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My message to Seth MacFarlane and Lisa Lampanelli fans: Cracking sexist or racist jokes is not the same as satirizing them

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth MacFarlane and Daniel Radcliffe dance during the Oscar's opening number

ABC

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Seth MacFarlane and Daniel Radcliffe dance during the Oscar's opening number

Every so often, when tussling over issues of pop culture and society, you just want to hand people a dictionary.

Perhaps then folks would stop trying to explain away sexism, stereotypes and prejudice as satire.

That impulse struck me most recently while navigating the Twitterverse during Sunday’ Oscars ceremony, where Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane brought the jokes which have turned him into a Pied Piper for young male viewers – cracking wise about how 9-year-old nominee Quvenzhane Wallis was just a few years too young for George Clooney and devoting a huge musical number to all the topless scenes leading actresses have appeared in.

Pop culture savvy types railed against those who would call such comedy sexist, insisting that MacFarlane was lampooning those ideas. My pal Tim Goodman at the Hollywood Reporter, who I respect immensely, seemed to sum up that point of view in his review:

“In fact, MacFarlane was relatively tame if you know anything at all about his canon, and he was respectful through and through,” Tim wrote. “As a guy who can actually sing and has recorded a successful album (fueling more jealousy and backlash from his detractors), his pick was more spot-on than anyone gave the Academy credit for.”

But here’s the problem: Cracking sexist jokes isn’t the same thing as satirizing them.

Dictionary.com defines “satire” as: “the use of irony, sarcasm, ridicule, or the like, in exposing, denouncing, or deriding vice, folly, etc.”

As song like “We Saw Your Boobs,” which had a joke about Jodie Foster exposing her breasts during a rape scene in The Accused, wasn’t really lampooning Hollywood’s penchant for exposing actresses in ways male actors aren’t; it was celebrating it.

This idea rose in a different way last week when comic Lisa Lampanelli tweeted a picture with Lena Dunham, creator of HBO’s Girls, calling her my “ni--a.” Lampanelli insisted she meant it as a compliment, but even Dunham didn’t see it that way, tweeting “That's not a word I would EVER use. Its implications are beyond my comprehension. I was made supremely uncomfortable by it.”

Lampanelli is another comic who pretends to be subverting racism and stereotypes when she’s actually wallowing in them. Telling straight-up racist jokes with an ironic smile – a sample: “What do you call a black woman who has had seven abortions? A crime fighter.” – doesn’t absolve the destructive force of the stereotype.

What is does is encourage people to think indulging such awful stuff is actually ok.

As I note in my book Race-Baiter, we have often come to think of stereotypes as hideous things, because we know racism and sexism is horrific. But stereotypes are often seductive – they explain the world and strange people in easy-to-understand ways.

So comics who can make sexism and racism sound funny, charming and naughty, often get away with cracking the kind of jokes which would otherwise be rejected by sharp audiences (I fell prey to the same stuff Sunday, tweeting approval of a joke which found Halle Berry saying the name of a controversial character, Pussy Galore, in the introduction to the show’s James Bond tribute.)

As this writer from Jezebel points out, our entertainment and social fabric is so drenched in this stuff that it is wearying trying to reject it all.

Male actors in TV and film are regularly cast as romantic partners with women who are eight, 10 or 15 years younger (it almost never happens in reverse.) Even the best TV shows on television relegate any actors of color they cast to supportive sidekick roles which rarely get much screen time (still waiting for Tyreese to do something interesting on The Walking Dead; shows such as Mad Men, Girls and Game of Thrones seem like lost causes.)

Here’s a few easy ways to judge between ridicule and rolling in it all. Is the character expressing the prejudice or sexism presented as an admirable figure or a buffoon? Are the ideas condemned in the joke or celebrated as saucy irreverence?  Is the audience encouraged to reject the stereotype or embrace it?

Nobody wants to be a killjoy. And I love comics such as Chris Rock, Margaret Cho, Bill Maher and Louis C.K. who constantly walk the line of deflating stereotypes and indulging them (sometimes landing on the wrong side of that equation, to be sure.)

But it’s the 21 Century, so it’s time for our public discourse to grow up a little. And Hollywood’s penchant for exposing and objectifying female performers isn’t naughty or fun; it’s sad and worthy of challenge.

