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Sean Daly, Michelle Stark and Sharon Kennedy Wynne

Cee Lo Green of NBC's The Voice will manage second place finisher and Clearwater native Juliet Simms

julietsimms-wildchild.gifJuliet Simms, the Clearwater native who earned second place in last spring's cycle of NBC's singing competition The Voice, will be co-managed by her coach on the show, R&B /rap/pop star Cee Lo Green.

Simms, 26, will release her first post-voice single, Wild Child, on iTunes Dec. 11; her album is expected to drop in spring 2013.   

She came within a hair of winning The Voice in May, only to land in second place behind Jermaine Paul, a former backup singer for Alicia Keys.

But Simms, who was a favorite to win throughout the show, struggled with a cold and hit the stage having never rehearsed the songs she had to sing in the show's final performances.

Despite earning a deal with Sony as a teenager, leading her area band Automatic Loveletter through three record labels and multiple appearances on the Warped Tour, Simms was below-the-radar enough to compete on NBC's show.

See a clip of Green describing why he took on co-managing Simms in the clip below.

 

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Talker Todd Schnitt to leave WFLA-AM Dec. 18, may end nearly 20 years in Tampa radio

theschnittshow.jpgAfter nearly 20 years on Tampa Bay area radio, Todd Schnitt may soon see a day when he won't host a show broadcast in the market.

Schnitt announced on Twitter Thursday that Tampa station WFLA-AM (970) would stop airing his self-titled political talk show on Dec. 18, effectively removing his program from its flagship station in the local radio market.

The Schnitt Show will still air on over 50 stations across the country, on XM Satellite Radio and online; But Schnitt said he will host the show from a new studio after he leaves WFLA, where he currently broadcasts from studios along Gandy Boulevard in Tampa.

“I look forward to focusing on the Schnitt Show and my network and its continued growth,” the host said Friday, declining to speculate on whether he might land at another Tampa station. “I’m ready to be my own boss.”

Schnitt rejected notions his departure from WFLA was a setback, saying the change would give him more control over elements of his show and commercial sales. …

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Will Gannett's fight with DirecTV see WTSP-Ch. 10 yanked from the satellite TV service today?

121129033732_gannett_directv.jpgAnother day, another fight between big media companies with customers caught in the middle.

Every few months, TV consumers are faced with a new conflict which threatens to see key channels dropped from their satellite or cable TV service over fee disputes.

The latest possible outage comes courtesy of Gannett Broadcasting and DirecTV, which are tussling over increased fees Gannett is demanding for carriage of its 23 TV stations across the U.S. -- including Tampa Bay area CBS affiliate WTSP-Ch. 10.

If they don't reach an agreement by midnight tonight, Nov. 30, these channels will vanish from DirecTV. And as they did earlier this year during a fight with DISH Network over similar issues, Gannett has begun broadcasting onscreen text "crawls" and putting up announcements on its websites to let customers know they may soon lose service.

Such announcements have become annoyances for most viewers -- the vast majority of whom don't use satellite TV services. These fights rarely results in prolonged outrages, Gannett is even boasting in its latest messages that the DISH dustup didn't disrupt service. But DISH lost AMC Networks channels for nearly four months this year amid a prolonged legal battle between the owners of both companies.

These sorts of fights have become so common, Gannett's website about its fight with DirecTV reads pretty much like its old website announcements for the DISH conflict. Gannett seems to be getting tough with all the systems carrying its TV channels; will be interesting to see what comes next.

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Ex-NBC executive Jeff Zucker announced as head of CNN Worldwide, vows to broaden definition of news

zucker1.jpgSoledad O’Brien better be on her best behavior now.

That was the joke which flew through my head briefly during the sometimes awkward press conference held Thursday to announce former NBC Universal head Jeff Zucker would be taking over at president of CNN Worldwide in early 2013.

A Homestead, Fla. native, Zucker, 47, comes with expertise and a bit of baggage.

Known early on as a whiz kid in news who sparked ratings victories at the Today show when he was its executive producer in the 1990s, he is also blamed for failing to duplicate hits such as Friends while president of NBC Entertainment and pushing for the costly mistake of briefly replacing Jay Leno with Conan O’Brien on the Tonight Show while running NBC Universal in 2009.

“There’s no doubt I made some mistakes in the entertainment world,” said Zucker, whose most recent job has been serving as executive producer of pal and former today show co-anchor Katie Couric’s new daytime talk show. “And I own those. I feel really excited about being able to return to daily news.”

cnn.gifIn other words, this is Zucker’s chance to prove that, though he may not have handled the network TV game particularly well, he can still rebuild his legacy as a brilliant television news executive by turning around CNN.

Much of the conference call announcing Zucker’s new job went this way, as executives tried to look smart and savvy without tipping their hand to competitors or spooking employees (“I think you can appreciate that I’ve been here about an hour,” Zucker told one journalist asking for specifics on his plans.)

But here’s a few examples of what Zucker and his boss, Turner Broadcasting Systems CEO Phil Kent, said on Thursday, followed by what they really meant.

wolf-blitzer-on-set_f.jpgZucker: “The key is that CNN remain true to its standards of great journalism, but at the same time be vibrant and exciting. Just because you’re not partisan, doesn’t mean you can’t be exciting.”

