Archive for the ‘television’ Category

‘The Comcast Evening News’

Wednesday, May 16th, 2012

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Walter Cronkite brought us the evening news for decades; we watched in awe. Uncle Walter packaged stories of import that made tens of millions stop, sit, lean forward, and grab it in. There was never a doubt that Cronkite was in charge.

These days we have Brian Williams presenting segments that are for the most part neatly packaged promos with a tie-in to Universal and Comcast. NBC’s daddy has a huge portfolio of lower-rated cable networks that Comcast feels must be showcased on the network news. These include the Weather Channel, NBC Sports Net, USA Network, Cloo, and even a new African American storytelling site (theGrio), all of which are mentioned in more than half of what’s covered in News With Brian Williams (not including the previews of NBC’s Dateline).

Where a sacred shroud of church and state existed during Cronkite’s day — entertainment programming knew nothing about the news division and vice versa — has gone by the wayside thanks to new-fashioned desperation in the form of memos from the TV gods.

Williams keeps losing his cred as he brings on “experts” from various Comcast holdings — see early May’s letter to the Justice Department about Comcast by Sen. Franken — and hypes the latest Universal movie in segments, wincing all the while. Like most wage earners Williams must believe he’s imminently replaceable and the hardworking chap can still see skid marks where Tom Brokaw was pushed out. He probably thinks they can wind up a new anchor via the hype machine called “NBC.”

Yes, network advertisers are mentioned in the news all the time. (It’s comical when a sanctimonious reporters act as though that never happens.) But corporate entities make news and many of the giants are solvent enough to run ads too. As for the giggly morning shows, these have been promoting primetime programming with gusto between stories about menopause since J. Fred Muggs — the chimp — hosted Today in the ’50s.

But a well-preserved, ultimately brief, news show has a duty not to produce three segments about USA Network’s airing a 50th anniversary telecast of To Kill A Mockingbird; or do nightly storm stories right after its parent buys the Weather Channel; or hype meaningless sports hours to help low-rated NBC Sports Network. These aren’t reasons to use 22 measly minutes allotted for informational programming.

And Williams is no innocent. He joyfully previews news-free interviews coming up on his own Rock Center With Brian Williams, NBC’s “Dateline Lite” that keeps getting new time slots searching for viewers (Monday, Wednesday, Friday–now off the air during May Sweeps). NBC This self-promotional NBC Gone Wild is so out of control that last month Weekend Evening News host Lester Holt ran five minutes of a commencement address he gave at Pepperdine U!

If the network news producers act like weaselly pegs in oversized conglomerated wheels while the bosses dictate all movements then it’s soon going to be hard to tell what is news from what is a commercial for Comcast.

Watching actual ads on the evening news (i.e., must-pee pills for erectile dysfunction or overactive bladders) prove there isn’t a lot of demand to advertise. So cancel the evening news, already, and produce 30 minutes of promos of shows on Comcast properties rather than pretending 6:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. is news. This new show is exactly what E! Entertainment Television — NBC’s closest sister — does with ease.

Comcast owns or co-owns more than 25 networks and sites — iVillage, A&E, History, Oxygen, Golf Channel and DailyCandy to start — and many were smart investments. But ripping apart the proud peacock when NBC News has better ratings than its weak nighttime lineup is sure to lessen Comcast’s value. What’s bad for viewers is bad for shareholders.

It’s likely “creatives” like Williams and Holt have built enough goodwill within NBC to ignore the baser objectives of their bosses. I remember how, after Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus talked to the media about her new show Watching Ellie. She said she refused to allow network executives on the set. The quick-witted star snorted: “As if any notes from the network has ever helped a show.”
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The NBC PR Disaster & End of Corporate Speak

Monday, January 18th, 2010

conan-heller.jpgI would have thought that all conglomerates have learned how quickly they can be damaged by “not checking in” with their customer base. Doesn’t anyone remember a year ago when Tropicana disastrously changed their carton without asking if anyone loved the old one? But no one at NBC Universal Comcast GE Microwave got a whiff of the orange-flavored catastrophe so they stepped right back into shit with their heads in the air. And no matter how they paint this pig, the last-place network has lost a huge swath of TV watchers (and we all watch TV, no matter who says “Not me”) by telling us how the Leno drama will end up.

It’s as if they thought we would somehow accept their final answer.

A statement along the lines of “Don’t worry, we’re fine moving Jay into Conan’s slot” was a classic that worked great before we became our own TV networks. That is, we are now the people who make the news. Water coolers are no longer where the action is–it’s on our handheld Black-i-Pres where we wouldn’t dream of quoting a major news story we didn’t have an opinion on. And yes, there was a time when we might be swayed by the machinations of an evil (but persuasive) newsmaking machine.

Back in the days of The Cosby Show being moved opposite Magnum P.I., a powerful media corporation could dictate a success by aggressively shoving a plethora of ads down our shrugging throats. (Even in 2005, when Grey’s transferred to Thursdays, it worked because “Choose Thursday” was plastered behind every toilet!) But now we do the shoving. We are the tweeters and status-updaters and IMers and G-talkers who make opinionated decisions based on how we feel about the deciders. Zucker & Co. will find their unsubtle ways emulated by the people as we take our fight to the well-oiled Internet.

And so this will be an unwinnable public fight that an old-fashioned conglomerate will regret.