Otherwise, we’re just letting our pop culture lead us back into ideas we thought we had overcome years ago.
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Tampa Bay's new FM sports talk station struggles to overcome a shaky start

Logo for WHFS-FM

CBS Radio

Logo for WHFS-FM

It started, as many major broadcast projects do, with a flurry of optimism, a display of resources and a high-profile press conference.

But less than seven months after debuting the Tampa market’s first FM sports talk station, officials at CBS Radio are downplaying a restructuring that has seen the reassignment and departure of the station’s first program director, the firing of one on-air personality and the abandonment of its 24/7 live and local format.

At the start of February, nationally syndicated sports talk star Jim Rome began airing on Sportsradio 98.7 the Fan (WHFS-FM), signaling an end for its attempts to provide live and local sports talk programming around the clock.

Mike Pepper, the program director who designed the station's inaugural lineup, was let go last week, not long after he was moved out of the job into advertising sales.

And Todd Wright, a former host with ESPN Radio and Yahoo Sports Radio, was let go, making room to move the Fabulous Sports Babe (given name: Nanci Donnellan), up from an overnight time slot to 7 p.m.

Ratings have been tough. According to Arbitron, Inc., WHFS’ average share of listeners across its entire broadcast day has dropped 41 percent; from a 1.7 when it was known as Play 98.7 in January 2012 to a .7 in January 2013.

Some listeners and critics wondered: Was this a sign the launch got off on the wrong foot? And is this just the first of many changes to come?

Ben Hill, CBS Radio's market manager in Tampa, insisted he was hppy ith the current lineup of hosts and always expected the station would take a few years to find its ratings footing.

“I just don’t see that we can expect ratings in the first two years,” said Hill, relaxing in a conference room at the company’s St. Petersburg offices last week. “Music formats, you often know in the first six months or so whether things are working. But talk radio takes more time…some people still don’t know the format has changed.”

Hill debuted the Tampa Bay area’s first FM sports talk station with much fanfare on Aug. 2, transforming the Contemporary Hits Radio station Play 98.7 into Sportsradio 98.7 The Fan (WHFS-FM) – a home for sports talk at a frequency fans might find more accessible than the AM equivalents (some surveys find a healthy percentage of young listeners never use the AM dial at all).

But the station, which competes for young male listeners with both general interest radio stations and sports talk outlets, still doesn't have a strong identity and often soundsl ike an enterprise still under construction.

Read the rest of my story by clicking here:

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My NPR adventure: How 'Golden Boy' stretches limits of CBS' cop drama formula

Theo James and Chi McBride star in CBS' Golden Boy

CBS

Theo James and Chi McBride star in CBS' Golden Boy

These are the times which try network TV executives’ souls.

It is becoming more obvious by the week that many of the new shows unveiled this fall have failed to catch on with viewers. And worse: The midseason programs planned to serve as backups are failing as bad or worse.

NBC’s Do No Harm debuted earlier this year with the lowest rating of any new show on any network. ABC’s Zero Hour brought ER alum Anthony Edwards back to television in a creaky Da Vinci Code knockoff that produced the lowest rating of any new show on ABC.

And there are several more new shows debuting over the next few weeks on the networks which will likely meet similar fates.

That’s why I was so interested in CBS’ debut tonight of a new police drama called Golden Boy. It takes the CBS formula for a police “procedural” show and stretches it to the limit; turning most of the program into a flashback detailing how a promising young homicide detective became the youngest police commissioner in New York City history.

CBS, which is expected to win ratings among 18 to 49 viewers in February’s “sweeps” ratings period for the first time since 1998, is doing well at a time when network TV’s fortunes are failing – blessed with the most traditional viewers on television.

Golden Boy features another Brit playing American – Theo James, who perfectly embodies the brash young William Clark Jr. but is a little less believable as the wounded older commissioner. His older self bookends every episode, relating some lesson he learned on the job which then becomes a case the younger Clark tackles as a detective.

Surprisingly, the device mostly works for the four preview episodes I saw, which led me to pull together a commentary for NPR highlighting how this point the way for CBS to reinvent an old formula with enough new twists to keep that 18 to 49 crown.

Check it out below; see the full pilot on CBS.com by clicking here (sorry no embed available):

 

 

 

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Wynonna Judd, Andy Dick top Dancing with the Stars cast; biggest news may be who isn't there

Wynonna Judd

ABC

Wynonna Judd

Even though ABC's Dancing with the Stars just announced 11 new boldfaced names taking on its challenge, the big news lies in who won't be coming back.