The meaning: Outside of big news events, CNN scores prime time ratings below right-friendly Fox News and liberal-leaning MSNBC. Some experts say that’s because CNN’s partisan rivals present shows viewers find compelling when there is no huge election or superstorm looming.
Zucker ruled out a partisan approach for CNN, but used the word “vibrant” at least three different times, while Kent called his new hire a “magnet for talent.”

In other words, they need a star who can make CNN’s primetime a destination for passionate fans.

Zucker: “If we allow our competition to be defined only by the partisan cable networks, I think that’s a mistake…(We have to) broaden our definition of what news is.”

cnn-app-o.jpgThe Meaning: CNN earns something like $600 million in profits through a sprawling set of concerns, according to the New York Times; Zucker will oversee 23 different business including CNN U.S., CNN International and HLN. It’s always been frustrating to some there that they are mostly judged by viewers and journalists by domestic U.S. TV ratings, especially in primetime.

This signals a focus on competition outside traditional cable, especially online, and programming which may not fit CNN’s fairly buttoned-down definition of news.

Kent: “It’s an interesting intellectual challenge: what should CNN be doing in the morning hours different than its cable competitors?...That was a thought exercise we never did enough at CNN.”

The Meaning: CNN sometimes scores morning ratings lower than sister network HLN; Zucker, who helped NBC’s Today start a 16-year winning streak in ratings, is now in the building.

Hope O’Brien, who anchors the morning show Starting Point (and once worked for Zucker at NBC), is ready for some suggestions on how to be more vibrant.

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Four reasons why Louis C.K., performing in Tampa tonight, is the comedian of the moment

fx_louie.jpgYou get the sense, watching some of his interviews, that even Louis C.K. is amazed at how popular he has become.

In the first week of sales, his latest tour sold more than 135,000 tickets through his website, earning more than $4.5 million. He was nominated a record seven times in this year's Emmy awards for his ferociously creative FX show, Louie, which won two.

He was even asked to host the Radio and Television Correspondents Dinner this year, before Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren and other critics began asking tough questions about his past comments about conservative pundit/politico Sarah Palin.

And that's where the head scratching begins. Because Louis C.K., 45, is a tame comic-turned-underground favorite-turned-media darling who balances mainstream success with a capacity to say almost anything onstage or off.

He has excoriated Palin on Twitter, tweeting explicitly sexual insults about her — once while drunk on a flight — with surprisingly little public backlash from critics or fellow comics.

louis-ewcover_300.jpg"I know it won't last and I don't expect it and I'll be fine when it's gone," Louis C.K., born Louis Szekely, told the New York Times back in July about his impact on pop culture. "It's the kind of thing that's always fleeting."

Still, it begs the question: Beyond being a really funny stand-up comic with a lot of experience and a hot TV show, why is Louis C.K. the comedian of the moment right now?

Here are a few reasons:

1) The media loves him. Time called him "Steven Spielberg without the beard and with humor." Entertainment Weekly named him "The World's Greatest Comedian." In an essay spiked with references to Kierkegaard and Marshall McLuhan, The Atlantic called him "America's unlikely conscience."

"There's a media embracing of him I haven't seen with anybody else," said comic Andy Kindler, another longtime road warrior with stints on Everybody Loves Raymond and Late Show with David Letterman whose State of the Industry rant at this year's Just for Laughs comedy festival in Montreal included a long section criticizing Louis C.K.

"In the old days, it was hard to get attention for anything that wasn't mainstream," added Kindler, who criticized Louis C.K. for talking too much about all the work he does on his FX show, promoting himself while also appearing to resist promotion. "Are we celebrating the art of things, or are we celebrating that they're successful?"

louis-ck-live-at-the-beacon-theater-600x257.jpg2 He's successfully taken control of his art, looking out for fans in the process. Louis C.K.'s FX show Louie is as close to a one-man-band as possible, with the comedian writing, directing, casting and even helping create the music for his show, to Emmy-winning results.

Likewise, he sold his last concert, Live at the Beacon, online to fans for $5 a pop, earning more than $1 million in less than two weeks. His tickets for concerts, including tonight's sold-out stand at the Straz Center in Tampa, were sold at $45 each using techniques to cut down on scalping.

louie-fx-premiere.pngA multimillionaire star who is willing to leave concert revenue on the table to thwart scalpers? What fan wouldn't love an artist like that?

3 He's hilariously self-deprecating while shocking the audience in ways they don't expect. Filthy as Louis C.K. can be onstage, nobody gets nailed worse than the man himself, who describes himself as loking like "a bag of leaves nobody tied up."

Critics like Kindler suspect his modesty is just a pose. But comic Gilbert Gottfried, who famously lost a job voicing the duck in commercials for insurance company Aflac after tweeting jokes about the tsunami in Japan, said audiences are often drawn to the kind of edgy, self-effacing material that scares corporations and big institutions.

"People are willing to follow you down some dark places — not corporations, but the people will," he said, laughing. "When that (firing) happened, it became a major news item, it was all over the place, but you realize the public doesn't care. … They get it."

4 His creativity, once unleashed, brings amazing results. Ask how the comic creates such a fitting score for Louie and he reveals the secret: Often the music comes first, before scenes are written.

"We always make music before I start writing," he said. "The first thing I do all season is make two days worth of music. And some of that music helps me write. I listen to it when I'm writing."

Like so much else on the show, the quality comes from Louis C.K. following his instincts wherever they lead, even when it goes to some unorthodox places.

For fans of great comedy, there really isn't anything more compelling than that.

