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News coverage

October 19, 2012

Part of 'Face the Nation' pre-empted

Lots of folks are wondering why KEYE-TV hasn’t been showing the full hour of the CBS network’s “Face the Nation” program, which airs at 9:30 a.m. each Sunday.

Presidential Debate.JPG
Bob Schieffer

The problem, according to vice president and general manager Amy Villarreal, is that, because of prior commitments, the station doesn’t have room on its schedule - yet - to air the show in its entirety.

Initially, “Face the Nation’s” expansion from 30 minutes to an hour was thought to be temporary, so KEYE picked up a religious program featuring Houston pastor Joel Osteen to fill out its Sunday morning lineup.

“I personally talked to (host) Bob Schieffer,” Villarreal said, “and he could not guarantee me that the hour would be picked up permanently.”

Once the contract with Osteen comes to an end, she said KEYE will “heavily consider” airing all of “Face the Nation.”

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October 10, 2011

Where to see Tuesday's GOP debate

Eight Republicans eyeing the presidency are set to take part in a debate Tuesday night that will focus exclusively on jobs and the nation’s economy.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry

Among them, of course, is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. You knew that … hopefully.

The debate, sponsored by Bloomberg TV and the Washington Post, airs at 6 p.m. It’ll also be streamed at and

Not sure if Bloomberg TV is part of your cable lineup? It’s OK … I didn’t know either.

Here’s where to look:

We will, of course, have complete coverage before, during and after the debate on Be sure to check it out.

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September 12, 2011

Radio/TV notebook: Wildfire tidbits

Lotsa stuff to pass along about wildfire coverage and benefits put together by local radio and TV stations.


So, here ya go:

The day before, fans of the “Dudley and Bob Show” on 93.7 KLBJ-FM collected a truckload of items for Austin Christian Fellowship, which is assisting Steiner Ranch residents.

In Central Texas, Emmis owns 93.3/102.7 KGSR-FM, 93.7 KLBJ-FM, 101X, 103.5 BOB-FM, 107.1 La Z and Newsradio 590, which is also simulcast on 99.7 FM.

Clear Channel operates 96.7 KISS-FM, 98.1 KVET-FM, KASE 101, 102.3 the Beat and 1300 AM the Zone.

Monday, a station spokeswoman says “Good Day Austin” more than doubled the audience for “Good Morning America” and delivered numbers that were more than 50 percent higher than the “Today” show from 7 to 9 a.m.

From 9 to 10 a.m., “Good Day Austin” drew more eyeballs than KEYE, KVUE and KXAN combined, according to the spokeswoman.

Tuesday, Fox 7 reports the 7 to 9 a.m. portion of “Good Day Austin” beat “Today,” “Good Morning America” and the “Early Show.”

And for the 9 a.m. hour, “Good Day Austin” more than doubled the numbers for “Today.”

Its 9 p.m. news hour on Tuesday was No. 1 in its timeslot, as well.

Finally, on Wednesday, the 9 p.m. Fox 7 newscast was No. 1 and beat every primetime show that night except for “America’s Got Talent” on KXAN.

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May 20, 2011

Katie Couric signs off as CBS anchor (video)

The Los Angeles Times says news personality Katie Couric is headed to an afternoon talk show on ABC.

Couric stepped down as co-host of NBC’s “Today” show to become anchor and managing editor of the CBS Evening News in 2006 (she was the first solo female anchor in network television history). On Thursday, Couric signed off from that program for the last time.

Here’s her goodbye. Will you miss her? Sound off in the comments below.

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March 28, 2011

How the networks plan to cover Obama's Libya remarks

Media Bistro has posted the cable news networks’ plans to cover President Obama’s 6:30 p.m. CT Monday night address on Libya from the National Defense University. The story includes details on CNN, CNBC, Fox Business Network, Fox News and MSNBC.

An earlier post included details of broadcast networks’ plans.

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March 12, 2011

U-verse subscribers get free TV Japan through March

Today, AT&T made TV Japan, the 24-hour Japanese news channel, available for free to all U-verse TV subscribers so they can keep up with the latest news and recovery efforts from Japan, according to Kuriko Hasegawa, Media Relations/Market Manager for AT&T South Texas.

TV Japan is available to all U-verse TV customers for free through March 17 on channel 3680.

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March 5, 2011

Austin Dish Network subscribers lose KXAN, KNVA

The carriage agreement between Dish Network and LIN Media, owner of Austin NBC affiliate KXAN and The CW outlet KNVA expired at 1 a.m. today with no new agreement reached. As a result, Dish Network cannot currently provide subscribers with those channels.

Dish subscribers looking for KXAN are, instead, finding the following message: “LIN has blocked the signal for your local station. Dish Network offered multiple times to continue negotiating. LIN refused to even answer our phone calls.”

At issue is the fee LIN wishes to charge the satellite provider to carry its product. LIN maintains the increase amounts to “fair market value” while Dish contends the “outrageous” requested rate would result in increased fees to its subscribers.

Both entities have issued statements on the negotiating failure.

From KXAN:

DISH’s contract to carry KXAN and KNVA on its satellite system has expired, and by law, DISH no longer has the right to carry our programming.

Please know that we have tried hard to reach an agreement with DISH, so that our viewers would not have to miss any of KXAN and KNVA’s around-the-clock reporting of news, politics, traffic, weather emergencies, public service announcements, and favorite local and national programming.

We are disappointed in the outcome of our negotiations, especially since we have successfully reached deals with every major cable, satellite and telecommunications company that recognizes our fair market value. Without fair and equitable treatment, local TV stations will not be able to continue to provide top quality news, sports, entertainment, and other local programming that is most important to you.

We will continue to negotiate with DISH. Unfortunately, we do not know if, or when, we will reach an agreement.

We thank you for your tremendous support throughout this dispute. We have received thousands of emails and phone calls from viewers and advertisers who understand our position and are willing to stand by our side.

We hope you will continue supporting local television and watch us through alternative means. If you have any questions, please call (888) 472-6850. We also encourage you to continue calling DISH and tell them you want KXAN and KNVA and all of your favorite programming back. You can reach DISH by calling 1-800-333-DISH.

Thank you for supporting LOCAL television.

From Dish Network:

“It’s unfortunate that LIN Media, a corporate media conglomerate, pulled its channels down at midnight, holding viewers in 17 markets across the nation hostage while attempting to coerce DISH Network to submit to outrageous demands. Even more disappointing is the fact that LIN Media didn’t even make an effort to keep negotiating during the final hours and failed to respond despite our numerous attempts to reach them. LIN Media also refused to grant the contract extension DISH Network proposed. DISH Network offered LIN Media a fee increase comparable to market rates already agreed to with more than 1,000 other TV stations. However, in the last few days, LIN Media increased its fees even more, demanding more than a 175 percent rate increase in the first year alone.

“LIN Media is simply being greedy, insisting on a rate increase so immense that DISH Network and its customers couldn’t possibly absorb it. Their onerous demands and burdensome contract terms would result in payments of millions of dollars more each month, exceeding current market rates and demanding more money than we pay most of our popular national networks.

“We are pleased the FCC met this week to propose changes to this outdated retransmission consent process between broadcasters and pay-TV operators. We believe the system is broken and are happy to see the FCC recognize it is time to make changes that put consumers’ needs at the forefront.

“DISH Network remains open to further talks with LIN Media in hopes of reaching a fair deal to restore the channels.”

Permalink | Comments (14) | Categories: News coverage, TV Technology

March 4, 2011

More on the LIN/Dish Network carriage dispute and the FCC

Broadcasting & Cable has a good piece about Thursday’s Federal Communications Commission decision to explore revamping rules on arbitration between television networks and the cable and satellite companies that distribute their content.

“The FCC voted unanimously Thursday,” the article says, “to propose several changes to its retransmission consent oversight rules meant to better clarify what bargaining in good faith means, as well as possibly eliminating the syndicated exclusivity and non-duplication rules to give cable operators an alternative source of station programming.”

Cable operators and the American Cable Association have been urging the FCC to take up the issue. When retransmission negotiations reach an impasse, providers are legally obligated to remove a network’s signal from their line-up, which can cause public opinion to turn against the cable or satellite company.

Among other proposals, the FCC is considering granting the ability for cable and satellite providers to negotiate with out-of-market network affiliates to carry their signals in the event of a local blackout. In the ongoing battle between LIN Media (owner of Austin’s NBC affiliate KXAN and The CW outlet KNVA) and Dish Network, a change in this rule would allow Dish to negotiate to carry non-Austin, non-LIN-owned NBC and The CW affiliates here in Austin.

The LIN/Dish carriage dispute could result in KXAN and KNVA disappearing from the Dish Network line-up as early as midnight tonight should a new contract not be agreed upon. The FCC urged the parties to reach an agreement and stressed that its vote to reconsider rules for retransmission negotiation should not be taken as justification for foot-dragging by either party.

Find more details in the full article here and watch the TV Blog for any breaking news on the LIN/Dish retransmission dispute throughout the day.

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February 10, 2011

Colleagues comment on Robert Schenkkan

Here are a couple of comments from former co-workers of Robert Schenkkan.

Schenkkan, a public media pioneer, died on Wednesday, February 9 of complications from dementia.

Maury Sullivan, Senior Vice President for Community Engagement, KLRU
“Bob was truly an amazing person and KLRU would not be what we are today without him.”

Terry Lickona, Executive Producer, “Austin City Limits”
“Schenkkan was only there a few more years after I arrived, then retired, but everyone who worked there always called him ‘Mr. Schenkkan.’ No one ever would have thought to call him ‘Bob!’ He was a formidable figure in more ways than one. It was only later in his retirement years that he took on a less serious demeanor and insisted that everybody refer to him as Bob.”

Charles Vaughn, Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at KLRN in San Antonio
Vaughn praised Schenkkan’s efforts in travelling around the southwest, drumming up community support for public media. Vaughn worked for Schenkkan at KLRU when it was still called KLRN. “He was a visionary leader and a very fine man,” Vaughn said.

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KLRU reschedules State of the State rebroadcast

Due to technical difficulties on Tuesday, Austin PBS affiliate KLRU was not able to re-broadcast Gov. Perry’s State of the State address. Thanks to KVUE, which is providing the content to KLRU, the station will be able to re-broadcast the address at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 13 on KLRU digital channel 18.1.

More information can be found here.

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Robert F. Schenkkan tribute video

This 11-minute video, “Robert Schenkkan, Ninety Years of Vision,” was produced for Schenkkan’s 90th birthday tribute in March 2007. KLRU CEO Bill Stotesbery kindly granted us permission to show it to you.

Schenkkan, a public media pioneer, died on Wednesday, February 9 of complications from dementia.

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Robert F. Schenkkan, giant in public broadcasting, dies

Note: This entry was edited Thursday, 02/10/2012 at 1:50 p.m. to include the surviving children and grandchildren of Phyllis Schenkkan as well as the cause of Robert Schenkkan’s death; and again at 9:58 p.m. to add information about the memorial service and to correct Gerard Schenkkan’s employment.

Robert F. Schenkkan, a founding father and tireless defender of public broadcasting, spent five decades nurturing public radio and television in Austin. He also served with distinction in the United States Navy in World War II and inspired thousands of students at the University of Texas’ College of Communications during his more than two decades as a professor and mentor.

Schenkkan, a soft-spoken man of powerful passions, died in Austin on Wednesday at age 93 from complications of dementia according to his widow, Phyllis (Rothgeb) Schenkkan, leaving behind a rich and profound broadcast legacy.

“He was the first to understand the immediate meaning and ultimate importance of public broadcasting. He really got it,” said Jim Lehrer, anchor and editor of PBS’s “NewsHour.” “It was ‘educational’ TV when he started, and he realized it could be so much more. He also believed very strongly that if public broadcast was going to deal with news and public affairs, it couldn’t be seen as a political branch of government or special interest. He protected that from all who might have thought otherwise and did so stridently, eloquently and repeatedly.”

Recruited by UT from the University of North Carolina in 1955, Schenkkan helped launch KUT radio in 1958 and KLRU television in 1962. He became a national force in organizing educational TV stations into the PBS network and worked with President Johnson on passing the Public Broadcasting Act in 1967 that established congressional funding.

“Only Bob could have persuaded LBJ to see that it was a good thing for Austin to have a non-commercial television station, even though it would compete with Johnson’s own KTBC,” said veteran TV news journalist Bill Moyers. “But Bob was a visionary in his quiet-spoken way, and he had this talent for persuading people without any histrionics — because he made such sense, was so principled and sought nothing for himself from the outcome. I’ve never known anyone more dedicated to the community’s interest. … And others fell behind him from sheer admiration.”

In what became a heated and dramatic public battle, Schenkkan locked horns with the White House in the waning days of President Nixon’s troubled presidency. Nixon had felt threatened by PBS and some of its tough journalists, so he loaded the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (the congressional body that funds PBS) with partisan appointees who threatened to stop money for public affairs programming.

“Bob really got his dander up, and thank God he did,” Lehrer said. “He was forceful, and he had credibility. He was a natural defender against the onslaught. Our defense against the Nixons of the world is that we’re instruments of nobody — not Nixon or any other administration.” Born in New York of Dutch immigrant parents, Schenkkan studied drama at the University of Virginia and earned a graduate degree from the University of North Carolina after fighting at Guadalcanal during World War II. His arrival in Austin launched the beginning of public broadcasting in Central Texas.

“Bob Schenkkan was a quiet warrior for an independent press,” said Roderick P. Hart, dean of UT’s College of Communication. “He stood among a few men and women who helped create the public broadcasting system we know today, including PBS and NPR. His leadership role continued as he helped preserve a national treasure when political forces tried to dismantle the public broadcasting system. Children-friendly television, including the beloved ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,’ owes a special debt to Bob Schenkkan. As one of the three founding administrators of the College of Communication, Bob Schenkkan’s legacy has been etched for the ages at U.T.-Austin.”

For Schenkkan’s 90th birthday in March 2007, KLRU and KUT hosted a tribute that brought together 150 friends and family. Written and filmed accolades included messages from Bill Moyers, former Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow, legendary public TV and radio executive Ward Chamberlin and Jim Lehrer.

“Bob Schenkkan’s vision for KLRU not only helped create the station, but his constant support and advice over the decades have played a major role in the station’s continuing growth and success,” said KLRU General Manager Bill Stotesbery. “We owe Bob a great debt of thanks.”

While he was on leave from the Navy, Schenkkan married his college sweetheart, Jean McKenzie, and the couple had four sons: Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Robert Schenkkan Jr.; Gerard “Tex” Schenkkan, an executive with the San Francisco firm Digidesign, which makes hardware and software for the music business; Pieter “Pete” Schenkkan, an attorney in Austin; and Dirk Schenkkan, an attorney in San Francisco.

Schenkkan was by Jean’s side when she died in 1985. Four years later, he fell in love with and married Phyllis Rothgeb, and the couple traveled and enjoyed life until Schenkkan’s health became frail. Schenkkan is also survived by Phyllis and her sons John Reese Rothgeb, Jr. and David Rothgeb.

Schenkkan joked that he retired from UT in 1976 “but it didn’t take.” He was recruited by the Agency for International Development in Washington, D.C., and promoted educational television in developing nations. But he ended his career for good when Jean became ill.

“When my brothers and I were boys, my father took us fishing and camping,” Pete recalled. “We waded in shallow Texas Hill Country rivers. We canoed in the Quetico (Ontario, Canada). He taught us to see and hear the natural world. And my father listened to us. He had strong views and deep knowledge, and yet still wanted to hear what you thought, and why. My father made the world better. KUT and NPR, KLRU and PBS — these are great achievements of 20th-century Austin and America. He led in each, constructively and creatively. My father aged and died the same way he lived, with unforced dignity and decency.”

Among Schenkkan’s dozen grandchildren is Pete’s son, actor Benjamin McKenzie (“The O.C.,” “Junebug,” “Southland”), who grew up in Austin before heading to the University of Virginia and, after a brief stint in New York, to Hollywood. Family loyalty, acting, writing, law and academics permeate the Schenkkan clan.

“At family gatherings, over terrific food, my grandfather and his grown sons and daughters-in-law and his grandchildren would discuss, well, everything,” McKenzie recalled. “Politics, religion, philosophy and the arts were just some of the subjects. We’d bicker and argue — Schenkkans love to argue — but mostly we’d laugh. My grandfather had a big, genuine laugh that showed deep, honest pleasure. When I said something that made him laugh, it made me feel like the most important child on earth.”

A memorial service will be held on Sunday, March 6 in the College of Communications Auditorium at the University of Texas at Austin with a reception following in the Lady Bird Johnson Room, 5th floor. The time of the service will be determined Friday morning.

Sign the guestbook

Correction: Gerald Schenkkan is no longer with Digidesign. He remains in San Francisco, where Phyllis Schenkkan describes his occupation as “computer industry executive.”

Correction: The memorial service for Robert Schenkkan will be held Sunday, March 6.

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November 17, 2010

Dan Rather to pen memoir

Dan Rather is ready to tell his story. The former CBS Evening News anchor has inked a deal with Grand Central Publishing to pen his memoir for publication in early 2012, according to

The book, “Summing Up,” will recount historical events including the JFK assassination, Watergate and the Iraq War, as well as providing the author’s take on the 2004 Presidential election-based spat with CBS which led him to vacate his anchor chair in 2005 and to leave the network in 2006.

“With the changing climate—and attitude— about news and journalists, I feel I can give readers an honest perspective on the present, and, more important, on the future of news,” Rather said, adding that the time is right to sum up his career in a candid fashion.

Rather currently appears on “Dan Rather Reports,” an Emmy-nominated news magazine on cable’s HDNet.

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November 10, 2010

Lou Dobbs to join Fox Business Network

Television personality Lou Dobbs, who left CNN on November 11, 2009, is heading to Fox Business Network where he will host his own show, the Los Angeles Times reports

“I will let you know when I set my course,” Dobbs promised in his final CNN broadcast, explaining that the cable network had agreed to release him from his contract early. He added at that time that he wanted to “contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day.”

His CNN bosses said they respected Dobbs’ decision “to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere” (Dobbs had taken increasingly controversial stands on immigration and trade issues).

Dobbs’ new show is expected to premiere in 2011.

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November 2, 2010

Local stations plan election coverage

Web video and coverage will be available on and via the CBS affiliate’s mobile apps for smart phones. The station has crews in Houston with Bill White, the Travis County Democrats at the Driskill and with the Rick Perry campaign at the Texas GOP headquarters. KEYE’s “Austin Live” at 4pm and the KEYE News at 6 will have an election focus. Local reports will cut into network coverage from poll closing to the 10 p.m. news broadcast. Telemundo Austin will feature news crawls and special coverage at 5 p.m. as well as the returns at 10pm.

KTBC’s live coverage kicks off at the campaigns at 5 p.m. with result updates throughout the night and online coverage at Fox 7 News Edge will be live from 9 p.m. to 10 p.m., then again 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. with an election special, “You Decide 2010.” The Fox7 team is covering the Governor’s race with Rick Perry and state Republican leaders gathering in Central Texas, in Buda, and they’ll be live in Houston at the Bill White (Democratic) camp. City beat reporter Nancy Zambrano will follow Austin’s Proposition 1, which looks for voters to approve a $90 million bond package for street, road, and sidewalk and other infrastructure improvements.

Austin’s ABC affiliate will expand its 10 p.m. Nightbeat newscast to an hour, airing from 10 p.m.-11 p.m. During the evening, the station will air local results during ABC’s prime time programming, and provide election returns (the station promises, though, to exercise restraint when breaking into the popular “Dancing With the Stars,” which airs from 7-8:30 p.m. KVUE will take advantage of local windows, inserting a couple of local updates per hour into primetime network coverage between 8:30 and 10 p.m. Up to the minute election results will be available on the station’s website.

The local NBC affiliate has enlisted the aid of a trio of strategic partners for comprehensive election coverage: The station is sharing reporters with Community Impact Newspapers; integrating interactive features from the Texas Tribune into its online and on-air coverage and sharing its own station feeds to the Texas Tribune website; and sharing content with KLBJ radio. The station will take full advantage of the local time built into network coverage and KXAN’s newscasts will be election-focused with expanded coverage from 10-11 p.m.

News 8 Austin
Austin’s Time Warner Cable-operated 24-hour, 7-day-a-week local news channel is sending coverage plans. This post will be updated when they arrive.

Permalink | | Categories: Local news, News coverage

November 1, 2010

Election Night TV coverage


Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos anchor coverage that will include updates throughout the night and a 90-minute special


Katie Couric anchors a primetime special.


Maria Bartiromo And Carl Quintanilla anchor primetime coverage, while Tyler Mathisen And Amanda Drury take over later.


Wolf Blitzer leads the coverage team and manages the “magic wall” and the other high-tech touches.

Fox broadcast

Shepard Smith checks in with updates during the evening and anchors two hours of special coverage.

Fox Business

Neil Cavuto anchors coverage.

Fox News

Bret Baier and Megyn Kelly anchor, with help from contributors including Juan Williams


Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow will all be on hand.


Besides a couple of hours of primetime coverage, the network is pre-empting its regular late-night lineup.


Jorge Ramos and Maria Elena Salinas anchor.

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September 30, 2010

Anderson Cooper gets daytime talk show, contract extension

Anderson Cooper’s CNN contract has been extended in conjunction with his deal for a new syndicated daytime talk show according to

The show will launch in Fall 2011.

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September 15, 2010

Television newsman Edwin Newman dies at 91

Longtime CBS news personality Edwin Newman has died at age 91, according to the Associated Press.

The time, location and cause of death were not immediately available.

Newman worked at NBC from 1952 until he retired in 1984, focusing on politics and foreign affairs. A best-selling author and Vietnam analyst, Newman announced the death of President Kennedy on radio, according to the article.

More details on Newman’s career, as well as comments from anchors Brian Williams and Tom Brokaw, can be found here.

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September 2, 2010

Disney and Time Warner reach carriage agreement

Via Time Warner Cable:

We’re pleased to announce that we have reached a long-term agreement with ESPN/ABC and Disney to provide for continued carriage of a broad array of Disney/ABC and ESPN networks and services in standard and high-definition, including:

ABC Family, Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Channel on Demand (subscription video on demand), ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, ESPN Deportes, ESPNEWS, ESPNU, ESPN Pay-Per-View, and Toon Disney.

The agreement also allows for the launch of the following networks and services:

Disney Junior, a new 24-hour basic channel for preschool-age children, parents and caregivers launching in 2012. - ESPN’s live sports broadband network will be available to all Time Warner Cable subscribers who get ESPN.

A new service allowing customers to view ESPN, ESPN2 and ESPNU through broadband and mobile Internet devices

ESPN Goal Line - a college football super-highlight channel will be available only to Time Warner Cable’s Sports Pass customers starting as early as September 4, 2010;

ESPN Buzzer Beater: a college basketball service similar to ESPN Goal Line, will be available to Time Warner Cable’s Sports Pass customers for college basketball season;

Expanded Video-on-demand services: including ABC On Demand, Disney-branded On Demand offerings for kids, local sports content in select markets, plus the subscription video-on-demand service “Disney Family Movies”

Start Over and Look Back features on a variety of Disney Media Networks content.

ESPN Deportes: available to a larger Time Warner Cable footprint


Read the entire release here.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage, Sports on TV

No Disney-Time Warner resolution, but channels remain on air

The midnight deadline for a new carriage agreement between Time Warner Cable and Walt Disney Co. has passed, yet all of the networks’ offerings — including ESPN and the Disney Channel — remain on the air.

The two parties remained in talks after midnight, according to this article from Bloomberg.

The issue is financial, of course, and also includes negotiations involving the website and the new Disney Jr. channel that is replacing SoapNet in 2011. The article points out that both Disney and Time Warner stocks have risen during the stand-off, which could muck up the start of the College and Pro Football seasons for 13 million Time Warner subscribers.

The parties are reportedly close to striking a deal and we continue to watch for a statement Thursday.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage, Sports on TV

September 1, 2010

Alleged manifesto of gunman inside Discovery Channel headquarters

Here is a link to the alleged manifesto of the gunman who entered the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in Silver Spring, Maryland early Wednesday afternoon.

Entitled “My Demands,” the page list 11 things the network must do to demonstrate its commitment to the planet, many of them based on over-population.

“Saving the Planet means saving what’s left of the non-human Wildlife by decreasing the Human population,” reads number 8. “That means stopping the human race from breeding any more disgusting human babies!”

“All programs on Discovery Health-TLC must stop encouraging the birth of any more parasitic human infants and the false heroics behind those actions,” reads condition number 2.

The document’s alleged writer, identified as longtime Discovery critic James Jay Lee by ABC and NBC, also rails against war, pollution and global warming and calls humans “the most destructive, filthy, pollutive creatures around (who) are wrecking what’s left of the planet with their false morals and breeding culture.”

Employees have been evacuated from the building and an on-site daycare facility has been cleared.

The website is posting frequent updates.

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March 31, 2010

'Modern Family' and other Peabody winners announced

The 69th annual Peabody Awards, given out by the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication for excellence in electronic media, were announced today. Winners included the freshman ABC comedy “Modern Family,” “The Late, Late Show with Craig Ferguson” and Fox’s popular musical comedy, “Glee.”

In addition, honors were bestowed upon ABC, CBS and NPR documentaries as well as several HBO programs.

Here’s the complete list of TV-related awards from the organization’s press release:

Modern Family (ABC)
Twentieth Century Fox Television in association with Levitan Lloyd Productions
This wily, witty comedy puts quirky, contemporary twists in family ties but maintains an old-fashioned heart.

The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson: An Evening with Archbishop Desmond Tutu (CBS)
Worldwide Pants, Inc.
As this fascinating, often funny interview attests, the Scottish-born Ferguson has made late-night television safe again for ideas.

Noodle Road: Connecting Asia’s Kitchens (KBS1 TV)
Korean Broadcasting System
The who, where, what, why and how of Asia’s culinary staple, rolled into one visually delicious hour.

A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains (ABC)
ABC News
A powerful documentary shot in the hollows and house trailers of Appalachia reminds us that not all critical problems lie in “developing” nations.
Sesame Workshop
Big Bird and company display prodigious adaptability on this delightfully educational, interactive site.

BBC World News America: Unique Broadcast, Unique Perspective (BBC America)
BBC World News America, BBC America
A nightly newscast like none the United States has ever had, it places our actions and concerns in a global context.

The Cost of Dying (CBS)
CBS News 60 Minutes
Steve Kroft’s report addressed inconvenient truths about the cost of end-of-life medical care with courage and compassion.

Independent Lens: Between the Folds (PBS)
Green Fuse Films, ITVS
A beautiful documentary about the art of paper folding, it makes you gasp at the possibilities - of paper and of human creativity.

Glee (FOX)
Twentieth Century Fox Television
Dependably tuneful and entertaining, the musical dramedy that revolves around the motley members of a high-school choral club hit especially high notes with episodes such as “Wheels,” about the daily struggles of a wheelchair-bound singer.

The OxyContin Express (Current TV)
Vanguard on Current TV
With tales of drug-dealing MDs in Florida and Appalachian “pill-billies,” the documentary makes clear the enormity of the prescription-drug epidemic.

In Treatment (HBO)
Leverage, Closest to the Hole Productions and Sheleg in association with HBO Entertainment
Giving new meaning to the phrase “theater of the mind,” this fictional series of psychiatrist-patient one-on-one’s is the very essence of drama.

Inventing LA: The Chandlers and Their Times (PBS)
Peter Jones Productions
Digging into the lives and machinations of the first family of Los Angeles newspapers, documentary filmmaker Peter Jones finds drama enough for several feature films.

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (HBO)
Mirage Enterprises and Cinechicks in association with The Weinstein Company, BBC and HBO Entertainment
Alexander McCall Smith’s best-selling novels about Precious Ramotswe, an African detective, come vividly to life in this groundbreaking series, shot on location in Botswana.

Sabotaging the System (CBS)
CBS News 60 Minutes
Alarming and then some, Steve Kroft’s survey of cyber-threats to America’s infrastructure made it clear the siege is on and questioned our readiness to defend.

Brick City (Sundance Channel)
Sundance Channel, Brick City TV LLC
In this five-hour documentary series, the struggles of Newark’s young mayor and other citizens trying to resurrect their blighted communities are sociologically instructive and dramatically compelling.

Thrilla in Manila (HBO)
Darlow Smithson Production, HBO Sports, HBO Documentary Films
Taking its title from the last of three legendary heavyweight bouts between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, the documentary pulls no punches and lays bare misconceptions about their rivalry.

FRONTLINE: The Madoff Affair (PBS)
The documentary takes viewers into the very heart of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, explaining how and why it worked for so long.

I-Witness: Ambulansiyang de Paa (GMA Network)
GMA Network, Inc., Philippines
Condemning deplorable conditions while celebrating neighborly valor and ingenuity, the report shows how people in a poor village carry their sick and injured over dangerous terrain to distant medical care using “ambulances on foot.”

Independent Lens: The Order of Myths (PBS)
Folly River, Inc., Netpoint Productions, Lucky Hat Entertainment, ITVS
Margaret Brown’s exploration of two Mardi Gras traditions in Mobile, Ala., one white, one black, is highly original, moving and insightful.

Iran & the West
Brook Lapping Productions for the BBC in association with National Geographic Channel, France 3, NHK, VPRO, SVT, RTBF, VRT, NRK, SRC/CBC, DRTV SBS, YLE, TVP and Press TV
A spectacular, epic documentary that explains in fascinating, sometimes startling detail how the West and Iran arrived at the present standoff, it’s imminently watchable and historically invaluable.

Endgame (PBS)
Daybreak/Channel 4/Target Entertainment, Presented on PBS/MASTERPIECE by WGBH Boston
This intensely dramatic film, focused on secret negotiations at an English country estate - talks that helped to end apartheid in South Africa - offers a lesson in the possibilities of peaceful conflict resolution.

Sichuan Earthquake: One Year On (Now-Broadband TV News Channel)
Now-TV News, Hong Kong
The Hong Kong-based news organization noted the anniversary of the terrible Sichuan quake with respect for the victims and their families and hard questions about the substandard construction that worsened the death toll.

BART Shooting (KTVU-TV)
KTVU, Oakland, Calif.
KTVU’s quick response to a train-station altercation that ended in a fatal shooting gave its reporters an edge, but it was their persistent digging afterwards that revealed serious, systematic problems in the Bay Area Rapid Transit police’s tactics.

American Masters: Jerome Robbins - Something to Dance About (PBS)
A retrospective of Robbins’ life and work illustrated with dazzling performance clips and annotated with comments from noted ballet and Broadway colleagues, this brilliant documentary captured the legendary director/choreographer’s “dark genius.”

Chronicle: Paul’s Gift (WYFF-TV)
WYFF 4, Greenville, S.C.
Simple, ingenious and effective, this public-service special followed the donated organs of an accident victim to a variety of recipients, showing their joy and gratitude, thus boosting a most worthy cause.

Under Fire: Discrimination and Corruption in the Texas National Guard (KHOU-TV)
KHOU-TV, Houston, Tex., Belo, Inc.
Dogged work by the Houston station’s investigative reporters found such blatant discriminatory treatment of female soldiers that three top Texas Guard generals were fired and a new commanding officer was appointed.

Derrion Albert Beating (WFLD-TV)
FOX Chicago News: WFLD-TV and
WFLD got national attention with horrifying video it obtained of the beating death of an honor student just blocks from his Chicago high school, but the greater feat was its comprehensive follow-up coverage of the suspects, the legal process and prevalence of similar violence.

Where Giving Life Is a Death Sentence (BBC America)
BBC World News America, BBC America, BBC World News
Correspondent Lyse Doucet trekked deep into Afghanistan’s rugged Badakshan province to document conditions that give it the worst recorded rate of maternal mortality in the world.

Up in Smoke (KCET-TV)
KCET, Los Angeles
Lively, eye-opening coverage by KCET’s “SoCal Connected” included a revelation that there are now more legal, medical-marijuana dispensaries in the city than Starbucks franchises, and a rare look at the “Cannabis Cowboys,” an elite police team of pot-farm eradicators.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

February 23, 2010

Shakeup, staff reductions at ABC news

Responding to harsh economic realities and the challenges posed by instantaneous and ubiquitous digital news gathering and dissemination, ABC television has announced a dramatic restructuring of its news operation.

The announcement came in the form of an email message ABC News President David Westin sent to the network’s news staff Tuesday afternoon.

“The digital age makes our business more competitive than ever before,” Westin wrote. “It also presents us with opportunities we couldn’t have imagined to gather, produce, and distribute the news. We can have great success in the new world - but only if we embrace what is new, rather than being overwhelmed by it.”

The memo laid out a “transformation” plan with six components:

  1. Expansion of digital journalists in news gathering;

  2. Adopting the “Nightline” production strategy of editorial staff who shoot and edit their own material;

  3. The combination of weekday and weekend operations for both “Good Morning America” and “World News”;

  4. Utilizing program staff through the day and night to cover unexpected events and marshaling personnel from across the division to cover scheduled events;

  5. Implementing a more flexible blend of staff and freelancers in newsmagazines and long-form programming; and

  6. Elimination of redundancies.

Aiming for staff reduction, the network will be offering a voluntary separation package to all full-time, U.S.-based, non-union, non-contract employees. The result of this voluntary separation will determine whether further reductions will be necessary.

Westin wrote that remaining staff would undergo extensive training intended to “make ABC News the place to work in the digital age. We won’t just be preparing people for the new world; we will be living in it.

“I won’t pretend that all of this will be easy,” Westin’s statement read. “But I do truly believe that it will be good for ABC News. I believe in this institution. I believe in its mission and in its future. As always, I will need your help in making sure that we are as strong as we can be for many years to come.”

Read the entire text of Westin’s email message after the jump.

Continue reading...

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

February 19, 2010

Media details from Tiger Woods' apology

The folks over at TV Newser have a great wrap up of this morning’s Tiger Woods apology event. The famous golfer made a public apology today for his infidelities, but refused to take questions, saying the details of his indiscretions were a private matter between he and his wife, Elin.

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Woods expressed regret and chastised the media for seeking out his wife and children. “My behavior doesn’t make it right for the media to follow my 2 1/2-year-old daughter to school and report the school’s location,” he said. “They staked out my wife and they pursued my mom. Whatever my wrongdoings, for the sake of my family, please leave my wife and kids alone.”

Other interesting details from the report:

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

February 18, 2010

KXAN moves plane crash coverage to the CW

A recent post from the @KXAN_News Twitter feed indicated that the local NBC affiliate would be staying on the plane crash story and moving the broadcast of this afternoon’s 2102 Winter Olympics events to The CW.

This is inaccurate.

KXAN General Manager Eric Lassberg says that it’s the crash coverage that will move to The CW (KNVA) at 2 p.m.; KXAN will stick with Olympics snowboarding and biathlon coverage until it ends at 4 p.m., and then switch back to crash coverage.

In the meantime, KXAN will run crash coverage on The CW as long as new information becomes available. If the news becomes redundant, The CW will return to its regular schedule with break-ins as warranted.

Permalink | | Categories: Local news, News coverage, Sports on TV

Austin plane crash: Local affiliates feed cable coverage


It’s not often we get to see local reporters on national television but, as reported on the TV Newser Web site, the local network affiliates — running continuous coverage of this morning’s plane crash in north Austin — are feeding video to the national cable networks, which are also running continuous coverage.

MSNBC and Fox News are running video from KXAN and KEYE, their respective local arms. CNN is taking a more aggregate approach, switching between feeds from KXAN, KVUE and News 8.

Even The Weather Channel is breaking into it’s standard meteorological coverage to show footage from KXAN.

KEYE, KTBC, KVUE and KXAN are all running live streaming video of the crash site on their respective Web pages, as is The American-Statesman.

UPDATE: San Antonio News station WOAI has a helicopter in the air over the crash site; the video feed has been braodcast by MSNBC.

Permalink | | Categories: Local news, Local people on TV, News coverage

January 21, 2010

NBC announces departure deal for Conan O'Brien


It’s official. Conan O’Brien’s last “Tonight Show” will be Friday night.

Following an increasingly bitter on-air battle between O’Brien and 17-year “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno and a public relations debacle for last-place NBC, the Associated Press reported today that a $45 million deal has been struck which will provide severance for O’Brien and his staff, allow the host to return to the air on another network as early as September, and provide for Leno’s return to “The Tonight Show” on March 1, following the Winter Olympics.


A deal had been expected earlier in the week, but reports surfaced that O’Brien was holding out for severance for “Tonight Show” employees, who relocated with him to Los Angeles from New York where he hosted “Late Night” before taking over for Leno seven months ago. NBC moved Leno to 9 p.m. CT and both hosts experienced steep ratings declines. Complaints from local affiliates, who watched helplessly as their late night news ratings (and revenues) dropped because of Leno’s weak lead-in, forced the network to abandon its wait-and-see, “52-week strategy” for Leno and initiate his return to the “Tonight Show.”

“In the end, Conan was appreciative of the steps NBC made to take care of his staff and crew, and decided to supplement the severance they were getting out of his own pocket,” his manager, Gavin Polone, told The Wall Street Journal. “Now he just wants to get back on the air as quickly as possible.”

No word yet on other details of the settlement, including who owns the rights to the characters O’Brien created while on “The Tonight Show” and “Late Night.” When CBS late night host David Letterman left NBC after being rejected as Johnny Carson’s “Tonight Show” replacement in 1992, the network claimed rights to his routines as its “intellectual property.”

Are you glad it’s over or will you miss the on-air sniping which, frankly, seemed to raise both Leno’s and O’Brien’s games while Letterman chuckled from the CBS sidelines?

Sound off!

Permalink | Comments (3) | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

January 20, 2010

'Hope for Haiti' telethon Friday

As another earthquake hits ravaged Haiti, planning continues for Friday’s “Hope for Haiti” telethon, slated for a live 7 p.m. CT airing on all the major broadcast networks, as well as MTV, VH1, CMT, BET, PBS, CNN, Bravo, others, according to the Associated Press.


“Hope For Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief” will be anchored by Haitian native Wyclef Jean from New York. George Clooney will emcee from Los Angeles and CNN’s Anderson Cooper will report from Haiti.

Artists performing in the benefit include Bruce Springsteen, Jennifer Hudson, Mary J. Blige, Shakira, Sting, Taylor Swift, Keith Urban, Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow, Justin Timberlake, Dave Matthews, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Bono, The Edge, Rihanna and Coldplay.

Performances will be available for iTunes downloading on Saturday, with proceeds benefiting Haiti relief.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, TV tips

January 15, 2010

Lots of network news: TCA Press Tour recap

NBC’s Jay Leno/Conan O’Brien feud dominated much of the Television Critics Association’s Winter Tour, an annual event in which networks and television writers meet in Pasadena and justify each others’ livelihoods.

The Peacock network declared Leno’s unsuccessful 5-nights-a-week prime time experiment a failure, abandoning its early posture that they were maintaining a “52-week strategy” and would give the affable but average host time to develop an audience. Admitting that the drumbeat from local NBC affiliates — whose late-night newscasts were suffering due to Leno’s weak lead-in — was becoming too loud and insistent, the network announced that it was brokering a deal to return Leno to his 10:35 p.m. CT slot and kick Conan O’Brien’s “Tonight Show” to an 11:05 p.m. CT start.

Perhaps NBC should have tried to obtain some buy-in from O’Brien before making the announcement. He declined the network’s proposal and the whole shebang remains in limbo.

What’s not in limbo is the future of “The Jay Leno Show.” It’s last airing is set for Feb. 11, which left NBC scrambling for post-Olympics programming (perhaps seeing the writing on the wall, the network green-lighted an unusually large number of new pilots for next Fall).

At least 8 new shows are in development, including product from David E. Kelly, Jerry Bruckheimer and J. J. Abrams; and brace yourselves — we’re going to see a “Rockford Files” remake. Also look for “Law & Order: Los Angeles.”

In other NBC news, Leno’s prime time failure means that on-the-bubble dramas “Trauma” and “Mercy,” and the spy-action-comedy “Chuck” have much better chances of renewal than they normally would, but their numbers are going to have to come up.

Here are TCA highlights from the other networks:


Fans of “Glee” were thrilled to hear that the show has already been renewed for a sophomore season. And several new cast members will be added through an online reality competition of sorts. Details on how to audition (online entries are welcome) can be found on the Fox Web site.

Star Kiefer Sutherland and executive producer Howard Gordon both said they’re on board for yet another season of “24.” No decision has been made, but both said they’d keep doing the show as long as Fox would let them.

Simon Cowell announced that he will leave “American Idol” after this season to produce and appear as a judge on the competitive talent show “The X Factor.” There were sly suggestions that ex-“Idol” judge Paula Abdul might appear on the new show with Cowell, but at this point that’s just a wild rumor. Buried by this announcement was news that David Hasselhoff is abandoning his own judging post on “America’s Got Talent,” to be replaced by “Deal or No Deal’s” Howie Mandel.

“The Simpsons” will continue to air for at least two more years, and the network remains committed to ratings-challenged “Fringe,” at least for now.

The debut of the game show “Our Little Genius” was moved back because of concerns that the manner in which contestants were informed of topics might make the show appear to be “rigged.”


