Monday, April 30, 2012

Helpful Hints for Romney

Today's guest blogger is J.S. Faulconner II. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the host.

Poor Mitt Romney. In running against Obama, the guy faces a challenge even tougher than the expert slope at Telluride. How does one present an image of being concerned for the common voter when one was born with the proverbial silver spoon - although these days everyone is switching to carbon fiber for their better balance and choice of prep school colors.

You see, Romney is a scion. That should be obvious just from his first name: Mitt. That's a name a father gives his scion. It tells the world, "I can give my son any first name I want because it's the LAST NAME that will open doors." But the problem here is that Mitt has decided to run for president, and for some reason it's a common misconception that we shouldn't have a rich person for president.

Oh really? Name one economically challenged president? You can't because they were all wealthy. FDR, the president of the people, was one of the wealthiest presidents we've ever had. And don't get me started on Kennedy. How can the party that gave us Camelot claim to be the party for the working man? I rest my case. It's business that gets things done. Money. That's how you get to be president, my boy! Political campaigns don't run on flower power. You need big money just to run for a local office, and the ability to raise even bigger money from people who have even bigger money if you want to go to Washington. Your ability to handle large sums is a right of passage into the executive branch. If you want to be president, you best be able to understand economics and be comfortable with handling transactions with lots of zeros. This is no place for someone who clips coupons or has to wait until payday to make the car payment. If writing the check for the down on a house makes you throw up your Tuna Helper, may I suggest an occupation where you'll be handing over far smaller amounts of money... a Cash 4 Gold store perhaps.

In other words, you don't want a poor person in the White House. The reason poor people are poor is because they can't handle money. You want someone in the Oval Office who won't blink at a trillion dollar deficit. Heavens, my wife puts that much on her Tiffany card.

"Ah, but what about Dubya?" you ask. He was a scion. Fair question. Let's just say that while it may be true that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, it can roll downhill. HA! Goodness, that was witty wasn't it? Somebody put that in The New Yorker. I'm a regular James Thurber.

Returning to Mitt, he does face an image problem: the misconception that the rich don't care about the working class. Nothing could be further from the truth. The working class is the backbone of this great nation, providing the oil that lubricates our economy. Of course, to extend the metaphor, we've had to go "off shore" to obtain some of that oil, but let's not haggle over details. The middle class provides the customer base for our next electronic thingamagig that will become obsolete a week after it hits the market. Our consumer economy is based on selling cell phones to each other, and only way we can make it possible for the next generation of Americans to buy the newest i-Something is to keep taxes from going up... especially mine. Now, how do we help Mitt?

I believe it's a matter of communication. The middle class often misunderstands what we are saying because they don't live in our world. For example, Mitt's oft criticised statement that "corporations are people, too." Legally speaking, they are. In the eyes of the law and the IRS a corporation is an artificial person. Look it up. Businesspeople know that and understand. And the quote about his wife driving a couple of Cadillacs... child's play, my boy. Relative to the scale of luxury car pricing, Cadillac is way down at the bottom - a very reasonable and judicious purchase. Now if you want to get serious, let's go shopping for a Mercedes S-Class, a BMW 7 series, anything Jaguar, and you don't want to know what it costs to keep a Lincoln Town Car Limo with a driver and wet bar in New York City. If only you were a "one-percenter" you could understand our pain.

Here are some helpful suggestions I would give Mr. Romney to bridge the gap between the classes. Little things that will show that no matter where we stand on the social-economic ladder, deep down inside we're all the same. Well, not really, but at least they'll feel better when they hit the safety net.

* When you make a whistle stop at a small municipal airport in Amarillo, or Joplin, or some Midwest swing state, don't use the Gulfstream V. Fly the Lear, or better yet, find a vintage twin-prop Beechcraft V-Tail. Show the media you're a regular Joe by making them think you flew it yourself by wearing a Breitling Navitimer.

* A campaign speech at a state college is probably not the best place to let it slip that Daddy wrote checks for your tuition. 

* Don't wear Tommy Hilfiger to the soup kitchen.

* During the campaign Rolex is out. Stick to bargain brands like Movado or Baume and Mercier.

* During a news conference at a homeless shelter, switch off the text alert option from your broker for when your mutual funds go soft.

* Only domestic beer at public events.

* Always wear socks with your Sperry Topsiders. Seriously, I don't get why that's such a big deal.