My fave Louie monologue is below:

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ABC Action News comes out on top in evening and late night November sweeps ratings

wfts-logo1.jpgIt was an odd November "sweeps" period, kicked off by the impact of superstorm Sandy in the world's biggest media center and concluding one day before the Thanksgiving holiday.

But the biggest upset may have come in results for the Tampa Bay area TV stations, as ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28 rose to take the top spot among viewers 25 to 54 at 5 p.m., 5:30 p.m., 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., notching increases in ratings ranging from 40 percent to 113 percent.

It was a notable turn for a station which once regularly placed third behind powerhouses WFLA-Ch. 8 and WTVT-Ch. 13. What also surprised, was the the fact that every broadcast news show notched ratings increases compared to November 2011, perhaps because of the intense interest in this year's presidential, statewide and local elections.

Industry experts focus on ratings for key viewers, because they determine what a TV station can charge for advertising, and local TV stations with news departments focus on viewers aged 25 to 54. Ratings are the percentage of total viewers among that age range in the Tampa Bay market watching a particular show. And in the mornings and early evening, the total percentage of rarely rises above 6 percent among all local TV news outlets.

In the morning, local cable newschannel Bay News 9 fights with local Fox affiliate WTVT for supremacy; also a surprise, given that Bay News 9, as a creation of cable giant Bright House Networks, doesn't appear in homes which don't get cable service from the company.

WTVT beat all the network morning shows at 7 a.m., while NBC affiliate WFLA showed serious erosion from the previous year at 5 a.m., 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m. The time period has seen increased competition this year as CBS affiliate WTSP hired new male morning anchor Joe Gumm and WFTS adopted fresher graphics while 

At 4 p.m., ratings were the same as in May, with successors to Oprah Winfrey struggling to maintain her ratings legacy; Dr. Phil on WTVT placed third and Dr. Oz on WFLA placed fourth behind hugely popular Judge Judy on WTVT and distant second place Ellen, on WFTS.

Primetime ratings locally bucked the national trend (which focuses on 18 to 49 viewers), with CBS on top, followed by ABC, NBC and Fox among viewers aged 25 to 54.

Here's more detailed numbers, provided by WFTS: 

wtvt-logo.jpg5 a.m. newscasts:
Bay News 9 (BN9)                                              0.7  
WTVT-Ch. 13 (Fox13)                          0.6
WFTS-Ch. 28 (ABC Action News)         0.5
WTSP-Ch. 10 (10 News)                      0.5

WFLA-Ch. 8 (Newschannel 8)               0.3

 

5:30 a.m. newscasts:
Bay News 9 (BN9)                                              1.2  
WTVT-Ch. 13 (Fox13)                          1.1
WFTS-Ch. 28 (ABC Action News)         0.9
WTSP-Ch. 10 (10 News)                      0.7

WFLA-Ch. 8 (Newschannel 8)              0.7


6 a.m. to 7 a.m. newscasts:
WTVT-Ch. 13 (Fox 13)                                  1.9  
BN9                                                 1.8
WFTS                                              1.2
WFLA                                              1.0
WTSP                                              0.9

 

10news-logo.jpg7 a.m. to 9 a.m.:
Good Day Tampa Bay (Fox 13)                  2.0  
Today show  (Newschannel 8)       1.5
Bay News 9                                   1.2
Good Morning America (ABC)         1.1
CBS This Morning  (10 News)                  0.5

 

4 p.m. to 5 p.m.:
Judge Judy (Fox)                             2.2   
Ellen         (ABC)                   1.5
Dr. Phil      (CBS)                   1.3
Dr. Oz        (NBC)                  0.7
 

5 p.m. to 5:30 p.m. newscasts:
WFTS                        1.7
WTVT                 1.6
WFLA                 1.02
WTSP                 0.84

baynews9logo.jpg5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. newscasts:
WFTS                    1.7
WTVT              1.3
WFLA              1.1

WTSP              0.7

6 p.m. newscasts:
WFTS            1.9

WTVT        1.8

WFLA        1.5
WTSP        0.8

Prime Time, 8 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Saturday, 7-11 p.m. Sunday:
WTSP (CBS)        4.0  
WFTS  (ABC)    3.3
WFLA  (NBC)    3.1

WTVT  (Fox)     1.5
WTOG (CW)     1.0

11 p.m. newscasts:

WFTS                  1.8
WTSP           1.6

WTVT            1.3

WFLA            1.2

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Daily Show host Jon Stewart, the pied piper of young political passion, turns 50 today

john-stewart-495.jpgToday he reaches the same age as the Rolling Stones band, James Bond movies and another world-famous New Jersey native, Jon Bon Jovi.

But now that Daily Show star Jon Stewart has turned the magic age of 50 – moving out of the show’s own target demographic of viewers aged 18 to 49 – the question arises:

What does it mean when the voice of the nation’s young, politically-savvy news consumers turns into an old guy?

Ask some experts who deconstruct the Daily Show’s impact on politics, society and media and they have a simple answer: Not much at all.

"I’m not sure he speaks for a generation as much as he speaks to a generation,” said Jeffrey P. Jones, a professor at at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va. and author of the book Entertaining Politics: Satiric Television and Political Engagement.

