Saturday, April 08, 2006

Short Takes - April 8, 2006

I confess that I didn't think I had much for this piece. In fact I was thinking about not writing it and instead trying to figure out my feelings (and how to present them) about Katie Couric going to CBS to anchor the CBS Evening News. I'll probably get that out eventually but the short answer is that I'm not sure she can fully pull it off. Hey, personal opinion okay. I do have a couple of things though.

- Liberalism on morning TV is poison?: When Couric announced her move to CBS, her former employers at NBC's Today show were forced to find a replacement for her. In all honesty I don't think they were scrambling because they announced that Meredith Vieira will be the new host of Today the day after Couric announced her departure. Vieira is one of the five women on ABC's "after Good Morning America morning show The View as well as the quiz master (I desperately wanted to say the "hostess with the mostest") on the American syndicated version of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Now I don't have much of an opinion on this - I'm never up early enough to watch Today, and my exposures to The View have been few and mercifully brief even if I have seen it more than Live With Regis & Kelly. So beyond a vague feeling that CBS owes ABC a coupe of draft choices and a journalist to be named later I don't have any opinions on Vieira or her fitness to work on Today. There are those who do. Apparently during her time on The View Vieira expressed her opposition to the War In Iraq literally from the beginning, and at one point said "Everything's been built on lies. Everything! I mean the entire pretext for war." She's also expressed her opposition to the death penalty on the air and when Ann Coulter, a guest on The View, repeated her claim that "liberals hate America” Vieira called her view "stupid". All of this has led to conservative websites such as to condemn her appointment, as has Brent Bozell. When he's not trying to save America from what he and his acolytes regard as violent, obscene and otherwise objectionable television - all in the name of protecting the children of course - as head of the Parents Television Council, Bozell is also the founder of the conservative media watchdog Media Research Center. In response to Meredith Vieira being hired to host Today Bozell issued a statement on behalf of his groups that said in part that "NBC promises to poison Americans' mornings with liberal bias."

My take: Setting aside my personal biases (except to say that anyone who has the intestinal fortitude to call something that Ann Coulter says "stupid" to her face is all right by me) but if we're going to talk about bias, what about Bozell's own. I have to wonder just how much of Bozell's own pro-conservative bias filters into his work with the PTC? Isn't that as legitimate a question as wondering about Vieira's opinions, probably even more given Bozell's efforts to set his group up as the protector of American morals (in defense of the children of course)? When are we going to see Bozell come out with a statement that "NBC promises to poison America's children with liberal bias" since Today does air when America's children are getting up and getting ready for school?

As for Vieira and her views - the show she was working on when her opinions came out was called The View. The hosts are expected to express their opinions, as she did and as did Elizabeth Hasselback who happens to be a Republican. If you were to only watch Meredith Vieira on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, would you know her political stance? No. During her period working as a journalist on West 57th and 60 Minutes were her political opinions readily known? I don't seem to recall them being featured. I fully expect that Vieira will be able to be as successful in reining in her political views as Couric has been.

- Who "owns" Smallville?: This is a rather complicated legal story. As virtually everyone knows, Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1938 but through a variety of legal methods the rights to the character were owned by Detective Comics, the company which eventually became DC Comics. What's not so well known is that the character of Superboy was created separately by Siegel alone. He submitted the idea of Superboy to Detective Comics several times starting in 1938 and in 1940 he wrote a complete story which laid out the basis of the character. According to the reports of the case at comics news site Newsarama this included "his family life, his small town upbringing, and concealing his powers and true self while using his powers to help others." Sounds of sort familiar doesn't it. Siegel's pitch was rejected three times between February 1941 and August 1942. Subsequently Siegel went into the army and was stationed in the Pacific. In November 1944 More Fun Comics #101 hit the news stands with the first Superboy story, based on Siegel's materials but not credited to him. He sued, and in a 1947 decision the courts determined that Siegel owned the rights to Superboy while DC owned the rights to Superman. Siegel then sold the rights to DC - at a price that was favourable to DC. This would seem to be the end of it, but in the tortuous realm of copyright law a new element has appeared. There have been various copyright renewal laws - starting with the Copyright Act of 1976, and most recently the Bono Amendment (the Copyright Extension Term of 1998) - that have extended the duration of existing copyrights. A key beneficiary of these laws has been Disney, but other organizations have benefitted as well including DC Comics and its parent company Time-Warner. These extension laws also included provisions for creators or their spouses (if the creator is deceased) and direct descendants - and under the Bono amendment their executors - to terminate the transfer of copyright for material transferred under the old laws. Jerry Siegel's widow Joanne and his daughter Laura Siegel Larson filed Notification of Termination in November 2002 to take effect in November 2004. DC has subsequently argued that Siegel's work on Superboy was a work for hire situation. In a March 23 decision reported by Mark Evanier Judge Ronald Lew tossed out Time-Warner's arguments against the Termination Notice stating that the 1947 court case which awarded the copyright for Superboy to Jerry Siegel clearly proved that it wasn't work for hire, confirmed by DC Comics' purchase of the copyright. In other words the Siegel family has owned Superboy since November 2004. What hasn't been ruled on yet is what effect this will have on the TV series Smallville. In his decision, Judge Lew stated that "Smallville may be infringing upon the copyright to Superboy" In their argument Time-Warner states that Smallville "does not feature Superboy, but rather a young Clark Kent, which appeared in Superman comics prior to the first publication of Superboy in comics (1944). In making this claim, Warner Bros. said that the use of Clark Kent in Smallville are not subject to the termination of the transfer of copyright filed by the Siegels – even if the court does find the termination to be valid." However comic book scholars and the Siegel family attorney Marc Toberoff have noted "that images of a young Clark Kent that pre-date 1944 were limited to showing Superman as a baby, or as a toddler, not as a teenager or adolescent." Profits from Smallville are undoubtedly the most valuable aspect of this case particularly since, in the current comics Superboy (two versions of him actually, neither Superman as a boy in the current continuity) has been killed off during the current Infinite Crisis series. There's undoubtedly more to come in this case.

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