January 27, 2011

WPLG offers sneak peak at 'Vatican Splendors'

You don't have to be Catholic or even particularly religious to enjoy WPLG-ABC 10's documentary Vatican Sistine Splendors, which airs from 8 to 9 p.m. Friday. Reported and narrated by Kristi Kreuger, it hopscotches between the Vatican's art, politics, personalities and even shopping, with interesting stuff to say about all of it.

The documentary is tied to the touring exhibition that opens Saturday at the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale and runs for three months. The exhibition, in turn, is linked to the 500th anniversary of St. Peter's Basilica and Michelangelo's painting of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, and both play prominent roles in the show. The lushly photographed show includes an after-dark tour of the chapel and even a visit to the tomb under the basilica where popes are buried.

 Kreuger weaves interesting tales through the pretty pictures, from the secret 1939 excavation in search of the bones of St. Peter to Michelangelo's defiant painting of 300 or so human figures onto the ceiling where he was only supposed to depict the 12 apostles. (If reporters ever get a patron saint to help them out in the eternal war against editors, Michelangelo gets my vote.) And she's even got the story behind the bronze cast of the hand of Pope John Paul II that visitors to the exhibition in Fort Lauderdale can shake. On the day the original plaster cast was taken, the pope listened in exasperation as his assistants argued with the artist -- what an indignity, they insisted, for the pope to plunge his hand in muddy water. Enough! roared the pope: "I may be old, but I still know how to wash my hands!"

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 08:25 PM in Newscasts & journalists
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January 26, 2011

Does your TV speak Internet yet? It will, soon

Television and the Internet are merging with such whiplash speed that viewers for a while will have Natpe2 trouble keeping track of all the little technological boxes on top of their sets, much less the countless thousands of shows they can watch, entertainment executives told a TV producers' convention Tuesday in Miami Beach.

"With more and more content out there, it becomes hard and harder to find,'' said Nick Buzzell, a producer at NBTV Studios, which makes shows for TV and the Internet. "With all this digital technology, there's still consumer confusion. . . . [And] if the consumer is confused, none of it's going to work.''

Buzzell was speaking at one of several panels on the convergence of TV and the Internet held on the second day of the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE) meeting at the Fontainebleau Hotel.

With a plethora of devices from video-game consoles to DVD players now able to liberate the Internet from computers and carry it onto television sets and an increasing number of companies that provide movies, TV shows and original content via broadband rather than broadcast, viewers are headed for uncharted territory, the executives agreed.

"The explosion of online video has just begun,'' said Ted Sarandos, who acquires movies and TV shows for Netflix. Read my full story in Wednesday's Miami Herald.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 06:50 AM in Broadband TV, Broadcast series, Business side of TV, Cable series, Video hardware
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January 25, 2011

Jeff Zucker's last words

Jeff Zucker, broadcast television's most infamous prophet of business doom, is turning optimistic about Zucker the industry -- just five days before he leaves it.

``I feel better about broadcasting today than I have in a long time,'' Zucker -- who leaves his post as president and chief executive officer of NBC Universal on Friday -- told an audience at the National Association of Television Program Executives convention that kicked off Monday in North Miami.

Zucker, who grew up in Miami Beach during the 1980s before leaving first for Harvard and then a 24-year career at NBC, has warned repeatedly that new digital technology is siphoning off broadcast television's audience and eroding its advertising revenue. He coined the catchphrase ``digital dimes for analog dollars'' to describe the industry's declining revenues, and even predicted a few years ago that declining income would soon force broadcast networks to abandon their affiliate stations and ship their programs to viewers directly via the Internet.

But he said Monday that changes in broadcast TV's business model over the past six years have brought an infusion of healing cash. Read my full story in Tuesday's Miami Herald.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 11:30 AM in Business side of TV
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January 24, 2011

NATPE: The art of the deal on Miami Beach

It won't be the most colossal sale made this week at the Fontainebleau. But it surely tells you everything Natpe you need to know about this week's convention of the National Association of Television Program Executives, where 5,000 members of the boob-tube-ousie are gathering to wheel and deal TV shows.

"I'm not going to tell you the name of the country,'' says Stephen J. Davis, president of Hasbro Studios, which makes family and children's shows such as The Transformers. ``But my head of sales came bursting into my office. `This is great! They want to buy everything we have! And they want to pay $55 an episode!'

"And we're going to do it, even though what they're paying us won't cover the cost of shipping the shows. Because you want to get a toehold in that market.''

From $55-a-show blue-plate specials to staggering intercontinental deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, practically everything you've ever seen on television plus much more that you haven't is on sale at the three-day NATPE convention that kicks off Monday.

Though NATPE also includes educational sessions, professional seminars and just-plain-stargazing interludes with people such as Regis Philbin and Sabado Gigante's Don Francisco, the convention has less to do with art than with the art of the deal. NATPE is the television industry's most bustling international marketplace. Producers, network executives and TV-station bosses from all over the world will be schmoozing and selling shows. And as with that Hasbro deal that Davis hopes to seal here, no market is too small.