 

Towering hunk Maksim Chmerkovskiy -- whose outsize ego, brusque style and penchant for tantrums livened up even the sleepiest seasons -- won't return to ABC's reality TV hit, confirmed by the list of participants released by the network this morning. Longtime dancers Chelsie Hightower, Louis Van Amstel and Anna Trebunskaya also won't be back.

Unveiled on Good Morning America today, the cast list reveals the show's ongoing difficulty in attracting marquee-level talent. Country star Wynonna Judd, comic-turned-tabloid news casualty Andy Dick, comic D.L. Hughley and 56-year-old ex-Olympian Dorothy Hamill are among the biggest names in a cast awfully short on pop culture buzz.

Otherwise, the show is filled with a typical collection of sorta "stars" aimed at the show's middle-aged female demographic : reality TV participants (Real Housewives Lisa Vanderpump), athletes (boxer Victor Ortiz, Olympic gymnast Ali Rasman, NFL wide receiver Jacoby Jones) and actors from a soap and a Disney show. They get their first-ever American Idol alum in Kellie Pickler (a non-winner from a show which has its own ratings challenges) and youngest participant ever in 16-year-old Disney kid Zendaya Coleman.

On the show since Season Two, Chmerkovskiy never won the show's coveted mirror ball trophy. Still, the Ukranian dancer was a key castmember; not just for his sex appeal to the show's mostly female viewership, but for his ability to earn headlines with outrageous behavior.

His dances with partner Erin Andrews led to constant rumors they were romantically linked -- which both denied -- while his fights with celebrity basket case Kirstie Alley helped her become one of the show's most popular dancers.

"I just want to set the record straight to all of my amazing fans that I will unfortunately not be returning for this season of Dancing with the Stars," Chemerkoskiy said in a statement quoted by People magazine. "I've been a pro dancer on the show for about seven years now and am eager to explore other opportunities that have been made possible because of Dancing with the Stars. I'm going to take this time to dive into producing and acting, while fulfilling my sponsorship obligations."

Coming back to new episodes March 18, DWTS faces an uphill battle with its biggest newsmaker in the wind.

Check out the full list, with partners, below.

Wynonna Judd, country music star; with Tony Dovolani.

D.L. Hughley, comic, with Cheryl Burke.

Jacoby Jones, Baltimore Ravens wide receiver, with Karina Smirnoff.

Lisa Vanderpump, “Real Housewife of Beverly Hills” star, with new dancer Gleb Savchenko.

Andy Dick, comic and tabloid news star, with new dancer Sharna Burgess.

Victor Ortiz, pro boxer, with Lindsay Arnold.

Zendaya Coleman, Disney's Shake It Up (at age 16, the show's youngest contestant), with Valentin Chmerkovskiy.

Ali Raisman, Olympic gymnast, with Mark Ballas.

Ingo Rademacher, actor on General Hospital, with Kym Johnson.

Kellie Pickler, American Idol contestant and country artist, with Derek Hough.

Dorothy Hamill, onetime figure skating chamption (at 56, she's oldest contestant this season), with Tristan MacManus.

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One year after Trayvon Martin's shooting death, have media learned anything more about covering race?

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

Associated Press

Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman

It’s a pretty simple question: One year after the shooting death of unarmed teen Trayvon Martin became a world-famous story, have media learned anything about covering race or talking about racial issues?

Still, ask some of the people at ground zero of one of the biggest stories of 2012, and you get a surprisingly complex suite of answers, focused mostly on how individual behavior may have changed, but big media’s habit of avoiding big questions about race outside of major news stories has not.

“We have seen other suspected shootings that again don’t get the same kind of attention,” said CNN and TV One analyst Roland Martin, a longtime advocate on African American issues who noted the death of an unarmed black teen at the hands of armed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman hasn’t produced a wave of coverage looking at similar cases.

“That’s why you have to have strong, non-traditional, non-mainstream voices trumpeting these issues,” added Martin, who took to social media and spoke out about the case on his Washington Watch show before mainstream media outlets warmed to the story. “When I look at the people who are hosting shows, the lack of black executive producers, the lack of black senior producers…Unfortunately, the people running networks are not understanding how significant these issues are."

Curiously, that might be one of the only points where Martin might find agreement with Mark O’Mara, the Orlando-area lawyer who began representing Zimmerman after his April arrest and has established an array of online platforms to push out news, commentary and feature donation appeals for his client.

Saying Zimmerman has been the target of an orchestrated publicity campaign to portray him as a racist, O’Mara also lamented that the focus on Zimmerman has hamstrung larger conversations about race and criminal justice system.

