The Front Page: August 27, 20008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Watch out what you say on the Internet. And especially watch out what you Twitter. (Can we now use "Twitter" as a verb?) Apparently AMC managed to outrage "fan-penned feeds" using character names and alleged "voices of 'Mad Men' characters." Fans of the show could sign up for updates from virtual Don Draper or Peggy Olson, for example, but when the Twits (Twitterers?) behind the voices appeared to be promoting products other than the show, AMC decided it was time to have a sit-down chat with its Virtual Twits. Twitter, however, yanked the accounts, and melee ensued, as it often does, on the Web, as James Hibberd reports.

Elsewhere, Wednesday's issue features an "Anatomy of a Hit" -- not on a TV show as is the usual fare, but on "The Dark Knight," a film I really, really should try to see before it leaves theaters. Alex Ben Block today examines just why this film has become such a juggernaut -- everyone thought it would do well, but not this well. "No one could have anticipated this kind of success," says Warner Bros.' Alan Horn. "It surprised us. And, once in a while, it is kind of fun to be surprised on the upside." An $871.5 million box office cume worldwide is a surprise I'd like to wake up to, also.

And finally, in the continuing saga of the Democratic National Convention, Elizabeth Guider reports from Denver, highlighting Day 2's Hollywood angles -- including a speech by Lifetime CEO Andrea Wong, who spoke to about 1,500 delgates at the Women's Caucus. "This is the culmination of an incredible journey: Less than a century ago, we didn't have the vote. Now we can vote for one another," she said. Meanwhile, actress Anne Hathaway made me wonder why all of us actually do get to vote -- she was at a jazz brunch "to honor old-guard civil rights activists," representing the Creative Coalition. Her statement? After hanging out with the old guard and politicos, she noted, "I'm getting smarter by the minute."

Time can't move fast enough.

The Front Page: August 26, 2008

Frontpagenew3By Randee Dawn

Out in Denver, Michelle was wowing them in the aisles, Ted was bringing down the thunder, and Jon was ... the voice of mediation?

Yes, according to Paul J. Gough's report from Denver, "The Daily Show's" Jon Stewart held a press conference Monday and noted he didn't mind who won the presidency: "The jokes will be there, I'm confident," he said. "I think they would both be decent presidents." And then he added, either one would be better than the Bush-ocracy, saying either candidate would "govern from a place that is far less imperious." Amen to that, brother.

Meanwhile, James Hibberd has another television take, parsing NBC's "Olympics success story," according to the headline in his Inside the Box column. He notes six important things: The network ain't broken, you gotta spend money, online is important but telecast is still king, don't lie, ducking controversy works (or at least doesn't hurt), and go big in research. Of course, that thing about controversy as something to be avoided might not exactly leave a good taste in some mouths. Writes Hibberd, "NBC figured its job wasn't regime change but instead to broadcast the Olympics the best way it could amid sometimes trying circumstances and keeping quiet publicly -- sometimes painfully so -- while fighting for access behind the scenes." Yes, it may not have been their job. It may have -- shock, horror -- turned off some advertisers. But I bet there are plenty of viewers who were expecting a little more to emerge from beneath the Peacock's finely groomed feathers. They had the power to do a lot more than they did, and chose not to exercise even a little bit of it. Hope it was worth it, folks.

And finally, Craig Rosen reports in on what was surely one of the best shows of the year -- not the convention, not the Olympics -- but of Radiohead performing at the Hollywood Bowl. "Over 7,000 fans lucky enough to score a ticket ... witnessed not only a band at the top of its game but an act that at times seemed to be the best on the planet," he notes. I've seen this band, and they really are electrifying, even on songs you may not be so familiar with. (I'm glad they feel comfortable enough to excise "Creep" from the setlist, but that is an amazing song to hear live.) Can we maybe give them a gold medal?

The Front Page: August 25, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

I wasn't one of them (I think my Olympics viewing tally was around 12 minutes, tops, most of which was seen on someone else's TV screen at the gym), but according to Nielsen Media Research (as reported by James Hibberd and Jonathan Landreth -- see here and here), 211 million viewers tuned into the Olympics over its 16 days of coverage (2 million more than the Atlanta Games, which was the previous record holder. They also note, "The numbers will likely result in greater competition among broadcast companies for rights to air the Games." No doubt. But do you want to be the one gambling on whether the Olympics you paid the Earth for will actually have a Michael Phelps to keep things interesting?