Not much news from ABC. Much of their news was the lack of news about the final season of “Lost.” Suprise, surprise … show runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof remained predictably tight-lipped. A few tid-bits they did reveal: Cynthia Watros (Libby) and Harold Perrineau (Michael) will return in the final season. A collective squee was heard across the blogosphere in anticipation of Libby-Hurley romance and Libby-Desmond backstory resolution. Cuse and Lindelof have indicated that the finale won’t answer all of fans’ questions, and while ABC owns and could continue to milk the franchise in a number of ways, as far as the pair are concerned, at the conclusion of this season, the story of this particular group of characters is over.

Finally, the network renewed its Wednesday night comedy block of “The Middle,” (yay!) “Modern Family” (big, big yay!) and “Cougar Town” (boo) for second seasons.


“The Late Show” host David Letterman, who has been having a great time this week needling NBC (who chose Jay Leno over him to replace Johnny Carson years ago) remains in contract talks with his network, but will remain on until at least “deep into 2012.”

“Three Rivers,” in spite of having saved at least 8 lives (CBS got letters from people who received successful transplants due to the increased awareness created by the show) couldn’t save itself and has been canceled.

Network entertainment president Nina Tassler said that Charlie Sheen’s domestic problems (the actor has been charged with second-degree assault, menacing and criminal mischief) won’t affect the “Two and a Half Men” cash cow.

New drama “Miami Medical” replaces “Num3ers” on Fridays, but “Num3ers” might be back next season. CBS finds itself in the unusual position of having too many popular shows for its available slots.

The new reality series “Undercover Boss,” in which Fortune 500 bigwigs don disguises and infiltrate their own companies’ front lines, gets a rare new-series post-Superbowl premiere on Sunday, Feb. 7.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, Fall TV, Friday Night Lights, News coverage, Ratings, Reality TV

January 14, 2010

The 'Leno effect' in Austin

You may have seen the Associated Press story elsewhere on our site about the latest in the NBC late night debacle: Conan O’Brien and Jay Leno have increasingly turned their ire away from the network and toward each other.

Further into the story were these alarming statistics:

The research firm Harmelin Media said local NBC stations saw their late news audience drop by an average of 25 percent in November compared with the previous year among 25- to 54-year-old viewers. That’s the demographic upon which news advertising rates are based. The decline was particularly steep in some of the largest markets: 48 percent in New York, 43 percent in Los Angeles and 47 percent in Philadelphia. Harmelin used data on the number of ads run in late local news programs and their cost to calculate that over a three-month period, the Leno experiment would cost these stations collectively $22 million. The 10 stations that NBC owns and operates would lose something like $570,000 per week, the report said.

I contacted Bernie Shimkus, Harmelin’s Vice President of Research, to get specific numbers for Austin.

He responded that KXAN, Austin’s NBC affiliate, experienced a 30.8% ratings drop in their late newscast according to Nielsen Media Research data (that’s a bigger drop here than in more than half of the top 20 U.S. television markets). Harmelin estimated that would translate to an estimated $7,895 per week loss in late news advertising revenue for KXAN.

These late news losses don’t take into account the additional revenues declines the affiliates suffered in directly in Prime time and in Late Night as a ripple effect of the move, Harmelin’s press release noted. According to Shimkus, “Even if The Jay Leno Show was itself profitable from a production standpoint as NBC executives continued to assert to the end, the overall revenue picture for the company was not moving in a positive direction.”

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, Ratings

January 12, 2010

Palin's Fox News debut tonight

The Associated Press reports that Sarah Palin’s debut as a Fox News Channel personality will take place on tonight’s edition of “The O’Reilly Factor.”

Palin will “sit down with Bill to take on America’s top issues,” the story says.

Permalink | Comments (1) | Categories: News coverage

Dan Rather's appeal bid rejected

The Associated Press reports that Dan Rather’s bid to have his breach-of-contract suit against CBS reinstated has been denied. According to the article, New York’s Court of Appeals denied Rather’s motion without comment today.

Rather initially filed suit against CBS in 2007 claiming he had been forced out of his anchor position on the “CBS Evening News” following a politically charged report on George W. Bush’s military record.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

January 6, 2010

Got a good nickname for Time Warner Cable?

Have you called the folks at Time Warner Cable any good names lately? Bet you’ve heard some.

Smart Money reports that the cable giant is looking for a new name. “Project Mercury” is an internal rebranding effort with a goal to distance the nation’s second largest cable company from its former parent, Time Warner Inc., from which it now completely separate.

In light of last week’s kerfuffle with FOX Television, I’m betting you can think of a few good names. Let ‘em fly — we’ll publish any that are printable.

Permalink | Comments (12) | Categories: News coverage

January 4, 2010

Analysts' best guesses on FOX/TWC settlement amount

Multichannel News polled industry analysts who weighed in with their estimates on how much the television network was able to squeeze from the cable company for the right to retransmit FOX stations and other Fox broadcast holdings. FOX was demanding $1 per month per subscriber.

According to the article, Miller Tabak media analyst David Joyce suspects that TWC paid between 40 cents and 60 cents per subscriber per month. Collins Stewart media analyst Tom Eagan said it’s unlikely that TWC received the $1 fee it was seeking, but that, in any event, whatever the cable giant has to pay will have little impact on the company’s profits. Eagan estimated that even a fee of 75 cents per subscriber per month would only reduce TWC’s 2010 cash flow by 0.56%, and that’s if none of the additional cost is passed on to subscribers (and he believes that it will be).

The analysts suggested that the final deal included several moving parts, including revenue for Video on Demand and HDTV channel capacity, and that it’s likely that both sides were forced to compromise.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

January 1, 2010

Joint statement from Fox and TWC

Courtesy of The Wrap, here is the text of the joint statement from Fox Television and Time Warner Cable released upon the successful resolution of their contract dispute. The full article is short on details, but includes comments from the FCC and Fox bigwigs:

The Fox Networks Group and Time Warner Cable announced today that they have agreed in principle to a comprehensive distribution agreement to provide more than 13 million households with programming from Fox Television Stations, Fox Broadcasting (FOX), Fox Cable Networks and Fox’s regional sports networks. The deal also includes carriage agreements for Bright House Networks’ 2 million additional subscribers.

“We’re pleased that, after months of negotiations, we were able to reach a fair agreement with Time Warner Cable — one that recognizes the value of our programming,” said Chase Carey, Deputy Chairman, President and COO, News Corporation.

“We’re happy to have reached a reasonable deal with no disruption in programming for our customers,” said Glenn Britt, Chairman, President and CEO, Time Warner Cable.

Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

Permalink | Comments (3) | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, TV Technology

TWC and Fox reportedly reach agreement

@jeffTWC, Director of Digital Communication, Time Warner Cable in New York, has made the following announcement via Twitter:

Attn Time Warner Cable customers: We have a deal with Fox. Your programming is safe. Please RT.

This comes after periodic postings on his Twitter page about the status of ongoing negotiations. We will provide details as they are made available.

Permalink | Comments (1) | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, TV Technology

Another negotiation extension in FOX/TWC standoff

Negotiations between Fox television and Time Warner Cable will continue until at least 5 p.m, a story on myfoxaustin, the local Fox affiliate’s Web site reports. The extension is also being reported at The Orlando Sentinal, which notes that the deadline has been extended five times today and quotes Fox-owned WOFL TV’s anchor Bob Frier stating that the “conciliatory stance made it appear a disruption of service would not occur.”

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, TV Technology

Fox, Time Warner and the Twitterverse


That’s the latest tweet from @jeffTWC, Time Warner Cable’s Director of Digital Communication in New York City, who has posted periodically on the progress of negotiations between Fox and Time Warner Cable. Here’s a sampling of other tweets that Twitter users have been posting on the issue:

I hope that TWC and Fox can’t come to an agreement and that ALLLL of Fox goes away.

Somehow, I feel a lot happier knowing I’m with DirecTV now that TWC will likely lose Fox.

Stand firm TWC! Would rather source FOX from Hulu then pay more for cable

The fact that FOX doesn’t want to go to binding arbitration with TWC makes me less sympathetic to their cause. Sounds unreasonable to me.

I have TWC & Fox is on for the time being. I am going to switch back to DIsh, I just have to pay off my bal.

Im hoping FOX settle with TWC by Sunday or it will be a trip to PLAY to watch Eagles-Cowboys

What do you think will happen if TWC loses Fox before tonight’s Rose Bowl? Actually may be a blessing for Texas fans. ;-)

FCC steps in on TWC-Fox dispute because of football. Gotta keep the Bread and Circuses going, eh? And if it was NBC & not Fox? hmmm?

Glad to see that #Fox and Time Warner Cable have extended their negotiations. Will be dropping #TWC if they fail. Like it’s hot.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, TV Technology

December 28, 2009

Obama to address airport security

TV Newser reports that ABC and NBC, in addition to will carry President Obama’s live remarks on airport security today at around 2 p.m. Central time.

Cable networks are also expected to carry the live comments, spurred by the Christmas day attempted attack on Northwest Flight 253.

Permalink | Comments (1) | Categories: News coverage

November 23, 2009

Bill Moyers retires from weekly TV


The New York Times media blog reports that veteran journalist and PBS mainstay Bill Moyers will retire from weekly television in April, 2010. Moyers currently hosts “Bill Moyers Journal,” an issue-oriented public affairs program.

The article says Moyers plans to continue in television, but has no post-“Journal” projects planned.

“Now on PBS,” which Moyers originally hosted, will also end in April.

Permalink | Comments (1) | Categories: News coverage

November 11, 2009

Lou Dobbs leaves CNN

Lou Dobbs, the last of CNN’s original anchors, announced Wednesday that he was leaving the network, the Associated Press reported. Although Dobbs made his announcement just as I was beginning my commute home, I’m not suggesting he timed his exit to make me an hour late in getting the story on my blog — that would make me a conspiracy theorist.

“I will let you know when I set my course,” said Dobbs, explaining that the cable network had agreed to release him from his contract early. He added that he wanted to “contribute positively to a better understanding of the great issues of our day.”

“With characteristic forthrightness, Lou has now decided to carry the banner of advocacy journalism elsewhere,” said CNN President Jon Klein. “We respect his decision.”

Are you upset that Dobbs, who has gained a lot of attention for his controversial stands on trade and immigration policy, is leaving CNN? Do you think he’ll end up at FOX News, as is rumored? Check out the video of Dobbs’ resignation and sound off below:

Permalink | Comments (1) | Categories: News coverage

November 10, 2009

TV coverage of Fort Hood Memorial

TV Newser’s Kevin Allocca has posted a blog entry on broadcast and cable networks’ plans for coverage of this afternoon’s memorial service at Fort Hood. The item lists coverage plans from CNN, FOX News, MSNBC, ABC and CBS and promises to be updated as additional coverage plans become available.

Check it out here.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

Fort Hood soldiers on PBS documentary 'Tattooed Under Fire'

Charles Hanson, Infantry, shows off his tattoo from the River City Tattoo Shop.

Soldiers from Fort Hood, America’s largest military base and the location of last week’s tragic shootings, are spotlighted on PBS’ “Tattooed Under Fire,” airing at 9 p.m. on KLRU.

Nancy Schiesari’s documentary centers on the military ritual of getting inked, interweaving the personal stories of six central characters—and their relationships to the war in Iraq—with the visual expressions of their tattoos (River City Tattoo Parlor, a place where many of the Fort’s war-bound and returning soldiers go under the needle, is located across the street from the base).

From PBS’ press release:

River City Tattoo Parlor owner/artist Roxanne Willis and her team of tattoo artists welcome young men and women daily: as they arrive, shed their uniforms and carve permanence into their transitory flesh. Some seek to adorn their limbs, make a statement, ward off evil with fierce engravings or honor a loved one. Some seek grizzlier images, like “meat tags.” A play on traditional dog tags, “meat tags” are a morbid marker of name, DOB and serial number, designed for posthumous identification. Tattooed just under the armpit on the torso, they are strategically located in the place most likely to remain intact in the event of death by IED explosion.

The young men and women are introduced as they are being tattooed; raw recruits at first and then as returning soldiers, changed in ways only their fellow soldiers can grasp. Through the creative and sometimes subversive act of tattooing, these young soldiers use skin to create personalized images and words that reveal a seldom seen part of the psyche of the American soldier.

The film is an intimate, character-driven portrait of Iraq-bound and returning U.S. soldiers, professing their pride, sharing their secrets and confessing their fears as they go under the tattoo needle. What emerges is an evocative, poignant and highly personal look at the human and cultural cost of war.

“Tattooed Under Fire” is a co-production of KLRU and the Independent Television Service (ITVS).

Permalink | Comments (3) | Categories: News coverage

October 21, 2009

Remainder of Cronkite papers heading to UT

The remainder of Walter Cronkite’s personal papers and photographs are headed to the Dolph Briscoe Center at the University of Texas at Austin, which already has possession of most of the items (Cronkite was a UT student in the 1930s). The transfer was contingent upon the finalization of Cronkite’s will.

Don Carleton, Director of the University’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, says there’s nothing startlingly new in the remainder of materials from the legendary broadcaster’s CBS office, New York apartment and home in Martha’s Vineyard. “It’s important stuff and it should be here,” Carleton said, “but it’s not beyond anything we already have in terms of significance and importance.” Carleton and Cronkite’s survivors are in the process of deciding which artifacts should go to the University and which should remain with his family.

The items include research books of notes that Cronkite kept on his desk for reference while interviewing newsmakers or moderating debates.

“Walter had a mania for research and did most of his own,” explained Carleton, who became friends with Cronkite more than 20 years ago when the Briscoe Center sought to create a news media archive. He said Cronkite often didn’t need to refer to his notes, since the process of writing them out embedded them in his mind.

The Briscoe Center is planning a May, 2010 exhibition of the effects.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

October 9, 2009

America blows up the Moon. Again.

In honor of the disappointing, real-life blowing-up of the Moon, here’s the classic “Mr. Show” comedy sketch that must have inspired the folks at NASA. It’s ironic that people actually had viewing parties to watch the disappointing event today, just like in this bit:

Permalink | Comments (2) | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, Random thoughts

October 6, 2009

Craig Ferguson addresses Letterman scandal (video)

“Late Late Show” host Craig Ferguson has a unique perspective on the David Letterman sextortion scandal, as noted in this article by the Associated Press.

Letterman’s production company, Worldwide Pants (insert your own joke here) produces Ferguson’s show, which directly follows Letterman’s “Late Show” on CBS. Because of pre-taping, Ferguson couldn’t address the situation on his Friday night show, but he spent a good chunk of time Monday night talking (and joking) about his boss’ recent difficulties, asking the audience members to put themselves in his shoes.

“The person you work for, the person you admire and respect, is caught in an embarrassing situation. And your job is to be funny about that, whilst trying to keep your own job,” he joked. “So this is my last show.”

Here’s video of Ferguson’s Monday night monologue:

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

October 2, 2009

Sex and extortion scandal boosts Letterman's ratings

The Los Angeles Times reports that ratings for Thursday’s “The Late Show” surged 22 percent from the season average.

Host David Letterman disclosed on that program that he had been the target of a blackmail scheme involving sexual relationships that had occurred between him and women who worked on his NBC show.

The article notes that while “The Late Show” is on a ratings upswing, Letterman scored bigger numbers when President Obama was recently his sole guest and his all-time ratings high came on Dec. 1, 2005 when Oprah Winfrey appeared.

Those looking for Letterman’s reaction to the reaction will have to wait … tonight’s “Late Show” was also taped on Thursday.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

September 29, 2009

Dan Rather's suit against CBS dismissed

The Appellate Division of the New York State Supreme Court dismissed Dan Rather’s $70 million breach of contract suit against the CBS television network Tuesday, the Associated Press reports.


Rather, citing documents the network had obtained, narrated a report in 2004 on “60 Minutes II” that was critical of George W. Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard. The documents later came under question and Rather filed suit after being removed from his “CBS Evening News” anchor slot.

The court ruled that no breach of contract took place because Rather’s annual salary was still paid to him after his dismissal.

Rather’s lawyer plans to appeal.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

September 22, 2009

Obama plays softball on 'The Late Show'

So, President Obama was on Letterman last night. Would he be as calm, jovial, friendly and relaxed as he had appeared in his previous “Late Night” outings as a Senator and Presidential candidate? Or would he be more tense (and intense) … weary from the ongoing battle for health care reform? I had more or less predicted the latter.

I was wrong.

From the moment the President was introduced, smiling and waving to the crowd, he seemed confident, happy and, most importantly, relaxed. Following up on an earlier Letterman bit with an audience member who had brought a heart-shaped potato with her to the studio, Obama took control of the stage, telling Dave that was the real reason he’d come to visit. He then engaged in off-the-cuff banter with the potato’s owner — “Mary Apple? Is your real name? Mary Apple?” — and he pocketed the odd tuber at Letterman’s request, although I’ll bet Mary Apple got it back (along with a great story) after the show.

The first interview segment seemed designed to make Obama appear as normal as possible, given the whole “most powerful person in the free world” thing. Letterman asked about Obama’s summer and the President responded by talking about his daughters. “They basically goofed off all summer, which I couldn’t do,” he stated.

“Others have,” Dave pot-shot to laughter and applause.

Obama explained that his kids don’t really notice the Presidential hubbub; they have slumber parties and spend the night at their friends’ houses like other children. “But their parents get frisked,” Obama added.

“That happens at my house, too,” Letterman joked.

“The thing that we are happiest about is that they are wonderfully normal, happy kids so far,” Obama said. “I give Michelle all the credit.”

It turns out that the telegenic Obama was not on Letterman to sell health care reform to America as much as he was there to re-sell himself (which, granted, would go a long way in helping him sell health care reform). This was driven home by an exchange later in the program, when Letterman noted former President Jimmy Carter’s recent statements that vocal opposition to Obama was partially based upon race.

“Well, it’s important to remember,” Obama said, “that I was black before the election,” reminding America that we voted him in. And, throughout the first half of his “Late Show” appearance, he reminded us why: he appeared confident, smart, well-spoken, decisive. Quick.

Still, the second segment’s would have to be all health care, right? When Obama was on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” in March, nearly the entire appearance was a dry, jargon-filled push for the economic stimulus package — and that was never in as much trouble as health care reform.

Wrong again. Dave held up photos: There’s the President at his desk in the Oval Office, a young child hunkered down and peering mischievously at him from behind the couch.

“I hope that’s Sasha,” Obama quipped, “otherwise there’s been a breach of security that we did not know about.” Quick.

Another photo shows Obama in the White House screening room holding cardboard 3D glasses to his eyes (he couldn’t remember, but the film he’d watched was “Up”). The next picture was of the President and Hillary Clinton seated across from each other at a picnic table outdoors. “This just screams picnic to me,” Dave joked.

“We were having a wonderful time,” Obama replied.

“No potato salad,” Dave noted.

The final photo showed the President running with a football, Presidential dog Bo at his heels. See? Just like you and me.

But President Obama is not just like you and me, and halfway through the show, the pair finally got around to politics … specifically, the economy. Unemployment, housing, household bills, energy, jobs again. Dave asked Obama if the stimulus had worked. Obama explained that without it, things would have been much worse.

He kept things largely simple and matter-of-fact, but terms such as “smart grid” and “broadband” began to creep in, prompting Letterman to cut to a commercial.

41 minutes into the hour, the discussion of the recent shouting at town hall meetings (and Presidential addresses) which led to that Jimmy Carter reference finally leads to a discussion of health care. Time for some tough questions?

“In terms of health care, what am I missing about this?” Letterman asked, possibly the most open-ended, softball query ever. It’s clear that Obama was smart to choose Letterman’s venue to make his case. The President ran through his familiar arguments, largely uninterrupted by his host, whose interjections amounted mostly to comments such as, “I’m not a socialist, but it (universal health care) don’t sound that bad to me.”

“The thing I’d like to see is those ‘death panels’,” Letterman joked. “If we could get those in immediately …”

Health care, economy … what have we missed? The host and his guest finally dipped into foreign policy with a discussion of Iraq and Afghanistan. No tough questions on this topic either, but that’s not why the President was here; that’s what all those Sunday morning news show shots were for.

“I can’t tell you how satisfying it is to watch you work,” Letterman said, concluding the interview. “And remember, when things get tough as things tend to do, going forward … you, sir, are in possession of a heart-shaped potato.”

Former President Bill Clinton visits “The Late Show” tonight at 10:30 on CBS.

Permalink | Comments (2) | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, Random thoughts, Review

September 21, 2009

President Obama on Letterman's 'Late Show' tonight


Following a sweep of the Sunday morning talk shows (with the notable exception of Fox News) look for President Barack Obama to be David Letterman’s sole guest on tonight’s “The Late Show,” 10:30 p.m. on CBS. Obama knows that he can deliver his message to more Americans in one Letterman appearance than on all of those Sunday shows combined.

Advocating health care reform, it’ll be Obama’s 6th appearance on Letterman, but his first as a sitting President (though he won’t be making history as he did in March when he became the first sitting President to visit a late-night talker — appearing on Jay Leno’s “Tonight Show” to discuss the economic stimulus package).

If past appearances are any indication, Letterman and Obama can create compelling television. Dave is exceptionally strong with political guests (remember his interview with Al Gore, or his turn with Republican Presidential nominee John McCain after McCain blew off a “Late Show” appearance?) and he has a natural chemistry with Obama.

Look for tonight’s appearance to be different in tone than, say, Obama’s campaign-era “Late Show” outing discussing the Sarah Palin “lipstick on a pig” controversy. Obama was jovial and winning, energetic and easygoing, poking fun at himself, occasionally leaning over and clasping his hand on Letterman’s shoulder in a gesture of camaraderie. When the host asked about Palin’s then-ubiquity, Obama wistfully recalled when he used to be on the cover of Time and Newsweek, joking that he recently received an offer to be a centerfold in Popular Mechanics.

“Take it,” Letterman advised.

When Obama got a little windy, Dave called him on it: “You’re campaigning now, aren’t you?”

But Obama is President now — and he’s embattled and weary over the health care battle — so the tone of the interview is bound to be different. If Letterman can retain his frankness and good humor, it should serve the audience well. Too much chatter about policy minutiae during the President’s Leno appearance might have been informative, but it made for wonky and boring television. And, love him or hate him, it’s hard to make Obama boring on TV, where he normally excels.

You might not like the President’s message, but he knows what he’s doing by going on Letterman to get it across.

Former President Bill Clinton will be Letterman’s guest on Tuesday.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage, Random thoughts

September 11, 2009

'M*A*S*H' creator Larry Gelbart dead at age 81


The Hollywood Reporter and other news outlets are reporting that Larry Gelbart, creator of the television series “MASH,” has died.

The article says Gelbart’s wife, Pat, told the Los Angeles Times in June that her husband had been diagnosed with cancer in June. The Emmy and Tony winner — and Oscar nominee — was 81.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

Jenna Bush Hager's "Today" debut in Texas has posted an item about Jenna Bush Hager’s first appearance as a “Today” show correspondent on Friday, Sept. 18.

“The ‘Everything is bigger in Texas’ themed-show (my comment: sigh) will broadcast live from the new Cowboys Stadium two days before the Sunday Night Football match-up between the Cowboys and New York Giants,” the site reports.

According to NBC, Hager will profile Dalton Sherman, an 11-year-old motivational speaker from Dallas.

Here’s video of Sherman from YouTube:

Permalink | | Categories: Local people on TV, News coverage

September 9, 2009

Cronkite's grandsons at Lincoln Center tribute today

This morning’s Lincoln Center memorial to Walter Cronkite, the legendary CBS News anchor who died in July at age 92, will include appearances by Cronkite’s grandsons Will Ikard, an Austin law student and political consultant; and John Ikard, who recently left Austin to attend the French Culinary Institute.


“The entire immediate family — his children and grandchildren — are going to be receiving the Intrepid Award on behalf of my grandfather for service to the country,” Will Ikard says. “The award itself is a piece of the deck of the USS Intrepid, which is kind of neat.”

President Obama and former President Clinton are scheduled to appear, in addition to CBS president Leslie Moonves and astronaut Buzz Aldrin. Jimmy Buffet and Wynton Marsalis are among the musicians slated to perform.

It’s a given that none of these luminaries knew the legendary broadcaster as well as his family did, and it’s easy to forget that the Ikard boys might have been more or less oblivious to their grandfather’s celebrity.

“I don’t have any point for comparison,” Will Ikard says. “You know, he was just my granddad. In the ways that he was my granddad, he was just like any other wonderful grandfather. I spent summers with him sailing; Christmas in New York with him. I can always remember his eyes lighting up when we came downstairs on Christmas morning, that kind of thing.”

But Will realizes that Cronkite’s career lent his own childhood some extraordinary opportunities.

“He was still this worldwide celebrity, so we’d have Gloria Steinem or Ted Kennedy at dinner with us over the summer; and I flew on the Concorde when I was 6 or 7 to go to Europe with him. Those were experiences that most other people don’t have,” he admits. “It was a combination of just a regular kind, attentive grandfather and a really special, unique experience.”

John Ikard says he perceived his grandfather in much the same way the average viewer would have.

“In person he was exactly like you would hope he would be based on his television persona,” he claims. “Admittedly, I don’t really remember much of my early childhood; by the time I do remember he was already getting older. But he was very kind and very, very funny, which I’m not sure came out as much in his broadcasts as it did in person.”

John recounts that Cronkite enjoyed using his natural gravitas to pull one over on the family by telling “the worst shaggy dog stories of all time,” holding the assembled spellbound for up to 20 minutes at a stretch.

“Because he had so many fascinating stories on so many topics, it was always gripping,” he recalls. “We always were waiting for the finish for some amazing insight into politics or religion or science or whatever and then it was, you know, a terrible pun. It was wonderful.”

This morning’s 2-hour tribute will not be televised, but it will be streamed in a live Webcast on,, and, locally, on CBS affiliate KEYE’s Web site,, beginning at 9:30 a.m. central time.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

September 2, 2009

Diane Sawyer replaces Charles Gibson at ABC

Charles Gibson, the anchor of ABC’s “World News” since 2006, will retire at the end of this year. Diane Sawyer will fill his “World News” position beginning January, 2010.

Gibson, who co-anchored both “Good Morning America” and ABC’s “Primetime” prior to his nightly news assignment, hopes to continue contributing to ABC News.

Sawyer served as co-anchor on those same shows and currently co-anchors the network’s morning news program with Robin Roberts.

Read ABC’s story on Gibson’s retirement by clicking here.

Read the e-mail messages Gibson and ABC News President David Westin sent to the network’s staff today by clicking here.

Permalink | Comments (7) | Categories: News coverage

September 1, 2009

Bush twin nabs NBC correspondent slot

Pop quiz: which member of the Bush family has parlayed a natural ability to communicate and connect with people into a spell in the national spotlight?


According to Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC’s “Today,” that’d be Bush twin Jenna Bush Hager, who has been hired as a contributing correspondent for the popular morning news and talk program.

“She has great passion about important subjects, especially education and literacy,” Bell says, according to news agency Reuters.

Bush Hager, a University of Texas graduate and school teacher who has authored two New York Times best sellers and is currently the Young Leadership Ambassador & Chair for UNICEF’s Next Generation committee will begin her “Today” gig on Sept. 14.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, Local people on TV, News coverage

August 28, 2009

Networks to air Kennedy funeral coverage

The major broadcast network and cable news channels have released their schedules for coverage of the funeral of Ted Kennedy. The Massachusetts Senator died Tuesday following a battle with brain cancer.


ABC, NBC and CBS all plan to air the funeral Mass Saturday morning, and ABC and CBS will resume coverage at 4:30 p.m. CT for Kennedy’s burial.

Fox News Channel, CNN, C-SPAN and MSNBC will all air coverage of both the funeral Mass and the burial at Arlington National Cemetery. has details on the broadcast networks’ covergae here and the schedules of the cable networks here.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

August 27, 2009

A&E Television acquires Lifetime

ABC News reports that A&E Television Networks is poised to acquire Lifetime Entertainment Services.

The A&E brand is owned by Disney-ABC, Hearst and NBC Universal.

The new venture will retain the A&E name and will include the A&E Network; History; Lifetime Television; Lifetime Movie Network; Bio; History International; Lifetime Real Women; History en Español; Military History; and Crime & Investigation Network.

ABC News has the whole story here.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

August 26, 2009

Networks slate Kennedy tributes

TV Guide has published a comprehensive list of televised tributes to Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy, who died Tuesday morning following a battle with brain cancer.

All of the major broadcast networks are airing Kennedy tributes either tonight or Thursday, in addition to coverage on cable networks CNN, MSNBC and BIO.

On a local level, KXAN will join other NBC stations across the country in airing a special, hour-long “Nightly News” from 5:30-6:30 tonight. “Austin News at 6” will air at 6:30 p.m. and “Wheel of Fortune” will be preempted.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

August 19, 2009

'60 Minutes' creator Don Hewitt dead at age 86

Television newsmagazine pioneer Don Hewitt has died at age 86. CBS said Hewitt died of pancreatic cancer at his home in Bridgehampton, N.Y.

Here are some facts culled from Hewitt’s “60 Minutes” biography page:


Hewitt created CBS’ “60 Minutes” in 1968 and stepped down as its executive producer in June 2004.

He was the recipient of numerous awards over his television and journalism career, including the Edward R. Murrow Award from Washington State University in 2007 and the second annual Lifetime Achievement Emmy presented by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in September 2003.

For his groundbreaking work on and continued stewardship of “60 Minutes,” Hewitt was awarded the Founders Emmy by the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in 1995. Presenting this award to Hewitt, then-ABC News President Roone Arledge said, “His real monument is 60 Minutes. He is truly an innovator in this business. I still believe Don deserves the credit for it (the idea of the newsmagazine format); it is an innovative format no one had done before. It’s been copied all over the world, including several times by us. He’s been a leader in our industry. He has inspired all sorts of people.”

Like many veteran television journalists, Hewitt began his career in newspapers. He was a copyboy for the New York Herald Tribune and, during World War II, served as a war correspondent in the European and Pacific theaters.

Hewitt is survived by his wife, Marilyn Berger, three children from two marriages, and an adopted daughter.

You can read the Associated Press story here.

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August 18, 2009

Political columnist Robert Novak dead at age 78

Political columnist and television personality Robert Novak has died at age 78 after a battle with brain cancer, according to his newspaper, The Chicago Sun-Times.


With Rowland Evans, he started a political column called “Inside Report.” Later, they took their act to television as “Evans and Novak.” He also created CNN’s “The Capitol Gang” and co-hosted that network’s “Crossfire.” In addition, he appeared as a panelist on Public Television’s “The McLaughlin Group.”

Novak, who the Sun-Times reports relished his “Prince of Darkness” public persona, was famously involved in the Valeria Plame incident in 2003.

On a somewhat personal note, Novak was born and raised in Joliet, Illinois — about thirty minutes away from my childhood home. His first newspaper job was at the Joliet Herald-News, a paper for which I once worked, and I grew up reading his work.

You can read the entire Sun-Times story by clicking here.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

Obama to speak at Cronkite memorial

President Obama will be among the speakers at the memorial service for Walter Cronkite on Sept. 9 in New York, according to the New York Post.

Also on the list to speak at Lincoln Center are former President Bill Clinton and Buzz Aldrin.

Cronkite died July 17 at age 92.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

July 23, 2009

Cronkite funeral to be Webcast at 1 p.m.

The Associated Press reports that the funeral for former CBS journalist Walter Cronkite today at 1 p.m. CT will be a “private family service.”

Nevertheless, CBS says the Manhattan service — including comments and readings from “60 Minutes” commentator Andy Rooney and longtime Cronkite producer Sanford Socolow, as well as son Chip Cronkite — will be Webcast at, which will make its feed available to other broadcast and cable networks should they want to carry all or part of the service live. We could not verify any networks’ plans to do so, but it is likely that many of them — especially the cable news networks — will broadcast at least part of the feed.

Music is expected to include a jazz band’s rendition of “When the Saints Go Marching In,” they Associated Press says, and a separate memorial will be held within the next few weeks at New York’s Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Here is’s piece on the funeral:

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

July 22, 2009

Walter Cronkite memorial contributions

If you’d like to make a charitable contribution in honor of the late TV news legend Walter Cronkite, the family is requesting that donations be made to The Walter and Betsy Cronkite Fund for Fair Play in care of The Austin Community Foundation, according to TVNewser.

Cronkite’s funeral will be at 1 p.m. Thursday at St. Bartholomew’s Church in Manhattan. According to TVNewser, CBS is making a satellite feed of the service available to cable networks.

UPDATED: Discovery Channel to re-air “Cronkite Remembers” this weekend.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

Photo gallery highlights the public and personal sides of Walter Cronkite

Photographer Jill Krementz photographed legendary newsman and broadcaster Walter Cronkite throughout his career.

Check out a remarkable collection of her photographs — including Cronkite at work and at home; with celebrities, colleagues, dignitaries and family members — and remembrances at

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

July 21, 2009

Cronkite biography tonight on BIO

BIO Channel celebrates the life of legendary television news journalist Walter Cronkite, who died July 17 at the age of 92, in a two-hour special tonight at 7 p.m.

From BIO’s press release:

“Through archival footage and interviews with family members, friends and colleagues, BIO Remembers the man who turned a less-than-pretty face, a unique style of delivery, and a simple catchphrase into one of the most storied careers in television, and he set the standard by which all television news people will be forever judged.”

More information is available on the network’s Web site.

In other news, the Associated Press reports that Cronkite’s voice will continue to introduce the “CBS Evening News with Katie Couric.” The network had planned to pull the recording, which Cronkite made in 2006, but members of his family gave the okay for use of the recording to continue, according to CBS News spokesman Jeff Ballabon.

Permalink | | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

July 18, 2009

UT President praises Walter Cronkite

William C. Powers Jr., President of the University of Texas at Austin, released the following statement early Saturday about legendary journalist Walter Cronkite, who died early Friday evening:

“Walter Cronkite defined broadcast journalism in the 20th century. He set the standard for honesty and integrity, and he remains an enduring symbol of credibility in news reporting. No one will ever match his deeply resonant voice of authority, wisdom and gravity. For decades, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted source of news for Americans from all walks of life.

Throughout his life, Walter Cronkite remained deeply connected to The University of Texas at Austin. We have lost one of our most treasured, honored and accomplished native sons.”

Permalink | Comments (1) | Categories: Local news, News coverage

July 15, 2009

Local dog lands on 'CBS Evening News'

Using a wheelchair from Doggon’ Wheels, Fiona is able to walk on the hike and bike trail with Sawyers-Robles. Kelly West photo/American-Statesman

“Princess Fiona,” profiled by American-Statesman fitness writer Pam Leblanc in a May Life & Arts section, is hitting the big time.

The beefy cane corso (pronounced kah-ne korso) mastiff — paralyzed from the hips down — was adopted from Cane Corso Rescue by Austin occupational therapist Liz Sawyers-Robles and put to work at KidVentures Therapy, interacting with children who have autism and other developmental delays.

Tonight, Fiona is scheduled to appear along with Cane Corso Rescue and the KidVentures kids on the CBS Evening News with Katie Couric (5:30 p.m., KEYE).

Read Pam’s story, complete with more photos and video, here.

Permalink | | Categories: Local people on TV, News coverage

July 6, 2009

Where to watch Michael Jackson memorial coverage

The memorial service for Michael Jackson will be at noon Central time at the Staples Center in L.A.

As you’d expect, the event will be all over cable television, with CNN, Fox News, MSNBC and E! Entertainment covering it live, the Associated Press reports. Broadcast networks ABC, Fox and CBS will also be offering live coverage.

Plans are still being updated, but TVNewser has a good roundup of who’s doing what.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

June 30, 2009

TV Guide Network cobbles together two more Michael Jackson tributes

Is this much MJ coverage “Bad?” Chris Pizzello photo/Associated Press

Haven’t had enough Michael Jackson coverage? I’ve had enough to last a lifetime (maybe the only network that hasn’t aired one!) but as long as y’all keep watching, it’s never going to stop.

TV Guide Network will shamelessly grab for ratings — er, pay homage to Jackson — in two more television specials airing this week: “Stars Reflect on the Man in the Mirror,” premiering tonight at 7:00 p.m. CT includes performance highlights and celebrity interviews from Sunday night’s “BET Awards,” which became a hastily-planned tribute to Jackson; “Michael Jackson: His Music Legacy,” premiering Wednesday, July 1 at 7:00 p.m. CT, features Jackson’s music videos.

“Stars Reflect on the Man in the Mirror” features interviews with Joe Jackson, Smokey Robinson, Ne-Yo, Alicia Keys, New Edition, Ciara, Sherri Shepherd, Arsenio Hall and Wyclef Jean, as they discuss Michael Jackson’s legendary career, his pop culture influence and how he paved the way for so many artists today. (Arsenio Hall? There’s a blast from the past. I wonder how many weeks of coverage we’ll have when he passes away?) The special will also include some of the most memorable tribute highlights from the “BET Awards,” including Janet Jackson’s remarks, Jamie Foxx’s Moonwalk and New Edition’s medley rendition of Jackson 5 hits.

“Michael Jackson: His Music Legacy” will feature music videos from the artist’s solo career, including “Human Nature,” “Bad,” “The Way You Make Me Feel” and “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” among others.

In other words, there’s little here we haven’t seen a thousand times on dozens of channels in the 5 days since Jackson died.

I don’t mean to sound callous; Jackson was a phenomenal entertainer — 25 years ago. He did influence a lot of artists and he left a brilliant musical legacy; a few days of coverage was well-deserved. But I feel there’s some revisionist — or at least, selective — history taking place here: MJ did not create MTV and, although he certainly had a gloved hand in shaping and changing the music video art form, the last time I checked nobody really shows those anymore.

I guess I’m just Thriller’d out. Do you agree? Is the continuing MJ coverage overblown or am I out of line? Post your thoughts below.

Permalink | Comments (1) | Categories: Entertainment, News coverage

June 25, 2009

Cronkite children address news legend's health status: 'Not likely to recuperate'

Walter Cronkite presents UT president William Powers, Jr., with a Lunar Sample for the university’s Center for American History on Tuesday, February 28, 2006. Deborah Cannon photo/2006 AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Linda Stasi, New York Post television critic, reports receiving an e-mail message from Walter Cronkite’s three children, Nancy, Kathy Cronkite and Walter (Chip) Cronkite III, addressing the recent news coverage of the legendary newsman’s condition.

Stasi reports Nancy Cronkite confirming that her 92-year-old father has been suffering from cerebrovascular disease for years.

“In order to dispel false rumors,” the e-mail reads, “Walter Cronkite’s family want it known that, sadly, he is very ill and is not expected to recuperate; he is resting at home surrounded by family, friends and a wonderful medical team. We thank everyone for their prayers and good wishes.”

Permalink | Comments (2) | Categories: News coverage

June 19, 2009

Walter Cronkite reported to be gravely ill

Mediabistro’s blog, TVNewser, and other sources are reporting that television broadcaster and former University of Texas student Walter Cronkite is gravely ill. The blog cited a source who noted that CBS began updating his obituary more than a week ago.

Meanwhile, the New York Daily News and other outlets have Cronkite’s spokeswoman denying the reports, saying the icon is just recuperating from an illness.

“The news reports that have gone out are overstated,” the article quotes a spokeswoman for the 92-year-old saying.

“He has suffered no major health crisis. He is at home. He was recently ill, and he’s home recuperating. He’s not gravely ill.”

Cronkite attended The University of Texas at Austin in the 1930s and worked as a student reporter for The Daily Texan campus newspaper. The legendary newsman began his career as a World War II correspondent for United Press. In 1950, he joined CBS and, 12 years later, became anchor of the network’s evening newscast. Cronkite retired in 1981 and was replaced by Dan Rather.

TVNewser quotes Cronkite’s thoughts on the subject of death from a 2006 interview:

“When you get to be 89, you have to think about it a little bit. It doesn’t prey on me, and it doesn’t keep me awake nights. Occasionally, when I’m upset about something else, I think, ‘My gosh, I don’t know if I should do this or that because I’m not sure I’ll be here that long to enjoy it.’ “

Cronkite announces death of JFK

Cronkite on the Moon landing

Cronkite University of Texas commercial

The latest on Cronkite on Twitter

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June 1, 2009

CBS online content jumps into the Ustream reports that CBS has announced a partnership with Ustream to deliver live, online video content. Mashable says that whenever there is a major world event, Ustream will carry the live CBS News feed, which will be delivered through Ustream channels such as CBS News.

The partnership also encompasses political news, press conferences, speeches, addresses and hearings, Mashable reports. In addition, exclusive Web-based content from The Early Show, CBS Evening News with Katie Couric, and others will be made available via uStream. Finally, full on-air programs will be streamed through the live video service.

The deal is significant because FOX, NBC and ABC have all partnered with Hulu to deliver content online.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

March 27, 2009

CNN slips to third?

Nielsen Media Research is expected to report that when the March ratings period ends today, CNN is expected to finish third in prime-time newscasts.

That’s a blow to CNN, which pioneered the cable news genre about 30 years ago, the Associated Press reports. Fox News Channel is the leader, by far, but MSNBC has surged ahead of CNN, mainly because of the Keith Olbermann/Rachel Maddow shows.

Both Fox and MSNBC feature an opinionated lineup, but CNN mainly plays it straight.

In response to the development, CNN said it remains healthy and that it will not stray from the straight news path, the AP reports.

