Hooked On Reality – Finally

I have missed the entire reality programming genre. None of it has interested me… and trust me, plenty of it has played on our TV, especially when Steffie’s been around. In fact, if you don’t watch VH-1, MTV and E!, you probably have no idea how much ‘reality’ is on every day.

While thumbing through the NY Times tonight&#185, I came across Alessandra Stanley’s review of Tabloid Wars. This reality show tracks what’s going on at the NY Daily News.

the series follows reporters and city editors as they scramble to cover hate crimes, cop shootings and celebrity scandals. At a news meeting a top editor asks for an article that is

Truth In Television

Steffie came home a while ago from a busy Saturday night. I was downstairs in the family room watching TV and invited her to join me.

“Whatever you want to watch,” I said.

C-Span was on at the time. Some guy was answering questions as Thomas Jefferson. I wanted to show I valued her company.

“Cops, Jerry Springer, The Hills. Your choice.”

It’s nice to have her around. Steffie’s killer this summer.

We watched some ‘fine’ MTV reality and Kathy Griffin’s “D List.” Steffie was biding her time. She wanted to watch “Finders Keepers” on Nickelodeon Games and Sports. It was a game show she watched in reruns when she was a little girl – produced when she was one year old!

It was a hoot because it was awful.

We watched for a few minutes and then, as two members of the Blue Team were looking for a cheese sandwich, it happened. A hand, which was supposed to be off camera, actually pointed the contestants to the cheese sandwich. We couldn’t believe our eyes!

Our DVR records all shows, even ‘live’ TV. I rewound. It was there, a hand, briefly, and a finger pointing to the sandwich.

Finders Keepers was fixed!

Steffie says she’s crushed. I am personally offering to find an attorney for the Red Team. They were jobbed. Can I ever look Sponge Bob in the eyes again?

Radio On TV

What has gotten into me? Here I am, a big city boy by birth and Saturday I was listening to the Grand Old Opry. Sunday night I watched “A Prairie Home Companion,” Garrison Keillor’s eclectic NPR radio show, which was carried as part of PBS’ Great Performance series.

Let me personally take this opportunity to thank viewers like you.

Of the three in my immediate family, I’m the only PHC fan. Helaine has heard enough to make up her mind – in the negative.

At age 19, Stef shouldn’t really know about the show at all. She was once subjected to a full performance as we drove from New York City to Connecticut on a Saturday night. I thought she was asleep, but she was awake enough to do a dead on Garrison Keillor impression for Helaine.

“To Al and Freida in Dubuque. Good luck with the hip replacement surgery.” And then, she took a deep, pre-asthmatic breath. It was scary to hear.

Prairie Home Companion’s audience does not watch MTV, VH-1 or E! If Stef never hears the show again, it will be too soon for her.

Watching radio is interesting… since it isn’t meant to be watched. When you want to hide something in radio, you’re just quiet about it. That doesn’t work when cameras are rolling. The stage is crazy with people moving in an out. Everyone is clutching a script.

I’m am surprised, maybe more disappointed, Garrison and his guests often hold their microphones. That is so wrong! They are supposed to speak into immense RCA ribbon condenser microphones with metal grillwork. They need mics like the RCA 44-BK or the RCA 77-DX.

Along with Sue Scott and Jim Russell, tonight’s cast included Fred Newman. Maybe you remember him from the very early days of Nickelodeon? He was the young guy (back then) with a full head of white hair. His specialty is sound effects – produced mainly with his mouth.

Oh – Meryl Streep was also on, and a natural as a radio actress. I was impressed.

I haven’t seen the Prairie Home Companion movie yet. It’s not Garrison, but my nearly unbroken history of disappointment with Robert Altman movies that keeps me from going.

The good thing about watching this radio show, broadcast on TV, on my computer (I recorded the show on my DVR and then transferred it over here) is, I can fast forward through the really slow parts. As much as I enjoy the show, there are plenty of really slow parts.

Amazing Clothing Idea

Since Steffie’s left home, there’s not much MTV watching going on.

Sometimes, I’d walk by as she was watching Laguna Beach, Real World or some other ‘reality show.’ I was struck by how often video was fuzzed out.

It can’t be privacy concerns, because I don’t believe there’s a legal expectation of privacy while on the street. MTV must have their reasons. I just don’t know them.

Often the fuzzing was to obscure something shown or written on clothing… which is where this website comes in.

