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.

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