Friday, November 15, 2019

Live Feed

The sources for watching the impeachment inquiry hearings are legion: cable, networks, even through newspaper websites; on Wednesday, I watched it via the Washington Post.  So, if you’re so inclined, tune in. Or you can binge on “That ’70’s Show” on Comedy Central or “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” on WE TV.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Monday, May 20, 2019

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Monday, April 15, 2019

Monday, March 18, 2019

Better Things To Do

You would think that with all of the things going on in the world today, including natural disasters such as flooding the Iowa and Nebraska, an entire fleet of aircraft grounded, North Korea rattling their sabre (again), white supremacists shooting up mosques in New Zealand, an American president would have more important things to worry about than a late-night comedy program on TV putting up a re-run that made fun of him.

But no.

Other U.S. presidents have decried horror abroad as an affront to values shared among liberal democratic allies, but Trump has made no major address to mourn those gunned down last week as they worshiped at mosques in New Zealand. He has not condemned the professed white-supremacist motives of the accused killer.

Instead, Trump has spent the past few days, including the hours before and after the church service, rallying his most loyal supporters around his nationalist agenda against illegal immigration, attacking a familiar list of perceived enemies and adding new ones, all while casting himself as a victim of unfair attacks.

It was a weekend of nonstop grievances from the leader of the free world.

“It’s truly incredible that shows like Saturday Night Live, not funny/no talent, can spend all of their time knocking the same person (me), over & over, without so much of a mention of ‘the other side,’ ” Trump tweeted just before 8 a.m. Sunday. “Like an advertisement without consequences. Same with Late Night Shows.”

SNL had rerun an episode Saturday that opened with a sketch lampooning Trump as a bitter and bewildered George Bailey from the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”

The president suggested the federal government should target the show. “Should Federal Election Commission and/or FCC look into this? There must be Collusion with the Democrats and, of course, Russia! Such one sided media coverage, most of it Fake News. Hard to believe I won and am winning. Approval Rating 52 percent, 93% with Republicans. Sorry! #MAGA.”

Okay, stop right there.  The federal government can’t target the show; the FCC has no control over the networks.  And it sounds like he’s calling for the return of the Fairness Doctrine, which was abolished during the Reagan administration because gas bags like Rush Limbaugh complained that they were under the mistaken impression that they had to give equal time to opposite points of view.  You really want that back?  (Actually, it wouldn’t make any difference.  Most, if not all, of the news, fake or otherwise, comes via cable, and that’s not regulated by the FCC either.)

The point is that with all the shit going down in the world, we have an obsessed narcissist and coward in the White House who seems to think the only thing that matters is what other people think of him.  That’s not how you run a democracy.  It is, however, how you run a dictatorship.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Broadcast Nutsery

Via NBC:

Trump’s planned prime-time address on immigration Tuesday night put the broadcast networks in a difficult — and familiar — position as they debated whether to carry the address live. But in the end, they agreed to the White House request and will air the speech.

The White House asked the broadcast networks to set aside at least eight minutes at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday for an Oval Office address in which Trump may declare a state of national emergency at the U.S.-Mexico border.

As of early Monday evening, CBS, ABC, Fox and NBC had decided to air Trump’s address, according to sources familiar with the decisions who were not authorized to speak publicly. Late Monday, PBS and Telemundo confirmed plans to broadcast Trump’s remarks. The major cable news channels — MSNBC, CNN and Fox News — were also planning to air the speech.

Even if I didn’t have a meeting to go to, I’d skip this live broadcast of id-blather for TV that’s really important: Season 6, Episode 4 of “Downton Abbey,” which I had to stop watching when the cable went out.

Besides, the only thing I want to hear from Trump is a quote from another president: “Therefore, I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.”

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Monday, May 21, 2018

She’ll Be Back

CBS is bringing back Murphy Brown.

Someone got their brow all furrowed because this looks like a direct slap back at “Roseanne” and her Trump-loving reboot and there will be hell to pay from all the right-wing backlash.

