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AS THE RUMORS SWIRL THAT MATT WILL FOLLOW MEREDITH OUT THE DOOR, A BILLION-DOLLAR FRANCHISE HEARS A GASP

Mano y mano: The only muscle Matt Lauer flexes with Tom Cruise is from the nose up.

A Today Show without Matt Lauer? Could this really be true? Could it still thrive?

Those are some of the questions recently posed to me by David Bauder of Associated Press. Where do I even begin?

As someone who’s studied Matt Lauer for many years, not just as a viewer but as a competitor, first as executive producer of ABC’s Good Morning America then senior executive producer of CBS’ Early Show, I can genuinely say with authority: there is simply no one like Matt Lauer in all of network news. There never has been, and now given the experience he adds to his broad range of skill sets, there probably never will be again.

So, NBC, what ever Matt wants, Matt should get. He’s certainly earned it.

HOW MATT LAUER BECAME “THE FONZ” OF MORNING TV AND WHY HIS BOSSES GET CREDIT FOR SPOTTING HIM

Most network news executives I have known would never have hired Matt Lauer in the first place. It’s clearly been their loss. You see, once upon a time, he was a young feature reporter for Robin Leach’s “Fame, Fortune and Romance,” a short-lived daytime series that rode the coat tails of the bigger show that brought you champagne wishes and caviar dreams. He then moved to New York and co-hosted a local talk show called 9 Broadway Plaza.

This, plus a few credits short of a degree from Ohio University, was not exactly the winning resume for a network news division, but somewhere within the NBC corporate hierarchy someone saw that Lauer was smart, fun to be around, comfortable in his own skin and likable. Not classically handsome, he was still sexy, appealing, someone who definitely sat at the cool kid’s table of life. Read the rest of this entry »

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SO HERE IT IS, MY LINE BY LINE RESPONSE TO TUESDAY’S STORY

“the universal website for corrections to lies, misinformation and misrepresentations.”

Earlier this week, the New York Times and I wrote about my favorite new website, ICorrect.com, which allows members like me to correct “lies, misinformation and misrepresentations” in the media. I received an outpouring of support, and then on Tuesday, lo and behold, the New York Observer ran a “story” that wasn’t even amusingly snarky, it was downright sadistic.

What’s more, it was full of new misrepresentations to correct. Sadly, as you’ll see in my rebuttal below, the paper made no attempt to contact me before publication and instead, appears to have relied on the clairvoyance of a young staff member who somehow knows what I think.

Yesterday the reporter, who we’ll call Kat, acknowledged her poor form in making a “case study” out of me without ever attempting to contact me. In an e-mail at 6:36:05 last night, she offered to run a response from me, which I prepared right away. But Kat has ignored all the e-mails I’ve sent her since. What to do? Sounds like a job for ICorrect and dailyXpress, so here’s what the NY Observer didn’t print.

To make it easy to understand, I have structured this version as dialog: “NYO” is the verbatim copy in full, “SR” is my line by line rebuttal seen here in red. (Of course, you can also link to ICorrect.com.)

Former ‘GMA‘ Producer Shelley Ross Resurfaces, Reminds Us of Her Embarrassments

April 4, 2011 | 12:50 p.m. By Kat Stoeffel

NYO: We hadn’t heard of former Good Morning America executive producer Shelley Ross until yesterday, and she would probably prefer we never did.

SR: As one of only a handful of women executive producers in network news, (there were only 2 of us to exec produce any of the daily network morning shows in the last 25 years) most media reporters know who I am. I would prefer you were more knowledgable about your beat.

NYO: Ms. Ross was featured in a Sunday Times round-up of ICorrect.com, which Ms. Ross pays $1,000 a year for the space to post rebuttals to what she sees as inaccuracies in blog and newspaper items lingering around the infinitely archiving web.

SR: I have posted not just what I “see,” but what I can prove are lies, inaccuracies and misrepresentations.

NYO: Ms. Ross is mostly worried about coverage of her dismissal from CBS,

SR: Since no one ever contacted me from the NY Observer, how would anyone know what items worry me most. (Clairvoyance?)