* For god's sake avoid the following photo ops:
wearing a helmet, any helmet
farm machinery
appearances on SNL, Colbert, The Daily Show. These are COMEDY shows, dumbass.
trying to cook something

* Look the reporter in the eye during an interview. I know this is difficult because you were raised to avoid eye contact with the staff.

* Don't overcompensate with your choice of running mate. Just remember the Palin fiasco. That's right. Chose an unknown harmless white guy and move on.

* During your victory party, serve Dom Perignon chilled to 44.5 degrees F in fluted stemware. Hey, nobody said we had to go native here.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Farewell, Dick Clark

I'm too young to really remember "Bandstand." I recall a teenybopper aunt watching it religiously, and that's probably where I received my first exposure to British Invasion era pop culture, but beyond a murky vision of flip hairdos in black and white I don't have any specific memories. Dick Clark spoke to other generations, the ones just before me who swooned over Elvis, shrieked for the Beatles, and grooved to the music in dances with definable characteristics that earned them names like The Twist, The Mashed Potato, The Hully Gully, and The Wahtusi. As I recall, my aunt tried to teach me some of those dances, but at three years old my choreographic skills weren't quite advanced enough to keep up.

By the time I was a teen, "American Bandstand" seemed like a relic to me. The show experienced something of a revival during the disco years when kids, after a decade of mellowing out or protesting, actually started dancing again, but with far less abandon and joy. In the sixties, kids showed up at the Philadelphia studio wearing the latest but reasonably accessible trends. Disco demanded that you wear the latest designer labels as well as study the moves of Travolta with dedicated precision in order to please the LA studio audience wrangler. To make matters worse, by this time Dick Clark was saddled with the image of being wholesome and safe. No dirty hippies on "Bandstand," to be sure, and nothing on display you wouldn't want your mother to catch you seeing. No drugs, no radical politics, and no sexual deviation. Thus, we have have this marvelously ironic video clip of Dick Clark introducing The Village People. 

Growing up in the Cincinnati area, I had local DJ's to point the musical way. Some of them I've had the honor of working with: Jim Scott, Dave Reinhardt, Dusty Rhodes to name a few legends. Geoff Nimmo taught me that Rock and Jazz were never really bitter enemies, but step-children in a slightly dysfunctional musical family. His father Bill taught me that old school is the best school. Jazz cat Ray Scott tried to teach me how to be a class act. And Gary Burbank taught me that writing is a discipline, and that one should not assume all Blues and Country music is inferior. 

So, what did Dick Clark teach me? I never met him. I didn't watch him work all that often. I like bloopers when they are real, and some of the practical jokes were pretty funny, but I wasn't a big fan of the show. There are too many award shows on TV. And on New Years Eve I was either emceeing a local event or watching it. You might think Dick Clark never touched my life. And yet, somebody had to have told me in some way that there's more to this business than just being a host. Somebody somewhere told me that working behind the scenes was not shameful. We're in show business, and longevity often means being smart with the money.

As for on-air performance, whenever I interviewed or introduced a rock and roll legend like Peter Noone, Frankie Vallie, Peggy March, or Spencer Davis, there was this voice in the back of my mind telling me that the person I'm with has met Dick Clark. This person has seen a true professional in action. I can only try to reach for that high standard. Sometimes, I wonder if when Frankie Vallie and his crew where particularly appreciative of my efforts if they were thinking, "Cool. This guy has watched Dick Clark. He gets it. It's not about him."

You see, whether he was hosting "Bandstand" or "$20,000 Pyramid" or a "New Years Rockin' Eve" Dick Clark must've believed he wasn't the real reason people tuned in. He was the host, but not the star. People tuned in to see the musicians, the music, a ball drop at Times Square, or somebody win a lot of money. He was the glue that held it all together, an important job to be sure, but ultimately just the host. You say what needs to be said, do what needs to be done, and then get out of the way. He surely knew that appearing on those New Years Eve shows after his stroke was putting him in the spotlight, but maybe he felt like he would be slacking off if he didn't put in his fair share of the work. Whatever the case, especially when you consider his renown for being smooth and unflappable, those appearances after the stroke took courage.

And so I think right about now Dick Clark would be rather uncomfortable with all this star attraction attention. It's OK, sir; you've earned it. Rest well. 

We now return to the bloopers and practical jokes that is daily life.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Take This Job... Please!

There's a new career ranking survey out, and it's got some folks in the TV biz hopping mad. According to CareerCast's annual list of best and worst jobs "broadcaster" ranks as the #10 worst. They site such things as the lack of job security, lack of growth, stress, and lousy pay as conditions for their ranking. Well, yeah, those things are true, but still... number 10? That puts working in a television station somewhere down around walking a theme park in a cartoon character suit or cleaning out portable toilets. Then again, editing a politician's news conference into something comprehensible can feel a lot like cleaning out a toilet.

