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Weekend Funny: Stephen Colbert unleashes a Sorkin-like monologue on Aaron Sorkin

Sorkin can only sit, amazed, at the brilliance that is Colbert unleashed.

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As the post-Curry era begins on Today, my recommendations for fixing NBC's cash cow

curryandguthrie.jpg(UPDATE: NBC officially named Savannah Guthrie as Today's co-anchor after Friday's program ended. Today's show opened without the traditional announcement introducing the anchors and no acknowledgement of Guthrie's new role.

In the press release, NBC News president Steve Capus complimented Guthrie: “In just a few short years Savannah, has become a standout member of the news division as well as the ultimate team player. She's got an undeniable range, and she’s earned the trust of the news community, her colleagues and our viewers alike.”)

As the Today show begins its first shows minus longtime newsreader-turned-anchor Ann Curry, the morning show which dominated ratings for more than 15 years faces a serious crossroads, summed up in two words:

Now what?

Curry, overmatched as she was by sitting next to morning television’s golden boy Matt Lauer, was not the only problem the Today show faced. Kicking her off the program into an ill-defined international reporting gig only buys a little time, and risks alienating viewers who actually liked her during her 15-year tenure.

Since anchors Katie Couric and Meredith Vieira left the show voluntarily, this is the first time a female anchor has been pushed off in over 20 years. So before the post-Curry era gets too far along, let me offer a few recommendations on how NBC should go about fixing the mess Today finds itself in right now.

savannahg.jpg1) Don’t let Savannah Guthrie turn into Deborah Norville. At press time some news outlets are reporting, Guthrie, 40, has been asked to succeed Curry, 55; a step up from her current gig co-hosting Today’s third hour. This is similar to the situation NBC landed in back in 1989, when longtime co-anchor Jane Pauley left Today and was replaced by a younger newcomer, Deborah Norville. The audience felt Pauley got pushed out – morning news draws lots of female viewers who didn’t like seeing a woman who may have paid a price for getting older – and NBC dropped to second place in the ratings. Unless Guthrie (or whomever gets the gig) is introduced to viewers the right way, history could repeat itself in an ugly way.


2) Handle the optics better. Tampa public relations professional and former local newsman Glenn Selig posted an analysis on his website Thursday pronouncing NBC News in a “serious pr and internal crisis” and he’s right. Days of letting a well-liked anchor get pummeled by the press with no statements of support hurt everyone (my pal Tim Goodman at the Hollywood Reporter wrote an amazing column on how this mess reminded him of another botched NBC transition: the failed attempt to switch out Conan O'Brien for Jay Leno on the Tonight Show). Time to face the press and the public with some painful honesty on what happened, so fans and the show can put it behind them.

3) Make each episode an event again. As several critics have noted, Today feels a bit stale these days. Once upon a time, stunts like "Where in the World Is Matt Lauer?" and the outdoor concerts felt like events. But every other morning show now offers similar stuff, which makes Today feel less distinctive.

This is also the drawback in having a deep bench of anchors ready to jump into any role (besides Guthrie, NBC has newsreader Natalie Morales and fourth-hour Today host Hoda Kotb among rumored contenders). Plugging someone who has already been on the show so long into a role they already fulfill often -- Guthrie was co-host on this morning's show, for instance -- means transitions can feel like more of the same. The show needs to turn each telecast into an event again, and exchanging Guthrie -- on someone else in NBC’s stable of anchors in waiting – won’t do it alone.

4) Don’t assume the Olympics will help much. NBC is expecting a big ratings boost from is coverage next month of the Olympic games, and certainly the event will disrupt programming enough that they have an excuse if Curry fans leave the show. But its not much of a reprieve; and while Today executive producer Jim Bell is distracted with helping plans an implement all of NBC’s coverage, his homebase program may suffer.

Here's the tribute video they probably should have shown Thursday for Curry; it actually aired as she replaced Vieira last year, though New York Times critic Alessandra Stanley mistakenly assumed it aired yesterday.

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My NPR adventure: Urging fans to stay away from FX's Anger Management for Charlie Sheen's own good

sheen-died-and-went-to-fx.jpgMy latest commentary for NPR centers on Charlie Sheen's new sitcom debuting at 9 tonight on FX, Anger Management.

My big idea: given how cheesy this new sitcom is, maybe it's time for a fan intervention.

We need to cut Charlie off from his supersized TV star salary until he takes on a project that involves more than sleepwalking through cheesy sitcom jokes and sex gags.

Take a listen below and see if you agree:


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CNN and Fox News fail: Cable channels misreport Supreme Court's health care ruling early

cnn-fail.pngIt's not the kind of news that cable newschannels like to make.

But both CNN and Fox News made big mistakes in early reporting on the Supreme Court's ruling on health care legislation this morning, telling viewers on air and on social media that the court had struck down the law's individual mandate when it had not.

