Sunday, June 10, 2007

Short Takes Part 1 – June 10, 2007

I decided that I wanted to split my usual Short Takes post in two this week because there's a lot of news out there and I wanted to devote a significant amount of time to the decision of the Second Circuit Court with reference to "inadvertent use" of obscenities, and related issues, including my weekly puncturing of the PTC. That's for tomorrow though. Today my focus is on entertainment...not that puncturing the bloviating of the PTC isn't entertaining, at least for me.

Nuts!: Apparently the campaign to resurrect Jericho by sending nuts to CBS has worked. I say apparently for a reason that will become clear shortly. CBS has announced that they will order seven episodes of the series as a mid-season replacement, with the option to order more episodes if ratings warrant. The show, which deals with one small town in Kansas in the wake of an act of atomic terrorism which destroyed many of the big cities and much of the national infrastructure, had been a ratings hit until an extended hiatus – during which it was replaced for a time with the celebrity reality show Armed And Famous – killed the show's momentum and lost most of the audience. The show limped towards its finish even as the story-telling became increasingly dramatic. The Nuts! campaign in fact grew out one of the last lines uttered in the last episode. When the Mayor of New Bern demanded the surrender of Jericho, Jake Green gave the same response as General McAuliffe gave to the German commander who demanded the surrender of Bastogne in the Battle of the Bulge – Nuts! (Actually there's some controversy on this. The story goes that when McAuliffe was told of the surrender demand he said "Ah nuts" and his aide, Lt. Colonel Kinnard suggested this as the official reply to the surrender demand. McAuliffe later stated that his first reaction to the demand was the saltier "Shit!")

In response to the cancellation, fans of Jericho organised in support of their show. They wanted to act in a more demonstrative way than a letter writing campaign, an e-mail blitz or on-line petitions. They settled on using response to New Bern; the not only inundated CBS with letters and emails but they sent nuts. In bulk. As in just over 40,000 pounds of nuts. For those of you whose knowledge of weights and measures is a trifle impaired, that's just over 20 tons of nuts. The nuts, mostly sent through a company called Nuts Online, inundated the CBS offices while Les Moonves announced that he was screening Jericho in his emails. Finally – and appropriately enough on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day – CBS Entertainment President Nina Tassler announced that the show would be back: "CBS has ordered seven episodes of "Jericho" for mid-season next year. In success, there is the potential for more." Tassler did make clear in her announcement that the audience had to grow beyond the core element of devoted fans that had been sending the nuts. Tassler indicated that CBS would be doing their part to help: "At this time, I cannot tell you the specific date or time period that "Jericho" will return to our schedule. However, in the interim, we are working on several initiatives to help introduce the show to new audiences. This includes re-broadcasting "Jericho" on CBS this summer, streaming episodes and clips from these episodes across the CBS Audience Network (online), releasing the first season DVD on September 25 and continuing the story of Jericho in the digital world until the new episodes return." She finished her statement by saying, "P.S. Please stop sending us nuts :-)"

While the Nuts! campaign undoubtedly had a huge influence on CBS decision making, it may not have been the only one. According to the Toronto Star and some other sources, there is some suggestion that the show's revival might be tied to some less than enthusiastic affiliate responses to some of the shows that CBS has announced for the coming season, in particular the controversial Swingtown which doesn't appear to be going down too well with the network's "middle American" affiliates, as well as the reality series Kid Nation which will be occupying the Wednesday time slot that Jericho held this past season.

One beneficiary of the Nuts! campaign is charity. Nuts Unlimited donated 10from
every pound of peanuts to reconstruction efforts for the town of Greensburg Kansas where an EF5 tornado destroyed 95% of the town. CBS will be donating the nuts they received to various charities, including one that sends care packages to servicemen overseas.

Bars!: Buoyed by the success of the Nuts! campaign, ardent supporters of Veronica Mars are launching their own campaign to save their show. In association with's Indian Food Store fans can send Mars Bars (the good British kind) to the CW network president Dawn Ostroff. There's even a website promoting the effort (of course). The problem with Veronica Mars (and no offense is meant by this to the many Veronica Mars fans) is that while Jericho was in its first season and had a significant fan base before CBS screwed it up with the long hiatus – and indeed even after the hiatus the audience of 7 million households increased by 13% when PVR recordings viewed within seven days of the original broadcast were factored in – Veronica Mars has had a full three seasons and the audience hasn't grown. Even when you consider that it spent two years on UPN before that network joined with the WB, that's not a good sign.

Washington decision making: The producers of Grey's Anatomy have made a decision about two cast members whose contracts were up in the air while a third has seen her bargaining position improve considerably because of her movie success. And they're all interrelated. Katherine Heigl, who was one of the most vocal cast members in calling for Isaiah Washington to be terminated from the show after the remarks he made about Heigl's friend and cast mate T.R. Knight's sexuality doesn't have a new contract yet, but the success of her movie Knocked Up (second behind Pirates of The Caribbean: At World's End in it's opening week and averaging $3,000 more per theatre than the Pirate film) has certainly had an impact on her ability to make demands. As for Knight, not only was his contract renewed but his salary increased to $125,000 per episode and a percentage of any profits the show makes, putting him on a par with other stars of the series including Ellen Pompeo, Sandra Oh, and Patrick Dempsey.

