Random Thoughts

Blue Collar Bowl

Green Bay dominated on its way to the NFC Championship. I thought that Chicago would have done a little better, but the one thing the Bears do consistently is raise doubts among their fans. Even though the Jets were able to come part of the way back, Pittsburgh was just as dominant on the AFC side. It’s nice to see two blue collar, small market towns in the Super Bowl. And even though both Pittsburgh and Green Bay are small TV markets; the relative size of those areas won’t hurt the TV audience during the championship game. And because of the revenue-sharing makeup of the NFL, it’s possible for small market teams to not only be competitive, but actually dominate. Not so in Major League Baseball, where it would be amazing to see the Pirates and the Brewers in the World Series. Time for profit-sharing MLB.

See Ya, Keith

Good Night and Good Luck

So there’s a programming change at MSNBC. The network, which has managed to pass CNN in prime time programming (not hard, really), has parted ways with Keith Olbermann, its biggest personality. Okay, here’s a guy who’s worked for CNN, ESPN, Fox as well as several major market TV stations – and managed to leave most of them on bad terms.

Keith is smart, well-spoken and has strong opinions. That’s a pretty good thing for the host of an opinion show on cable TV. It would seem that he’s also a bit high strung, which may be why he keeps butting heads with the people who run the organizations where he works. I’m sure that after a little time off, someone will put the guy back on TV. My opinion? When that happens, you should take a pill big man. You’re good at what you do, but don’t go looking to make enemies of the people you work for.

Sowing and Reaping

One Thing Leads to Another

I know that the chairman of the Shelby County Schools would prefer not to have the Memphis City Schools surrender its charter, forcing a takeover by the county schools. However, if David Pickler had not floated the idea of the county seeking special district status, it’s possible that all this noise would not have occurred. That change in status would have set permanent boundaries for the county system, avoiding future annexation by the city schools. But, the Memphis Schools determined that it would probably not survive if it couldn’t grow – or at least expand its tax base into more prosperous parts of the county.

So Dave, did you not think the city schools would act once you made a move to cut off future sources of revenue?

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By the Numbers

Just a quick post about TV news. When you spend a bunch of years doing something, you retain some mild interest, even after you’ve moved on.

Here now the news!

Nielsen, the ratings people, have released their annual market rankings. Of the 210 markets ranked, New York remains the largest, Glendive, Montana the smallest.

Memphis, which was in the top 30 when I worked at the big 3 on the river, is now the 48th largest market, with 694,000 TV homes.  Some cities grow, others contract. If there’s any good news in the numbers for Memphis, its that it has moved up from being number 50 last year. Market size plays a role in how much stations can charge for commercial time. TV spots cost more in bigger markets. Doesn’t mean it’s better TV, just makes more money. Of course, it usually means the news people are paid a little better too. I’ve been out of local news long enough to not have a clue as to what people earn in this town. But there are still a boatload of people in Memphis TV who were working here when I got here in 1990 (so maybe somebody’s making some money here).

And no, consolidation won’t change Memphis’ market ranking, unless they turn the job situation around immediately and a bunch of folks move into town.

One CNN Center

Slip Slidin' Away?

Speaking of TV news, I’m starting to think that I got out of CNN when the getting was good. The August rating numbers for the network are out, and it seems they’re the lowest in ten years. That’s a little scary. Again, while Fox News is the clear leader in cable news ratings, it’s probably not a situation of people changing the channel from one to the other. CNN firmly staked out the middle ground for so long, I think it lost out on viewers attracted by point-of-view television. Fox and MSNBC, and even Headline News (sorry, HLN) have developed prime time line ups that have some kind of perspective. It’s interesting that Campbell Brown left the 8pm slot because she had no audience and Rick Sanchez has lost 41% of the few viewers she had. Maybe CNN should switch to NCIS reruns or try to grab the “Real Housewives” franchises from Bravo.

Changing of the Guard

Coming Soon?

There had been talk for weeks that CNN was making moves to replace Larry King in their Prime Time lineup. Reps for the network had been doing their best to pooh-pooh that notion, saying the linchpin of their nighttime programming wasn’t going anywhere. They also wanted to disabuse the notion that British “journalist” Piers Morgan was going to get the 9pm Eastern time slot. Of course, these were the same folks who denied that disgraced former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer was getting a comeback vehicle in the 8pm hour (or “where CNN shows go to die,” based on history).

