dublin and Upper Arlington. The State Fair knows their audience, and they have to keep their projections reachable. The Dispatch Effect will only work in Columbus; media outlets beyond the Effect will actually expect to get PAID to run commercials for the State Fair, and we can't have that. That requires accounting, fiscal responsibility, and an honest to goodness public relations effort. Forget that. Cincinnati has the Reds. Cleveland has the Indians, and LeBron is in Beijing. Toledo has Jamie Farr. And Galipolis has... uh... beautiful scenery. Let them eat cake.
Hey, did you hear the one about the Ohio State Fair?
They still have one! (Drum kick)
Monday, August 18, 2008
Do we put on the color bars with tone, the classic "Indian head" test pattern, or do we just shut down the transmitter and paint the tower?
One thing is for certain: I'm on vacation. But I'm planning at least one more post this week, so check back.
Thursday, August 14, 2008
When a network sends unpredictable live programming, the announcers try to give the 200 or so affiliates across the country and beyond a clear vocal cue to alert the master control operators "Here comes a local break." In the old days, this was done with the subtlety of a hydrogen bomb. "Stay tuned! We'll be right back after we pause for a word from our local stations. This is NBC." These days, they try to be less in-your-face, but the message is clear.
With the gymnastics judges taking a small eternity to put up scores last night, Bob Costas found himself anchoring well past 1:00AM Eastern. He wanted to go home. Two-hundred affiliates wanted their term break. Everybody wanted to wrap it up. And with that in mind, Costas started giving us the subtle pre-cues that we were going to the terminal break.
Only it didn't happen. But first, we have a guest in the studio. He talked. And then we switched to a produced piece about the Forbidden City. Under normal circumstances this would be a mild diversion to kill time while the Israeli archery team takes their turn. BUT NOT NOW! Shut up and and throw it to local! Finally, Costas was able to give his cue and really mean it.
Memo to NBC: The traveloge pieces are nice, but timing is everything.
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
This brings up the question: did the adult singers lip sync as well? Probably. It's a standard practice around the world in situations where a dead mike battery or a shorted earpiece can wreck the show. Sure, minor scandals were raised when certain performers synced, particularly Britney Spears, but she did it badly. Professional performers miming to themselves is one thing. Switching little girls on the world stage is quite another.
This "Singin' In The Rain" fiasco might have a positive outcome if the girl who really sang becomes famous, and if young girls and parents everywhere start thinking and talking about the expectations placed on women in this reality show called Life.
Monday, August 11, 2008
So, how's it going so far? Well, from the point of view of this NBC affiliate master control operator, it looks great, but sometimes I have to turn the sound down.
It's the same old TV axiom: we'll spend $50,000 on a camera, and hand the talent a hundred dollar microphone - if we remember to hand them one at all. At one point Saturday night Bob Costas found himself holding his lavaliere while his guest had no mike at all. Bob assumed the viewers could hear nothing, but in reality we could hear everyone OK thanks to the Chinese tradition of using an omni-directional overhead mike in the studio. How delightfully low tech. And it worked - somewhat. Had Mr. Costas put away his snark for a moment the segment might've gone over quite well. Lord, how I miss Jim McKay.
I like Bob Costas. I get him. But I can easily see why some folks would like to see him get the same send off they gave Dennis Miller on Monday Night Football. Costas is the commentator voted most likely to reference Dostoevsky during a demolition derby. His bon mots aren't just dry, they're dehydrated. Thank God Matt Lauer was there during the opening ceremony to throw some water on the fire. Matt, he who uses blow darts to deflate Conan O'Brien's inflatable man, is in on the joke. (You have to have a sense of humor to put up with Meredith every morning.) Listening to Lauer and Costas wasn't too painful. Costas: "The Republic of Central Africa, is, as you know, a Republic located in Central Africa." Lauer: "Thanks, Bob."
People are asking why did NBC spend good money to fly Cris Collinsworth to China? (Knowing Cris, he's probably asking the same thing.) I'm asking why did NBC spend good money to fly Andrea Kramer to China. And why will they blow another wad to send her back?