“For a certain viewer, the Generation Xers, the back end of the Baby Boomers and younger people, Jon Stewart speaks in a voice that appeals to us – smart and savvy, but not cynical,” added Jones. “Ted Koppel and Tom Brokaw, these older media figures, they speak dripping with cynicism. But President Obama and Jon Stewart…they have a sense of hope.”

rolling-stone-cover-volume-960-10-28-2004-jon-stewart.jpgAccording to a recent story in the trade magazine Variety, about 1.4 million of the 2.4 million people watching Stewart’s Daily Show this season fall in the magic 18 to 49 demographic advertisers love. He’s forged a constituency across college-educated viewers of many stripes, from urban hipsters and actual students to monied suburbanites, according to an analysis on the Wall Street Journal's Politics Counts blog.

(He’s also, once again, a contender for Time magazine’s Man of the Year award in 2012; the magazine said Monday he has “reached icon status in America.”)

In many ways, Stewart has already become an institution -- an anti-institution, perhaps – encouraging viewers and fans to challenge hypocrisy, misinformation and vacuity in government and media whenever it rears an ugly head.

nyck132-1018_2012_154719_high.jpgSince taking over the Daily Show from founding host Craig Kilborn in 1999, the comic born Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz has turned the program more toward digging up telling truths about our media and political age. Once known as the guy passed over for late-night hosting gigs at CBS and ABC, Stewart actually lucked out; the showbiz gods were saving him for a better purpose, saving media and politics from itself.

Cool as the jokes are, Stewart realized early on the show's juice comes from capturing when real-life events go off the rails. In his hands, the show has challenged CNBC host Jim Cramer for missing the economic downturn, lawmakers for failing to help 9/11 emergency responders and the news media in general for a madding habit of failing to cut through the nonsense in stories, exemplified by cable news anchors’ habit of prematurely ending discussions with the limp phrase “we’ll have to leave it there.” 

art-oreilly-stewart-620x349.jpgEven his most recent successes – including a Daily Show segment noting that the “traditional America” Fox News pundit Bill O’Reilly and fellow analyst Bernard Goldberg now pine for after November’s elections once didn’t include Irish or Jewish people – seem more about pointing out hypocrisy in a puckish way that young people can admire.

“(Stewart) has been able to project a level of neutrality and trust other comedians have achieved, too; they can live in the establishment, but project the idea they’re on the side of youth,” said Amarnath Amarasingam, editor of the book The Stewart/Colbert Effect: Essays on the Real Impact of Fake News. “They are willing to critique the establishment from the inside…(Stewart) has that cool factor and he’s likable, which probably is more important (for youth appeal) than his age.”

Stewart even joked about his age before taping one of the four Daily Show episodes in Tampa during the Republican National Convention back in August. “I’m onstage right now wearing makeup, wearing a suit; you might think ‘That guy doesn’t have osteoporosis,’ but I do!” he said, laughing at the suggestion from a fan that he stop by a party at the University of Tampa. “I’m an old man.”

stewart-colbert_entertainment_weekly_cover.jpgThe last time I interviewed Stewart, back in 2007, he swatted aside notions that he changed the way people view media and politics, particularly refusing to take credit for convincing CNN to dump the argument show Crossfire after a 2004 appearance where he told co-hosts Tucker Carlson and Paul Begala they were “hurting America.”

"I think I was tired, and i think the tone the gentlemen on the show took with me took me aback," he said then. "About halfway through, I realized 'Oh, the only people you can't put on Crossfire is, the hosts of Crossfire...One thing you never want to be a part of in this business is great television, because it's awfully uncomfortable."

He also shrugged off talk of the show's greatness. "We exist as a televised editorial cartoon every day," Stewart said. "for the most part, it's a couple of irrational, quizzical looks at trhe camera, a fine and dandy penis joke, and a reference to the American legislative process and we're done with the show."

“We’re not activists in anybody’s army; we’re not trying to prove anything,” he said. “You say, let’s try to make this funny or a little bit interesting or bizarre…I feel we do our best when we feel passionately about something and are working in a sweet spot, in a zone where it feels like you’re working, but not labored.”

And even then, he refused to give up on mainstream media, despite all the reasons they have given him to lose hope.

“You want to look at (media) like this giant organism that functions independently, (but) it’s made up of a lot of individual fiefdoms, many of which are extremely worthwhile,” he said. “I think history has always proven things are cyclical; I would be surprised if there wasn’t a comeback.”

Perhaps, but right now it seems media dysfunction is the gift which keeps on giving for the daily show and its now-AARP-eligible host. Happy birthday, Mr. Stewart. And you're welcome.

 

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Top Gear scuttles plan to close Tampa Bay area's Gandy Bridge today for filming

topgear-usa.jpegCorrection: Folks from the American version of the British car show Top Gear have been in the Tampa Bay area, filming scenes around the area for a future episode.

Top Gear had obtained a permit to film scenes on the Gandy Bridge today which would have sparked "rolling closures" up to 3 p.m. But a representative for the show says their production plans changed on Monday after they realized word was spreading about the shoot, and they decided against closing the bridge.

Still, the Florida Department of Transportation had spread word about the possible road closures on Monday, which lead to a ton of chatter on the Internet and in local media about their work.

Once the crew showed up at the bridge today with a Bugatti Veyron sportscar, they confirmed their decision scuttling the bridge closure, said spokeswoman Christine Shaw. The commotion at the site was one of many factors in the decision.

They show has filmed in other areas of Tampa, including downtown, with host Rutledge Wood, Shaw said. Co-Host Tanner Foust also indicated on his Twitter feed that he was coming to town. The episode will air sometime in early 2013.