Is the caller there?

Anyway, I didn’t actually see Larry make his big announcement Tuesday night. Honestly, I haven’t sat down to watch an episode of “Larry King Live” since he had the debate between Al Gore and Ross Perot. I picked it up off Facebook, in a post by former CNNer and current CBSer Betty Nguyen. It seems, that after 25 years, Mr. King has decided to step away from his show, although he’ll stick around for specials and such. I would point to the example of Walter Cronkite stepping down from the Evening News. Even though the network put him on its board of directors, his show “Universe” and any use of him for news coverage seemed to end pretty quickly. I have a feeling that CNN had as much to do with Larry stepping down as Larry did.

For a long time, the one constant high point of CNN Prime was King. Aaron Brown, Paula Zahn, Connie Chung, Natalie Allen, Joie Chen, Jim Moret, Wolf Blitzer, lil’ Andy Cooper and a few other people I’m sure I’m forgetting failed to hold the line against the growth of Fox News (as I mentioned in April, they’ve been #1 in cable news for 8 years now). CNN doesn’t seem to be doing too well against MSNBC lately either. Don’t feel bad for the CNN. It still makes more money than Fox News, whose parent company doesn’t have as developed a group of networks at Turner Broadcasting.

After all, Fox has its main network, Fox News, FX and the Fox Movie Channel. TimeWarner has HBO, Cinemax, CNN, HLN, CNN en Español, CNN International, CNN Radio, Turner Classic Movies, TNT, Cartoon Network, Boomerang, the CW and a few cross-branded Spanish-language channels I watched on my recent cruise.

Even so, there’s been a seismic shift in how cable TV works. Even though CNN has made attempts to go “opinionated,” they haven’t had anything to the type of luck the other networks have. Even the other cable channels have bulked up on the crappiness quotient. Bravo used to be an arts channel.  Now it seems it’s all siliconed and botoxed “housewives” and snarky reality cooking and design contests that seem to be more rip offs of MTV’s “Real World” than actual contests that display anyone’s skill.

Maybe it’s a good time to go. Enjoy your kids’ Little League games, Larry.

Don’t Mind the Ice…

I used to work with a guy at CNN. He’s a journalism professor now, shaping the young minds of the next generation of newsgatherers. The way things are going, he could probably give them a FlipCam and a blog site and they’d be ready.

Get me rewrite!

Journalism has often seemed, at the rank-and-file level anyway, a craft that doesn’t always require a lot of training or skill. Just look at some of the stuff that passes for “journalism” and try telling me I’m wrong. Still, there’s a lot of money in the MSM (mainstream media), so publications, stations and networks are going to do whatever they can to build and retain audiences.

The concept of gathering information can be considering a proud and lofty tradition. As mentioned in Ed Bark’s blog, the new news director at the CBS station in Dallas puts it like this: “We need people who are advocates for the voiceless, for the downtrodden. That is what being a journalist means; to give voice to the voiceless; to fight for what’s right; to be an advocate for the people. This all may sound corny. But it’s what I believe, and what I live every day.”

Yes, but the primary purpose of news is for companies to sell advertising. Entertainment and information are swell, but people usually won’t pay enough for them alone. It’s necessary to make up the different with words from our sponsors.

That’s why there’s so much effort to affect the packaging of news. If it’s not something that draws viewers, or doesn’t draw as many as it used to, expect it to change. In some cases, it seems like nothing some organizations do can turn around a decline in fortunes. Just ask the folks who used to make buggy whips. When everybody had a horse and wagon, those guys were in clover. Now? Not so much.

Changing landscape

That’s the way it feels when I read about my old employer. For a long time, CNN was the end-all and be-all in cable news. Hour after hour of straight news reporting, occasionally interrupted by serial marrier Larry King, talking to a faded celeb (although he would occasionally make a little news with his interviews). That hasn’t been the case for a while. I read yesterday that the Fox News Channel has been #1 in cable news for 100 months now. That’s over 8 years.

CNN has tried a lot of different things, talent, good looks, odd behavior, the tabloid approach, huge honkin’ wrap-around TV screens… but nothing seems to be able to turn the tide. Just ask Aaron Brown, Paula Zahn, Lou Dobbs or Connie Chung. The current crop of folks who are still there, including Anderson Cooper, John King and Campbell Brown… and serial marrier Larry King, aren’t doing much better.