“Here’s my frustration with the whole case …I have done criminal defense work for 30 years, and have represented dozens of young black males and seen how the system doesn’t respect their rights,” O’Mara said. “Let’s use that as a springboard…(so) we have a focal point on what’s happening to young black males in the system.”

His fear: regardless of the verdict against his client, the larger conversation on race and criminal justice gets lost. “Now that we have tied the national conversation to George Zimmerman…if he gets acquitted, it’s a civil rights fiasco,” O’Mara said. “If he gets acquitted –and he should get acquitted—whites are going to say, ‘I told you he never should have been charged anyway.’ And blacks will say ‘This is BS.’”

On Feb. 26 of 2012, an unarmed, 17-year-old Martin was shot dead by Zimmerman after a fight in a subdivision in Sanford, Fla. Following perfunctory initial press coverage of the death, Martin’s family hired an attorney and began speaking to the media, alleging that police and prosecutors were moving slowly because of their son’s race.

By the end of March, the story had become the second most-covered topic of the year, behind the presidential election. MSNBC anchor Al Sharpton became a spokesman for Martin’s family and in early 2013, the channel’s president told the website Mediaite that their audience with black viewers grew 60 percent in prime time – in part by aggressively covering stories black viewers care about, such as the Martin shooting and voter ID laws.

Frances Robles, who was the Miami Herald’s lead reporter on the Martin/Zimmerman case through 2012, said the biggest problem she encountered didn’t involve race, but basic journalism values – too many outlets were repeating information from her stories without attribution, especially on cable TV and online.

Along the way, they spread misinformation about the case which remains lodged in the minds of some people.

Now working for the New York Times, Robles recalled a conversation with a police officer where every detail he cited about the case was incorrect, including a belief that Martin was dressed in black like a possible burglar, that the teen had been arrested before, and more.

“There’s a lot of pundits who talk about things that they don’t know to be true, and it gets accepted as truth,” Robles said, noting that pushback against the narrative that Martin may have been an innocent teen was especially aggressive on cable TV and online platforms. “The right wing machinery did a good job of turning the story around. They put a lot of doubt in people’s minds about what happened.”

A veteran journalist of Puerto Rican heritage, Robles said she grew up in the Howard Beach section of Queens, New York in the mid-1980s, and lived across the street from one of the white teens accused of participating in a beating of three black men which led to the death of one.

Recalling how some journalists back then seemed to have the story already settled in their minds before doing interviews, Robles was determined not to make the same mistakes when she was approaching sources for her work on the Martin case.

“Other than 9/11 or a story like that, I don’t think it’s healthy or good for any (story)…especially a criminal case, to dominate television and the media in that way” she said. “I don’t think you end up educating the public. You end up miseducating the public.”

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See Oscars video, my Storify of cattiest moments

It's an interesting choice made by ABC: Instead of live-streaming the Oscars show while it was airing and the world was commenting on it all through social media, the network decided to make the full 3.5-hour telecast available on Hulu.com and ABC.com

So here's the first third of the video below, in case you missed it last night or want to relive it (the other two parts can be found here). And here's my Storify of all my snarky tweets during the actual event. To really recreate the experience, I suggest scrolling down the Storify while playing the embedded video -- it will feel like you were almost but not quite there!

 

 

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Host Seth MacFarlane stumbles by turning Oscars into live-action Family Guy episode

Seth MacFarlane, Oscars host

ABC

Seth MacFarlane, Oscars host

What do you get when you hand a guy known for pushing buttons on TV the keys to Hollywood’s most prestigious awards show?

In the case of Seth MacFarlane and Sunday’s Oscars telecast, you got an uneven jumble of one-liners and production numbers which felt like bits of inspired satire swimming in borderline sexism and gross out jokes – kinda like MacFarlane’s animated hit Family Guy.

Jokes referencing Chris Brown beating Rhianna, blaming the n-words in Django Unchained on material from Mel Gibson’s voice mails, a production number about actresses going topless in films called “We Saw Your Boobs,” and a bit where MacFarlane makes out with nominee Sally Field all went over to varying degrees. Not quite bad, but not quite great, either.

Bringing Star Trek icon William Shatner in as a concerned Captain Kirk trying to save the present Oscars from the future  made it all feel even more like a live-action version of Family Guy (didn’t help to see how many hoops they jumped through – including having Channing Tatum waltz with Charlize Theron – to keep MacFarlane from having to actually dance himself.)