This leaves Isaiah Washington. His contract has not been renewed and he's mad about it. In fact he channelled Howard Beale and told EOnline "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." The source of Washington's anger is his feeling that he had done what was asked of him following the incident in which Washington used an offensive term for a homosexual directed at T.R. Knight at the Golden Globe Awards, as a denial that he'd used the term about Knight in a previous on set dispute with Patrick Dempsey. Off hand it seems sort of like using the N-word when denying that you had previously used the N-word. No matter, according to TV Guide Washington is now considering a law suit against the producers. According to his spokesperson Howard Bragman, Washington did everything that the producers told him he had to do if he wanted to return – and indeed did a PSA which the producers didn't originally ask for – and feels betrayed that his contract has not been renewed. The fact is of course that if Washington was at the end of the contract period the producers have every right to drop him from the cast without explanation.

I love Paris!: The one in France. Or the one in Ontario. Maybe the one in Texas. But not the one in jail in Los Angeles. Mainly because she's overexposed in the media with the whole situation surrounding her current incarceration...release...reincarceration being only the latest. But complicate in the whole "Paris Industry" is the news media. I expect heavy coverage of Paris Hilton from the so-called entertainment news shows (starting with Entertainment Tonight and its even more loathsome Canadian counterpart ET Canada) but you also have The cable networks offering wall to wall coverage and only grudgingly giving in to cover (as briefly as possible) things like the retirement of Peter Pace, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. And even the NBC Nightly News, which didn't cover the original story on Thursday, did make it the second story on their Friday newscast. And even though they veiled it in the cover of a story about "the appearance of the LA legal system in turmoil" they are still covering Paris Hilton. And I guess so am I.

Of course NBC does have a point in this. In fact it was raised earlier by Geraldo Rivera (hack spit) albeit in a typically crude way: "This fight between the judge and the sheriff is a fight over whose johnson is longer. It's so pathetic." I'm curious about a lot of things in this case, like whether it is common for a judge to require the sheriff's deputies to pick up an "ordinary person" for a hearing of this sort (apparently not that common – supposedly it is usually handled through a conference call), or whether it is common for an "ordinary" person to be jailed for even as short a time as 23 days for breaching probation in a case like this given jail overcrowding – and again I've heard reports that the more common punishment is the ankle bracelet. In other words is Paris Hilton being made an example of because she's a celebrity (for whatever reason). If that's the issue then make that your story, otherwise you are doing nothing more than reporting spectacle rather than news, and there's too much real news – like the case of Stepha Henry that is more deserving of your, and our time.

Whither CITY-TV: And now onto a sexier story media consolidation. In Canada this time. In a move that is virtually unheard of, the CRTC has at least partially rejected a merger proposal from one of the big Canadian networks. Late last year CTVglobemedia which owns the CTV network purchased the CHUM group of TV and radio stations and cable channels. CHUM's assets include 21 specialty cable channels, 34 radio stations, six broadcast stations branded as "A Channel" and five branded as CITY-TV. The original plan was to sell the A Channel stations most of which are in smaller communities in Ontario to Rogers Communications, which has interests in cable, telephones and broadcasting. Meanwhile CTV would continue to operate the five CITY-TV stations – in Toronto, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver – as a separate network. CRTC regulators stated that CTVglobemedia's acquisition of the CITY-TV stations would contravene ownership regulations by giving CTVglobemedia ownership of two stations in each of the cities despite the intention to operate as two networks.

This leaves CTVglobemedia, which owns 20 TV stations, 17 cable channels (in whole or in part) and the Globe and Mail newspaper with the problem of selling the CITY assets rather than the A Channel stations (or possibly as well as though that doesn't seem likely). Among expected suitors for the CITY-TV stations is Rogers, which owns 51 radio stations, four multi-cultural or "spiritually themed" TV stations, eight cable channels (in whole or in part), Canada's largest wireless communications network as well as it's largest cable TV provider, more than 70 magazines and the Toronto Blue Jays. Another possible owner is Quebecor, which owns 19 newspapers, seven TV stations (all but one in Quebec), nine cable channels in whole or in part, and the largest cable provider in the province of Quebec. The other major private broadcaster in Canada, Canwest Global owns 13 major newspapers, 10 Global TV stations, five channels branded as CH channels including stations in the Hamilton-Toronto market and the Victoria-Vancouver market where Canwest owns Global stations (which CTVglobemedia used as justification for the CITY-TV acquisition), and eight cable channels (in whole or in partnership with others). Such is the state of media consolidation in Canada.

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