When TV Asks For Your Help

Would viewers have supported CBS had they known this is how their support would be used? Did CBS have an obligation to tell the viewers this was their agenda?

dish fox oreilly

​With carriage battles between TV stations/networks and cable/satellite distributors becoming more vicious, viewers are being called upon to help save their favorite stations/networks.

In the abstract that seems fine. However, after CBS enlisted their viewers help against DISH, they then negotiated a partial neutering of Dish’s Hopper feature. Hopper allows viewers who record shows to skip the commercials.

From the NY Times December 6: ​”​As part of the agreement, people will not be able to skip commercials with the Hopper service for CBS-owned network stations and affiliates for the first seven days after a program is televised. Television networks have been pushing advertisers to buy commercial time based on ratings from that seven-day period.​”​

Would viewers have supported CBS had they known this is how their support would be used? Did CBS have an obligation to tell the viewers this was their agenda?

Fox is currently in a similar dispute with DISH. During this weekend’s NFL playoffs I watched Megyn Kelly and Bill O’Reilly asking for support for Fox News Channel, accusing DISH of “censoring​” FNC.

My (rhetorical) question to them is, are you ​too ​asking your viewers to help you achieve something that’s not in those viewers best interests?​ Will your viewers support cost those same viewers cash, convenience or access to technology?

Is censorship really the sticking point in this business dispute?

The New News Channels

You’re Japan. You’ve set the bar high with your toilets. You need to step it up.

I would love to visit Tokyo, but NHK makes me worry what Japan is really like.

Recently our cable lineup has expanded with One America News Network, Al Jazeera America, NHK, BBC World News and CCTV. That’s a lot of extra news channels. Each is sparsely watched, but worthy of checking out.

OANlogo1The most obscure is OANN, based in San Diego. It’s straight news 24/7 with a few political talk shows, all to the right of what Fox News considers mainstream.

The news is down the middle but suffers greatly with virtually no staff reporters. OANN relies on video services, which have a high percentage of foreign news and plain vanilla writing.

Most of the OANN anchors are young and virtually zombified on-the-air. Seemingly, they’ve been instructed to add no personality to what is already drab. Tough to watch.

OANN does not run cheesy 800 number TV offer commercials! Instead they’ve produced inspirational videos featuring patriotic scenes and unidentified voiceovers. They’re tracks from broadcasts by Edward R. Murrow, John Kennedy, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon. Lots of Richard Nixon!

Without a doubt One America News Network spends less on news than any other network.

al jazeera logo blueAl Jazeera America is surprisingly good. Watch for familiar faces, once elsewhere. The coverage is smart and first rate. This is not a happy talk outfit.

Ratings say audiences aren’t buying it. Lots of people won’t watch because of the name or the owners. They start with that handicap.

I haven’t watched enough Israel/Hamas coverage to get a feel for AJA’s slant. Qatar supports Hamas and controls Al Jazeera. Can their broadcast be trusted?

nhk_series_0_1NHK is Japans national network. This is the country with the crazy game shows, TV screens full of blinking fonts and J-Pop. NHK is the opposite. NHK is the cure for insomnia.

Some of NHK’s non-news programs are dubbed in English. The voices are laid back and boring. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto.

You’re Japan. You’ve set the bar high with your toilets. You need to step it up.

I would love to visit Tokyo, but NHK makes me worry what Japan is really like.

I don’t even stop to sample NHK anymore. Always disappointing.

bbc-world-newsWe got the BBC months ago. I thought I’d watch it a lot. I don’t.

Their reporters and presenters are great, but I find the production cumbersome and intrusive. The gigantic news set is supposed to be part of the production, but gets in the way more often than not. It’s a distraction.

No one has more reporters than BBC. It makes a difference. I have watched them for breaking news, especially in the late evenings when America’s cable networks think everyone is asleep. Great reporters.

I’m a sporadic viewer.

cctv newsFinally, CCTV. It is on Channel 3602! CCTV is buried in a block of foreign language channels, specifically a section of Chinese language channels. All the other news stations are in the 1200s. There are no other English channels above 2000.

I discovered CCTV by accident while attempting to thumb through all my channels.

CCTV NEWS is the English language news channel of China Central Television (CCTV), the nation’s largest national broadcasting network.

It’s owned by the Chinese government. CCTV does feature many American and British, non-Chinese, anchors and reporters. That was a surprise.

I haven’t known about this long enough to have an opinion. It’s just weird that China has a TV station on my cable system.

BBC World News Comes To My TV

BBC-world-newsBBC world News HD has been added to our cable lineup on Uverse in Irvine. I’ve spent the last few weeks bathing in its deep pool of content. This is not another CNN, Fox News, MSNBC. No! This is real news.