From one party to the next: Our beloved Paul J. Gough is off in Colorado, trying to pin down things at the Democratic National Convention. He writes today that there will be a certain amount of nonpolitical star wattage there, including Ben Affleck, Kanye West and Spike Lee -- and 15,000 journalists. Sheryl Crow opened things up last night, and John Legend is scheduled to debut a new song. "We're bringing our delegation from the 51st state of Hollywood," Creative Coalition exec director Robin Bronk tells Gough, while Rick Kaplan (EP of "CBS Evening News with Katie Couric") quips, "They've produced, in a sense, their own four-day 'American Idol.' " Which may or may not be the message Barack Obama wants to be sending. ...

Continue reading "The Front Page: August 25, 2008" »

The Front Page: August 22, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Yes, yes, I know it isn't all about me. (Hard as that is to comprehend.) But as I've mentioned to friends for years, whenever there's a new Bond film, it comes out right in time for my birthday. Well, when I obsessively checked out the trailer for the (dreadfully-titled) new Bond flick, "Quantum of Solace" a few weeks back, I was surprised to see it was coming out Nov. 7. As I well know, my birthday is November 15. So thanks, Sony! Carl DiOrio's article today informs me that they clearly have heard my psychic pleas and will now be opening the film on November 14. Apparently I can thank a certain fictional young magician: "'Harry Potter' moving out gave us an opportunity to get a little closer to the holidays, which has always been the traditional Bond spot," Sony worldwide marketing and distribution chairman Jeff Blake told DiOrio. "Bond has a really good history of not only playing through Thanksgiving but going deep into the Christmas holidays." Now, if Sony would just mail me Daniel Craig, I'd be all set.

In other areas that aren't about me, the "clubhouse for guys," Spike TV, is turning 5. Ah, how they grow up fast -- it seems the network was just a testosterone-laden baby a mere few months ago. "The challenge I came into was how to take an emergent brand and give it some real buzz," Spike's Niels Schuurmans tells Ray Richmond. "We had off-network runs of 'CSI,' we had WWE wrestling, and young guys already loved us. What we didn't have is a strong brand voice and personality. We made the decision to position Spike as a place that speaks to guys the way guys speak to guys, with honesty and no bullshit. And that ultimately led to going with action and identifying ourselves as being edgy and taking chances, but getting away from the whole 'Stripperella' vibe."

Continue reading "The Front Page: August 22, 2008" »

NBC's Summer Olympics: A feature story you won't see

By Barry Garron

Too bad no one's counting because NBC probably set some kind of record at the Beijing Summer Olympics for the greatest number of human interest stories ever reported. Still, there was an incredible story that NBC has not mentioned to its millions of viewers...and probably won't.

Olympic_wire It's a story about two older Chinese women, Wu Dianyuan, 79, and her neighbor Wang Xiuying, 77. If they qualified for equestrian competition or archery, NBC Sports would have been all over them but, alas for them, they came to the Olympics with even loftier goals.

The women applied to hold a protest at one of three parks in Beijing officially approved by the Chinese government for demonstrations. The sites are far from any Olympic action but that hasn't mattered. Out of a reported 77 applications to hold protests, the Chinese government has approved none. As in zero.

However, it would not be fair to say that Chinese officials took no action on the application. The government notified the women they would have to undergo re-education through labor. In other words, at any moment, perhaps even while you read this, the women may be whisked away to a forced labor camp.

As Wu's son asked, "Wang Xiuying is almost blind and disabled. What sort of re-education through labor can she serve?"

It's a great question but not one that NBC Sports or NBC News will pursue. Standard issue for NBC personnel in Beijing consists of network blazers and rose-colored glasses. Network reporters, announcers and analysts won't touch any controversy with a 10-foot javelin.Olympic_cuffs

As we near the end of this two-week extravaganza, it is clear NBC left its journalistic integrity stateside. Even the most lightweight of controversies -- such as why Mark Spitz, previous Olympic gold medal record holder, was not invited to Beijing -- has been virtually ignored. It seems not a single NBC backbone made it through customs.

So while other reporters get roughed up and while demonstrations are suppressed by gangs of plainclothes police and while little old ladies are ordered into forced labor, NBC News is capable of reporting only bright little featurettes on athletes and their families and fluffy stories about acupuncture.

