Let's play America's newest game show, How Screwed Are You? First question: Do you get your television through AT&T's U-Verse system? Yes? And are you a Mad Men fan? Yes? Ding-ding-ding! We have a winner! I mean, a loser! You are sooooo screwed. The cold war between AT&T and Rainbow Media, which owns Mad Men's AMC cable network, is about to go hot -- and you're collateral damage.
Rainbow, which also owns IFC and WE, is trying to hike the rates that AT&T pays for its programming. AT&T is suggesting Rainbow go pound sand. They've been in a standoff for weeks now, with no apparent sign of progress, and their contract expires at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday. Unless somebody blinks, all three channels will disappear from AT&T U-verse at that time...and there's no guarantee they'll be back before Mad Men's fourth season kicks off on July 25.
The threat of blackouts is increasingly common these days as everybody plays hardball over how much distributors (cable systems and the like) have to pay producers (networks). To complicate matters, more and more distributors are getting into the content business themselves, which puts them in a position to deny programming to their competitors. That's exactly what AT&T says is going on here: Rainbow Media is owned by Cablevision, which battles AT&T U-Verse for subscribers.
"It’s unfortunate that Rainbow Media, owned by Cablevision, is clearly not negotiating in good faith, is trying to charge significantly more than the average of what our TV competitors pay for these channels, and is acting in a way that harms competition and limits consumer choice," AT&T said in a press release issued Wednesday. (If you've always wondered what it would be like viewing a giant conglomerate like AT&T as a populist warrior for the little guy, check out the company's new psy-war website.)
These blackout threats often get settle at the last moment, or at worst, after a few days. On the other hand, a similar confrontation between DirecTV and the Versus sports channel went nuclear last year, keeping Versus off DirecTV's satellites for seven months -- erasing an entire season of college football games and most of a season of NHL hockey. Not to scream fire!in a crowded home theater or anything, but Versus is owned by Comcast, a DirecTV competitor. Sound familiar?
Speaking of college football, ABC and Time Warner Cable 's cable system are already exchanging death threats over their expiring contract, which expires on Sept. 2. And if Comcast succeeds in buying NBC and all its cable channels, this stuff will probably seem like kindergarten hair-pulling compared to what follows. Meanwhile, you AT&T U-verse subscribers might want to start kissing up to neighbors with cable if you're hoping to watch Mad Men.
Or maybe it's the reverse? Anyway, Whoopi Goldberg explained on The View Tuesday that Mel Gibson, despite what you may have heard (from his own lips!) is no racist, just "a bonehead."
PS: My pal Maria Elena Fernandez at the Los Angeles Times should get credit for tipping me about this. Though if she was really watching The View at work, I'm probably not doing her any favors by saying so.
UPDATE, JULY 14: Maria Elena, who hasn't missed an episode of The View since she was, like, 2, reports that Whoopi got pretty nasty on Wednesday's show about all the bloggers who said mean things about her. As I was saying, that Mel is a pretty swell fellow...
It's not exactly about television, but...
Probably because they live in the most beautiful city in the world, San Franciscans are mostly oblivious to the idiocies and scandals of their city government. Oh, did one mayor spend $45 million to hire 350 of his pals as ``special assistants''? How perfectly inauspicious. But look how the fog is creeping across the bay! Did another get in a screaming match at City Hall after sleeping with his best friend's wife? Well, that's absolutely tasteless, but this crab etouffee sure isn't.
But last week, in creating a Pepsi Police to keep soft drinks out of City Hall and then considering a Hamster Police to put pet stores out of business, San Francisco politicians may finally have gone too far.
The proposed ban on pet sales, in particular, made people crazy. SAN FRANCISCO'S WAR ON PETS, thundered one blog. The city's animal-control commission had to table the plan for a month after a public meeting filled with four hours of squawks, hisses and barks of complaint. ``I would love to get this behind me,'' one weary commissioner moaned afterward.
Last week's nuttiness climaxed a year-long fit of nanny-state pique so loony that it sounded like the conclusion of a reductio ad absurdum argument you hear bellowed by some drunk at the end of a bar. San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom had already issued decrees governing how big a piece of bagel you're allowed to chew at city meetings, outlawed potato chips in favor of broccoli and -- taking a giant step into the economics of the 14th century -- ordered subsistence farming to begin on freeway medians. Real my full op-ed column in Tuesday's Miami Herald.
Though it may be hard to believe after a decade of lethal and costly intelligence botch-ups running from the Sept. 11 attacks to the war in Iraq, but the CIA could be in worse shape. Just watch USA's new spy drama Covert Affairs if you don't believe me.