"It appears as if the Supreme Court has struck down the individual mandate," CNN reporter Kate Bolduan said, above a headline which read, "Supreme Ct. Kills Individual Mandate." Fox News was reporting the same news, as their reporter spoke above a headline reading "Supreme Court Finds Health Care Individual Mandate Unconstitutional." (at right, CNN's original mistaken headline and the corrected version)

CNN's original tweet read: "Supreme Court strikes down individual mandate portion of health care law. "

Think Progress offers this Storify item showing that the Huffington Post and Time magazine also tweeted incorrect information, either passing along CNN's mistake or making their own error.

The Tampa Bay Times even initially passed along the mistake, retweeting CNN's original message on its @TB_Times account before deleting it at 10:19 a.m. and noting "Forgive our first tweet. Supreme Court says health care law stands."

Within 10 minutes or so, both cable channels realized they had made a mistake; the court had accepted the mandate as a new tax, which is within Congress' power. Broadcast networks broke into programming at about 10 a.m., struggling similarly to deliver an accurate analysis.

But the cable channel's mistaken reporting created some confusion online, as CNN's Twitter feed reported the health care law was struck down while feeds from wire services such as Reuters and Associated Press reported the opposite.

It was the kind of news situation made for a live TV mistake -- recalling the frenzied efforts to dissect the court's ruling on the presidential election back in 2000 -- as correspondents stood on the steps of the court trying to figure out a complex ruling in which the court rejected the best-known argument for the mandate but accepted a secondary one.

By 10:15, CNN has issued a correction online with the right information and both news channels were delivering the correct interpretation.

CNN has issued a statement on the mistake: ""In his opinion, Chief Justice Roberts initially said that the individual mandate was not a valid exercise of Congressional power under the Commerce Clause.  CNN reported that fact, but then wrongly reported that therefore the court struck down the mandate as unconstitutional. However, that was not the whole of the Court’s ruling.  CNN regrets that it didn't wait to report out the full and complete opinion regarding the mandate.  We made a correction within a few minutes and apologize for the error."

Fox News, in contrast, issued a statement where its executive vice president of news Michael Clemente did not apologize for a mistake, saying “we gave our viewers the news as it happened,” and noting that they corrected their error “within two minutes.”

The mistake drew lots of criticism for CNN, which is drawing some of its lowest prime time ratings in decades. often the channel pushes back by stressing the quality of its reporting and it scores its best viewership when big news breaks out.

Predictably, the reporting on cable newschannels broke down along party lines, as right-leaning Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly told viewers President Obama has once rejected the notion that the health care law was a tax and liberal MSNBC anchor Melissa Harris Perry said she was "giddy" over the ruling.

The news report also confused legislators. The site Politwoops, which identifies deleted Twitter posts by legislators and public officials, found several messages it says Congressmen sent in the immediate wake of the early, mistaken reports which were later deleted.

Rep. Aaron Schock -

Individual Mandate ruled unconstitutional...still developing....

Rep. Darrell Issa -

RT @repjustinamash: This is a big win for #liberty & the #Constitution.


Rep. Tom Rooney -

Breaking - #SupremeCourt strikes #individualmandate. Great news for American people, victory for constitution. #Obamacare


And Andy Carvin, a senior strategist at NPR who has won awards for the news coverage he provides over Twitter, put it in perspective with this tweet: "As the guy who tweeted for NPR (mistakenly) that Gabby Giffords was dead, I feel bad for those down the CNN production line who had to press the buttons."

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Ann Curry makes it official: She's off NBC's Today show

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ann-curry-departure.jpgThis is the sound of a dream job snatched away.

Voice cracking with emotion, anchor Ann Curry told viewers this morning she would no longer be appearing as a regular co-anchor on NBC’s Today show.

"This is not easy to say but today is going to be my last morning as a regular co-host of Today," said Curry, 55, who often welled up with tears throughout her 5-minute speech at the end of the program's second hour. "I will still be a part of the Today show family, but I’m going to have a new title and a new role.

“This is not as I expected to ever leave this couch after 15 years,” she added.

That's the understatement of the year. For months, critics have carped about Curry's performance, saying she over-emotes during interviews, has trouble handling live television and hasn't seemed to connect with her co-anchors.

anncurry-467.jpgBut the speculation reached a fever pitch last week, when the New York Times published two articles dissecting talk she caused the ratings woes of the once-dominant morning show and reporting that NBC was negotiating her exit.

The stories kicked off a blizzard of reports on Curry's future, while her co-anchors and the network remained conspicuously silent. Even late as Wednesday, Today show executive producer Jim Bell dodged a question on Curry's future during a conference call with reporters speaking on NBC's coverage of the Olympics, as some in the industry wondered why a well-liked anchor such as Curry was left to twist in the media wind.

This morning, Curry herself broke the silence. She'll move into a new job — Today show anchor-at-large and NBC News national/international correspondent — in a move widely seen as an attempt to shake up the show amid an alarming ratings slide for the network’s most profitable program.

vieiraandcurry.jpgCurry replaced co-anchor Meredith Vieira just last year, after 14 years as the show's newsreader and number two female anchor. But when she took over, the show was beating rival Good Morning America by more than 750,000 viewers; in April, ABC’s morning show snapped the program’s 16-year weekly winning streak in ratings.

And fairly or not, Curry took much of the blame.