So, overall, great images, but the sound needs work. That 5.1 surround can reveal a lot of shortcomings in the system. Even with the best windscreens, plosive laden commentators are thumping woofers in homes everywhere. The studio segments have audio on only the center channel. During the opening ceremony, somebody forgot the hook up a tie line to the stadium sound board so we could really hear the singers. And more care needs to be taken in aiming crowd mikes at the events. Aim them up into the ambiance of the stadium, not at the lower rows where an isolated group create a distraction. During the women's gymnastics Sunday night, the mikes were picking up a group of very enthusiastic young ladies. Now, those of you who have ever attended a girl's junior high or high school athletic event know what I'm talking about. These are teenage girls. They do what teenage girls tend to do at athletic events: they shriek... and shriek... and shriek... and shriek... always at volume levels and pitches that cause automatic garage doors to open. Please, aim the mikes up. Thank you.
Some other issues being debated:
It's not live on the West Coast.
How long have you lived California? You know nothing is live on the West Coast.
There are too many commercials.
If you could see my network timing sheets, you'd see there are fewer commercial breaks during prime time during the Olympics than there are during a typical prime time schedule. The show segments tend to be much longer, and the spot breaks tend to be shorter. That said, NBC needs to back off the promos for the upcoming fall shows. I saw "My Own Worst Enemy" in three consecutive breaks. NBC can be it's own worst enemy.
The announcers on the CBC are better.
Yeah. They are.
Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Whenever our country has faced troubled times, wars, recessions, celebrities getting out of cars without underwear, we've been able to rely on the mass media to bring us the truth, and deliver that truth to every corner of the Fruited Plain. But, as the specter of economic doom rises above our nation, foreclosures, bank failures, Starbucks closing stores, it is clear to me that the media is not getting the word out. At least not to the people who send me my daily dose of junk mail.
I'm not one to reveal in depth information about my finances on a blog, but since the mortgage crisis arose my personal line of credit has risen several thousand dollars. Both Master Card and Visa think I'm a swell guy, and Chase thinks my wife is a real sweetie. According to the letters they send on a monthly basis we have "earned" the "privileges" that come with a "sterling" record of responsibility. All of this is sent to a man in his forties who is sitting at home in the middle of the day writing a blog.
What gets me is the come-ons from the hoity-toity cards who want my business. American Express really, really, really wants me to get their card. Not the Tiger Woods card for those mamby-pamby wannabes. Oh no. I mean the down and dirty, executive level, don't leave home without it - and by "home" we mean The United States - American Express card. If I sent in one of the dozen or so forms I have on my desk right now - or maybe all of them - I could buy Annheiser Busch and keep your Bud an American beer. Hell. While I'm at it, might as well snap up the Chrysler Building, and maybe the Cincinnati Reds. (But Steve, you say in protest, you don't know the first thing about running a major league- Oh. Yeah. On second thought, go for it.)
I expect a letter in the mail addressed to one of our cats any day now. It'll read:
Dear Mr. Rum-Tum-Tigger,
Congratulations are in order, as you have earned the privileges that come with responsible financial management. Apply today for the Feline Fiduciary Card, and instantly earn points you can redeem on your next purchase at Petland, while carrying a low interest rate. And we waive the first year's service charge. Simply send in the application below, or come in to one of our branches and rub against the legs of one of our account executives today.
And it's not just the mail offers. The TV commercials for credit cards have hit an all-time high for creativity. Late night shows are riddled with slick, funny, and memorable ads for Capital One cards. Every night these commercials ask the late night college dorm Carson Daly audience "What's in your wallet?" Based on the number of commercials they run, I'd say a lot more than pizza money and a "just in case" condom.
So, with all this free credit being offered, it's very apparent that these credit card companies have not heard the news that there's a credit crisis going on in this country. Surely, these are intelligent people running these outfits. I mean they handle money, for crying out loud. They don't just let anybody run these places, do they? Right. So, there can only be one explanation for the disconnect: it's the media's fault.
Why has the news media failed in informing our financial institutions of this grave situation that grips this country? Is it a lack of fortitude? Have our journalists lost the ability to stand up and tell the truth to the corporate giants who may not want to hear it? Have we lost the verve, the zeal for justice, on which the foundation of this great nation was built? Or is Brian Williams simply afraid to talk too much about Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac because he knows it makes him sound like Hank on "King of the Hill?"