Ironicsans.com sells pre-pixelated clothing! Why wait for MTV to obscure what you’re wearing when you can do it yourself.

Here is one of those ‘pet rock’ type ideas than can make someone a lot of money, just for having a clever thought and then following through.

Gotta Love Cabo

Aboard the Norwegian Star

I’m on the balcony. It’s around 1:00 PM. The breeze is gentle, the air is warm and moderately dry. We are at anchor in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California Sur, Mexico.

If you’d like to find me on a map, it’s easy. Find Los Angeles, then trace the coast south with your finger. Pass San Diego and Tijuana. Keep tracing until you run out of land. I’m there. Simple!

Before I get to more specifics about today, let me wrap up yesterday.

We did decide to see Dave Heenan, the comedian, again. This time he was in the Spinnaker Lounge on Deck 12. It’s a nightclub style venue. I’m guessing it seats 400 or so. The chairs are comfy. The service is excellent.

There’s no doubt, Norwegian Cruise Lines is making money on booze! It’s tough to sit anywhere for any length of time without a waiter or waitress approaching to ask if you’d like a drink. They are everywhere taking orders and delivering drinks.

Dave Heenan’s show was totally different than the one we had seen earlier in the week. He says, and I believe him, that he ad libs everything. He knows enough jokes to keep a stream of consciousness running for 45 minutes at a clip.

Best line of the night. Speaking about the cleanliness of the southern restaurant chain, “Waffle House”: “I saw a cockroach there throwing up.”

When the show ended, we walked downstairs to Aqua. That’s deck 12 to Deck 6 for those counting. It was nearly closing time and the restaurant was emptying out. Once again the meal was great and once again I had a light cooking meal that couldn’t have been light. It was Chicken Parmesan with pasta. The dessert was a souffle.

I could get used to this life, if my arteries would allow it.

We finished dinner and headed back up the six flights of stairs to Deck 12. Steffie wanted to see Dave Heenan again – and he was funny enough that it made sense.

Another 45 minutes with hardly a repeat… and when he did repeat, he’d acknowledge it was something he said earlier.

Our night was done before midnight. We were all tired. There’s just so long you can lead this kind of life without a recharge. Anyway, today’s port call would be very early and with much less time than any of the others.

I’m not really sure whether it was the captain’s announcement or Helaine in the shower that woke me this morning. They happened pretty much simultaneously. We were anchored near the harbor at Cabo.

Everything I know about Cabo, I learned on Love Boat. Everything she knows about Cabo, Steffie learned on MTV. Who has the more liberal knowledge? Captain Stuebing – you’ve let me down!

From the balcony, I immediately made up my mind. This was the most beautiful of the ports we’d seen.

Looking out I could see miles of white beach flanked by five and six story hotel (maybe condo) buildings. Between us and the shore was a huge yacht. Whatever you’re thinking of, it’s bigger. A helicopter sat on an upper deck in the rear of the ship. Attached by lines were a few jet skis and other small boats.

I can’t see the name, but I do have the tail number of the copter. The ship is registered in some British Commonwealth country (based on the flag, which has a Union Jack). The chopper is from the United States (the tail number starts with “N”).

Helaine and I went up to Deck 12 for breakfast while Stef showered. As soon as we had a vantage from the port side of the ship, I saw the rocky outcropping that makes Cabo San Lucas so famous.

There is no harbor here large enough for the Norwegian Star, so we walked down to Deck 4 and got on a tender.

I’ve seen this on cruise ships before. There is actually a dock that swings out from the ship’s hull which is used for boarding.

A few of the lifeboats had been lowered down to the water. They would be used for tendering.

Again, with so much else on this ship, these lifeboats are super sized. I believe they can sit 125 or so in case of emergency! This is not some little dinghy.

The trip to Cabo took five minutes – no more. We landed at a marina full of moderate to large sized fishing boats – most from the states. There was an amazing amount of activity in the harbor and the marina.

When you looked to the water, you saw boats and you saw pelicans. Lots of pelicans.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen Pelicans up close like this. They are not pretty birds. They are substantial. We saw more than one down a fish whole in his beak!

Like I said, Steffie knew this place from MTV – specifically Laguna Beach. She knew where she wanted to go and Helaine already had directions to “Cabo Wabo.”

“Cabo Wabo” is owned by rocker Sammy Hagar. It’s a few blocks off the main drag, up a hill and across the way from a strip club. Inside was set up for small concerts with bar service. My guess is the real money maker is the merchandise stand near the front door.