None of that was mentioned this morning, as Curry announced she would move on to a reporting job, assembling a team of producers to help her develop special reporting projects across NBC News’ many programs.

She took special time to thank viewers in her speech, noting “You are the real Today show family. You are why I have ventured into dangerous places and interviewed dictators and...convinced the Dalai Lama to (appear) live in our studio. I have loved you and I have wanted to give you the world.”

ann-curry-matt-lauer.jpgIn an interview with USA Today published this morning, Curry first spoke publicly about the controversy around her departure, which some news reports said NBC had been negotiating for a while.

She denied reports that she would be paid $10-million annually to leave the show, also decrying criticism that she and co-anchor Matt Lauer have an awkward onscreen chemistry.

It made for an odd scene this morning; as Curry bid her tearful goodbye the rumored to have been offered her job, Savannah Guthrie, co-anchor of the show’s third hour, was nowhere to be seen.

Curry had been joking with her co-anchors and introducing stories for the better part of two hours with no indication such a major announcement was coming; now they had to bid an awkward goodbye as no one address the elephant in the room -- that this was no Curry's idea in the slightest.

As Lauer, Al Roker and Natalie Morales recalled notable stories she’d covered in the past, Curry only alluded to the media turmoil about her tenure, as one of the highest-profile anchors of color in network television now forced from her dream job.

“For all of you who saw me as a groundbreaker, I’m sorry I couldn’t carry the ball over the finish line but man, I did try,” she said. “I will keep trying and I’m so sorry I turned into a sob sister this morning.”

janepauley-today.jpgThe only question left: How will viewers respond?

This is the first woman forced off the Today show since Jane Pauley left today in 1989, only to find viewers rejected her replacement Deborah Norville and blamed the network for forcing her out.

Ratings for the show fell and GMA emerged on top; by mid-1991 Norville was out, replaced by rising star Katie Couric.

Which means the woman getting the seat next to Lauer next may not be so lucky.

But Curry kept the focus away from such matters this morning, telling viewers "After all of these years, I don’t even know if I can sleep in anymore. But I know that whatever time I wake up I’ll be missing you.”

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With Charlie Sheen's Anger Management and Louis CK's Louie, FX has best and worst comedies of 2012

sheen-anger1.jpgThe appeal of Charlie Sheen is at once the simplest thing in show business and a riddle which will perplex critics of the form for ages to come.

The simple answer: Sheen is a ready surrogate for all the fans out there who wish they could put a bottomless vat of money to the singular purpose of having sex with a string of pornstars and ingesting as many mind-altering substances as possible.

His recent TV roles – as a lecherous jingle writer on CBS’ Two and Half Men and his current gig as baseball star-turned-therapist in FX’s Anger Management – are strings of thinly-written punchlines allowing us to bask in a heavily-filtered version of Sheen’s party-hearty charisma.

sheen-anger-management-2011.jpgRegardless of what he might say on camera, we know what really happens when the cameras stop rolling, and every joke floats by with some extra spice provided by that wink to real life.

But, in another sense, it is remarkable that a performer who seems to be trying so little has earned so much reward: the biggest paychecks, a crowd of fans and a perch at the highest reaches of television.

And his new sitcom Anger Mangement emerges as more evidence of Sheen’s blessed status; a comfortable landing spot after last year’s explosive personal crisis (even Sheen has called it a “psychotic break” in a recent interview) led him to be fired from the highest-rated comedy on network television.

FX wisely tampered little with Sheen’s formula, making him a flawed voice of reason as a therapist who struggles with his own anger issues. But the circumstances are a thin façade; this is mostly an excuse for Sheen to swagger onstage and drop leaden punchlines like his remark to a member of his therapy meeting: “I’ve already checked out you’re a--; it’s one of the better ones in the group.”

The jokes are sex-obsessed and lame, while the setup/punchline rhythms are about as subtle as a sledgehammer to the naughty bits.

Worse, the multi-camera setup and old school co-stars – including Spin City’s Michael Boatman and Grace Under Fire’s Brett Butler -- makes the whole series feel like it was fished out of some time capsule from the mid-1990s. (in another bit of showbiz nostalgia, the series has 10 executive and co-executive producers, including Drew Carey Show co-creator Bruce Helford and Sheen’s brother Ramon Estevez.)

But it is also Charlie Sheen in his element. Which makes you wonder: will he somehow make this into a success, too?

louie-fx-premiere.pngIt’s particularly odd, because FX has worked so hard to emerge as a home for cutting-edge comedy, exemplified by the other show debuting Thursday night, Louis C.K.’s Louie.

Already hailed as one of the best comedies on TV, Louie breaks every rule Anger Management is too lazy to challenge, finding humor in the ludicrously uncomfortable and demeaning circumstance of being a divorced, out-of-shape fortysomething comic in New York City. (see promo by clicking here).

This week’s episode finds Louie breaking up with a headstrong girlfriend without saying a word. As she grows more exasperated at his inability to express himself, she actually breaks up with herself, guessing his feelings from his various expressions of confusion and ambivalence.

And. The guest appearances. Are. Amazing.