Well, duh!  Backlash means ratings, baby, and that’s all CBS cares about.  So bring it on, bitches.

By the way, they’re also rebooting “Magnum P.I.” to add to the other stables of reboots already out there: “Hawaii Five-O,” “Will & Grace,” “One Day at a Time,” and “MacGyver.”  What’s next? “My Mother the Car,” this time as a 1979 Volvo?

Don’t knock the classics, kid.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

R.I.P. Harry Anderson

I was sad to the point of cursing last night when I heard of the death of Harry Anderson.  He became best known as the star of the comedy “Night Court,” which, to my mind, ranks up there with truly good TV sitcoms alongside “M*A*S*H” and “Barney Miller.”

Like those shows, “Night Court” was an ensemble that reminded me more of a play than TV show.  With a supporting cast that included John Larroquette, Markie Post, Richard Moll, Charles S. Robinson, and, early on, the incomparable Selma Diamond, whose career in TV comedy is legendary, having been part of the writing crew for Sid Caesar along with Woody Allen and Neil Simon, and Florence Halop, whose own career dates back to the Bowery Boys.  Marsha Warfield, who replaced Ms. Halop upon her death, was no slouch, either.  But the bond that held them together was Mr. Anderson’s wry sense of humor, his genial touch, and his love of Mel Torme music.

He had another series after “Night Court,” “Dave’s World,” based on the writings of Miami Herald writer Dave Barry, but he’ll be remembered most fondly — at least by me — as Judge Harry.

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Escape From The Ministry Of Propaganda

Last month I posted about Sinclair Broadcasting and their “must read” commentary sent out to all their stations.  Basically it’s Trump-tilted railings about, ironically, “fake news” that the corporate office requires be put on the air by their local news anchors.

Recently Deadspin did a compilation of all the Sinclair local anchors reading a promo for their corporate message, and it comes across as a version of either a North Korean filler or a hostage video.

So what’s it like to work at a Sinclair station?  Aaron Weiss worked at a Sinclair station and fills us in on the soul-crushing details via Huffinton Post.

I was a Sinclair news director. For a few months, at least.

In 2013, I was a young news director at a struggling small station in the Midwest, having worked my way up the ranks as a producer in larger markets. I’d uprooted my family the year before and moved from the West Coast to “earn my stripes” running a newsroom. I had a small team with a handful of veterans and eager new reporters I enjoyed mentoring.

That fall, Sinclair Broadcast Group bought the station. Sinclair was not a household name at the time, but it did have a reputation in the business for being heavy-handed in station operations and for having a conservative editorial lean. The company first made national headlines when it forced all its stations to run an anti-John Kerry documentary just before the Democratic nominee lost the 2004 presidential election.

Still, I went in with an open mind. As Sinclair prepared to purchase my station, I emailed a colleague to say, “From everything I’ve seen so far, it’s not the evil empire some people think.”

It took just a few months to realize how wrong I was.

It began with the “must run” stories arriving in my inbox every morning. “Must-run” stories were exactly what the name suggests: They were a combination of pre-produced packages that would come down from corporate, along with scripts for local anchors to read. We had to air them whether we wanted to or not.

On the way to a meeting of company news directors, someone whose station had been acquired a few months earlier explained that the arrangement wasn’t that bad — you just had to bury the “must-run” corporate stories and commentary in early-morning newscasts where few viewers would see them. Shortly after that, an executive made it clear to us that the “must-run” stories were not optional and that corporate would be watching to make sure they weren’t getting buried at 5 a.m.

Sinclair knows its strongest asset is the credibility of its local anchors. They’re trusted voices in their communities, and they have often been on the air for decades before Sinclair purchased their stations.

The must-run stories, however, barely passed as journalism. More than one script came down that, had it come from one of my fresh-out-of-college reporters, I would have sent back for a complete rewrite. But Sinclair executives made it clear that the must-run scripts were not to be touched by producers or anchors.