Steffie now has a t-shirt and I have a hat. Sammy can taste some more Tequila on us.

Cabo is loaded with little shops selling silver and crafts. We went into a store where Helaine got a bracelet and another where I got a silver bookmark (now in Thomas Friedman’s “The World Is Flat,” which I should finish before Ls Angeles).

We headed back to the ship, through the marina area. Every few feet someone wanted to sell you something. There were hats and serapes and little carved toys. If it could be sold… If Heche en Mexico could be stamped on it… it was here!

We didn’t buy anything from these vendors, but we did make one more stop. At a bend in the marina, a Mexican man stood, holding two iguanas. One was wearing a sombrero. Neither seemed particularly mindful that they were the main attraction in this man’s business.

For $2 US, I could have my picture taken with the iguana – and I did! Actually, nimble fingered Stef shot of a half dozen – maybe more.

The mere fact that Stef got this photo is amazing, considering she was laughing herself silly at the time.

We tendered in and were back on the ship by 12:30. Right now, as I type, the last of the tenders are bringing passengers back. A few of the tenders have already been hoisted on their davits and stowed for their real job. We should get underway within 10 – 15 minutes.

This is our last port before returning to San Pedro/Los Angeles. We’ll be at sea all night tonight and all day tomorrow. We dock early Thursday. Los Angeles is the better part of 1,000 miles from here.

With a few blasts of the ship’s horn, we’re underway. Though we’ll be doing 21 knots on the trip north, it takes a long time to accelerate to that point.

We headed south first, then a sharp u-turn around the tip of Baja.

I am surprised, 45 minutes after leaving Cabo, a Mexican Navy patrol boat is keeping pace between the Norwegian Star and the coast. Finally, at 2:48, it makes a clockwise turn and heads home.

We’re all alone in the Pacific.

There is no doubt this was our most beautiful Mexican stop.

Darlene Love Kills Again

Though I was taping the performance, I still convinced Steffie to let me come downstairs, interrupt whatever slice of reality was currently airing on VH1 or MTV, and watch Darlene Love perform “Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” on David Letterman’s last show before Christmas.

This is more than an obsession to me. I start pining for Darlene around Thanksgiving.

Tonight’s performance was great.. spectacular… choose your own superlative.

David Sanborn, who stepped out of a box to play saxophone last year, flew in from the lighting grid this year, ending his solo as his feet hit the ground.

Later this morning I’ll convince Helaine to watch, then I’ll watch again… and again. I’m sure I watched last year’s performance at least 20 times.

Graduation Day

It seems too soon. Helaine and I seem too young. Steffie seems too young. Yet yesterday, Steffie graduated from high school.

People treat it like such an important moment – and I suppose it is. Still, I’m trying to put my finger on what it was that actually made high school so important to me or important to Steffie.

In the car, on the way to the graduation ceremony, my dad told Steffie she had probably not yet met her life’s best friend! That’s pretty insightful. It’s true in my case… Helaine’s too.

I was such a bad high school student that anything valuable I picked up academically was probably just an accident.

I do know this – over the past year it’s become obvious that Steffie is more of an intellectual than she’ll admit. There is more that she decides based on her head, not emotion. There are more subjects she can speak about – things that are not discussed on MTV or E!.

That makes me proud. She probably won’t understand that. Other parents will.

If the commercial is correct… if “people judge you by the words you use.” She will be judged favorably.

That makes me proud too.

Helaine drove Steffie to school and then came back home to pick up my parents and me. Though the ceremony was scheduled for 5:00, we got there early. That was a good thing because the gym filled and then overflowed outside.

It was hot. The gym isn’t air conditioned. The breeze that made it bearable when we walked in disappeared as more people entered.

I tried to think back to my graduation. I can’t remember anything. Faintly, I seem to think my senior class was divided into two separate ceremonies so our 3,000+ seat auditorium (at the time the second largest ‘house’ in New York City, right behind Radio City Music Hall) would work for the 1,100 graduates and guests.

Steffie’s graduating class was under 70. It’s a little different. Still the ceremony was ploddingly slow and long, taking over two hours. I suppose the one thing not taught in high school is brevity!

Now her world changes. From a small high school and the comfort of living home, Steffie will be going away to a college with thousands of students. I’m not sure how exciting this is to her, but I can tell you it’s exciting to me.

Somehow, I think she’s ready.

