Thursday, February 23, 2012

ZAP!

In his book "Below the Beltway" Dave Barry suggests politicians should have an electronic chip implanted in their brains. Whenever they start feeding us (bovine excrement) the chip detects this and sends a high voltage shock to a delicate part of the politician's anatomy.

"I care about farmers."

ZAP

"OK. Fact is farmers represent a minority of my voters. What do I care if you vote for me or not? I actually want corn farmers in Argentina to have a bumper crop so it'll keep food prices down in the supermarkets."

or

"Obama and his liberal cronies want to kill babies!"

ZAAAP

"OK. We're capable of rational thought, and we know that a sane person does not advocate murder. But this is the Real World. Here are your choices: Roe vs. Wade, or thousands of crack babies dying in the slums. Which is the more humane option? When you find the perfect solution to all this, please let me know."

After the February 23rd Republican Debate, I would suggest Barry's shock chip be implanted in media personalities as well. While the nation struggles with trillions in debt, an economy still pulling itself out of the recession tar pit, and Iran rattling sabres and causing a spike in energy prices, John King thought this would be a good time to pull out a social/theological show stopper.

“Since birth control is the latest hot topic, which candidate believes in birth control and if not, why?”

ZAAAAAP

The booing from the audience said it all. Aw, come on, John. Birth control might be the topic of choice within the Roman Catholic church, and that's fine. That's the kind of issue a religious organization is supposed to handle. But this is a debate to decide who will be the commander-in-chief of the United States of America. As I try to sell a house in a sluggish market while banks remain stingy with the mortgage dollars, I really don't give a (rodent's hindquarters) if somebody puts on a condom. America doesn't need to legislate reproduction habits. What America needs is jobs.

When asked about his question after the debate, King said, "...I don’t think it’s out of bounds to ask a presidential candidate about something they said in a presidential campaign.”

Oh, I get it. He was being sardonic... I think. OK. He's got a point there. It's the politicians who drag social and theological non-issues into the political arena in an effort to pander to the reactionary voters in an early rural state primary. King was trying to make a point by hitting the candidates in the face with it. Sort of like asking a local Representative after he says, "We need to get prayer back in our schools," at an event in a local church if "prayer in schools" includes Muslim call to prayers or did he just mean Christians? It's an ugly question, but a fair one in the context of a one-on-one interview.

But a debate is a different animal. There's a live audience, a stage, and commercial breaks. Since none of the ones I've seen follow any set of rules I can associate with honest-to-goodness- debating, some of them feel more like talk shows than actual debates. I keep expecting Paul Shaffer to kick into "Mustang Sally" after each answer. The candidates are in full self-marketing and promotion mode. Yeah, I know... when aren't they? But my point is there are a lot of distractions to take the focus away from somebody's actual question. A reporter at the Capitol can say, "But you didn't answer my question." They rarely get that chance in today's debate formats.

I'm not sure this was the right time or place to be clever. Things like that have a way of backfiring anyway, and the booing was only the first sign that King's question had an unintended effect. Newt took the bait and ran, followed by the others. All King succeeded in was giving the GOP candidates yet another excuse to waste everyone's time crowing about a moral and social problem that is not a political issue, while vilifying the news media that much more.

And if the media's going to ask questions like that in a debate, we deserve it.



UPDATE

It seems Whitney Houston's funeral wasn't all that private after all. Sources claim the service was the most viewed streaming even to date on the web. Perhaps the networks underestimated Houston's appeal when they decided not to provide live coverage to the affiliates.

This says several things to me:

America no longer needs to rely on the traditional broadcast networks to get the content they want.

Assuming Whitney Houston's core audience is adult female African-Americans, it appears that segment of the population is tech savvy and has full access to the Internet.

Whitney Houston just might be bigger than Michael Jackson. Of course, she was on that train wreck of a reality show as recent as 2005, so that would give her an advantage.

Expect a new interest in Black Gospel music.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Questions From Our Viewers

Time to check out the old email in box and answer a few questions people have sent in. Here's our first message:

Dear Mr. Faul,
How would you like a bigger p-

OK. While IT installs a spam filter on the old email in box, let's answer some questions I've received recently via Facebook and voice mail. Our first is via Facebook.

Why is Ellen DeGeneres in love with "The Bachelor?" She's talking about it so much during her show, I'm thinking about looking for something else to watch. What's up with that?