I didn’t last long after that. I soon realized I would have trouble looking myself in the mirror if I put stories and commentary like that on the air. I couldn’t in good conscience ask young reporters and anchors to sign multi-year contracts knowing what they’d be forced to say on the air and face severe financial penalties if they left early.

So I quit, and once again uprooted my family in search of a company with ethical and news standards I could be proud of. I was fortunate enough to find a new position with another station group that, unlike Sinclair, had a true commitment to local journalism.

Over the course of my 14-year career in broadcasting, I worked for multiple corporate owners, large and small. I have good friends who are anchors, reporters and executives at other station groups across the country. Only Sinclair forces those trusted local journalists to lend their credibility to shoddy reporting and commentary that, if it ran in other countries, we would rightly dismiss as state propaganda.

In the four years since I left, Sinclair has doubled down on its “must-run” strategy. Segments like the Islamophobic “Terrorism Alert Desk” and commentary from Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn have started running in markets from Seattle to Washington, D.C. If the Federal Communications Commission approves Sinclair’s purchase of Tribune Broadcasting, it will get a foothold in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Denver and other major markets. I know several journalists who preemptively left Tribune stations after the sale was announced. They’re the lucky and principled ones.

When Deadspin’s genius supercut of Sinclair’s latest promo went viral last weekend, my heart broke for the anchors who were used to make the equivalent of a proof-of-life hostage video. They know what they’re being conscripted to do, but most of them have no choice in the matter. They’re trapped by contracts, by family obligations and by an industry that is struggling to stay relevant in an era of changing media habits.

The anchors who were forced to decry “fake news” put their own credibility on the line, accusing “some members of the media” of pushing “their own personal bias and agenda,” when nothing could be further from the truth. The only ones pushing a personal bias in local broadcasting today are the corporate executives at Sinclair, who leverage the trust that those anchors have developed in their communities over years and often decades of hard work.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with journalism that wears its bias on its sleeve. At some point, local news may transform into something more like the cable news landscape, with hosts who are paid to share their perspective and commentary. But that requires honesty on the part of station owners, and it requires embracing a diversity of viewpoints on the air. That’s the exact opposite of what Sinclair is doing to local broadcasting today.

During my time with Sinclair, while on a conference call with other news directors, someone asked if we could ever run local commentary during newscasts. The answer was a firm “no.” The only opinions Sinclair allows on air are the opinions that come out of headquarters, because the company will not risk giving local audiences a dissenting view.

That “no” was telling. Being afraid of a variety of viewpoints is, in the words of Sinclair’s now-infamous “must-run,” extremely dangerous to a democracy.

I had a short — nine months — career in doing radio news for a small-town station in northern Michigan in the late 1970’s.  It was owned by a group of local businessmen, all of them conservative Republicans, but to a man they all made it clear that the news was the news and that there would be no “corporate” interference in how I did my job and they never imposed any “must read” commentary or point of view.

Those were the days.

HT to CLW.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Ministry Of Propaganda

Sinclair Broadcasting wants you to know that everything is wonderful under the Trump regime and any news that doesn’t reinforce that line is fake, left-wing, and not nice.

Sinclair, one of the biggest owners of local TV stations in the U.S., with 193 outlets in 89 markets, sent scripts of the promos to news directors, instructing that they be produced “exactly as they are written,” according to CNN.

“I’m [we are] concerned about the troubling trend of irresponsible, one sided news stories plaguing our country,” the spot begins. “The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, national media outlets are publishing these same fake stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the national media are using their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda to control ‘exactly what people think’ … This is extremely dangerous to our democracy.”

It concludes that reporting facts ― which are neither “left nor right” ― is their duty as journalists. All Sinclair stations had to run an almost identical segment last year as well, The New York Times reported.

“I felt like a POW recording a message,” one anchor at a Sinclair-owned station told CNN.

Sinclair has a history of advancing a conservative agenda. Another recent iteration of right-wing bias came in the form of a requirement that its stations air pro-Trump segments featuring Boris Epshteyn (a former Trump White House official) nine times per week.