How Sad – We’re Going Home

The headline of this entry is actually way out in front of the content. I still have a full day to catch up. As far as the blog is concerned, let’s talk Thursday and Palm Springs.

It was breakfast in the room again. And, again, I’m questioning the reviews I read about the Hyatt Suites in Palm Springs. We were so worried about the condition of the hotel, but it was quite nice and the staff was very friendly and helpful. The fact that our included breakfast could be delivered to the room (with a reasonable delivery charge) was a bonus.

The only small… very small… exception is the valet parking. I understand it is run by a contractor and it is not as fully staffed as the hotel, so sometimes we had to wait.

Thursday morning was my time to do something a little unusual – the kind of thing vacations are for. I went 4-wheeling on a quad in the desert.

The back story is, as we first drove toward Palm Springs we passed an area, off the highway, in a desolate desert area on the side of a hill near the wind turbines. There was what looked like a trailer (actually, on closer inspection, it was an old railroad caboose), some off road vehicles and a lot of dust! On the side of the caboose, in big letters, were the words “OFF ROAD QUADS.”

I knew from the first time I spied the place I’d have to go. The big question was when.

Steffie agreed to ride too, though it was obvious she was apprehensive because of a ‘fear of flipping.’ Quite honestly, the place did look a little scary. Little four wheelers, their 90 cc engines whining, were climbing the hills like yellow and red billy goats.

It just seemed like a vacation thing to do.

As we walked onto the lot&#185 hand printed signs said to follow numbered signs 1-5 for a pre-briefing. Sign one pointed into what looked like a cave. Inside there was a TV playing a safety DVD.

Though the people on the DVD looked a little scruffy, you could tell they were concerned with safety. Because of the dust, the DVD was pausing and breaking up every few seconds, but the message got through. Each point on the DVD was demonstrated twice – first by a man, then a woman.

I had driven motorcycles before, so I had an idea what to do. This was foreign ground for Steffie, especially the semi-automatic transmission. She watched and as I would later see, the instructions paid off.

We moved on and got a hair net, helmet and goggles. By the time I was outfitted, I looked like one of the villains in the classic MTV video “Take on Me” by A-ha.

We moved on to a final safety lecture as we sat on our quads. More than once the instructor said if you were rode nicely you’d get extra time. We bought 30 minutes, but got 45 minutes.

When it was time to leave, we headed out into the open expanse of the hillside. Steffie went slowly at first, methodically weighing the surroundings before picking up any speed.

It was easy to see Steffie was still a bit uncomfortable, but she pressed on. Slowly we worked our way higher and higher up the hillside – each time screeching down with gravity as our main propulsion.

I’m not sure I would ever do this again, but I’m glad we did it here. My guess is Steffie feels the same way. She’s glad to have what will probably be a once in a lifetime experience for her!

We headed back toward the hotel and after a quick stop turned toward Rancho Mirach and Palm Desert. Steffie and Helaine had heard of more shopping places and didn’t want to leave any stone unturned.

Our first stop was El Paseo. It was a little tough to find, but we made it!

By outward look, this is an upscale shopping street of boutique type stores. El Paseo’s median strip features lots of large sculptures, some serious others more fun. The store fronts are well kept with flowers blooming nearly everywhere.

The problem, I am told, is what’s in the stores. I’m not the expert here, so I’ll tell you what Helaine and Steffie said. The stores had overpriced merchandise but with little style… or bad style. They were very disappointed.

The good thing about shopping is, even when disappointed, there are other places to go. So we headed back up Route 111 and turned into The River.

Like so much else out here, The River is mainly open air between stores. And, again, as you would expect in an area like this, the stores were upscale and attractive. While the girls scouted around, I headed to their Borders bookstore.

Good choice on my part. You can’t have too many books and magazines to read on the long flight back.

Recently, I had noticed the computer section of the bookstores I visit shrinking. There was less and less of what I like to browse… and sometimes buy. This Borders was very large and had plenty of everything.

By this time it was late afternoon, so we headed back to the hotel.

We had heard Palm Springs hosted a street festival every Thursday evening. The main drag… the one in front of the hotel… gets shut to traffic while vendors set up in the street. This was one of those unplanned for fun things that can happen on vacation.

The other unplanned bonus was the arrival of Cousin Michael, Melissa and Max. After our visit to Laguna with them, we all decided it would be fun if they could make it to Palm Springs for dinner. It’s a schlep – over two hours driving, but they decided to come and spend the night at our hotel.