Oscar winner Melissa Leo is a lewd delight as a woman Louis is set up with on a blind date who he warms up to – until she wants him to deliver on a certain sex act he can’t bear to consummate.

And Parker Posey is riveting as a kind, cute bookseller who reveals another side during their first date. Louie’s speech asking her out – he apologizes for being bald and lumpy and swears he grows on women over time – is one of the great comedy speeches of the summer.

With its spare, stark look, a score cobbled together from old jazz and rock tunes and a ground-level view of New York, Louie is a side-splitting comedy with an indie film’s heart. Add in that the star also writes, directs, produces and until this season even edited every episode, and you have a bawdier, funnier Woody Allen for the 21st Century.

And it comes back to new episodes for the summer exactly 90 minutes after Anger Management, making for the oddest one-two punch in TV comedy.

In a swoop, FX will vault from a totally conventional, totally impersonal, totally predictable TV sitcom to one of the most original, eccentric, creative comedies on television.

Their only real connection; both star middle-aged white guys who young male viewers may find entertaining.

In today’s fractured, hyper-competitive media universe, maybe that’s just enough.

Anger Management debuts at 9 p.m. Thursday; Louie returns for its third season at 10:30 p.m. Thursday on FX.

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Comic Louis C.K. adds 10 p.m show to Nov. 29 gig at the Straz Center in Tampa

louie-fx-premiere.pngThe move to sell access to his concert film worked so well last year, comic Louis C.K. is taking it one step further with his concert tour; selling $45 tickets to shows online through his own website,

And it comes with a local twist: The comic just announced a Nov. 29 show at the Straz Center in Tampa, set in the big room Carol Morsani Hall.

Louis C.K. told Jimmy Kimmel that the tour sold more than 80,000 tickets in one day and he was adding showtimes. He has, in fact, added a 10 p.m. show to the Tampa date; tickets go on sale June 28 and some are available by calling the Straz ticket office at 813.229.STAR.

Fans seeking to buy tickets online must use Louis C.K.'s site, though the folks at the Straz Center have a small number of tickets at the same $45 price -- say, 10 to 20 percent -- for people who call the box office or stop by.

Here's the comic's message to fans: " “This year, I'm trying something new, building on the fun, success and fan-benefit of selling my content online … I've cut the ticket charges way down and absorbed them into the ticket price. To buy a ticket, you join NOTHING. Just use your credit card and buy the damn thing.”

I would expect nothing less from the guys who writes, directs, stars in, produces and until recently edited the FX series bearing his name. that comes back to new episodes at 10:30 p.m. Thursday, by the way.

See how hard he works by checking his tour schedule or buying tickets through clicking here

His press release noted: :Back in December, 2011 Louis released his last standup special, Louis C.K. Live At the Beacon Theatre, directly to consumers through his website for $5. The move was hailed as groundbreaking and was a tremendous success.

"He has since added additional content to the site including audio downloads of “WORD-LIVE AT CARNEGIE HALL” and “SHAMELESS”"

Until November rolls around, here's a taste of what's coming below:


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Florida Sen. Marco Rubio on The Daily Show: "I don't want (the GOP) to be the opposition, I want it to be the alternative"

300px-marco_rubio_official_portrait_112th_congress.jpgFlorida Sen. Marco Rubio may have taken his biggest step yet toward proving he can be an able running mate to presumed GOP nominee Mitt Romney Monday, by performing well in the lion's den of liberalism:

Jon Stewart's The Daily Show.

Stewart, known for needling conservatives in Florida for everything from drug testing welfare recipients to the voter rolls purge, took issue with rubio on his statements that President Obama was a particularly divisive president -- saying, in essence, hasn't the GOP pushed him into that box?

Rubio countered with the mix of reasonable-sounding rhetoric and wonky detail which has made him a favorite in Florida, insisting that Democrat's dominance of the Senate pushed the GOP into a historic use of the filibuster and insisting his hopes to provide his own suggestions for policies he has criticized from the president.

"I don't want the Republican party to be the opposition, I want it to be the alternative," he told Stewart in an interview so long, they only aired part of it in Monday's show, providing the entire dialog online. "To be an alternative, we have to offer ideas."

Check out their conversation, split into three segments, below:



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HBO puts The Newsroom pilot online for free; judge Aaron Sorkin's work for yourself

thenewsroom-logo.pngJust about everyone in media has weighed in on Aaron Sorkin's new TV news-centered drama for HBO, The Newsroom.

Ex-CBS anchor Dan Rather raved about it, former Ad Week editor Michael Wolff thought it was 25 years too late and onetime ABC News and Al Jazeera anchor/reporter Dave Marash said it was realistic as Jack and the Beanstalk.

My friend and fellow TV critic David Zurawik even implied some journalists may be so tough on The Newsroom -- it got panned by The New Yorker, The New York Times and ABC News correspondent Jake Tapper, among many others -- because it calls out journalists shortcomings.

the-newsroom-poster-hbo.jpgFrankly, I can't imagine being the guy at the center of this media sh--storm. There is a varying level of truth in every one of these pieces, but the sad fact is, Sorkin is a writer many journalists enjoy who had the bad luck to try writing about a subject many of us know a lot better than he does: the TV news business.