The media giant is trying to expand its reach in major cities with a proposed deal to acquire 42 stations currently owned by Tribune Media.

Here’s a list of stations owned by Sinclair.  If one of them is in your area, you should know it.  As Charlie Pierce suggests, there’s always a Law & Order rerun on somewhere.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Quality TV Time

Murphy Brown” is back in town.

Photo: Spike Nannarello/CBS

If it was a hit in the 1980s or 1990s, there’s a good chance it will be back soon.

CBS announced on Wednesday that “Murphy Brown,” its 1988-98 TV newsroom sitcom, was making its return to prime time. It joins revivals of numerous other vintage shows — including “Roseanne,” “Will & Grace,” “Full House,” “Amazing Stories,” “Twin Peaks” and “The X-Files” — to get the green light in recent years from executives eager to foist attention-grabbing names in front of an increasingly distracted audience.

CBS ordered 13 episodes and said the sitcom will be part of its 2018-19 season. Candice Bergen, who won five Emmys for her work on the show, will return in the title role. Diane English, the creator of “Murphy Brown,” who also produced lesser-known 1990s programs like “Love & War,” “Ink” and “Double Rush,” will be back as a writer and executive producer.

The winner of the best comedy Emmy in 1990 and 1992, “Murphy Brown” aired mostly on Monday nights and was regularly a top 10 show. While the sitcom, like its 1970s predecessor “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” focused on the workplace, it included scenes from the main character’s home life, many of which featured the actor Robert Pastorelli as a perfectionist house painter. Mr. Pastorelli died of a narcotics overdose in 2004.

In 1992, the show’s main character, a single divorced woman, became a subject of the culture wars of the day when Vice President Dan Quayle criticized her decision to have a child outside marriage. More than two decades later, Murphy Brown “returns to a world of cable news, social media, fake news and a very different political and cultural climate,” CBS said in a statement.

If, as the immortal Fred Allen once noted, “imitation is the sincerest form of television,” then recycling is the new way to go.  Hey, there’s even talk about rebooting “77 Sunset Strip.”

The appeal of “Murphy Brown,” though, was good acting, good writing, and no fear about taking on the topics of the day and punching up.  Of course, in 1988 was a different time…

Monday, December 11, 2017

Turn It Off

When I was a kid back in the late ’50’s and early ’60’s, my mom would lament that I and my siblings spent so much time watching TV.  “It will rot your brain,” was a common admonishment.

This was in the time before cable — indeed, before we had color TV — and there were three networks; four if you include the CBC which came in across Lake Erie from Windsor, Ontario.  That was it.

Now we have hundreds of channels in living color and HD, not to mention the streaming services.  There’s a lot out there that won’t rot your brain.

But for some, it’s too late.  Exhibit A:

The Times reports that Trump begins each day around 5:30 a.m. by turning on CNN before quickly flipping to Fox News’s “Fox & Friends.” He occasionally watches MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” because it works him up, Trump’s friends told the Times.

Trump’s favorite programs include “Fox & Friends” as well as Fox News primetime shows from Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Jeanine Pirro. Trump sometimes “hate-watches” CNN host Don Lemon, according to the report.

The Times also reports that the only people allowed to touch the remote control for the White House television are Trump and White House technical support staffers.

She’s waited over fifty years to hear it, but, Mom, you were right.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Monday, July 17, 2017

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Tune In Tomorrow

It could be interesting to see what fired FBI Director James Comey has to say in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Apparently the major networks seem to think so, too.  Not only does CNN have a countdown clock, the networks are bumping game shows, chat shows, and soaps for the live hearing.  According to my friend Greg, it’s only been five other times that they’ve done it:

  • The McCarthy hearings in 1954
  • Watergate hearings in 1973
  • Iran-contra hearings in 1987
  • Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings in 1991
  • Clinton impeachment hearings in 1998

Stock up on the good popcorn.