I don't know. But while I wait for an answer, I think I'll go buy an I-Phone. Let's see... should I use the Discover? or the Visa? or the Chase? Or...
Tuesday, July 1, 2008
About twenty minutes ago, I stopped in at my friendly neighborhood KFC with a cartoon balloon over my head. In it was an image of a KFC pot pie: flakey crust, big chucks of chicken, and real vegetables swimming in a delectable sea of creamy broth. Nutritious, delicious, and inexpensive. The All-American lunch.
The man at the counter informed me that during the summer pot pies were available only on Mondays.
Only on Mondays? What? Is this some kind of sick joke? Why would you do that? What was the marketing strategy behind this move? Was there an emergency meeting in the star chamber at the Kentucky Fried Chicken World Headquarters where Peter Sellers with a mechanical hand convinced the store managers that pot pies sold seven days a week would lead to a nation of weak, unproductive working-class citizens?
This is the kind of marketing acumen that infests the American economy. Take a successful product, advertise the life out of it, and then make sure nobody can buy it. Or find it. It's a strategy that befuddles even the most innocent of shoppers every Christmas when trying to find the toy Santa promised a niece or nephew. Whadya mean you won't get another Wii for six months? That's all the kids want this year. Tell those twelve year olds in China to box them up faster!
The reasons for this strategy are as optimistic as the companies' sales projections. Maybe they're are trying to create a "Cabbage Patch Kid" kind of buzz by doing this: if a product becomes rare, the more the proletariat will clamor for it. And the more we can charge for it. Sometimes it seems companies jump a few steps and go straight to the Cabbage Patch pricing. Create a new phone. Charge $600 for it. Now, watch the feeding frenzy begin.
Only the frenzy rarely happens. The Cabbage Patch Kid kind of phenomenon is just that, a phenomenon. An unpredictable anomaly in the ebb and flow of sales cycles. All Apple succeeded in doing was frustrating a number of "new adapter" consumers, and then throwing insult on top of injury when they introduced a $200 version a year later. This is a brand loyalty building strategy?
NBC's biggest hit show of the past two years was "Heroes." I ask you, when was the last time NBC aired an episode of "Heroes?" Can't remember? Neither can the once loyal fans of the show. Apparently, the brain trust in 30 Rock couldn't figure out how to harvest the golden eggs that goose was laying. Or perhaps the pharmaceutical companies that share GE/NBC/Universal's bed couldn't market pills for baby boomer maladies during what was essentially a graphic novel brought to life. Whatever the reason, the best show NBC had all decade has now vanished from the radar.
American auto makers are not immune to this affliction, either. General Motors is a world class leader in taking defeat and snatching it from the jaws of victory. Remember the Olds Cutlass Supreme? Smartly designed, fuel efficient, and durable, the Cutlass Supreme was one of, if not the best selling passenger car in the GM lineup throughout the 1980's. For reasons that defy gravity to this day, GM ceased the making of the beloved Cutlass Supreme. Hey, let's take our number one seller, and quit making them. It's genius! The result: Oldsmobile is defunct, and GM is getting its ass kicked by Toyota while twenty-year-old Cutlass Supremes still jug down the road, along with its close cousin, the butt-ugly Buick Skylark.
If there was ever a case study of the American economy gone wrong, it would have to be Buick. Once a car that told people you had arrived, driving a Buick now tells people you arrived back during the Carter administration. Designed by committee - apparently a committee that hates cars - Buicks are the 50,000 Watt AM radio station of automobiles: lots of power, but the owner doesn't know how to put that power to use, a long, proud heritage forgotten by the industry and unknown by the younger generations, trapped in a time warp where the Beatles never happened. The very symbol of right wing America, turn on a Buick sound system with 6 CD changer and MP3 input and you'll find it tuned to Rush Limbaugh. Test drive one of the TWO remaining passenger car models available, and you'll get a nostalgia-tinged feeling for driving a car that doesn't have a center console shifter. There's room under the dash to mount a CB radio. And to remind you that you are indeed driving a product of General Motors, if you use the wipers and switch them off they will come to rest in the fully up position on the windshield. Ah. The only thing missing is the row of taillights that stretches clear across the truck lid - half of them working.