"We have meetings each half hour, all over the hotel,'' says Marta Sacasa, vice president of a Nicaraguan station, who expects to take a dozen or so shows home with her to the smallest TV market in Central America. "We have meetings at breakfast, meetings at lunch, meetings at dinner, meetings over drinks. And then there are the random meetings in corridors, which might be the most important of them all.'' Read my full story on NATPE wheeling and dealing in Monday's Miami Herald.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 07:20 AM in Broadcast series, Business side of TV, Cable series
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January 23, 2011

Screen Gems: TV the week of January 23

Archer (10 p.m. Thursday, FX) Returning for a second season, this animated spy spoof is pee-in-your-Archer3 pants hilarious. If these venal, hypersexed and dumbfoundingly stupid spies were actually running U.S. intelligence - well, things probably wouldn't be all that different, except a lot funnier.

Selling The Girl Next Door (8 p.m. Sunday, CNN) Reporter Amber Lynn went undercover as a prospective hooker to do this sobering report on teenage prostitution, which by some accounts involves hundreds of thousands of girls under the age of 18.

American Experience: Panama Canal (9 p.m. Monday, WPBT-PBS 2) The Panama Canal, completed in 1914 after a disastrous French attempt to build it failed, was the greatest engineering marvel in U.S. history until the space program came along. But it exacted a terrible price in lives and dollars, as this documentary recounts.

Note: Days and times for PBS shows are for the Miami area, and may differ elsewhere.

Let me program your TiVo! Just click on my best bets for the week at www.tivo.com.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 12:56 PM in Broadcast series, Cable series, Newscasts & journalists
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January 22, 2011

Olbermann: The view from the grassy knoll

Put on your hiking boots, because we're headed for a long, twisting walk up the grassy knoll. Conspiracy Olbermannweird theorists are going to flock leftwing firebrand Keith Olbermann's abrupt departure from MSNBC like paparazzi to a naked Kardashian.

Olbermann, his voice not quite wavering but also not quite steady, announced at the end of his show Friday night that he was leaving the MSNBC host chair he's occupied for eight years. He offered no explanation for his departure -- merely thanked a few colleagues (notably excluding MSNBC President Phil Griffith), then attempted to cloak himself in the mantle of mythic CBS broadcaster Ed Murrow by using Murrow's trademark signoff, "Good night and good luck."

But his confession that he was tempted to leave the air like the madman anchor in the film Network, screaming I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore! -- "I think the same fantasy has popped into the head of everybody in my business who has ever been told what I have been told, that this is going to be the last edition of your show," Olbermann said -- strongly suggested he didn't leave under his own steam.

Any hint that a network fired or pused out its signature host (Olbermann's show had the best ratings, by far, of anything on MSNBC) is bound to raise searching questions. And the odd timing of the announcement will only multiply them.

Conspiracy theorists are going to note that Olbermann's ouster (if that's what it was) came during a perfect window of corporate opportunity: right after the long-delayed acquisition of MSNBC's parent NBC Universal by cable giant Comcast was approved by the FCC last week, and just before the deal formally closes this week.

The timing means that the Democrat-dominated FCC had no chance to ask any questions about whether Comcast is influencing news policy at the network. It also means that Comcast can forestall any future questions on Olbermann's departure by saying, dunno anything about it, didn't happen on our watch.

Comcast has already sensed the impending firestorm. Olbermann was barely off the air Friday night when the company issued an emphatic denial that it was involved. "Comcast has not closed the transaction for NBC Universal and has no operational control at any of its properties including MSNBC," a corporate spokesman said. "We pledged from the day the deal was announced that we would not interfere with NBC Universal’s news operations. We have not and we will not."

You'll see new versions of that denial again and again over the coming weeks as critics bring up the case of Barry Nolan, a Comcast talk-show host fired in 2008 after he got in a public tussle with conservative Fox News host Bill O'Reilly. Nolan, whose show aired on a Comcast regional channel in New England, sued the company, accusing it of sacking him because he protested a decision by the local Emmy chapter to give O'Reilly an award.

Though Nolan lost the suit (the judge ruled that the terms of his contract allowed the company to fire him for any reason at all), Comcast didn't deny that the O'Reilly protest was part of the motivation. It filed documents in the case saying that Nolan's squabble with O'Reilly "jeopardized and harmed the business and economic interests” of the company because Comcast and Fox News were "actively engaged in contract renewal negotiations at the time."

Add that incident to the peculiar manner and timing of Olbermann's dismissal and it's easy to see why a lot of people are going to be skeptical of Comcast's claim that it wasn't involved. But I'm not one of them.

For one thing, getting rid of Olbermann hardly means the death of liberalism at MSNBC. All its nighttime hosts -- Rachel Maddow, Lawrence O'Donnell, Ed Schultz -- are considerably to the left of center.

And for another, Comcast is a liberal-Democrat-friendly company. Built on a foundation of monopolies granted by local governments, Comcast has long been adept at pacifying activist groups (the vast majority of them politically liberal) with cash and public-access channels to grind their axes. That's why, even with the Democrats in control of the White House and both houses of congress the past two years, there's been so little public static about the Comcast-NBC megamerger, which surely would have been labeled a corporate power grab if any other cable conglomerate had been involved.