Ratings indicate that about 2.7-million people watched last night's pilot episode over two airings; similar numbers to the debut ratings for Game of Thrones, but it also means about 2-million people stopped watching after the latest True Blood episode ended just before.

Once again, I fear we media types have obsessed over something the general public spent much less time worrying over.

Although I had lots of problems with the series, I don't think its the train wreck or sinkhole many critics have pronounced. But many critics don't know much about how courtrooms work, policing works or hospitals work. So we'll accept the license Grey's Anatomy takes with medicine or Law & Order takes with cops, but howl in protest if the same liberties were taken with journalism (one writer spent a whole column proving an offhand statistic in the pilot about infant mortality in the U.S. wasn't accurate. Really.)

At the risk of contradicting an ace critic like David, I think The Newsroom got shellacked because it got too many things wrong about a milieu TV and pop culture critics know too well -- from the reasons why cable TV news shows succeed to the ways in which journalists are too busy filling broadcasts, podcasts, blog posts and newspaper stories to wax philosophically about the decline of journalism and its impact on democracy.

But enough about what I think or they think. Check out the pilot below, provided by HBO, and decide what you think.

I'd be happy to read your thoughts in the comments section below.

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Media General completes sale of newspapers to Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway

mediageneralvig.jpgSince I'm working on a few other stories, I'll just post the press release here for you all the see, important sections highlighted:

Media General Completes Sale of Newspapers to Berkshire Hathaway

RICHMOND, Va. - Media General, Inc. (NYSE: MEG) today completed the previously announced sale of 63 daily and weekly newspapers to World Media Enterprises, Inc., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, Inc. (NYSE: BRK.A and BRK.B), for $142 million in cash, subject to adjustment for working capital and other items.

After transaction fees and the repayment of funds drawn on the revolving credit facility,  Media General will use the net proceeds from the newspaper sale to offer to repay on a pro rata basis existing senior secured notes at par and a term loan with no prepayment penalty.

Media General is also in discussions with prospective buyers for its Tampa, Florida, print properties and associated websites.

“Selling our newspapers represents a monumental change for us – we’ve been in the newspaper business for more than 160 years. However, our model has been shifting more toward Broadcast and Digital in recent years,” said Marshall N. Morton, president and chief executive officer of Media General. Broadcast television accounted for 77 percent of total Platform Cash Flow for the full year 2011 and for 87 percent in the first quarter of this Political year. 

”We will now focus on our higher margin Broadcast television business. We have an attractive economic model, fueled by revenue growth, including Political, Retransmission and Digital revenues.

For the second quarter of 2012, we expect to report Political revenues of more than $7 million, reflecting spending by both presidential campaigns, Super PACs, and contested races in our markets, including the Massachusetts Senate race and primaries in Virginia and South Carolina. We now expect Political revenues for the full year 2012 to be at the high end of our previously announced range of $40-45 million,” Mr. Morton said.

“Our plans are underway to increase Broadcast cash flow and EBITDA margins. At the market level, we are focused on ratings and share increases as well as expense management. At the corporate level, as previously announced, we are reducing corporate expense from $32 million to $20 million, a run rate we plan to achieve before the end of this year. The increased cash flow will support and accelerate our deleveraging plan and we have good incentive to do so. Our new term loan agreement provides a stepdown in the interest rate from 10.5 percent to 9 percent if leverage were to reach 3.50x,” Mr. Morton said.

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Twitter, Facebook and smartphones replace TV for some Tropical Storm Debby watchers in Tampa Bay area

beach_228052a.jpgShe was riding in a car returning from visiting her mother in Melbourne Sunday night, but Tampa City Councilwoman Lisa Montelione had already seen a photo of someone riding a canoe down Bayshore Boulevard and heard where the squalls from Tropical Storm Debby were headed, long before pulling into her driveway.

That's because Montelione was among the many area media consumers who kept track of the tornado and heavy storms which raked the area Sunday through social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook, in addition to listening to the radio. (photo at right by Tampa Bay Times' Jim Damaske)

"Following Twitter, it just seems like you're getting information faster," said Montelione, who passed along information on area tornado warnings and related brief tales of seeing cars in ditches alongside the road while traveling along Interstate 4, informing more than 500 Twitter followers. "It won't replace live action video, but even if I was home in front of a TV set, I would still be following on Twitter."

Odd as it sounds, Sunday’s events were the biggest weather emergency to hit the Tampa Bay area since social media and smartphone apps changed the nature of news consumption in the Tampa Bay area.

“(Social media) is the future of our business,” said Denis Phillips, chief meteorologist at ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28, where he conducts live chats streamed online, maintaining active Twitter posts, Facebook pages, a smartphone weather app, continuous reporting for the station’s secondary digital TV channel and more.

Phillips said all the new platforms can help reduce the pressure to break into prime time programming outside of imminent emergencies. And his social media effort was mirrored in different ways by most every major local media outlet.