Too bad there isn't a gold medal for kowtowing to Chinese authority. NBC would lead from start to finish.

The Front Page: August 21, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

So there's this thing called the Olympics, right? You may have heard of it. Going on in China, Beijing, I think -- and there's approximately eleventy-billion hours of it on NBC, another thing you might have heard of.

Cable viewers couldn't care less: They've got "Monk." And "The Closer." And "Burn Notice." This, according to Kimberly Nordyke, who notes that despite everything, "Summer 2008 may have generated as many ratings headlines for cable as last year, when  Disney Channel's 'High School Musical 2' blew away viewership records. TNT's "The Closer" even has numbers -- a 7.3 share -- that some broadcast shows can't approximate. NBC may be getting all of the headlines, but that little box atop your TV set is starting to command some serious attention.

Not that NBC's hurting; despite Michael Phelps being finished for this years Olympics, on MSN "has set records for uniques, page views and streams" and "attracts an average of more than 6 million users daily, who spend nearly 15 minutes per visit and spend 20 minutes when consuming video, according to NBC," writes Barry Janoff. The official Olympic site --, by comparison, is getting 930,000 visits per day. Between cable and the internet, broadcast just can't seem to catch a break.

Continue reading "The Front Page: August 21, 2008" »

The Front Page: August 20, 2008

Frontpagenew3By Randee Dawn

Old scribes, rejoice! Your battle has been won. Well, at least over at ICM, which according to Leslie Simmons, is going to settle the "8-year-old class action discrimination lawsuit filed by TV writers who claim they were squeezed out of jobs because of their age." The suit was filed against networks, production companies and agencies, and apparently agents are to blame because they "abetted networks and studios in the discrimination by refusing to rep them or refer older writers to production studios." The writers are going to get $4.5 million, which isn't paltry but surely isn't enough to cover everyone -- so they'd better start hoping the rest of the deck of cards falls pretty soon. The thing is, as always, the ones who really come out on top? The lawyers.

Another entry in the "Why, Oh, Why" (or, as I'm thinking of calling it, the YOY) category has surfaced, writes Jay A. Fernandez: MGM is remaking the 1982 film "Poltergeist," which will be written by Juliet Snowden and Stiles White (who are married). "We don't want to do horror karaoke," White told Fernandez. "We want to do a really cool cover version of a song that everybody loves." Of all the films -- "Poltergeist"? Yes, the maggoty chicken and face-peeling scared the bejeebus out of me when I was a kid, and I remember even reading the book version. But why would you want to step into that potential pit of odd-but-deadly-coincidences? Does no one remember the Poltergeist Curse?

Be prepared to check your closets again.

Finally, Eric J. Lyman writes the best story of the day for "Clips": A "leading Italian medical group" wants broadcasters to stop airing such shows as "ER" and "House" because "these programs ... are spreading misinformation." Apparently they're just not accurate enough, and could be leading viewers to assume certain medical details that just don't exist. This also in: The Italian group wants soaps off the air for being inaccurate about relationships, cop dramas gone for not dragging the legal process out long enough, and "Sesame Street" knocked off because Elmo does not exist in nature.

The Front Page: August 19, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

Let's see ... Hollywood is decamping for the Rocky Mountain part of the U.S., where there will be exclusive parties and genuine stars, a lot of schmoozing and -- hey, who moved Sundance?

Oh, wait: As Elizabeth Guider and Paul J. Gough point out, it's only Denver and it's "only" the Democratic convention, which officially kicks off on Aug. 25 but already has the city buzzing with, well, buzz. They write: "Celebrities expected to attend at least some of the events in the Mile High City include Ben Affleck, Josh Brolin, Annette Bening, Spike Lee, Anne Hathaway, Susan Sarandon, Richard Schiff and Kerry Washington. Among the likely execs on hand will be Sony's Michael Lynton, DreamWorks' Jeffrey Katzenberg, Endeavor's Ari Emmanuel, producer Lawrence Bender and Comcast's Jeff Shell -- all of whom have served on Obama's National Finance Committee. And because it is in Denver, the home of the country's key coterie of cablers, companies like Starz are among those that intend to make the most of their host perch."

Just watch out for the altitude, folks. It's a doozy if you're not prepared, much like the convention itself.