Buicks are forlorn, overstyled, underdesigned, and acknowledge the 21st century begrudgingly with the inclusion of On Star. Given the average age of the Buick driver, I'd say adding touch screen navigation is a very, very, very bad idea.
But if you go to a Buick dealer today and ask to see a new Skylark or Century, cars once known as banker's hot rods, the salesman will only shake his head. Buick's butt-kickers were retired years ago. Why? I can only guess they were too good. And making something good, and making it available in large numbers, just doesn't fit into the in the current American economy. Which may be why the current American economy is in the state it's in.
What this country needs is a good pot pie - made by a Japanese company.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
Well, yes. It would work - to a point. A TV antenna is typically capable to receiving FM signals and, properly installed, will boost the signal far beyond the average "whip" or wire in the back window. The problems with Red Green's configuration are:
A: The antenna is not mounted high enough to eliminate multipath interference from reflective surfaces.
B: The directional properties of the Yagi antenna design requires the operator to turn the antenna in the direction of the transmitting station as the vehicle turns in various directions.
C: There is more than likely signal loss inherent to the mismatching of impedance between the 300 Ohm Yagi connector points and the input port of the car stereo, probably loaded for an impedance of approximately 50 Ohms.
Anything else? Oh, yeah...
D: THE WHOLE THING IS HELD TOGETHER WITH DUCT TAPE.
So, nobody in his right mind would mount a TV antenna on his car. Right?
Nope. That's not a Soviet spy car. And it's not a Photoshop trick. That's a real BBC television detector unit, mounted on what appears to be a sixties era Vauxhall estate. I'll bet that thing was fun to drive. Kinda like holding a beach umbrella while driving a golf cart.
Fred's TV engineering blog has lately focused on the reemergence of the venerable fixture of modern life, the television antenna. Digital TV has brought about the need for an outdoor antenna for some viewers, and that means a re-educating, or maybe a first-time educating, on the basics of how an antenna works.
You used to see some pretty exotic looking hardware up on rooftops and towers back before home satellite service, especially in rural areas. There are various kinds of charts, technical papers, and engineering studies that explain how these devices work. I am here to put it all into "laymen's terms." It's really very simple: the more channels you want to watch, the more money you have to spend.
And while some of us have cozy memories of watching charming family programing of yesteryear - Lassie, Howdy Doody, atomic bomb tests - with nothing more than rabbit ears, the demands of digital high definition television require a more sophisticated antenna in order to bring true, rich color and tonal reproduction to the dead bodies on CSI.
And where are we going to find this kind of antenna technology? Not from the rooftops of American rural homes. I say we look to where superior antenna technology has always existed - on the rooftops of vintage overweight, underpowered, British automobiles. Behold, The BBC Television Detector vehicle!
I mean if these things could sniff out an unlicensed TV set from several yards away, surely one can pull in "Deal or No Deal" without a problem. Right?
Now, if I could just figure out a way to duct tape one of these things to my roof...
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
In a recent post on the Little Blog of Murder, Judy Clemens explained the mission behind The Sisters in Crime. (By the time you read this there should be a new link on the right leading you directly to the SinC site.) That mission is:
"To combat discrimination against women in the mystery field, educate publishers and the general public as to inequities in the treatment of female authors, raise the level of awareness of their contributions to the field, and promote the professional advancement of women who write mysteries."
It’s hard to believe that in this day and age women still face inequities, especially in a field of literature with an award named after Agatha Christie and where the best selling authors are frequently Janet Evanovich, Patricia Cornwall, and Sue Grafton.
In response to her post I made the comment that if a man wanted to get a taste of humble pie, simply attend a convention for children’s writers. Namely, any event by the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. At these events, the ratio is roughly 10 to 1 in favor of the ladies. Judy responded with a question as to why that is.
Turns out that’s a big question. I’m not sure I can answer it, but here goes.