"We got some terrific footage of Tampa," added Shaw, a publicist for BBC Worldwide Productions, which produces the Americanized Top Gear for the History channel. "You'll see a lot of the city in our footage." 

For those who don't know, Top Gear is an English show about the coolness of cars featuring three "cheeky" Brits who delight in pushing the boundaries of social convention in the commentary. In 2010, the History channel debuted an America version co-hosted by race expert Wood, pro racing driver Faust and actor/comic Adam Ferrara.

Check out one of their bits below:

 

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If star Angus T. Jones hates Two and Half Men so much, why is he still on the show?

ashton-kutcher-two-and-a-half-men-curtain-photo.jpg

(UPDATE: Courtesy of TMZ, comes a partial apology from the 19-year-old sitcom star, who talks about addressing misstatements and misunderstandings even though most news stories I've seen have just quoted what he actually said in the YouTube video. Since its release, former co-star Charlie Sheenhas called the show "cursed," journalists have dug up his parents' past arrests and ABC News has consulted showbiz D-lister Stephen Baldwin for expert commentary. 

 Here's the statement:

"I have been the subject of much discussion, speculation and commentary over the past 24 hours.

While I cannot address everything that has been said or right every misstatement or misunderstanding, there is one thing I want to make clear. Without qualification, I am grateful to and have the highest regard and respect for all of the wonderful people on Two and Half Men with whom I have worked and over the past ten years who have become an extension of my family.

Chuck Lorre, Peter Roth and many others at Warner Bros. and CBS are responsible for what has been one of the most significant experiences in my life to date. I thank them for the opportunity they have given and continue to give me and the help and guidance I have and expect to continue to receive from them.

I also want all of the crew and cast on our show to know how much I personally care for them and appreciate their support, guidance and love over the years. I grew up around them and know that the time they spent with me was in many instances more than with their own families. I learned life lessons from so many of them and will never forget how much positive impact they have had on my life.

121127sheen-jones1_300x206.jpgI apologize if my remarks reflect me showing indifference to and disrespect of my colleagues and a lack of appreciation of the extraordinary opportunity of which I have been blessed. I never intended that.")

TV fans are passing around links to the video below, featuring Two and Half Men star Angus T. Jones urging viewers to avoid the hit show which pays him a reported $300,000 per episode.

Calling it "filth," Jones tells viewers "please don't watch Two and Half Men," adding "I'm on Two and Half Men and I don't want to be on it."

The show is a cavalcade of sex jokes and bad puns, but its been that way since the series debuted in 2003. Last year, when co-star Charlie Sheen's epically public meltdown led to his departure, surely Jones could have exercised his Christian morality and left the program as well.

Instead, he's accepted millions in compensation as co-star on a program he now implies is more destructive than "just entertainment."

Check out his statements below: The anti-Two and Half Men stuff begins at 7:39 or so.... 

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The four worst mistakes messing up the best TV shows this season

jay-leno-biggest-bomb-in-tv-history.jpgAt about this time every year, it happens: My email in-box begins to fill with messages from TV fans, ready to give up on their favorite show because it has taken a turn for the absurd.

My advice  is free and easy to digest. Chill out.

It's near the midpoint of the season's start for most scripted TV shows, which means we're about due for some dud episodes.

Network TV series crank out 22 to 25 episodes in a year, cable series are closer to 13. As the season winds out, there are bound to be some episodes that feel like the plot is running in place, storylines that didn't quite work or characters who grate a little.

Still, even with that understanding, it's obvious that some of TV's most acclaimed shows have hit some rough patches this season. With an eye toward easing your pain with a little communal complaining — and the distant hope that a producer or TV executive somewhere might actually be paying attention — here's my list of the Worst Mistakes Currently Airing on the Best TV Shows.

image.aspx_.jpgKalinda's creepy ex-husband on CBS' 'The Good Wife.' Job one for a popular, critically-lauded TV show is simple: Don't mess up what's working. That's why it is so heartbreaking to see the typically ace writers on CBS' drama The Good Wife stumble so badly in creating Nick, a dangerous criminal/mooning ex-husband to Archie Panjabi's ethical and sexually ambiguous investigator Kalinda Sharma.

When he was a menacing voice on the telephone, Nick was an intriguing thought: Who could scare a woman as tough as Kalinda into nearly skipping town? But State of Play alum Marc Warren's vibe is more skeevy English street urchin than powerful criminal mastermind (my dream casting would have been Luther star Idris Elba as Nick, just sayin'), and he has zero chemistry with Panjabi.

At least, producers have promised they will shorten his storyline; time for an unfortunate car accident or immigration snafu to whisk Nick away before the damage is permanent.

ca9mynbfspkizfvcbwohczl72ejkfbmt4t8yenimkbvaiqdb_rd1h6kmubwtcebj.jpgDexter Morgan's revelation as a secret serial killer to his homicide cop sister on Showtime's Dexter. I know there's some competition for this honor (introducing Chuck alum Yvonne Strahovsky and yet another homicidal woman in love with Dexter is close). And my pick already has happened in the novels which inspired the show. But this season's revelation to by-the-book homicide lieutenant Debra Morgan (Jennifer Carpenter) that her beloved brother Dexter is a serial killer of murderers hiding in plain sight as a police forensic technician is a final straw.

