Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Superbowl Predictions

There's already a buzz for the Superbowl ads this year. Not because of rumors or leaked video on YouTube, but because the ads are already out. The dogs are already barking "Darth Vader's Theme" for Volkswagen, a very basic search via Google gives me links to the 2013 Lexus ads, as well as Red Bull, and Hulu shows us Will Arnet trying to get into the hidden Hulu Hollywood sign entrance in a teaser for their Superbowl ad. Yes, most of the these ads are teasers, meant to stir your curiosity to watch on game day.

Something better make me watch Sunday, 'cause it sure as hell ain't the game.

One wonders if the ad agencies didn't pressure NBC for some bonus time once they learned the game would feature teams that have little fan base west of the Alleghenies. Sure, a Giants/Patriots rematch has a certain storied passion about it, and an East Coast rivalry ensures blanket media attention in certain major markets such as New York City, Boston, to some extent Philly and Washington DC, and for snowbirds in the Florida markets and the ski bunnies in Denver. But this year's Superbowl is a gigundomous non-event in major markets with teams that ended up bridesmaids this season like Chicago, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, and Atlanta. Add to that majors who were out of the loop altogether like Los Angles, Houston, Dallas/Ft. Worth, San Diego, Cleveland, locals in Miami and Tampa Bay, and St. Louis and you have a Superbowl that matters to only the thirteen original colonies. But the real deal breaker had to be when the Packers lost. As a media market, Green Bay is a sneeze that makes Cincinnati look like Tokyo, but the Cheese Head Nation fan base stretches around the globe reaching levels of popularity that rivals Manchester United. When the Packers lost, the phones at NBC started ringing with ad agencies; we want bonus runs.

It doesn't help that this year's big game is on NBC, a network that isn't exactly renowned for extreme levels of testosterone. The halftime show is Madonna. NBC's big premier show promoted during the Superbowl is Steven Spielberg's Chorus Line/Fame/Glee so-you-wanna-be-a-star fantasy "Smash." The network's logo is a peacock. You know every other promo Sunday night will be for "The Voice." Why don't we just out this whole thing and get it over with? That would be fine with me, but the Midwest still holds some sway with the network - although apparently not enough to keep "Friday Night Lights" on the air - and the Salt Lake City NBC affiliate KSL, whose license is held by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, could become a very influential affiliate as 2012 progresses. I understand the decision to fly stealth for now.

Anyway, NBC has an image problem when it comes to sports. Advertisers are jittery, especially with an unstable economy, and the Superbowl commercial isn't quite the event it used to be. The stakes are so ridiculously high these days, it's made advertisers turn a bit creatively conservative in their approach. It's hard to imagine Apple, for example, approving their "1984" ad in today's economic climate. The Budweiser Clydesdales will remain majestic and beautiful, CGI animals will rule the day, some guy will take a shot to the crotch, and Go Daddy will do something aimed at 12 year-old geeks.

My prediction for the 2012 Superbowl ads: the big winner this year will be...

Fort Wayne, Indiana.

Just up I-69 from Indy, Fort Wayne TV is pretty much just translators for Indianoplace stations. And all this weekend, the three major Indy stations will be camping out with live remote special programming from Lucas Oil Stadium. And all that local programming generates local ad revenue. No need to CGI dogs barking Star Wars music here; just get Joe Client's well-placed, reasonably priced (compared to NBC) spot on the air several times during the weekend, and everybody's happy. Not bad for a Midwest market who's neighboring franchise rolled over and died this season. All a Fort Wayne station has to do this weekend is stay on the air. Sweet.

And speaking of predictions, it'll be the Giants by 7 points. Hey come on, Manning had to smack down the Packers to get here. What's Brady done for you lately?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Bungled Passing of Paterno

Joe Paterno is dead. We're pretty sure of that now. He died Saturday night, then came back for a few hours, and now he's gone again. And so, even in the last chapter, Paterno's life could not pass without confusion and controversy. Penn State may be a nest of vipers, but the man deserved better.

Here is a pretty good rundown of how the events of Joe Paterno's death announcement in the media played out. Given the short amount of time, I'm impressed how quickly this all got traced. I give credit to Onward State for coming clean fairly quickly. It's a tough lesson for student journalists to learn, but perhaps they'll be better journalists and broadcasters in the future having learned from this.

So, looking at a potential Frequently Asked Question for this blog, how does this keep happening? Seems like a simple enough thing to get right; either a person is dead or they're not. Get it right.

The simple answer: the person in question can't answer the question.

We expect it go something like the Munchkins producing the death certificate and singing the official proclamation - Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg adding a modern crime scene procedural gag to a children's story. The ruby slippers apparently constituted positive identification of the corpse, although the footwear's sudden transposition to Dorothy calls into doubt whether the slippers' location is subject to verification. The magical qualities of the slippers render their veracity capricious in nature at the very least, thus giving Elphaba just cause to dispute Dorothy's inheritance of said footwear. The witch should've just called a lawyer.

