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Are we ready for kibitzing on a network news magazine?

How fitting that on the day that Dr. Conrad Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, the second installment of Rock Center aired  featuring yet another empty, cringe-worthy live celebrity interview by Brian Williams.

As clear as we saw that Dr. Murray could not say “no” to Michael Jackson,  it is evident the NBC news anchor lacks someone on his team willing to say what he may not want to hear: Williams must give up  the risky behavior  on his show: vapid interviews filled with what he thinks is wry humor. This week’s installment, Tina Fey. Read the rest of this entry »

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PRINTING LAST WEEK’S NIELSEN RATINGS FOR THIS WEEK?  REALLY! YOU’VE SUNK TO A NEW CREDIBILITY LOW

For many months since launching daily Xpress, I haven’t  been able to resist pointing out the many inaccuracies of the weekly ratings reported by TVNewser, the once respectable “must read” during the tenure of the great Brian Stelter who was blogging while still in college and was quickly hired by The  New York Times after graduation.

I miss those days with Brian who was sadly replaced by reporters with fuzzy math, conflicts of interest and reckless disregard for the truth, much of which I’ve detailed in previous posts.

But now, get this error.  Today TVNewser has posted the ratings for the evening news shows for the week of April 11th, beginning their story:

“It was par for the course for the network evening newscasts the week of April 11.”

I guess so.  TVNewser has posted last week’s ratings by mistake! How embarrassing is that! Read the rest of this entry »

PREDICTION: NO ONE WILL PAY NEW ONLINE ACCESS FEES
The toothpaste is out of the tube.  The public has been getting news online for years now, the most recent Pew Study showing the majority of people 30 and under use online sources as their “go to” for news.  And it’s been free.  So why does the New York Times think anyone will be willing to start paying $15 a month for the same access (after you’ve clicked on 20 times.)
As of March 28th, you’ll have to pay for anything past the home page and section fronts.  The fee for unlimited access to online content will be $195 a year.  Add on iPad access, it’s $260.  Unlimited digital access: $455.
Let’s get real.  I have been a news junkie my entire adult life.  I consume more news than just about anyone I know.  I get ill on vacations where I am removed from the news.  I have worked in the news business for three decades during which time I will take responsibility for destroying too many trees, perhaps forests. I am a heat-seeking missile for the latest coverage, the most in-depth coverage, the most creative or thoughtful coverage.  I have never balked at spending money on subscriptions for newspapers and countless magazines.  But I, for one, am not going to pay for the Times online.

Now, admittedly, I won’t have to:  my daily newspaper subscription entitles me to free access online.  I’m just sayin’, that if I was asked to, I wouldn’t.  The New York Times, and every other publication,  is going to have to figure out a more sensible business model.  Company chairman Arthur Sulzberger, Jr. is calling it one of the most significant days in the Times’s 159-year history: “Our decision to begin charging for digital access will result in another source of revenue, strengthening our ability to continue to invest in the journalism and digital innovation on which our readers have come to depend.”

I agree it’s a significant day for the New York Times.  Only I think it day that will go down  as the worst miscalculation of consumers in the company’s history.  Sulzberger seems to believe the world is invested in good journalism.   Sadly, they don’t care.

This isn’t a critique of the New York Times and what many see as its mistakes or declining standards over the past few years. This is not about Judith Millers’s war drums before the invasion of Iraq, or Jason Blair, or the embarrassment of the front page John McCain faux mistress story in the middle of the presidential campaign.

I believe the New York Times, on balance, is still an outstanding newspaper, worthy of its many Pulitzer prizes.  Their obituaries of the 9/11 victims, focusing on who they were as people instead of what they did for living, was a defining moment in journalism.  Their science, health and medical reporting is in a league of its own.  Their willingness to take on pharmaceutical companies separates them from network news which has become co-dependent. Tom Friedman, Maureen Down, Paul Krugman, I love them even when I don’t love them.  I will miss Frank Rich.