Permalink | | Categories: News coverage

February 24, 2009

Must-see Obama on TV again tonight, Oscars rebound a little

President Obama may turn out to be the most televised commander-in-chief ever.

Prime-time primary debates, campaign speeches, four-day inauguration coverage, prime-time press conferences and now a prime-time address to the joint houses of Congress. He’s everywhere.

Tonight at 8, President Obama will try to lift America’s spirits with hope for economic recovery and make his case to senators and representatives for even more legislative action.

All of the broadcast and cable news networks are carrying the speech live, followed by lots and lots of talking-head analysis.

Among the broadcast networks, only NBC plans to cover the speech and then immediately switch back to “regularly scheduled progarmming.” The others all plan extensive opining.

And much more Obama TV is coming.

The new administration has announced plans for regularly televised press conferences, although the networks may not be willing to turn over chunks of prime time every time after the newness wears off.

But the Obama president with the gift for oratory likely will be much more of a must-see president than we’ve ever had.

Oscars rebound … but not much

Preliminary Nielsen ratings for Sunday’s Academy Awards on ABC show that ratings have ticked up a little from last year’s historic low.

ABC averaged a 16.9 rating/26 share in prime time, which is up about 9 percent from last year’s 15.5/24. More accurate, full national ratings will be available later today.

Fox was second for the night, with NASCAR coverage. CBS came in third, followed by NBC and the CW.

Permalink | Comments (4) | Categories: News coverage

February 10, 2009

The presidential press conference debut, Night 1 at Westminster

President Barack Obama’s first press conference wasn’t as fun or combative as political junkies prefer, but maybe that’s more a reflection of the serious economic times in which we find ourselves than the prez-press chemistry.

I think Obama smiled exactly once and tended to reply in long-winded fashion in order to make all the points he aimed to make about the economic stimulus package. After 45 minutes, it became a bit of a snoozer.

Helen Thomas, the dean of the White House press corps until George W. Bush banished her to the back of the room for her hard questions on the Iraq war, was in the front row last night and asked one question.

Obama maintained tight control throughout, which wasn’t the most entertaining way to exchange questions and answers with the press. White House reporters are said to be miffed that the president insists on having a list of reporters to call on, thus rendering the rest of the pack little more than an audience.

The shut-out status of the non-questioning reporters may have accounted for why one woman in the front row jiggled her foot and played with her hair throughout. A couple of guys in the middle of the room appeared to nod off a couple of times, and others whispered to neighbors.

Let’s hope these shows get better. If they don’t, it’s doubtful all the broadcast and cable networks will carry them.

Westminster Night No. 1

Boy, that was an unattractive bunch of group winners last night, wasn’t it? Of course my favorite group is up tonight — the sporting dogs.

But except for the Scottish deerhound in the hound group last night, the other winners were overly-groomed weirdos. My apologies to owners of standard poodles who insist on carving puff-balls into their poor pooch’s behinds and pulis, those rasta-haired dogs that just look unkempt and sad.

TV host David Frei, as always, was splendid in explaining each breed and even allowing himself to poke fun at a few of the sillier ones — he let slip that the French bulldog had “a face like a water buffalo.”

A new addition to the coverage was Mary Carillo, a former pro tennis who is one of the sport’s best TV analysts. She didn’t even try to hide her glee at Madison Square Garden, enjoying every single parade of pups in every single category. Her excitement was contagious — even during the always-odd non-sporting group, with many of the aforementioned weirdos.

Best-in-show is tonight, with the canine action starting at 7 on USA and staying there until 10 p.m. No more switching channels midstream.

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January 27, 2009

DTV deadline delayed ... GLAAD award noms announced

Deadlines are only deadlines until they get postponed, and it looks like the Feb. 17 switch from analog to digital TV will be delayed until June 12.

The U.S. Senate voted unanimously last night to make the change, and today the U.S. House of Representatives is expected to follow suit.

President Obama has been pushing for the delay because the $40 coupon program to help analog viewers convert their TV sets to digital has proven woefully inadequate.

I guess that means our FCC-appointed DTV rep, Guy Benson, will be hanging around Austin for a few more months.

GLAAD happy to honor ABC series

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation, better known as GLAAD, announced its award nominations for work that “recognizes fair and inclusive portrayals of the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community and issues affecting them.”

As it has for several seasons, ABC led the TV network pack with multiple nods for “Brothers & Sisters,” “Desperate Housewives” and “Ugly Betty.”

Here’s a complete list of the nominees.

The GLAAD Media Awards — which also recognize magazine and newspaper articles, theater performances, advertising and Spanish-language programming — will be presented at three separate ceremonies in New York (Mar. 28), in Los Angeles (Apr. 19) and in San Francisco (May 9).

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January 22, 2009

Obama finishes second to Reagan in Nielsens, but ...

Barack Obama took second place to Ronald Reagan among American viewers watching Tuesday’s inauguration.

In the just-released Nielsen ratings for U.S. households, President Obama drew 37.8 million viewers. In 1981, President Reagan racked up 41.8 million viewers.

But Tuesday’s rating does not include worldwide viewership, which is expected to be massive for the current prez, and it does not include all the prime-time specials later in the day.

The Live plus same-day total (that’s folks who watched the events live and those who recorded the goings-on and watched that evening) reflects viewing of 17 broadcast and cable networks between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Central Time.

The ratings do not include the new rush of viewers to various Web sites, which reported heavy traffic.

The broadcast networks will release their prime-time national ratings later, and a rough estimate of the worldwide audience likely will be known by early next week.

DTV switch postponed?

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee was scheduled to act Wednesday to postpone the Feb. 17 digital TV conversion until June. But the committee decided to postpone the postponement — and mull the implications of the delay requested by the Senate.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller, Democrat from West Virginia, introduced legislation a couple of weeks ago to shift the date to June 12, because the government-sponsored program to help viewers purchase analog converters boxes had run out of funds.

But Senate Republicans blocked that measure, arguing that the current deadline has been promoted for months, and confusion would be the main result of waiting.

Democrats and the Obama administration want the 2 million people who still don’t have access to converter boxes to be served before all analog signals are cut off.

Bottom line: There’s going to be confusion no matter when the switch happens. But at least providing $40 coupons to those on the converter-box waiting list might level the playing field.

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January 20, 2009

Yes, he can! The President can dance!

Yes, he can! President Obama can dance … slow (to Beyonce’s rendition of “At Last”) and fast (Stevie Wonder’s “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”).

ABC wrapped up its day of inauguration coverage with two hours of highlights from the Neighborhood Ball, the first stop on President and Mrs. Obama’s whirlwind tour of 10 balls around the nation’s capital.

It was the unveiling of the First Couple as party people, and ABC showed them having a rollicking good time to a royal roster of rockers.

CBS had a one-hour special at 8 p.m. featuring Katie Couric taking a look back at Barack Obama’s winding road to the presidency. She was reporting from one of the balls and was decked out a formal black lace ballgown. Who says the press has to be dowdy?

NBC, helmed by Brian Williams, finished off the night with a special “Dateline” that galloped through several stops — including a live shot of the Obamas chatting up and dancing with service men and women at the Commander-in-Chief Ball.

It’s going to be interesting to see how perky these TV folks look at 7 a.m. on their respective morning shows … and if the prime-time anchors make it to their evening news perches.

Wonder if the morning teams remember that the traditional Prayer Breakfast is bright and early tomorrow at the National Cathedral?

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Inauguration TV: A morning of glory for couch spuds

Lunch is being served in the U.S. Capitol for all the dignitaries, so we’ll take a moment to muse on the remarkable show that’s been unfolding on TV this morning.

The morning network shows — ABC’s “Good Morning America,” NBC’s “Today” and CBS’s “Early Show” — all spent their pre-inaugural hours ogling the throngs and mulling the history of such occasions. Long before the swearing-in was even hours away, the throngs were happily breathing frost on each other on the mall.

The cable news networks, which must be exhausted by months of 24-hour-a-day coverage, churned along as usual. CNN and Fox News had the most spectacular live video of the crowds and the individuals in the crowd.

Tears, smiles and something between jubilation and disbelief were the order of the day.

Good news: Everybody on all networks shut up when the actual ceremony began. No commercials, no commentary … with one exception. CNN’s Wolf Blitzer whispered at 11:01 (Central Time) that Barack Obama was already officially the president, even though he had not yet taken the oath of office.

Thanks, Wolf. We needed that.

CBS and Fox seemed way more excited about Hollywood stars than political stars. Katie Couric, sporting a spiffy short haircut, interrupted Vernon Jordan for a chat with Steven Spielberg. Bad call.

The new president’s inaugural speech, as expected, was made-for-TV-magnificent, wasn’t it? We’ve come to expect no less.

But can we also express appreciation for Aretha Franklin’s rendition of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” — and that spectacular big-bow hat? Yes, we can!

And the next time Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts swears in a president, someone should tell him to write down the oath on a “cheat sheet,” because he messed this one up.

I tried to watch BET’s coverage, but either found commercials or talking heads. Maybe they should have partnered with an actual news network for their first inauguration coverage. Luckily, the new president had rehearsed the right words.

More later … must observe lunch (mine) and prepare for the parade. Who doesn’t love a parade, right?

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Prime-time for Inauguration

Not everybody today will get to wallow in coverage of President Barack Obama’s inauguration.

Some folks are at work or school and haven’t been glued to the massive coverage that started before the crack of dawn today and will continue through the afternoon parade and beyond.

For those work-a-day folks, and for those who just haven’t had enough of the sights and sounds of history during, there are prime-time specials aplenty tonight.

CBS’s serves up its hourlong special at 8 p.m. with anchor Katie Couric presiding.

NBC will offer a wrapup hosted by Brian Williams at 9 p.m.

And ABC will have a two-hour special, starting at 7 p.m., featuring “The Neighborhood Ball,” focusing on one of the multitude of celebrations that will be taking place all around Washington tonight. Charlie Gibson and the always glamorous and giddy Diane Sawyer will be on hand.

And, of course, cable news will have wall-to-wall coverage all day and into the night.

But viewers searching for sweeping music, possibly over-the-top prose and a ton of fabulous images, look for one of the broadcast networks to provide that big TV kiss to end this very big day.


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November 19, 2008

Katie Couric has another "get" tonight

In case you haven’t noticed, CBS anchor Katie Couric is on a roll.

On the stiletto heels of her newsmaking interview with Republican veep hopeful Sarah Palin, Couric has landed the first sit-down with Sen. Joe Lieberman, the Democrat-turned-Independent-turned-sometime-Republican.

Lieberman, a former Democratic vice-presidential nominee, threw his devoted support to John McCain during the presidential campaign. The Connecticut senator traveled with McCain, made speeches and fundraising pitches for McCain and even made a fervent case for his pal at the Republican convention.

The Democrats, with whom Lieberman officially caucuses, were not amused. But after a recent tongue-lashing by Democratic leaders, they decided to keep him in the mix.

Couric’s interview with Lieberman, his first since all this post-election shakedown, will air tonight on the “CBS Evening News” (5:30 p.m. on KEYE).

Meanwhile (and not in the same league at all), ABC’s Diane Sawyer has landed the first interview with disgraced former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s prostitute pal, Ashley Alexandra Dupre. That riveting sit-down will air Friday on “20/20” (9 p.m. KVUE).

“Masterpiece Classic” gets a new master

Laura Linney, a movie star who recently won an Emmy for her portrayal of Abigail Adams in the HBO miniseries “John Adams,” has been tapped to host of PBS’s “Masterpiece Classic.”

She will make her first appearance when the series premieres with a new adaptation of “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” on Jan. 4. The actress replaces of Gillian Anderson, who introduced the productions the first year “Masterpiece” decided to break its seasons into thirds. (“Masterpiece Theatre” and “Masterpiece Contemporary” are the others.)

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November 5, 2008

Election finale: Oh, what a night!

The old electronic campfire did its thing again last night, didn’t it?

Millions of us huddled around televisions, watching the returns and then experiencing history in the present as Barack Obama gave his acceptance speech and John McCain conceded. Holograms nothwithstanding (explanation to come), it was a swell night for viewing.

Those of us who have been sucked into this political drama for more than a year enjoyed the magic walls, the emotional scenes and even some of the analysis. CNN’s David Bergen remains my favorite — for his calm, intelligent and articulate observations.

The broadcast networks looked to be playing catch-up with the cable networks all night. After virtually ceding campaign coverage to cable news, the Big Three were left with offering mostly their top dogs’ perspectives and a few crowd scenes. Viewers who haven’t followed the election saga on CNN, Fox or MSNBC missed out on much of the story’s rich details.

Back to the hologram disaster: In case you missed it, CNN transported reporter Jessica Yellen from Chicago to the New York studio in the form of a hologram. Why? Because, technologically speaking, they could — but not very well.

Yellen seemed to shrink in her holographic form, and she was backed by an odd-looking light. Basically she looked like a cheaply made sci-fi flick. Several people compared her unfavorably to Princess Leia of “Star Wars.” Later in the evening, CNN hologrammed rapper Will.I.Am, too. He was equally unsuccessful.

Nielsen ratings combining broadcast and cable networks’ coverage were not available Wednesday morning, but experts predict the total will top the 64 million viewers who tuned in for 2004 election night. We should know later today or early Thursday morning.

Some experts believe entertainment ratings will benefit from the close of the election. A sizable number of viewers, these experts believe, abandoned regular prime-time fare to watch campaign developments on cable news. We won’t know the truth to that theory for at least a week.

In the mean time, the exciting political drama is over, and most of us will need some time to adjust our viewing and body clocks.

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November 4, 2008

Tonight's the night! What to expect on TV's election results

Are you ready for some results? Barring a mind-blowing disaster, we will find out who our next president will be tonight — possibly as early as 7 p.m.

And millions upon millions of Americans will hear the “calling” of the election on TV. Nearly 65 million viewers watched election returns four years ago. If viewership for the 2008 primary elections and presidential debates are any indication, considerably more millions will be tuned in for tonight’s historic showdown between Democratic Sen. Barack Obama and Republican Sen. John McCain.

All of the cable and broadcast news networks will be dancing around their “magic walls” by 6 p.m. (Central Time). At that very moment, polls will be closed in two battleground states — Indiana and Virginia. If both of those states fall for Obama in a big way, we’ll see the anchors, reporters and pundits begin to salivate over an early call for victory.

At 6:30 p.m., two more big battlegrounds end their voting — Ohio and North Carolina. If McCain takes both of those states, look for insecurity among the folks who previously were prepping for a winner to be announced early. And at 7 p.m., after Florida, Pennsylvania and Missouri wrap things up, the suspense will either be gripping or the end will be clear.

Low-tech fun like Tim Russert’s grease-board, upon which he scrawled “Florida! Florida! Florida!” in 2000 will be replaced by dazzling high-tech gizmos. CNN broke ground with the digital “magic wall” map in the early primaries and apparently is flirting with introducing 3-D holograms of reporters in the field being beamed into the New York studio.

ABC is taking over Times Square for its network coverage, while NBC, as it has done before, is home-based at Rockefeller Center, where the outside Plaza’s ice rink has been tansformed into a U.S. map.

As it was in 2004, the political executives at cable and network news divisions will be favoring accuracy over speed. Nobody wants to be caught calling a state before it’s actually been tabulated. Projections, as we found in 2000, can be deadly wrong. That means an official winner shouldn’t be called before the polls are closed in the West (10 p.m. our time), but if the tally becomes lopsided, it wouldn’t take a genius at home to make a personal call and pop open the bubbly.

You can either flip around, as I’ll be doing, or settle in with one source. Here’s the lineup of, by now, very familiar faces:

Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer, George Stephanopoulos on ABC

Brian Williams on NBC

Katie Couric on CBS

Jim Lehrer on PBS

Shepard Smith on Fox TV

Brit Hume and Chris Wallace on Fox News Channel

Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper and Campbell Brown on CNN

David Gregory, Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann on MSNBC

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October 23, 2008

Presidential campaign more fun to watch than reality TV, according to EW poll

A new Entertainment Weekly survey has found that 6 in 10 Americans find this election to be enormously entertaining. And the 18- to 24-year-olds surveyed estimate they spend a third of their TV time watching election coverage.

This has got to be terrific good news for cable news networks, where the overwhelming bulk of political coverage is found.

(The survey polled 1,004 Americans last weekend.)

The survey also found that half of all Americans said they are watching fewer prime-time shows due to the election coverage, which might explain lower ratings for several TV shows this fall.

In other ET poll findings:

Viewers like Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin (37.4 percent) on “Saturday Night Live” a little bit better than the Republican vice presidential nominee herself (37 percent). Among women (39 percent), viewers age 18 to 34 (45 percent) and Democrats (66 percent), Fey’s Palin is preferred over the real thing.

Of people whose favorite political spoofs are courtesy of “SNL,” “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report” or “Real Time with Bill Maher,” 3 in 10 respondents say they will watch less of these shows after the election.

Among the 18 to 34 age group, 31 percent said they are watching more election coverage because it’s more entertaining than regular TV series, especially reality shows.

More than 40 percent of respondents said the candidates’ appearances on talk shows have influenced their opinions.

More than half of those polled (53 percent) said celebrity endorsements have “some influence” on the candidates’ appeal. Those age 25 to 34 (59 percent) and Democrats (64 percent) were more likely to be influenced by celebrity endorsements.

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October 21, 2008

Kids pick the prez ... in a close one

Drop the balloons. It’s over.

Sen. Barack Obama has won Nickelodeon’s 2008 Kids Pick the President vote — but it was a close call.

Obama received 51 percent of the vote (1,167,087), and Sen. John McCain received 49 percent (1,129,945).

A record-breaking number of votes — more than 2.2 million — were cast in the network’s online poll. Kids voted online from Oct. 12-20.

Nickelodeon has held a kids’-vote every election year since 1988, and kids have correctly predicted the winner in four out of the last five U.S. presidential campaigns.

Linda Ellerbee, host of Nickelodeon’s Nick News, announced the winner on Monday.

“It’s important to take note of who won the ‘Kids’ Vote,’ simply because so many kids vote the way their parents will,” Ellerbee said in a statement after the election. “But what really counts is this: they participated in democracy. They voted. How can this be anything but good?”

This year’s Nickelodeon campaign kicked off in January with the first-ever “Kids’ Primary,” which resulted in kids accurately predicting senators Obama and McCain to win their respective party tickets.

During the next months, Nick News aired four election-themed episodes: “Kids Primary,” “Election Issues,” Tales from the Trail” and “Kids Pick the President.”

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October 16, 2008

Obama vs. McCain debate? Bob Schieffer won; McCain on Letterman tonight

Who won the last presidential debate? Bob Schieffer.

Yep, the veteran CBS News anchor/reporter from Texas nailed it.

PBS’s Jim Lehrer, who anchored the first encounter between Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama, looked like a deer in the headlights. He kept trying to get the two candidates to look and talk to each other, but that never happened. Frustration reigned.

Gwen Ifill, also of PBS, seemed to be over-run by vice presidential contenders Sarah Palin and Joe Biden. Republican Palin made it clear from the get-go that she would say what she wanted to say, regardless of the question, and Ifill never found a way to keep her on point.

At the helm of the second presidential debate, NBC’s Tom Brokaw did the best he could with audience questions, but he was better when he asked his own questions — which wasn’t the format of the town-hall debate.

But last night’s third and final presidential smackdown sailed along as it was supposed to, thanks to the steady hand and determined questioning of Schieffer. When Obama or McCain veered off topic, Schieffer ordered them back. And when time was up, he politely but firmly cut them off.

Controlling the direction and format of a debate is the moderator’s function, and no-nonsense Schieffer did a spectacular job. Cheers to you, Deputy Dog.

All’s forgiven on Letterman? Maybe not.

John McCain hits the hot seat on “The Late Show With David Letterman” tonight (10:30 p.m. on CBS) after stiffing the show at the last minute for a scheduled appearance on Sept. 24.

Letterman has been slamming McCain ever since — not because the Arizona senator bailed but because he fudged about it at the time. McCain, who has been a frequent guest over the years and informally announced his candidacy on the show, told the host he had to “rush back to Washington” to take care of the economic crisis.

But while Letterman was taping his show, he learned that McCain had not gone back to D.C. but, in fact, was a few blocks away doing a live interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric. McCain remained in New York the following day for a United Nations event.

“This doesn’t smell right,” Letterman said on air. “This is not the way a tested hero behaves. I think someone’s put something in his Metamucil.”

Letterman has been steaming for weeks now, so it will be amusing to see if McCain grovels, if Letterman forgives … or if sparks will fly between the two hot-heads.

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October 15, 2008

Last debate, UT's ABC Campus News has on-air debut and Chocolate News

The third and final presidential debate (tonight at 8 on every conceivable channel) could be make-or-break time for John McCain, with former KTBC and KEYE anchor Neal Spelce offering advice (again) to the Republican nominee.

Spelce’s tip for McCain to avoid looking at Democrat Barack Obama in the first debate produced nothing but criticism, so we’ll see how things go this time.

The debate will cover domestic issues, which probably means a sharp focus on our swooning economy. CBS veteran Bob Schieffer will moderate. The trio is scheduled to sit elbow-to-elbow at a table, which will either make the debate more comfortable or more awkward.

‘ABC’s World News Now’ airs story from UT’s Campus Bureau

A student-produced news story about the political sign controversy on UT aired nationally overnight last Thursday on “ABC News’ World News Now.”

The story was reported by UT’s campus bureau chief Sara Loeffelholz, a broadcast journalism senior in the School of Journalism. Joseph Millares, a broadcast journalism senior, was the story videographer and editor.

ABC News’ UT campus bureau was established this fall to educate and mentor talented college students. It is one of five university bureaus across the country.

‘Chocolate News’

David Alan Grier is one funny, talented guy. But his new Comedy Central newsmagazine spoof “Chocolate News” is sketchy — and not in a good way.

The “In Living Color” alum takes on news and pop culture from an Afrocentric perspective. Some of it is hilarious; most of it is cringe-producing. Grier serves as the pompous anchor and also appears as multiple characters in the news segments.

The premiere is tonight at 9:30, so if you’re sick of debate analysis, see for yourself.

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September 30, 2008

First prez debate ratings disappoint; First veep debate likely to sizzle

Here’s the debate I’m dying to see: Sarah Palin vs. Tina Fey.

Seriously, wouldn’t that be fantastic? We’d never be able to tell who was making points and who was making gaffes because the two women look like identical twins. But it sure would be entertaining, don’t you think?

The real vice presidential debate, in case you’ve been orbiting Mars, is Thursday night at 8. Palin and Joe Biden will face off in what very well could be a bigger TV event than last Friday’s first showdown between John McCain and Barack Obama.

In spite of all the hysteria surrounding that first debate, the audience Friday turned out to be considerably smaller than anticipated. Nielsen says 52.4 million viewers tuned into the first McCain-Obama debate. So it wasn’t even one of the Top 10 presidential debates. The President Carter vs. Ronald Reagan set-to in 1980 drew a whopping 80.6 million, and the first George Bush vs. John Kerry debate in 2004 drew more than 60 million.

Of course Friday’s debate was still a blockbuster, grabbing the biggest rating since the Super Bowl in February. Considering the McCain-Obama debate was on a Friday night, traditionally a pitiful night for TV, and considering nobody knew if McCain would even participate (remember, he was hunkered down in D.C. monitoring the economic crisis), that’s not so bad.

I bet the Palin-Biden match will be huge — partly because it’s on Must-See Thursday night but also because Palin remains something of a mystery.

All Newman all day on Saturday, Oct. 12

Turner Classic Movies tips its hat to legendary movie star Paul Newman on Oct. 12, with back-to-back films for 24 hours.

Newman, who died of lung cancer last Friday, certainly has enough fabulous flicks to warrant an entire day of watching.

Among those to be featured: “Cool Hand Luke,” “Somebody Up There Likes Me,” “Torn Curtain,” “Exodus,” “Hud,” “Rachel, Rachel,” “Sweet Bird of Youth,” “The Outrage” and, of course, “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.”

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September 26, 2008

Presidential candidates gobble up new TV season

The poor, pitiful fall TV season continues to be upstaged by presidential politics.

David Letterman, who has had many fun late-night chats with John McCain, is on an anti-McCain crusade since the Republican stiffed “The Late Show” Wednesday night.

McCain canceled a scheduled appearance at the last minute because he said he had to return to Washington, D.C. right away. During the taping of Letterman’s show, which happens at 5:30 p.m., the host learned that McCain actually was a couple of blocks away doing a live interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric.”

“This smells funny,” a clearly ticked off Letterman told viewers.

And again last night Letterman railed about McCain, telling guest Paris Hilton he thinks McCain must be “losing his marbles.”’

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the dramatic, suspense-filled, who-knows-what’s-happening nature of the campaign is trumping everything from the debut of news series to the return of old favorites. The new stars are not Simon Baker or Christian Slater but John McCain and Barack Obama.

Will there be a debate tonight, as planned by the Presidential Debate Commission and the two campaigns? Apparently so, but it’s 11 a.m. and that could change twice before tonight.

Tonight is the first scheduled presidential debate (at 8 p.m.), and “NewsHour” anchor Jim Lehrer is ready with his questions. The agreed-upon topic was foreign relations and national security. But given the current economic crisis, the economy likely will move front and center. Lehrer is more than capable of switching gears.

McCain had decided Wednesday that he wouldn’t participate in a debate until a bail-out agreement was reached on Capitol Hill. As of early this morning, McCain was still a question mark.

So, one podium or two? An alternative format has been proposed by the commission that would turn an Obama-only debate into more of a town hall meeting, with the audience allowed to submit questions through Lehrer.

But the prospect of Obama having 90 minutes of air time on every single news channel without McCain present would have been a disaster for the Republican. Now McCain says he’s coming.

Stay tuned …

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September 19, 2008

Obama and McCain take over '60 Minutes' season opener

In case there’s anyone left in the United States of America who doesn’t know enough about the two men running for president, “60 Minutes” is devoting its entire hour this weekend to interviews with Democrat Barack Obama and Republican John McCain.

The program airs Sunday at 6 p.m. (or possibly later, depending on the preceding football game) on CBS … right before ABC’s all-night Emmy Awards telecast.

“60 Minutes” is beginning its 40th season and its first in high-definition. The old show has managed to remain relevant for a very long time, consistently earning ratings in the Nielsen Top 10 and consistently doing fine work. Kudos.

Steve Kroft is doing the sit-down with Obama; Scott Pelley will chat up McCain.

If you’re hunkering down for a night of glitter and fun at the Emmys, it might be a good TV dietary balance to start off with “60 Minutes.” Maybe the prez wannabes will say something new.

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September 17, 2008

Palin to perch with Couric ... Lifetime delays 'Runway' debut

What would happen if the major news anchors decided NOT to pursue Republican veep candidate Sarah Palin?

Would the new Star of Alaska be happy to be left alone? Or would she be pursuing the anchors with a vengeance, begging for her closeups?

The “big get” is the goal of all TV newsies, and Palin, virtually unknown until John McCain tapped her to be his running mate, has been the biggest “get” out there until ABC’s Charlie Gibson nabbed her last week.

Palin is still considered a “get,” otherwise the pursuit would not continue. Late Tuesday, CBS announced that anchor Katie Couric will spend two days on the road with the Republican veep wannabe. (Oh, and by the way, McCain also might be part of Couric’s package.)

CBS says Couric’s interview will air in two parts: on the “Evening News” on Monday, Sept. 29, and the following morning (Sept. 30) on “The Early Show.” The timing nestles nicely with the vice presidential debate on Oct. 2.

Presumably if Palin says anything remotely newsworthy, snippets of the interview will air sooner and spread like wildfire to other TV news outlets — just as Gibson’s sit-down in Alaska did.

Palin also has an interview planned for later this week with Fox News guy Sean Hannity.

Left out of Palin’s picks? Anyone remotely connected to MSNBC, which the Republicans loathe for the left-leaning Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthew, and NBC’s Brian Williams, who apparently is guilty by association.

Lifetime delays ‘Runway’ debut

“Project Runway,” now in its final season on Bravo, will make its switch to Lifetime in January ‘09. The original plan was to bring the show back for a new season in November, fairly quickly after its Bravo finale in October.

But Lifetime decided to insert more lead time between the end of Season 5 and the beginning of Season 6 to build up anticipation for the show’s re-launch on a new network.

Guess the network folks don’t realize that viewers watch shows, not networks. It won’t make a lick of difference to “Runway” fans that the show is on Lifetime rather than Bravo …

Especially because “Runway” is keeping all of its original fashionistas: host/executive producer Heidi Klum, judges Michael Kors and Nina Garcia and fashion mentor Tim Gunn.

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September 11, 2008

Republican vice presidential candidate taking over TV news

America’s Most Famous Hockey Mom will be all over TV over the next few days.

This evening (5:30 p.m.) on “ABC World News,” Charles Gibson unveils the first of a multipart sit-down with Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin. More of that interview will air on “Nightline” and continue to dribble out Friday morning, culminating with an hour-long special at 9 p.m. Friday on “20/20.”

The “20/20” special also will include a filmed bio and a round-table discussion of the presidential race, moderated by ABC’s “George Stephanopoulos.

CNN also plans specials on Palin this weekend — whether or not they will include interviews is not yet known.

Fox News had an hourlong documentary on Palin last Saturday, and that program was the cable news channel’s highest-rated documentary ever, pulling in 2.7 million viewers.

Add that to the 40 million viewers (a combined audience on all news channels) who saw the Alaska governor’s acceptance speech during the Republican National Convention, and you’ve got a mega-star.

Here’s my question: When are the TV newsies going to roll out interviews and documentaries on Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden? Sexy or not, doesn’t he deserve equal treatment?

Boxer Presley is ‘The Greatest!’

Owner Travis and his handsome boxer Presley won the $250,000 prize and title “Greatest American Dog” on the finale of the CBS reality show last night.

Presley was my personal favorite. See, I actually can pick a winner sometime!

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September 9, 2008

Gov. Palin on ABC News ... what should Charlie G ask?

After fielding puffballs from MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann and hostile interruptions from Fox’s Bill O’Reilly last night, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama turns TV’s center stage over to Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin this week.

The “big get” went to Charles Gibson of ABC News, and we can expect a good deal of interest in the Palin interview that will be spread over four programs and two days.

ABC News has taken pains to say that “nothing is off limits” for this interview. Gibson isn’t really the type to badger Palin about her family life, so I’m betting we won’t hear a lot about Gibson’s pregnant teenage daughter Bristol.

But I’m betting we will hear a few tough questions about Palin’s much-touted credentials as a reformer. The Bridge to Nowhere? That’ll be fair game. Earmarks? That, too.

What would you ask Gov. Palin? Would you whip out a map of the Middle East and ask her to identify all the countries to prove her foreign policy smarts? Send us your questions, and we’ll forward them to ABC News.

Gibson trekked to Alaska on Monday for pre-interview reporting. He is scheduled to sit down with Palin in Fairbanks and Wasilla on Thursday.

Assuming all goes according to plan and Gibson manages to hit his Thursday afternooon deadline, the first portion of the Palin piece will air on “World News” and later that same day on “Nightline.” More will dribble out Friday morning on “Good Morning America,” “World News,” “20/20” and “Nightline.”

Let’s hope she has that much to say. If not, Gibson and ABC News will have devoted lots of time to very little news. But curiosity about Palin seems to be insatiable.

The competition for this first-ever sit-down with the veep nominee was fierce. Everyone who’s anyone in TV news has been begging for Palin since McCain “released” her to the public the day after the Democratic Convention ended in Denver.

I bet Barbara Walters was willing to crawl on her knees to Alaska, but Good Ol’ Charlie got the call.

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September 8, 2008

MSNBC's fall-out from political coverage ... Wilmington, N.C., gets DTV early

Fallout from the political conventions:

MSNBC has ended its stupid experiment of having opinionated analysts Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthew anchor actual political coverage. The guys remain free to rant and rave on “Countdown” and “Hardball,” respectively, but they will no longer be pretending to be news anchors.

NBC and MSNBC have had an increasingly uneasy relationship during election season. Fair and balanced? Not so much.

Elevating NBC White House correspondent David Gregory to anchor MSNBC’s upcoming debate and election night coverage should help heal the rift — and benefit viewers, too.

In an effort to increase its last-place cable news ratings, MSNBC had decided to go the leftwing opinion route during the primaries, possibly assuming that the move would do for them what Fox News’ conservative slant has done for Fox.

But loud-mouth right-wingers like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly don’t anchor news coverage for Fox, and MSNBC’s decision to put its opinion guys into news coverage roles backfired.

Ratings for MSNBC improved, but NBC News’ reputation took a big hit that has finally been deemed unacceptable. Kudos to the network for choosing what’s right over ratings … finally.

Now can we all just learn the lesson and move on?

Wilmington, N.C. gets DTV early

Today is Wilmington’s version of Feb. 17, 2009. The city is switching all of its commercial broadcast stations from analog to digital.

If viewers are plunged into darkness because (a) they don’t have cable or satellite or (b) because they have failed to buy DTV converter boxes for their rabbit-ear analog sets, we’ll know soon.

Wilmington has been spamming its viewers with even more dire warnings than the crawls we’ve been seeing for months on Austin’s stations: Are you DTV ready? Get DTV ready! Life as you know it will end if you don’t!

Today the folks in Wilmington who are NOT ready will see this message flash across their screens: “If you are viewing this message, this television set has not yet been upgraded to digital.”

Wilmington is the 135th TV market, according to Nielsen’s latest rankings. Austin is the 49th. We’ll see how they handle things.

UPDATE: How conveeenient! The City of Austin just sent out the following release …

The Austin Community Technology and Telecommunications Commission and the City of Austin’s Office of Telecommunications and Regulatory Affairs will present a free community forum on “The Transition to Digital Television” Thursday, Sept. 18 from 6:30 to7:30 p.m. at the Dottie Jordan Recreation Center, 2803 Loyola Lane.

Members of the community forum and those affected by the technological advancement are invited to learn more about the digital TV transition. This transition affects viewers with televisions that operate with rooftop antennas or “rabbit ears.”

Speakers will discuss the basics of DTV and what residents without cable or satellite television will need to do to continue to receive free over-the-air television programming.

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September 5, 2008

Political conventions end ... whew! What an overdose!

Are you ready for some crime dramas and comedies? Boy, I sure am.

After three weeks of Olympics, followed by two weeks of political conventions, I’m ready to catch up on “Mad Men,” “The Closer” and the new season of “The Shield.”

And in the next couple of weeks, even the slow-moving broadcast networks will bring back our favorite shows. Can’t wait … seems like years since we’ve had a taste of “Grey’s Anatomy” or “30 Rock.”

Back-to-back conventions make no sense, politically or from a TV perspective. Reporters, anchors AND viewers are probably all exhausted today. I know I am.

By the time John McCain finally accepted the Republican nomination for president last night, I had already started drifting to the U.S. Open matches on USA Network. A little Cindy and John McCain here, a little Andy Roddick and Novak Djokovic over there.

At least the Republicans favored us with a big balloon drop. The Dems had to forego balloons because of the open-air stadium, but McCain and company gave us the traditional rain of balloons and confetti. Can’t help it … I love the balloons.

Ratings aren’t in for McCain’s speech yet, but his veep choice, Gov. Sarah Palin, drummed up almost 40 million viewers, which is nearly as big a crowd as watched Democrat Barack Obama accept his nomination.

As good citizens, we all should watch the three presidential and one vice-presidential debates that are coming. The first one, Obama vs. McCain, is Friday, Sept. 26. To prepare for this final TV assault of the candidates, let’s all take a break and watch “SpongeBob” or something. It’s time even for political junkies to step away.

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September 4, 2008

RNC: Sarah Palin strikes ratings gold

Alaska’s Gov. Sarah Palin is ratings gold!

The Republican’s veep nominee attracted 37,244,000 viewers on Wednesday night, according to Nielsen Media Research.

That’s 13 million more than watched Democratic veep nominee Joe Biden and close to the 38.4 million viewers who watched Democratic presidential contender Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in Denver.

Who said politics can’t draw a crowd!

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Palin sparks TV fire for Republicans

Is there any way at all that John McCain’s acceptance speech tonight can top the drama and frenzy that surrounded last night’s appearance by Sarah Palin?

Absolutely not. McCain has managed to upstage himself at his own Republican National Convention. But in terms of stirring interest in a convention that seemed doomed by comparison to the slickly produced drama of the Democrats, Palin was the best thing that could have happened to the Republicans.

Consider: Before McCain announced his choice for veep, the prospect of endless speeches by a bunch of aging conservatives was daunting. Although the broadcast networks — ABC, CBS and NBC — had only planned an hour of prime time anyway, head-scratching was underway about how exactly to fill that hour.

But then along came unknown Gov. Sarah Palin of Alaska, a former beauty queen with zero national exposure, and suddenly there was excitement all over the place — not all of it welcomed by the Republicans. But even frantic attention has got to be better than no attention, right?

It’s almost as if McCain planned the frenzy. If indeed he already knew about Palin’s pregnant teenage daughter and the investigation into “trooper-gate” back home on the frozen tundra, he must have known that the media and the country would soon be electrified by his choice.

The TV coverage, which might have been lethargic on the heels of Barack Obama’s inspiring speech before 84,000 people in Denver, has thus been anything but. The Republicans were able to gin it up even further by attacking the media for investigating the unknown veep nominee and her family.

CNN’s Campbell Brown got into a shouting match with Republican strategist Tucker Eskew, Fox’s Sean Hannity got into a shouting match with Obama campaign spokesman Robert Gibbs and (here’s the really BIG news) Obama is scheduled to be interviewed by Bill O’Reilly tonight on Fox — before McCain makes his grand entrance!

As a theatrical production, the Republican convention has paled compared to the Denver gathering. It’s a smaller number of delegates, which makes the crowd seem tamer, and that enormous, scene-changing screen behind the speaker’s podium is distracting. Fred Thompson, a very large man, was dwarfed by the waving flag and mountain scenes, and Rudy Giuliani looked momentarily confused by the looming monstrosity when he came out onto the stage.

I may have missed it, while flipping from cable news to PBS to the broadcast networks, but I saw no coverage of Ron Paul’s mini-convention that apparently took place in Minneapolis. That’s good news for the Republicans.

The TV ratings have not been touted this week the way they were in Denver — which probably means not as many people have been tuning in. Although I bet last night’s Palin speech did extremely well.

For the Democratic convention, CNN topped the ratings, beating the broadcast networks as well as cable competitors. Fox came in second, and MSNBC, which has a definite liberal slant (thanks to Chris Matthews and Keith Olbermann), finished a distant third among the cable nets.

We can probably expect Fox to win the war this time around.

UPDATE: The ratings for Tuesday night’s RNC are here, delayed by the Labor Day holiday:

9 to 10 p.m. - Broadcast + Cable ratings for Tuesday of RNC

FOX: 6,179,000

NBC: 4,468,000

CNN: 3,220,000

ABC: 3,098,000

CBS: 2,928,000

MSNBC: 1,590,000

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August 29, 2008

Dems done, Repubs next on TV's political double bill

That’s it … I’m taking a break from TV. After nearly three weeks of Olympics — every night until late at night — followed by four nights of the Democratic National Convention, I’m more than eady to pluck myself off the sofa.

Oops, I forgot. The U.S. Open Tennis Championship is on CBS all weekend … But nah, I’ve got to get up and out of the house. Eyes glazing over, rump numbing into permanent paralysis. Must hit the gym and the hike-and-bike trail.

“So, what did you think of the Democratic extravaganza?” a snarky-sounding reader wanted to know this morning. This was a man demanding to know if I would be blogging as much about the Republican National Convention as I did the Dems.

First, I thought the Dems did a whale of a job with their Denver convention. A Republican friend of mine said he was so riveted by the speeches and musical performances that he was glued through the whole thing. He said it was the “best-produced” convention he’d ever seen, and he’s seen a few.

I can’t help thinking the broadcast networks must have regretted their decision to air entertainment reruns instead of convention coverage, except for that last 9 to 10 p.m. hour. PBS probably did boffo business as the only broadcast network to provide three hours in prime time.

The evening portions of the convention ran on time and without disaster, Monday through Thursday. Who can ask for anything more?

Those of us of a certain age remember disastrous Democratic conventions when disorganization and bedlam took over, and the nominee was stuck making an acceptance speech on national TV after midnight on the East Coast.

Were last night’s fireworks a bit over the top? Maybe. But when some 80,000-plus people wait all day to get into the stadium to hear Barack Obama make history, you might as well give ‘em a little extra fun.

Fireworks and confetti were really the only possibilities, since the open-air stadium made the traditional balloon-drop impossible.

As for next week’s Republican marathon? Absolutely, I’ll be watching and blogging. I love politics, and I love a good show. Color me there.

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August 26, 2008

Kennedy shines on TV's first night of Democratic convention

Political conventions are known for their general dreariness. Streams of boring politicians saying the same thing night after night.

Showcasing the wife of the nominee on the first night of the Democratic convention in Denver left broadcast and cable networks with a soft feature when they were hungry for some serious news … or at least some meaty politics.

For days anchors and reporters have been stoking the fire between the Obama and Clinton contingencies. Nothing had really sparked.