What I hate most about MacFarlane’s shtick, though, is the thin pretense that he is satirizing sexism and prejudice instead of just referencing it naughtily. Songs like “We Saw Your Boobs” or having his stuffed bear Ted do a shtick on pretending to be Jewish to succeed in show business doesn’t really satirize those attitudes as much as reference them; giving audiences permission to laugh at attitudes they would condemn if said in a serious way.

(That said, the prize for most awful Oscar joke goes to satirical newspaper The Onion’s Twitter feed, which called 9-year-old nominee Quvenzhane Wallis  a four-letter name for a female body part I’m not printing here. Deleting the tweet didn’t stem the tide of indignation brewing online, hours after the Oscar ceremony ended.)

The Oscars is always a schizophrenic  piece of television anyway, as producers try to build youth-oriented TV around a bunch of films that most young people have not seen. In this case, the creator of a show with a bulls-eyes target on young males is hosting an awards ceremony where a biopic of Abraham Lincoln, a spiritual film about a boy shipwrecked with a tiger and a movie of a 30-year-old musical based on a 150-year-old book about the French Revolution has the most nominations.

And even though MacFarlane was the host and primary comedic voice, the producers of the Oscar telecast were Craig Zadan and Neil Meron – best known as producers of film and TV musicals such as Chicago and Smash.  So considerable screen time was spent on Catherine Zeta Jones performing “All That Jazz” and Jennifer Hudson belting out an amazing rendition of “I’m Not Going” from Dreamgirls – wonderful sings with no real connection to this year’s Oscars race.

Music, in fact, proved the saving grace of this year’s Oscarcast, as Hudson, Adele singing the theme to Skyfall just before the song would win an Oscar and Barbara Streisand singing “The Way We Were” as tribute to her late collaborator Marvin Hamlisch all stood as highlights in a too-long, too-boring show.

Though McFarlane wasn’t bad as the Anne Hathaway and James Franco fiasco of a few years back, he wasn’t the right note for Oscar, either. Don’t expect him to return, as the Academy keeps trolling for the person who can make populist comedy out of highbrow film stars feteing each other on national television.
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Jillian Michaels to come to Ruth Eckerd Hall April 18

Jilliian Michaels

NBC

Jilliian Michaels


Biggest Loser star Jillian Michaels will join the ranks of celebrities presenting stage shows built around their brand, bringing her Maximize Your Life tour to Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater April 18.

Here's a clip from Ruth Eckerd Hall's press release: "Promising an evening of inspiration that will forever motivate and change lives, America’s health and wellness guru Jillian Michaels is set to launch her first ever Maximize Your Life tour this spring. Kicking off April 4th in Winnipeg, Manitoba, the tour touches down in 35 cities across the United States and Canada, including a stop at Ruth Eckerd Hall on Thursday, April 18 at 7:30 pm. 

Tickets go on sale Saturday, March 2 at noon.  The complete itineray can also be found at www.jillianmichaels.com."Full Story

My Lisa Lampanelli essay for Salon asks: Should white people ever use the n-word?

Lisa Lampanelli roasting Flavor Flav during a Comedy Central TV special

Comedy Central

Lisa Lampanelli roasting Flavor Flav during a Comedy Central TV special

When controversial comic Lisa Lampanelli used the n-word to describe her new pal Lena Dunham, creator of the diversity-challenged HBO show Girls, the online magazine Salon asked me to think about an essay on what it means when motormouthed white celebrities start slinging around such an incendiary word.

I had already written a piece for them defending Quentin Tarantino's n-word filled film Django Unchained, so I was feeling a little guilty. Was this, as predicted by so many activists who oppose the appearance of the n-word in any form, what happens when you don't come down hard on anyone who slings that awful slur, black or white?

I came up with the following essay, which captures my passions at the moment and my wariness of performers like Lampanelli -- who seem to enable racial stereotypes and slurs more than they lampoon them.

Check out the beginning below, and click through to the whole thing here (one note: I dash the n-word out in the excerpt below, in accordance with the style of the Tampa Bay Times. But it is not dashed out in the Salon piece):

"To begin with, I’d like to apologize.

My mea culpa goes out to anyone who had to behold the shameless spectacle that involved button-pushing comic Lisa Lampanelli using the word “n---a” in a tweet, then arguing against a torrent of condemnation from the Twitterverse that it was socially acceptable.