NYO: …which was documented with audible snickering by the Post, New York Magazine, and even the Times.

SR: “documented with audible snickering?” Well that one’s just too darn hard to answer.

Read the rest of this entry »

“BALLISTIC BOSS” AND “TANTRUM-PRONE” NO MORE

Icorrect: this girls new BFF

For three years I have lived with the collateral damage of a deliberate and continuing cyber smear campaign from a handful of detractors who have hidden behind the time-honored protection given anonymous news sources. They are more school yard bullies than protected sources in the traditions of  great journalism.  But even with school yard bullies, you at least know who they are.

Two old stories in particular (2007 and 2008) were actually manipulated  for years to reappear on the first page of my Google Search. Both articles, highly sexist,  were based on false or twisted information provided by those with apparent malice who choose to  portray me as a workplace wackjob.

At the time the articles first appeared, I made a decision to take the high ground and ignore the bad press.  I now know that decision was wrong; not defending myself against the many lies let them  live on, unchallenged,  in cyberspace, a new world that has a real and measurable impact.

The “anonymouses” were actually “winning.”   But today, in the words of one ESPN anchor, “Not so fast, my friend.”

Today, the New York Times  has an article in the Week In Review section called “Celebrities Set the Record Straight” about  a new website called ICorrect.com where , for a membership fee of $1,000, one can correct a false story and then see your correction posted side by side with the original accusation.  The NYT story today features Stephen Fry, Bianca Jagger, Michael Caine, Tommy Hillfiger, Kevin Spacey and me!

If $1,000 seems like a lot of money, it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the $65,000 I was quoted by one company  to chase down all the lies that had been ricocheting around the internet. That was just to start; there was no promise to tackle unforeseen problems, such as what turned out to be a cyber “stalker(s)” who, regardless of any accomplishments, will manipulate the headlines with the words “Ballistic Boss” and “Tantrum-Prone” back to the top of my search page.

The most vicious stories were published at the end of my 17-year tenure at ABC News, then at the end of a much shorter one at CBS News where, after 23 weeks as senior executive producer of The Early Show, the bad press was at a fever pitch and I was asked to leave.

March 3, 2008 was my last day at CBS News and, ironically,  also the day I was about to assign the story of Paul Tilley, a 40-year-old creative chief of an ad agency, DDB Chicago. A week and a half earlier Tilly, a husband and father of two, jumped to a violent death from an upper floor of the Fairmont Hotel,  the building next door to his offices.  The talented Mr. Tilley had been the target of vicious, anonymous blogs on two ad industry websites.

At the time, I named this new phenomenon blood blogging, a far more accurate phrase than Sarah Palin’s more recent blood libel, and certainly less incendiary.  To me, blood blogging seems more of a sport than anything else, one designed by those not particularly witty, talented or inspired, but rather  those who are seemingly disgruntled, disenfranchised and not willing to put their own ideas front and center for anyone to notice, let alone judge.

Under the cloak of anonymity, they tear others down, wound with words and when all else fails, make stuff up.

The blood blogging of me began even before I even accepted the CBS job, when it was published that  my secret contract negotiations to become senior executive producer of The Early Show were halted because Katie Couric was mad at me.  Not true, but the lightning round of phone calls from reporters revealed one certainty: someone was working a sabotage story pretty aggressively.  I was hoping this was just a little gossipy speed bump, but not so.  Following my introduction to The Early Show staff, I gave my first talk about the difficult but exciting days ahead as we faced the challenge of moving out of third place.   Soon after that, my old pals at ABC called and repeated back my words, almost verbatim, and even told me their favorite parts of the Q&A session.   When I officially began work at CBS  the next week, I changed the pass code to the telephone conference bridge.