But then Uncle Teddy arrived in Denver late Sunday night, draped in mystery. All day Monday CNN, MSNBC and Fox News speculated on whether the ailing senator, who has been battling brain cancer since May, would make an appearance. Even Kennedy family members traveling with him seemed unsure what would happen.

But early in the evening yesterday, word spread that Uncle Teddy was indeed at the convention center.

Was he walking or would he be rolled onto the stage in a wheelchair? Would he speak? Could he speak? CNN’s Wolf Blitzer said a short speech had been written. Maybe Kennedy would deliver it. Fox’s Chris Wallace speculated that if Sen. Kennedy was in the building, there seemed little doubt he would make an appearance.

Suspense built, and the made-for-TV moment left even the crustiest reporters semi-speechless.

NBC’s Brian Williams and ABC’s Charles Gibson struggled to muster words when the “Lion of the Senate” walked out on the stage (without assistance), pushed aside a stool at the podium and mustered his full voice and enthusiasm to nail one of the best speeches of his career.

It was pure drama. What will Hillary Clinton say tonight? How about her husband, apparently still ticked off about the primary campaign his wife lost? And Barack Obama’s acceptance speech in the middle of a massive football stadium? Will it be exciting or just a huge spectacle?

There might be more big moments ahead for partisans to enjoy in Denver, but the sheer suspense and excitement of Uncle Teddy taking over Denver was a real cliffhanger — with a climax worthy of the Beijing Olympics.

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June 13, 2008

Huckabee will shine on Fox News, Heigl should stop whining about Emmys

Good news for Fox News fans: The cable news network has hired former Arkansas governor and former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee as a commentator.

Why is this good news? Because Huckabee, a former preacher and decade-long governor, knows how to communicate with people. He has a wry sense of humor and bubbles beautifully on the air.

Huckabee may not be a pointy-headed intellectual, and we may not agree with everything he says. But at least he can be entertaining and insightful.

The comparison I’m making here is with another fairly recent Fox addition, former George W. Bush insider Karl Rove, who sounds like a robot and is dull as they come.

As a White House insider, Rove didn’t have to deal with people very often, so his communication on Fox has been less than illuminating. Locked in an office all those years, how could he be a people person? Plus, if Rove has a smile, we’ve never seen it on TV.

Huckabee, on the other hand, is a happy warrior, and he’s going to be a nice addition to Fox’s lineup heading into the general election.

Of course his career on Fox News could be short-lived if Republican presidential nominee John McCain taps him as his running mate.

Izzie out of Emmy running

Katherine Heigl has not come off well in her recent criticism of the writers on “Grey’s Anatomy.”

In case you missed it, Heigl, who won the best supporting actress Emmy last year, decided not to place her name in nomination this time around. She claimed the writers did not provide her with material that would have made her competitive.

Huh? So it would have been the writers’ fault if she were nominated and didn’t win. That’s a pathetic excuse if every I heard one.

Plus, can we please remind Mizz Heigl that she is making millions and launching a wildly successful movie career as a member of an ENSEMBLE drama on TV. That means focus shifts among members of the ensemble, and thus not every single character gets to star in every single scene every season.

Sheesh. You’d think Heigl would be more gracious and more grateful.

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May 28, 2008

Katie returns to 'Today' ... for what?

Tuesday morning, when Matt Lauer said Katie Couric would make a “major announcement” Wednesday morning on “Today,” the Internet exploded with speculation.

Is Katie, after suffering ratings slump and humiliation as anchor of “The CBS Evening News,” returning to her long-running triumph as co-anchor of NBC’s “Today?”

Speculation has been rampant about when (not if) Katie would step down. Before the political conventions? After the conventions but before the November election? Before or after the inauguration in January?

But this morning we saw the truth about Katie’s big reveal on “Today.” She was one of three network news anchors, including NBC’s Brian Williams and ABC’s Charlie Gibson, to appear on all three network morning shows to announce a major fundraising initiative called “Stand Up to Cancer.”

On Friday, Sept. 5,the Big Three will devote a simultaneous hour of prime time to a cancer research fundraiser that will feature celebrities and musical performances.

(Fox declined to participate, citing its own charity iniative “Idol Gives Back.”)

Did Lauer intentionally set off the buzz about Couric? You bet. And it must have made everyone at CBS News cringe. And current “Today” co-host Meredith Vieira must have been a bit miffed, too.

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May 27, 2008

'48 Hours' takes on polygamy

“48 Hours” takes on a full-court investigation of polygamy tonight (at 9 p.m. on CBS), pegged to the controversial revelations provided by the raid on the Eldorado compound of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints.

The raid and the 450 children taken from their parents after a call alleging abuse has been front page news since April 3. Just last week a Texas appellate court ruled that officials did not have sufficient grounds to seize the children, but the whole mess is likely to be tied up in court for months.

CBS News has fanned out, sending Susan Spencer to investigate the sect’s practices and check on self-proclaimed prophet Warren Jeffs, who continues to lead the sect from prison. (He was convicted of rape of a minor in connection with one of his teenage wives.) She interviews Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff (who refers to the sect as “the American taliban”) and 21-year-old Elissa Wall, who was forced to marry at the age of 14.

Reporter Peter Van Sant engages in a hand-to-hand combat interview with Willie Jessop, who insists the sect does not break any laws and charges that Texas officials’ demand for birth certificates and DNA samples from church members is “un-American.”

“48 Hours” has been tracking two women who escaped from an sect community in Salt Lake City in 1999, when they were teenagers. Reporter Erin Moriarty reports on the status of one of the girls, now a young woman permanently separated from her family.

Finally, reporter Troy Roberts explores the face of modern polygamy. And yes, HBO’s “Big Love” pretty much has it right. A family consisting of one husband and three wives (two of them twins) lives in a “normal” suburb of Salt Lake City with their 22 children. They have regular jobs and wear modern clothes, but they face a daily challenge of fitting in and staying under the radar.

If you’ve been wondering about polygamy, this hour will answer lots of questions.

Bye bye, Jim

The season finale for “According to Jim” airs tonight at 7, which immediately brings to mind:

If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?

The ABC sitcom, an old-fashioned nuclear family model, is wrapping up its seventh (yes seventh) season and is not on the network’s recently announced fall schedule. So the back-to-back episodes serve as the show’s finale, the end of the run, the swan song of a show that debuted in 2001.

Will anybody care?

“Jim” has been a mediocre utility player throughout its run. ABC has dropped it from the schedule, picked it up and moved around more times than anyone can count. Unless you’re a devoted fan (and, seriously, who can that possibly be?), you might not even know it was still on the air.

Jim Belushi and Courtney Thorne-Smith star as a married couple with children. She’s the smart one; he’s the doofus. The stereotypes are long-running and rampant. And incredibly tiresome …

If you feel the need to bid farewell to an ancient genre, tonight’s your chance.

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April 16, 2008

Democratic debate tonight: another chapter in our political reality show!

Our red-hot political reality show continues tonight with another bout between Democratic contenders Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Could this Philadelphia bout, refereed by Charles Gibson with George Stephanopoulos standing by as his corner man, be the title match? Maybe but probably not. Never mind that Clinton has already compared herself to the city’s most famous (and fictional) prizefighter, Rocky Balboa.

The 90-minute debate, starting at 7 tonight on ABC, has been anticipated for weeks, and the hissing between the two candidates’ camps has only heightened the pre-debate frenzy. Political reporters are licking their chops, and bloggers are ready for a big blast in cyberspace.

The April 22 Pennsylvania primary has been shaping up to be a major smackdown between Obama and Clinton. Not too long ago, Clinton was more than 20 points ahead of her rival in the opinion polls there; now a slender 4 points separates the two. The tightening of the race — yet again — should serve to tighten the tensions as well.

Gibson is one of TV’s most laid-back anchors, but he’s also one of the most steeped in politics. He grew up in the Washington, D.C., area and has been covering politics for most of his journalistic career. He’s not likely to get caught in either an unmanageable diatribe by one of the candidates or a determined skirting of the issues.

Snuffleupagus, uh, Stephanopoulos, is an interesting choice for the debate … he was Bill Clinton’s senior political adviser and communications director before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke.

New blood coming to ‘L&O’

“Law & Order,” the Energizer Bunny of TV dramas, is prepping for another transformation next Wednesday.

That’s when Jesse L. Martin, the dependably sane Detective Green, bows out, and Anthony Anderson, so superb as a villain in “The Shield” and a hero in the recently axed “K-ville,” makes his debut.

Now in its 18th season (and renewed for a 19th), “L&O” has changed principal cast more often than Elton John changes shoes. But with rare exceptions (hello, Elizabeth Rohm!), change has been good.

In next week’s episode, Detective Green gets in trouble because of a past life of gambling, and Anderson’s Detective Bernard barges into the precinct to sort things out. Green leaves; Bernard stays.

“L&O” will have five episodes with the cast change before the end of the season but will return next season — and maybe with even more changes. You never know with this show.

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April 10, 2008

WSJ: Katie Couric leaving CBS News?

Rupert Murdoch’s version of the Wall Street Journal loves poking CBS News in the eye, and the latest assault claims that “Evening News” anchor Katie Couric will leave after serving only two years of her five-year contract.

CBS issued a statement today insisting the WSJ story is untrue.

“We are very proud of the ‘CBS Evening News,’ particularly our political coverage, and we have no plans for any changes regarding Katie or the broadcast,” said CBS spokeswoman Sandy Genelius.

So, who’s right?

Well, if CBS News plans to lift its sagging ratings any time soon, Couric might well be leaving the anchor desk. The newscast has been abandoned by loyal viewers who were initially put off by Couric’s desk-perching chats and long-winded, “Today”-style interviews.

Most of those alleged innovations are long-gone, replaced by Couric helming the type of traditional newscast that has served broadcast networks well for more than 50 years.

The once hallowed “Evening News” has been fading since Dan Rather’s tenure. When Couric was lured away from NBC’s “Today” in 2006, for a reported $15 million annual salary, the hope was that change — of style and gender — would be good.

But after an initial sampling, CBS fell back behind NBC’s Brian Williams and ABC’s Charles Gibson — both traditional anchors who weren’t trying to spice up an old format.

WSJ claims Couric will depart in January, after the presidential inauguration. Nobody would be surprised, however, if she left sooner.

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April 4, 2008

UT's Ransom Center posts old Mike Wallace interviews online

Mike Wallace is gone from “60 Minutes,” but some of his earliest work is now available online through an acquisition by the University of Texas’ Harry Ransom Center. Wallace donated kinescopes of the shows to UT back in the 1960s, which the Ransom Center has transferred to a digital format for online distribution.

These are not the “gotcha” grabs for which Wallace became famous on “60 Minutes.” Rather, these are 63 interviews conducted by the newsman during the 1957 and 1958 seasons of his nationally syndicated documentary series “The Mike Wallace Interview.” Four of the sit-downs are audio-only, but the rest are on film and haven’t been seen since their original airdate.

Among the historically significant newsmakers Wallace interviewed are architect Frank Lloyd Wright, artist Salvador Dali, actor Kirk Douglas, diplomat Henry Kissinger, former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and birth-control activist Margaret Sanger.

Copyright of the interviews is held by Mike Wallace, who agreed to allow the Ransom Center to present them online in their entirety. (Any further use of this material requires the permission of both Mike Wallace and the Ransom Center.)

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April 1, 2008

Kathie Lee and 'Today' ..... zzzzzzzzzz

It has taken me a full 24 hours to rev up an ounce of concern about Kathie Lee Gifford joining “Today” next week.

OK. I’m still not exactly concerned, but at least I can form a thought. Sort of …

Kathie Lee (she prefers we use her first two names rather than her last) will be co-anchoring the fourth hour of “Today,” starting Monday. The flighty, one-line-tossing hostess will be paired with the more serious NBC newsie Hoda Kotb, previously a contributor on “Dateline.”

You remember Kathie Lee, don’t you? She’s the perky singing celebrity who bolted from “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” eight years ago because (she actually said at the time) the media had become too intrusive in her life. This after she regaled viewers just about every day with stories about her adorable kids (Cody was a particular favorite) and her super-sexy hubby Frank Gifford.

Kathie Lee bathed herself in the limelight during her run on the popular syndicated daytime talk show, chronicling her personal life and business accomplishments. But when former pro football player Frank was caught on camera having a fling with a flight attendant — and her clothing line was revealed to be churned out by foreign sweat shops — Kathie Lee decided celebrity was no longer working for her.

But that was then and this is now. Kathie Lee is 54 years old, Cody is heading off to college and Frank, now 77 and publicly “forgiven” by his wife, nevertheless might not be as spunky as he was in the days of their “perfect marriage.”

Matt Lauer and the rest of the “Today” gang made the announcement Monday, heralding Kathie Lee’s pending arrival in grand style. The whole gang perched on one very long couch. Kathie Lee responded by telling the world she has had “cosmetic surgery on my feet.” We desperately needed to know that, didn’t we? Here we go again.

The fourth hour of “Today” — a show that, like Jack’s bean stalk, just keeps growing — has struggled to find an audience since it arrived last summer. Can Kathie Lee and her well-publicized family save it? Do we care? Probably not, on both counts.

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March 20, 2008

'20/20' hops on hookers

You could smell this “special” coming the minute former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s call-girl scandal broke a couple of weeks ago.

Friday’s “20/20” (8 p.m.) is a two-hour edition by Diane Sawyer that ABC claims has been in the works for two years. Maybe. But the timing for airing obviously had a lot more to do with Spitzer’s salacious dabblings and subsequent resignation than any dramatic new findings Sawyer uncovered in a legal brothel in Nevada or a plain old illegal house of sex in Philadelphia.

Whatever. The breathless Sawyer likely will get big ratings for “Prostitution in America: Working Girls Speak” (9 p.m. tomorrow).

As a nod to the latest developments, Sawyer added some interviews with high-paid prostitutes who ply their trade among the powerful and wealthy, men like oh, say, a political scion from New York.

Sawyer’s take on prostitution is that these are women “in crisis,” not women who choose to sell themselves for a power trip over men. ABC indicates it will be a “serious look” at the sex industry from the women’s point of view.

Smug and grumpy Amanda bites the dust on ‘Idol’

I realize Amanda Overmyer, the 23-year-old Grace Slick wannabe from Indiana, was an important rocker element in the otherwise bubblegum pop-and-blues kids on “American Idol” lineup this season.

But frankly, the Bride of Frankenstein with the platinum streaked bangs scared me. She had about a four-note range, mostly in the screaming decibel level, and she didn’t seem to give a flip whether she made the cut or not. When she heard last night that she was voted off the show by voters, she shrugged, belted out another horrendous rendition of the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and then stomped off the stage.

Ta-ta and good riddance.

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March 5, 2008

Cable news networks call the winner ... eventually

After trumpeting the do-or-die nature of Super Tuesday II for weeks, the broadcast networks elected to stick with regular programming last night.

Maybe they thought viewers might be sick of Texas and Ohio and the Barack vs. Hillary War. Or maybe they just didn’t think. Probably the latter …

Anyway, the coverage fell to the cable news networks, and throughout the evening, they were all dancing carefully around the Democratic primary contest between fruntrunner Barack Obama and steely challenger Hillary Clinton. Even when it looked like Ohio would go for Clinton in a landslide, the cable nets cautioned viewers that it was too soon to call because certain urban areas had not reported.

Ditto the results from Texas, which none of the pundits seemed capable of explaining. What was this odd primary-and-caucus system? Why can’t those Texans pick one or the other? CNN’s Anderson Cooper looked perplexed, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews giggled and spewed and Fox’s Brit Hume, when he wasn’t looking terminally bored, just sighed.

Both primaries turned out to be close, but Texas was such a nail-biter that caucus results were still inconclusive at midnight. Zzzzz. A girl’s got to get her beauty rest, you know?

With most of the news outlets getting data at the same time, there wasn’t much of a competition over who called which primary result first.

The biggest plus or minus, when it comes to viewers actually getting information, falls to the graphics. MSNBC rolled results through by party, rather than state: all of the Texas Republican results, all of the Ohio Republican results, all of the Rhode Island results, all of the Vermont results. Then … vice versa for the Democrats. This plan didn’t strike me as nearly as useful as running both parties’ tallies by state.

CNN and Fox used the state-by-state system, with CNN’s graphics a bit clearer than Fox’s — mostly because Fox, as usual, tried to put too much stuff up on the screen at once.

Everybody was careful to mention Republicans from time to time, even though John McCain’s official nomination status was never in doubt. Mike Huckabee’s gracious concession speech was carried in full by all of the cable networks, followed by McCain’s incredibly sincere and deeply boring reading from a TelePrompTer. If McCain doesn’t stop adding “my friends” to every line he delivers, he’s going to make us all go mad by November.

In terms of big contests, we’re finished with primary season until Pennsylvania on Apr. 22 — surely that one really will end the Hillary-Barack smackdown. Just be glad we don’t live and watch TV in Pennsylvania. If you thought ads went negative in Texas, imagine how much nastier they’re going to get in the next few weeks there.

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February 28, 2008

Austin actor McKenzie campaigns for Obama

Austin native Ben McKenzie, former star of the TV series “The O.C.” and the movie “Junebug,” is racing around Austin and Georgetown today on behalf of Democratic presidential contender Sen. Barack Obama.

“I met him in L.A. last fall,” McKenzie said, phoning between rallies today. “He came to an event to get young people in Hollywood to campaign for him, and he was quite an impressive individual.”

This is not the actor’s first foray into politics. McKenzie (who grew up here as Ben Schenkkan, son of attorney Pete Schenkkan and Frances Schenkkan) spoke at the 2004 Democratic Convention in Boston — the same gathering where Obama first made a national name for himself. But McKenzie didn’t meet the senator then.

Traveling with actress Kerry Washington (“Ray,” “The Fantastic Four”), McKenzie and Washington hosted a rally Thursday morning at 9:30 at Southwestern University in Georgetown, galloped over to Huston-Tillotson University for another rally at 12:30 p.m. and then will dash to yet another gathering for St. Edward’s University at Opal Divine’s on South Congress Avenue.

The busy day will conclude at the University of Texas with a 5 p.m. rally at Dobie Mall.

On Friday, McKenzie and Washington will continue their sweep of colleges in Central and South Texas, heading to Houston for gatherings at Texas Southern and Rice, swinging up through College Station to A&M and returning to Austin for a quick respite.

On Saturday, the duo hits the road again for San Antonio to visit Trinity and UT-San Antonio.

“This is my first time stumping for Senator Obama,” McKenzie said. “There’s a ton of energy right now behind him. I think he’s got a great shot, especially among young people.”

By the way, McKenzie has a role in a new Al Pacino movie, “88 Minutes,” which was filmed last year and is due in theaters in April. Like most actors, McKenzie’s career path hit a bump when the writers’ strike brought Hollywood to its knees for three months.

“What’s next is a little unclear, but we’re getting back into the swing of things,” he said.

Image from Fox Broadcasting

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February 27, 2008

Tim Russert annoys on MSNBC's debate

Somebody needs to tell Tim Russert that it’s not all about him. Oh, OK. Let me be the one …

During last night’s Democratic debate on MSNBC, Russert was beyond obnoxious. I know he thinks he’s just being a tough journalist, boring into the candidates with long-winded questions and barking, bug-eyed follow-ups. But really, he’s just being rude.

At least he didn’t play favorites. Russert was equally nasty to Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. But he did seem to get under Clinton’s skin more than Obama’s.

The format for MSNBC’s Ohio grilling was awkward at best. Anchor Brian Williams and Russert were on one side of an enormous table, with Clinton and Obama on the other side seated about 4 inches apart. The audience was somewhere out in the darkness, off-camera, and apparently warned, under penalty of waterboarding, not to utter a peep until the end. The silence was deafening.

Russert and Williams were armed with “gotcha” questions, dramatized by video clips. Did the Clinton campaign send those photos of Obama in Somali Muslim garb to The Drudge Report? Was the Obama campaign engaging in Karl Rove tactics with those mailers stating that Clinton’s health-care policy would force citizens to pay for insurance whether they could afford it or not?

The whole debate was more of a joint Q&A than an actual debate, but at least both MSNBC and CNN in recent debates have stopped using 60-second buzzers. Candidates can actually finish a thought, on some occasions, before the reporter or opponent interrupts.

But Russert’s blow-hard aggressiveness comes across as counter-productive. People are not tuning in to watch him puff up, turn red and ask questions that are longer than the answers. And they’re not rooting for him to provoke angry or inappropriate responses. If we wanted that, we’d be clamoring for Bill O’Reilly and Chris Matthews to host a smackdown debate.

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February 22, 2008

CNN's Austin debate: A really big show

“American Idol?” What “American Idol?” Four contestants were sent packing, but I, an admitted and unrepentant fan of the show, didn’t watch last night’s pivotal results episode. (But I can catch up, courtesy of our “Idol Chatter” blogger Gary Dinges.

I was glued to the Democratic debate on CNN — you know, that little event that has consumed Austin’s political elite and shut down streets for days. Beamed live from the University of Texas campus, Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama went toe to toe for the 19th time, and although nothing Earth-shattering happened, it was must-see TV anyway.

CNN host Campbell Brown seemed to realize early on that she wasn’t going to be in control, so instead of battling the participants at every turn, she just let the flow go. Clinton and Obama stayed on health care for what seemed like hours (but really was only about 20 minutes, while questioners CNN’s John King and Univision’s Jorge Ramos tried to move them in a different direction.

This was the first of the televised debates I’ve seen (I’ve seen most but not all) in which the audience actually booed. That came when Clinton accused Obama of plagiarizing lines from Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts — who happens to be a friend of Obama’s AND a co-chairman of his campaign. The line was a poor attempt at sarcasm and fell flat: “That’s not change you can believe in; that’s change you can Xerox,” Clinton said to a chorus of boos.

The two kissed and made up before the debate was over, with Clinton insisting she was “honored to be here with Barack Obama,” Obama patting her on the back and shaking her hand and the crowd leaping to its feet and cheering lustily.

Post-debate analysis followed on CNN, with Anderson Cooper taking charge, and Keith Olbermann running the ship at MSNBC. Cooper focused on regular CNN talking heads Gloria Borger, David Gergen, Jeffrey Toobin and Donna Brazile. Olbermann pulled in various campaign spokesmen from the “spin room” at the debate venue. What a deafening mess that must have been!

The media hordes likely will stick around for a whole. Although Clinton is gone, daughter Chelsea has an event this morning, and Obama is revving up for a big ol’ rally at the Capitol tonight. There may be fewer gigantic satellite trucks around (KVUE’s Christine Haas last night reported seeing one from Belgium, for crying out loud!), but traffic will continue to be a mess anywhere north of Lady Bird Lake and south of the UT Tower.

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February 21, 2008

Debate in Austin: Media hordes have arrived!

Austin is the center of the political universe — at least for this particular day. And night.

You want proof? Try driving anywhere near the University of Texas campus between San Jacinto Boulevard and 21st Street … or pretty much anywhere near the Recreational Sports Center, where tonight’s Democratic presidential debate will take place. It’s a zoo out there!

As evidence of the importance of this showdown between Sen. Hillary Clinton and Sen. Barack Obama, 25 gigantic satellite trucks were lined up before noon. More are expected, lots more.

By 5 o’clock this afternoon, reporters will be shouting their “live from Austin” standups outside the Rec Center in anticipation of the 7 p.m. debate. And they’ll be lining up again with updates for each station’s 6 and 10 p.m. news. Some may even hang around until tomorrow for reactions and updates.

I took this “eyewitness” tour of the media camp before noon because the streets will be closed by 1 p.m. The reporting hordes have come from all across Texas, the United States and the world. ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox network news crews are here, along with network affiliates from Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston. There was even a truck with the CW logo on it — who knew they had news?

All the Austin stations’ trucks are out there — KVUE, KTBC, KEYE, KXAN and News 8 Austin. They must have arrived at the crack of dawn, because they’re all in choice locations.

CNN and Univision, the news networks sponsoring and airing the debate, figure prominently in the crush.

And this being the age when everyone is looking for a way to cut costs, there are plenty of satellite-trucks-for-hire scattered around, beaming footage to dozens (if not hundreds) of stations around the country. Parked next to the Dallas Fox truck was Peak Uplink, serving whoever paid for the service. Other providers-for-hire (as of noon) included Sat-Link and Global Services.

None of the Big Three network anchors will be anchoring from Austin tonight, but reports about the debate will be featured prominently on tonight and tomorrow night’s news. ABC’s Kate Snow and David Wright will be roaming the venue, as will CBS’ Jim Axelrod.

Lots of other media stars will be here, too, so if you’re a media groupie, bring your cell-phone camera and stroll past — but don’t try to drive and park. And for heaven’s sake, don’t try to crash the debate. Secret Service and other security are everywhere.

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February 6, 2008

Dizzying graphics on Super Tuesday TV

Watching five hours of Super Tuesday coverage last night — and flipping among eight channels — left me dizzy and more than a little grumpy. If it’s possible for TV to cause attention-deficit disorder, I think I’ve caught it. I was having trouble focusing on my toothbrush this morning.

Complaints? I’ve got a few, and mostly they have to do with the overload of graphics. Cable news, not surprisingly, is the worst offender in this regard. CNN, MSNBC and Fox all seem determined to post every number and piece of information they have on hand. The result is info overload on the screen.

MSNBC looked pretty good at first, with just a couple of sleek bars at the bottom that stayed on for several seconds before switching to another state and set of returns. But not long into the evening, MSNBC added a big-fat sidebar on the left part of the screen. So there was changing info — maps, stats and photos — on the side and the bottom of the main screen.

Fox News Channel’s graphics also were exceedingly annoying. Not only were there too many lines of information (I counted six stacked lines in the “crawl” at the bottom of the screen at one point), but most of them moved constantly, with two tickers moving at different speeds and different intervals. Who can digest this much stuff?

CNN occasionally stacked its graphics, but most of the night their results crawls were easy to read and, thank heavens, mostly static.

ABC — with the comfy anchoring trio of Charles Gibson, Diane Sawyer and George Stephanopoulos — seemed to be on top of breaking news and more or less enjoying the evening. ABC made a singular mistake adding its regular (nonelection) news crawl to the bottom of the graphic election info. And the network was pretty slow in projecting winners. But otherwise, ABC News, which turned over all of its primetime slate to election coverage, performed well.

CBS News, with anchor Katie Couric flanked by a bunch of aging men in suits, just seemed bemused. She and Jeff Greenfield made a lot of old-age jokes about Bob Schieffer, and the network did have big, easy-to-read graphics. But I’m just not seeing Katie’s gravitas in these breaking news situations.

NBC, which had no primary coverage until 9 p.m., came too late and never caught up. Brian Williams is a perfectly capable anchor, but by the time NBC got on the air, my remote-pushing finger was weakening.

I know I’ll get howls of protest over this, but, seriously, watching Fox News, you’d think the only primaries happening last night were on the Republican side. I timed the “fair and balanced” network for Repub vs. Dem for an hour, and the Republican races got more than twice as much time than the Dems.

Maybe Fox just wanted to give new analyst Karl Rove a showcase. One other nit: Does anybody else think the normally bright and energetic Brit Hume looked terribly bored and bummed last night? His heart just wasn’t into to it. He droned and frowned and just seemed desperately in need of vitamins … or something.

But the quick-projection award does go to Fox. They came out early and correct on all the races I saw (I shut down at 11 p.m., by the way). For some reason, CNN’s projections often came as much as a half-hour behind Fox. And ABC was surprisingly slow, too — although I’m sure the slow projectors will prefer to be called “cautious.”

All this flipping has left me with fuzzy vision, stew for brains and a wiggly index finger. Too much information, too much talking, just too-too much Super Tuesday. ‘Til next time …

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February 5, 2008

Are you ready for some politics? Brew some coffee for a late night!

Don’t look for an early end to tonight’s political melodrama.

Even if the California primary is not a close call on both ballots, the polls don’t close until 10 p.m. our time — 8 p.m. on the West Coast. But pundits are predicting a very close race between Mitt Romney and John McCain on the Republican side and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama on the Democratic side. California could be a cliffhanger.

So plan on a long night if you’re one of those election junkies (that would be me) who has to watch returns until the last race is called.

There should be some early results as well from the East Coast, so we’ll have something to fill in on our home tally sheets.

Super Tuesday has turned into such a hot ticket that only Fox of the major broadcast networks is not covering the returns. Fox will run crawls if results come in during “American Idol” (tonight is the Atlanta auditions), but the network is counting on election fiends tuning into its cable news channel.

ABC is taking all three hours of prime time for its coverage, anchored by Charles Gibson. Katie Couric and CBS, which originally planned one hour of coverage, has expanded to two (8-10 p.m.), but NBC, led by Brian Williams, is sticking with its 9 to 10 p.m. hour — apparently not wanting to deprive fans of the scheduled two-hour “Biggest Loser” episode.

Hunker down to one of the three cable news networks if you don’t want to worry about switching channels or waiting for crawls over entertainment programming. This is what cable news does best — live breaking news that lasts more than an hour.

It might not be the Super Bowl, but Super Tuesday, for those of us who are totally enthralled by the race for the White House, is “event programming.”

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February 4, 2008

Karl Rove joins Fox News

In case you’ve been wondering — and worrying — about whatever happened to Bush White House mastermind Karl Rove, he’s set to make his debut as a political analyst for Fox News on Super Tuesday.

A former senior adviser and deputy chief of staff to President George W. Bush, Rove took a hike from D.C. last August as an investigation was launched into possibly illegal or unethical activities in the White House.

Before joining the Bush administration, Rove oversaw strategy for Bush’s Texas gubernatorial campaign and several other Republican campaigns. He also has taught at the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas.

Effective Tuesday, Rove will be a prime-time cable TV star.

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January 23, 2008

Prime-time Laura Hall truly creepy

If Laura Hall and her attorneys thought her prettied-up appearance on “48 Hours” last night was going to stir up sympathy for the former University of Texas student, they were wrong-wrong-wrong!

From those ridiculous swimsuit scenes to that maniacal laughter to the big ol’ crocodile tears (“Of course I was afraid of him!”), Hall came across as a major sociopath — not to mention bad actor. What was that huffing and puffing about before she launched into her description of that fateful night in 2005?

Now we know why her attorneys didn’t want her testifying, either during Colton Pitonyak’s trial for murdering Jennifer Cave or for her own trial for “tampering with evidence” and then helping the murderer escape to Mexico. The “tampering,” you might recall, had something to do with one or both of the suspects sawing off Cave’s head and arm.

CBS had promoted this “48 Hours” in such a way that it looked like Hall was going to get a sympathetic portrayal. The end result, however, was just plain creepy, and if Hall and her attorneys were hoping this PR coup to help her get the new trial she’s asking for, I’m betting they’re wrong — again.

It was a fascinating hour, but I really needed a hot shower and a strong disinfectant when it was over.

A small sliver of hope …

Could it be? Hollywood directors have nudged Hollywood producers and writers to bring an end to the crippling writers’ strike?

On the heels of the Directors Guild of America negotiations, the writers and producers are meeting today in an attempt to restart formal negotiations.

The writers apparently have dropped a demand that reality show writers be unionized, but that wasn’t the major sticking point to begin with. At issue are Internet revenues, so we’ll just keep our digits crossed that this one is settled, too.

A few good signs that our long entertainment nightmare will end: The writers’ guild announced it will not picket the Feb. 10 “Grammy Awards.” And the “Screen Actors Guild Awards” will take place this Sunday, as planned.

The new urgency, of course, is pegged to “The 80th Academy Awards,” scheduled for Feb. 24. If the Oscars ceremony is canceled over this industry madness, fans may be so ticked off they stay away from movies and television for a while.

We love us some spitfire in our debates

Monday night’s Democratic debate featuring Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards was an enormous hit on CNN. The network says nearly 5 million people tuned in for the fireworks and were rewarded with rabid barking between Clinton and Obama that left moderator Wolf Blitzer, possibly for the first time in his life, speechless.

The political warfare this week was the most-watched debate ever shown on cable, beating out a Nov. 28, 2007, Republican debate that drew 4.5 million viewers.

As evidence of the extreme interest in this presidential campaign, ABC’s prime-time debate — featuring two hours of Democrats and two hours of Republicans on a Saturday night (Jan. 5) — drew a whopping 9.4 million viewers.

Now if we could just get more than 50 percent of Americans to vote!

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January 9, 2008

People's Choice vs. Political Reality TV

Anybody else feel like they were wafting through a parallel universe last night? People’s Choice Awards versus New Hampshire Primary?

Both contests were pretty strange, but the one that was exciting had nothing to do with “favorite sitcom” or “most popular movie actor.”

The writers strike prompted a vastly scaled down People’s Choice telecast on CBS. Poor Queen Latifah had no live audience, no winners or losers attending. Instead, there were clips, taped acceptance speeches and highlights from previous award ceremonies. Zzzzzz.

Based on the results of public opinion polls, the People’s Choice Awards are usually well-attended if way too polite. They lack the spontaneous sparkle of the Gold Globe Awards, which should be uncharacteristically sleep-inducing this Sunday when the winners’ names are read during an hour-long “press conference” on NBC. Thank you, writers strike.

But we digress. Last night’s “ceremony” featured taped acceptance speeches from the likes of Katherine Heigl and Joaquin Phoenix that seemed to be culled from a performance of “Night of the Living Dead.”

By the time CBS News anchor Katie Couric cut into the dreary show at around 9:30 with results of the New Hampshire primary, it was clear that TV’s main excitement Tuesday night was in politics, not entertainment.

Which brings us back to politics …

So did all those folks who said they were going to vote for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary lie? Or were the polls just flat-out wrong? As late as the 5:30 evening newscasts, polls had Obama as much as 10 points ahead of rival Hillary Clinton. And yet …

The voting results came in consistently showing Clinton in the lead. Reluctant to veer from script, the TV folks remained skeptical — in fairness, so did the Clinton campaign folks, who seemed truly stunned by the time their gal was projected to win.

Lesson here? Take the polls with a grain of salt. Something’s wrong with them.

The New Hampshire primary also proved that the strike-crippled season doesn’t need new episodes of “CSI” to be exciting. This time around, reality TV has some genuinely interesting characters. Seriously, folks, Mike Huckabee is way funnier than Jim Belushi, and John McCain’s life story is a whole lot more interesting than anybody on “Cane.” Obama? Smart and charismatic … what’s not to like? And the Clintons have always been one heck of a traveling road show.

The primary season is shaping up to be reality TV at its best (just when we need it), and even if it doesn’t grab huge ratings, maybe the interest generated will spark people to go to the polls and vote.

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December 31, 2007

The Spat: KXAN now gone from Suddenlink Cable

If you live in Pflugerville, Georgetown and other areas of Central Texas serviced by Suddenlink cable, you probably already know that NBC station KXAN is off the air. No “Today” this morning, no NBC soaps this afternoon, no prime-time specials for New Year’s Eve tonight.

Retransmission negotations between Suddenlink and LIN TV, the Rhode Island based company that owns KXAN, collapsed without a new contract at midnight Sunday, so NBC programming disappeared at 12:01 a.m. today.

Here are statements and finger-pointing from the two warring factions:

ERIC LASSBERG, KXAN general manager:

Our current contract with Suddenlink expired on December 31, 2007. We have attempted to reach an agreement with Suddenlink for the fair market value of our station, without success. Therefore, per federal regulations, Suddenlink has ceased carriage of KXAN-TV on its cable system.

LIN TV, along with local broadcasters all around the country, are asking cable operators, such as Suddenlink, to recognize the fair market value of our stations, so we can continue providing the premiere news, sports, entertainment, and other local programming that is most important to our viewers.

Local broadcast stations are among the most important channels cable operators provide. Suddenlink charges its customers a fee for local broadcast stations. It also charges a fee for cable networks which have much less viewing than broadcast stations. Some of these fees are passed on to the cable networks, who use that money to compete with broadcast stations by producing and buying programming — including premiere sporting events such as the NFL and first-run dramas and comedies. Local broadcasters deserve and need the same treatment as the cable networks. Without their fair share of these monthly fees, which amounts to pennies a day, local stations will not be able to continue to provide top quality news, sports, entertainment and other local programming that is most important to you.

Suddenlink makes more money by including the broadcast stations in its line-up … and like any business; they should provide fair value for that ability.

LIN TV has successfully reached agreements with other subscription-based television services, including cable operators, telephone companies and satellite providers, all of whom have acknowledged the fair market value of LIN TV’s stations.

We apologize for any inconvenience to our viewers and hope they will continue to watch our award-winning news and top-rated programming through alternative means, such as an antenna or by switching to a satellite service.

PETE ABEL, vice president corportate communications, Suddenlink:

Despite our best efforts to reach a deal, KXAN’s owners turned down every offer we have made to date, including offers made into Sunday evening. The basics of where we are now are posted here. In short, they have forced our hand requiring us to remove their channel under penalty of law. We did not want it to come to this and did everything in our power to prevent it.

What is most frustrating, at this point, is that we asked for a deal for only KXAN and only in those cable systems in the Austin TV market. KXAN’s owner refused, insisting we carry and provide them economic consideration for other stations in other markets outside of Austin — and outside of Texas — markets where our customers already have duplicate network-affiliated TV stations. As noted on our Web site, this behavior on the part of KXAN’s parent company seems to suggest they value TV stations in other markets more than they value their viewers in Austin.

As before, we stand ready to add KXAN back to our line up as soon as KXAN’s owner gives us permission to do so, and we will continue to attempt to negotiate with them. Hopefully this unfortunate situation will be resolved soon. It’s a shame that KXAN’s owner has decided to use Austin-area viewers as pawns in their game. As I said before, local viewers do not deserve to be treated this way by an East Coast media conglomerate, and we will add KXAN back to our lineup as soon as their owner allows us to do so.


Can’t we all just get along? Where is the concern for the customers/viewers in all this? I’m not a Suddenlink subscriber, so I’m not paying the price for this corporate snit, but I don’t think viewers should be dragged into contract negotiations through pleas for support. Fix the contracts, sign the contracts and get back to serving your customers.

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December 26, 2007

I'm b-a-a-a-ck! If only TV would come back, too!

Friends who were able to bring themselves to make eye contact with me over the holidays asked with a tone of sympathy bordering on discomfort:

“So, what are you going to write about, you know, now that TV is more or less gone?”

Good question, and folks are right to be concerned — not about me but about the state of entertainment television. I can always switch to writing about acupuncture for dogs (which I’ve done before). Viewers and, to a more serious degree, TV industry workers, face considerably more dire consequences.

We’re stumbling into Day 52 of the writers’ strike, with no talks scheduled and no end in sight. Reruns, reality shows and a smattering of new shows that smack of old shows that didn’t make the fall schedule. Welcome to the wonderful world of television today.

Producers are richer and thus able to hold out longer than writers in this dispute over Web-generated revenue, but what will either side have to return to if this drags into spring? Television already has seen its audience splinter to cable and, increasingly, disappear to Internet and DVDs. The lengthening writers’ strike could be the beginning of the end for anything resembling a mass audience for TV.

For the time being, we still have some new shows and even repeats of some old shows worth seeing again. Thus, the goal of the TV blog and the TV column will be to sniff out what’s left, forage in the forest and find a reason to dust off the remote. And we’ll keep an eye on the impact on all of this on the industry and the couch-potato culture.

Feel free to send suggestions … every little bit helps.

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November 29, 2007

Hannah's had enough of 'Early Show'

Bye, bye Hannah.

After five years of toiling before dawn for perennial third place in the morning ratings, Hannah Storm is leaving as co-anchor of CBS’ “The Early Show.” No word on when exactly she’ll sign off or who will take her place in the trio that includes Harry Smith and Julie Chen.

Storm, 45, is discussing with the network “to determine the scope and depth of her new duties,” CBS said in a statement. Presumably that means she’s leaving “The Early Show” but staying at CBS. Maybe.

Before tackling her current early-bird duties, Storm was an anchor/reporter for NBC Sports, hosting four Olympics, three World Series and several other major sporting events. Maybe she can shift over to CBS Sports.

The CBS morning show was a relative late-comer to the morning news competition, and the show has been beaten like a drum over the years by both NBC’s “Today” and ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

Baba Wawa mulls ‘Fascinating People’

Barbara Walters may be retired from ABC News and “20/20,” but she’s still pondering her annual “10 Most Fascinating People,” scheduled to air Dec. 6 at 9 p.m. on ABC.

Among the latest crop of Walters’ favorite faces are super-couple David Beckham and Spice Girl Victoria Beckham (why won’t she ever smile? bad teeth?), Justin Timberlake, “Grey’s Anatomy” star Katherine Heigl, “American Idol” reject but Academy Award winner Jennifer Hudson, former President Bill Clinton and MySpace media moguls Tom Anderson and Chris DeWolfe.

As is her custom, Walters will reveal the top two fascinating people at the end of the special. Let’s hope she wasn’t fascinated by human wrecking ball Britney Spears. Please.

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October 16, 2007

Chilling 'Cheney's Law,' DVR ratings piling up

Wanna make your blood boil? Take a gander at tonight’s installment of the bold and always provocative documentary series “Frontline.”

The PBS program (8 p.m. on KLRU Channel 18), titled “Cheney’s Law,” unveils Vice President Dick Cheney’s crusade for presidential privilege dating back to his days as chief of staff for President Gerald Ford and revving up considerably after the attacks of Sept. 11.