I don't know anything about CareerCast, and I can't seem to find out any more than they put out these surveys once a year. They do explain their methodology here. Still, I can't help but think they may have jiggered the numbers or played with semantics to get a headline grabbing result, especially when you consider you would never hear about CareerCast without "broadcasters" to tell you. Furthermore, I'm always a bit suspicious of websites who purport to know all about our industry, and then prove the depth of that knowledge by including a photo of a "broadcaster" talking into the top end of a side-address condenser microphone.

Actual photo from CareerCast page.
"Hi. I'm a model. I just do this part-time for Clear Channel."

Anyway, the definition of "broadcaster" is somewhat elastic in this survey. By CareerCast's definition, it appears "broadcaster" means the person you see on the air reporting the news. In the business of broadcasting, we refer to these people as "talent." I'll let the reader insert his or her own punchline at this point. In our facility, we divide our operation into four distinct departments, of which Talent is only one branch grossly outnumbered by all the others. For example, we have the business department which handles the sexy stuff like accounting/book keeping, accounts receivable, health insurance, and locking up the hole punch after hours lest some co-anchor makes Swiss cheese out of the other anchor's script just before air time. These are skills transferable to many other industries, except for the hole punch part. Photocopiers are usually the most abused devices in offices, used to preserve one's posterior for the ages. We are above that sort of thing in television; we have $50,000 high definition cameras for that.

The sales department has the glamorous job of going out to local business people and convincing them that somebody is still watching "The Office." Sales brings in the dollars that make it possible for the rest of us to get paid. Marketing skills can be transferred to any number of industries... politics, for example. If you can convince a client that you're actually interested in his two-hour monologue on how the Buckeyes got railroaded and Tressel was just a whipping boy for the NCAA and how the SEC is run by the mob thus Kentucky is the champion and the BCS is a bunch of commies... man, you got the stuff to be a congressman.

The production department has admittedly had it tough in recent years. Time was when we had people on each camera, switcher, graphics, and keeping time. Thanks to robotic cameras and automation software, those positions have been consolidated. The director has become a Doctor Octopus multitasking genius who really only needs the intercom to talk to the floor director... and we're working on replacing floor directors with holograms just as soon as we can get them to stop saying, "Help me, Obi Wan. You're my only hope."

The engineering department possess skills unique to broadcasting, such as knowing the exact combination of swear words to get a video server back on the air. And engineers are the people within the station most likely to keep a can of WD-40 in their desks, just in case. The engineer who is on-call during the weekend has the worst job: transmitters only crap out at 2:00 on Christmas morning. But most of these guys could take a Microsoft course and land on their feet if the worst happens.

That leaves us with the news department, and that's where we find the lens meat... er, I mean Talent. This is where we run into the issues that cause CareerCast's metrics to go off the scale. See, the problem here is that in this department we've entered a branch of Show Business. I know some journalists may bristle at that comment, but let's face it, you wouldn't want Ferris Bueller's teacher anchoring the six. News presentation requires the same abilities of good acting: addressing the audience, voice control, hair and makeup. But, it also requires going after a story, making public officials squirm, in other words developing a thick skin and staying on topic while ignoring the distractions of the mud being flung back at you. You must be the voice of reason when everybody else is going off the rails. And that's not always fun. It's a special kind of work that requires a special kind of person.

Ranking a "broadcaster" with software developers and corporate lawyers is bit like including stand up comic or movie stunt person in the survey... and I think CareerCast does. It's comparing apples to plutonium. Certain uniquely talented people aspire to certain unique occupations regardless of the hazards, pitfalls, and less-than-stellar pay. They just love what they do.

On the other hand, the falling image of the television reporter should be cause for concern within our industry. It's more than the lack of credibility; at stake is our ability to attract promising new employees to all aspects of the television business. When a young person sees "Today" bring on Sarah Palin, that sends a message that knowledge of journalism and a certain level of... let's call it decorum... is not desired in our industry. When a First Daughter delivers soft soap on a prime time news program (one that's changed time slots more than a revival of "Knight Rider") it signals to everyone that television news has the believability of Shaquille O'Neil writing a children's book. It tells people we don't take it seriously, so why should you?

And if your bosses don't take what you do seriously, then you might be better off cleaning toilets for a living.