Both "Ellen" and "The Bachelor" are, through various subsidiaries, products of Warner Brothers Television. Check out the website addresses. So, basically, her corporate boss is indulging in what the industry calls cross-product synergy: let's use one of our shows to cross-promote another. It matters not that "The Bachelor" airs on ABC and "Ellen" is syndicated, which could lead to your local CBS station promoting a show on ABC. Nobody cares about that anymore. Another way of looking at it is that "The Bachelor" has bought advertising on "Ellen," although no money needs to be exchanged. Read the fine print at the end credits of any of these shows. Something about promotional consideration.

Everybody does it. Late night TV is full of cross-promotion, otherwise Letterman and Leno would be interviewing (ugh!) book authors all the time, and who wants that? Ever notice Robin Williams only shows up when he's got a new movie coming out? Well whadya know... Taylor Swift is on "The Tonight Show with Jay Leno" Monday night, and it just so happens she's a voice actor in the new animated film "The Lorax." Coincidence? Ha!

There's absolutely nothing wrong with any of this. That's how show business works. The only time I feel it crosses a line is when a show that is alleged to be "hard news" sinks into this practice. An in-depth interview with Kim Kardashian on "20/20" practically screams of promotional consideration. Also, record labels have some influence as well, which leads to our next question via Facebook:

Why do the musical acts on late night shows suck?

Well, there are exceptions such as Tony Bennett, Issac Hayes' final TV appearance as he conducted The Max Weinberg Seven on the old NBC "Late Night with Conan O'Brien," and I like how bands are featured in their natural habitat on "Last Call with Carson Daly," but... yeah, for the most part they blow. This is in part because there is only one Justin Bieber, Adele had voice trouble most of last year, hip hop acts can't get booked because Standards and Practices has enough trouble with Superbowl halftime shows, and country acts make better money on tour. That leaves us with the acts the record companies send us, which are usually b-listers hoping for a break, or comeback acts that might appeal to Jay and Dave's slightly older audience. The trouble with that is the band appears at the end of the show when younger viewers are waiting for Jimmy Fallon or Craig Ferguson.

And then there's the nightmare that is performing on a live-to-tape late night show: As a musician, you like to warm up, get the audience into your groove with an opening number, then bring out the hit song. On Leno, you have to wait around backstage trying to keep your ax warm while Tim Allen talks, wait around through at least four commercial breaks lasting at least three minutes each, all filled by Ricky Minor's band playing Motown or oldies, and then you have three minutes to get positioned on stage and, especially of you're the drummer, hope to hell nobody's jerked around with your setup during the past hour since you last checked it. The wedges are never in the right places, the in-house system throws you off, and there's a floor director giving you time warnings so the show ends on time. It's a wonder anybody still plays at these things. Cabaret singers and acoustic groups (Bluegrass) can handle this better than a hip hop act that requires elaborate staging and a DJ table all mixed perfectly.

Our last question comes from the voice mail.

Why didn't you guys broadcast the Whitney Houston funeral?

Simple answer: none of the four major broadcast networks provided live coverage, so local stations had no way to air it.

Funerals are difficult, touchy, and sometimes controversial events for television. They are also expensive money pits: air talent and technicians all working overtime for an event that cannot recoup the loss of commercials during that time. They are produced by the News Department, which means the event is a News event, not an entertainment program. Funerals of heads of state - President Ronald Reagan, for example - are considered high-priority news events and networks and stations preempt programming without a second thought. On the local level, a governor or a mayor would also be granted such a priority in that region. Everybody involved knows this will be a public event. There are plans and contingencies for state funerals. Furthermore, you as a citizen have a right to see it, if for no other reason than it's your tax dollars at work.

The funeral of Princess Diana is a rare case of a foreign dignitary receiving full, live coverage at least on cable news channels due to her popularity in the states, the early Saturday morning timing when the ad revenue loss is nearly nill, and the BBC pool coverage made available to American networks. You can thank the British tax payer for that.

Celebrities by themselves are newsworthy people, but the family usually is not. (The Jackson family is, of course, a major exception in the case of Michael's funeral.) Legitimate media show due respect to the wishes of the family. In the case of Whitney Houston, the funeral on February 18 was a private funeral. Media access was restricted. However, there was an internet stream available, which does to some extent negate the privacy rule for media access. And the bottom feeders such as "Entertainment Tonight," "Inside Edition," etc... sent local stations updated feeds of their weekend shows all through Saturday with full-on Whitney Houston coverage.