The steady stream of malicious gossip began pretty early. I “melted down,” went “ballistic,” “became enraged” and “threw temper tantrums” in meetings I did not attend, in hallways I didn’t walk in and on phone calls I never placed or received.   In the early days, almost like clockwork each Friday afternoon at about ten to six, my boss and  I would be handed a demeaning anonymous item to confirm or deny for Page Six of the New York Post.  Despite the clear and specific denials from the president of the news division, Page Six eventually ran one big story anyway, telling our publicist, “but our source is so good.”  Perhaps the source had an ulterior motive.

As one website picked up each false and malicious story from the other,  personal threats began, some addressing what should happen to terrible bosses like me.  There was simply no recourse, until now.   Read the rest of this entry »

HAVE WE LEARNED NOTHING FROM HOW WE HANDLED THE BIG STORIES OF THE PAST?

A former colleague of mine, someone I consider a real treasure in journalism, posted on my facebook page her reaction to my continuing dialog about Chris Brown’s behavior: “why does anyone care about these people?”  Here’s my fast answer:

Nicole Brown Simpson and Rihanna: battered faces of domestic violence

How O.J. Simpson Tried to Bat Us Back on His Story

In June 1994, the great Roone Arledge, then president of ABC News, put me in charge of O.J. Simpson coverage for all his primetime magazine shows.  At the time, there were four hour-long shows each week: Day One, Turning Point, PrimeTime Live and 20/20.

I had missed the first few days of the Simpson story.  Ironically, I was in Washington, D.C. with Sam Donaldson, working on what, until then, was the biggest story of the year:  an exclusive interview with Paula Corbin Jones who had filed a sexual harassment suit against the President. (Funnily enough, I had to debate an ABC News vice president on “why we should give airtime to this woman and her lawsuit,”  which might be argued today was the first step which led to the President’s impeachment.)

The Paula Jones  interview aired not as the lead but in second position on the show Thursday night, behind the O.J. Simpson updates.  I quickly returned  to Los Angeles early the next morning, on Friday,  the day Simpson was supposed to turn himself in to police but instead led them on that fateful “low-speed white Bronco chase” that turned the story upside down and created a national viewing event that would continue for another year and a half.

Earlier in the week from Washington, D.C., I had quietly asked a freelancer/friend to get me the Simpson divorce papers from the courthouse.  The story was moving so fast, the PrimeTime Live producers on the scene had no time at all to even look at the file.  But late Friday night, as I read page after page, I saw it was all there — the admission of O.J. Simpson’s prior violence against his wife and the details of the domestic violence program he was supposed to complete.

Saturday morning I called my old friend Roy Firestone, the former ESPN sports anchor who I was certain must have interviewed Simpson.  It turned out, Roy had actually interviewed him years before about the wife beating charges.  The tapes were somewhere in storage and he was more than happy to dig them out for me, but he warned me that back then, in more innocent times, he had not pressed O.J. Simpson very hard to account for his behavior.

Later that nght, we aired a one-hour Turning Point, a broadcast that would drive O.J. Simpson into a fury. From behind bars, he insisted that his only lawyer at the time, Bob Shapiro, call me and Barbara Walters on his behalf to demand apologies, retractions and more.  We got it all wrong, Simpson had declared, even though we hadn’t strayed from the exact language in the divorce documents and his own words on tape.

We now know that Nicole Brown kept a diary which noted O.J. Simpson’s first abuse of her in 1977.  She kept the photo of her battered face in a safety deposit box.  She called 911 after Simpson broke the door jam of her condominium while kicking down the door.  Mark Fuhrman answered another 911 call after Simpson shattered the windshield of her Mercedes Benz with a baseball bat. And we also know that on June 12, 1994, O.J. Simpson’s violence escalated to a double murder when he slashed Nicole’s throat from behind, as if slaughtering a farm animal, and stabbed to death a bystander:  her friend, Ron Goldman.

DOES NICOLE’S BATTERED FACE NOT LOOK JUST LIKE RIHANNA’S?

Nicole Simpson’s battered face was once so beautiful, it haunts.  So does Rihanna’s.