But it rarely goes that way. Munchkins don't come out to the gathered press with a death certificate. There are no ruby slippers to confirm the identity. And as we learned with the death of Michael Jackson, sources closest to the subject are not always the most trustworthy.

Celebrities, whether they be good celebrities or bad celebrities, are usually surrounded by staff and family. These people act as a buffer against among other things a prying media. Sometimes, the staff knows what they're doing; sometimes they don't. Sometimes the relations with the media are well handled; other times the media relations are less than acrimonious. In the case of Joe Paterno, you have a legendary coach at the center of an ethics scandal where the reputation of Paterno, Penn State, and the careers of just about anyone connected with the two are on the line. Statements to the media are highly filtered and scripted. A year ago, someone might've called someone at the State College newspaper to say, "Heads up. He's not well." Nowadays, it's more like trying to confirm the health of a North Korean dictator - an unfortunate comparison, but but for the journalist it's true.

So, instead of a "heads up," we got a campus rumor. And, as typical in this era, it started with an email. Folks, email is a lousy way to inform anyone of anything timely in nature. It's a "pull" medium, as they say in IT parlance: in other words, you have to take action to make the info come to you. When a celebrity dies and you want to notify people, you use a "push" medium: something that pushes the info out to the receiver. You, as a press agent, take hold of this gadget that was devised back in 1876 and talk into it. So my first question had I been on duty at the time would've been, "Where's the phone call?"

Then, as an always skeptical news reporter, I pick up that aforementioned magic talking device and push a few buttons to contact a trusted source - if one exists - to get closer to the truth. "No, sir. He's not well, but he's not dead. Now leave us alone, you insensitive pinko vultures! (click)" Just another day in the news business. But when you're 19 and scared, yes, scared half to death to take that kind of abuse, you don't even think of calling. You go with the email... the same medium that told you about this great recipe for Neiman Marcus cookies.

But collegiate news media are the little league training grounds for aspiring reporters - the places where you make mistakes. Believe me, I know. I made a lot of them. The professional media is supposed to know that. Yes, on occasion, campus papers and radio stations break important stories. That's commendable. But not all campus media operate at the same level of competence. Careful scrutiny by the pros should be engaged before relaying the story any further. That did not happen.

Well, it was a Saturday night, see. The "B" listers were on duty. It's a slow night, and the programming is burn offs of canceled or near-cancelled shows positioned in this time slot to basically keep the affiliates from going to infomercials, a test pattern, or in the case of NBC off the air. There are reports of Paterno being dead so they figure let's break in an liven up this shift. These folks, having never faced the fear of making unpleasant phone calls back when they were 19, still avoid it at 25, and the word of wildfire emails and twitter messages is used as "sources."

For what it's worth, I was completely off the grid Saturday night. I was off duty and my phone was turned off as my wife and I enjoyed live performances by actual musicians and actors in our community: The Lima Symphony Orchestra and Encore Theater. We missed the Paterno "he's not dead yet" debacle, and I'm not sorry we did.

Friday, January 20, 2012

The Puppet's Court

This is NOT a Muppet News Flash!

Faced with covering a lengthy, high-profile trial from which, for reasons only judges in the Cleveland area can understand, video cameras have been banned, Cleveland station WOIO's news director Dan Salamone opted to take the novel approach of having puppets reenact some of the court drama.

It's debatable whether this sort of thing belongs within a bona fide newscast, but the anchor makes it clear this is a send up based on real events. And when you consider how many people get their news from the monologue on The Tonight Show, I fear this sort of thing may only be the beginning.

Saturday, January 7, 2012


What's this? Zooey and Steve caught canoodling Friday night after hours at the Santa Monica Chuck E. Cheese. "I'm just a friend of the family," says Faul. "I'm helping her through a difficult time."

But wait... upon further investigation it becomes clear that this photo is a fraud. No, it's not Photoshop. A second look reveals Faul is cavorting with a cardboard cutout. Fox provided these stand ups to be used for promotional purposes, certainly not for technical crew members to be screwing around with during the agonizing slow death that was the Cotton Bowl.

"We will be launching a full investigation into the incident," said Joe Sharp who identified himself to this reporter as the Vice President in charge of operations and NAB Certified genius. "Shenanigans and horseplay are not to be tolerated during on-duty hours. Besides, Zooey needs our support at this time. And as her close personal confidant I pledge to do my part in that endeavor." When asked to explain why he was mispronouncing the "New Girl" star's name ZOO-ee, the genius declined further comment.

A call to Fox uncovered an uncomfortable relationship with their Lima, Ohio affiliate. "Why do you think we've never been there to shoot exteriors for 'Glee?' I mean... I... I can't go on," said a spokesperson. "I mean we have Jane Lynch making fun of them. That ought to tell you something."