We really didn’t get to spend that much time at the fair, but I did see lots of fresh produce and vegetables, artwork (some reasonably priced… though not all), crafts and some California-centric items, like pictures of your aura!

It was once said that everyone in Palm Springs was gray or gay. That’s not as true today, though both communities were well represented, including a booth for the Caballeros, Palm Springs Gay Men’s Choir, selling tickets to their Barry Manilow tribute show (and singing along with his songs from their booth).

We ended up having dinner at “St. James.” It has a mixed European menu and a very interesting floor plan. The restaurant has all sorts of little nooks and alcoves with tables, giving you a bit of privacy in an otherwise busy place.

I had linguine with shrimp and a white sauce. It was okay – nothing to write home about. It also probably marks my last close contact with pasta for a while.

I can only imagine how much weight I’ve put on during this vacation. I’ve eaten like a little pig. It will all come off over time, but it’s sad.

Was it worth it? Ask me after I’ve been off carbs for a month or so.

I am writing this blog entry from Gate 4A at Bob Hope Airport in Burbank (and later added this photo of our plane as we boarded using the free wireless access at McCarren Airport in Las Vegas). We’re awaiting our first flight, to Las Vegas. Later this afternoon we’ll pick up another plane and head home to Connecticut.

This morning we were all a little tired and a little sad. This was a great vacation. We all did a lot of the things we wanted to do and had a lot of pleasant surprises. The better the vacation, the tougher it is going home.

Later this weekend (hopefully) I will post more photos to my gallery (to see the vacation photos already there, click here) and begin a post mortem. There are all sorts of little stories, too short or out of context for these trip report entries, that I want to write about.

&#185 – Though this is the same word, lot, used to describe a movie studio, in this case think of it in the context of vacant lot.

Orange County and Laguna Beach – Excellent

We woke up today to clouds and showers. It was in the sky. It was in the forecast. In fact, the forecast was for rain through the day and into Sunday.

It’s depressing.

This was our day to head south to Irvine and visit my cousins. We got the car, turned right on Avenue of the Stars&#185 and headed toward I-10.

Before we left Connecticut, I went to Google and got maps and directions. Directions are not like horseshoes. Close doesn’t make it. Google’s directions were close, but not totally correct. Somehow, we muddled along and found our way to Orange County and the Foxes of Southern California. Google’s got to do a better job if they’re going to be serious mapmakers.

We visited Michael, Melissa and Max, noshed a little, and tried to decide where to go. There was a temporary break in the weather action, so we decided on Laguna Beach.

On our way, we passed by six year old Cousin Max’s school and decided to turn in and take a look.

None of us have ever seen a school like this. I’m not sure how to describe it except to say the school is a collection of small German fairytale style buildings. There are dozens of animals from pigs to goats to chickens to rabbits… even a llama.

He’s in the first grade, learning French and German. He loves the school, and I can see why. It is one of a kind. In many ways it fits Laguna Beach.

Laguna Beach is known as an artist’s colony. All along Pacific Coast Highway and the surrounding streets are boutiques, galleries and restaurants. It’s a browser’s paradise and, for the shoe-addicted like Steffie, a place to buy another pair of shoes.

Laguna Beach is also a beautiful and expensive place to live. Not far from the ocean are steeply rising hills. Somehow, huge houses have been placed on these hills. From the ground it looks like the ground is steep enough to cause a goat to reconsider where he’s walking. The houses are there none the less.

When you hear about California houses sliding down mountains, they’re talking about houses like these.

As we walked down one street, Helaine pointed out what looked like a TV crew. Though I didn’t see the camera, I did see a guy with a pack filled with wireless microphone receivers. Near him a woman held a clipboard. My zoom lens let me read what was on her papers. They were from MTV, probably taping another season of Laguna Beach.

That show was one of the main reasons Steffie was so anxious to go to Laguna Beach in the first place!

As we kept walking, the sky kept brightening. Before long, the Sun began to poke out and, though by no means warm, it got warm enough to be comfortable.

We headed down to the beach.

Like so much of the California coastline, the area around Laguna Beach is a coast with character. Here the beach is broad. Offshore, there are some rocks visible above the sea’s surface, allowing birds to rest… and poop. From time-to-time the waves break on the rocks, throwing white spray up in the air.

This is a friendly beach. Yes, there are people in the water (though, this being the Pacific, it’s awfully cold), but the real action is at the water’s edge. There’s a beach volleyball net, a playground and a small boardwalk with benches.