You see, I have argued in print for years that people are too precious about avoiding the word “n---er” when the subject is at hand . When the NAACP held a funeral for the word, I wrote a column praising their intentions but opposing their actions.

A word should never be banned out of context, I argued. Especially a word with such conflicted and confusing history for those of us who are darker than blue.

When Spike Lee and other well-known cultural commentators began to pile on Quentin Tarantino for his liberal use of the n-word in his Blaxploitation Western masterpiece “Django Unchained,” I wrote a story for this very outlet insisting that Tarantino had tapped a proud history in creating modern Hollywood’s first black superhero.

Sometimes, when trying to capture the peculiar mix of pride, rebellion and from-the-streets flavor evoked when dropping that word, only the real, fully written out “n---a” will do.

Clearly Ms. Lampanelli was paying attention. And for that, I must apologize.

Because somehow, she got the idea that in arguing for some uses of the word when it makes creative and contextual sense, someone was saying its okay to sling it around like a slap on the back to another highly paid celebrity, like sharing a joint with the cool kids behind the school at recess."

Click here to read the rest at Salon.Full Story

All black panel discusses the news on WEDU-Ch. 3's Florida This Week just before anniversary of Trayvon Martin's death

WEDU-Ch. 3

When I first suggested to the producer of WEDU-Ch. 3's Florida This Week that they consider convening an all-black panel to discuss issues related to the Feb. 26 anniversary of Trayvon Martin's shooting death and Black History Month, I envisioned a show that would put a special focus on issues related to people of color in the Tampa Bay area.

But when I got together with fellow panelists Ken Welch, Eddie Adams Jr. and Dr. Joyce Hamilton Henry last Friday, our discussion unfolded more like a typical Florida This Week panel -- looking at the odd, nitpicky kerfluffle over Marco Rubio's water sip during the GOP rebuttal to the State of the Union, former Florida GOP head Jim Greer's surprise guilty plea, George Zimmerman's expected defense in the trial over his shooting of Trayvon Martin and the drive to fix the voting system in Florida.

In a way, it was interesting to note how a general discussion of political issues still touched on so many topics of concerns to people of color -- from the ultimate impact of Marco Rubio's ascension in the GOP to a New York Times piece noting that Florida had the longest wait times to vote of any state, in a election where blck and Hispanic people waited nearly twice as long as white peple to cast ballots.

Still, I hope the folks at FTW take the time in the future to crat a show specifically focused on diversity issues in the future -- and expand the panel to include minorites from many different cultures -- just to take some time to peer at the reality of Florida's race issues.

Check out our episode below:

 

Watch Friday, February 15, 2013 on PBS. See more from Florida This Week.Full Story

The Daily Show takes on Florida Tea Party group's fight over manatee rules

Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal reporting from Florida

Comedy Central

Daily Show correspondent Al Madrigal reporting from Florida

As the Tampa Bay Times' Craig Pittman noted a couple of years ago, there's a branch of the Florida Tea Party that opposes rules against riding manatees as a step in the United Nation's plan to impose world government rules on America.

Recognizing a good joke when they see one, The Daily Show got a national Tea Party mouthpiece, Michael Coffman, to rail about the rules regarding manatee riding and the influence of the United Nations on turning America into a Third World nation and more.

"Today we can't ride a manatee, tomorrow we won't be able to open a business," Coffman complained. There weren't really any quotes aired where he talked about the details of the issue specific to Florida or Kings Bay.

Of course, the show's pre-taped interviews work best when they find someone whose genuine beliefs are so ludicrous, all you really need to do is point a camera at them, ask a couple of questions and watch the fireworks explode.

Craig pointed out in his story that several others local groups opposed extra rules protecting manatees in Kings Bay, one of the few areas in Florida where you can swim with and touch the animals, because they were afraid it would harm the local economy and erode property rights.

But the Daily Show found the one guy willing to go on camera and connect the United Nations to Manatee preservation.

Judge it all for yourself below:

 

 

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Robin Roberts returns to Good Morning America today: But is the hype too much?

Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, surrounded by show's anchor team, in her first moments back at work Wednesday

ABC

Good Morning America anchor Robin Roberts, surrounded by show's anchor team, in her first moments back at work Wednesday

The first moments of Good Morning America today kicked off the celebration that would fill the program all day, as staffers and guests celebrated the return of anchor Robin Roberts after a five-month break to treat a rare blood disorder.