It only gets worse for NBC who has to wince as side-show celebrities take sides in an ugly, unfettered way. The slot winner (Jay) has a single star in his corner–and Mr. Seinfeld is already on the payroll cause NBC’s committed to his tacky reality series soon to be renamed Jerry Is a Whore. Rosie O and Jimmy K have been nastily telling Jay to do “the right thing” so Conan can retain the throne–Kimmel went so far as to say “We have children–you have cars.” Alas, NBC has become so righteous and indignant that if Leno did say I’m out of here there’s simply no way NBC could keep the 11:35 brand from dom. Really, this is a circus created in less than a month that should never have gone this far.

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NBC played it too close to the chin–er, vest and did not look our way. It’s a corporate error still mass-produced by many media companies as they leak news to same-size media companies and believe we will accept the verdict because it’s all business and nothing is personal. But NBC chieftains (like those orange dudes) are not cognizant of how much personal time we spend laughing at the disasters powerful people make every day. We laugh at the news–we laugh at the way it is covered–we laugh at the tone. Our thought is always, “As if we don’t already know what’s going on.”

We already know NBC is scared witless they made a mistake. And they never bothered to come to us for advice. And that is PR 101.

NBC Universal needed to concoct an online forum using the requisite tools–Twitter, Facebook, a popup micro-site, Linked-in, even colorless NBC.com - to gather ideas given them by a few who care who hosts what. If they had, they’d be in a powerful position to say “We got this data from knowledgeable, helpful participants.” The results might have surprised them.

What we have here is a unique dilemma. Two big players on one network is normal–but one is always more popular by far. Jay Leno is the handy standby that luckily signing a decent contract allowing him to work until he drops dead. Conan O’Brien is the risky business decision–quirky, unbalanced, nervous-to-a-fault, freakishly tall–now being thrown out like yesterday’s omelet because his early show didn’t rise to hit levels by usual standards. These are two separate stories that should not have competed for public attention. Leno should have been put on hiatus–isn’t that word that everyone uses for cancellation anyway?

I’m surprised, too, that GE has such a short memory about Tonight. Doesn’t Zucker have copies of memos about how poorly Leno performed post-Carson? NBC stood firm with carefully crafted press statements until Leno started winning. The holders-of-the-pink-slips did same for an unknown O’Brien when he took Letterman’s 12:35 show with little notice. [NBC was always the evil empire. They started the Irishman with 26-week contracts.]

In 1993, remember that Letterman was god, but the notion that of canning Leno after seven months and playing musical time periods was unfathomable. It’s insulting to the host and the well-honed staff that has just gotten going; still, but it would have been seen as a slap to viewers who may not be watching but waited to see what others thought about the change.

In 2010, anyone who reads knows O’Brien ratings are low, granted, but Nielsen is only a part of the story today. The “viralness” of some of the current Tonight stunts have been gaining ground and people began to talk…which always leads to an increase on TV and a lot of sponsored Hulu hits. Simultaneously, NBC ruined Jay Leno at 10 by forcing him to be a PR guy whose guests were network stars of their own troubled (read stale) programming. Zachary Levi is colorful on Chuck, but come on!

Now the online/offline/phone-addicted public has their arms firmly folded (and will remain that way) because NBC drop-kicked the redhead and never checked with 24/7 tweeters to ask how would you feel about a switch.

Doesn’t NBC know anyone over at Tropicana?

Funny thing is–asking people (”in an Internet chat where we discussed our problems”) gives these suits an ability to claim, say a year from now, that O’Brien was paid out because the viewers spoke up and said it was time for a change. Key word: time.

And the current big-rating monologues are silly (”Guess what,” murmured O’Brien, “I’ve been offered a role in a porno…and I’m considering it!”) and are helping no one. It’s fun like a poke in the eye! Keeping the fisting skit that Conan did about NBC on its own ad-supported Hulu isn’t a sensible strategy. It’s also not funny for new owner Comcast who has to clean it up.

Don’t you find it uncomfortable watching two corporate stooges poking fun at one another while competitors use their public fight to bring viewers in? (Seth Meyers on SNL: “This week you didn’t need Cinemax to see someone get screwed on TV.”) The pit bosses know the two Tonight hosts’ careers have been irreparably blown and still neither’s camp has done anything but cower–and bitch. “Team Conan” concept is a tween-era marketing boon for the Twilight set that won’t mean more people turning in after he moves to E!.

In a few short weeks the dust is sure to settle. Leno will pop back up at 11:35 (wistfully, with his lips smacking); Conan will get a million viewers who can locate him after Chelsea Handler or Wanda Sykes; The Late Show host will be crowing like mad and winning, I guess; and no one will care. By then Charlie Sheen will be jailed, hospitalized or dead and we’ll all be jawing about the new laugh riot Toby Maguire on 3 and a Half Men.

After the Vancouver Olympics no one will be talking about NBC–a boycott will be underway–and I’m sure young Fallon will be blamed, tarred and feathered. Those pride-filled peacockers will have a big hole to fill. It will be their mouths. Because no one in our networked world wants to be told who is good or bad. And as far as numbersl, in the DVR Culture world Nielsen no longer holds the cards to what succeeds.

We have them. We deal them every single day.
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Twitter @laermer

Kanye Swift: A Marriage Made In Heaven

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

Wherefore art thou, decorum?

Let

Television In 2009: Desperate Attempts At Nothing

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

Buy the Book - 2011

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