After all, a brilliant mind, even one with whom you disagree, is a terrible thing to waste.  Which brings me back to the wacky decision to charge for the New York Times online.

WILL CONSUMERS PAY FOR NEWS ONLINE?  JUST ASK RECORD EXECS HOW CHARGING FOR DOWNLOADS IS WORKIN’ FOR THEM? Read the rest of this entry »

****UPDATE: FINAL RATINGS SINK LOWER

WHEN MORE TUNE IN TO WORLD NEWS THAN ABC SPECIAL, WHAT WILL IT TAKE TO WOW VIEWERS?

A few disclosures will be sprinkled throughout this post, but first, I think I have a news crush on the astronaut, Mark Kelly.  You know how when you meet a guy who’s so spectacular but taken, so you think, “is there a brother like him at home or did they throw away the mold after this one?”  Well he’s got an identical twin.

my news crush began when I saw the healing hand of Capt. Mark Kelly

My news crush on Kelly began the moment I saw that photo: the close up of his hand grasping hers, “hers” being Gabrielle Giffords who the world now knows has been fighting for her life, and now is  just fighting to return to her husband.  Their love story was told by Diane Sawyer Tuesday night in a special edition of 20/20.

This ABC News exclusive,  a story that is still developing daily,  played to all the strengths of Sawyer. (Disclosure #2: I produced Diane’s interviews for 15 years.  I acknowledge this not to reveal any personal bias, but more to state a truly academic knowledge of the art of the interview.)

In the broader Tuscon story, Capt. Kelly was “the get.”  From the start, the killing rampage in Tuscon captured the hearts and minds of America.  Anchors rushed to the scene.  The nation was captivated.   Over 2 million more people watched the combined evening newscasts than the week before.

The individual stories of the victims were both heart-breaking and heart-rendering… the nine year old who wanted to learn about democracy, the 30-year-old congressional aide who had just proposed to his girlfriend, the husband who was killed throwing his body over his childhood sweetheart to save her life.  And now, the story of Gabby Giffords, the congresswoman who was shot in the head by the disenfranchised community college student who appears to be off his rocker.

Tuscon is an epic tragedy with, it turns out, many tenacles. It developed into a political drama as well and not just the debate sparked over use of crosshairs graphics or incendiary rhetoric. After the President of the United States arrived bedside and offered words so powerful and healing, his biggest critics agreed his speech to the local crowd in the gymnasium could mark a turning point in his presidency.

Obama’s revelation that Gabby Giffords had opened her eyes reminded us all, “Yes, we can.”   And when the astronaut, or rather her knight in shining armour agreed to tell his story, their story to Diane Sawyer, I knew it was an hour not to miss. Who better to mine the interview, write the narrative and weave the various threads together into a tapestry of  hope, faith and personal challenges.

*** UPDATED RATINGS Oddly, I was in the minority.  Among adults 18 to 49, ABC News’ “Gabrielle Giffords and Mark Kelly: The Congresswoman and The Astronaut” came in third Tuesday night with a 1.3 rating . CBS’ “The Good Wife” and NBC’s “Parenthood” tied for first with 2.1 rating each.

Among total viewers, (still preliminary) ABC News came in a distant second with an audience of 6.12 million viewers, less than Sawyer averages for World News. “The Good Wife” garnered 11.34 million total viewers. (These are The Nielsen Company Fast Affiliate, Live + Same Day Ratings, 1/18/11, which were posted on ABC.com, and may be adjusted Friday.) 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 »

CNN Take Note:  THIS is an Interview We’ll All Stop and Watch

ABC News has just announced that Diane Sawyer has interviewed NASA astronaut, Capt. Mark Kelly  for a special “20/20″ Tuesday night at 10 p.m..

In an announcement on the ABC News website, they say:  “She is the political centrist who likes to ride motorcycles. He is the NASA astronaut set to command the space shuttle Endeavour’s final mission to space this April. The two met in China and their first date was not a typical one – a trip to an Arizona State Prison; she was working on legislation about capital punishment. Now, their relationship has captured the hearts of America.

