Saturday, April 29, 2006

"West Wing" Deserves to Live

Since its premiere in 1999, I've enjoyed "The West Wing" and am extremely saddened that the show is now coming to an end. I believe the show has been re-energized this year and could easily last another 'term' in office, with Jimmy Smits' president-elect Matthew Santos the focus of the show and a new team/ensemble in place. But that's just a pipe dream of mine, we're too far beyond that point now.

And I'm even more stumped on this move, in light of yesterday's announcement that three subpar dramas were being renewed by NBC, the same network that airs "West Wing". "Medium", "Las Vegas" and "Crossing Jordan" are apparently the future of NBC. No wonder they're mired in last place among the "Big 3" broadcast networks.

Looking at NBC's potential dramas for the fall (which are actually not half-bad) and understanding they essentially lose a night of programming on Sundays with NFL programming, I don't understand why they can't come up with an hour of programming. Damn you, NBC-- I want to see how Santos fares. And, given the current chaos that is your threadbare schedule, you have chosen crap over quality.

Friday, April 28, 2006

What If Nothing Changes in the 2006 Midterm Elections?

Interesting thought from Slate's John Dickerson:

"If Republicans manage to hold on to their majorities, it will be because they have perfected the ability to use gerrymandering, pork-barreling, and other toll-keeping powers to maintain themselves in office, much like the Democrats they turned out of office in 1994. Retaining control by a narrow margin will do nothing to solve the struggle at the heart of the party between moderates and social conservatives, neoconservatives, and realists, and between fiscal conservatives and big spenders or fanatical tax cutters. In some sense, if the GOP wins ugly and keeps control, they'll be worse off, retaining undivided responsibility, without much actual ability to do anything, heading into the 2008 election. Even the nomination of Hillary Clinton may not unite the factions. Antipathy toward her husband didn't keep Republicans from a debilitating primary struggle in 1996."
As much as I hate to agree with him, this is an extremely good point I haven't seen elsewhere, or even thought of.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Salamanders Still Rock!

While growing up in Connecticut's quasi-woodlands, I was fascinated with salamanders. They're little amphibians -- see photo at right, think a cute snake with legs -- that liked to hide under rocks and stones. They were absolutely abundant, if you knew where to look.

With my neighborhood friends, we'd go searching for them and put them in a cut-off soda bottless (complete with lid on top and tiny breathing holes), keeping them in my garage and sometimes in the house, if I could get away with that. I still remember when they escaped that one time...

Anyway, yes, I/we were geeks.

I was reminded of all this Easter weekend, when the task put before me was to move about 200 logs and then stack them. I found about a dozen of them, or at least one 12 times. This time, though, there was no homebuilding for the 'manders. But it did bring me back to some great memories of my childhood.

Fun Fact: Those devoted to studying the biology of amphibians and reptiles are called 'herpetologists'. I still get a chuckle over that and pretty much the only reason I posted this-- the above is all filler just for me to laugh some more.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Wanted: A Communicator to Non-Communicate

Josh Marshall asked an interesting question last week, one which I myself was asking: "Does it strike anyone else as odd that the White House tossed [press secretary Scott] McClellan out the window without having a replacement ready to announce?"

For the most part, this administration -- as soon as it announced that a major figure is leaving -- has had a successor waiting to take the stage. So, I find it extremely interesting that the position that serves to communicate most with the American public is the one they're now perhaps scrambling to replace.

But I can see why many might be hesitant to take on this role.

Many in the PR profesion -- of which I am a part -- see the White House press secretary role as a dream job, one we would ultimately love to have (even though we may not have the right skillset for the job). Oh, how we all wish to be behind that podium, to be a real-life version of C.J. Cregg of "The West Wing." This is one of the pre-eminent jobs, if not the most, in the PR industry, and you can pretty much write your own ticket once your tenure ends.

But would any of us take the open role of spokesperson, as currently envisioned? My sense would be that most PR pros would pass on the opportunity if this were something listed on with a 'Company Confidential' tag, because it is counter to what the majority of us do. Can you envision that listing? I'm sure it would have some verbiage about not being in the loop and robotically giving out rote non-answers to hungry members of the press.

Why would I say this? Jay Rosen has nailed it perfectly in his most recent entry over at PressThink in how this White House communications office operates:

McClellan was a cog in a machine for making the executive power more opaque, and the presidency itself less dialogic. (Fewer questions, no answers unless under subpoena.)...Bush and his staff did something new, I would even say visionary when they decided to “manage” the news by shutting down those portions of the presidency where the President can be asked the difficult but necessary questions he loathes so much. Scott McClellan, I believe, was sent into the briefing room to shut off that tap even while he stood there and took the beatings.