I was amazed, and pleased, to see dogs welcome on this beach.

Actually, Laguna Beach seems to be a very dog-friendly town. Many of the shops and stores had water bowls right outside their front doors. Others had signs saying dogs were welcome. I even saw one woman with a novel way of bringing her dog into a restaurant… without bringing the dog into the restaurant!

This is probably as good a time as any to mention something that really worked today. Obviously, what was fun for the adults and Steffie at Laguna Beach was not Max’s first choice. Luckily, he had his Game Boy Advance with him. Every time we stopped, he found a place to sit, pulled out the Game Boy and played Shrek II. He was content pretty much all day.

We continued to walk and browse, but dinner time was approaching so we headed south on the Pacific Coast Highway to South Laguna Beach and “Montage.”

None of us in the East Coast Fox family had ever heard of Montage. Michael and Melissa, the West Coast contingent, had only heard of it through friends, but had never been. What a find.

Situated on a coastal bluff in the picturesque arts community of Laguna Beach, Montage Resort & Spa offers a unique mix: the amenities and conveniences of an ultra luxury beachfront hotel, coupled with the warmth and appeal of a cozy craftsman-style inn.

Excellent description for a property that originally housed a trailer park! It really is beautiful.

We were early for our dinner reservation, so we sat down for drinks in the main area in front of a picture window, looking down on the pool and the ocean. On the other side of the window is a balcony with the same spectacular view. I took my camera and started shooting away, only to be told my camera was “too professional looking” and I wouldn’t be allowed to take any more pictures.

I’m not quite sure why.

Dinner was at The Loft Restaurant, one floor down, but with an equally stunning view. This restaurant was equivalent to anything we had been to in Los Angeles… maybe nicer.

The service was excellent… though any place that refolds your napkin when you get up from the table tends to give me the heebee jeebees. The food was even better. Helaine compared it favorably to Spago, and I agree.

With dinner over, we said goodbye to Michael, Melissa and Max and headed north. We have been very lucky on the Southern California freeways, meeting hardly any traffic. By 8:30 we were back at the Century Plaza – exhausted.

What a great day. Everything we thought we’d do exceeded our expectations. The surprise spur of the moment things, or things Melissa and Michael had planned, were even better.

&#185 – Shoot me – I just like typing that. It’s the world’s most pretentious street name!

Rockford, Rickford… What The Heck, They’re Back

When you’re a fan… a rabid fan… you will move heaven and Earth. I guess that’s the best way to put Helaine and Stef’s trip to Rockford, Illinois into perspective. They are rabid Rick Springfield fans. You remember, the Jessie’s Girl, Don’t Talk to Strangers guy?

I’m not sure I would travel to Rockford for the ‘cup of coffee and danish’ period of time they were there. On the other hand, I don’t hang out online with people who decided to call it “Rickford” or “The Rickdom.” They do.

Tonight they’re back home.

For Rick Springfield, the venues are no longer giant stadiums and arenas. However, a dedicated. screaming crowd – mainly women – is still there and as Helaine’s license plate frame says, “Rick Rocks.” He has moved into the retail world of rock and roll where the contact with fans is a little more manageable and the touring a little less frenetic.

I’m not sure how Rockford got involved in this, but the classic and freshly refurbished Coronado Theater was chosen to be the site of a concert/DVD taping. Steffie and Helaine could not resist.

I have asked them in the past how many of the attendees of a Rick Springfield concert have been to see him before? Most. How many have seen him a dozen times or more? Lots.

I know for this concert, women were traveling from all across the US and parts of Europe. That’s rabid fans!

Over the past few years Helaine has gotten more involved in the infrastructure of his fan base, becoming a “Street Team” manager who helped in the promotion of his last CD. For this concert, Helaine and Amy, the Street Team national manager, organized a charity luncheon for 150 guests.

I watched over the last few weeks as faxes and emails and phone calls moved back and forth from the hotel in Rockford&#185 to our house in Connecticut. The fact that Helaine is extremely organized and probably could visualize what she wanted, didn’t hurt.

It was a thing of beauty. Helaine is modest and very talented in this regard. I’m not quite sure how she did it, but I’m proud she did.

Stef pitched in, helping register the attendees as they came in… and finally associating faces with some of the names she’s seen online.