The bruises on their foreheads look so similar.   I wonder, is that where blood coagulates when you’re beaten on the top, or side of your head? Read the rest of this entry »

DOUBLE, DOUBLE, TOIL AND TROUBLE:   FEEL FREE TO TELL US MORE ABOUT LADY MACBETH

Today’s NYT Style section has a strange profile of Ben Sherwood that addresses more of what people think of him than how he’s going to move ABC News into the future.  In the profile, the new president of the news division is said to sit in his office,  “at times absently rubbing his hands together as if washing them with soap and water.”

Cue the thunder and lightning, because buried amongst his chosen defenders, the NYT reporter has stumbled on a Shakespearean clue of the tragedy of blind ambition at ABC News.

Ben Sherwood, more than most, has tried his best to write, control and sell his own life narrative to others.  So far, he’s been very successful, convincing key consumers, most recently Anne Sweeney,  of his greatness and perceived destiny.   That’s all fine with me, except when Ben Sherwood’s narrative — the story of “his path,” — infringes upon the true and provable facts of my own.

To draw once more from the wisdom within the pages of  Shakespeare’s Macbeth invoked by the NYT reporter:  “What need we fear who knows (the truth) when none can call our power to account?”

With that inspiration, I shall begin the challenge of setting my own record straight.
First, here is the  full NYT story: Read the rest of this entry »

HEY CHRIS, YOUR EIGHTH GRADE MATH TEACHER IS CALLING, HE WANTS TO OFFER  A FREE REMEDIAL ARITHMETIC  REFRESHER

Another week, another by-line, another puzzlingly inaccurate report from TV Newser on the morning show ratings, something I’ve followed for years.

The full article follows, but I’ve excerpted the bad math that appears in the second paragraph:

Year-over-year “Today” was down while CBS and ABC were up, which can be attributed to NBC’s boost during coverage of the Vancouver Olympics last February.”

WRONG: All three were down in the demo ( A25-54) and Early and Today were down in total viewers.  GMA was up in total viewers.  How do I know this? I clicked on your own Year-over-year link and found this:

The averages for the week of Feb. 15 2010:Total Viewers: NBC: 6.38M / ABC: 4.49M / CBS: 2.85M

A25-54: NBC: 2.86M / ABC: 1.85M / CBS: 1.24M

Then I compared last years numbers to the averages you published today for the week of  Feb. 14 2011:Total Viewers:    NBC: 5.45M / ABC: 4.73M / CBS: 2.72M

A25-54 viewers: NBC: 2.43M / ABC: 1.79M / CBS: 1.20M

Here are my calculations:
Total Viewers : NBC: -930,000/ ABC +24,000/ CBS -130,000

A25-54 Viewers: NBC: -430,000/ABC   -60,000  /CBS  -40,000

It’s really not that hard to do: Step one: Write down the NBC total number from  the week of Feb. 15, 2010, then subtract the number you see next to NBC  total viewer for the week of Feb. 14, 2011.  You get 930,000 which is the decline in the audience year to year.  Repeat the same process with ABC and CBS, then all three networks for the A25-54 viewers.

Now try that math exercise for last week’s post on the morning show audience and, whoops, you’ll see why your math teacher is trying to reach you.

(In fact, I think you might want to re-check all of your numbers…. and then we’ll move on to some other suggestions.)

By Chris Ariens on February 25, 2011 4:38 PM

Last week saw another decline for the morning network news programs, compared to the week before. The combined average for NBC’s “Today,” ABC’s “Good Morning America” and CBS’ “The Early Show” was 12.9 million, down -6% week-over-week. “Today” remained #1 with a 720K total viewer lead over “GMA.”

Year-over-year “Today” was down while CBS and ABC were up, which can be attributed to NBC’s boost during coverage of the Vancouver Olympics last February.

The averages for the week of Feb. 14:

  • Total Viewers: NBC: 5.45M / ABC: 4.73M / CBS: 2.72M
  • A25-54 viewers: NBC: 2.43M / ABC: 1.79M / CBS: 1.20M

…and, sorry, but you’re so often wrong!

try double-checking your math; it works for the rest of us

See if you can guess what’s wrong with TVNewser’s morning show report online today?  See answer below.