A friend of mine who’s roamed the globe the last few decades says the Beeb has its biases. No doubt. I’ll take that in return for actual news content.

For much of America the unrest in Kiev, Ukraine has just become visible. kiev firesIt’s been front-and-center on BBC since I’ve been watching. So have protests in Thailand and Argentina.

The unrest in all three of these Second World nations threatens to topple their governments or at the least remove their effectiveness to actually control what’s going on.

These are important stories, but stories not heard here where the conventional wisdom says viewers don’t give a crap about foreign news. That’s how you’re viewed–disinterested in anything outside the states.

Shouldn’t we know what’s going on around us? Can’t we be trusted to view stories which give the news context?

Getting the BBC is good news and bad news. The good news is I have less Benghazi, Bridgegate and Piers Morgan. The bad news is, real news is still thinly watched in America.

The Roger Ailes Bio Is Brutal!

loudest ovice in the room-w1400-h1400I’m reading an excerpt from Gabriel Sherman’s new book, “The Loudest Voice in the Room.” It’s an unauthorized biography of Roger Ailes. What I’ve read so far is brutal.

He said he would never send Zachary to the public school because it was overrun with liberalism. At his window, he pointed at an outdoor sculpture exhibit at Boscobel House and Gardens, a half-mile in the distance. “Do you think they have the right to block my view?” Roger asked. “Isn’t it their property?” Foley asked. “It’s not their property! It’s a nonprofit! They get tax breaks!” Roger replied. He spoke of his security more than once. “He worried about his kid and his wife and said he wouldn’t want anything to happen to them because of what he was,”

If Sherman’s account is to be believed, Ailes is a paranoid, controlling, dickish son-of-a-bitch who gets his way by taking no prisoners! The excerpt doesn’t say Ailes is unhappy, but how can he not be? He is described as one troubled man.

What Ailes built at Fox News is astounding. He’s left both CNN and MSNBC in his dust. It’s not an accident. This is Ailes doing. Fox News consistently provides a broadcast easily digestible by its target audience. It is remarkably effective.

Recent reports say Ailes made disparaging remarks about his ‘stars,’ like Bill O’Reilly, but he mostly appears to be strongly supportive of his talent. Fox News pioneered talent-centric broadcasts in cable news. Outwardly, he seems the boss I always wanted.

If Ailes’ reported temper and vindictiveness can be believed, maybe Sherman should be looking over his shoulder as he reports Ailes already does on a regular basis.

Something Fox News Is Doing Right!

Today Fox News Channel, MSNBC, The Washington Post and others have positioned themselves and their coverage away from the middle. That puts them under the microscope as political opponents scour for weakness which can be used to embarrass them.

fnc-logo.jpgWelcome to journalism in the 21st Century. The ‘right down-the-middle’ mantra of the last half century is gone. We’re back to journalism practiced by partisans.

Yeah–back to. This is how it used to be.

Here’s a little Wikipedia refresher on William Randolph Hearst. I suspect you’ll be surprised!

As Martin Lee and Norman Solomon noted in their 1990 book Unreliable Sources, Hearst “routinely invented sensational stories, faked interviews, ran phony pictures and distorted real events.” This approach came to be known as yellow journalism, named after the Yellow Kid, a character in the New York Journal’s color comic strip Hogan’s Alley.

Hearst’s use of yellow journalism techniques in his New York Journal to whip up popular support for U.S. military adventurism in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines in 1898 was also criticized in Upton Sinclair’s 1919 book, The Brass Check: A Study of American Journalism. According to Sinclair, Hearst’s newspaper employees were “willing by deliberate and shameful lies, made out of whole cloth, to stir nations to enmity and drive them to murderous war.” Sinclair also asserted that in the early 20th century Hearst’s newspapers lied “remorselessly about radicals,” excluded “the word Socialist from their columns” and obeyed “a standing order in all Hearst offices that American Socialism shall never be mentioned favorably.” In addition, Sinclair charged that Hearst’s “Universal News Bureau” re-wrote the news of the London morning papers in the Hearst office in New York and then fraudulently sent it out to American afternoon newspapers under the by-lines of imaginary names of non-existent “Hearst correspondents” in London, Paris, Venice, Rome, Berlin, etc.

Hearst is just the easiest example of what’s certainly a long list. Rupert Murdoch is a lot less of an outlier than he’s portrayed.

Today Fox News Channel, MSNBC, The Washington Times, New York Post and others have positioned themselves and their coverage away from the middle. That puts them increasingly under the microscope as political opponents scour for weakness which can be used to embarrass them.