The fact is that Olbermann, whatever you think of his politics, is a human-relations time bomb who had already lasted at MSNBC several ticks longer than anybody expected. He has fought murderously with bosses and co-workers at every job he's ever held, even back in his non-ideological sports days. Cracked an ESPN executive when Olbermann left in 1997: ‘‘He didn't burn bridges here. He napalmed them." At MSNBC, colleagues were not even permitted to speak to Olbermann, merely to leave notes outside his office door.

MSNBC put up with Olbermann's prickly personality for years because he single-handedly raised the network from Nielsen brain death. When Olbermann arrived in 2003, neither a political agenda nor an audience was discernible at the network. He led it on a bombastic leftward march that has made it the No. 2 cable news network, albeit still far behind No. 1 Fox News.

But MSNBC's success, and the popularity of new stars like Maddow and O'Donnell, made it less inclined to put up with Olbermann's imperious tantrums. Olbermann was nearly fired in November after it was discovered that he was making campaign contributions to some of the Democrats who appeared on his show, a violation of NBC News policy. The webzine The Daily Beast, in a gruesome account of the shouted threats, leaked documents and Olbermann suspension that followed, noted: "Management doesn’t want to turn him into a martyr, but no one will be shocked if he winds up leaving." On Friday, he left. You can bet that martyrdom is next.


Posted by Glenn Garvin at 03:47 PM in Newscasts & journalists
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January 21, 2011

Too dirty for the Super Bowl, part 837

 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.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 04:12 PM in Commercials, Sports
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January 20, 2011

Kimmel eats six minutes of 'Nightline'

ABC has just announced that Nightlinewill shink by six minutes on Feb. 4. Nightline will sign off at Kimmel2 midnight, six minutes earlier than it does now, and Jimmy Kimmel Live will get the extra six minutes. Innocent bystanders are advised to seek immediate shelter from all the incoming "End of broadcast journalism as we know it!" missiles expected to follow the announcement.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 05:56 PM in Broadcast series, Newscasts & journalists
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'Perfect Couples': Perfect nonsense

One of the weird things about being a TV critic is that you remember all these shows that nobody ever Perfectcouples watched and have slipped into obscurity within weeks or even minutes of their debuts. Each is associated with some odd little fact or life lesson about television. For instance, though the world has long forgotten a 2008 sitcom called Unhitched, I will always remember it as the first (and, I sincerely hope, last) TV show ever to have pixilated a shot of monkey genitalia. Or Pasadena, a 2001 murder-mystery drama that I will always recall as the quintessential example of network programmers’ refusal to admit failure: Fox put it on hiatus after three weeks, never aired another episode but to this day hasn’t admitted that the show is canceled.

All this brings us to Perfect Couples, a new NBC sitcom that by next month will have been reduced to the answer to the trivia question What was the most forgettable network show to debut in January 2011? ( A. Ummm. …) It’s going to stick in my memory as an example of how hard it really is to make good TV shows. Read my full review of Perfect Couples in Thursday's Miami Herald.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 01:26 PM in Broadcast series
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January 18, 2011

Why your TV won't show 'The Kennedys'

With heroic disdain for cheap reality shows and tawdry sexcoms, a big television network schedules a dramatic miniseries that takes a critical look at a popular presidency. Rapacious corporate interests intervene, pressuring the network to cancel it. What happens next?

Well, if the popular president is named Reagan, then America's political progressives revolt against censorship, insisting that the marketplace of ideas can't be ravaged by megacorporate leviathans. Another network steps up -- the series airs! The First Amendment triumphs!

Kennedys But if the popular president is named Kennedy, the story ends differently. Very differently. Suppression of political criticism becomes corporate good citizenship. Other networks sniff that the show just isn't right for them. And progressives triumphantly take to the Internet to brag about their role in ideological repression: ``We Won! Thanks to you The History Channel has canceled The Kennedys miniseries!''

The Kennedys reportedly is harshly critical of the political dynasty, taking a tough look at the way patriarch Joe Kennedy used his bootlegging wealth to buy influence as well as the compulsive womanizing of his presidential son, John. I say ``reportedly'' because we haven't seen it and perhaps never will.

The show -- developed by Joel Surnow, who produced the hit series 24 -- with a heavy-hitter cast led by Katie Holmes and Greg Kinnear was canceled by The History Channel this month before a single one of its eight episodes aired. Not because it was crummy: The History Channel admitted in a statement on the cancellation that "the film is produced and acted with the highest quality.'' The problem, the network said, was that "this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.

If you're wondering why a TV network would sink $25 million into a show, reviewing scripts and daily shooting for 13 months before deciding that it's "not a fit,'' let me suggest a couple of reasons.... Read my full op-ed column in Tuesday's Miami Herald.

Posted by Glenn Garvin at 10:42 AM in Broadcast series, Business side of TV, Cable series, Op-Ed columns
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