My first thought was, let’s face it; writing for children doesn’t come across as a manly pursuit. The kites and the butterflies and the bold colors that adorn the children’s section of the bookstore, the Writer’s Market publications, the banners at the conventions, and the SCBWI website don’t exactly ooze of testosterone. Even the nametags at a SCBWI convention can make a 40 year-old man feel like a little brother when his sister decides to use him for “dress up.” It seems at times like a man entering children’s literature is like an American Gladiator blundering into a ballet class. It ain’t pretty.
But then explain Avi, Jerry Spinelli, Louis Sachar, and especially Gary Paulsen – who, if he ever reads this, just might fly down here between Iditarod runs to personally kick my ass. Carl Hiaasen needs no machismo to create fine fiction for kids and adults. Nor does Dave Barry, who might say machismo sounds like a snack food you spray from a can. ESPN’s John Feinstein is hardly lacking in male credibility, and while one could say Brent Hartinger is on the opposite side of that spectrum, it hardly matters to his readership.
Indeed, preconceived notions based on the sex of the author quickly fall away in the realm of children’s literature, as it should in any genre of fiction. In the seminal weeper "Charlotte’s Web" - composed by E.B. White, a man – Wilbur is saved from death by two females. (Fern and Charlotte) In "The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe" Aslan’s sacrifice is witnessed by two young girls. The male author C.S. Lewis may have been following a biblical parallel on this point, but the fact remains he had to live inside the skin of someone different from himself – to paraphrase Harper Lee – in order to tell the story. And that is the job of any writer regardless of his chosen genre.
So, as it turns out, there is no shortage of male writers in the field, I just haven’t met that many in Ohio. The natural question you might ask is: if all these guys write for children, why don’t they show at the conventions? Well, they do… in New York and Los Angeles. Oh, and Maui. Don’t forget Maui. Paolini did the Maui. But we don’t see them in Cleveland. Or Indy or Detroit for that matter. Hmm. Don’t have the answer to that one.
The second thought that came to me is tied with a deeper perception of our relationship with children in America. This goes back to my brief experience as a student teacher in my college days. Again, in my pursuit of this career, I found myself in education classes dominated by females. In America, education is a feminine pursuit. Guys coach, or lead the band, and, in order to fill a gap left in the classroom, they also teach a math class or something else. Otherwise, teaching is a girly thing.
Trust me, your local school principals would like to balance that picture. If I could only describe the light in principal’s eyes when he or she would see me walking into their classroom.
But I ask you, and be honest, picture a 45 year-old man in charge of your child’s 1st grade class and tell me… doesn’t that make you just a bit uncomfortable? Feel like calling the school board? Or at least putting a hidden camera on the guy? I thought so. I mean, come on. Why would a man want to be in a classroom with all those little children? You know he can’t be wired right.
We don’t really want men on our classrooms until about the 5th grade, and even then he better by god be married with four kids and in church every Sunday. That “Obama in ‘08” bumper sticker on his car will come up at the next PTA meeting, there buddy. A Liberal in my kid’s classroom? Next thing you know he’ll have my son singing show tunes and trying out for the color guard. On second thought, better just fire the hippie now.
Now, follow along: if the classrooms are taught mostly by women, and if writing for children – particularly early readers and primary grade readers – is more likely to employ the skills of someone with classroom experience, then ergo most writers for young children will be women. Therefore, the ranks of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators will be mostly female. Stands to reason.
But then there’s Dr. Seuss, still showing up on the bestseller chart year after year. (To be fair, “Oh, The Places You Go” pops up every May as a faux sentimental graduation gift from befuddled grandparents who think a Wii is something you don’t touch until you’re married.) There’s Ian Falconer’s highly praised if not Manhattancentric “Olivia” picture books. (Wonder how many parents have wandered onto www.olivia.com and got a nasty shock?) OK, there’s Mary Blair, but she’s old school. Captain Underpants rules, and he’s the product of Dav Pilkey’s imagination.
So, I guess I don’t know why I feel like Custer at Little Big Horn at a children’s writer’s convention. Maybe it’s because the ladies find it easier to break away on a Springtime Saturday while the guys have yard work and fix-it projects to do. Maybe the guys are too tired to make all those 7PM group meetings at the library on the second Wednesday of every month, and they fall out of the loop. Maybe. I don’t know. I’d theorize some more on it, but to be honest, I’ve got a book to write, and I need to get back to work.
Let me know what you think.