"I have been waiting 174 days to say this: Good Morning America," Roberts said in the show's opening moments, surrounded by the on air team which had been cheering her recovery while the anchor underwent a bone marrow transplant. Minutes later, she added "I keep pinching myself, and I realize this is real. Faith, family and friends have brought me to this moment...I share this morning; this day of celebration, with everyone."

The first non-ABC staffer to offer congratulations this morning was one of the biggest names around: President Obama and Michelle Obama faced the camera together to welcome Roberts back, reminding the audience that the First Lady would soon sit with the anchor for an exclusive interview to air on Tuesday's show.

"You've been an inspiraton to a lot of us," President Obama said. "And we couldn't be happier that you're back here, doing what you do best."

And indeed, Roberts' triumph over myelodysplastic syndrome, a blood disorder often known as "pre-leukemia", has been amazing to witness. The recipient of bone marrow provided by her sister, Roberts has been shown struggling through therapy, losing significant amounts of weight and shaving her hair close as the side-effects of treatment surfaced.

Still, amid the celebration there is no denying that her health struggle has also drawn tremendous attention to Good Morning America at a time when the show is fighting for every ratings point with former longtime ratings champ, NBC's Today show.

At a time when journalists are grousing over a lack of access to the White House, Roberts has landed a sit-down with Michelle Obama which will close February's "sweeps" ratings period. The show has extensively covered her health battles, which will also be detailed in Friday's edition of 20/20.

It may be the most detailed examination of a news anchor's personal health struggle in recent years, if at all. And it has clearly mobilized viewers, who have adopted the Team Robin motto and used her illness as the springboard for conversations about bone marrow transplants, blood diseases and cancer.

Fortunately, the story seems to have a happy ending, though she still must grow ued to the rigors of morning television, which is one of the toughest shifts to work in TV news.

But the line between informing viewers and exploiting a situation is a fine one. Here's hoping ABC walks that line with caution as Roberts gets back her sea legs on the anchor desk after a long march back to good health.

 

 

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WFLA-AM news anchor Martin Giles to retire after 28 years, citing heavy workload

Two years after a health scare which led some listeners to mistakenly believe he had suffered a stroke on air, WFLA-AM (970) news anchor Martin Giles is ready to retire -- leaving the station after 28 years on March 1.

But it isn't health concerns which led Giles to give his two week notice after nearly three decades delivering the headlines for Tampa Bay area radio listeners. It's the workload.martingiles.jpg

Giles, 76, said executives at WFLA owner Clear Channel have required the news staff to also deliver news reports for Orlando, Jacksonville, Tallahassee and other cities, increasing the pace of his job.

"It's an overload of work they were handing us (and) I've had a little trouble with it," he added. "I am really worn out when I go home on Friday."

Doug Hamand, vice president of programming for Clear Channel in Tampa said everyone on staff now provides content for other cities through the company's I Heart Radio app and also over the air. "We're a content hub," he noted. "If they need extra help (with news, weather and traffic information), we're there to help them."

Back in January 2011, Giles alarmed listeners when he repeatedly stumbled over words in a news break, and seemed to have trouble speaking. Nealy three months later, Giles said he was hospitalized for 10 days, suffering from a bad case of pneumonia compounded by a brain infection. He returned to work in April 2011.

A native of Plant City, Giles started in broadcasting with Armed Forces Radio in the mid '50s; then served as a correspondent for the ABC Contemporary Network in New York before returning to the Tampa Bay area in the early 1980s to work as a reporter for local TV station WTSP-Ch. 10. He became a news anchor at WFLA in 1985, also voicing news breaks for some of Clear Channel's other local stations, interacting with the on air personalities.

"I was in the middle of things with the morning shows back then," he noted. "It's a much different situation now."

To prepare his news reports for Clear Channel's morning radio shows, Giles once said he rises at 2:30 a.m., arriving at his office by 3:30 or 4 a.m. Now he's unsure what he might do next, displaying little sentimentality about leaving a job he has held since the Reagan Administration.

"I'm going to feel relieved," he said when asked how he might feel on his last day.

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contriburted to this report.

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'Downton Abbey,' 'Walking Dead' and 'Good Wife' offer pivotal episodes in a logjam of great TV

Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley

PBS.org

Dan Stevens as Matthew Crawley

At least we won't have to deal with Downton Abbey for a while.