Let's move these around

That brings me back to my friend the college professor. Every time they rolled out a new graphic or style note or made an anchor change at CNN, he’d always trot out a comment about how the execs were “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.” He didn’t see the point to trying to spruce up a rapidly sinking ship, even if one of those efforts might be the one thing that could turn everything around.

7 years of my life

I read several months ago that CNN was undergoing a major rebuild in Atlanta, getting rid of the old set that overlooked the newsroom on the 5th floor of CNN Center. I remember how awed I was when was walking around the newsroom when I went in for an interview back in May of 2000. The bloom came off that rose pretty quickly once I started working there and realized how incredibly dirty some news people are. The mice didn’t seem to mind. Anyway, the newsroom design was a few years old by that time, and here it is, 10 years later, and they’re still using it. Oh, they’ve rolled in some flat screen TVs, but it’s the same old room.

NEW look (same old news?)

When Ted Turner started CNN, he was content to staff the production of most of the programs in Atlanta. After all, that’s where he was, and labor and space costs were less there than in New York. Time Warner has spent a lot on their Columbus Circle location and seem to want their flagship CNN programs produced there. But, it seems that daytime and weekends aren’t high-profile enough to shut Atlanta down. Which is good, because I’ve got a lot of friends who need the work.

Welcome to the bridge of the Enterprise...

(EDIT: Because I’m all about breaking in when news breaks out) I do have updated art at this point, courtesy of the All Things CNN blog. Looks like my old pal Kyra Phillips got to take the first ride on the HD set. I haven’t had the chance to see it in action, but I’m hoping it went better than I heard the rehearsals went. As I mentioned in the first edition of this blog; if you still know where CNN is on your cable system, take a look. I still don’t know that updated graphics translates into viewership. If it did, news directors would never get fired.

Ford in Their Future?

I turned on the TV Sunday morning; the first thing I saw was Harold Ford Jr. on Meet the Press, talking about politics. David Gregory spent a little too much (in my opinion) trying to nail him on the whole whether he’s been paying New York State taxes. Don’t worry Dave, between living in Manhattan and working at Morgan Stanley, he’ll pay his share. Got up Monday and turned on the TV, the first thing I saw was Harold Ford Jr. on CBS This Morning. It’s amazing. MSNBC has suspended his analyst contract while he’s exploring a run for the U.S. Senate, and he’s actually on TV more.

Mr. & Mrs. Ford

I’m not hating on Junior. One thing I agree with is the point that his interracial marriage will go down a little bit easier with the folks in New York than it will with the people in some parts of Tennessee. Shouldn’t be that way, but it definitely is. And why not run for Senate in a state that has a tradition of electing people who don’t necessarily have strong ties to the place (think Robert Kennedy, Hillary Clinton, maybe even John Foster Dulles, who was much more a product of Washington than he was of New York).

Maybe I’m old school; but I always thought a little more of Harold Sr. as the representative of the Ninth District of Tennessee. It always seemed to me that his connection to the area was much stronger than Junior’s. Junior didn’t grow up here, didn’t go to school here, didn’t work here. Seemed to me like he just came to town when Dad was ready to retire and he happened to have a very good name for someone who wanted to replace a guy named Harold Ford in Congress.

Kirsten & Hillary

There’s also nothing wrong with holding different opinions on the issues of the day than you used to. Junior has already said he’s rethought some issues and has just changed his mind on things. That hasn’t completely kept some people from calling flip-flop on the former Congressman. Look, if the folks of New York want him, they’ll vote for him. A lot of people wondered how Hillary was going to speak to issues of people upstate when she ran for the Senate. She did her “listening tours” and convinced enough voters to put her into office. Kirsten Gillibrand was lucky enough to be serving in Congress when Democrats needed a replacement for Clinton. Now she has the bully pulpit of her current office to run for reelection. It’s uphill all the way for Junior. It’s hard to unseat an incumbent. There’s a chance that he and former Mayor Herenton will have something to compare notes on after Election Day.

We Missed You

Awww...

So, everything can’t go the way you’d like them to. Our Monday trivia trio was a duo, because somebody decided to stay home and play with her new puppy. I didn’t think she was going to go through with getting the dog, but she did. And she also decided she’d rather spend time with the dog than us. Not that it’s her fault, but we could only manage second place at the Blue Monkey downtown. The big tournament starts next month, hopefully, we’ll have this all worked out by then.