As a hellish vision of what might happen if U.S. intelligence were seized by, say, the cast of 90210, Covert Affairs is an incisive public-policy commentary. As a TV drama, it is in serious need of a hard slapping. Instead of the cynical burn-outs of John le Carre or the weary patriots of Robert Littell or even the entertaining blunderers of Get Smart!, it features a parade of self-smitten spies too young, too pretty, too chatty and too smirky even to be engaging, much less less credible. Read my full review of Covert Affairs in Tuesday's Miami Herald.
I enjoyed your column on soccer "evangelism'' as I call it. Why in the name of Johnny Unitas, Bart Starr, etc. must some people feel that religious urge to foist soccer on a largely indifferent public? Is it better that football? Do more classy people watch it, like the yobs who riot routinely at soccer matches? Are we inferior to the Euro trash that look down their noses at American football? I think it's snob appeal and part of the trend of our "betters'' to denigrate anything American and worship anything from abroad. They are wasting their time. At age 64 I ain't about to start watching a sport where nothing happens except guys in shorts running around chasing a ball.
Screw those guy who wrote letters on soccer that the paper printed today. I'm with your sports colleague, (Greg Cote?) who said watching soccer is like watching paint dry. I've got to look at soccer because my grandson is a strong player and I need to be able to talk with him.
It seems to me that after millions of years of evolution we have developed hands with opposing thumbs and it's stupid not to use them. It's like having opera with music and only pantomime, no voices.
Then an aired on WLRN, the Herald's public-radio broadcast partner. Tough audience over there:
Whenever I hear an egregious grammar mistake on NPR, I send a message as I believe NPR should be the standard of grammar excellency in broadcasting. You’re the latest offender. It’s “fewer viewers,” not “less viewers,” as you said in your piece today on the World Cup.
Director, International Media Center
Florida International University
That's hardly the worst of it, John. I'm afraid poor Dana Davis Rehm might have inadvertently heard the piece and put her ear drums out with sharpened chopsticks in despair.
You could hardly blame WFOR-CBS 4 news director Cesar Aldama if, every once in a while, he stopped to gape at the big city. He was born in a town so small it had just one traffic light, so isolated that his football team couldn't play against other schools, so far from all known social and cultural trade routes that it practically declared a holiday when the first McDonald's opened.
And so precariously pitched on the razor's edge of the Cold War that it was surrounded by barbed wire and land mines. The rarest breed of all Cuban Americans, Aldama was born and raised on the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay.
``I know it sounds like it must have been wild and crazy,'' says the 46-year-old Aldama, who joined WFOR in
March after seven years at CBS stations in Philadelphia. ``But it wasn't. It was Small Town U.S.A., just as small town as you could get. Everybody knew everybody. There was no crime and no drugs. We never locked our doors, and we never talked politics.''
For the past 50 years, most of the world has known Guantanamo Bay as a stark, often mysterious symbol of international tensions: the front line of Washington's five-decade standoff with Fidel Castro; the holding tank for tens of thousands of Haitian and Cuban refugees swept up in periodic U.S. crackdowns on illegal immigration; the bleak prison camp for accused al Qaeda terrorists.
But Aldama is part of a little-known and almost vanished half-world that existed outside the headlines -- the tiny community of internal exiles who stayed behind when Castro pulled the plug on the base's 2,000-strong Cuban work force in the mid-1960s. Read my full story on growing up on the base at Guantanamo Bay in Sunday's Miami Herald.
The Glades (10 p.m Sunday, A&E) -- Crackling with the electricity of a twisted South Florida version of Nick and Nora Charles, Australian actor Matt Passmore and Lost's Kiele Sanchez play a disgraced pair of crimebusters exiled on the outskirts of the Everglades in this new comedy-drama.
Rizzoli & Isles (10 p.m. Monday, TNT) -- Bare-knuckle detective Jane Rizzoli (Angie Harmon) and coolly blue-blood medical examiner Maura Isles (Sasha Alexander) trade expertise and wisecracks in an entertaining cop drama based on the books of Tess Gerritsen.
Covert Affairs (10 p.m. Tuesday, USA) -- A hot young CIA trainee with a murky past is suddenly elevated to superspy. Oh, boy, Alias is back! Except it's got a different title, and Piper Perabo is the chick delivering sultry stares and smoking .45 slugs, not necessarily in that order.
Chasing Mummies (10 p.m. Wednesday, History) -- This new reality series doesn't have The Rock or even Lon Chaney Jr. But it does have Egyptologist Zahi Hawass, who the History channel would have you believe is a sort of real-life Indiana Jones, racing here and there to find stuff like ``a beautiful anthropoid sarcophagus from the 26th Dynasty!'' I guess the ugly anthropoids were just buried in wooden boxes.
An Omar Broadway Film (8 p.m. Wednesday, HBO) -- An odd documentary about an inmate planning to shoot his way out of a maximum-security lockup in New Jersey -- not with a gun but a smuggled video camera, which he uses to document the grim conditions around him.
Let me program your TiVo! Just click on my best bests for the week at www.tivo.com/guruguide.