The intended result: a presidency that is less questioned in the eyes of the world. That’s not news management; it’s a new balance of power between them and us.

Who would want this headache of a job? Not to get all Steve Rubel on you, but the current role is diametrically opposed to what a strategic communicator does (even including the crisis communications area, although it is closest to the current White House model). As Rosen writes earlier in the same article, "McClellan’s specialty was non-communication; what’s remarkable about him as a choice for press secretary is that he had no special talent for explaining Bush’s policies to the world. In fact, he usually made things less clear by talking about them. We have to assume that this is the way the President wanted it."

Some might relish this type of a challenge, to somehow non-communicate as they communicate; some people also like repeatedly hitting themselves in the head with a rock as well. Of course, there have been comments suggesting that the White House is looking for someone with "good contacts in the Washington news media and a deep understanding of how they work". That fits likely candidate Tony Snow of Fox News well, but unless they scrap the current press model altogether, this makes this even more of an untenable situation.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Less Is Better at USA Today

As I have alluded, I am one of an apparently dying breed-- I am a big newspaper reader. It's not uncommon for me to be seen carrying mutiple sections around during the weekend, trying to finish off newspapers from the past week.

So, I'm finally catching up on my sports sections. The New York Times is a quick read every day (unless there is a feature that catches my interest -- which is rare, sadly -- or a Richard Sandomir byline), but the one I'm always saving for later is USA Today.

And I really like how they've reorganized their baseball coverage, which has taken a tack similar to what the Times
did in condensing their stock listings. In the past, coverage was always two and a half pages (not counting anything on the front sports page), but now it's down to a tidy two pages. Whether this was a cost-cutting move or something more, I'm not sure why this development has gone unnoticed at the nation's #1-circulation newspaper.

The focus before was always on the game recaps and they've done away with that. Instead, the new focus in on one "Game of the Day" for each league (each takes up a page) and then 50-words-or-less recaps of the other games. The box scores remain, as well as the team updates and there is an "Inside the NL/AL" feature that takes up about a sixth of the page.

I like this smart approach. It looks like the paper has finally realized that readers don't care as much about a story on last night's game, as readers want the essentials and closer looks at the sport as a whole and its personalities and quirks; they're "pushing" their readers to go to their site instead, which has the ubitiquous Associated Press recaps. It's not so much an innovation as streamlining everything down to the essentials and using the full power of the page.

Other newspapers should take note of this.

(Added note: Some might say USA Today has done too well-- they omitted the Colorado Rockies from their special section that looked at each team's chances this season three weeks back, but I digress.)

Thursday, April 20, 2006

"I'm In Love...With That Song"

One of the joys of getting an iPod recently has been sifting through my CD collection and revisiting albums I haven't heard in a long while.

Such is the case with the works of the Replacements and, in particular, their perfect song "Alex Chilton" from their 1987 allbum Pleased to Meet Me. Remember it? It's such an innocuous song that is an ode to another great band, while -- at the same time -- it's a little pop gem that's perfectly infectous to rock along to in this summer-like weather. There's nothing astounding about Paul Westerberg's lyrics here (although it yielded the above post title), but the song doesn't need to have a profound message. The track is just so breezy.

And that's just one of their many tracks I'm loading up onto my new appendage.

It also looks like it's a great time to rediscover the band. E! Online reports that Westerberg and two other original members of the band have recorded two new tracks for a new compilation due this summer.

Long live the Mats!

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

No Longer Blind

Since I sung José Saramago's praises last November, I should probably point out that his newest -- "Seeing" -- is now available. It's a sequel to "Blindness" and it's been garnering some great reviews. This is an author that needs to be read a great deal more, I can't recommend him highly enough; I am utterly convinced that in 100 years, he'll be held up as a wonderful writer in a time of paucity of great works.

I'll be plowing through it in the week ahead.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Another Song to Not Sing in Cabs

"Sir, I would recommend you not sing that song in this cab, or any cab, for that matter."

This was some friendly advice from a cabbie last Thursday. It seems that at the beginning of this month, a London man was detained as he tried to board a plane. According to Spin Magazine, he "sparked the concern of the cab driver who took him to the airport when he sang along to the Clash classic, "London Calling," which includes the lyrics "Now war is declared-- and battle come down."" They thought he might be a terrorist.

The song my own cabbie was asking I refrain from humming along to? Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe," which I was listening to on my iPod (yeah, I finally caved in and got one).

A sample of the lyrics: "Yes, I did, I shot her. You know I caught her messin' 'round, messin' 'round town. Yes, I did, I shot her. You know I caught my old lady messin' 'round the town. And I gave her the gun, I shot her."

I can see his point.

Friday, April 14, 2006

NBC's "Joey" Actually Has a Fan!