Morning Show Ratings: Week of February 7

By Molly Stark Dean on February 17, 2011 2:42 PM

Last week saw a slight decline for all the morning network news programs after the week prior brought in elevated viewership due to the crisis in Egypt. NBC’s “Today” remained the top morning network news program for the week with a 750K lead on #2 ACB’s “Good Morning America.”

Year-over-year “Today” was up slightly in Total Viewers, no small feat considering the week of Feb. 8, 2010 saw the “Today” team in Vancouver ahead of the Winter Olympics. “GMA” asaw year-over-year gains in both Total Viewers and A25-54 viewers. CBS’ “The Early Show” was down slightly in both, year-over-year.

The averages for the week of Feb. 7:

  • Total Viewers: NBC: 5.75M / ABC: 5.00M / CBS: 3.02M
  • A25-54 viewers: NBC: 2.71M / ABC: 1.92M / CBS: 1.29M

TWO-PART ANSWER IS:

1) “GMA” asaw year-over-year gains in both Total Viewers and A25-54 viewers. WRONG!

2)  CBS’ “The Early Show” was down slightly in both, year-over-year. WRONG!

According to my old-fashioned math:

Early was up in demo versus a year ago,  GMA was down and Today was flat percentage-wise,  but down by 10,000 A25-54 viewers:
A25-54                2010               2011  ___% Diff
Today                 2720                2710             Flat
GMA                    2120                1920             -9%
Early                   1280                1290            +1%

Besides a numbers checker, I always find the computer’s spell check program often helps with stray letters in “GMA asaw..”

P.S. If you ever want to correct some of the bad numbers in your archives, let me know.

***UPDATE: by popular request, I am posting the last few years of morning show ratings for the week of (or comparable to) February 7th:

A25-54

Today
2008 – 2,930,000
2009 – 2,590,000
2010 – 2,720,000
2011   -2,710,000

GMA
2008 – 2,250,000
2009 – 2,090,000
2010 – 2,120,000
2011   -1,920,000

Early Show
2008 – 1,540,000
2009 – 1,320,000
2010 – 1,280,000
2011 –  1,290,000

HOW LONG BEFORE PIERS MORGAN GOES LIVE, ADDS MULTIPLE GUESTS? START THE OFFICE POOL NOW

KING REPLACEMENT STILL LIKES HIS INTERVIEWS PRE-TAPED — NOT SHAKEN OR STIRRED


Whew, what a relief that Piers Morgan’s first week is over.  We can both relax now.  I don’t really know how he felt, but I certainly was  full of anxiety watching.  Imagine getting hired to replace an icon like Larry King.  The set, the suspenders, open heart surgery (or as he awkwardly called it with Bill Clinton: the “zipper club.”) And all the wives we loved and lost.

Replacing a broadcast original, even if he’d acted like your embarrassing uncle some nights, is a daunting challenge.  I just couldn’t wait for those  first interviews to be over so we can all dig into reality.

YOU MIGHT AS WELL BURN THE FIRST WEEK…

No matter how strategic one tries to be, you might as well burn the first week anytime you’re stepping into big shoes, especially comfortable old ones.   And you’ve got to know the size of the shoes into which you step —  the American size, not the English size, which is smaller. (A man’s size 12 in the US is an 11 in the UK.)

Speaking of smaller, the total audience for Morgan’s show began to shrink throughout the first week, losing nearly a million viewers across all ages.

Among adults 25-54, the audience  was nearly halved by Wednesday.  But then again, anyone here could have warned in advance that Condoleeza Rice, while one of the most interesting women in the world, is not fascinating as an interviewee. Ricky Gervais, on the other hand, is — especially right after his Golden Globe controversy.  But “right after,” in our world of 24/7 news, would have been Monday, not Thursday. Read the rest of this entry »

INTERVIEW IS TOUGHEST, BUT FOR WHOM?