Star Michael C. Hall's real triumph was always making us believe the show's outrageous plotlines; from the long-lost brother who was also a killer to the rape victim he befriended and helped to dispatch her assailants. But watching Debra break rules and lie to co-workers to shield Dexter feels hollow and ill-prepared.

I wish producers had spent less time on the idea that she might have sexual feelings for her adoptive brother (a plotline made only creepier by the fact that Carpenter and Hall were briefly married in real life) and more on developing a frustration with the criminal justice system to better explain Debra's willingness to turn from law enforcer to crime enabler.

TV's continued misrepresentation of middle-aged women. Writer Carina Chocano broke it down mightily in the New York Times last week: Crunch U.S. Census figures for 2010 and you find females aged 10 to 39 are just under 40 percent of all women, while women over 40 are nearly half of all women. But, as Chocano notes, quoting the documentary Miss Representation, females from pre-teen age to their 30s fill 71 percent of all TV roles, while women over 40 are just 26 percent of females on TV. Which turns middle-aged women mostly invisible, appearing on TV half as often as they do in life.

job-discrimination.jpgBeyond that imbalance, Chocano wrote, TV often shows women acting hysterically about their age, casting Mindy Kaling as a 31-year-old woman freaking out about her years in front of a 38-year-old guy (ex-Office co-star Ed Helms) who doesn't have a care on Fox's The Mindy Project. (On Homeland, 41-year-old male star Damian Lewis is 8 years older than both his love interest/co-stars, Claire Danes and Morena Baccarin; on Dexter, 41-year-old star Michael C. Hall is also 8 years older than his sister/love interest Jennifer Carpenter).

All the good TV roles for women over 40 shouldn't go to Connie Britton and Julianna Margulies; time to diversify the characters and their approach to aging.

Scheduling Last Resort at 8 p.m. Thursdays on ABC and Kelsey Grammer's Boss on Starz. This is personal. Two shows I wanted to see more of got canceled last week, in part because they aired when (and where) their natural fans might not see them.

Last Resort, a submarine-based drama starring Andre Braugher, aired at 8 p.m. Thursdays on ABC, a network known these days for female-skewing hits such as Grey's Anatomy and Revenge. Leading off the night with a show aimed away from ABC's target audience was just too high a hurdle.

Grammer's Boss had a simpler problem: It aired on a pay cable network no one is watching. The salty, complex tale of a Chicago mayor with a degenerative neurological disorder should have been on HBO or Showtime; Starz just couldn't get enough people in front of the TV.

It's a painful lesson; start with a stumble and sometimes recovery is just impossible.

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Talking my book Race-Baiter on CNN's Reliable Sources and elsewhere provides new look at media machine

creativeloafingcover.jpgOne of the interesting things about writing a book is to experience the media machine from a different side.

In publicizing my book Race-Baiter, I've spent lots of time doing interviews with all sorts of media, most recently on CNN's Reliable Sources Sunday, and it's an interesting experience to see what the world makes of your creation once you release it out into the wild.

In particular, the idea I advance that the fragmented structure of media makes it easier for some outlets to make money pushing stereotypes and prejudice has been twisted a bit. For this piece in Columbia Journalism Review, the author seems to assume I was saying media covered diversity better in the era of three networks when white male anchors ruled TV news -- even though I have a full chapter in the book devoted to the quality coverage which comes from a diverse newsroom. 

The biggest challenge, is trying to wrap up a book's worth of observations into bite-size appearances on TV or radio. During my Reliable Sources appearance, we spent a lot of time on my criticisms of Fox News and MSNBC, even though there's other parts of the book which talk about the election, reality TV, network TV and even talk radio.

A conversation on KGO radio in San Francisco Sunday centered on the question: Who deserves the term "race-baiter" now? (I focused on my attempt to reclaim the term for people who want to start necessary conversations about race and across race).

Earlier that day, I was interviewed by James Brown, father to former CNN and NBC anchor Campbell Brown, who was focused on political bias in news reporting, noting his daughter complained about viewers' demand for news which confirmed their politics while at CNN. 

female-senators.jpgWhat I have learned in the last few weeks, especially from personal appearances, is that this is a conversation people are desperate to have, no matter what their political persuasion. People can sense that the boundaries of race, ethnicity and culture are shifting in America -- and some media outlets are capitalizing on that uncertainty to stoke fears and build loyalties.

So many diversity-related firsts are coming, its hard to count them: The most women in the U.S. Senate yet, a black president re-elected, the possibility of our first female secretary of defense and a country where 50,000 U.S.-born Hispanic people will turn 18 every month for the next 20 years

Cutting through that noise is key; whether or not people agree with my conclusions, I'm hoping mostly to give people some tools to talk back to their TV, radio and Internet content, challenging some messages and better understanding others.

Best of all, I'm gaining a lot of sympathy for those whose work I have reviewed in the past.

  

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Larry Hagman, star of Dallas and I Dream of Jeannie, dies at 81 as king of the character actors

larry-hagman-3.jpgIt's a tribute to Larry Hagman's star power that he was not only able to create two legendary TV characters, but that both of them were so different from each other.