From what I hear, the luncheon went off without a hitch and with the money collected through raffles and auctions of Rick Springfield oriented ‘stuff,’ around $18,000 was raised for the Disaster Relief Fund of the American Red Cross.

Helaine says Rick, who came to the luncheon for a few minutes and ended up spending around an hour, was taken aback by some of the prices paid for tickets and ‘meet and greet’ access.

They said the concert was great — but they always do! The proof will be in the DVD, whenever that’s issued, and the HDTV concert that will also be broadcast.

I think ‘being’ Rick Springfield is a good and lucrative business. He has to look at it differently than he did when he was a soap star and avoiding having his clothes torn off. He understands what his product is and who is buying, and he delivers. In the few times that I’ve been around, he seemed to genuinely enjoy what he’s doing.

When people find out Helaine and Stef are big fans, they are often surprised. Rick Springfield is no longer a household word. Who would expect a 21st century fan base? In fact, in this morning’s New York Times his name was used as a contrast the modernity of today’s MTV.

It was not meant to be complimentary.

MTV’s durability at the place where the fickle music business and the protean television trade intersect can be attributed to a singular mind-set: its 24-year-long insistence that the channel itself is the star. The Rick Springfields of the world can rise and fall, but MTV endures.

The problem is, even without the hits, he’s a talented guy who was a musician before he was a soap opera star. His success is now different, but there’s no denying, it’s still success.

&#185 – You would think a hotel in Rockford would be thrilled to get what amounts to convention-like business, on a weekend, in the dead of winter. They did and I’m told it showed.

Ashlee Again

The email came at 1:35 AM. From Australia Geoff Huntley was sending me another link to his growing collection of Ashlee-abilia.

During last night’s Orange Bowl, a lopsided contest over sometime in the second quarter, Ashlee Simpson performed during halftime. I wasn’t listening, but caught a glimpse of her in a monitor near my desk. Her earplugs (these are used to hear, not to blot out sound) were hanging around her neck. When you’re on, TV hanging earplugs are a bad sign. It often means you are being fed audio that’s out of sync with what you are doing – an incredibly difficult problem if you’re speaking, and probably worse if you’re trying to sing.

By the time I had the volume up, the set was over. It wasn’t until I watched Geoff’s video that I heard the booing.

I’m still trying to piece the facts together. Was she booed because she was awful? Was she booed because of what happened on Saturday Night Live in October?

I do know that in a very small piece of Geoff’s clip she seemed to be singing, but her mike was off. A few seconds later, she was singing and I heard her voice, but the two seemed to be different.

I’ll look for more info, but if you watched, please add a comment and let me know.

Last week, I sat on the couch and watched an MTV show featuring Ashlee. I can’t understand her celebrity, except for her sister. Having her perform at the Orange Bowl was equally puzzling.

Stern to Sirius

Howard Stern announced today that he’d be going to Sirius, the satellite delivered radio service, a year from January. Whether Viacom will find it in their best interest to keep him on the air for that year plus period is certainly being debated now.

I had speculated earlier that Stern would be part of the post-Janet Jackson fallout. Mel Karmazin is no longer at Viacom, and he was Stern’s biggest supporter. I was probably wrong in connecting this to Janet Jackson… though maybe not 100%.

The whole Super Bowl, wardrobe malfunction affair has driven radio station operators, like Clear Channel, to reassess. Maybe Howard is feeling reigned in a little.

I see two interesting outcomes from this move. As little as I personally appreciate Howard Stern, he is a powerful force with his audience. He will give credibility to Sirius – get them additional subscribers. Their stock (not particularly pricey to begin with) is up almost 15% as I write this.

The second effect will be felt by people who don’t listen to Stern and don’t subscribe to satellite radio. Just as more adult or racy content on HBO, Showtime and even MTV, led the broadcast networks to spice up their programming to compete, a good showing by Stern might force the same shift on radio.

It would be ironic if Stern’s move off-air ends up moving on-air toward his type of content.

This is a story that isn’t completely played out by any means.

Another Media Prediction

After the Janet/Justin Super Bowl incident, I predicted there would be repercussions at MTV – even though MTV is not regulated by the FCC. It didn’t take long before some of the more explicit videos they play were pushed out of prime time.

Videos are no longer a big thing on MTV, so this move isn’t as significant as it might seem. Still, a change is a change. It is certainly a reaction to an upwelling of public sentiment.

Now, in light of Howard Stern’s banishment by Clear Channel, I predict he’ll soon be gone from Viacom&#185 as well.