Jon Stewart has mastered the art. He often shows FNC on both sides of the same argument, depending on the political winds at any given moment. Recently he showed Fox using video from one event as coverage of another more sparsely attended event.

Last week Fox did it again. Sarah Palin video from the presidential campaign was used as B-roll for a book signing appearance. An anchor talked about the “huge crowds.” Oops.

Maybe, even for Fox, enough is enough. Here’s an internal memo passed along by MediaBistro’s FishbowlDC.

Subject: Quality Control We had a mistake on Newsroom today when a wrong book cover went on screen during a guest segment, the kind of thing that can fall through the cracks on any day with any story given the large amount of elements and editorial we run through our broadcasts. Unfortunately, it is the latest in a series of mistakes on FNC in recent months. We have to all improve our performance in terms of ensuring error-free broadcasts. To that end, there was a meeting this afternoon between senior managers and the folks who run the daytime shows in which expectations were reviewed, and the following results were announced: Effective immediately, there is zero tolerance for on-screen errors. Mistakes by any member of the show team that end up on air may result in immediate disciplinary action against those who played significant roles in the “mistake chain,” and those who supervise them. That may include warning letters to personnel files, suspensions, and other possible actions up to and including termination, and this will all obviously play a role in performance reviews. So we now face a great opportunity to review and improve on our workflow and quality control efforts. To make the most of that opportunity, effective immediately, Newsroom is going to “zero base” our newscast production. That means we will start by going to air with only the most essential, basic, and manageable elements. To share a key quote from today’s meeting: “It is more important to get it right, than it is to get it on.” We may then build up again slowly as deadlines and workloads allow so that we can be sure we can quality check everything before it makes air, and we never having to explain, retract, qualify or apologize again. Please know that jobs are on the line here. I can not stress that enough. I will review again during our Monday editorial meeting, and in the days and weeks ahead. This experience should make us stronger editorially, and I encourage everyone to invest themselves one hundred and ten percent in this effort.

The memo has a message for all newsrooms of all political persuassions: Content trumps presentation.

If the reason for these most recent screw-ups is a rush to make the broadcast look pretty or flashy the emphasis is wrong. Facts need to be correct before worrying about production values.

This isn’t going to change FNC’s slant. They’ll continue to cover news from a right-of-center perspective. I actually have little problem with that. It just looks like the effort will be made to sell their points from a more factual base.

Of course it’s also possible the memo was leaked to provide easy political cover while nothing changes! We’ll have to wait and see.

On The Occasion Of His Departure: My One John Stossel Story

Nothing. He gave me the look you give a dog who’s soiled the carpet and then he turned away.

John Stossel is leaving ABC. From TVNewser (who claim to have broken the story)

John Stossel, the longtime ABC News correspondent and co-anchor of “20/20,” is leaving ABC to join Fox News Channel and Fox Business Network. TVNewser has learned Stossel will host a weekly, one-hour program for the 2-year-old business channel. He’s expected to signed a multi-year deal with Fox which will include regular appearances on Fox News Channel during daytime and primetime. He’ll also host four, hour-long specials on Fox News, much like the business/consumer specials he’d hosted for years on ABC.

john-stossel.jpgI have one John Stossel story. This was a long time ago and I was filling in on Good Morning America in New York. TV-2, their studio at the time, was squeezed into an old building on the West Side. You’d never know there was anything going on there if not for the double parked town cars most days.

I was heading from the studio back toward my (actually Spencer Christian’s) dressing room. As I rounded the corner there was John Stossel.

He was a big deal to me. There were lots of ‘names’ from the network and other boldface types who passed through TV-2 but there was something special about Stossel.

“Hi John, I’m Geoff Fox and I’m filling in on the weather this week,” was about what I said. I extended my hand.

Nothing. He gave me the look you give a dog who’s soiled the carpet and then he turned away.

Good grief. I was crushed.

In my few dozen trips through GMA it was the only time I ever met anyone who was less than gracious. It still stings.

His departure will be a loss for ABC which in turn means a loss for my station–I regret that. On a personal level, good riddance.

Another New Year’s Eve

Helaine has headed to bed. Steffie’s upstairs, watching TV by herself. New Year’s Eve has ended at the Fox house.

We were together at the stroke of midnight. Helaine and I kissed. She always gets choked up at New Year’s. It’s actually very sweet.

The three of us sat together and grazed the TV dial as the new year approached. Everyone station seems to be doing something special tonight.

Tony Orlando was performing in Atlantic City and it was live on Fox News Channel. Good lord – he’s the size of two houses! He and the band looked like poster children for ‘going through the motions.’