Bay News 9 has an active Twitter page, but the local cable newschannel also drew a huge traditional TV viewership Sunday with continuous reporting by teams of meteorologists, beating all four area broadcast stations in ratings.

Gathering around the television or radio during storms to consume continuous news reports has been a longstanding tradition for some Tampa Bay area residents who remember when storms such as Hurricane Charley or Hurricane Elena came close years ago.

But some of today's media consumers also use social media to track severe weather, seeing updates from official sources quicker and staying connected to news sources even when power fails in their homes.

This story also presented something of a first for me as a media critic. For the first time, I could ask people how they were consuming news about a weather emergency as it was happening on Twitter and Facebook, hearing from people who were hunched over online news sources even as storms passed overhead.

Erin Garcia, 29, the mother of a 3-year-old in Clearwater, wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times that she doesn't have TV in her house, so she followed Tampa news radio station WFLA-AM (970) on Twitter along with a few meteorology students.

"Especially when the weather was really bad over my house. I can instantly know if a tornado touches down and my telephone doesn't lose signal or power, like a television would," wrote Garcia, who works as a legal assistant. "Some Twitter news sites tell you the neighborhood a tornado or flood is in so you know exactly when to take cover or know not to go out....I haven't had TV in a few years and I know everything before anyone else in my family.  :-)"

timestorm.jpgWhich explains why all local media outlets-- particularly local cable newschannel Bay News 9 and Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28 -- were actively posting on Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets throughout the day's weather events. The Tampa Bay Times encouraged people to submit photos though the picture sharing service Instagram (sample at left), where many Tampa area folks posted images of flooding and the storm's impact.

And they weren't alone. Jayde Donovan, morning personality at WPOI-FM (Hot 101.5), tweeted: "Holy. Sh#*. Tornado tore the roof off the marina down the street from my house. CRAZY. Damn you, Debby!!!!!!!" 

Wrestler Hulk Hogan also tweeted a brief video clip of flooding at his home. WFTS filled its Facebook page with photos of flooding in Palm Harbor and a woman on a raft traveling down the street in Crystal River.

And social media expert Amber Osborne, known as Miss Destructo in the Twitterverse, kept her more than 21,000 Twitter followers informed with a steady stream of messages passed along from area TV and radio stations, newspapers, friends, assorted contacts, Progress Energy and many more information sources.

Tampa resident Geraldine Sanchez, 23, said she tried watching news updates on television, but found the updates were coming too slowly. So the University of South Florida senior consulted Twitter, Facebook and smartphone apps from media outlets such as WFLA-Ch. 8 and The Weather Channel.

"I also found that social media is a lot more reliable and delivers the warnings from all over and news about the storm faster than waiting for them to show up on television," wrote Sanchez in an email, who added in a phone interview she began using social media to track storms while living in California years ago. "Also a great tool for when the lights go out! You just turn on your iPod or cell phone and you're still connected!"

Sanchez said she felt like her method of tracking the storms is the future of information consumption; an important tool, given that Debby is expected to linger in the area until the week's end.

"I remember being younger and just huddling around the television set waiting to see if we were going to get hit by some sort of tornado or severe thunderstorm," she added. "Now, I don't have to rely on just ONE source."

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WTSP-Ch. 10 morning anchor Keith Jones headed for job in Miami televison next month

keith-jones.jpgKeith Jones, co-anchor of the morning and noon newscasts at St. Petersburg-based CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10, will be leaving the station next month for the NBC-owned and operated station in Miami, WTVJ.

Jones, who came to WTSP in 2009 from Pittsburgh, is expected to leave the station in mid-July. He'll co-anchor WTVJ's 5 a.m., 5:30 a.m., 6 a.m. and 11 a.m. newscasts alongside Pam Giganti; moving south to a station owned by a broadcast network offering new opportunities to move up the industry ladder.

Jones came to WTSP as it was pouring more resources into its morning show — joining co-anchor Ginger Gadsden, who had led the show as its sole news anchor for some time.

But the program still struggled for ratings; during May's "sweeps" period the station's morning show placed last among viewers aged 25 to 54 from 5 a.m. to 7 a.m.

I also wrote in January about how Jones and Gadsden appeared in a commercial for a monster truck rally formatted to resemble a newscast, triggering ethical concerns among some experts.

Chris Ford, assistant news director at WTSP, said Jones' departure wasn't connected the to show's longtime ratings challenges.

"I think we're headed in a good direction in mornings and we're disappointed to lose him," said Ford. "But it's a great opportunity for him."

Ford said the station may try rotating different anchors into the job, including Eric Glasser and Allison Kropff, before picking a permanent co-host.

Jones also has a little history in South Florida; a graduate of Barry University in Miami Shores with a bachelor's degree in communication and broadcast journalism. He played NCAA baseball at Barry University and eventually went to work at WPBF-TV in West Palm Beach.

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Quizzing Jeff Daniels on HBO's The Newsroom: Taking critics' hits while trying to save the news business from itself

thenewsroom-mcavoy.jpgCan Aaron Sorkin save the TV news business from itself?

Ask Jeff Daniels, star of the Oscar and Emmy-winning screenwriter’s highly-anticipated new series, HBO’s The Newsroom, and he has a quick answer.