Let me preface my explanation by saying I have no political ax to grind. What will be will be. It’s fun to make these predictions in the blog because I really can’t hide from them later. Just remember – this is only my read on the situation.

Here’s the set-up. Tuesday, Howard Stern had the ‘other’ participant in the now infamous Paris Hilton video, on-the-air. They talked, and took some phone calls. One listener asked some questions which were crude and racist, to say the least.

Wednesday evening, Matt Drudge had a short transcript of the conversation on his website. I’m glad I got to read it. I’m just as glad it’s no longer there.

I would hope Stern has the ability to monitor and censor inappropriate material before it hits air. In this case, he did not.

On Wednesday, after hearing an aircheck, Clear Channel Communications took action and issued this press release:

“Clear Channel drew a line in the sand today with regard to protecting our listeners from indecent content and Howard Stern’s show blew right through it,” said John Hogan, president and CEO of Clear Channel Radio. “It was vulgar, offensive, and insulting, not just to women and African Americans but to anyone with a sense of common decency. We will not air Howard Stern on Clear Channel stations until we are assured that his show will conform to acceptable standards of responsible broadcasting,” Hogan said.

Though America’s largest broadcasting company, Clear Channel only runs Stern on a handful of stations. Viacom is the actual syndicator of the show, and also runs it in many markets nationwide.

In this case, the tail (Clear Channel) will wag the dog (Viacom)!

Viacom is between a rock and a hard place because of statements earlier in the week. From Reuters:

Viacom president Mel Karmazin reportedly has imposed a crackdown on sexually explicit material on Infinity stations, declaring in a recent company-wide conference call: “This company won’t be a poster child for indecency.”

So, what can they do? Considering the Congressional hearings post-Super Bowl and Karmazin’s own public pledge, how can they stand behind Stern… especially in light of what Clear Channel’s CEO said?

They can’t. End of story. Hang out the “Help Wanted” sign. Stern is done.

&#185 – Stern is syndicated by Infinity Broadcasting. Infinity, in turn, is owned by Viacom.

My MTV Prediction

This is going to be very brief, because this site is not about political commentary. In fact, I avoid it on purpose.

However, after the Super Bowl, I did make a prediction that the whole Janet Jackson debacle would impact MTV and they would be forced to make some programming changes. I didn’t realize it would happen so quickly.

From the LA Times

By Jeff Leeds

Times Staff Writer

February 9, 2004

Under intense scrutiny following Janet Jackson’s breast-baring performance during last week’s Super Bowl, MTV has quietly plucked a number of its edgiest music videos out of its daytime rotation.

The Viacom Inc.-owned cable network, which produced the Super Bowl halftime extravaganza, notified several major record companies last week that at least eight of their videos would now be played only during overnight programming, generally between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., sources said.

MTV shifted most of the videos

Where Will Janet Lead Us

Last night I made a bet with someone I work with. I bet a cup of coffee that within six months, there are changes at MTV because of what happened Sunday night at the Super Bowl.

I believe CBS’s protestation that they didn’t know the specifics of what would happen. Still, it should be no surprise at Viacom or CBS, because what MTV produced was pretty much mainstream MTV. And, if there’s a claim that the Super Bowl was seen by a young audience – who do they think is watching MTV?

Without a 16 year old in the house, I wouldn’t know. If you don’t watch MTV, or just remember it for what it was, you don’t know. The “M” in MTV might once have stood for music, but music is hardly what drives MTV.

Much of MTV’s schedule is made up of reality programming. Instead of contests of skill or guile or athleticism, these reality shows are about hot young bodies in close proximity. There is plenty of liquor and plenty of hooking up.

After a while, especially to a teenage fed a steady diet, this stuff starts seeming mainstream.

Recently, Steffie has been trying to convince me that in one Real World epsiode a 19 year old was drinking alcohol. I didn’t believe it – couldn’t believe it. Now, I’m not so sure.

So, why do I think MTV will tbe the sacrificial lamb? CBS has tried to divorce itself from the Janet Jackson breast baring, saying it was an MTV production. Still, they are owned by the same company, Viacom. This half time show debacle was one of those synergistic things that companies bragged about as we witnessed consolidation of mass media outlets over the past decade.

At some point someone with an agenda will start showing that what ran on the Super Bowl is closer to the MTV norm than non-viewers realize. That’s when the you know what will hit the fan.

I’m thinking I get coffee out of this.