In his defense, how many times could you sing “Tie a Yellow Ribbon,” before going postal?

On NBC, Carson Daly was holding down the fort. Years ago, he was very nice to Steffie. I, in turn, will be nice to Carson. He’s very thin and I’m jealous.

MTV looked like a community access channel, albeit with good lighting. I have no idea who their acts were. I have less idea who their hosts were, except Steffie pointed to one and said, “That’s Perez Hilton.”

Oh, that’s what he looks like.

On ABC, Dick Clark was supported by Ryan Seacrest. You can see Dick’s mind is sharp, and he looks good, but it’s still painful to hear him speak.

Approaching midnight, he had trouble keeping up with the countdown to the ball drop. He actually dropped a number to get back in sync.

He has to have worked hard to get back to where he is. The problem is with me. I need to be more understanding. This is my weakness.

New Year’s Eve is a bittersweet night for Helaine and me. Most years we stayed at home, quietly spending the time together. One year, just after arriving in Connecticut, we went to a party and a former co-worker began to hit on my wife!

Our first New Year’s Eve together, back in Buffalo, we went to a party at our friend Phil’s apartment. Who knows why, but we had a fight. Neither of us remember the specifics. It was twenty four years ago tonight, and it was the closest we ever came to splitting up.

I like New Year’s Eve at home better.

A New Network

Recently the UPN and WB TV networks decided to merge and form CW. News Corp (aka Rupert Murdoch), which owns the Fox Network and also a few UPN stations was left out in the cold. Today, their revenge: “My Network TV.”

I’ve attached the NewsCorp press release after the jump, but basically this little network will premiere with two telenovellas.

Though seldom seen in the English speaking United States, novellas are a mainstay of Spanish television here and lots of networks worldwide.

Maybe the word novella is a bit pretentious. These are soap operas, in prime time, Unlike most nighttime network dramas we see now, these will be shot on videotape (or whatever the next generation of video storage turns out to be), not film.

I would expect these to be sexy, steamy soap operas – as far as the envelope can be pushed.

If, and this is a big if, one character or one story line gets ‘hot’, this will be the best investment in modern television. “My Network TV,” more than any other network, will be driven by the power of word-of-mouth. One of these telenovellas could get hot in an instant.

Here in Connecticut, it’s certainly possible My Network TV will be offered to WCTX, our UPN affiliate. I have no knowledge of any inside dealings and would expect to be kept out of the loop, as you would expect with any employee who had no need to know.

It is seldom you see old line media making creative moves like this which might build over-the-air viewing. This is definitely out of the box thinking, probably by Roger Ailes (also responsible for Fox News Channel).

I am worried I won’t approve of the final product which is presented. Still, I have to say I am pleased that there’s still creative thinking going on at the network television level.

Continue reading “A New Network”

Roger Ailes And Fox

Roger Ailes, the Svengali of Fox News Channel, is taking on additional roles.

New York Times:

Roger E. Ailes, the media adviser to three Republican presidents who has been chairman of Fox News Channel since its inception nine years ago, was given an additional title yesterday: chairman of Fox Television Stations.

The appointment, which was announced by Fox’s parent, the News Corporation, gives Mr. Ailes oversight of Fox’s 35 broadcast television stations and a production studio, Twentieth Television.

Though Fox News has refers to itself as “Fair and Balanced,” common wisdom says it represents ‘right of center’ politics. And so, you may think Ailes will steer the Fox Network in that direction.

I don’t think so.

Seeing Fox News solely as an ideological brand is missing the point. Fox News has turned attitude and personality into high television art forms. There is nothing on the channel restrained or subdued. There are more well known people on Fox than CNN and MSNBC combined!

My guess (and it’s only a guess) that’s the biggest change Ailes will bring the the Fox stations.

Look for promotions to become bigger and bolder and more over-the-top than they are now. Look for more people driven, rather than concept driven programming.

It probably doesn’t make sense to politicize the Fox local stations, and I don’t expect to see that. I think Ailes job is to advance revenue, not advocate partisan politics.

Wait a year. We’ll see how insightful I am… or am not.

Helaine and the Cult People

I kid Helaine, saying she’s in a cult. It sometimes seems that way. This is all because she’s a huge fan of Rick Springfield, and has been for over 30 years.

Rick Springfield had some big hits: Jessie’s Girl, Don’t Talk to Strangers. He’s got enough for a decent ‘hit medley’ in concert. Still, it’s been a long time since he had concentrated airplay.