Cheney’s push to expand executive authority is hardly news. The veep has been growling at congressional and judicial checks and balances — loudly and very much in the public eye — on behalf of President Bush and the war on terror.

But weaving together three decades of Cheney’s political passion produces a particularly chilling portrait of executive power gone amok.

Anyone who followed the Washington Post’s summer series on the vice president’s behind-the-scenes dealings will recognize many of the same efforts — intelligence gathering without oversight, interrogation and torture of certain “enemies,” random wiretapping of American citizens, etc.

Critics of Cheney’s policies run the gamut, but one of the most effective (and chilling) in this film is Jack Goldsmith, a conservative law professor and former Justice Department legal counsel who locked horns with the administration over the National Security Agency’s wiretapping program. Goldsmith is calm, matter-of-fact and utterly devastating in his criticism of the veep’s abuse of executive privilege and destruction of individual liberties.

‘Live+7’ are the real ratings

It took more than two weeks, but Nielsen Media Research finally has tabulated premiere week’s “real ratings,” and a couple of shows got a big boost.

What are real ratings? They’re the audience figures representing live viewing plus recorded viewing sometime during the week after the original broadcast.

The top recorded programs were “Grey’s Anatomy” and “The Office,” with both shows boosting their opening night numbers by about 10 percent. “CSI” was still the No. 1 show, but down the list, several shows got substantial increases from DVR inclusion.

NBC’s new drama “Journeyman” rose from 42nd in the rankings to 36th in the live+7 ratings, and the CW’s “Smallville” got a good bump, too, from 76th to 70.

Advertisers and networks are paying more attention to these figures than ever before, and that could help shows — such as “Friday Night Live” — survive even with low live-night ratings.

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September 20, 2007

Why sue, Dan Rather?, '24' enters 'Day 7' in less than four months

Was hard-charging Dan Rather, our part-time Austin neighbor, really a “scapegoat” in the kerfuffle over a 2004 CBS report on President Bush’s military service?

If the lawsuit Rather filed Wednesday in Manhattan ever goes to trial, maybe we’ll find out.

It’s unclear why Rather, who spent his entire storied journalistic career at CBS, waited three years after being fired as anchor of the “Evening News” to seek justice. And it’s hard to imagine he really thinks $70 million is going to make him feel better about the messy controversy surrounding him.

In the original news piece, that aired in September 2004, Rather raised questions about the legitimacy of Bush’s service in the Texas Air National Guard during the Vietnam War. When critics insisted the story was based on forged documents, Rather was first forced to apologize on the air and then, after 24 years in Walter Cronkite’s anchor chair, forced to step down.

Did CBS fold under pressure from the Bush White House? Conspiracy theories have been rampant for years now, and maybe Rather finally wants his day in court to sort it all out.

But Rather, 75, also seems hellbent on destroying what was once a sterling reputation as a reporter. He covered wars, hurricanes, elections and Sept. 11, 2001, before the collapse of his career at CBS. It’s sad to see him drag his own name through the mud now.

Since leaving CBS, Rather has been working for the seldom-seen HDNet, owned by Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, anchoring and reporting “Dan Rather Reports.” If he wants to revive his reputation, why doesn’t he nail the story that deep-sixed him? Unearth the true documents that were deemed fake by the White House and prove the story correct. More than a few historians and journalists have sided with Rather in the basic truth of the story. He just presented it with flawed documentation.

Not surprisingly, CBS says the lawsuit is “without merit” and “old news.” But the network also just settled a lawsuit with former employee Don Imus (after he uttered racial slurs on his radio show) for undisclosed millions. Maybe Rather and counsel decided they had a shot at a few bucks, too.

But is the avalanche of negative publicity that’s sure to come worth it?

‘24’ leaks details about ‘Day 7’

When the new season of “24” finally arrives on Jan. 13, Jack Bauer will be roaming around Washington, D.C., dodging in and out of courtrooms where he is is being punished for previous heinous acts of treason and insubordination.

The Counter Terrorism Unit is gone — as in, disbanded — so Jack is loosely attached to the FBI, where an agent played by Janeane Garofalo will be trying to handle him. As previously reported, a woman is president (Allison Taylor) — possibly because the country has run out of Palmer brothers.

So, no CTU, no Chloe? Not so, according to the cast list. Chloe will return in some capacity, as well Bill Buchanan and Tony Almeida. Can’t wait.

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July 9, 2007

Katie and CBS News: Heading to Splitsville?

It’s only been a year — just a blink-of-an-eye in the glacial, change-resistant world of network news — but Katie Couric’s stint as The First Solo Anchor of a Network Evening Newscast already looks wobbly.

In an interview with New York magazine released over the weekend, Couric admitted there are days when she wonders what the heck she was thinking when she left NBC’s “Today” at the height of her popularity and moved to the third-place “CBS Evening News.”

Amid deafening hoopla, the $15-million-a-year Couric and her perky persona debuted last September with a revamped newscast that more closely resembled her “Today” format. She wore casual clothes and greeted the audience with “Hi, everyone.” She popped out from behind her anchor desk to chat with guests, and she introduced “everyday people” opinion segments to the broadcast.

CBS chief Leslie Moonves, who had lured Couric away from “Today,” dangled the opportunity to dramatically shake up the stodgy network newscast format and bring hordes of younger viewers to CBS as result.

More than 13 million viewers welcomed her to the evening news last fall.

But that audience fell to 5.5 million in May. CBS is now far behind ABC’s “World News,” which draws about 8 million viewers, and NBC’s “Nightly News,” which has slightly less than ABC.

New “CBS Evening News” executive producer Rick Kaplan now promises a return to more traditional hard news, apparently agreeing with former CBS anchor Dan Rather’s assessment that the newscast under Couric had been “dumbed down” and “tarted up.”

Couric told New York magazine that the anchor job “would have been less appealing” to her if she had known the dramatic changes promised would be so quickly abandoned.

Will CBS ditch Couric for a more traditional anchor this fall? It could happen. Couric is planning to do more work for “60 Minutes,” which could mean she’s planning to spend less time on the “Evening News.”

If that happens, who would step into the seat once warmed by Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather?

CBS doesn’t have a Charlie Gibson waiting in the wings — a comfy, familiar presence who can slip right into the job virtually unnoticed. But it could tap Anderson Cooper, who (perhaps because of the gray hair and CNN resume) has a hard-news aura about him.

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June 28, 2007

News flash! The 'new' Paris is boring!!

I never thought I would ever feel sorry for Larry King, but my heart ached for him last night. That must have been the longest hour of his entire professional life.

The Paris Hilton chit-chat was a royal bust Wednesday night on CNN. The ex-jail bird was wooden, monotonous and about as deep as a puddle.

What does this hard-partying rich girl hope to change about herself after three weeks of reflection in an L.A. jail? Her voice. She doesn’t like that it “goes up” when she’s upset or excited.

Paris professed a new spiritualism, saying she checked out a Bible from the commissary during her incarceration. She told King she’s been religious all her life, goes to Mass and often reads the Bible. When asked her favorite passage, she smiled, stuttered and said she couldn’t think of one.

Anyone looking for “the new Paris” we’ve heard so much about found very much the old Paris — but dressed in a modest outfit and minus the usual array of jewels. She was expressionless most of the time, parroting rehearsed phrases such as “it was scary” and “I did my time and took responsibility.”

Paris has insisted that she is not the dumb blonde we know from “Simple Life” and countless party scenes. She says it’s all an act, and now that she’s a 26-year-old ex-con, “that’s not cute any more.” So she’s changed.

But the Paris we saw on Larry King was dull and more than a little dense. She can’t really think anyone believes she has changed.

All we can hope from last night’s endless hour of droning is that Larry King is feeling relieved today that it’s over. He’s never had to ask so many inane questions (“Lindsay Lohan … what do you think about her?”) in his life. His guest tonight is Colin Powell … he must be blowing kisses at his booking agent.

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June 26, 2007

Puttin' on Paris!

The Big TV Event this week is bound to be Paris Hilton’s post-jail chat with CNN’s Larry King Wednesday night at 8.

If we are to believe the advance hysteria, the world will stop spinning on its axis while the celebutante describes her recent incarceration.

If Mr. King holds true to form, the questions will have nothing to do with why she was driving drunk in the first place or chose to drive with a suspended license while she was on probation. Nor is he likely to ask why she was in a medical facility instead of the general jail population or why she and her family have been toying with the media over this Big Interview.

Although they all vehemently deny it, major media organizations such as ABC and NBC reportedly offered the Hilton family anywhere from $100,000 to $1 million for this hallowed sit-down. ABC’s Barbara Walters had been courting the family for weeks, taking collect calls from Princess Paris from behind bars and cooing about how sick and sad the poor thing was over all this.

Pleased to be free from criticism, CBS News did not participate in the negotiations.

Apparently surprised by the negative reaction for their high-dollar dealings for exclusive rights to an interview, the Hilton family (who aren’t exactly strapped for cash) ceased wheeling and dealing and awarded the post-jail chat to CNN, which has a firm corporate policy against ever paying anyone for an interview.

According to the New York Post, Walters is furious at the Hilton family.

“Look, I’ve done prison interviews before, but people like the Menendez brothers were really important news stories — this wasn’t,” Walters sniffed, indicating that she didn’t really want what she didn’t get.

Like a bloody accident, Paris’ chat with Larry will be hard to ignore … but I really wish we could.

Austin anchor in DC

Last weekend, on a brief trip to Washington, D.C., I flipped on the local news and bumped into former KXAN anchor Leslie Cook!

Partnered with Robert Hadlock a few years ago, Cook is now a reporter/weekend anchor for ABC station WJLA and NewsChannel 8, the District’s local cable news channel.

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April 17, 2007

College massacre floods TV news

NBC anchor Brian Williams and CBS’s Katie Couric anchored last night’s newscasts from Blacksburg, Va., where the worst mass shooting in U.S. history took place on the Virginia Tech campus.

ABC’s Charles Gibson held back, anchoring his evening news from New York.

“On this day, a tranquil college campus became a killing field,” Gibson said at the top of “World News.” At the end, where he usually says, “I hope you had a good day,” Gibson said sadly, “I know you didn’t have a good day …”

Coverage of the Virginia Tech massacre was wall-to-wall on cable news networks and warranted frequent break-ins on the broadcast networks. Monday evening, CBS expanded its evening newscast to an hour, NBC quickly put together a prime-time “Dateline NBC” on the tragedy and ABC expanded “Nightline”.

Reporters wisely remained calm and measured on the air. The shaky cell-phone video, supplied to news organizations by a student on the scene, hardly needed any hype. Jamal Albarghouti’s grainy footage included the pop of gunfire and muffled screams in the background. No explanation needed.

Breaking news that blankets TV programming is always unsettling, but Monday’s news was especially terrifying. The thought of 32 victims, plus the suicidal shooter, was almost too much to bear. Memories of the University of Texas Tower shooting, the Luby’s massacre and the horror of Columbine came rushing back.

No, Charlie, we really didn’t have a very good day.

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April 16, 2007

Fox and Democrats: Ready To Rumble!

What do we make of the Democrats vs. Fox News smackdown that developed over the weekend?

In case you missed it, two debates among Democratic presidential hopefuls, sponsored by and scheduled to air on Fox, have collapsed because of a perceived negative bias by Fox against Democrats.

An August debate, sponsored by Fox and the Nevada Democratic Party, is completely gone. Another, cosponsored by the Congressional Black Caucus that was set to air Sept. 23 technically is still, on but will not be attended by Democratic frontrunners John Edwards, Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. What’s the point?

Conservatives have long charged the major broadcast networks and CNN with liberal bias, but conservative politicians have always willing to step before the cameras. But liberals are feeling their oats these days and have decided to slam the door on Fox — a network that aligns itself editorially with Republicans and conservative causes.

This particular snubbing by Democrats — over a debate, rather than a grilling on, say, “The O’Reilly Factor” — makes the Democrats look like cowards. Why not go on Fox, where the majority of cable news viewers are and make your case? Doesn’t this seem like a blunder that could have a profoundly negative impact on the campaign?

TV news organizations shouldn’t be divided into partisan sectors, but increasingly that is the perception. In some cases it is more than a perception. But if this ideological divide continues in the media, the notion of “fair and balanced” will be a distant memory … on Fox and everywhere else.

The new Bob Barker?

“The Price Is Right” is narrowing its search for a replacement for long-time host Bob Barker, who has announced his pending retirement.

At the top of the list are golden-tan celebrity George Hamilton, “Entertainment Tonight” co-host Mark Steines and E! Entertainment’s Todd Newton.

The new host will be announced May 16 when CBS makes its upfront presentation to advertisers.

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March 26, 2007

Couric shines in '60 Minutes' interview with Sen. Edwards and Elizabeth

It could have been soft and squishy and embarrassing, but Katie Couric’s interview with former Sen. John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth was surprisingly tough last night.

On last night’s edition of “60 Minutes,” Couric landed the first of what is likely to be dozens of joint interviews with the Democratic presidential hopeful and his wife, who last week revealed that her breast cancer has spread to her bones. It is considered incurable but treatable.

Couric’s husband Jay Monahan died of colon cancer in 1998, so her sit-down with the Edwardses could easily have deteriorated into a weep-fest. Instead, Couric focused on the growing concerns about the candidate’s decision to stay in the race.

The CBS anchor asked the couple point-blank why they were choosing political ambition over family. The couple plans to hit the campaign trail together and stay there as much as possible. Besides a teenage son who was killed in a car accident years ago, the Edwards family includes a grown daughter but two very young children, ages 6 and 8.

When Elizabeth told Couric she thought one of the most important things a parent can give a child is “wings to fly,” Couric responded, “But they’re really baby birds.” Both parents seemed eager to change the subject after that.

Couric asked the senator how he can promise supporters that he’ll be in the race to the end, when he’s also said he will be with his wife if her illness worsens. The Edwardses staunchly maintained their optimism.

The only hard question Couric didn’t ask was what effect Elizabeth’s health crisis will have on the former senator’s fundraising. With the possibility that John Edwards will have to drop out of the race, will donors continue to invest in his presidential campaign? If the money dries up, won’t his campaign dry up, too?

All in all, Couric did a good job with this piece — no giggling, no weeping, just questioning.

You can watch the interview on CBS’s web site.

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March 8, 2007

Katie gets a new boss at CBS News

Quick! Fire the producer, change the set!

Such are the traditional first steps taken when news ratings collapse. And Katie Couric’s performance for “The CBS Evening News” in the February sweeps sagged pretty good.

Today CBS News will announce that executive producer Rome Hartman is fired and former CNN and MSNBC president (and former ABC News producer) Rick Kaplan has taken over.

No word on the redesigned set, but change is bound to come. Those too-comfy interview chairs, the ones that allow Couric to loll back into her “Today” show style, have got to go.

The CBS newscast has been a distant third — currently behind ABC and NBC — for years, dating back to Dan Rather’s tumultuous reign. But Bob Schieffer, who temporarily took over as anchor after Rather’s departure, had better ratings than The First Female Anchor of a Nightly Network Newscast.

In the recently completed February sweeps, Couric’s newscast sank lower than her first rating period last November — when a good deal of curiosity lingered from her Sept. 5 debut.

At first, the broadcast attempted to distinguish itself with longer news features, face-to-face interviews conducted by Couric and a commentary segment dubbed “Free Speech” that presented regular and famous Americans (such as Rush Limbaugh) popping off on various topics. The latter feature bombed and was dropped after a couple of months.

Network newscasts that try to reinvent the wheel rarely succeed, and CBS appears poised to return to a more traditional broadcast that will feature Couric as a more traditional anchor — instead of an adaptation of the perky morning persona for which she is so well-known.

Cavemen vs. gecko

Wouldn’t we really rather have a gecko?

In case you haven’t heard, ABC is crafting a pilot for a comedy series that will star the sad-sack cavemen from the Geico commercials. You know, the guys who feel unappreciated by modern society.

The show will feature three modern-day Neanderthals trying to live normal lives in Atlanta.

The wisecracking Cockney lizard is so much funnier, but maybe he wasn’t available this pilot season.

The last time a TV series was based on a commercial was when Quiznos spun “Baby Bob,” the grown-up talking baby from the sandwich ads. “Baby Bob” aired on CBS for a few weeks in 2002 and then, happily, faded away.

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March 5, 2007

Presidential contenders popular on TV ... for now

Will we still love them in November ‘08?

The media and the viewing/reading public are showing an unusual interest in the next presidential election. According to a recent ABC News-Washington Post poll, two-thirds of the people responding said they were following the campaigns “closely.”

Part of the reason is dissatisfaction with President Bush, whose poll numbers have dipped below 30 percent. Also, the ‘08 election will be the first contest in decades with no incumbent president or vice president involved.

But perhaps the main reason is the cast of characters has stirred up a lot of excitement. Democrat Hillary Clinton could be the first woman elected president and Barack Obama could be the first African American sitting in the Oval Office. On the Republican side, the stars being followed include Sen. John McCain and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani.

All of which has added up to lots of coverage. The Tyndall Report, which chronicles network news coverage, has found that so far this calendar year (through Feb. 27), campaign news gobbled up 95 minutes of the nightly newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC.

In February 1991, the three newscasts together spend less than a minute on the early campaign developments.

Tyndall doesn’t measure 24-hour cable news network. If it did, the ‘07 coverage would have been astronomical. … at least until Anna Nicole Smith’s death, which effectively bumped most political coverage off cable airwaves for weeks.

During the week of Feb. 18, presidential politics was second only to the Iraq War in broadcast, cable, Internet and print journalism — according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

It’s good to see the voting public stirred up about politics. But it will be not so good if campaign fatigue sets in long before it’s time to go to the polls.

Image Awards

No surprises — well, maybe one — at the NAACP Image Awards, which Fox televised on Friday.

Oscar winners Forest Whitaker (“The Last King of Scotland”) and Jennifer Hudson (“Dreamgirls”) added to their trophy collections.

“Pursuit of Happyness,” starring Will Smith and his son Jaden, won best picture honors.

“Ugly Betty” won the top TV award, and Vanessa Williams won for best supporting actress in a comedy.

The surprise? Isaiah Washington won the best actor award for “Grey’s Anatomy.” Washington, who was loudly criticized for uttering a gay slur on the set of his hit show and then again at the Golden Globe Awards (in reference to co-star T.R. Knight), has said he’s “in rehab” for his streak of prejudice.

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March 2, 2007

Anna Nicole story lives on ... despite burial

Don’t think for a minute that today’s elaborate, pink-flower festooned burial of Anna Nicole Smith will be the end of her.

No, this story has the longest, most energetic legs of any story we’ve seen in the tabloid genre for years. The Voluptuous One’s death Feb. 8 was such a big deal that CNN’s Wolf Blitzer turned over his two-hour political show, “The Situation Room,” to her demise that day.

“Entertainment Tonight” has opened a virtual Bahamas bureau dedicated to Mark Steines’ way-too-sympathetic coverage of Howard K. Stern, Anna’s weepy beau and one of several possible fathers to 5-month-old Dannielynn.

The fight for custody of the body of Texas Playboy model and celebrity extraordinaire may be over (she’s being buried in the Bahamas, not returned to Texas where mom Virgie wanted her), but we’ve still got at least two major developments on the horizon: the toxicology report, due next week, that will tell us what caused Anna Nicole’s death, and the results of a California paternity test to determine who really did father the baby girl.

These two lingering plotlines will be enough to keep The Anna Nicole Story going.

But what if the mainstream media decided to ban further coverage of Anna Nicole? Would the world collapse?

The Associated Press decided to ban its celeb-obsessed coverage of heiress-model Paris Hilton. The blackout started Feb. 19, and apparently none of the AP’s clients cared — or requested new Paris stories. When the famous-for-being-famous girl was popped for driving without a license on Feb. 27, the ban was lifted.

A blackout of Anna Nicole coverage would be oh-so-refreshing, but I’m living in the real world and don’t for a second think that will happen. We’re stuck with this sordid melodrama for a very long time.

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February 27, 2007

Bob Woodruff's long road back

Bob Woodruff doesn’t look quite as GQ as he used to in tonight’s documentary “To Iraq and Back” (9 p.m. on ABC), but he’s alert, fairly articulate and focused on shedding new light on the rocky road ahead for soldiers who have suffered brain injuries in the Iraq War.

What could have been simply a compelling personal story quickly evolves into a larger look at the true tragedy of the war’s “non-fatalities” — and the U.S. government’s ineffective response. Injured veterans, their families and medical personnel are interviewed.

Woodruff had only been anchoring ABC’s “World News” for a few months in January 2006 when the vehicle he and cameraman Doug Vogt were riding in was struck by a roadside bomb in Iraq. (Vogt also survived and is still recovering.) The devastating head injury Woodruff suffered left him in a coma for several weeks, and he has spent an entire year working to regain his mental and physical abilities.

The ABC documentary covers in excruciating detail the extent of Woodruff’s injuries and his long road to recovery. He still has trouble remembering certain words and names and continues with weekly therapy sessions in New York.

His wife Lee talks for the first time about her husband’s near-death injuries and the impact the past year has had on their family.

But Woodruff’s desire to put himself into a larger context has been respected, and the personal story serves as a springboard to that. The result is an extraordinarily powerful hour that is informative and gut-wrenching.

Never-ending Oscars

The never-ending Academy Awards on Sunday night logged nearly 40 million viewers on ABC. While that sounds impressive, it was the third lowest number in 15 years.

The nearly four-hour telecast lapped into Monday morning on the East Coast, so Nielsen has no numbers for that post-prime, next-day tally.

The top-rated Oscar show in recent history was 1998, when 55 million people saw “Titanic” win the best picture award. This year’s show drew slightly more viewers than last year’s program, which was hosted by Jon Stewart. At least Ellen DeGeneres can take comfort in the knowledge that she did better than the faux news guy.

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February 14, 2007

Sexy celebrity, even in death, trumps serious news

Now here’s a sad commentary on the state of citizenship and culture in America.

The death of former Playmate and over-the-top reality star Anna Nicole Smith last week racked up more cable news coverage than the war in Iraq.

According to figures released Tuesday by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Smith’s mysterious swan song gobbled up 21 percent of all news programming on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News Channel. On Thursday and Friday (the day she died and the day after), that figure soared to 50 percent.

Coverage of Iraq and the ‘08 presidential race came in second and third on cable news, with a measly 15 percent and 10 percent, respectively, over the week of Feb. 4 to 9.

The questions asked on a half-hourly basis was: Why do we care about Anna Nicole Smith? Nobody seemed to know, but it probably has something to do with the trashy nature of the poor woman’s life, the controversy surrounding the father of her infant daughter and a cast of characters that seems to have come right out of tabloid central casting.

Fox and MSNBC seemed to willingly hitch their news wagons to Smith’s fallen star, but CNN looked pained by the process. Wolf Blitzer turned over the entire “Situation Room” (3-5 p.m. Thursday) — a show normally devoted to serious political and policy coverage — to the Bizarreness in the Bahamas. He didn’t look happy about it, but he went with the apparent viewer-interest flow.

The broadcast networks were more restrained, no doubt due to the lack of air time. The Smith debacle came in fifth, behind the war, the winter weather, the presidential campaign and the Scooter Libby trial on ABC, CBS and NBC.

With paternity, cause of death and other mysteries still left hanging, don’t look for the Anna Nicole Show to go away any time soon.

Cheers for James!

The grand finale for the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show was indeed grand. No more waddling Pekingese or odd-looking whippets this time around.

No, last night’s Best in Show winner was a gorgeous, doglike English springer spaniel named James. He was simply splendid and noble, circling Madison Square Garden like he owned the place, which, as of about 9:50 p.m., he did.

The crowd may have preferred the woolly cutie owned by Bill Cosby, but dog judges made the right pick this time. James, with his glorious red and white coat, was a down-to-Earth winner.

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November 28, 2006

Solo sponsors = fewer ads = better TV!

It’s not likely that we’ll see Brian, Katie or Charlie holding up boxes of laundry detergent during the evening news, but there’s a movement afoot for network newscasts to have single product sponsorships.

The goal is to unclutter the broadcast, a move that will benefit advertisers — whose messages are diluted by the barrage of quick-hit ads during the half-hour — and viewers. It’s annoying to be jolted from a bloody Iraq war story to an ad for blood pressure medicine or Metamucil.

A single sponsor would pay more money for the luxury of having a clear, solo message presented to the adult, well-educated, well-off people who tend to tune into network news.

Philips Electronics has signed on to be the single sponsor for “NBC Nightly News” next week. Instead of a dozen or more 15- and 30-second spots, Philips will have three spots totaling 75 seconds during the broadcast.

CBS has used a single sponsor for its “Evening News” before, as well as once or twice for “60 Minutes.” CNN has had entire news programs sponsored by one company, too.

Dan Rather’s new weekly news program, “Dan Rather Reports,” boasts a single sponsor on HDNet, but that might be because the seldom-seen high-definition cable network has very few advertisers to begin with. Rather’s single sponsor? Patron Tequila! Maybe we’ll get to see Gunga Dan take a shot or two during the program.

But seriously, folks, if this trend catches on, maybe we could see prime-time programming without 20 minutes of commercials in each hour of storytelling.

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November 15, 2006

O.J. -- Ick, Ick and More Ick

Ick, ick and more ick.

Just when you thought TV — and maybe the entire pop culture world — couldn’t get any sleazier, along comes O.J. Simpson, squeezing out money (we don’t know how much) from Fox and book publisher Regan Books right before our eyes.

On Nov. 27 and 29, Simpson will splash across Fox and hit the book stores with his new alleged fantasy, “If I Did It,” in which he reiterates that he really didn’t kill his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, but … you get the drift.

“O.J. Simpson, in his own words, tells for the first time how he would have committed the murders if he were the one responsible for the crimes,” Fox said in a statement. “In the two-part event, Simpson describes how he would have carried out the murders he has vehemently denied committing for over a decade.”

How a TV network allegedly licensed for the public good can make these statements is anybody’s guess, but the sleaze goes on:

“This is an interview that no one thought would ever happen. It’s the definitive last chapter in the Trial of the Century,” Mike Darnell, executive vice president of alternative programming for Fox, said in a statement.

Simpson, you may recall, was acquitted of slashing his ex-wife and her friend Ron Goldman to death in 1994. The former football star was later found responsible in a wrongful death suit brought by the Goldman family. Simpson, who has yet to pay the $33.5 million settlement in that case, lives in Florida and occasionally tries to make a buck off his notoriety.

The Fox interview, shamelessly conducted by book publisher Judith Regan, hits the air the week the book goes on sale (Nov. 30). In an excerpt, Simpson talks about all the blood at the scene. Does this guy not remember that he has two children whose mother died at that scene?

I’ve never in my life begged people to stay away from a TV show, but I’m begging now. Maybe, just maybe, if the whole world ignores this sludge, it will never, ever happen again. If millions of curiosity seekers do tune in for O.J.’s bizarre ramblings, we can count on any number of sickening “events” in the future.

Trust me, we do NOT want to open that door.

‘Lost’ teases tonight

As fans continue to bombard ABC about the ridiculous decision to take “Lost” off the air until February, the network decided to try to appease us with a bunch of teases

The teases will begin during tonight’s two-hour debut of “Day Break,” the new serial drama starring Taye Diggs in a “Groundhog Day” meets “24” format.

Dubbed “Lost Moments,” these little teases will be scattered throughout “Day Break” episodes for the entire run of the new series.

Will this appease “Lost” fans or further tick them off? I’m betting on the latter. If ABC already has this new batch of “Lost” episodes from which to cull teases, why not just run the series in its entirety until it’s finished for the season?

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November 8, 2006

Election coverage: A boring night with bad graphics

It was a wild night of election coverage, wasn’t it? Or maybe it just seemed that way to me. Punching the remote every few minutes, skipping from network to cable to local to national is a head-spinning proposition at best.

So, consider this a hit-and-miss evaluation. Even if I had a TV with a dozen screens (which, thankfully, I do not), I couldn’t possibly catch everything that happened from 7 p.m. until midnight. But I did my button-punching best …

On the local front, I thought Judy Maggio and Ron Oliveira on CBS’ KEYE served up the most informative coverage. The two anchors have been covering politics in Central Texas for a couple of decades, and that experience showed. They were comfortable on the air and were backed up by smart graphics and solid reporting.

Belo-owned KVUE, with Tyler Sieswerda and Christine Haas, also did a commendable job. KXAN’s staffing woes (several people in front of the camera and behind have left recently) made the coverage seem a bit thin, but anchors Michelle Valles and Robert Hadlock skillfully held down the fort.

KTBC’s Fox 7, however, was a different story, with Mike Warren anchoring solo (no replacement for Linda Stratton has been hired) and looking overwhelmed at times. He was deep-sixed by faulty graphics and technical problems, too. Transitions were bumpy, and, at least when I was watching, the fast-scrolling election results had no party designation by the candidates’ names. Talk about incomplete information!

News 8 Austin also had graphics problems, which is a disaster on election night when many people are tuning in to see results in a quick-and-neat format. You’d think high-tech Time Warner Cable, which runs News 8, would be on the cutting edge with this stuff.

On the national front, former anchor Dan Rather served up a few of his trademark Ratherisms last night, but this time he was on Comedy Central with news spoofer Jon Stewart.

Rather dubbed the fight for the Senate in Virginia “ugly as a hog lagoon after a bachelor party” and assessed Sen. Hillary Clinton’s landslide victory in New York thusly: “She ran away with it like a hobo with a sweet potato pie.” Known for his stiff demeanor as much as his folksy sayings on election night, Rather seemed to be enjoying himself, which was fun to see.

Stewart paired with Stephen Colbert for an hour of satirical silliness at 10 p.m., and it was a welcome relief from the oh-so-cautious (and industrially boring) reports on cable and network news programs. Moments into the hour, Stewart referred to Florida as the state “where Cubans go to live and Jews go to die.” That’s when I stopped flipping and settled in for a good time. It was late, I was tired, I deserved a chuckle or two.

The night started off with a trio of network anchors making their election-night debuts, and excitement was in the air.

“This is going to be fascinating, and it could even be historic,” Charles Gibson chirped in his introduction. When the early projection of Sen. Clinton’s re-election, Gibson channeled Rather when he said, “That had all the surprise of a Doris Day movie.”

ABC, by far the best among the broadcast networks, jumped its prime-time coverage up a half-hour, starting at 8:30 instead of the previously announced 9 p.m.

Determined not to seem either chipper or girly, CBS’s Katie Couric, decked out in a conservative black suit and white blouse, was steady if a tad boring. She seemed most comfortable when paired with former temporary anchor Bob Schieffer. There was no giggling on Couric’s part, but she did seem more uncomfortable and unsure on the air than her counterparts at ABC and NBC.

Speaking of NBC, is it just me or is Brian Williams really enamored of his own voice and vocabulary? He’s not pompous in real life, but on the air he comes off as stentorian and overly grand. At one point he was pontificating about something and transitioned with the word “corollarily,” which might have been fine for a position paper but sounded ridiculous on the air. Talk to us, Brian. Don’t lecture.

With visions of past premature projections dancing in their heads, anchors and prognosticators were remarkably cautious revealing last night’s midterm election results.

Although it was hinted at hours earlier, nobody actually came out and said the Democrats had won control of the U.S. House until right before 10 p.m. Central Time. The only person I heard even speculating that the Democrats would control the U.S. Senate came from Fox News’ Bill Kristol, who said at 11:30 p.m. that it looked like that might happen.

This morning, the Senate is still too close to call, so caution turned out to be the way to go last night.

On cable news, the problem is always sensory overload. On that score, Fox was the least offensive and CNN the most. CNN’s graphics were simply overwhelming — crawls, a creeping red-to-blue gauge, boxed stats on whatever the talking head was talking about and at least a couple other flashing tidbits of information.

Speaking of sensory overload, my remote-control hand is shot and my eyes are exhausted from trying to watch six things on one screen at a time — and switching from screen to screen about every 10 minutes. I’m looking forward to reading a book tonight … no TV for me.

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November 7, 2006

Dan Rather joins 'Indecision 2006'

It may have been a last-minute, why-the-heck-not kind of decision, but Dan Rather is joining Comedy Central’s election coverage tonight.

No, I’m not making this up. Rather will provide analysis for the anchor team of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert on the hour-long “Indecision 2006: The Midterm Midtacular,” starting at 10 p.m.

“It’s a risk, I guess,” Rather told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “J. Stewart and company offered the chance, and I’ve taken it. I don’t do comedy. I do politics, but sometimes that’s one and the same.”

It’s unclear whether Rather, 75, will do his trademark election-night “Ratherisms” (“This race is hotter than a Times Square Rolex!”), but we’re fairly sure the former CBS anchor will spice up the hour.

And speaking of election coverage, the big suspense story the networks will be spinning tonight is whether the Democrats will be able to capitalize on the unpopularity of President Bush and take back the U.S. House and Senate from Republicans.

That means we’ll be gazing at big red-and-blue maps a good deal of the night.

When did colors come to signal political divisions? According to a lexicographer for Oxford University Press in New York, it all started in the hotly contested 2000 presidential election. Red denoted Republican George Bush, blue denoted Democrat Al Gore and the divisions were stark on the map during the long night — and following days — of the divisive election. The colors had been used before, but they didn’t take on iconic significance until 2000.

Now the term “purple state,” indicating a mix of red and blue is coming into favor. If we ever get a major influence from the Green Party, we could be forced to turn the electoral map into a color wheel.

KLRU wants your help — and not with a checkbook!

When was the last time a local TV station asked you what you’d like to see on their air? Does never sound about right?

Well, PBS station KLRU wants to know. The station, like most local stations, has additional bandwidth on its digital tier now, where high-definition and other PBS programming streams have been carried called KLRU-P, KLRU-B and KLRU-S.

As the station plans for the future, KLRU is asking how Central Texans would like those additional digital channels to be filled. Do you want HD programming all the time, several channels with standard definition programming (standard-def takes up less bandwidth than HD) or a combination.

To register your opinion, KLRU invites you to fill out their online survey:

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November 6, 2006

Yea! Last night of mean political ads!

Tonight is the last night we’ll have to deal with all those mean-spirited political ads.

A dark, grainy photo of an opponent is a sure-fire way to signal corruption. Add a touch of creepy, “Law & Order”-style “bum BUM” music, and you’ve hammered the other candidate(s) to a pulp.

It will be a relief to get back to toilet paper (except for that animated bear in the woods) and cough syrup ads, won’t it?

The odd thing to me throughout the Texas political season is the negative campaign conducted by current Republican Gov. Rick Perry. I thought negative ads were the last gasp of a desperate candidate. Perry is way ahead in most polls — 17 percent in the latest Dallas Morning News survey.

So why did he go negative? Why not run on his record or, at least, do those warm-and-fuzzy spots with his exceptionally handsome family?

Instead, he launched the dumbest spots ever heard on radio — those ridiculous jingles based on the Bud Light beer ads. “Mr. Way Too Liberal for Texas Guy!” somehow tied former Democratic congressman Chris Bell to France. I still don’t get that one. “Mrs. Corrupt Comptroller Politician Woman” ripped Republican-turned-independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn for alleged misuse of tax dollars. If that’s really a serious charge, why set it to music?

Bell and Strayhorn hoisted their own negative ads, but when you’re as far behind as they are, it makes more sense. Negative ads used to be a last resort; now they’re de rigueur.

Independent guber candidate Kinky Friedman’s ads, portraying him as the “good shepherd” surrounded by a dozen or so of his rescued dogs, aren’t negative. But they don’t really tell us much about what kind of governor the Kinkster might be. So what’s the point?

Anyway, it all comes to a screeching halt tomorrow night, when election returns and good old car commercials will trump political nastiness — for now.

“The O.C.” sagging

Fox is trying to figure out why once-loyal young viewers aren’t coming back to “The O.C.,” the sexy teen sudser starring Austinite Benjamin McKenzie. A safe bet is they’re tired of it.

The show’s fourth season opener was buried last Thursday in the “Grey’s Anatomy” versus “CSI” standoff. So this week, Fox is going to give “O.C.” a one-time-only shot at a better slot — Wednesday at 8 p.m., following the popular “Bones.” A second new episode will air in the show’s killer slot Thursday.

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October 30, 2006

Shame on you, Rush

I hope Rush Limbaugh saw Michael J. Fox on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos” on Sunday.

If Limbaugh thought Fox was “acting” when he made those ads for congressional candidates who support stem cell research, the radio talker must have thought Sunday’s interview on ABC was an Oscar-worthy performance.

Fox, as you know, suffers from Parkinson’s disease and has increasing trouble with uncontrolled movement and twitching. Limbaugh later apologized for his radio comments, but then went on to lob another back-handed slap when he said Fox shouldn’t use his illness to stump for political candidates.

In his sit-down with Stephanopoulos, Fox, who says he has not stopped taking his medication for these public appearances, was shaking, twitching and constantly shifting and moving in his chair. Anyone who thinks this was acting has never witnessed a person with advanced Parkinson’s.

Is Limbaugh really, as he claims, a conservative Christian? Or is he just acting. I know lots of conservative Christians, but I don’t know any who would make fun of someone with an illness or disability.

He’s baaaack!

Jim Bergamo, relieved of his reporting/weekend anchoring duties at KXAN a couple of weeks ago, didn’t stay unemployed for long.

On Friday, Bergamo popped up on KVUE’s local news at 6 and 10 p.m. Guess one station’s trash is another station’s treasure. Yes, he’s working in the Austin news biz again.

Welcome back, Jim. We hardly had a chance to miss you!

A shift in time …

Don’t forget to check out “Friday Night Lights” in its new, one-time-only late time slot tonight.

The locally filmed NBC drama takes over the 9 p.m. berth of “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” tonight on KXAN to see if it can attract a crowd. The episode will be repeated in the show’s regular slot, Tuesday at 7 p.m.

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October 18, 2006

Katie's 6-week report card

We’ve mulled the lack of breakout hits in prime time so far this fall, but we haven’t taken time to smell the status of season’s No. 1 Hyped Newcomer, Katie Couric.

The First Woman to Solo Anchor a Network Newscast arrived on the “CBS Evening News” on Sept. 5 and zoomed the former third-place broadcast to No. 1. Dan Rather was a distant memory.

That blast of ratings magic lasted less than a month, however, and now CBS News has settled back into third place (7.3 million viewers), behind top-rated NBC with Brian Williams (8.8 million) and increasingly strong second-place ABC with Charles Gibson (8 million).

Critics have blasted the “softer” elements in the revamped CBS newscast, especially the “Free Speech” segment with ordinary and extraordinary contributors (Rush Limbaugh) opining on the news. Superficial folks even blasted Couric’s platinum blondeness, which she has now tamed with a splash of brown.

Sagging ratings and criticism notwithstanding, the former “Today” star soldiers on, and CBS insists that the newscast is better off now than it was a year ago with temporary anchor Bob Schieffer at the helm.

Although Couric’s ratings have dropped every week since her Labor Day debut, the “Evening News” has about 400,000 more viewers than it did this time in 2005. And in the most recently weekly Nielsen’s, the drop-off from Sept. 5 appears to have stopped. The program actually ticked up in the ratings by about 300,000 viewers.

Unlike prime-time series, network newscasts are in it for the long haul. Moving viewers from one network to another for their nightly dose of TV news is a glacial undertaking, so nobody expects Couric to be yanked as quickly as, say, “Smith” on CBS.

The first real test of Couric’s anchoring skills could come with the Nov. 7 midterm elections, when she hosts CBS’ prime-time special coverage. Or when the next, big breaking news event occurs. And the first indication of her popularity as a news anchor won’t come until at least a full year’s ratings are tabulated.

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October 3, 2006

Is Queen Katie fading? Fox News, too?

The CBS News publicity machine is churning out releases about Katie Couric’s impact on “The CBS Evening News.”

The first two weeks Couric anchored the broadcast, CBS catapulted from its perennial third place in the evening news race to first place. More than 10 million viewers tuned in to see the First Female Anchor of a Network Newscast during her first week (Sept. 5).

As expected, however, those initial ratings soon began to slide. CBS trickled down to 7.9 million viewers the second week and 7.7 million the third week. Now it looks as if Couric’s newscast will return to its No. 3 status.

Curiosity has worn off, the multimillion-dollar ad campaign that trumpeted her arrival has begun to wither and viewers, as they are wont to do, are returning to old habits. That means that NBC is again at the top of the evening news ratings, followed by ABC — and followed by CBS.

But CBS can take comfort in the knowledge that even in third place, the “Evening News with Katie Couric” has enjoyed double-digit gains from the Dan Rather era.

The latest release from CBS News crowed that Couric, despite ending her two-week reign as No. 1, has succeeded where others have failed. Historically, new anchors have caused ratings to drop — at least in the early going.

“Compared to the five anchor changes of the past two decades, Couric has dramatically reversed that pattern with the broadcast’s remarkable growth,” CBS’s release says.

Fox News turns 10 … and loses viewers

While Fox News is lighting its 10th birthday candles (Oct. 7 is the actual b’day) and crowing over its recent on-air showdown with Bill Clinton, the 2006 ratings are down 5 percent overall and 13 percent in prime time from last year.

Which is not to say that Fox News has lost its cable news dominance. It still handily beats closest competitor CNN on an average day by nearly 400,000 viewers.

But CNN, after toppling from No. 1 in the cable universe years ago, is happy to report an increase in its audience of 5 percent. It’s too soon to tell if this little shakeup means big changes are coming.