As I Dream of Jeannie's Major Tony Nelson, Hagman played opposite blonde beauty Barbara Eden as a straitlaced astronaut who discovered a beautiful genie in a bottle upon splashing down after a rocket mission. This guy was a comedic version of the men actually launching themselves into space to reach the moon; a buttoned-down straight man who could only be loosened up by Eden's adventurous woman-child with a genie's powers (hey, it was 1965).

larry-hagman-jeannie.jpgBut as Dallas villain J.R. Ewing, the famously gregarious and eccentric Hagman seemed to be playing a character closer to his own personality -- a wily, compelling guy who knew just how charismatic he was and had no compunction about using it in any situation.

Playing a guy who could have been a moustache-twirling cardboard cut-out in lesser hands, Hagman turned J.R. into a national institution -- the bad guy who couldn't be kept down, not even by an assassin's bullet in the famous "Who Shot J.R." storyline in 1980.

More than a few actors have created beloved TV characters. But they usually become a straitjacket, forcing the actor to play variations of that character until they stop working. Hagman neatly sidestepped that problem, even lending his famously overgrown eyebrows to play an upright politician with a secret in the film Primary Colors and billionaire businessman Jack Jones in Oliver Stone's Nixon.

He was a character actor with leading man looks who turned a bad guy into the star of the show; a crowning achievement for one of showbiz's coolest character actors. 

Hagman was always the most compelling element of Dallas' nighttime soap; a fact confirmed by the success of this year's Dallas revival on the TNT cable channel, which featured his conniving J.R. Ewing as the most vital and compelling of the series' original characters. In 2011, Hagman revealed he had throat cancer, taking some time from the production for treatment.

larry-hagman-2.jpgDuring publicity for the TNT revival of Dallas, Hagman insisted he was doing fine. But complications from throat cancer eventually claimed his life Friday at age 81, his family told the Associated Press

Hagman was a famously hard-partying figure who underwent a liver transplant in 1995 after drinking damaged his body. Reportedly introduced to LSD by David Crosby and marijuana by Jack Nicholson, Hagman didn't kick drinking until the liver cancer, maintaining his reputation as a fun-loving figure in Hollywood for many who worked with him.

Observe his magic below in clips from his two best roles. And provide a final burst of appreciation for a great actor who made lightning strike twice for two generations of fans.

 

  

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Lindsay Lohan in Lifetime's Liz & Dick: The wrong kind of showbiz train wreck

liz-8.jpgHere’s the thing about an Elizabeth Taylor biopic starring infamous showbiz basket case Lindsay Lohan: You know it’s going to be cheesy.

The only question left, is whether it will be good cheese.

Unfortunately, even that’s in short supply after two hours slogging through Lifetime’s Liz & Dick — an uneven, made-for-television look at the 12 years Taylor spent in her first marriage to the boozy, petulant onetime Shakespearean actor-turned-film star Richard Burton.

The heart of the issue, as always, is Lohan herself.

At times, mostly during confessional segments where she faces the camera adorned in fake eyelashes and her blazing blue eyes, Lohan reminds us of the promising starlet who lit up films like Tina Fey’s Mean Girls, summoning Taylor’s unique blend of glamour, entitlement and wounded beauty.

But most of this film lands a long way from quality, hobbled by a script that references ideas rather than realizes them, steadfastly refusing to be the full-on pop culture train wreck most of us were salivating for.

Details in this film are often announced by the characters in bursts of shouted dialogue, as if producers were afraid you wouldn’t notice unless they slammed the information on your head like a two-by-four.

“I’ve done 29 pictures since I was nine,” Lohan-as-Taylor shouts in one scene, presumably explaining her raging case of arrested development. “If I’m not mistaken, you just ended your fourth marriage,” an assistant tells Lohan-as-Taylor, and us, just before the starlet hooks up with Burton.

Character actors TV fans love pop up in blink-and-you-miss-them parts, from The Nanny’s Charles Schaughnessy as the put-upon producer of 1963’s Burton/Taylor classic The V.I.P.s and Sex and the City’s David Eigenberg as the screenwriter who adapted Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf to the screen, Ernest Lehman. Couldn’t they find more for these guys to do than swoon and rage over the movie’s star-crossed couple?

liz-10.jpg(The film’s fleeting reference to The V.I.P.s – a classic, star-stuffed ‘60s film with appearances by Orson Welles, Louis Jordan and Maggie Smith well before she became a dame – was a missed opportunity in itself.)

Liz & Dick takes great pains to cast Taylor and Burton as the first couple of the tabloid age; hounded by photographers not long after the term paparazzi was invented, living the kind of lavishly indulgent lives gossip magazines exist to chronicle.

In the age of reality TV and TMZ, seeing these legends sleep around and get drunk lacks punch — like watching an old-timey pilot for Keeping Up with the Burtons.

The story begins with an aged Burton flashing back to his first sight of Taylor, across a crowded party not long before they would be cast together in 1963’s Cleopatra. (In another one of those board-across-the-head moments, a graphic blares to the audience that, yes, it is Burton’s last day alive.)

At first, it’s hate at first sight, as Taylor resists the “Welsh Don Juan” and Burton reacts like wounded child. Then, she’s telling husband Eddie Fisher to his face that she loves Burton as he ignores a long-suffering wife and children to take up with the 29-year-old beauty, enabled by a coterie of handlers who distract the spouses when necessary.

One problem here, and this film has more issues than both its subjects combined, is that there are no likeable characters anywhere in sight.

liz-7.jpgAs played by Lohan and New Zealand native Grant Bowler (saddled with a hairpiece bad enough to have its own Saturday Night Live sketch), Taylor and Burton are impulsive, childlike stars, blithely unconcerned with the impact their philandering, overspending and volatile romance has on anyone around them.