“For the first time, Capt. Kelly opens up to Diane Sawyer about the moment he heard the tragic news, the emotional bed-side vigil he has kept since, and how the nation’s outpouring of support has impacted them. In addition, Sawyer gets insight into the dynamics of the couple from friends and loved ones who know them best.”

“The Congresswoman and the Astronaut: An American Story of Love and Strength” airs Tuesday, at 10pm ET/PT with portions airing Tuesday morning on ”GMA.”

the best medicine

Congratulations To the Crack Team Who Made this Happen

From the moment we saw the photograph of his hand holding onto hers in the hospital room I wanted to know volumes one, two and three of their love story.

I want to  meet his children, her step-children. I want to embrace every ray of hope, every thread of challenge ahead.  This couple has captured our imaginations in the league of  Taylor and Burton.  Here are two glorious, dedicated public servants in the prime of their service and,  to quote Julia Sweeney: ” Then God said, ‘Hah!’ “

One Day Left to Bag the Canned Oprah Intv, Replace it With a Real Newsmaker

Piers Morgan's launch statement: Oprah interview

From the moment it was first announced that Oprah would be the first guest for the launch of Piers Morgan Tonight, I feared it would be a problem.  What if a really big news story captured the imagination of the entire nation?

What if that news story sparked a unflinching dialog that crossed political parties, all generations, one story that involved  the entire spectrum of modern debate: gun control, mental health resources, parental responsibility, anti-Semitism, marijuana, free speech, the presidency and more.

My “what if” happened on January 8th in Tuscon, Arizona and CNN’s coverage today, eight days later,  remains riveting and relevant.

WILL ANYONE ELSE CHALLENGE  “OPRAH”  ON THE FIRST SHOW?

This morning, Fareed Zakaria analyzed America’s gun culture and toxic political rhetoric,  but first looked forward to next week’s White House guest, the president of China. (I will try to resist any references to “Hu’s on first.)

Up next, Howie Kurtz reviewed the role of mainstream media which, he noted for the second week, got in wrong from the beginning when NPR, ABC News and others reported that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot and killed.  Kurtz went on to discuss the rhetoric and the media’s role and responsibility in covering the president, Sarah Palin and more.

Dr. Fred Frese and his "beautiful mind": a great guest for Piers Morgan?

The most riveting  of all CNN’s coverage was Candy Crowley’s hour with a father of an adult schizophrenic and a truly amazing man named Fred Frese III, who is director of psychology at  Western Reserve Psychiatric Hospital.  To call Dr. Frese’s 30-year career distinguished is an understatement.  Once an officer in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War, Frese had numerous involuntary hospitalizations in state, private and military psych wards. Despite a diagnosis of paranoid schizophrenia, he pursued a medical degree and earned a doctorate in psychology from Ohio University.

I had more of my questions about the  Arizona shooting answered by this hour on CNN than any other.  Dr. Frese,  with all his twitchy charm, explained schizophrenia — its real threats, challenges and  treatments — like no other.  He began by invoking the pride his (schizophrenia) community had in Dr. John Nash,  the nobel laureate portrayed by Russell Crowe in “A Beautiful Mind.”  The mental health community should have equal pride in Dr. Frese who, in the most disarming way, explains that as with alcoholics where there are happy drunks and mean ones, he’s a happy schizophrenic.  Dr. Frese, for one, would make a great first guest for Piers Morgan. After that, someone should open up on-air phone lines for Dr. Frese, for about three hours.

In between all these better-than-usual CNN hours: Piers Morgan’s promo with Oprah who says, “Whew, that was the toughest interview I’ve had in 20 years.”

If that’s really true, then it will hold.  Of all people, Oprah will understand.  It’s more important for Morgan to show he’s more nimble than safe, more relevant than star struck. Read the rest of this entry »

The Surprising (Week #1) Success of the New Early Show Team

TODAY CONTINUES HOT STREAK — AT 60,

EARLY FINDS GLIMMER OF HOPE — AT 50.