He’s not sure Sorkin’s even trying.

“A lot of what Aaron is dealing with is saying ‘Let’s start telling the truth,’” said Daniels, a self-described “political news junkie” now playing a disillusioned cable news anchor pushed to stop playing it safe and, in the words of one character “speak the truth to stupid.”

“It seems you can say anything (on newscasts) these days…just say it is true, and it is,” added the actor, best known as the philandering husband in Terms of Endearment and Jim Carrey’s addled brother in Dumb and Dumber. “Aaron loves grand ideas, he loves writing about big things, and how we get our news is a big thing to all of us. I don’t know that he’s out to save (the news business); certainly, he’s saying we can do better.”

But TV Critics have been saying the same thing about Sorkin, the agile mind behind hits such as The West Wing and The Social Network, dinging The Newsroom with the kind of sharp jabs rarely delivered to HBO or its high-profile creator.

thenewsroom-sorkin.jpgThe New Yorker declared the show was "stuffed with piety and syrup," and "treats the audience as if it were extremely stupid." Esquire's Charlie Pierce decried Sorkin's "historical amnesia" and "unwieldy hankering for when giants walked the (TV) networks."

And ABC News correspondent and anchor Jake Tapper delivered a review for The New Republic titled "The Snoozeroom," in which the longtime political reporter declared "'The Newsroom' had me contemplating that which is so feared in my industry: changing the channel. And I was watching it on DVD."

Indeed, critics have made a punching bag of the show, dinging it for everything from being too high-minded to being too unrealistic, too sexist, too clumsy and too didactic.

But as flawed as the first four episodes of this show may be, I know I will watch every moment of it, hoping Sorkin will work out the kinks and multiply on the many interesting moments he manages early on.

That's because he had the stones to tackle an area of modern life critics know too well; the world of television news, especially on cable.

So many of us have covered this subject for so long, we can see immediately where all the fault lines lie in Sorkin's logic. For instance, Daniels' character supposedly found success by being inoffensive and never delivering an opinion; that may be how network TV anchors do it, but in cable land, the route to success is a quick opinion delivered with lots of blowhardiness (just ask the top-rated guy in cable news, Fox News pundit Bill O'Reilly). And this fictional staff figures that the B.P. Oil spill was a result of the company's errors in minutes; in truth, it took days of pressing for answers until journalists sussed that out.

thenewsroom-logo.pngDaniels plays Will McAvoy, a cable news anchor whose success has been rooted in pandering to viewers; a prime Sorkin candidate for conversion to a higher calling, courtesy of a huge crisis.

That crisis shows up in the pilot episode's opening scene, as McAvoy melts down at a public forum where he lists all the reasons America isn’t really the best country in the world, in response to a bubble-headed question. (fun fact: an HBO press release says Daniels originally was supposed to be flanked by ex-MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann and now deceased conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart in that scene, until the show decided not to use real news or political figures as actors.)

It’s a typically epic Sorkin rant, aimed at a jingoistic college student, soaring through sagging life expectancy rates, literacy rates and infant mortality rates before settling on the capper line “I don’t know what the f--- you’re talking about.” (yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is HBO).

thenewsroom-sorkinandcharacters.jpg“We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it; it didn’t make us feel inferior,” Daniels says as McAvoy. “We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to be all these things and do all these things because we were informed.”

Critics have dinged those lines as pining for a history which never existed; but if there's anything journalists spend lots of time doing these days, it's wondering if we've strayed too far from our roots in more objective, even-handed information delivery. Most journalists I know are the biggest nostalgics on the planet, particularly when it comes to the subject of our own business.

McAvoy emerges as an intelligent, talented guy who tolerated the vapidity and venality of the modern cable TV news game as long as he could before snapping -- a big theme in much of Sorkin’s work seems to center on principled, super-intelligent folks struggling to deal with the world’s stupendous lack of both qualities. Often, that attitude feels tremendously condescending, but it's also the same kind of stuff critics like me spend a lot of time dissecting, as well.

Making Daniels’ McAvoy a closet Republican won’t likely stem the tide of conservative anger sure to be leveled at this show. Though the anchor is supposed to be a moderate right winger, he seems to agree with his liberal colleagues much of the time, challenging the corporate backing and fact-free atmosphere of the Fox News/tea party side of the political spectrum.

“I can see why the right side might get a little concerned about how it’s being portrayed,” Daniels said. “But one of the things Aaron’s been saying is ‘We’re using their words.’ I remember doing the opening speech (on America no longer being a great nation), and thinking ‘There’s nothing in this that isn’t true.’ For those that hang with us through the whole season, they’ll find the reclaiming of what the Republican Party used to be is a big part of season one.”

olbermann.jpgComplicating it all is the game many industry types like to play with Sorkin shows: “Guess who this character is based on?”

Because the scriptwriter spent research time with Olbermann during his time at MSNBC, many assume McAvoy is a thinly-veiled version of the liberal firebrand (including the former anchor himself, according to the New York Times).