WHEW, WHO ELSE  BUT THE QUEEN OF TALK COULD EVER HANDLE QUESTIONS LIKE THESE…

It began at 9:00 p.m. just like this:  after days of intensive CNN promotion where we see Oprah call it “one of the toughest interviews I’ve had in twenty years,” Piers Morgan opened the door, sat down and asked the first question on his highly anticipated new talk show.  I turned up the volume, shushed my husband and leaned forward.

"one of the toughest interviews Ive had in twenty years"

PIERS: Tell me this, do you ever get surreal moments when, I’m trying to picture what it’s like being you, when you wake up in the morning and you go, ‘Bloody hell, I’m Oprah Winfrey.’

OPRAH:  Well I don’t say, “bloody hell,” but I did have a surreal moment, January 1st, when I launched my new network.

It had been only a matter of seconds before Oprah was pitching her heart out about her new cable network, OWN.  Watching the January 1st launch, she told Morgan,  had moved her to tears when she finally “got it.”   Groomed in the rough and tumble world of London’s Fleet Street, he was more than ready for his follow up.

PIERS: What does it really mean to have your own network?

With the words, “exclusive” written in the lower third of the screen*, Oprah revealed a story she had only shared with the few dozen reporters who attended her press conference at the  Television Critics Association on January 7th.  She said she never loved commercials as much as when she saw them on her OWN network. (*Full disclosure, I have over-used “exclusive” myself  plenty over the years.)

Okay, to be fair, Morgan wants Oprah to get a little something out of the interview, so perhaps it’s good to get a few warm up questions out of the way.  Let’s dig in now.

PIERS: How many people do you trust?

Oprah says about 5 or 6, but she’s not going to say who they are.  Oprah’s on to him now and lets him know she’s not going to discuss what she told Barbara Walters about Gayle.

PIERS: Typical Oprah, you nailed the lie!

Oprah makes it very clear that she will never address those “rumors” again.  And Morgan backs off, but not before Oprah explains why she cried in the Walters interview while discussing her friendship with Gayle.

Having been warned by Oprah not to tread on “rumor” territory, or to expect her to cry again, Morgan deftly backs her in a corner with this follow up:

PIERS: How did Gayle react to your reaction?

OPRAH: She said, ‘that’s so nice.’

It turns out, Gayle didn’t have a chance to see the Barbara Walters interview until they were in Australia, something which made Morgan absolutely collapse in laughter.  But then he composed himself in order to continue Oprah’s toughest interview.  Read the rest of this entry »

FIRST MUST-SEE TV FOR OWN, NEW HOME FOR LOTS OF GREAT DOCS

BROADCAST NETS SNOOZE, LOSE

"Harlow"entirely transfixed and transformed Philadelphia

When I was just 17 (you know what I mean), a Philadelphia drag queen named Harlow let the local newspaper document the final year of her gender transformation from her previous life as Richard Finocchio. At the end of the series, Harlow emerged as a woman so magnificent, she transfixed and transformed an entire city.

Back then, Philadelphia still had a strong influence of Quakers.  Sunday “blue laws” forbidding the sale of alcohol on a day reserved for prayer, was just a hint. But suddenly, there was a club owned by Harlow and lines around the block  on Market St. for those who wanted to see her, celebrate her, party with her, and even be her.  More clubs followed to handle the overflow.

"Becoming Chaz" Will he say what it was like growing up "Chastity?"

CAN CHAZ BONO TRANSFORM OWN?

I hope the Chaz Bono story does the same for OWN.  I, for one, will be glued to my chair to see what I imagine is a story of psychic pain, confusion, personal demons, family dysfunction and reconciliation.  I hope it also includes a degree, any degree of triumph.  I wish the same for Chaz Bono, too.

In all seriousness, I am rooting for Chaz to have a happy life and for OWN to blaze new trails in cable, a medium with a fair share of programming brilliance , but one that still is too much a wasteland for blah, blah, blah and blah.

Here is the press release for “Becoming Chaz.”  I hope the documentary appears in movie theaters first, to meet the eligibility rules for the Oscars. Read the rest of this entry »