Friday marked the beginning of the 60th year of the Today Show and  they have more to celebrate than anyone in network news. It’s a great show and a successful one.  I’ve estimated the show has made well over a billion dollars for NBC since 1994/5, when they first overtook Good Morning America in the middle of the O.J. Simpson case.

My pal and former competitor, Jim Bell, has done a great job keeping the show in first place as, in tv, all good runs usually come to an end… except, it seems,  for the Today Show.

Very happy new year for the new team at Early.

AN ODD MILESTONE

At the other end of the spectrum, The Early Show  (and its ‘earlier’ incarnations) has been in third place for all of  their 50 years, not a very happy golden anniversary over at CBS, for sure.

But the first indicator of viewer interest surrounding the new anchor team is at least a reason for hope: the Nielsens. Take a look at the change in the demo  year to year!

YOU READ IT HERE FIRST: JANUARY 3rd (A25-54)

Early + 20,000   Today -150,000 GMA  -300,000.

Read the rest of this entry »

MUIR BREAKS ABC NEWS’ RATINGS RECORD SEASON-TO-DATE,  ANCHORS ONLY WEEK FOR NET WITHOUT YEAR-TO-YEAR DECLINE

David Muir: the next generation of ABC News?

You won’t read this in their press releases, but a stealth weapon has been discovered at ABC News. TMZ has already called him the “Brad Pitt of network anchors.”

TMZ may prove to be way ahead of ABC’s revolving research and management teams.

His name is David Muir and remember that you read it here first: the holiday week Muir filled in for Diane Sawyer, a rare week without an ABC News press release to spin, er tout the ratings, David Muir increased the viewership of adults 25-54 by a whopping 8% over the year before. And that week, the week of December 27th, was the only week of the entire season-to-date (the past 16 weeks) that the demo at ABC News has increased over the prior year.

Some keen observers may say the boost was due to the big snow storm hitting parts of the east coast, especially New York where Brian Williams reported outside in the snow.  He was up 10% year to year.  CBS News with newly deposed morning anchor Harry Smith filling in for Katie Couric, however, was down 9%.

NEW ABC PRESS RELEASE OUT TODAY

Interestingly, today ABC News issued a press release today lauding the week of January 3rd  with the headline: “World News with Diane Sawyer” Draws Second Most Watched Week in Nearly a Year. (The most watched week? Shhhh, David Muir.) Read the rest of this entry »


WHY OPRAH’S OWN SEES RATINGS DIVE IN WEEK #2

Oprah: "she sure can talk"

When Oprah Winfrey first announced the creation of OWN, she revealed she had once written in her journal “that one day I would create a television network, as I always felt my show was just the beginning of what the future could hold.”

Well, three years and $168 million later, we have now seen the future, and it is — extremely disappointing. Not just in the number of viewers who pulled the escape hatch after the first few days, but why they are bailing.

OWN promises to recycle 5,000 hour of the Oprah Winfrey Show starting this September.

Who wants to watch more recycling than you’ll find at a plastic bottle processing center.

I’m not certain how this has happened given the OWN brain trust with Oprah as chairman, the amazing Tom Freston as top advisor, and the awesome Christina Norman, the CEO. The bottom line: OWN is a stodgy old bore.

Even worse, while they were forgetting Oprah’s own recipe for success, a quiet little Columbus Dispatch newspaper reporter went instantly viral with his story of Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden voice.

Talk about dream fulfillment.  Today Oprah told Entertainment Tonight she was thinking of ways to fold Ted Williams into OWN.  Really? Doesn’t he have enough benefactors on his bandwagon.   Instead, why not hire that unsung Columbus Dispatch reporter and give him a show to find the other jewels of humanity who are still living on the street or in makeshift tents?

Thursday, Oprah met with members of the TV Critics Association where some  suggested she had actually staged a filibuster to avoid addressing real issues of OWN. Here are some of the questions tv critics didn’t have an opportunity to ask: Read the rest of this entry »