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September 29, 2006

Debate over the gubernatorial debate

Wonder how many voting citizens will actually see the one-and-only televised Texas gubernatorial debate next week …

First of all, the debate is scheduled for Friday, Oct. 6, at 7 p.m. That just happens to be the Friday before the Texas-Oklahoma game in Dallas. And even if it weren’t the evening before a big, out-of-town football game, it’s still airing on a Friday, which is only slightly better than Saturday, the night Nielsen ratings practically disappear.

Second of all, the four candidates — Republican Gov. Rick Perry, Democrat Chris Bell, Republican-turned-independent Carole Keeton Strayhorn and independent Kinky Friedman — gave Belo Corp. exclusivity with a load of limitations.

In Belo markets (Austin, San Antonio, Dallas and Houston), only Belo stations can carry the hourlong debate live. In other markets, TV stations can pluck it off a satellite feed. But here in Austin, only KVUE Channel 24, which is owned by Belo, can carry the debate live. Other stations can use excerpts for their newscasts, but they cannot air the entire debate or stream it on their Web sites.

Why is there exclusivity for a political debate?

“We’re putting on the debate,” says Mike Devlin, station manager for WFAA, the Belo station in Dallas. “I’m spending lots of time on this, we —- the Texas Belo stations and The Dallas Morning News — are putting it on. We’re not going to go through all this time and expense to hand over our work and investment to competitors in the marketplace.”

Devlin points out that any station outside the four Texas Belo markets can air the debate live. And any TV or newspaper can send reporters to cover it and air excerpts from it.

Time Warner’s News 8 Austin is miffed and trying to stir up some opposition to it.

“We’re not allowed to air live, not allowed to tape-delay, not allowed to put it on video-on-demand or in its entirety on the Web site,” fumed News 8 news director Kevin Benz. “It’s our journalistic obligation to make this political discourse available to the largest number of people. I don’t think any of us are well-served by this kind of limitation.”

Devlin dismisses such criticism: “There were lots of proposals from other outlets for debates, and ours prevailed. Maybe it’s sour grapes.”

There is one exception to the rules: PBS stations in Belo markets, such as Austin’s KLRU, have the option of carrying the debate tape-delayed any time within four days of the actual event. But KLRU isn’t sure it wants to carry it.

“We’re still evaluating,” says KLRU President Bill Stotesbery. “It doesn’t really make much sense for us to run it again after KVUE has had it. Plus, we’re doing four ‘Texas Monthly Talks’ featuring hourlong in-depth interviews with the candidates throughout October.”

In other words, if you’re still mulling your choice for Texas governor, and you want to evaluate the candidates in a debate, you’d better get ready to watch or tape it next Friday on KVUE.

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September 13, 2006

Vieira Era arrives on 'Today'

Meredith Vieira debuted this morning on “Today,” stepping into the physically petite but symbolically enormous designer shoes of Katie Couric.

If you’re just coming out of a coma, Couric left “Today” at the end of May and began anchoring the “CBS Evening News” on Sept. 5.

As soon as the hysteria and effusive promotions die down, Vieira will be fine. She’s smart, earthy, comfortable on the air and has the advantage of a solid reporting background thanks to her many years on CBS News.

While Couric is the perky next-door neighbor, Vieira is the good-ol-gal you’d like to have a beer and a chat with. Maybe share an off-color joke with.

“I’m going to be ‘the broad’ in broadcasting,” she told viewers with a throaty chuckle.

The introductions and praise this morning were lavish … over-the-top, really. It’s hard to imagine the down-to-earth Vieira found it enjoyable.

“Nightly News” anchor Brian Williams presented Matt Lauer’s new partner with a bouquet of flowers. There was a tribute from her former “View” mate Barbara Walters and a fuzzy profile of Vieira that included clips from her early days as a reporter in Providence, R.I.

Vieira told viewers she felt as if “it’s the first day of school, and I’m sitting next to the cutest guy.” Not long after batting her eyes at Lauer, she smeared cake icing on his nose.

Television’s most popular and profitable morning show unveiled its new HD-ready studio for the occasion — a blindingly white decor that, really, needs a little brown or yellow to tone it down. Sunglasses should have been handed out.

Between the tributes and jokes, Vieira de-briefed NBC Washington bureau chief Tim Russert about President Bush’s speech on Sept. 11 and the political outburst that followed from the Democrats.

Vieira, whose daily schedule will begin around 3 a.m. and end around 8 p.m., plans to continue hosting the syndicated game show “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.” Hard to imagine that’ll continue, however. A married mom of three, she’s got to have some down-time somewhere. There’s not enough coffee in the world to make that plan work.

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September 8, 2006

A bumpy road on 'The Path to 9/11'

So much for liberal bias in the media, huh?

ABC’s spectacular two-part docudrama, “The Path to 9/11,” is embroiled in controversy stirred up by Democrats who claim the Clinton administration is unfairly portrayed.

Republicans had a fit in 2003 over perceived negativity in the CBS bio-pic “The Reagans,” which was pulled from the network and shipped off to cable’s Showtime.

This time around, aides to former President Clinton are miffed that they come off as soft on terrorism. The film implies they didn’t take the threat of al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden seriously enough when they had the chance.

The movie is based on the official report of the bipartisan 9/11 Commission, headed by Republican Thomas Kean, former governor of New Jersey. Kean also served as a script consultant for the film project.

The film even includes Clinton’s infamous “I did not have sex with that woman” press conference clip — not once, but twice. The point? To make the case that the Democrats were so distracted by the pending impeachment during the Monica Lewinsky scandal that they didn’t pay close enough attention to bin Laden.

But it should be noted — and viewers will surely see — that the Bush administration also comes off in the movie as ill-informed and inept. There’s plenty of blame to go around. The point that’s being made is that our government’s failures leading up to the terrorist attacks (from 1993 to 2001) were both bipartisan and horrendous.

“The Path to 9/11” is a docudrama, with some scenes created for dramatic effect. That’s standard procedure with docudramas. The goal is to have the scenes reflect a general situation, if not a specific person or comment.

ABC today is said to be re-evaluating and in some cases re-editing a couple of the offensive — and possibly inaccurate scenes. One scene being reviewed has then-Secretary of State Madeleine Albright apparently obstructing efforts to capture bin Laden by insisting that Pakistan be informed of the plot.

Kean promoted the film when he met with TV critics in Los Angeles in July. As the controversy bubbled up Thursday, Kean said he stood by the “essence” of the film because he hopes it will draw attention to the commission’s security recommendations that still have not been implemented.

The whole kerfuffel is sure to call attention to the five-hour movie, which is scheduled to air Sunday and Monday nights. And maybe that’s a good thing. At this late date, it is highly unlikely that ABC will pull the film — especially now that it’s practically guaranteed an even bigger audience.

(Check out my review/preview of “The Path to 9/11” in Sunday’s Life & Arts section.)

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September 6, 2006

Katie's debut: one last look ...

The launch of Katie Couric as the First Female Anchor of a Network Newscast last night is still buzzing around the watercooler. Maybe once people see she’s going to be doing this every night, they’ll stop yammering about her. Or not … The Katie craze is relentless.

Judging by our readers, Couric’s arrival on the “CBS Evening News” last night was not exactly a slam dunk.

“It pained me,” wrote MJL of Austin. “I felt like I was watching one of those chatty morning news shows. What was with her sitting cross-legged in front of her desk while she talked to that reporter? It all seemed so lame. What about that ‘Free Speech’ segment? Yuck!”

A local academic ripped off a lengthy diatribe, beginning with: “Never did I think I would feel embarrassment for a network, but never in my decades of media consumption have I seen anything so shameful and silly than the Couric version of the CBS ‘news’ this evening.”

More than a few folks commented on Couric’s daytime talk-show style, mentioning that she couldn’t seem to decide whether to stand, sit, wander or lean.

Others took the sexist route — which, of course, I lunged into myself — and lambasted her fashion sense. I’m a short person myself, and even as a relatively anonymous newspaper writer, I know enough about what the TV camera can do to you. Wearing a short white jacket just cuts you in half. Seriously. Plus, as one of my colleagues snipped, “White after Labor Day … really.

Beyond the totally superficial, however, there was the sense that CBS News has indeed turned the corner from straight hard news to curvy soft stuff. Baby pictures, extraneous rants, casual seating and chatting, leg flashing. It really did look more like “Today” or “The View” than the “CBS Evening News.”

According to behind-the-scenes folks, Couric downed a martini after her debut — handed to her the minute the cameras cut away. Relief? Celebration? Drowning her sorrows?

Judging Couric on her opening night performance probably isn’t fair. After all, she was just reading the TelePrompTer and doing what had been rehearsed for weeks.

The true test of her anchoring chops will come when big breaking news happens. Then we’ll know if Couric is up to the job.

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August 22, 2006

Network newsies in flux

All the anchor shifts are affecting mornings as much as evenings. We’re going to need a Playbill to keep track of who’s where and on at what time.

When Katie Couric debuts as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” on Sept. 5, Meredith Vieira steps into the co-anchor slot on NBC’s “Today.” She joins Matt Lauer who, poor thing, just can’t seem to catch any attention in the shadow of all the female stars.

Charles Gibson’s departure last month to become the permanent replacement for the late Peter Jennings, Bob Woodward and Elizabeth Vargas on “ABC’s World News,” left a gaping hole in “Good Morning America.” Diane Sawyer is now paired with Robin Roberts, who used to be the news anchor on the morning show but got bumped up to co-anchor. Two female anchors on a major network news show? Mon dieu!

Yesterday ABC News tapped Chris Cuomo to replace Roberts as news anchor on “GMA.” Cuomo, 36, has been the network’s legal correspondent and star hottie for several years. He’s the son of former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo. His brother Andrew is a candidate for New York state attorney general.

Cuomo starts his new gig Sept. 5 — and will continue to contribute features to ABC’s “Primetime.” A new “GMA” weatherman is still to be named. Tony Perkins, who left “GMA” last December, has never been replaced. How about Austin’s own Mark Murray? It’s time for him to step up from KVUE to ABC, isn’t it?

UPDATE: ABC has now picked Sam Champion for the weather job.

Gandolfini’s next gig

James Gandolfini has signed a new contract with HBO, but not to play Tony Soprano. When “The Sopranos” wraps its final season next year (we’ll believe that when we see it), Gandolfini will begin a three-year production deal with the premium channel that will allow him to develop and star in several projects.

First up, Gandolfini, who always plays gangsters (he won three Emmys for “The Sopranos”), will play cerebral author Ernest Hemingway. Hard to imagine, but maybe he really does have acting chops. The film is said to focus on Hemingway’s romance with war correspondent Martha Gellhorn.

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August 18, 2006

All JonBenet, all the time!

It is more like projectile vomiting than TV coverage of a breaking news story, isn’t it?

Since Wednesday — and especially on Thursday — cable news was all JonBenet, all the time, and even the sometimes stodgy broadcast newscasts scrapped their nightly terrorism stories for the murdered beauty-pageant child.

John Mark Karr, he of the creepy gaze and skinny neck, was everywhere Thursday, confessing his love for JonBenet Ramsey and confessing that he also, by the way, “accidentally” killed her. His perp walk in Thailand turned into the gaping, air-sucking event of the summer news season.

The decade-old, unsolved murder even got booked into prime-time specials last night. ABC dragged out every shot they’d ever banked of Barbara Walters quizzing JonBenet’s parents John and Patsy about whether or not they offed their adorable tyke on Christmas night.

And all those disturbing (to some of us) shots of JonBenet prancing around in Vegas show-girl outfits with big hair and full makeup surfaced once again.

It was tabloid TV at its tackiest. Sure, TV was just catering to the public’s apparently unquenchable fascination with the murdered tot. And with the new images of this walking sexual perversion in khakis and polo shirt (was anybody else reminded of Ed Grimley?) to feed on, the frenzy was intense.

We were cautioned, from time to time, to consider that Karr may be making all this up to garner his grotesque time in the limelight. He may be super creepy but he may not be a child rapist and murderer. DNA tests, we were reminded, should settle this dispute. Stay tuned.

But until such evidence is in, we are left with floating images of JonBenet strutting through beauty pageants and Karr posing for cameras. The frenzy continues …

“Talent” winner terrified

I stumbled upon the conclusion of NBC’s red-hot summer reality show “America’s Got Talent” last night and suddenly became desperately worried about the winner.

Bianca Ryan, an 11-year-old singer with a boozy Janis Joplin voice, won the $1 million prize. Fine. But she looked like she was about to faint, have a heart attack or simply drop dead right there on live TV. It was not amusing. It was scary.

Host Regis Philbin looked concerned as he tried, unsuccessfully to get her to say (a) if she was OK and (b) how she felt about winning.

“You all right? Bianca, how do you feel, darling? You OK?”’ Philbin pleaded with a worried brow.

The poor girl quivered and stood there stone-faced. No smile. And then it was over. “America’s Got Talent” returns in January; steel yourself.

Austin’s Access TV opens its doors

Public Access Community Television (PACT) is hosting an open house 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the facility at 1143 Northwestern Ave.

With the guidance of new management, the city is re-building and expanding Austin’s community access TV facility. It will house a new playback system capable of delivering programs to Time Warner and Grande channels 10, 11, and 16, and simultaneously streaming content on the Internet.

People can tour the TV studios and speak out live on Cable Channel 10 on PACT’s open-mic “Soapbox.” The open house is part of a three day Public Access TV Reunion and Free Speech Forum.

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August 17, 2006

Dan Rather gets a primetime tribute

Part-time Austinite Dan Rather is getting an official CBS send-off after all.

The special, “Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers,” is scheduled to air Friday, Sept. 1 at 8 p.m. If you hadn’t noticed, that’s the Friday that starts the Labor Day weekend, which means normally low viewing levels on Fridays will be even lower.

The timing no doubt has a lot to do with Katie Couric’s debut as his replacement on Sept. 5. CBS had promised Rather a prime-time goodbye in June, when he left the network, and it probably seemed best to get it out of the way before the new anchor arrives.

But at least CBS News is offering a semi-salute, which, after 44 years with the network, including 24 years as anchor, Rather surely deserves.

The hour will feature Rather recalling his globe-trotting career, which took him from hurricanes to political conventions to foreign wars and back. His life in the CBS limelight also featured its share of controversies, from run-ins with President Nixon to signing off the “Evening News” with “Courage!” to the flawed report on President Bush’s National Guard service that ultimately did him in.

CBS had a modest farewell in March 2005, when Rather left the anchor desk, but the upcoming hour includes a new interview in which Rather addresses leaving CBS News. Knowing Rather, this is bound to be emotional.

“The CBS News audience, they stuck by me through sunshine and storms, and through the good times and bad times,” Rather says in the program, according to a press release.

Rather is joining Dallas Mavericks’ owner Mark Cuban’s HDNet, a small network for owners of high-definition viewers, to report and anchor a news series.

Note to self: Buy earplugs!

Comedian Cheech Marin, former “Xena” Lucy Lawless, actress Lea Thompson, wrestler Chris Jericho, gymnast Carly Patterson, actor Alfonso Ribeiro and “Queer Eye” style guru Jai Rodriguez are set to join actual singers on Fox’s new reality series “Celebrity Duets.”

This warbling version of “Dancing With the Stars,” from “American Idol” guru Simon Cowell, debuts Aug. 29.

The aforementioned nonsingers are among the soon-to-be-embarrassed who will be paired with pros such as Patti LaBelle, Aaron Neville, Clint Black, Michael Bolton, Belinda Carlisle, Taylor Dayne, Peter Frampton, Macy Gray, James Ingram, Wynonna Judd, Chaka Khan, Kenny Loggins, Richard Marx, Brian McKnight, Smokey Robinson, Randy Travis, Dionne Warwick and Lee Ann Womack.

Doesn’t this sound like a celebrity freak show, partnering has-beens and almost-has-beens? On the other hand, it could be so awful it’s good.

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August 14, 2006

9/11 viewing choices

The fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks is still weeks away, but the documentaries and specials are already piling up.

If this wound is still too raw for you, plan to avoid television for about a month because it’s going to be difficult to miss the collapse of the World Trade Center towers. It might be best for your mood and psyche to peruse the opportunities and pick a few.

Here is a brief (and admittedly incomplete) rundown of some of the many upcoming Sept. 11 specials:

“The Miracle of Stairway B,” 7 p.m. tonight on the History Channel. Against all odds, 12 firefighters, three office workers, and a Port Authority cop survived the collapse of the North Tower. This is their story.

“On Native Soil,” 9 p.m. Aug. 21 on Court TV. A documentary — a bare-bones summary, really — based on the 9/11 Commission Report.

“Inside 9/11,” 6 p.m. Aug. 27 on the National Geographic Channel. First shown last year on NGC, this is an updated version of that four-hour miniseries.

“The Final Report: Osama’s Escape,” 9 p.m. Aug. 29 on the National Geographic Channel. A look at how a wily Saudi terrorist managed to steer clear of the most powerful nation on Earth in the months and years after the attacks of Sept. 11.

“Inside the Twin Towers,” 8 p.m. Sept. 3 on Discovery. Tragedy and miracles after the planes penetrated the World Trade Center.

“Five Years Later: How Safe Are We?” 9 p.m. Sept. 6 on CBS. Katie Couric’s debut as anchor of the “CBS Evening News” precedes by one day this CBS News report on the state of our security in the wake of Sept. 11.

“Koppel on Discovery: The Price of Security,” 7 p.m. Sept. 10 on Discovery. Former “Nightline” anchor Ted Koppel interviews past and present administration officials, military and security experts about national security and civil liberties. A live town hall meeting with families of Sept. 11 victims and others follows.

“9/11,” 7 p.m. Sept. 10 on CBS. A repeat of the chilling 2002 award-winning documentary by French filmmakers Jules and Gedeon Naudet.

“The Path to 9/11,” 7 p.m. Sept. 10 and 11 on ABC. A dramatized miniseries based on the 9/11 Commission Report.

“America Rebuilds Part II: Return to Ground Zero,” 8 p.m. Sept. 11 on PBS. A look at memorial plans and the hole left in the nation’s spirit by the terrorist attacks in New York.

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August 9, 2006

Gallup's wacky news/talk survey

If I were Barbara Walters, I might be a tad worried about the upcoming debut of Rosie O’Donnell on “The View.” And if I were CBS News, I might have concerns, too.

O’Donnell, who joins Walters’ daytime talker in September, apparently has lost a good deal of her All-American Girl appeal from the days of her own syndicated show a few years back.

According to the latest Gallup poll of TV news and talk-show hosts, O’Donnell is viewed as “unfavorable” by 60 percent of those surveyed. By comparison, the much-maligned Star Jones, who was recently booted from “The View,” has a mere 45 percent unfavorable score.

So, who is America’s most-favored news or talk show personality? By far, Diane Sawyer is TV’s most beloved, with an 80 percent favorable rating and a slender 11 percent unfavorable. The ABC News star and “Good Morning America” host even beat the totally adorable Katie Couric, who perked up “Today” for a decade and is now headed for the CBS News anchor desk. Couric had a 60 percent favorable and 23 unfavorable rating. Maybe Couric’s legion of fans are still ticked off that she left “Today.”

Heck, even Dan Rather, who was widely believed to be loathed after he was bumped from “The CBS Evening News,” had a 70 percent favorable and 26 percent unfavorable rating in the poll. Rather better-liked than Couric? Hmmm.

And what of Brian Williams, anchor of the No. 1-rated “NBC Nightly News?” The successor to Tom Brokaw had the strangest results: 47 percent favorable, 7 percent unfavorable and a stunning 38 percent who had never heard of him.

ABC anchor Charles Gibson had a 55 percent favorable, 8 percent unfavorable and 27 percent never-heard-of, while cable guys Bill O’Reilly (Fox) had a 45 good/35 bad response and Anderson Cooper (CNN) had a 43/9 split.

TiVo myth about reality recordings busted

Apparently there’s no truth to the rumor that viewers are less likely to TiVo or otherwise record reality shows. On the just-released TiVo ratings for late July, episodes of Fox’s “So You Think You Can Dance,” CBS’s “Big Brother: All-Stars” and NBC’s “Last Comic Standing” gobbled up the top six spots.

In fact, nearly half of the total Top 25 recorded programs were reality shows, including “Hell’s Kitchen” (Fox), “America’s got Talent” (NBC), “Rock Star: Supernova” (CBS) and “Treasure Hunters” (NBC).

Way down toward the bottom of the list were nonreality shows such as “Windfall,” “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House,” “The Office,” “Two and a Half Men” and “CSI.”

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August 4, 2006

Katie's 'CBS News' will have opinions

“The CBS Evening News with Katie Couric” is going to have opinions — not Katie’s opinions, mind you, but opinions nonetheless.

A new segment titled “Free Speech” will become part of CBS’s nightly newscast on Sept. 5. This opinion and commentary segment is intended to create “a candid and robust dialogue among viewers” about important issues, according the the show’s producer.

“But we’re not looking to pit one side against another or to broadcast shouting matches — there’s already more than enough of that on television,” said executive producer Rome Hartman. “And it won’t be a collection of the ‘usual suspects’ or ‘talking heads.’ “

“Free Speech,” according to Hartman’s plan, will feature a diverse group of voices commenting on an array of subjects. One night, the segment might feature a well-known national figure speaking on a current issue in the news; the next night, someone might offer a humorous take on a trend in the culture. Other nights, current sub anchor Bob Schieffer will serve up his personal take on Washington and the world.

In the past, news programs have fiddled with adding commentary — and most of the fiddling has failed. Point-counterpoints with Bill Clinton and Bob Dole died in a matter of weeks on CBS’s “60 Minutes.” So it will be interesting to see if the latest opinion/commentary segment survives on CBS’s weeknight news.

TV’s “Miami Vice” star returns …

When Don Johnson’s new WB drama “Just Legal” debuted in 2005, it didn’t get much of a reception. It was well-reviewed, but viewers just didn’t come in necessary droves.

But the soon-to-be-gone WB network has decided that the hit movie “Miami Vice” has probably renewed interest in Johnson, who starred in the original TV series, so they’re bringing back “Just Legal” for an end-of-summer — and end of network — run.

On “Just Legal,” Johnson played a grumpy, burned out criminal defense lawyer who becomes a reluctant mentor to a brilliant, 19-year-old legal prodigy, played by Jay Baruchel. The few episodes that aired were promising, and Johnson was superb in the role.

Take a look Sunday at 6 p.m. when “Just Legal” makes its brief return. You’ll get a hint at what made Johnson such a hot property when he was Sonny Crockett.

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July 19, 2006

Charlie Gibson overseas, 'World News' changes names

As of today, there’s no “night” in “World News Tonight.” The network has dropped the time reference because, execs feel, it limits the perception of the news, which actually is available 24-7 online.

It was a big enough deal that ABC News handed out coffee mugs with the new title to more than 100 of the nation’s TV critics.

Anchor Charles Gibson answered questions from the assembled crowd via satellite from a dock in Cyprus. He’s been overseas covering the new crisis in the Middle East, proving right off the bat that he’s going to be one of those anchors who like to be on site for the big story.

“I always carry my passport in my briefcase, but I forgot it this morning when we left Israel and had to send someone back for it,” Gibson said. “I’m sure Peter Jennings never forgot his passport.”

There’s been a lot of debate about the wisdom anchors traveling to hot spots, especially at ABC in the wake of former anchor Bob Woodruff’s near-fatal injuries in Iraq. Besides security, there have been questioned about just how much an anchor’s presence lends to the story.

“Having an anchor there calls more attention to the story, and it’s a tremendous learning experience for me as a reporter,” Gibson said. “It gives you a better sense of how people are thinking. But I’m mindful that we have people in the region who know the beat and cover it best.”

As for the security issue, Gibson said Woodruff and other journalists who’ve been injured or killed overseas are always on his mind.

“We take as much precaution as we can, but this is what I do and love to do,” he said. “I want to see what’s going on, but I’m going to do it in as prudent manner as I can.”

From serious to silly

ABC’s new sitcom, which used to be titled “Let’s Rob …” but now is tentatively titled “The Knights of Prosperity,” has the singular distinction of having Mick Jagger in the pilot. The premise is that a bunch of low-life losers decide to break into Jagger’s Manhattan apartment and rob him. The show’s creator/producer Rob Burnett said they never expected Jagger to say yes when they sent him the script, but he turned out to be an eager participant.

“We shot his scene when he was on tour in New Zealand,” Burnett said. “He couldn’t have been nicer or more professional. He ad libbed, and he had a lot of energy. It was a breeze.”

Jagger appears only in the show’s first episode and only for the first few minutes. But it’s a tour de force nonetheless. Mick in a sitcom … what a concept.

Today’s word of the day is “Kidnapped.” Click here to enter the TV Blog contest.

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July 16, 2006

Katie, the Rose Bowl and more ...

Katie Couric made her press debut as anchor-to-be of the “CBS Evening News” in grand fashion — and fashionably late. More than 15 minutes past showtime, Couric arrived with Sean McManus, president of CBS news and sports, and perched before more than 100 antsy reporters.

My full interview with Couric will be in Tuesday’s TV column in the American-Statesman’s Life & Arts section (and posted on Austin360 and

But here’s a bit of fluff that didn’t fit into the print piece: Our Katie is thrilled to be sleeping past 4 a.m. and is thrilled with her cushy new work hours. When she begins anchoring on Sept. 5, the First Female Anchor of a Network Evening Newscast will be on the job from 10 a.m. until 7:30 p.m.

Very civilized … or very cushy, depending on how your own work day usually goes. Those hours, of course, will blow out the window in breaking news periods.

When Couric decided to end her 15-year tenure on “Today,” she consulted her two daughters, ages 10 and 14, about the changes the family was about to undergo. Apparently, neither girl (whose father, Jay Monahan, died of cancer in 1998) was terribly impressed with their mom’s history-making venture.

“They pretty much said, ‘OK, that’s cool,’ ” Couric said. “I told them we’d be eating dinner later … no more early bird specials.”

In response to a superficial male reporter’s superficial question about what she’ll wear when she ascends the anchor desk, Couric replied with a strained smile, “I’m going to (ABC anchor) Charlie Gibson’s stylist.”

Rose Bowl madness …

CBS held its big star party at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, where our very own Vince Young led the mighty Longhorns to a national championship not too many months ago. I swear you can still hear folks screaming “Hook ‘em” in the stadium.

The field was covered, not with confetti and Longhorns, but with supporting stars of dozens of CBS’s new and returning series. Without name tags, nobody ever knows who the new stars are, so that makes celebrity reporting difficult. Gary Sinise, star of “CSI: New York,” was there for about five minutes, and many members of the cast of “How I Met Your Mother” attended. Big whup.

There was some sort of punt, pass and kick contest designed to make worn-out reporters feel even crankier. Didn’t stay long, though. There’s a geniune heat wave in Southern California.

Usually when SoCal folks talk about a heat wave, they’re whining about 80 degrees. But this is real heat. The temp has been soaring around 100 for the past few days, and, I’m assured, the temp on the field at the Rose Bowl is a good 10 degrees hotter. … Gotta go hydrate.

Today’s word of the day is “Runaway.” Click here to enter the TV Blog contest.

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July 11, 2006

Let Rather Be Rather!

The ink is drying on Dan Rather’s deal with Mark Cuban to report and host a weekly documentary series, and we can expect to see even more of the ousted CBS anchorman before the show debuts in October.

It’s not like Rather, a part-time Austinite, has been lurking in the shadows. Last week he chatted with CNN’s Anderson Cooper about the test missiles firing out of North Korea. Over the next few weeks, his visibility is going to soar.

Rather is scheduled to be a featured panelist on Chris Matthews’ syndicated Sunday morning show (6:30 a.m. on KXAN Channel 36) for two weeks, and he will be the primary interview Wednesday evening on CNN’s “Larry King Live.” And this afternoon he will promote his new high-def show during the cable portion of the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.

Today the two Texans, Rather and Cuban, officially signed on various dotted lines to create “Dan Rather Reports,” the much-speculated upon new series that will air on HDNet, the high-definition network owned by Cuban. Although CBS News suffered mostly third-place ratings, Rather’s audience for the new gig will be minuscule by comparison. That’s because HDNet reaches only 3 million satellite and cable homes (including Austin’s Time Warner).

The show will be based in New York, and Rather, 74, plans to return to hefty topics such as the war in Iraq and the aftermath of Katrina.

“Hard news needs backers who won’t back down,” Rather said in a statement. “Mark Cuban is such a leader. As a team player I intend to give Mark and HDNet all of the hard work, loyalty and fearless, high-quality reporting possible.”

Rather apparently made the first move in this partnership, and Cuban, the Dallas Mavericks owner who is almost as driven and intense as Rather, was quick to respond. There’s nothing like a big name to draw attention to your relatively new (it launched in 2001) and super-niche network. Rather is practically guaranteed to be the ratings-star of HDNet.

Because many people will not be able to see Rather’s new show, we’ll just have to check out his various appearances on non-high-def networks, and his outings on Matthew’s show could be the best. Matthews is likely to pull passionate, possibly fiery opinions out of Rather, and that could be fabulous entertainment.

It’s no secret that Rather resents being shown the (back) door months ahead of the end of his CBS contract. After working in the hallowed halls of Edward R. Murrow for 44 years, Rather received, by just about anybody’s estimation, shabby treatment from CBS. Personally, I’m all ears for his passionate opinions.

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July 7, 2006

Eeew! It's Geraldo!

Sometimes it’s hard to believe Geraldo Rivera is still around. But he is. Like an antibiotic-resistant virus, he just refuses to leave us alone.

From ABC News, to daytime talk show (remember when he had fat from his butt injected into his face?) to his rightful place among the hysterics of Fox News. He turns up in hurricanes, wars and all manner of disasters — always careful to make sure the spotlight is on him.

So why am I calling attention to The Biggest Ego in TV News? I received an e-mailed press release about his syndicated show “Geraldo at Large” (weekdays at 4:30 p.m. on KTBC Channel 7).

“Geraldo is about to go one-on-one with the mob hitman who claims he risked his own life to save Geraldo’s on the Monday episode,” crowed the show’s publicist in the e-mail.

“The Philly mobster has been in the Witness Protection Program ever since his testimony took down five mob bosses. The hit was in the ’90s, but the mobster is now back. He’s out of hiding and ready to face Geraldo in a tell-all of how the ‘warrior journalist,’ yet again, faced death’s door.”

The release goes on, in melodramatic fashion, to imagine what the TV landscape would be like if the mob had “whacked” Geraldo. It then goes on to mention his name in the very same sentence as Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, Ted Koppel and Dan Rather.

That’s when my blood officially reached the boiling point. Granted, Rivera, now 63, started his career 40 years ago as a serious journalist. Or at least a wannabe serious journalist. He has won numerous awards for investigations into prisons and drug wars. He also has a law degree.

But somewhere along the way he turned from journalist to hot-shot crusader, a lover of all limelight and a parody of a globe-trotting, hard-news reporter. Trying to referee an explosive argument on his old daytime talkie, Geraldo managed to get his nose broken on the air. Perfect melodrama … hardly journalism or even enlightening television. He ain’t no Oprah.

So a mobster is going to warble about Geraldo on Monday? I don’t care … not even a little.

Mulling Emmy nominations … again

Now that the dust has settled on the Emmy nominations, I have a couple more thoughts to share.

First, people should be ineligible for an Emmy nom if they’re playing themselves. And Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”), nominated for lead actor in a comedy, wasn’t the only offender here. Patrick Stewart, Ben Stiller and Kate Winslet were all nominated for their “guest actor” roles in the HBO comedy “Extras.” Please.

If the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is going to allow actors to be recognized for playing themselves, why not let reality show contestants in on the honors? The folks on “Survivor” and “Amazing Race” are playing (heightened versions of) themselves, too.

Speaking of reality shows, there are two categories in the Emmy nods for this overworked genre: plain old reality and reality-competition. Regular reality features contenders “Antiques Roadshow” (PBS), “The Dog Whisperer” (NGC), “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” (ABC), “Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List” (Bravo) and “Penn & Teller: Bull——” (Showtime).

You will not be surprised to learn that I am pulling mightily for Cesar Millan, aka “The Dog Whisperer,” to win.

The reality-competition category includes “The Amazing Race” (CBS), “American Idol” (Fox), “Dancing with the Stars” (ABC), “Project Runway” (Bravo) and “Survivor” (CBS). If I’m forced to care about this category, I guess I favor the cadillac of them all, “Idol.” So far, nobody’s done it better.

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June 26, 2006

Charles (not Charlie) Gibson bows Wednesday on "Good Morning America"

Wednesday morning is ABC’s official farewell, chock full of fuzzy tributes and well-wishes, for Charles Gibson. He’s not actually leaving, however; he’s merely moving from mornings to evenings.

And it’s not even his first going-away party. He said goodbye to “Good Morning America” in 1998, only to return less than a year later.

It’s safe to say, however, that Gibson won’t return to the crack-of-dawn detail again now that he’s got the top gig anchoring “World News Tonight.” This is the job everyone in TV news wants, and now, finally, he’s got it.

By the way, you may have noticed that he’s Charlie Gibson in the informal morning news and Charles Gibson on the evening news.

Altogether, Gibson has toiled in morning news for nearly two decades, paired with an assortment of partners, from Joan Lunden to Diane Sawyer. He’s a serious news guy and a comfy presence, which is why he’s perfect for the evening news slot. The word “anchor” implies strength and stability, and Gibson’s got both.

With Gibson leaving “GMA” and Katie Couric already departed NBC’s top-rated “Today” for the prime anchor job at CBS (which she begins Sept. 5), the morning news programs are likely to be in a state of flux for a while. Meredith Vieira is expected to segue nicely into “Today,” but big questions remain about “GMA.”

For one thing, nobody is certain pairing Sawyer with Robin Roberts is the answer to the hole left by Gibson. And nobody is certain how long Sawyer will be willing to trudge on in what was always intended to be a temporary assignment when she took it in ‘99.

“GMA” also must find a news anchor to replace Roberts, and the weather job once held by Tony Perkins is still open. To say “GMA” is in transition is to put it mildly. The morning wars are going to be an interesting competition.

Remembering Spelling

Hit-maker Aaron Spelling’s death on Friday prompted reminiscences and tributes around Hollywood over the weekend. The 83-year-old producer, whose programs (“Charlie’s Angels,” “Fantasy Island,” etc.) were dubbed “cotton candy for the brain,” suffered a stroke and died at his humongous home.

Texas born and Southern Methodist University educated, Spelling was remembered by Dallas’s CBS TV station, USA Today and the Associated Press, just to name a few.

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June 23, 2006

Bill Moyers on 'Faith & Reason'

Hungry for something meaty this summer?

“Bill Moyers on Faith & Reason” is the answer to your prayers. The seven-week series debuts on PBS tonight at 8 with thoughtful, civilized conversation between Moyers and several writers whose beliefs are as diverse as the world itself.

First up is Salman Rushdie, the Indian-born British author who was driven into hiding by death threats when his novel, “The Satanic Verses,” was published in 1989. Rushdie is an atheist whose views on Islam were perceived as fatally offensive.

“When there is conflict between the liberty of speech and the beliefs of private individuals, the liberty of speech must always take precedence,” says Rushdie. Good point — even if you’re hiding from a fatwa.

Other writers featured on the series include British philosopher Colin McGinn, novelist Mary Gordon and Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

Moyers, himself a target of vicious criticism (some might say he’s been demonized) from extreme conservatives, has a solid background in matters of faith. The 72-year-old journalist set out to become a preacher and is, in fact, an ordained Baptist minister.

But he started out as a cub reporter in Marshall and eventually made a name for himself as President Johnson’s press secretary and Newsday publisher, until joining CBS and PBS in the 1970s.

Almost two years ago, Moyers stepped down from his weekly public affairs program “Now.” But with work nearly completed on his memoir of LBJ, he couldn’t resist the lure of his particular brand of exploration, which has been dubbed “deep-thinking journalism” by critics and colleagues alike.

So, here he is again, pondering faith, the creative process and the impact of our beliefs on everyday life. Always the optimist, Moyers is searching for common ground and believes the country is not as divided as some people think. The extremes on the right and left are just a good deal louder — and thus better at being heard — than the more thoughtful, accepting center.

At a time when shouting and rude behavior are the rule, it’s good to have the calm civility of Bill Moyers back on the air.

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June 20, 2006

Rather's parting words for CBS

After mostly remaining silent about his shabby treatment at the hands of CBS News, Dan Rather, who was released from the network after 44 years of service, has just released the following statement:

“I appreciate the words and gestures contained in today’s press release by CBS.

I leave CBS News with tremendous memories. But I leave now most of all with the desire to once again do regular, meaningful reporting. My departure before the term of my contract represents CBS’s final acknowledgement, after a protracted struggle, that they had not lived up to their obligation to allow me to do substantive work there. As for their offers of a future with only an office but no assignments, it just isn’t in me to sit around doing nothing. So I will do the work I love elsewhere, and I look forward to sharing details about that soon.

As I go about deciding where and with whom that can best be done, I want to say how grateful I am to have worked with so many outstanding CBS men and women over the years. From producers, to correspondents, to technical crews, it has been my great fortune to have had some of the best pros in journalism at my back and at my side. They are the true heart of CBS News, and they will always have my respect.

Too much is made of anchors and their personalities, their ups and downs. The larger issues — the role of a free press and of honest, real news in a democracy, the role of technology in supporting a free press, the “corporatization” of news and its effects on news content — all deserve more attention, more discussion and more passionate debate.

I’ll see you soon.?

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Angelina in ... Gunga Dan out

Are you ready? Have you planned ahead so nobody will call, knock or otherwise interrupt the Big Event tonight at 9 on CNN? Have you set the DVR for backup?

I refer, of course, to Angelina Jolie’s first U.S. interview since giving birth in Africa. If you have failed to read the excerpts or see the clips or witness the incredible hype on CNN, well, you’re clearly not a serious pop-culture-vulture.

Under the guise of chatting up World Refugee Day, Anderson Cooper landed this “get” with Jolie, who will puff up her lips for nearly an hour on “Anderson Cooper 360.”

Among the dribbles we’ve heard thus far: Now that she and love-mate Brad Pitt have produced a biological daughter, Shiloh Nouvel, the couple is planning to adopt another child — country of origin, race and ethnicity still to be determined — to go with the two adoptees they already have.

As if we thought otherwise, Jolie confirms that Pitt was indeed in the delivery room when their bouncing baby girl was delivered by C-section.

Cooper’s journalistic coup comes on the heels of Matt Lauer’s earth-shattering (and highly embarrassing) “interview” with pop star Britney Spears. Lauer deserves an Edward R. Murrow Award for successfully averting his eyes from the behemoth breasts she was proffering directly at him. That “get” was a bust — pun intended.

Tonight, if Cooper really wants to make news, he will ask Jolie where she’s hiding Pitt these days. The guy has faded into the background since hooking up with Jolie. She talks; he lurks. He’s good at shoving photographers out of the way, but otherwise, Brad Pitt has become the Katie Holmes in that relationship. (Katie has barely peeped since procreating with Tom Cruise).

Of course, I’ll watch tonight. It’s what I do. But I’m not thrilled about the prospect.

CBS News confirms: Rather’s out

Part-time Austinite Dan Rather is officially — and prematurely — out at CBS News.

After 44 years with the network and 24 as anchor, Rather was eased into nothingness after a discredited story about President Bush’s military service. He filed a handful of stories for “60 Minutes” last season, including a recent profile of Whole Foods owner John Mackey.

Late last week Rather said he was considering an offer from Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to produce a series and additional documentaries for Cuban’s high-def network HDNet.

Today, after “no commenting” for days, CBS News finally confirmed the obvious. Rather’s contract, which officially ends in November, has been ended early.

“There will always be a part of Dan Rather at CBS News,” said Sean McManus, CBS News president. “He is truly a ‘reporter’s reporter,’ and he has helped to train several generations of broadcast journalists. His legacy cannot be replicated.”

With absolutely no warning or fanfare, Rather’s final CBS report — an interview with high-powered Texas defense attorney Dick DeGuerin — aired last weekend on “CBS Sunday Morning.”

CBS said a prime-time special on Rather’s career will air “sometime in the fall,” and a contribution is being made to Rather’s alma mater, Sam Houston State University, in his honor.

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June 15, 2006

Dan Rather into the sunset?

Part-time Austinite and life-long Texan Dan Rather will not be part of “60 Minutes” in the fall, according to Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post. In fact, he will not be part of CBS at all, his professional home for four decades.

Kurtz reports that CBS executives will ease the 74-year-old Rather out of the last vestiges of his contract when Katie Couric joins CBS as “Evening News” anchor and “60 Minutes” correspondent in September. Rather’s contract is supposed to run until November.

Neither CBS nor Rather is commenting on this latest slap at the man who inherited Walter Cronkite’s throne and occupied it for 24 years. That sometimes rocky reign ended in March 2005, when Rather was forced to apologize for a poorly sourced story about President Bush’s National Guard service during the Vietnam War.

I’ve always thought Rather was one of the least comfortable anchors on network television. When he wasn’t spouting “Ratherisms” (“He looks like he’s been rode hard and put away wet!”), Rather seemed stiff, like a stallion forced into a too-small stall.

