Time for the annual ritual in which companies submit racy ads to run during the Super Bowl, are shocked-shocked-SHOCKEDwhen the networks say no, and then revel as hordes of lemming-like bloggers like -- well, me -- post them so millions of people will see them on the Internet. This year's prize entry is from AshleyMadison.com, a dating service for extramarital cheaters. (Here's a link to the one with more bare skin.) Fox, after approximately half a nano-second of careful contemplation, refused to run it.
You Virginia Tech fans with infirm hearts and nervous stomachs, stop reading this right now. I’m about to mention two words that strike terror into the Hokie heart, that freeze the blood in your veins:
No, not the guy who wrote the Constitution — though your linebackers probably couldn’t cover him, either. James Madison University, the nerdy little school whose greatest athletic achievements were in small-college women’s field hockey until it waltzed into Blacksburg earlier this fall and stuffed your football team.
James Madison, which folded in the face of big-time gridiron powers like Delaware and Towson, but crushed your Great Pretender talk of a national title. James Madison, where the closest thing to a star athlete in school history is the guy who co-invented Gatorade!
You couldn’t beat James Madison, and you think you’re going to beat Stanford? Sorry, Hokies... Read the rest of my trash-talk about the Orange Bowl in Sunday's Miami Herald.
Oh, and if you're interested, here's a piece from a fool, err, guy who disagrees with me.
There is nothing wrong with your computer. Do not attempt to adjust the blog. We are controlling transmission. If we wish to make it louder, we will bring up the volume. If we wish to make it softer, we will tune it to a whisper. We will control the horizontal. We will control the vertical. We can roll the image, make it flutter. And if we want to make it all about the Orange Bowl instead of television for the next couple of days, we damn well will....
Yeah, yeah, you think that if Miami survived Al Capone, Hurricane Andrew and Scarface, it will have no trouble with a mere college marching band. But you don't know these guys. They're the most banned band of all time.
Notre Dame kicked them off its campus forever. Oregon -- not the university, but the entire state -- put a bounty on them. In Arkansas, they dropped their pants not just during a halftime show, but a nationally televised halftime show.
Their performances have enraged Irish, Mormons, Catholics and even Ann Landers, who once wrote an entire advice column demanding that Stanford suspend them. O.J. Simpson no doubt had something much more stern in mind after they played She's Not There on the courthouse steps during his trial. (To be fair, that was quite mild compared to their halftime show the next time Stanford's football team played Simpson's alma mater, the University of Southern California. It included awhite van covered with bloody handprints driving around the field.)
And a lot of their own school's fans wanted to collectively strangle them after they poured onto the field during the final seconds of a 1982 game against arch-rival University of California. Cal took advantage of the chaos to run a kickoff around, through and ultimately over the band members for a game-winning touchdown.
"They do some marginally tasteless things,'' says Donald Kennedy, a Stanford environmental-science professor who spent a considerable chunk of his 12 years as the university's president apologizing for various band atrocities. ``But every once in a while, they also made me crack up on the floor laughing. . . . On balance, I think their, ummm, contrasting style will be of interest in the Orange Bowl.'' Read my full story on Stanford's outlaw band in Sunday's Miami Herald.
Most TV sportscasters are a fuzzy mass of collective buttkiss when doing college games. Every coach is a genius, every player a courageous warrior. But you can sure count Gary Danielson of CBS out of the ranks of sycophants. On the Sun Bowl telecast from El Paso just a few minutes ago, after Notre Dame (already ahead, 14-0) broke up a Miami kick return, Danielson snarled: "Miami better get it together or they're going to get their fannies whipped on national television. It's not that cold our there! Start playing football!"
Too bad the Miami bench isn't monitoring the CBS feed. On the next play, Miami quarterback Jacory Harris threw an interception. And then, another one. As I write this, Notre Dame leads 21-0.
AMC's zombie apocalypse series The Walking Dead drew 5.3 viewers Sunday, making it a, heh heh, monster cable hit. "It's a good day to be dead," AMC president Charlie Collier said. Speaking of the walking dead, Nielsen division, the World Series lost to an NFL game in prime time for the first time every on Sunday. Yeah, interleague play and the DH and wild-card teams really juiced interest in baseball, just as promised by Bud Selig, speaking of the walking dead, intellect division.
This will be a rough weekend for Florida sports fans who watch television over the Dish satellite network. Fox yanked all 19 of its regional sports networks -- including Fox Sports Florida and Sun Sports -- off Dish at the end of September. (FX and the National Geographic Channel were also casualties.) Among the games Dish subscribers can't see this weekend as a result are exhibition hockey matches involving the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers, exhibition basketball games with the Miami Heat and the Orlando Magic, University of Florida women's soccer and volleyball, Florida and Florida State football replays, and several live SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10 games.