Most celebrities don't get full, live coverage of their funerals simply because the family doesn't want the event to become an unbridled and degrading media spectacle. True fans understand this, and hope and pray for the family and those closest to the one they lost.

Friday, February 10, 2012

I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face

OK. Here's Zooey Deschanel as Jesse on "The New Girl."










And now here's Jan Smithers as Bailey Quarters on "WKRP in Cincinnati."









Yeah. Guess I've always had a thing for quirky, awkward in social situations but down to earth kind of girls. You know, back in the day when WKRP was on and guys would talk about a Mary Ann vs. Ginger kind of competition, a lot of guys would've rather gone out with Bailey over Loni Anderson's Jennifer.

Maybe it's the glasses.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

And Now, A Word From Our Manager

The following are the comments of Charlie Middleton, Station Manager of a small Midwestern NBC affiliate. Take it away, Mr. Middleton.

My head hurts. I've been taking every kind of headache pill known to man since last Friday when I spent the afternoon explaining to a local store owner why the NFL wouldn't let me run a crawl for his store several times over the Superbowl. And that was after a morning shot to hell convincing another client of the legal problems of using the old Mel and Tim song "Backfield in Motion" in his commercial. We missed a news conference where the mayor announced that due to budget cuts, the city will have to shut off street lights after midnight, because our only working camera was out shooting high school cheerleaders for a car dealer's Superbowl spot. My stomach hurts. I can't eat. I think my wife just ran off with the Culligan Man... at least that's what her last text message said.

And all because nobody can behave themselves during the Superbowl.

I had no idea we aired a political ad for Obama during halftime. At least that's what the dittoheads at the club tell me. I only saw Clint Eastwood selling cars... at least that's what I thought he was trying to do. I can't remember seeing any actual cars in the commercial, but I'm pretty sure it was a car commercial. It was Eastwood in Detroit, right? No? He was actually in New Orleans? Detroit, New Orleans... hey, pal, you wanna do a commercial in a depressed area? How about my sales office? You just blew six million to not show us your cars. For a fraction of that, I can cut you a spot that might actually move some metal, which is all the dealers want from you in the first place. A little help here, guys.

Meanwhile, I got every Republican in the county including the dog warden up my ass wanting equal time. I haven't got any equal time. It was on the network... during the f___ Superbowl!

Oh, sorry. Did I offend you with my frank language? Well, you'll have to excuse me. Since NBC sends my heart into palpitations every time a character on "Law & Order" drops a word the nuns used to slap my wrists for, I can't decide if there really is such a thing as "obscene language" anymore. Apparently, some rapper gave my audience - number one in nursing homes and hospital waiting rooms in the 3-county area - the finger. And she - I guess it's a woman, hell, I don't know - pretty much nearly said the s-word. Now I got a voice mail system overloaded with complaints and I can't show my face at Applebee's until this thing blows over. I gotta go to mass next Sunday and face these people. Thanks a lot NBC.

When I went into radio sales back in '78, you still got in trouble for "hell" or "damn." We didn't have to worry about Shaun Cassidy throwing the bird, or The Fonz yelling the s-word, or Karen Carpenter showing us her boobs. Why can't it be like that now?

Look, NBC, NFL... I don't care who's responsible for the halftime show, just remember this: I'm trying to run a business. You're killing me, here. I know you guys have degrees in marketing and you live on the coast where you think of the affiliates as hillbillies and Bible Belt puritans, but we're a part of America too. And if it weren't for small markets like us, Jay Leno would be working in Branson. So, let's try to figure this out together. How about this: you may not want kids watching the halftime show... but the parents do. And the parents are my client's customers. Got that? So, next year, all I want to f___ see on that f____ stage during halftime is f____ Spongebob Squarepants, or f____ Elmo, or Popeye or something wholesome like that. And maybe Dora the Explorer; my granddaughter really likes her.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to shotgun a glass of Alka Seltzer and listen to some Kenny G until the next crisis hits... probably some politician or pro-life group putting a picture of an aborted fetus on the air. And then maybe I'll run off and join a hippie commune or something.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Peace, Love, and Soul

In honor of Don Cornelius, you're invited to read my blog post from September 2008 on the cancellation of "Soul Train" by clicking here.