But I’ve also always thought Rather is one of television’s best, most tenacious reporters. It’s a shame his career ended on such a sour note — and mostly because he put too much trust in the producer, Mary Mapes, who failed to verify documents on which the National Guard story was based.

If it’s any consolation to Rather, CBS treated Uncle Walter shabbily, too. When Rather became anchor, forcing Cronkite into a retirement he really didn’t want, Cronkite was basically banished from the air. He turned up on cable specials about space, and he was allowed to maintain an office at Black Rock. But he was shoved aside.

Will we ever see Dan Rather on TV again? Or will we just have to catch him ambling through Whole Foods, near his downtown Austin condo?

It’s hard to imagine Rather sitting still for long. Sure, he loves to fish and play with his grandkids, but he’s too energetic, smart and restless to languish for long. It would surprise no one if he turned up on CNN — or even Fox — and began trotting the globe once again.

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June 14, 2006

Woodruff pops into ABC News

Bob Woodruff’s brief return to ABC News last night was bittersweet — for him, for the “World News Tonight” staffers and for viewers. His visit was taped and broadcast at the end of the newscast, with narration by newly appointed solo anchor Charles Gibson.

Injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq in January, Woodruff has had to step down as anchor of the evening newscast — a job he had longed for and been groomed for since Peter Jennings was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. He was briefly paired with co-anchor Elizabeth Vargas, who has left “World News” to begin an early maternity leave and will not return to the broadcast.

Woodruff, 44, suffered life-threatening injuries in the attack that left him with several broken bones and a serious head injury. But aside from a buzz haircut that revealed his scars, Woodruff looked fine and seemed to be walking fine, too.

Still undergoing rehabilitation, Woodruff was only heard uttering a couple of brief comments — “So good to be back,” etc. There is still some questions about the former anchor’s mental quickness and verbal skills, although he is expected eventually to make a full recovery.

‘Book Club’ is super-cheesy

Last night’s CBS debut of “Tuesday Night Book Club” turned out to be every bit as cheesy as we expected.

Everybody is trying to piggy-back on the success of “Desperate Housewives,” and this is the latest reality attempt. The CBS version is more precisely piggy-backing on the surprising success of “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” which debuted on Bravo in March and displayed a bizarre fascination with enormous breast implants.

“Tuesday Night Book Club,” as you might imagine, has nothing to do with books and everything to do with a group of people in various stages of romantic and emotional distress. It’s supposed to be funny (there’s a scene in which a couple argue about which of them will search their dog’s poop for a ring he swallowed), but you’d have to be really easily amused — and think infidelity is hilarious — to laugh at this show.

Mostly it’s filled with desperately sad and shallow people — a woman whose husband prefers his motorcycle to her, a wife who prefers her gym workouts to her husband, etc.

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June 7, 2006

'Indecency' to cost more on TV

Today the U.S. Congress will continue its push to raise so-called “indecency fines” from a piddling $32,500 to a potentially painful $325,000.

Will this make television more wholesome for our nation’s youth? I don’t think so. Most kids I know only watch cable, and this only affects broadcasters.

The House will vote on the Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act and hope that TV stations will think twice about airing Janet Jackson’s bare breast — not that anyone could have prevented the 2004 Super Bowl incident at the time.

After “boob-gate,” most stations began implementing 3- to 7-second delays on live broadcasts such as awards shows and sports programs to avoid financial slaps by the Federal Communications Commission.

Last season, the FCC handed down its biggest fine yet — $3.3 million against more than 100 CBS stations that aired an episode of “Without a Trace” that included a teen orgy scene. That fine is now under review.

According to FCC rules, broadcast channels are banned from airing obscene material at any time, and cannot air indecent material, including language and behavior, between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. when children are more likely to be watching.

The rules do not apply to cable or satellite channels, which is a source of contention with broadcasters — especially since just about everything but the F-word is now allowed on basic cable channels such as FX.

Nor do the rules define indecency, except in the vaguest of terms … “that which contains sexual or excretory material.”

Personally, I find the level of humor on many sitcoms (i.e., Fox’s “The War at Home” leaps to mind) far more indecent than Janet Jackson’s breast. And that awful commercial for a pill to slay toenail fungus? That’s closer to obscene than any sex scene in my book.

The U.S. Senate already has passed the new act. The House undoubtedly will follow suit today, and President Bush will sign it into law — amid much fanfare about “family values.” It’s not going to make a whit of difference.

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May 31, 2006

Ta-ta for now, Katie

It wasn’t as sappy as it could have been, but Katie Couric’s farewell on “Today” this morning did make use of the tissue box that Matt Lauer placed on the desk at the beginning of the program.

Sniff, sniff. Our Perky Katie won’t be around anymore to get us started each day with a little news and a little fun.

In case you’ve been orbiting Mars, Couric, 49, has ended her 15-year run as “Today” host to take on the challenging new gig of anchoring the “CBS Evening News.” That starts Sept. 5. During the summer, she’ll get started on her other CBS job, reporting for “60 Minutes,” and sit for countless interviews focusing on her status as the First Solo Female Network News Anchor.

But today, Couric said goodbye to fans who have been with her through good times and bad for 15 years. During a decade of that time, “Today” was the undisputed ratings champ of morning news.

“I’m feeling happy and sad and completely out of control,” said Couric, whose emotions frequently have been on display during her tenure.

Understandable, of course, considering that Couric gave birth to two children during that time and became a widow when her husband, producer Jay Monahan, died of colon cancer.

This morning’s official farewell began with a clip showing Couric getting her 5 a.m. wakeup call. Apparently getting perky that early in the morning didn’t come naturally. It required a follow-up call from her driver, lots of coffee and professional hair and makeup work.

As expected, there were plenty of Katie clips, noteworthy as much for the parade of hairstyles as the parade of interview subjects — from presidents to movie stars to Olympic athletes.

Gone from “Today” but certainly not from public view. Look for Couric to be splashed across TV, magazines and newspapers all summer long.

‘Law & Order’ turnover

First assistant district attorney Alexandra Borgia, played by Annie Parisse, was killed off in the season finale. Now we hear Dennis Farina’s detective Joe Fontana is history, too.

No word on exactly how Farina will exit. He was certainly alive when last we saw him.

Cast changes are expected on Dick Wolf’s long-running drama. Previous ADAs have been played by Angie Harmon, Jill Hennessy, Carey Lowell, Elizabeth Rohm, Richard Brooks and Michael Moriarty. The detective roster includes Christopher Noth, George Dzundza, Paul Sorvino, Benjamin Bratt and the late Jerry Orbach (whom Farina replaced in ‘04).

Actors come and go with no apparent negative effects on “L&O” because, as we’ve always known, the stories are the real stars.

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May 19, 2006

A tribute to Mike Wallace

In a week frantic with fall schedule announcements and season finales, let’s take a moment to pay tribute to Mike Wallace, the 88-year-old “60 Minutes” reporter who became famous for ambushing corrupt corporate and government executives.

After 38 years and more than 800 stories, Wallace steps down Sunday night as a regular contributor to the broadcast. A fascinating retrospective, “I’m Mike Wallace: A ‘60 Minutes’ Tribute,” airs 6 p.m. Sunday on CBS, KEYE Channel 42.

Whether you’re old or young, like or don’t like Wallace, this is don’t-miss-TV. The history of his broadcast career, which spans six decades, is pretty much the history of broadcast journalism.

Wallace is not, however, leaving the venerable CBS newsmagazine altogether. He recently signed a new four-year contract that dubs him “correspondent emeritus” and allows him to scale back to only a few reports a year.

If the end of the new contract is actually the end of Wallace’s career, he’ll be 92 years old when he finally leaves Black Rock.

Wallace is legendary for leaping out from behind potted plants, a cameraman in tow, and demanding answers from people who previously insisted they had “no comment.” He makes people squirm and spill the beans, and he does it with a combination of tough talk (“Oh, come on!”) and seductive pleading (“Forgive me, but I have to ask … “).

In the retrospective, Wallace wanders through the many aspects of his career, guided by “60 Minutes” colleagues Ed Bradley, Morley Safer, Steve Kroft and Lesley Stahl at his elbow. There are clips from Wallace’s hundreds of interviews, including the Ayatollah Khomeini, Johnny Carson, Ronald Reagan, Yasir Arafat, Jack Kevorkian, Vladimir Putin, Janis Joplin, Manuel Noriega and Vladimir Horowitz. To name a few.

In one memorable clip, the essence of Wallace’s acerbic wit and dogged determination are evident in the opening segment of a classic sit-down with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan:

“You don’t trust the media; you’ve said so,” Wallace says, about six inches from Farrakhan’s face. “You don’t trust whites; you’ve said so. You don’t trust Jews; you’ve said so. Well, here I am!’’

Wallace has talked about battling depression for years, but in Sunday’s retrospective, he admits for the first time, to a question from Safer, that he tried to commit suicide 20 years ago.

Like others who participated in the birth of TV news, Wallace started out in entertainment, hosting a late-night talk in New York in the ’50s. A few years later, he got serious about news, and in 1968 he and co-host Harry Reasoner launched “60 Minutes.”

The show wasn’t popular in its original Tuesday time slot, but after it moved to Sunday nights in ‘72, it became an institution.

“60 Minutes” will go on without Wallace’s tough questions and dulcet baritone, but it won’t be the same.

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April 5, 2006

NBC's Couric makes jump to CBS official

Same blog, second verse …

Yesterday we predicted, that by week’s end, “Today” host Katie Couric would announce that she’s heading to CBS.

This morning, on the occasion of her 15th anniversary with NBC’s top-rated morning show, the 49-year-old Couric did exactly that. What had long been planned as a celebration of Couric’s stint on “Today” suddenly turned into The Big Announcement with sad faces all around.

“I wanted to tell all of you out there who have watched the show for the past 15 years that after listening to my heart and my gut — two things that have served me pretty well in the past — I’ve decided I’ll be leaving ‘Today’ at the end of May,” she told viewers.

Couric didn’t come right out and say she’ll be anchoring the “CBS Evening News” and reporting for “60 Minutes,” but that’s the plan. I guess NBC was willing to let her break the departure news on “Today,” but it wasn’t going to let her promote her future on a rival network.

The move has been expected for so long that the announcement was a big yawn, which is a shame since the woman most often described as “perky” is going to make history in September when she becomes the first solo female anchor of an evening network newscast.

Why did Couric decide to make such a drastic change and abandon her comfort zone? As Couric pointed out on “Today” this morning, “Sometimes change is good.” And as she heads toward her milestone 50th birthday, Couric undoubtedly would like to re-establish herself in serious news.

People who only know her grinning face from “Today” may not know that Couric covered real news for ABC and CBS before shifting to the sometimes goofy morning slot. She covered political conventions, government agencies and all manner of breaking news stories. She can do it again — but it will take a while for her to lose her cloying image as a flirting, giggling chatterbox with Hollywood stars.

Couric sure isn’t leaving for the money. Her CBS salary reportedly will be in the same $15 million annual range as her current NBC contract. But she is said (by all those New York tabloid papers) to have turned down a $20 million salary to stay at NBC.

What will happen to “Today” at the end of May, when all the tears and memories are wiped away?

Meredith Vieira of “The View” is the leading contender to partner with Matt Lauer, but Ann Curry and Campbell Brown also have been mentioned.

If Couric’s jump from the top-rated morning show to the third-rated evening news show boosts CBS out of the basement, she’ll be heralded as a hero. If, however, her hard-news anchoring skills come up short and the program declines or (worse) is ridiculed, Couric could face an unhappy end to an otherwise brilliant career. It’s a risky move.

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April 4, 2006

Couric's jump coming soon

The Katie Couric soap opera could reach its dramatic climax at the end of this week. That’s the speculation swirling in the TV news biz now.

Sources say NBC, where perky Couric, 49, has anchored “The Today Show” since 1991, will make the announcement instead of CBS, where she is expected to take over the evening news anchor post from Bob Schieffer. (Dan Rather, you’ll recall, stepped down last March, and Schieffer began his lengthy interim stint at that time.)

In the early going at least, it sounds like both networks are trying to take the high road here, which is surprising. Claws could come out down the road, however.

Couric’s contract with NBC is over the end of May, so she will continue with “Today” until then. Exactly when she’ll begin anchoring the “CBS Evening News” is unclear — right away? In the fall when new shows debut? Smart money says Couric will become the first female solo anchor of a network evening newscast in September — amid near-hysterical hoopla.

This speculation has been going on for so long the announcement is destined to be anticlimactic. Analysts already have weighed in that Couric is likely to boost CBS’s news ratings temporarily but probably won’t have a dramatic long-term effect. NBC News has been entrenched in the top spot for years, through Tom Brokaw’s departure and Brian Williams’ arrival. And not even the death of ABC’s Peter Jennings had much effect on that network’s ratings.

The biggest impact in Couric’s move could be on “Today.” Meredith Vieira, formerly of CBS and ABC News and currently of ABC’s morning gabfest “The View,” is the leading contender for Couric’s morning gig. It’ll take at least a year for all this to shake down, so stay tuned.

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March 17, 2006

Who will anchor ABC News?

Wouldn’t you love to be a fly on the wall in ABC News president David Westin’s office?

Apparently it’s a world where egos collide, as “World News Tonight” once again ponders what to do with its anchor position — or positions, depending what finally happens.

Bob Woodruff, you’ll recall, was injured Jan. 29 on assignment in Iraq. He was released from the hospital Thursday and is said to be walking and talking. But Westin cautioned staffers in a memo that “we should expect months of further recuperation.”

ABC’s co-anchor, Elizabeth Vargas, soldiers on for now, but she’s pregnant and due to deliver her second child in late summer.

Rumors have been flying for a couple of weeks that Diane Sawyer and Charles Gibson are clawing each other’s eyes out over a possible solo anchor spot.

As CBS inches closer to nabbing NBC “Today” host Katie Couric for its evening anchor gig (thus replacing Bob Schieffer, who replaced Dan Rather), Sawyer was said to be increasingly anxious to make history as the first female full-time solo weeknight anchor.

As Sawyer’s well-manicured fangs protruded, her “Good Morning America” partner Gibson became, according to the New York tabs, “very unhappy.”

But then, perhaps smelling bad karma on the horizon (not to mention bad press), Sawyer supposedly dropped her campaign and backed Gibson for the job.

Gibson was in the running after Peter Jennings’ death last August, but Westin passed over him because (a) the strength of “GMA” is hugely important to ABC and (b) he wanted a younger, hipper anchor. Instead of one, however, Westin named two, Vargas and Woodruff — ostensibly so one anchor could be out in the field reporting but really because he wanted two attractive hipsters.

After Woodruff was injured, ABC announced that Sawyer and Gibson would take turns anchoring with Vargas. That set off a flurry of rumors that Vargas was miffed that the network felt it had to “baby-sit” her with a veteran. Recently, she’s been flying solo.

So, who will finally win Jennings’ crown? Smart money is on Gibson, a veteran reporter and anchor who is a reassuring, comfortable presence at the helm.

But if that happens, Sawyer, despite her proclamations of support, might be ticked off, and Westin will have to find an acceptable partner for her at “GMA.”

And what of Vargas? Hard to say, but she has neither the longevity nor the muscle to put up much of a fight. She’ll go down as a footnote in ABC News history, not unlike Connie Chung who was a short-timer as Rather’s co-anchor at CBS.

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March 16, 2006

Indecent at 9 p.m. but not at 10?

Who knew that time zones could determine what’s indecent and what’s decent on broadcast television?

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission recommended that CBS stations in the Central and Mountain time zones (including Austin’s KEYE) be fined a maximum of $32,500 for showing an “indecent” episode of “Without a Trace” in late 2004.

Stations on the East and West Coasts, however, received no such slaps.

Why? Because prime time is an hour earlier in the Central Time zone — 7 to 10 p.m. — so the offending “Without a Trace,” that depicted a flashback scene of a teen orgy, aired at 9 p.m. here. For some reason, the FCC thinks folks in the more sophisticated portions of the country, such as New York and Los Angeles, will not be as morally corrupted or shocked by shows that air at 10 p.m. as those of us in the heartland might be at 9 p.m. Maybe that’s because we all supposedly go to bed at 10 p.m.

CBS, not surprisingly, is appealing the FCC’s recommended fine of $32,500 per station for showing that particular installment of “Without a Trace.” Other offensive material, such as Janet Jackson’s exposed breast during the Super Bowl half-time show two years ago, could bring the total tab against the nation’s CBS stations (yes, mostly those in the Central and Mountain time zones) to a whopping $3.9 million.

Mike Reed, general manager of CBS-owned KEYE, is on vacation this week and was unreachable for comment. I’m just guessing here, but I bet he disagrees with the FCC on this one.

You will not be surprised to know that CBS is appealing the recommended fine, pointing out that the episode in question was “not unduly graphic or explicit” and carried the TV-14 parental guideline rating. Stay tuned …

A failed invention

“American Inventor” is a new reality show from the creators of “American Idol” about nerds who “invent” things — like a big stick to ward off mountain lions. And dog-exercising “tubes.”

Pathetic is the word we’re looking for here. The show debuts tonight at 7 on ABC (KVUE Channel 24) with a two-hour opener.

It’s as painful to watch these folks pitch their inventions to four underwhelmed judges as it was to hear those unfortunate young people who couldn’t carry a tune try to convince “American Idol” they were the Next Big Pop Star.

At the end of this painful new show’s run, the winner — presumably someone who has actually concocted something useful — will get $1 million. This sizable bounty brings out loons and delusional types from all over the country. It’s really too awful to consider.

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March 15, 2006

Mike Wallace and 'Rollergirls' exit!

Mike Wallace’s decision to step away from “60 Minutes” shouldn’t come as a surprise. I mean, the guy is nearly 88 years old, after all.

But Wallace has been tireless — and relentless — since he first leaped out from behind potted plants in 1968 to accost corrupt corporate and government officials. His aggression is legendary, and so is his stamina.

Despite a suffocating battle with depression years ago (brought on by Gen. William C. Westmoreland’s lawsuit against CBS for a report by Wallace on the Vietnam War), Wallace has been the Energizer Bunny of network news.

He plays tennis almost as aggressively as he goes after corruption. And he’s still got all his hair, along with a very nice tan. But he does have a pacemaker and hearing aids and claims his 20/20 vision isn’t what it used to be … whose is?

Wallace says he’s tired of the traveling — he flew all over the world last season reporting 20 stories in what was supposed to be his “cut-back” year. He has done six major pieces this season, including one from Iraq.

When Wallace departs in May, it will be television’s great loss. We will not see his like again. Ever.

‘Rollergirls’ axed

According to Variety, A&E has decided to cancel “Rollergirls” because of “sub-par ratings.”

The series, in case you missed it, followed the Austin-based Lonestar Rollergirls through rough-and-tumble competitions and their sometimes equally raucous personal lives.

New reality shows in development for A&E include a series that will follow a trio of young show biz kids (including Aaron Spelling’s son Randy) as they “try life as roomies” (zzzzzzzz!) and a series about students investigating poltergeists and other paranormal activity. Hard to imagine they’ll do better than “Rollergirls.”

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February 16, 2006

Cheney & Hume: Too little too late?

Does anybody besides Vice President Dick Cheney — and maybe his right-hand gal-pal Mary Matalin — think he handled this little shooting incident last Saturday appropriately?

Rule No. 1 in public relations of any kind and political PR in particular is this: Get in front of the story. That means get the info out quickly, yourself. And, if you must, then spin it like a top.

As we all know by now, Cheney didn’t utter a peep until he sat down Wednesday afternoon with his hand-picked interviewer, Fox News Channel’s Brit Hume. Although Cheney was unapologetic about how he chose to release the news that he had accidentally shot his hunting buddy, Austin attorney Harry Whittington, the veep was clearly out for damage control.

If Cheney or the White House had released a statement Saturday night saying simply that Whittington had been accidentally shot by the veep, the media hoopla likely would have been over by Monday. Maybe even Sunday.

The 25-minute interview Wednesday was mostly a rehash of the shooting and its aftermath, but this was our first chance to see Cheney, a man whose emotions never escape his government-gray suit, shoulder the blame.

In an article today, Hume told Washington Post media critic Howard Kurtz that he believes the vice president “chose Fox because it’s the top-rated cable network, and picked him (Hume) because he hosts the only Washington-oriented hour on Fox’s schedule.”

Pish-posh. Fox News is generally regarded as more conservative than the so-called “liberal media,” and Hume has personal political leanings that are decidedly conservative. He also, from time to time, criticizes the Washington press corps, whom Cheney loathes.

Which is not to say that Hume was soft on Cheney. He asked the right questions: What happened? Was anyone drinking? Why did you handle the situation the way you did? When exactly did you talk with the White House? Do you have any regrets?

Oh, and by the way, Hume jabbed toward the end, did you authorize your indicted former aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby to leak information in the Valerie Plame case? Cheney didn’t expect that one.

We’ll know today or tomorrow if Cheney’s late arrival to public response has calmed the media firestorm. Cable news seems to have moved on to other matters today, but you never know when this kind of PR disaster will resurface.

Austin ‘Idol’ wannabes bomb

How sad is this: About 5,000 young hopefuls auditioned for “American Idol” in Austin last August and only one contender from our group made it to last night’s Final 24. And he’s not really from Austin.

Will Makar, 16, hails from The Woodlands near Houston. A high school sophomore, Makar sang in the Houston Children’s Chorus and prides himself on being able to impersonate Chewbacca from “Star Wars.” Hmmm.

The Hollywood group was whittled to 12 girls and 12 guys last night, and the Austin auditions had the tiniest representation. Closest contenders for most pathetic auditions were Las Vegas and San Francisco, with two finalists each.

Denver led the pack with seven successful auditioners, followed by Boston with five, Greensboro, N.C., with four and Chicago with three.

Next week “Idol” gets down to business.

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January 31, 2006

State of the Union: Boring!

It’s my patriotic duty tonight to watch the State of the Union address — tonight and every single January when the hot air oozes.

I hate it, but I’ll do it. I’m an American citizen, and it’s my job to be informed. Or at least to hear the President’s version of information.

Regardless of who is in office, the State of the Union address is always a bore. It just is.

Maybe it’s the formal setting. The United States Capitol isn’t exactly a comfy place to hear a speech.

Or maybe it’s the complete inability of the Leader of the Free World — no matter who it is — to use the intimacy of the television camera appropriately. Can’t these guys be coached by Oprah?

Or maybe it’s the partisan cheering on one side of the room and chilly silence on the other. Or the standing ovations that aren’t warranted. Or the Vice President, no matter who he is, nodding off in the background. Or the female politicians in blinding red hoping to catch the attention of the President and the TV cameras.

Here’s my solution to this yearly never-ending drone-fest: Let a stand-in deliver the address. The Oscar nominations were announced this morning; the State of the Union address is tonight. Let’s let these two worlds collide.

Casting one of the five best actor nominees would be entertaining for viewers and a fine challenge for the actors.

Any of this year’s nominees would be better than the current occupant of the White House: Philip Seymour Hoffman (“Capote”), Terrence Howard (“Hustle & Flow”), Heath Ledger (“Brokeback Mountain”), Joaquin Phoenix (“Walk the Line”) or David Strathairn (“Good Night, and Good Luck”).

Guess it’s too late this year, but next year maybe Washington and Hollywood will help us out.

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January 30, 2006

Dark days at ABC News -- again

Recently named co-anchor Bob Woodruff, as I’m sure you heard on all the broadcast and cable newscasts yesterday, was seriously injured on assignment in Iraq. He and cameraman Doug Vogt were involved in a roadside bombing.

Details emerging today indicate that Woodruff, who is hospitalized in Germany, is in much worse condition than Vogt. Both men suffered head injuries, but Woodruff also suffered broken bones and apparently has not regained consciousness. Nevertheless, the network is expressing optimism.

“The families and our colleagues have met with the doctors who have examined Bob and Doug,” said ABC News president David Westin in a statement this morning. “Both have shown some signs of improvement. As we have known, Doug is in somewhat better condition than Bob.”

Updates will be posted periodically on ABC’s Web site, and viewers can post get-well messages there, too.

Woodruff and Vogt had recently returned to Iraq, where they were embedded with the 4th Infantry Division traveling with an Iraqi Army unit.

ABC News had recently promoted Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas as co-anchors of “World News Tonight” following the death last year of longtime anchor Peter Jennings.

Woodruff, 44, came to TV news after a successful career as a corporate lawyer. He was teaching law in Beijing in 1989 when CBS recruited him to help with coverage of the student uprisings in Tiananmen Square.

Dismissed in some quarters for his GQ looks, Woodruff joined ABC News a decade ago and quickly earned a reputation for hard work and solid reporting. We hope this is a temporary setback.

Promising if it really happens …

Aaron Sorkin and University of Texas grad Thomas Schlamme, who conspired on “The West Wing” before departing in 2003, are teaming up again for a new NBC series about life behind the scenes of a sketch comedy show that sounds a lot like “Saturday Night Live.”

The still untitled series will star former “Friends” cast member Matthew Perry, Steven Weber (“Wings”) and comedian D.L. Hughley (ABC’s autobiographical sitcom “The Hughleys”).

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January 20, 2006

Nick News tackles God and science

“Nick News with Linda Ellerbee” was created to help young viewers understand important issues swirling around them. But the programs are terrific for all ages.

Do you really understand the difference between creationism, intelligent design and evolution? Do your children? Have you asked them what they’ve been taught in school about how the world and the people in it came to be?

Sunday night’s program, “God, Science, Politics and Your School” (7:30 p.m. on Nickelodeon) is a smart, thoughtful look at the controversy affecting public schools all over the country.

Ellerbee has never been one to dumb down a subject for kids, whether it’s the Iraq war, racism or the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. She presents facts, perspectives and context.

“The goal of this show is not to debate the issues of evolution, intelligent design or creationism,” Ellerbee explains to viewers young and old. “We just want to give kids a better understanding of what all the shouting is about.”

The program traces the current front-page controversy back to the 1987 Supreme Court ruling that outlawed teaching creationism in science classes. Supporters of intelligent design say their theory, which springs from creationism, is really a science-based challenge to evolution.

Schools in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Georgia and Alabama — to name a few — have wrestled with what should be taught in science classes, and “Nick News” reports on several legal cases. The program concludes, as “Nick News” usually does, with kids from different religions talking about the controversy and their own beliefs.

Ellerbee and “Nick News” raise the level of discourse, and, thanks to serious journalism, present complex issues in engaging, clear-headed ways. Wouldn’t it be nice if grown-up newscasts did the same?

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January 19, 2006

New CBS anchor like porn?

At the winter gathering of the nation’s TV critics in Los Angeles, CBS News president Sean McManus offered no earth-shattering news about filling the anchor chair left empty by Dan Rather last year.

Speculation has been rampant for months that CBS is going after “Today” host Katie Couric, and those rumors won’t disappear until Couric’s NBC contract expires in May.

Asked what qualities he hoped to find in a new anchor, McManus served up a curious response: “It’s a little bit like defining pornography. You know it when you see it.”

Nobody has ever mistaken current substitute anchor Bob Schieffer for anything remotely resembling porn, so we can count him out.

McManus acknowledged he was looking for a “known quantity,” aka a celebrity, and that that person likely would come from outside CBS.

If that doesn’t spell Katie Couric, I don’t know what does.

Captain Kangaroo redux??

PBS is looking for a host for its weekday morning preschool lineup, scheduled to debut in the fall of this year. “PBS Kids” will include a lineup of old favorites and new series geared to 2- to 5-year-olds.

Here’s what the public TV network is looking for, according to a job posting e-mailed in a press release today:

“PBS is looking for an authentic talent who embodies a warm, creative and charismatic approach to life-long learning and child engagement. The new host will motivate children through fun, interactive, language-rich and musical original content segments, bridging lessons from each episode that relate ideas and themes to real world appreciation and application. The search will target not only the television and talent industries but also pursue education and child development avenues.”

Qualified candidates can find submission requirements at beginning Jan. 20, and should be sent to:

Barbara Barna Casting 249 Smith Street, #122 Brooklyn, N. 11231

Deadline is Feb. 10.

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November 23, 2005

Ted Koppel's restrained farewell

Ted Koppel, in his swan song Tuesday night after more than 25 years as anchor of ABC’s “Nightline,” asked viewers to give Martin Bashir, Cynthia McFadden and Terry Moran, the trio that replaces him Monday, a chance.

“You’ve always been very nice to me, so give this new anchor team at ‘Nightline’ a fair break,” he said. “If you don’t, the network will just put another comedy in this time slot, and then you’ll be sorry.”

The remark was a restrained yet pointed shot at ABC execs, who secretly courted David Letterman in 2002 as a “Nightline” replacement.

Koppel, 65, resigned from ABC News, after 42 years, because higher-ups at the network demanded that he anchor “Nightline” live five nights a week. In recent years, Koppel had been at the helm three nights a week and only went live when he felt news warranted it.

For his finale last night, Koppel revisited one of his favorite interview subjects: college professor Morrie Schwartz, whose terminal illness and death led to Mitch Albom’s best-selling book “Tuesdays With Morrie.”

Koppel resisted doing a retrospective of his career and insisted on a “normal ‘Nightline’ ” for his last broadcast. Only in the last few minutes did he address his departure.

He told viewers that he often asked young people, especially “‘Nightline” interns, about legendary anchors Eric Severeid, Howard K. Smith and Frank Reynolds, and got no response.

“Trust me, the transition from one anchor to another is not that big a deal,” he concluded.

No visible tears were shed.

Earlier in the day, he sent out an e-mail to “Nightline” fans thanking them for the years of support:

“It’s been a joy and a privilege to occupy this chair for the past 26 years. I understand how many people grit their teeth on the way to work every morning. To have had more than 42 years now of almost always being able to go to work with a sense of excitement and anticipation makes me among the most fortunate of people.”

Koppel and executive producer Tom Bettag are rumored to be heading for HBO and a new documentary series. He leaves a huge hole in network TV news.

Finally, ‘Real World: Austin’ is gone!

“Real World: Austin” signed off last night, too, and what a tedious exit it was.

Rachel got into yet another knock-down, drag-out fight with Wes, and that spat quickly provoked screaming from Nehemiah, too. What was supposed to be a nice farewell evening among the “seven strangers” degenerated, as it always has, into a drunken brawl.

Mel and Danny managed to hold onto a shred of decency while trying to mediate the hostility and were last seen hugging and weeping in the airport as they said goodbye.

Next week — same night (Tuesday at 9), same station (MTV) — is the allegedly final reunion, which may or may not tell us what these self-absorbed young people have been up to since leaving Austin in May. Personally, I feel my work in this slum is done, and I’ll return to my regularly scheduled program — “Boston Legal.”

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November 3, 2005

CNN goes younger, hipper with Cooper

TV news is a nasty business when it comes to personnel issues. Seasoned anchors and reporters can be banished in a flash — and on the basis of a whim or a downward tick in the ratings.

Or, in the case of CNN’s quietly cerebral anchor Aaron Brown, a tick up for colleague Anderson Cooper, recently dubbed “our hottest personality” by CNN president Jon Klein. In part, that was because Cooper’s silver-haired cuteness stood out during the network’s coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

So Brown and his contemplative news show are toast, effective right now. Cooper’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” takes over Monday with an expanded 9-11 p.m. time slot, making heiress Gloria Vanderbilt’s screen-friendly son the new face of CNN.

Klein said it was a “mutual decision,” but, of course, it was not. These things never are. Brown, 56, was said to be furious when Klein paired the two men during post-Katrina coverage and hinted at turning over Brown’s time slot to Cooper, 38, several weeks ago.

Both the cool, unflappable Brown and the passionate, adorable Cooper are oh-so-conveniently on vacation this week and unreachable for comment. Good time for a major shakeup, no?

Brown joined CNN from ABC News in 2001 and was widely praised for his level-headed anchoring of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks coverage. Cooper also came to CNN from ABC in 2001 and was best-known at his previous network for hosting the reality show “The Mole.”

Not to imply that Cooper is a total lightweight. Although raised in extreme privilege, he is said to be hard-working and without pretense. He has a BA degree in political science and international relations from Yale, and he studied Vietnamese at the University of Hanoi.

It doesn’t take a genius to see what’s going on here. CNN has been thrashed in the ratings by Fox News for several years now, and CNN is searching for ways to regain its footing. Cooper represents a younger, hipper, more passionate approach to anchoring and reporting the news. He’s not likely to sway the devoutly loyal Fox crowd, but he just might bring in the MTV/VH1 crowd.

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October 20, 2005

Happy 30th, 'NewsHour!'

A decade ago, Canadian journalist Robert MacNeil decided to step down from his co-anchor job on the prestigious PBS series “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report.”

Tonight MacNeil returns to the program, now called “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer”, to join Lehrer in celebrating the broadcast’s 30th anniversary. The news program airs weeknights at 6 p.m. on KLRU, Channel 18, and 7 p.m. on KLRU 2, Cable Channel 20.

PBS’s nightly news report and analysis has been a welcome constant in the sometimes turbulent world of TV news, perceived even by PBS critics as actually fair and balanced. A survey by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which came under fire when newly appointed Republican conservatives began criticizing PBS as too liberal, found that an overwhelming majority of respondents rated “The NewsHour” the “most fair” news program on television. So there!

The show started in 1975 as an alternative (or supplement) to the evening newscasts on CBS, NBC and ABC. In 1983 “The MacNeil/Lehrer Report” became the first hour-long newscast. Although some loyal viewers wondered how the show would do without MacNeil as co-pilot, it has done just fine with low-key solo anchor Lehrer.

At last, Leguizamo joins “ER”

NBC has been teasing us with the prospect of John Leguizamo joining the cast of the decrepit “ER” since the new season began in September. Tonight (at 9 p.m.) he finally arrives.

Leguizamo, the Colombian-born-New York-raised writer-performer is bound to inject much-needed tension and excitement into the show. His personality seems wired for excitement … and danger.

He plays Dr. Victor Clemente, a state-of-the-art physician who comes to County General from the Bronx to bring the hospital’s aging technology into the 21st century.

“He’s stepping on a lot of toes and lighting a fire under everybody’s butt,” Leguizamo told reporters in a recent telephone conference call. “He’s a genius doctor who’s really bright and really self-serving.”

Dr. Clemente makes his entrance by sneaking into the ER posing as a patient — to see how the medical staff performs.

Whatever Leguizamo’s character does, it’s bound to be more exciting than the mopey relationship between Luka and Sam.

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October 18, 2005

It takes three to replace Koppel on 'Nightline'

“Nightline” is Ted Koppel’s program, and without him, it will not be “Nightline.” Exactly what it will be — and what the change means to TV news in general — is even more unclear now that ABC has announced the trio that will replace Koppel when he steps down Nov. 22.

Yesterday ABC News trumpeted a host trio of White House reporter Terry Moran and “20/20” contributors Cynthia McFadden and Martin Bashir. The latter is best-known for his salacious interview with Michael Jackson that resulted in the even more salacious child molestation trial.

The trio takes over Nov. 28, and although executive producer James Goldston has insisted that serious analysis of multiple hard-news topics will continue, I’m smelling more of a “20/20” sensibility.

“Nightline” has been sagging in the ratings, behind NBC’s “Tonight” and CBS’s “Late Show,” for years, and ABC at one point went after David Letterman to host an entertainment show to replace “Nightline.” When that effort failed, ABC insisted it would stay the course with hard news.

But Koppel is moving on — reportedly but not officially for a new gig with HBO — and “Nightline” is likely to sink even deeper. Who wants to watch a newsmagazine late at night?

Post-‘West Wing,’ Aaron Sorkin returns to NBC

Writer Aaron Sorkin, who created and abandoned “The West Wing,” has signed on with NBC to create a behind-the-scenes spoof of a late-night comedy show.

The new show, tentatively titled “Studio 7”, will join the schedule next fall — assuming Sorkin can hit the deadline, which he had trouble doing with “The West Wing.”

“This project is a noisy, compelling combination of bold drama and laugh-out-loud comedy,” NBC Entertainment President Kevin Reilly said in a statement.

“Studio 7” plans to poke fun at network executives and the creative staff of a late-night comedy show that sounds a lot like “Saturday Night Live.” UT grad Tommy Schlamme, who also worked with Sorkin on “West Wing,” is again partnering with Sorkin.

Sorkin is no stranger to battles with network brass, and “Studio 7” could be an insider’s dream. But will the mainstream audience be amused by all the show-downs and ego explosions? If anybody can make this material entertaining, it’s Sorkin.

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October 11, 2005

New Orleans beating too bloody for too long

It was tough to watch cable news Monday, wasn’t it?

The video of New Orleans cops beating up a 64-year-old man was beyond gruesome. It was nauseating. There was blood streaming from his mouth and nose, and he was lying in a pool of blood as the two cops pummeled him to a pulp.

In case you missed it — and good for you if you did — Robert Davis, a retired elementary school teacher — was stopped in the French Quarter on Saturday night, initially accused of public intoxication. He was repeatedly punched by two officers, and a third officer roughed up an Associated Press television producer who caught the action on video.

There’s a link to the footage on our Web site, if you feel deprived for having not seen it.

Davis, who was treated at a hospital and released to police, insisted he was not drunk. In fact, he told an interviewer that he hasn’t had a drink in 25 years. He was booked on public intoxication, resisting arrest and battery on a police officer.

The three officers — S.M. Smith, Lance Schilling and Robert Evangelist — have been suspended without pay pending an investigation. A trial is set for Jan. 11.

Aside from bloody pummeling, it’s hard to know exactly what we were seeing. Davis appeared to be flailing around, but was he resisting arrest, as the officers claimed? Or was he just trying to avoid the beating?

Any TV news organization in possession of that video certainly would have run it. It was shocking and newsworthy. But it ran continuously all day on cable news.

We could have done without the exhaustive repeats. And without the long, lingering closeup of blood pouring out of Davis’ nose and running into the gutter. The point — that New Orleans is a violent place these days and the police force is stressed — could have been made without the constant hammering.

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October 10, 2005

The next Koppel?

ABC has announced the date for Ted Koppel’s farewell on “Nightline.” It’s Nov. 22. The speculation about who will replace him ranges from ho-hum to alarming.

Koppel, of course, is the original anchor for the acclaimed late-night news program that was launched in March 1980 in response to the Iran hostage crisis.

The post-Koppel format will debut Nov. 28, but details have not been revealed, leading to the aforementioned speculation. Among the candidates with the biggest buzz are ABC White House correspondent Terry Moran and “20/20” reporter/anchor Cynthia McFadden.

Either would be OK, but hardly Koppel quality.

Another name floating in inner circles is Martin Bashir, the creepy Brit whose sleazy interview with Michael Jackson launched the singer’s child abuse trial. Bashir’s work smacks of tabloid “journalism,” and it’s hard to imagine thoughtful news analysis happening under his watch.

Koppel has been based in Washington, D.C., and there’s talk of moving “Nightline” to New York or dividing the show with a two-anchor format between Washington and New York.

Can Bochco give “Commander” some gravitas?

I’m not a fan of ABC’s surprise hit drama “Commander in Chief”, starring Geena Davis as the first female president, wife and mother of three. This is more domestic drama than political drama.

But Steven Bochco is joining the show as the new executive producer, so I guess I’ll have to give the show another chance. I am a longtime Bochco fan, starting with “Hill Street Blues” and continuing with the current “Over There.”

Creator Rob Lurie is staying with “Commander,” but apparently he was unable to get the show up and running smoothly enough to hit weekly deadlines. Maybe Bochco can give the show some oomph in addition to finishing episodes on time.

Don’t panic …

… If you don’t find your favorite shows on the schedule for the next few weeks.

It’s baseball’s big time: league championships and World Series. Consequently, some new shows are gone altogether for a while, and others are in reruns. That’s because the ratings for baseball this time of the year are sky-high, and nobody wants to waste new episodes on fewer eyeballs.

If you, like me, have become a rabid “Prison Break” fan, you’ll just have to wait a bit for the riveting drama to return.

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September 23, 2005

Rita TV

Once again that ugly orange blob has swirled across the screen on cable news networks as Hurricane Rita blows into the Gulf of Mexico.

Seems like only yesterday that Katrina was bearing down on New Orleans, and the blob drew us to the tube for more hours than we had to spend.

Thursday the Rita focus was split between the traffic jams outside of Houston and the big orange blob wobbling toward the Texas coast. Split screens heightened the drama of this pending disaster.

CNN and Fox News Channel shifted some of their personnel from Louisiana and Mississippi to the Texas Gulf Coast, as Rita whipped into a Category 5 — and then sighed a bit down to a 4.

The lessons learned from Katrina? Get your main folks on the air and keep ’em there. NBC hit pay dirt with Brian Williams anchoring coverage, Fox’s Shepard Smith got the best reviews of his life for his passionate reporting and CNN’s Anderson Cooper proved he is more than just a filthy-rich heir to the Vanderbilt fortune.

For the Texas chapter of hurricane season, ABC sent anchor Charles Gibson, who reported from Houston yesterday and will stay through the weekend. Stone Phillips and Matt Lauer also are familiar faces for NBC, and CBS, after giving him a quick break from New Orleans, flew John Roberts into the storm along with Harry Smith.

Storms are big business for TV news, and Katrina, which doubled and sometimes tripled cable news’ ratings, taught news execs how to feed the frenzy.