GM has gotten itself off a high perch as a sponsor for the Oscars and Emmys, hoping to save money on ad spending, according to Steve Miller. Notes rep Kelly Cusinato, "The Emmys [also on ABC] and Oscars are prestigious events, and the decision to release them was a difficult one-especially after over a decade of involvement," Cusinato said. They're sticking with the Globes, Grammies and Country Music Awards -- but the industry's real showpieces are going to have to hunt around for some extra cash come September and February....

Continue reading "The Front Page: August 19, 2008" »

The Front Page: August 18, 2008

FrontpagenewBy Randee Dawn

As James Hibberd notes today at the start of his article, "It was only a matter of time." Yup: The Food Network has now officially recognized what I consider to be probably the most offensive pseudo-sport out there -- Competitive Eating -- with its own project (uncleverly called "Eat the Clock"). I'm all for a good hotdog chowdown on July 4, but the idea that this is a game Wii is developing (or has developed) and that now a cable network is giving it credence -- gah. Enough to give you an upset stomach.

Though, admittedly, this may be the only time Food Network and ESPN could share some cross-promotional content.

Almost more baffling: Why hasn't anyone bought Heath Ledger's final film, "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus"? Steven Zeitchik wonders that same question with an article today. "On the one hand, it's a chance for the history-making opportunity -- not to mention a marketing coup -- of releasing Ledger's last movie," he writes. But, notes one distribution executive, "In this market, unless I have a reason to think a movie like this is going to be a slam dunk I'm not going to take a flyer on it, even with Heath Ledger." C'mon, folks. If nothing else, director Terry Gilliam deserves another shot.

And finally, today is the final Emmy Wrap issue -- so your collections can now be complete. This issue features comments from nominated showrunners and producers about the episode they submitted to the nomination committee, and it is interesting to see the logic behind the process: As with "House," backstory is one of the major obstacles a show like "Lost" has to overcome. "We can't make stand-alone episodes, so we went with the one we felt was our best work and decided we would live or die by it," explain writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse in an email. "'The Constant' was a very complex episode that involved consciousness traveling. Instead of our normal two-week story break, it took us five weeks to break the episode. The challenge was to do something that involved a lot of trippy mythology, but not lose the viewer in a morass of exposition. We worked very hard at finding an emotional through-line for the story, and at keeping the story at all times pointed toward our emotional ending -- the reunion of Penny and Desmond."

NBC's Summer Olympics: Great pictures, less controversy

By Barry Garron

After a full week of the Summer Olympics, give credit to NBC for accomplishing so many goals. Ratings are through the roof. Announcer-analyst teams have been truly professional. Video has been sensational. Host Bob Costas is smooth as ever.

Beijingolympic2008 And just about any whisper of controversy has been smothered, papered over and ignored.

"It's a hazy morning," Costas told viewers Wednesday night, a polite way of saying that smog levels continued to be much higher than the Chinese promised.

It's been a busy week for journalists in China. A British journalist for ITV was yanked into a van and detained for a half hour for trying to report on a short-lived "Free Tibet" demonstration. Two Japanese journalists, investigating alleged terror in northwest China, were detained and beaten. (The government later apologized.) Two Hong Kong reporters also were roughed up while committing journalism.

If you failed to hear Costas mention these ongoing incidents of repression and broken promises, there's nothing wrong with your TV set. NBC was busy ignoring them.

I suppose, in its defense, NBC might argue that it was there to cover the Olympics and not China. Except the primetime show makes time every night for a report from Mary Carillo on a feature topic, many of which have nothing to do with the Olympics. On Wednesday, she reported on strange Chinese foods and brought Costas a scorpion on a stick. Apparently, NBC has time for Hunan rice but not human rights.Chinese_gymnasts

While NBC didn't exactly ignore the scandal of the Chinese gymnasts who are alleged to be much younger than 16, the required age for participation, it didn't dwell on the topic for long.

On Thursday, the AP reported that three gymnasts were said to be 13 years old just nine months before the Olympics. The source of that information was Xinhua, the Chinese government's own news agency. The AP found the site and copied the page. Good thing, too, because as soon as the story came out, the page mysteriously disappeared. Sports editors at the site declined comment.

That's a pretty hot development to occur just before several days of gymnastic finals. On Thursday night, Costas interviewed Bela Karolyi, U.S. gymnastic coach, who had made his suspicions known previously. The IOC was ignoring the new evidence and Costas followed suit. The subject never came up.

The 2008 Summer Olympics will surely be remembered for many things but NBC's courageous reporting will not be among them.

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