My apologies, but this is truly how I feel: If you think Jay Leno is a particularly funny comedian or that NBC's "Joey" is a hoot, we probably won't see eye to eye on a number of things besides comedy stylings.

So, I can't stop laughing over this: The latest Entertainment Weekly has a letter from one Sean Patterson of Los Angeles, defending "Joey". The letter reads:

"Your story about "Joey" possibly facing cancellation due to bad ratings has nothing to do with cast, direction, or writers. It has to do with networks moving shows around or taking them off the air for weeks at a time, thinking viewers have nothing better to do that search for the shows we love. Note to TV execs: Put it on, leave it on, and if you move it, let us know. If you have no faith in your shows, why should we?"
I'm really sorta hoping this is a member of the show's crew or an NBC executive trying to spin away on a show that is -- from every angle -- a failure to what their expectations were. (By the by, I've attempted to watch "Joey" and found it horrendous.)

EW got it right in its story-- particuarly that the writing was lazy. And that impacted the ratings, particularly those that expected "Friends"-level humor. Simply, the ratings necessitated the move from Thursday to Tuesdays and a second hiatus-- in its last airing on March 7 it drew only 4 million viewers. The only bad move NBC has made -- at least this season -- was bringing it back for a second season, that's how bad their schedule is (and it also has to do with penalties the network would have to pay had it not reached a second season). NBC realized it had a dog on its hands that was destroying the Thursday schedule and took action. Why put any advertising dollars behind a floundering show, when it could be spent to prop other series that are doing far better in the ratings or new shows trying to establish themselves? This "Joey" ship has sailed and, with castmembers bailing to do other shows this fall, this will not be coming back this fall.

NBC has a giant problem in its hands right now with its fall schedule ("The West Wing" and "Will & Grace" are two highly-regarded and -rated series that are not coming back), even though the network is regaining football. That they're even considering airing two different shows focusing on the backstage shenanigans on a late night comedy show tells us they're struggling.

But "Joey" was an easy call to make, in terms of that getting the shaft. Just like "Arrested Development" (I can't believe I'm writing this), fans of "Joey" should be happy it survived this long.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Where "Cream Puff" Is In No Way a Derogatory Term

Apologize for going all Gothamist on you, but it seems I have a new addiction.

Beard Papa's, a Japanese bakery that describes itself as a "cream puff specialty store," has now established a base here in the East Village.

Their signature product is best described as a pop-over filled with vanilla cream custard, which is absolutely delicious. I noticed the store for only the first time yesterday. Ordered one of their vanilla cream puffs and my mouth is still watering as I conspire for another in the days ahead...

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Every Time I Watch a Baseball Game on YES Network...

…I feel like I've lost a good number of IQ points.

As I wrote back in January, I no longer am a fan of the New York Yankees, but still find myself watching the Yankees' full-coverage channel only because of my fantasy baseball team. Two pitchers on my roster, Rich Harden and Ervin Santana, have both pitched against the team in the opening days of the season; consequently, I can't stop wincing with the comments made by the insufferable announcer Michael Kay.

Consider this gem from tonight, when the Yakees were losing, with Randy Johnson pitching in the bottom of the seventh inning: "[The Angel's] haven't had much success [with Johnson], only succeeding in getting 3 runs!" Of course, that the Yankees only had one run at that point in time was seemingly inconsequential. And that when the final out came -- the Yankees lost, so I guess the Angels' were ultimately successful with their 3 runs -- Kay announced that their current 1-4 record matched their start during 1998, when they won a World Series. And these were only a smattering of the inane utterances that came out of his mouth tonight.

Talk about someone having a sunny outlook on life, where everything is a positive. So it goes when you realize that the Yankees also run this channel, that this is the sports version of propoganda. This is like watching Fox News Channel, absolutely infuriating.

And I'm really happy none of my pitchers on my roster are facing the Yankees again anytime soon.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

The Counting Crows Changed My Life

Adam Duritz and the Counting Crows changed my life back in 1993.

It's a sad revelation, I know, but I'm not ashamed to come clean on this 13 years later. Listening to "August and Everything After" was the first time I ever was blown away by an album and it changed my entire perspective on music as a medium.

For all the crap that gets thrown frontman Adam Duritz's way nowadays (he's gotten a little fat in the middle, to put it nicely, while still sporting the dreadlocks-- making him almost a caricature), he certainly has a knack for songwriting and meoldy. Listening to the disc earlier this week, while it's raining outside and I've got a couple candles going, I still am struck by how powerful this disc is.

And it led to my musical awakening and exposure to -- at a later age than most -- the Clash, the Police, Jimi Hendrix, Velvet Underground, the Kinks and some other bands I still am enraptured by today.