If this standoff continues -- and there's every appearance that it will, for weeks and possibly months -- the regular season games of the Panthers and the Heat will be wiped for Dish subscribers. And on October 31, the deal between Dish and Fox's broadcast stations ends, which means Fox-WSVN 7 will disappear.
These hardball negotiations are the industry norm these days; Fox is in a similar dispute with Cablevision, which may lose Fox cable and broadcast channels as early as Saturday morning if there's no breakthrough. Almost the entire NHL season (as well as dozens of Pac-10, Big 12, Mountain West and Ivy League football games) vanished from DirecTV last year in a seven-month fee dispute with the Versus sports channel. My advice: Find a good sports bar. You're going to need it, and not just for the sports.
Watching the Dolphins-Patriots game Monday night? You won't be alone. Nielsen ratings for NFL games are shooting through the roof on every network this season, and not just in the afternoon. NBC's prime-time telecasts have led the ratings for four Sundays in a row, and ESPN's Monday Night Football is once again a national viewing party.
Last week's Monday-night game between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers has 17.5 million viewers, the biggest audience on cable this year and the fifth-biggest in all of all time. Overall, Monday Night Football is averaging 15 million viewers.
"It's really been a fantastic year to date," says Leah LaPlace, ESPN's vice president for programming. "Monday Night Football is DVR-proof -- you know it will be the talk around the water cooler the next day. And we've benefited from great matchups that came down to wire, that have kept fans tuned in down to the bitter end."
It's tempting to surmise that a rocky economy has kept viewers home and planted in front of their TV sets. But overall TV ratings are not up -- the new fall season is shaping up to be one of the least successful in years, at least from a Nielsen standpoint -- and LaPlaca thinks other factors play a much bigger role. A key one: social media, which allow fans to link up with one another as they watch. ESPN.com, which includes a site that collects Twitter feeds and live-log entries, is drawing hundreds of millions of page views on the NFL's Sunday-Monday game days.
Whatever the reason, Monday Night Football has allowed ESPN to elbow its way into the traditional battle among broadcast networks for the biggest prime-time audience. "On Mondays, that ratings gap between cable and broadcast is becoming non-existent," says LaPlaca. "Fans these days are not differentiating between cable and broadcast."
Incidentally, LaPlaca denies that Monday Night Football has a favorite city. But the Dolphins-Patriots game will be the 31st Monday night telecast from Miami. The only city with more: San Francisco, with 33.
WWE Friday Night SmackDown has always been a bit of an otherworldly experience, so maybe moving it to Syfy isn't as odd a decision as it seems. But SmackDown's 8 p.m. Friday debut on Syfy wasn't really prompted by a desire for a time slot between space aliens and apartment-building-sized sharks. WWE saw the move as a killer promotional opportunity.
"When our previous deal [with MyNetwork TV] was up, we asked the question, 'What's the best home for us?'" says Michelle Wilson, WWE's executive vice president for marketing. ""And when we evaluated all the potential partners, being able to promote our show and our brand across all NBC platforms -- that's just a no-brianer for us."
NBC, which owns Syfy, is able to cross-promote SmackDown not only on its other cable networks but even on TV screens in taxis and at gas pumps, through its NBC Everywhere marketing arm. Language frontiers will be crossed with promos on NBC's Spanish-language channels Telemundo and mun2, and political frontiers with the screening of SmackDown videos on Virgin Air flights. When I jokingly asked Wilson if we could expect to see WWE stars showing up on Syfy shows like Warehouse 13, she promptly informed they already have: Cody Rhodes had a role in the show in August. (And my parents said being a smart-ass would never get me anywhere.)
In fact, SmackDown has even taken over the gift shop at NBC's 30 Rockefeller Plaza headquarters in New York, with a window display so striking that tourists are flocking to be photographed next to it. "It's non-traditional marketing, and it's great," says Wilson.
Ordinarily, switching networks is risky business for an established programming franchise. But SmackDown has already moved around a good bit in broadcast television, appearing on UPN, The CW and MyNetwork TV and establishing itself as a ratings leader every time. Moreover, asking wrestling fans to switch to Syfy is not exactly the same as trying to entice them to, say, CSPAN; Syfy has already played host to other WWE shows, including NXT and ECW.
Even so, WWE is taking no chances. Friday's debut will air live rather than on tape and feature an all-star cast including Rey Mysterio, Big Show, Kane, Kofi Kingston, CM Punk, Jack Swagger, Cody Rhodes, Michelle McCool, Kelly Kelly, Layla, and everybody's fave, Undertaker. That's him up above. By the way, he's taking over as manager of the Changing Channels Reader Complaint Department. Be sure to include your address with any whiny notes, so he can attend to you personally.