Even the pleasure of seeing Lohan play another famous showbiz casualty is blunted by the film’s inability to explain why Taylor was such a well of insecurity and emotional need in the first place. Bowler fares much better, creating a Burton who is compelling and familiar without veering into parody.

In the end, Lohan is a child star-turned-grown-up wreck playing the most famous child star-turned-grown-up wreck in a TV movie too bad to be good and too good to be a guilty pleasure. It’s all so meta it will make your brain hurt.

Quite by accident, Liz & Dick exposes the greatest tragedy of these two past film stars: that they mostly exist in the modern age as symbols and cautionary tales.

The biggest tragedy of Liz & Dick is that this Lifetime movie is too lightweight to change any of that, yet just serious enough to hint at what might have been.

Liz and Dick airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on Lifetime.

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Sports talk star Jim Rome hits Showtime tonight, names biggest past weakness as getting stale

536625_10151157182652514_456629891_n.jpgAsk what led sports talk star Jim Rome to leave a seven-year run on ESPN to start a new show on CBS Sports Network and he has a simple answer:

0.jpgCBS asked him.

But they also offered a bit more, setting up Rome as the biggest name in their attempt to juice sports programming across CBS-owned cable channels and radio — developing a daily TV show for CBS Sports Network, a daily radio show for the CBS Sports Radio Network and a weekly program for premium cable channel Showtime.

"CBS is the Tiffany of sports; when they call and offer you something like that, you say yes," Rome added. "I wasn't going to get that kind of opportunity anywhere else."

The latest element of the plan falls into place at 10 tonight, when Jim Rome on Showtime debuts. Featuring a lineup of guests ranging from NBA star Kobe Bryant to former Friends star Matthew Perry and Hollywood mogul Peter Guber, the show explores the intersection of pop culture, sports and show business.

On Jan. 2, his radio show moves from WDAE-AM (620) to WQYK-AM (1010) as part of the CBS Sports Radio Network, through his deal to move from Clear Channel-owned syndicator Premier Radio Networks to CBS. He already hosts the daily, half-hour show Rome, on CBS's sports cable channel.

The moves put Rome, 48, at the leading edge of two trends: the rise of sports talk as a leading corner of talk radio and efforts by CBS, NBC and Fox to assemble their own sports media behemoths to take on 800-pound gorilla ESPN.

But he's also moving from a perch at two of media's biggest companies to a new lineup of outlets with smaller audiences and lower profiles. And he'll be juggling three different shows almost at the same time.

resize.php_.jpgHere's a quick chat with the guy at the center of it all.

How will your Showtime program be different than what you're doing on TV and radio already?

The show that I do daily, the format is usually "rant, interview, panel, rant, see you tomorrow." On Showtime, I'm talking to actors, artists, politicians; we're not talking about those topical things that drive your normal sports talk show, but bigger picture items. And it's pay cable, so I think we can push the envelope.

Does that mean we might hear an f-word or two?

I can go with an f-bomb if I need it. I never felt the need to go with that on the air, but it’s nice to know if its there if I need it.”

Why leave ESPN when you did? Had they lost interest in you?

I was offered a better opportunity. I had a great run (at ESPN); I was treated very well there. But I was faced with this decision: "Do you want to continue to do the same thing for x amount of years?" Now that I'm 20 years in, I'm cognizant of not growing, not improving. And if I keep doing this show the same way every single day, you start to deteriorate, and you start to die on the vine. I thought the bigger risk would be to not take a risk.

When your radio show moves, what will fans hear?

My radio show is not going to change dramatically. But there is an argument that political talk is not what it used to be, that advertisers are a little bit timid and afraid of what happens with it, and sports radio is getting bigger and bigger and bigger. I want to be with a company that sees it that way.

What's your biggest weakness as a broadcaster?

Hmmm … (long silence) … let me just sit on that for a minute. I would definitely hate for you to write, "The guy doesn't even think he has any weaknesses." But nobody's ever asked me that before.

Why do you think sports media is exploding on TV and radio right now?

I've never seen — I don't know if it's part social networking, we know exactly what people think and feel. But I've never seen fans more passionate and care more about their teams and their players than they do right now. They need a place to congregate and talk about these things and chop it up.

Did you come up with a weakness?

For years, I did the same things, the same shows for the same people. And nothing changed. My biggest weakness was: I kind of let things get a little bit stale. This is my way of making sure that never happens again: changing radio companies, changing TV companies, changing shows. I've been around so long now, I have to find a way to stay competitive and relevant and not get run down from behind.

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My latest NPR adventure: Talking about life as a black nerd

blacknerds1.jpgThe one things that surprised me about the reaction to my recent column on loving the rise of the black nerd, was how much flak I got from some black folks.

True enough, black nerds have been around forever. And there have been plenty of other stories about how we've taken over pop culture before I wrote about it for the Tampa Bay Times last month.

Still, as a kid who regularly got dissed and worse in my neighborhood for liking Star Wars and reading a few too many big books, its a pleasure to see images of black coolness and savvy stretched to include those of us who freely admit reading comic books past age 40.

I loved the subject so much, I had to whip up a commentary on it all for NPR, so check it out below.

There's something about hearing Steve Urkel's voice morph into raps from Kanye West and a comedy routine from W. Kamau Bell which says it all.

 

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