So, for that I say: Thank you, Counting Crows and Adam Duritz.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Bright Idea: A Comedy Central Morning Show?

Each night, I fall asleep with the television on.

I know, I know, it's a nasty habit that I should really try to break.

Sometimes I fall asleep chuckling to "That '70's Show" re-runs (for some reason, I find the show funny, particularly Topher Grace's delivery), but most of the time I enter dreamland while watching Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" or "The Colbert Report," which I've come around on since my earlier posting. This falling-asleep-while-watching is not a reflection of either show's quality, just that I'm dead tired by the 11 p.m. hour. I'm getting old.

And sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and I am shocked at what Comedy Central usually has in the early morning-- infomercials. Looking at the schedule, this seems to be the norm between 4 and 8 a.m. One would think a large number of Comedy Central's core demographic would be up at this hour and be receptive to watching a comedy film 'classic' like "Half-Baked" or "Soul Man". The channel's economics of a steady diet of infomercials gives me pause.

But I'm most confounded about the lack of programming in the 6 to 8 a.m. slot, when the channel's competitors are filled with vacuous morning shows. Would an extension of their faux news brand to morning TV work here, and would people watch? I would believe yes-- a smart, uncompromising show filled with seemingly bobblehead anchors and smart satire would appeal to me, and I'm sure to many others. Especially in the wake of Katie Couric finally announcing she would be leaving "Today" yesterday, this would certainly have the potential to shake up morning TV and make the channel's competitors quiver over the loss of the core 18-34 demographic.

Apparently, these are the things that keep awake at night, after looking at the TV.

So, how about it, Comedy Central?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Michael Wolff Needs to Write More

When I first moved to New York in 1999, one of my first pleasures was to discover Michael Wolff's column, "This Media Life," in New York Magazine. Since his failed attempt to buy the magazine two years ago -- and his subsequent jump to Vanity Fair as a contributing editor -- I am stuck savoring his barbed and incisive articles like a fine glass of Bushmills. They seem to come with less and less regularity, like this one appearing in the April issue, a takedown of President Bush's press secretary Scott McClellan.

Consider this, when talking of his prescribed lack of verbal acumen:

"In McClellan's case, almost all of his sentences are dead on arrival. Even the pre-written sentences (most every briefing begins with a statement about the president's schedule or the plausibly positive developments at hand—we've turned the corner in Iraq, etc.) are so bald and flat-footed that they become a kind of insult—he doesn't disguise the bull...

Every day, he's pulped, pummeled, spit upon for speaking White House untruths—or for not speaking them well enough.

It is so bad, and so constantly public—every misspoken word, every stutter, every repetition, repeated mercilessly across the information universe—that he can only hope that it's gotten bad enough for him to get a sympathy vote."

And, as this article hit newsstands, McClellan already seems to be on his way out.

While I understand his reticence in taking up blogging (sort of), I really wish there were more of his musings on the media; his impact is muted and restricted with his being at a monthly. With Sydney Schanberg no longer at the Village Voice, we need more pointed media criticism.

C'mon, Michael-- we want more from you, damnit. And we don't mean wordcount-wise...

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Gawker Will Next Perform a Live Celeb Lobotomy

"All publicity is good publicity, as long as they spell your name right."

While most wince when they hear this phrase, it looks like the old adage is certainly true when applied to Gawker. In mid-March, the site launched an expanded version of its popular Gawker Stalker feature into a mini-site with further resources behind it (two interns!).

As publisher Nick Denton explained upon its launch: "[I]n a perversion of mashup wonder, it's a live map, in which the latest escapades of Paris Hilton and other stars are tracked in near real time." The launch earned the enterprise harsh words from celeb publicists about privacy invasion and such (as well as countless articles), with George Clooney even urging friends to "flood their Web site with bogus sightings" in order to make it go away. [I think Gawker Stalker's a nifty concept, myself.]

The result? The highest-trafficked month for Gawker ever. Ha. Take a look at the graph of their traffic stats over the past month.

That's almost 50% growth in one month, amazing. How do the evil minds behind Gawker Media top this?

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The First Read O' the Morning

While most of my media consumption comes through a RSS aggregator, I read 5 to 7 newspapers a day, sadly enough. So much so that by the time I get into my desk at work, I have newsprint caked on my hands.

But the habitual first read of the day is Slate's "Today's Papers", something I could not do without. This feature, written mainly by Eric Umansky, is the first thing I read each morning when I stagger from my bed to my laptop.

It summarizes the front pages of the major papers and links directly to the stories. Since a number of friends have not heard of this cool little newsletter, I urge you to check it out if you haven't already.

I would so love Slate to start a sister newsletter, something that looks at the business sections of the major dailies-- I would love to see that, and would even pay for it.