Over the years, Helaine took me to see his early 80’s movie, “Hard to Hold” and later to see him in concert. After a while he became the ‘house act’ act the MGM Grand in Las Vegas, starring in EFX.

He is talented and charismatic on stage. He’s my age, but in much better shape (damn you Rick Springfield). A few years ago, in Las Vegas, Helaine convinced Steffie to go to see Rick in EFX and now she’s hooked too. After the show she told Helaine, “You never said he was hot.” Since then, Steffie has taken loads of photos at his concerts (here and here) and was even published in his Tour Book and 2004 Calendar.

With the Internet, acts like Springfield have been better able to sustain their careers and maintain a sizable fan base without continuous radio airplay. Helaine subscribes to a Rick Springfield group on Yahoo and receives dozens (sometimes hundreds) of emails daily. Some of these women analyze the nuances of his stage act with the detail of a color commentator going over a touchdown pass on the fifth replay.

Helaine has mostly lurked in the shadows, reading and not writing. She has made some friends through the group and kept current on what Rick’s doing. All that changed a few months ago.

Rick was in the process of finishing a new album and would be promoting it by appearing at concerts, doing interviews and making personal appearances. The fan club members decided they would help. They organized ‘street teams’ in defined geographic areas and set out to spread the word.

Helaine got to be manager for the New York region, though we live about 100 miles from New York City. For the past month or more, I’ve been watching her, amazingly organized, on the laptop, piles of paper at her side, planning strategies. Day-by-day she consulted and cajoled the members of her team.

I was a skeptic. I was wrong.

A few days ago, Rick appeared on WPLJ radio in New York. At street level, unseen by the radio crew, dozens of street team members congregated with signs and pamphlets and a whole lot of genuine spirit. Somehow, word got up to the studio and down came someone with a microphone and recorder.

Today, Rick was on “Fox and Friends” on Fox News Channel (click to watch the interview – high speed access only). Again, the fan club was outside. As I watched the broadcast, it was obvious the hosts were impressed by this show of strength. You could see posters and people through the window behind the interview set. Their presence gave Rick Springfield ‘street cred’ in the present tense.

As it turns out, one of our former technical directors is now a TD at Fox. With a few emails, I was able to get Helaine and Stefanie inside, where they watched the interview and schmoozed a little with Rick, his road manager and personal manager. I’m sure some of the other fans were jealous, but this was my doing – not Helaine’s.

Speaking of jealousy, I would be lying if I didn’t say I was a little jealous of Rick’s fans and their ‘street team’ mentality. How wonderful to have a fan base that is so dedicated that they’ll come and stand outside in the bitter cold or do whatever else is necessary to continue your success. Actually, that in and of itself might be more meaningful success than CD sales figures alone could ever show.

Helaine and Steffie are back on the road tomorrow, seeing Rick in concert in Toms River, NJ. All the other girls in the cult are going too.

Happy New Year Dick Clark

It’s a family tradition that we don’t go out on New Year’s Eve. There are a few really simple reasons for this. First, I usually work. Second, we don’t drink.

Years ago, the last time we really went out for New Year’s, a drunk guy started making a pass at my wife. In fact (though we laugh about it now) we almost broke up on our first pre-marriage New Year’s Eve together.

This year, we stayed home with Steffie and watched some of the goings on in Times Square. Helaine said she wasn’t, but I was very worried that some masterstroke terrorist act would take place in Times Square while the World watched.

Though we moved back and forth between Fox, MTV and ABC, we mostly stayed with ABC. Sure, I work for an affiliate, but there is also a tradition with Dick Clark. Again this year, for at least the second year in a row, Dick was inside a warm studio above Times Square. I’m sorry. He needs to be outside. And last night, the weather wasn’t all that bad.

I was also upset at the use of Steve Doocey – who represents Fox News Channel’s morning show – as ‘talent.’ This is not to say Steve isn’t good… he is. But, this is another case of cutting your nose to spite your face. Why would ABC want to shine such a bright spotlight on someone who is trying to eat their lunch? Doesn’t anyone in the company realize that using talent from other networks is the equivalent of dumping the Disneyland live shots for Six Flags or Universal?

There was a pretty tough article on Dick Clark in Newsday recently. I’ve attached it to this link.

Maybe because I knew most of this before, or maybe just because it’s becoming more obvious now, I have trouble finding Dick warm and likable. His interaction with others, especially on ‘tosses’ from live shots, or look live taped pieces, is forced and a little too staged.

On the other hand, I’m not ready to cede New Year’s Eve to Ryan Seacrest or the stable of hosts on MTV (none of whom stick out in my mind).

Happy 2004

Continue reading “Happy New Year Dick Clark”