But Sunday night brought a train wreck of hilariously good TV at the 9 p.m. hour, including one of the Walking Dead's most surprising episodes, a pivotal kiss on CBS' The Good Wife, the death of a beloved character on Downton Abbey and another surprising episode on HBO's Girls.downton2.jpg

It was a surge of great television that made you want to own a couple of DVRs to catch it all (as a TV critic, I got early DVD screeners of the Girls episode and Downton's fateful Christmas episode, so I didn't have to juggle as much. Sorry).

But in the case of Downton, Good Wife and Dead, each series marked important turning points at a time when many shows might be cruising on autopilot (yes, there's spoilers ahead if you haven't seen any of this stuff when it aired last night).

Most of the anguish on Twitter Sunday was reserved for Matthew Crawley, the uptight aristocrat who lost his life in a car crash not long after his first child was born, capping the final episode of the show's third season. Of course, many stateside fans already knew he was a goner; both because actor Dan Stevens' exit from the series was well-publicized and because this episode actually aired on British TV back at the end of 2012.

Still, as my pal Maureen Ryan astutely points out in a column for the Huffington Post/AOL TV, Stevens' Matthew Crawley was an amazing presence that the showoften squandered, sticking him in implausible storylines and stretching out his romance with entitled Lady Mary to the point you wanted to slap some commoner sense into both of them (loyal readers may recall Matthew's completely ludicrous quandary over using a newfound fortune to keep Lady Mary's family in Downton led me to lose my love for the show back in January)

The death points out how much more useful Matthew's character may be in death than life, leaving behind a greiving family, a child without a father and an aristocratic family suddenly without any male heirs of noble birth -- a calamity which bedeviled the family before Matthews' arrival.

On Walking Dead, which returned to new episodes last week with an installment that felt an awful lot like producers were setting the stage for something better, Sunday's action provided some payoff -- with villain The Governor attacking hero Rick Grimes by driving a truck full of flesh-eating zombie "walkers" into the decaying prison where Grimes and his people are based.

The "walker bomb" tactic -- characters in the show never use the word "zombie" to describe the animated dead people crawling all over their world -- highlighted the way in which producers have torn and strained every close relationship on the series. Grimes is breaking under the strain of leading his ragtag group of survivors, seeing visions of his dead wife; lovebirds Glenn and Maggie are divided by Glenn's anger over The Governor's near rape of Maggie while they were both his prisoner; brothers Darryl and Merle are at odds over Darryl's attatchment to Grimes' crew; and much more.

Unlike the graphic novel on which AMC's show is based, the TV series has taken care to make every major villain a well-rounded character. So we see the Governor admit he had hoped to cure his zombified child before going off to attack Grimes and his crew; Merle, who had nearly killed two of Grimes' people earlier in the series, ges a touching scene with Darryl where they both admit enduring horrific abuse from their parents.

The most negligible member of Grimes' crew, thick moustachioed convict Axel, got nailed by a shot to the head, just after several scenes where we (and perpetually in grief survivor Carol) finally got to know him. (In fact, Walking Dead's characters better watch out for Carol; so far, she's lost a husband, a daughter, protector T-Dog and Axel, a guy she warming to. Characters don't live long when they get next to her.)

Fans of The Good Wife couldn't stop talking about "the kiss" on Twitter; attorney Alicia Florrick (Julianna Margulies) was kissed by her boss Will Gardner (Josh Charles) in the middle of an argument. Supporters liked the unexpected resurfacing of their doomed romance, while critics decried the old-fashioned sight of a woman forced into a kiss suddenly deciding she likes it.

But it capped another sterling episode where good girl Alicia finally grabbed one of the perks which comes from being publicly married to the guy who is a leading candidate for governor in Illinois -- accepting an offer to become a partner at the law firm where she works after leading a rebellion among many staffers who were offered partnerships which were later whisked away.

What happens when she discovers Will was the one who suggested offering her the partnership to end the rebellion?

Guess I better buy another DVR to make sure I can find out.

Watch Downton Abbey Season 3, Episode 7 on PBS. See more from Masterpiece.

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Saturday Night Live takes on Marco Rubio's water sip seen round the world

The satirical geniuses at Saturday Night Live couldn't resist the sip of water seen round the world -- the big stumble made by Florida's young hope for the GOP, Sen. Marco Rubio, during his rebuttal to the president's State of the Union speech on Tuesday.

Taran Killam, quicky emerging as one of the show's most versatile players, plays a Rubio driven to reach for water wherever it lies, only to find his thirst, once quenched, brings a different urge.

Check out the bit, which aired Saturday, below:

 

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