Friday night debuts

For a night that increasingly doesn’t matter to broadcast networks, there sure are a lot of new shows on the schedule. Makes you wonder if programmers are paying attention to the size of the audience, which is only slightly less than the lowest-of-the-week Saturday audience.

If you happen to be one of those people who is home on Friday nights, here’s a quick rundown of the new stuff:

“Three Wishes” (8 p.m., NBC) is a shameless, do-good reality series with Amy Grant stirring up tears of gratitude in small towns across the country. It owes its weepy concept to ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” complete with in-your-face product placement. (Hello, Ford.) The opener grants wishes to a brain-damaged child, a football coach with leukemia and a child longing to be adopted by his stepfather.

“Inconceivable” (9 p.m., NBC) is a treacly drama about all manner of conception and childbirth. The handsome doctor (Jonathan Cake) in charge of the fertility clinic has a very active sex life, the attorney (Ming-Na) on board is in charge of conscience and Angie Harmon has been added as a doctor with firepower. Not my cup of tea, but the cast is good.

“Ghost Whisperer” (7 p.m., CBS) features Jennifer Love Hewitt seeing and chatting with dead people. She’s helping them find loved ones and settle pre- and post-death problems. Has its moments, but only if you buy into ghosts.

“Killer Instinct” (8 p.m., Fox) is possibly the most gruesome crime drama of the new season. The focus is on a San Francisco police squad called the Deviant Crime Unit, and the pilot deals with death by tarantulas, bugs and a finger found in the throat. Eeew.

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September 6, 2005

Next for Katrina coverage?

Like millions of other Americans, I continued to be glued to Katrina coverage over the weekend.

Ratings for cable news networks were up 300 percent, and the prime-time specials on the broadcast networks out-performed previous installments of “Dateline,” “Primetime Live” and “60 Minutes.”

It will be interesting to see how long the wall-to-wall coverage continues on cable — and how the TV cameras will handle the recovery phase of this rescue-and-recovery mission.

If officials in New Orleans are right, there could be 10,000 bodies on the ground after the flood water is pumped out of the city. The pictures could be beyond grim, and I bet executives are pondering right now how much will be too much.

This is a much more gruesome task than the 9/11 aftermath. Most of the thousands of dead were virtually disintegrated in the blasts.

New Orleans and coastal Mississippi are another story entirely. We’ve already seen quick shots of bloated corpses floating in the streets. And we’ve seen the huge tents that have been set up for medical examiners to try to identify the dead. The worst is yet to come.

Out of sensitivity to survivors who have already been through too much, let’s hope the graphic images are minimal.

Sick of Andy’s mojo?

When I wasn’t watching Katrina coverage over the Labor Day weekend, I was watching coverage of the U.S. Open Tennis Championship on CBS (daytime) and USA Network (prime time).

About 9 p.m. on Friday, I became officially sick of Andy Roddick. Not Andy Roddick the tennis champ and part-time Austin resident. I could watch that Andy Roddick smash fuzzy yellow balls all day.

But Roddick was bumped in the first round of the Open. What remains of him now is constant commercials, the most annoying of which is an American Express spot with a guy who identifies himself as Andy’s missing mojo.

The mojo ad has run so many times it’s ridiculous. During one half-hour period on Sunday, CBS ran the spot five times. USA loves the spot even more.

I am this close to cutting up my American Express card.

Roddick apparently thinks this ad is tons of fun, and he has a “where’s Andy’s mojo” contest on his Web site.

The Lexus ads aren’t as frequent or as annoying, but doesn’t this All-Andy-All-the-Time just draw attention to his early exit?

So far, no Andre Agassi or James Blake ads, but that could change this week.

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September 2, 2005

Katrina's TV aftermath

By now the images of reporters battered by wind and rain are long gone, replaced by much darker scenes of corpses on curbs and sobbing survivors.

Hurricane Katrina is a made-for-TV story if ever there was one, and the coverage is redefining how we think of natural disasters and their impact on our wealthy, technologically advanced country.

More than one TV reporter has described the devastation and deprivation in Louisiana and Mississippi as “Third World.”

We’re not used to seeing scenes of misery on our own shores: abandoned elderly, dying children, hopelessness and anger. We’d better get used to them because they’re not going away.

Telethons and relief concerts will be sprinkled among the horrible images this weekend, but we can expect Katrina to dominate television and our national consciousness for months to come.

“Invasion” ads pulled

Sensitivity concerns have caused ABC to stop running promotions for “Invasion,” the new sci-fi series about strange, alien-connected goings-on in the Florida Everglades in the wake of a hurricane.

The show, as of now, is still scheduled to debut Sept. 21, but depending on the unfolding tragedy in the Gulf Coast, that decision could change. “Invasion” is set in Homestead, a small town crushed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

No “Idol” auditions in Memphis

“American Idol” has canceled its Memphis auditions that were scheduled for Monday. Anyone who was bumped from the Austin auditions who was planning to try again in Memphis will have to make other arrangements.

Next stop on the “Idol” audition circuit is Denver on Sept. 11, followed by Chicago on Sept. 16.

Memphis is one of several cities taking in thousands of Katrina refugees, and city officials felt “Idol” auditions would be too complicated to handle now.

Aging “ER” gets new blood

Multi-talented actor/comedian John Leguizamo, whose ‘95 Fox series “House of Buggin’ ” was praised by critics, will join NBC’s “ER” in October. He’ll play “nontraditional” supervising physician Dr. Ernesto Clemente.

Leguizamo, who had prominent roles in the movies “Moulin Rouge” and “Land of the Dead,” will appear in 12 of the show’s 22 episodes this season.

“ER” also hopes to get a boost from another new cast member, Kristen Johnston, formerly of the NBC sitcom “3rd Rock from the Sun.” Johnston will have a recurring role as a supervising nurse.

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September 1, 2005

24-hour Katrina coverage continues on TV

Expect wall-to-wall coverage of Katrina to continue for some time on cable news, along with occasional specials and evening news coverage on the broadcast networks.

This massive tragedy is not going away any time soon. In fact, the aftermath is likely to deepen the crisis.

Fox News continues to be the most-watched cable news network, but CNN has the biggest contingency of reporters covering it. CNN has more than 100 reporters, producers and camera operators on the ground in Louisiana and Mississippi. Fox has about 50.

Among the broadcast networks, ABC has the largest contingency, with 70-plus newsies, followed by 60 for CBS and 35 for NBC. Affiliates in Houston, Dallas and Miami are helping keep the ground troops supplied with food, gas and necessary news-covering supplies.

You can tell by watching that this is not an easy story to cover, on many levels. Logistically, TV newsies are having trouble getting in and out of the region, with some reporters using video phones, cell phones and even Blackberries to communicate.

Like many of the refugees, reporters and staffers are sleeping in vans and existing on energy bars and bottled water. Many of the on-air crew are beginning to show signs of fatigue and distress.

CNN’s Jean Meserve, for example, spent all day Monday and Tuesday on the ground, delivering hard news about the unfolding tragedy. By the time she appeared on Aaron Brown’s prime-time show the second evening, her voice was quivering and she struggled to control her emotions. The devastation and misery have simply become overwhelming.

Not surprisingly, viewers are riveted to the horror. Prime-time coverage on the cable news networks is totaling about 10 million viewers a night. Ratings for the networks’ prime-time specials are not yet available, but competing mostly with preseason reruns, the viewership is expected to be high.

“Yes, Dear” and “Earl” producer: “That’s not what I meant.”

Greg Garcia, executive producer for the critically praised new NBC comedy “My Name Is Earl,” phoned me yesterday to complain about Tuesday’s TV column about the resurgence of comedy in the new season.

Garcia, who also helms CBS’s critically lampooned sitcom “Yes, Dear,” said I misunderstood what he said during a press conference at the Television Critics Association meetings in Los Angeles. I understood him to say that pans of “Yes, Dear” fueled him to be funnier on “Earl.”

“It upsets my cast when it looks like I’m bad-mouthing that show (‘Yes, Dear’),” Garcia said, clearly upset. “All I meant was, when I got bad reviews on ‘Yes, Dear’ it fueled me to get up and work even harder on ‘Yes, Dear’ every day… . I came up with ‘Earl’ because it was time to come up with another show. I’m extremely proud of both shows.”

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August 29, 2005

Katrina roars onto TV

Katrina is the “perfect storm,” “the storm of the century” or “New Orleans’ worst nightmare,” depending on which rain-soaked, wind-battered TV type you listen to today.

CNN’s Anderson Cooper apparently will not be happy until he’s swept away on camera. This hurricane season, he’s been clutching his mike and flapping in storms from Florida to Alabama to Louisiana. Katrina is his biggest to date.

Brian Williams, NBC’s usually well-coiffed and nattily dressed anchorman, was bellowing from the New Orleans Superdome this morning as wind snatched portions of the arena’s roof with 9,000 refugees shivering inside.

Hurricanes can make a TV reporter’s career. Former Dan Rather came to national prominence on CBS reporting on Hurricane Carla in 1961 from Galveston. Over the years, Rather covered other major storms, including Andrew in ‘92.

Why are hurricanes such a hot topic for TV? Drama, suspense and fabulous pictures, that’s why. There’s nothing like witnessing a reporter hanging onto a railing, horizontal to the ground, describing nature’s wrath.

Last year, when I was “vacationing” in Florida, Hurricane Charley hit, and I wound up assisting in coverage for the Palm Beach Post. At one point, my friend Anne Rodgers and I were holed up in a motel watching local TV and witnessed one poor guy actually getting blown off a jetty. What he was doing on a jetty, we never knew, but he was rescued and all was well. And exciting.

Weather nerds — of which there are many — will be glued to TV sets all day, witnessing first-hand Katrina’s attack on the Gulf Coast. It is reality TV at its most impressive.

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August 24, 2005

Bob Costas refuses CNN show

Three cheers for Bob Costas, who politely declined to host an hour on CNN devoted to the case of Natalee Holloway, missing in Aruba since May 30.

Costas, you may recall, recently signed on as substitute host of “Larry King Live.” He’s an NBC employee and a free-lancer for CNN, not a full-time staffer.

“I didn’t think the subject matter of Thursday’s show was the kind of broadcast I should be doing,” Costas said in a statement.

Last week, the producers of King’s show asked Costas to chat up a bunch of people involved with the case, from Holloway’s mom to investigators on the island. There was nothing new to report, and the story smelled like a tabloid piece intended to hype the network’s ratings.

Costas said no thanks, which apparently he has the right to do as a sub host. I say apparently because CNN didn’t terminate its agreement with him; nor did they criticize his decision. Chris Pixley hosted the show that aired last Thursday.

So, three cheers for Costas.

Many observers have long felt that the disappearance or murder of pretty white women is routinely overblown by the news media, especially the hungry-for-headlines 24-hour news networks.

Just because such stories generate good ratings does not mean they are worthy of perpetual coverage. Costas has exercised excellent journalistic judgment on this score. CNN should feel chastised — and proud of its new hire.

‘Real World: Austin’ drones on …

Are you growing weary of “Real World: Austin”? I sure am.

Last night’s episode had Danny coming home from burying his mother and promptly treating heartbroken Melinda like dirt. The reason for this was unclear.

Melinda promptly got drunk and threw up, which seems to be everyone’s response to everything on “Real World.”

Wes is still feuding with Johanna. Both are mean drunks and, really, deserve each other. They did not throw up, but probably should have. So far, no romantic connection between those two. It’s hard to imagine it would be fun if they had one.

UT film professor Paul Stekler has been less than a fleeting presence, which is probably a good thing for his reputation as a serious filmmaker. He’s supposed to be teaching the “kids” to be documentary filmmakers. This can’t be one of his proudest accomplishments.

If my calendar is right, we’re stuck with this group until November, but I may take a hike long before then — unless things pick up.

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August 18, 2005

CBS Evening News: The Reality Show?

Messing with television’s evening news format is like fiddling with the morning news: dangerous and probably doomed.

Remember CBS’s 1987 experiment, “The Morning Program,” a lame talk show hosted by Mariette Hartley that was supposed to knock holes in “Today” and “Good Morning America?” You don’t? I’m not surprised. Bad idea … didn’t last.

CBS News is still mulling what to do with its third-place evening news in the wake of Dan Rather’s spring departure. Network chief Leslie Moonves said in March that a multianchor format might be considered, along with other “out-of-the-box” possibilities.

The last time CBS News experimented with the evening news was when Connie Chung was dubbed Rather’s co-anchor in 1994. A year later, the solo anchor format came back.

Nevertheless, CBS seems determined to break the solo mold. Quietly, Moonves and CBS News president Andrew Heyward have been tinkering with possibilities. One version has weekend anchor/White House correspondent John Roberts delivering the day’s headlines and then opening up the half-hour to “debriefings” with reporters and some longer, feature-style reports.

Here’s my suggestion: Turn the once-hallowed “CBS Evening News” into a reality show, a contest with different formats and anchors competing and viewers voting the baddies off until a winner is crowned.

What do you think? I think I’ve got something here … I’m calling CBS now!

This week in the New York Observer, we learn that CBS News conducted a summer-long workshop with college interns to determine what younger viewers want in an evening newscast.

This is an attempt, of course, to get viewers younger than 55, but that’s probably a losing proposition since young people check Internet news several times a day and watch 24-cable news when the need strikes. They are not willing keep a 5:30 appointment.

One thing that I find fascinating — and good — about the interns’ suggestions is that most of them wanted more international news. They, thank heavens, are interested in what’s going on outside the U.S. as well as inside.

The interns also disapproved of CBS’s infatuation with debriefings. They thought there was too much emphasis on reporters, not enough on the news.

See? Young people are smart.

Not surprisingly the interns also thought it would be nice to have an anchor younger than, say, sixtysomething. And that’s likely to happen. Bob Schieffer won’t be at the helm much longer. They thought weather and sports would be a nice addition, but CBS execs nixed that notion.

The rumor mill says CBS will try something different in September — probably without fanfare but with thinly disguised desperation.

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August 9, 2005

Who will follow Peter Jennings?

Now what? An appropriate time of mourning must pass, but sooner rather than later, ABC News will name a replacement for Peter Jennings, who died Sunday of lung cancer.

An argument can be made that Jennings is irreplaceable, but “World News Tonight” needs an anchor, and “Good Morning America” host Charles Gibson can’t keep pulling double duty forever.

Unlike CBS, which is still trying to figure out not only who but how many anchors will be hired to replace Dan Rather, ABC will select a solo anchor from a remarkably deep bench.

Gibson, 62, seems like the strongest contender. He’s smart, comfortable on the air and quick on his feet. Plus, he has years of reporting experience.

Rotating replacement duty has thus far been shared with Elizabeth Vargas, 42. Bob Woodruff and Terry Moran — both fortysomethings — also pop in from time to time. Of that group, Woodruff has the strongest foreign reporting credentials, which ABC News traditionally considers essential for an anchor.

What about Diane Sawyer? Once considered as a possible co-anchor for Dan Rather on CBS News (that ill-fated job went to Connie Chung, poor thing), the 59-year-old “GMA” anchor could surface as a contender — although her glamorous image could work against her.

Former ABC News weekend anchor Aaron Brown might have been a contender, had he not jumped ship to CNN a few years ago. Ditto Chris Wallace, now a staple on Fox News.

Whoever lands the job will have huge shoes to fill. Comparisons will be inevitable and difficult to withstand.

Pam & Tommy Lee: Officially the worst

OK, I’m officially sicker of Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee than I am of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes. I never, ever thought any couple could grate on my nerves like Tom and Katie, but I was wrong. So wrong.

Aren’t you sick of Tattoo Rocker and Baywatch Babe? These two, for some strange reason, assume we care whether they love each other or not. Maybe someone does, but not me.

Lee is currently promoting his NBC reality show “Tommy Lee Goes to College,” which debuts Aug. 16. To stir up interest in possibly the most uninteresting reality show ever, he’s been telling every media outlet he can find that he’s still in love with his ex-wife.

Anderson, the star of Fox’s painfully unfunny sitcom “Stacked,” has been countering that she’s not in love with him. Although they have managed to have their picture taken in lip-lock pose many times.

He says they’re going to remarry; she says, “Not really.”

As far as I’m concerned, both of these lovelies can jump on Oprah’s couch, but I’m not paying attention.

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August 8, 2005

Mourning Peter Jennings

This is a sad day for those of us who value calm, objective journalism.

The death of ABC anchor Peter Jennings last night was expected but shocking at the same time. In April he had announced on air, in a raspy voice, that he had been diagnosed with lung cancer. He said he was beginning an aggressive chemotheraphy treatment and hoped to return to the air from time to time during his treatment.

But insiders knew his condition was grim, and Jennings, 67, never came back to the anchor desk.

Those of you who have read my occasional analyses of TV news know that I’ve always thought Jennings was far and away the best of the network troika. CBS’s Dan Rather was a fine reporter but an awkward anchor. NBC’s Tom Brokaw was a good reporter and anchor but seemed oddly detached from viewers at times.

Jennings was smart, smooth and controlled. He connected from the mind and the heart. We’ll be hearing about his career all day, and I’m working on an appreciation piece for tomorrow’s newspaper. ABC News has posted a nice obit package, including video clips, which I recommend.

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July 11, 2005

Cable news over-hypes the hurricane

Scarier world syndrome … Know what that is? It’s a free-floating fear, produced by bad news, heard repeatedly and with considerable exaggeration from the news media.

You hear stories about murder, fires and other mayhem every day on TV, and you begin to think murder is everywhere and is practically bound to strike you personally any minute. When, in fact, murders and mayhem are rare. Horrible, but rare.

Anyone watching cable news Sunday as Hurricane Dennis came ashore would have had a near-terminal case of scarier world syndrome. Listening to the wind-whipped reporters on CNN, Fox and MSNBC, you’d think this was a natural disaster of historic proportions.

“This just might be another Andrew!” CNN’s Anderson Cooper shouted into his foam-rubber covered microphone, referring to the killer storm that practically wiped out south Florida in 1992.

Not to diminish the damage and injury that Dennis did inflict yesterday, this storm was decidedly not another Andrew. The meteorologists who occasionally updated the reports from the National Weather Service tried to calm the hysteria — several times remarking that the winds were diminishing and the storm was weakening — but to no avail.

Apparently all the TV reporters were huddled next to the same Ramada Inn sign that was blown down, because every channel had video of the sign and a shrieking reporter/witness nearby.

“I’ve never seen anything like this! Don’t come out in this! Stay home and hunker down!” CNN’s Cooper said repeatedly, warning viewers — who were probably not in a position to watch TV coverage if they were in the vicinity — that this was a horribly dangerous storm that could quite possible signal the end of the world.

OK, Cooper didn’t go quite that far, but the panic in his voice and the hysterical warnings left that impression. Of course, if you were stupid enough to be standing under a sign that’s clearly about to fall, you certainly would be in a life-threatening situation.

But TV reporters were the only folks putting themselves in the middle of the storm and whipping up a big ol’ scarier world to fill the long hours of the cable news day.

Tattoos, piercings, Mohawks … INXS wants you!

Tired of sappy-sweet crooners? CBS hopes to draw crowd with a rock ‘n’ roll competition.

The new reality competition, “Rock Star: INXS” debuts tonight at 8 on KEYE Channel 42. Another episode airs tomorrow night and another on Wednesday night.

In other words, if “Rock Star” isn’t a huge hit, CBS had doomed its prime-time lineup on three nights of the week.

Reality guru Mark Burnett (“Survivor,” “The Apprentice”) is convinced otherwise and presents 15 amateur rockers, male and female ranging in age from 22 to 36. The goal is to find a new lead singer for the Australian band INXS, which hasn’t been popular for well more than a decade.

Guitarist Dave Navarro (Jane’s Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers) co-hosts the competition with a pretty celeb named Brooke Burke (“Wild On”).

Like “American Idol,” viewers will help the current INXS members pick the winner.

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July 8, 2005

ABC News needed Jennings for London bombing coverage

Thursday’s London bombing coverage on ABC suffered miserably from the absence of Peter Jennings.

The calm, cool anchor has been off the air battling lung cancer for months.

When news breaks, especially tragic news such as this, Jennings is unflappable. But Diane Sawyer was brought in to anchor the network’s prime-time coverage last night, and she was clearly unprepared and more than a little rattled.

After getting one of the subway survivors on the air, Sawyer couldn’t come up with a single question that made any sense.

“So, you must have been terrified,” she said, furrowing her brow and shaking her platinum locks. The poor guy muttered something, and Sawyer repeated the same lame phrase, which was definitely not a question.

Quick on his feet and smart as a whip, Jennings never fails to come up with cogent comments and enlightening questions. His anchoring post-9/11 was arguably the best on network television. Not without occasional bouts of emotion but mostly controlled and informative.

Maybe Sawyer was a last-minute choice, but if ABC’s bench is that shallow — what about Charlie Gibson, Ted Koppel or Elizabeth Vargas? — there’s a problem.

Speaking of ABC, the network had to quickly scrap its prime-time lineup last night because the movie “Reign of Fire” was on the schedule. The film depicts a future London attacked by dragons and includes scenes of explosions in the Underground. The comedy “Big Fat Liar” aired instead.

Viewers swarm to dancing and awards

Kelly Monaco, the “General Hospital” star who shimmied her way to victory on “Dancing with the Stars” on Wednesday night, drew a huge audience to ABC.

The show’s finale attracted 22.6 million viewers, making it the most-watched program this summer and the most-watched summer show in three years.

And in other rating news, BET, the cable channel that seems always struggling to survive, had the most-watched show on cable last week, “The BET Awards”, hosted by Will Smith and wife Jada Pinkett-Smith.

The awards program, honoring African American performers in music, movies, TV and sports, drew 6.58 million viewers. The show’s ratings boosted BET from its customary low place in the cable Nielsens to a Top 5 finish among all basic cable networks in prime time.

As usual, TNT was first, followed by USA, Disney and Fox News. At least wrestling was bumped from the top slot for a week!

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June 24, 2005

Brokaw returns tonight with 'The Long War'

Typical of Tom Brokaw — aka “Duncan the Wonder Horse” — his retirement from anchoring “NBC Nightly News” has not resulted in one long fishing trip. That’s not how this energetic newsman works.

Brokaw, 65, stepped down in December, took a few months off and then began working on a 10-year contract with NBC that will have him reporting four documentaries a year.

The first one, “The Long War,” airs tonight on “Dateline NBC” (at 7 p.m. on KXAN Channel 36). The hour-long examination of the state of the war on terrorism is a sober look at something Americans seem to be weary of thinking about.

We haven’t won this battle, which began four years ago with the attacks of 9-11, and the threat of another attack still exists. The war on terrorism, like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, are ongoing.

And yet Americans seem to have turned their attention to more personal problems, such as health insurance, Social Security and financial solvency. Brokaw believes, and rightfully so, that we need to be reminded of what is arguably the biggest story — and biggest national commitment — of our day.

For “The Long War,” Brokaw went to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, France and, of course, Washington, D.C. There are interviews with CIA chief Porter Goss, Pakistani leader Pervez Musharraf, Saudi Arabia’s Prince Saud al-Faisal, and other top government officials.

In spite of the load of info and interviews crammed into the hour, “The Long War” is not the least bit tedious or boring. It’s depressing but important and compelling.

Brokaw’s next project, tentatively scheduled for July 6, is about Watergate informant “Deep Throat” (Mark Felt), the third hour will be about American evangelicals; and the fourth will be about a group of National Guardsmen from upstate New York adjusting to life after Iraq.

Federal funding: The wind beneath Big Bird’s wings

Big Bird will not have his gigantic yellow wings clipped after all.

Yesterday the U.S. House of Representatives restored $100 million that had been proposed as a cut for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The Republican-controlled House Appropriations Committee recently had slashed $100 million from $400 million in previously enacted CPB support.

CPB is a private entity created to funnel public money from Congress to public TV and radio. But Republican partisans, who have criticized PBS for an alleged liberal bias, have sought to deny funds and add conservative programming.

Thursday’s 284 to 140 vote was a triumph for PBS, whose bipartisan supporters rallied behind such widely praised programs as “Sesame Street,” “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” and “Nova.”

CPB chairman Kenneth Tomlinson, a staunch Republican, has been carping about PBS’s liberalism for years, and the criticism heated to the boiling point in a crusade against Bill Moyers. The House vote may have been a rejection of Tomlinson’s budget cut, but Tomlinson did succeed in naming Patricia Harrison, a former Republican Party co-chair, as CPB’s new president.

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June 1, 2005

Happy 25th, CNN

In the beginning, it was dubbed the Chicken Noodle Network.

Industry experts and TV critics alike made fun of Ted Turner when he launched the worldwide Cable News Network on June 1, 1980. The concept of 24-hour cable news seemed ludicrous, and CNN launched with fewer than 2 million U.S. households.

Turner made a big deal of having no-name, noncelebrity anchors and reporters on the air in order to stress his story-over-star approach to news. That seemed ridiculous, too. How could a news network exist without a Walter Cronkite or a David Brinkley?

People laughed then, but nobody, especially in the broadcast networks’ news divisions, is laughing now.

As CNN lights the candles on its quarter-century birthday cake, it is available in more than 89 million cable households in the U.S. and more than 160 million households outside the U.S. Around the world, the combined networks of CNN reach more than 2 billion viewers. That’s billion, with a “b.”

Yes, CNN has lost its ratings dominance in the past few years to Fox News, but that advantage often disappears with breaking news, especially international breaking news. Fox has become popular on the strength of its conservative commentary rather than its hard-news coverage. And it has a comparatively slender foreign news staff.

So, happy birthday, Chicken Noodle!

For a trip down memory lane, check out “Defining Moments: 25 Stories That Touched Our Lives,” tonight at 7 on CNN, followed at 8 by a special edition of “Larry King Live,” now celebrating its 20th year of interesting but often puffball interviews.

Spacey gets real

In the aftermath of his disastrous Bobby Darin bio-pic “Beyond the Sea,” Kevin Spacey is diving head-first into reality TV. So much for big-screen snobbery.

Scheduled to debut in the fall, “Going Hollywood” will feature Spacey as a mentor to show-biz interns working for his production company. The TLC series plans to show off the hard work that goes into making Hollywood dreams come true.

Without even trying, it might also show what happens when an Oscar-winning actor turns out a dud that opens and closes in less than a month. Suddenly TV doesn’t look so bad after all.

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May 12, 2005

Cable news: All crisis all the time

Glancing up at the ever-present TV over my desk yesterday gave the distinct impression that the United States was under attack. The end was near. Our government in the nation’s capital might be wiped out. We were teetering on the brink of a Really Big Crisis.

What really happened was a brief evacuation of the Capitol, White House, Supreme Court and several other government buildings about 11 a.m. This was prompted by a small plane entering restricted airspace and failing to respond to warnings.

Immediately the cable news networks posted scary headlines such as “Security Threat,” “Capitol Crisis,” etc. The actual “security event,” as it was officially dubbed, lasted about 15 minutes, until military aircraft forced a tiny Cessna and two befuddled occupants down in Maryland.

But the screaming headlines and the breathless “what-if” coverage lasted all day and into the night. One CNN report went so far to say this sort of “panic” hadn’t been seen since 9-11.

Watching cable news continuously tends to warp the psyche. I wonder what kind of world we would think we were living in if we watched CNN, MSNBC or Fox News all time time. We would probably assume that terrorists and serial killers were running rampant and some VIP was in deep trouble — physically or politically.

Normal people don’t watch cable news all day, but the TV set over my desk is on all the time. That happens in newsrooms. And since I’m short, the TV is hanging from the ceiling and the remote control is dead (no, it’s not the batteries), I’m stuck with perpetual disaster.

No wonder I’ve started ducking when I hear a car backfire. There’s an official psychological term for this: “dangerous world syndrome.”

The only time a kind, tall person relieves me of this tension is when a major storm is brewing, and the TV is switched to the Weather Channel. But then those purple globs look pretty scary, too. I’m doomed to a TV critic’s life of terror.

Glenn Close to end run on ‘The Shield’

Bummer. Glenn Close is turning in her badge on “The Shield.”

No, this is not because of “creative differences.” Close, we are told, signed on for only one season of the gritty FX cop drama, so she’s leaving after her scheduled 13-episode season concludes on June 14.

The five-time Oscar nominee, who plays LAPD Capt. Monica Rawling, is a New Yorker, and her daughter, Annie, wants to spend her senior year in high school at home.

Neither Close nor the producers have ruled out guest shots.

Close is credited with boosting “The Shield’s” ratings by nearly 25 percent this season. Emmy winner Michael Chiklis, who stars as bullet-headed Detective Vic Mackey, and Close have had remarkable chemistry. It was refreshing to have a character on the show who wasn’t about to explode.

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April 29, 2005

Reality TV trumps President Bush

On three of the four major networks, reality TV trumped the President of the United States last night.

At 8 p.m., President Bush was winding down his 1 hour-plus press conference when NBC cut him off to go to “The Apprentice.” (The Donald trumped The W!) CBS also cut away for “Survivor,” and Fox ditched the prez in favor of “The Simple Life.”

It was semihilarious when Fox’s Shepard Smith interrupted a passionate response by Bush and shifted the network to pouty Paris Hilton.

ABC was the only one of the Big Four networks to stick with the news conference, carrying the final two questions as well as a healthy dose of analysis.

Of course the White House had been playing cat-and-mouse with the media for a couple of days, so maybe the administration got what it deserved.

The networks weren’t alerted about a news conference until late Wednesday, when Bush decided that prime time on the first day of the May sweeps was a terrific time to sell his social security overhaul.

Initially, the White House planned to start the gathering at 7:30 p.m., which meant it would cover two hours of prime time. Only ABC, which has horrible ratings on Thursdays and had scheduled the movie “Sweet Home Alabama,” agreed to carry the conference.

On Thursday, after being told that NBC, CBS and Fox would not carry the president live from 7:30 to 8:30, the White House caved and moved the time to 7, which only bumped one hour of prime time.

The trio of network holdouts finally agreed to carry it … but not one minute past reality TV time.

Homer Hits Another Milestone

This Sunday, “The Simpsons” airs its 350th episode.

That means those of us who are pretty sure we’ve seen every episode since the show debuted on Fox in December of 1989 have seen 175 hours of of “The Simpsons.” String ‘em all together, and it would be possible to watch the animated sitcom nonstop 24 hours a day for more than a week.

That’s a lot of “Simpsons,” and the miracle of Matt Groening’s yellow family is that the show is still steeped in biting social satire and outrageous hilarity.

The 350th (Sunday at 7 p.m., KTBC Channel 7) episode is a peach, with Ray Romano guest-voicing as a beer-loving roofer whom lonely Homer befriends. Homer’s family thinks Ray is a figment of Homer’s imagination; that’s the poignant-and-funny part.

Other plotlines are just plain hilarious, like Stephen Hawking’s guest appearance at a surprise party for Lenny. Totally absurd and deeply amusing.

Currently, “The Simpsons” is the longest-running comedy in prime time — and arguably one of TV’s best ever.

“JAG” correction

Last Friday I wrote in this blog about the final episode of CBS’ “JAG,” the military crime drama that ran for 10 years on two networks but never coughed up the desired younger demographic.

Turns out the finale is this Friday, as in tonight at 8 (KEYE Channel 42). Only one person e-mailed me about the mistake, which says something about the level of interest, doesn’t it?

Nonetheless, I regret the error. Tune in tonight to say farewell to Harm and the gang.

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April 6, 2005

Jennings acknowledges . . . 'Housewives' embarrass

At the end of Tuesday’s edition of “World News Tonight,” Peter Jennings said what everybody had known all day — he has lung cancer.

The first-person testimonial was inevitable. How could the longtime ABC anchor not say anything, after his condition had been discussed all day on cable news?

But if Jennings’ statement was intended to make the news more palatable, it didn’t. His voice was raspy to the point of being unintelligible at times. He smiled but sounded awful.

Jennings was scheduled to anchor the newscast, but a cold that set in over the weekend robbed him of his voice. Presumably he won’t sound that way the next time we hear him.

And, according to ABC News, we will hear him again. Jennings plans to continue anchoring, as much as possible, throughout his chemotherapy treatments, which begin next week.

With other veterans of network news gone or going — from Tom Brokaw to Dan Rather to Ted Koppel — Jennings’ is not a voice we want silenced. A calm, intelligent presence in the sometimes hysterical world of TV news, the 66-year-old anchor has brought civility and sophistication to the job.

As for the handful of readers who have called or sent e-mails here saying Jennings, a smoker who quit 20 years ago and then relapsed during 9-11, got what he deserved, please keep your mean thoughts to yourself.

And speaking of unpleasantness …

The ego explosion that allegedly accompanied the Vanity Fair photo shoot with the stars of “Desperate Housewives” is an embarrassment.

Don’t these glamorous actors know that such behavior plays right into negative stereotypes about Hollywood women?

The May cover of Vanity Fair shrieks: “You wouldn’t believe what it took just to get this photo!”

If we are to believe the magazine, the five women in bathing suits jockeyed for center position, bright colors and “creative control.”

What a bunch of nitwits. This is a talented group of actors, but they weren’t exactly hot commodities before they landed their “Desperate Housewives” gigs. Teri Hatcher has said she was having trouble making her mortgage payment.

The others - Nicolette Sheridan, Eva Longoria, Marcia Cross and Felicity Huffman — had reached the point in their careers when they could wander through Target without being recognized by anybody.

Now they’re acting like Queens of TV. Which, at the moment, they are but won’t be for long, if they keep this stuff up.

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April 5, 2005

ABC's Jennings has cancer

News just moments ago that ABC anchor Peter Jennings has lung cancer is a sad surprise.

At 66, Jennings, who has been at the helm of “World News Tonight” for more than 20 years, has always looked young and vigorous. He also is the classiest of gentlemen.

He told his staff this morning in an e-mail:

“I have been diagnosed with lung cancer. Yes, it was quite a surprise. As you all know, this is a challenge. I begin chemotherapy next week. I will continue to do the broadcast. There will be good days and bad, which means that some days I may be cranky and some days really cranky! Almost 10 million Americans are living with cancer. I am sure I will learn from them how to cope with the facts of life that none of us anticipated.”

Fighting cancer is always a struggle, and doing so in such a public manner is going to be an even bigger struggle. We wish him all the best and look forward to an ultimate triumph.

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March 9, 2005

Hey, CBS News: Stop kicking Dan!

It’s one thing for critics to criticize Dan Rather as he heads into tonight’s “CBS Evening News” farewell (5:30 p.m. on KEYE Channel 42).

But it’s really bad form for his colleagues to beat up on him at this pivotal time of his career.

I was shocked and saddened by the normally tasteful Walter Cronkite’s nasty negatives Monday afternoon on CNN. Among other things, he said Bob Schieffer, who will temporarily replace Rather after tonight, would have been a better anchor choice in 1981. Ouch.

I think I understand where Uncle Walter is coming from: He was forced into a premature retirement in 1981 when Rather used negotiations with competitors to ease himself into the anchor chair.

And fearing an unfavorable comparison, CBS News kept Cronkite out of sight during Rather’s tenure. Technically Cronkite remains a consultant, but his participation in news coverage has been minimal at best. He’s not even seen during election night coverage.

But that doesn’t mean it’s OK to kick Rather, a 43-year CBS News veteran, when he’s about to step down. It’s not nice.

For about a week, CBS news stars have been piling on, and that seems, well, unseemly.

Mike Wallace and Don Hewitt, both former colleagues of Rather’s at “60 Minutes,” lit into him in the New Yorker. Wallace said he preferred to watch NBC’s Tom Brokaw (before he retired in December), and Hewitt announced his preference for ABC’s Peter Jennings.

Couldn’t these guys wait until after Rather had made his exit? Has CBS News done away with any semblance of team loyalty? Or good manners? Edward R. Murrow must be rolling over in his grave.

And speaking of bad manners …

NBC’s relocation of the superb “American Dreams” from Sunday to Wednesday nights is evil. And it’s going to kill the show. Mark my words.

Doesn’t the network know that truly extraordinary dramas are hard to come by? And they’ve got one?

An ambitious period piece set in the ’60s, the show tackles everything — family issues, religion, the Vietnam War, protests, civil rights, teen romance, teen pregnancy and, of course, rock ‘n’ roll. (Meg, played to sweetheart perfection by Brittany Snow, dances on “American Bandstand.”) And it does those stories incredibly well.

Tonight “Dreams,” in the middle of its third season, eases into its new 7 p.m. Wednesday time slot, where ABC’s red-hot newcomer “Lost” is bound to suffocate it. There is a sliver of good news in NBC’s treacherous move: “Lost” is in reruns for a month.

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February 8, 2005

Rejuvenating 'Nightline'?

Every three years “Nightline” faces extinction, and the drum-beat of death already has begun, even though anchor Ted Koppel’s contract doesn’t expire until December.

And every three years, I become semi-hysterical about the show’s possible demise. There’s only a dollop of serious journalism left on TV these days, and Koppel consistently champions it.

But I’m not going to freak out this time, at least not in favor of a Koppel-anchored “Nightline” (10:35 p.m. weekdays, ABC, KVUE Channel 24). It’s not that my respect for him has diminished. It’s just a realization that Koppel, who only anchors the program three nights a week now, seems to be losing interest.

He’s 65 years old and a 37-year veteran of ABC News. He has been pulling nightly “Nightline” duty since the show was launched in 1980 in connection with the American hostage crisis in Iran.

Against competing late-night entertainment shows on NBC (“The Tonight Show”) and CBS (“The Late Show”), the ABC News series has been sinking in the ratings. It’s down 40 percent from a decade ago and averages only about 3.5 million viewers, a distant No. 3 behind Jay Leno and David Letterman.

Disney, which owns ABC, has been clamoring for a late-night entertainment program for years. When Letterman failed in his bid for “The Tonight Show” after Johnny Carson retired, ABC made a run at Letterman. But that turned out to be a public relations nightmare. How dare Disney dump Koppel for Letterman!

It’s a different time now, not because a serious news show isn’t a good idea, but because Koppel seems slightly disinterested.

ABC News wants to keep the late-night block and is said to be considering options — none of which the division will talk about.

It’s safe to say the overhaul will be geared to younger demographics. When Barbara Walters and Hugh Down left “20/20,” the network glommed onto much younger anchors in John Stossel and Elizabeth Vargas. And the stories (more celebs, fewer consumer warnings) reflect that. “Nightline” could follow suit.

Among the rumored options: Moving “Nightline” from Washington, D.C., to New York; including fewer government-related stories and more “hot stories,” such as Michael Jackson’s child molestation trial; shifting George Stephanopoulos, 44, from the sagging Sunday morning “This Week” to the revamped late-night program.

Seems to me like a rejuvenated news program (but not with a Michael Jackson/celebrity/scandal slant) would be smart counter-programming to the Leno-Letterman juggernaut. Another entertainment show seems like a long shot.

I just hope ABC News doesn’t dumb up “Nightline” and turn it into “Entertainment Tonight.” Then I really would become semi-hysterical.

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February 2, 2005

Tips for the State of the Union

The State of the Union is gobbling up two-thirds of prime time tonight, and that’s a bummer. From 8 to 10 p.m., don’t expect to see “Jack & Bobby,” “The West Wing,” “Law & Order” or anything else that is remotely entertaining.

It would be one thing if this droning by Whichever President Is in Office were the least bit enlightening or exciting. But it never is. It’s always a litany of reasons why, in this person’s opinion, the State of Our Union is simply fabulous.

I consider myself a political junkie to the core. I routinely watch both political conventions from gavel-to-gavel every four years. I’ve been doing this since I was a tot, and I have no plans to stop — unless, of course, cable news and C-SPAN stop covering them.

And I watch election results, inaugurations, press conferences, House and Senate votes … just about anything that involves the political process.

But the State of the Union address, which I watch because it’s my civic duty (not to mention political obsession), is by far the biggest chore. As a major television event, it should be better. Here are some suggestions:

  1. The speech should be less than 30 minutes long. Not a second longer. Everyone knows the audience’s attention span is shrinking, so anything more time-consuming than a half-hour sitcom is pointless.

  2. Incorporate visual elements — but not the ludicrous charts and graphs that made Ross Perot a laughingstock. One of those year-in-review pieces that are so popular on New Year’s Eve newscasts would be enjoyable. And if it were actual news without the White House spin, that would be even better, but that’s asking too much.

  3. Humor should be mandatory, and I’m not talking about the weak-kneed jokes and wisecracks the president thinks are funny. The Great Communicator Ronald Reagan knew the value of real entertainment writers. An occasional spark of wit will not lessen the dignity of the event — we’re not talking about dirty jokes or silly puns here. The State of the Union is no time to lay an egg in the funny department. But a little self-deprecating humor, or an amusing aside, goes a long way.

    1. Hire a really good acting/public speaking coach for the president. The media will have a field day with this at first, but the end result will be worth it. We haven’t had a scintillating public speaker in the White House in decades, probably since the Roosevelt Men were in Washington. Reagan came close, but he was more style than substance.

    Delivering a good speech requires more than learning lines, reading a TelePrompTer and standing up straight. It starts with a well-written text and a delivery that is both authoritative and conversational. You’re talking to the American people, Mr. President, not a lifeless TV camera.

    It’s unlikely that any of these suggestions will be taken seriously. Most are too time-consuming. A quick-and-easy alternative would be to hire an actor like Martin Sheen or Alan Alda to play the president and deliver the State of the Union. Now, wouldn’t that be more fun?

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