It doesn’t help that the pilot episode features McAvoy losing almost all his staff because he treats them terribly; accusations of similar behavior have dogged Olbermann for years.

When I tell him his take on McAvoy reminds me of a curious combination of Tom Brokaw and Olbermann – he’s a practical-yet-nostalgic romantic who is also scary smart and capable of seriously bratty behavior (like throwing a cellphone at a camera when asked to take it off his desk) -- Daniels reiterates the show’s party line: No character here is based on any one person.

“Whoever Aaron may have based (these characters) on, by episode three or four you start tailoring it for the character and the actor,” said Daniels, who said he didn’t base his performance on any existing news anchors and didn’t even visit a cable newschannel for research. “He writes one script at a time, discovering as he goes and tailoring the world as he goes. I could imagine Olbermann throwing a cellphone at a camera; I could not imagine Tom Brokaw doing that.”

thenewsroom-waterston.jpgDespite all the criticisms, there are bright spots in The Newsroom. Law & Order alum Sam Waterston finally gets a chance to shed the dourness which shadowed his character on NBC's long-running legal drama, playing a cagey cable news president who uses McAvoy's meltdown as an opportunity to push him into a more substantive, aggressive news show.

He also delivers my favorite line in the pilot, telling a smartass TV producer "I am a marine and I will beat the sh-- out of you, no matter how many protein bars you eat." Hey, it's HBO.

Daniels creates a complex character in McAvoy, a guy with wounded heart who is so self-involved he can't remember the names of most of his staff. Sorkin's TV shows mostly revolve around smart people trying to get out of their own way; Daniels makes that journey interesting, even if you've seen this story many times before.

And Sorkin's dialogue can bristle with emotional energy. It is a delight when these actors nail some scenes, weaving through his thicket of lines like expert gymnasts navigating a performance without a net.

More than anything, what feels unrealistic here, is some characters’ insistence that a focus on facts will dim the partisanship and triviality which dogs the modern TV news process, revealing the “truth” about every issue.

Those of us who have covered these outlets for years can tell you; it isn’t the lack of facts which hobbles modern TV news, but the rise of "truthiness" -- that notion that the only facts which matter are those confirming what the audience already believes. When reporting is yoked to the idea of ensuring your ideology “wins,” the news process is seriously corrupted by a lack of context and fairness.

The most experienced reporters know; there can be many truths or none in every story. In an odd way, Sorkin's liberal-friendly media critique furthers that issue, skewing the debate on journalism by picking sides without admitting it.

For Daniels, it’s all part of the story Sorkin wants to tell; the flawed hero who gives up a lot – part of his multi-million dollar salary, his status as a cable news success and his favored status inside the company – while reaching to be better man and newsman.

“There are a lot of angry Americans out there; Aaron’s one of them, I’m one of them,” said the actor. “There are a lot of people in the middle of the country who aren’t right or left, they’re both. And they just want to be told the truth.”



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Tampa Bay and Orlando may lose ESPN Radio affiliates as Genesis Communications ends agreement

espn1040-logo.jpgTampa Bay and Orlando will lose ESPN Radio affiliates as locally-based Genesis Communications drops its licensing agreement with the sports media giant after 10 years, transitioning to new programming by Oct. 1.

The company announced the change in a statement, noting "ESPN Radio has driven up its syndication costs and inventory required by its affiliates," indicating the expense of programming may have been a factor.

The statement also criticized the manner in which ESPN Radio content is made available on web radio, sattelite radio, mobile devices and other non-exclusive platforms.

WHBO-AM (1040) in Tampa, once known as ESPN 1040 and WHOO-AM (1080) in Orlando, once known as ESPN 1080, will feature more exclusive original content, according to owner Bruce Maduri, quoted in the statement announcing the change.

The move came the same day CBS Radio announced it would debut a nationwide sports news/talk network with Cumulus Radio in January 2013, placing its 24-hour syndicated programming on a number of stations nationwide, including WQYK-AM (1010) in Tampa.

On Wednesday, CBS Radio revealed plans to debut the Tampa Bay market's first FM sports talk station in August, eliminating the contemporary hits format at WSJT-FM (Play 98.7). The sports talk format on the new FM station will be simulcast on WQYK until January, when the CBS Sports Radio network takes over. No personalities or programs have yet been announced.

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MSNBC's Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski to appear at Poynter Institute luncheon during RNC

joeandmiaonset.jpgMSNBC anchors Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski will appear Aug. 28 at a special luncheon/fundraiser for the Poynter Institute held during the Republican National Convention.

Scarborough and Brzezinski headline the luncheon, scheduled at the Hilton in Carillon Park, 950 Lake Carillon Drive, south of Ulmerton Road in St. Petersburg.

Tickets are $100 each and benefit Poynter; audience members will have a chance to ask questions of the duo while hearing their take on recent events.

The Poynter Institute for Media Studies is the school for journalists which owns the Tampa Bay Times.

The last time Scarborough was in the Tampa Bay area for his show, he convened a 2010 panel on education in Tampa.

Before he joined MSNBC as an anchor, he served as a Congressman in the U.S. House representing an area in the Panhandle.

Click here for more information on the event.

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