Saturday, January 31, 2009

T Dog's Think Tank: The state of syndication today

First of two parts.

Josef Adalian had some thoughts on the current state of the syndication business in a wonderfully written column in TV Week, as the NATPE convention descended on Las Vegas this past week. As a person who is very knowledgeable about this business - since the days yours truly read his first NATPE issue of TV/Radio Age as a 12-year old in 1985 - I can tell you first hand this business - and the convention itself - just isn't the same.

The first-run syndication business exploded in the 1970's and 1980's, with many hits. But the business has been slowly declining for years, thanks to the perfect storm of consolidation between syndicators, station groups, and stations themselves; general erosion of broadcast television ratings; and the emergence of DVDs and the Internet. When consolidation became a force - especially after fin-syn ended in 1995 and Prime Time Access Rule (PTAR) expired in 1996, cost became a major concern. Say goodbye to the exotic, spacious booths on the NATPE convention floor and hello to cramped hotel suites.

The problems actually had its root in the early 1970's, when the FCC gave syndicators a huge break.

The FCC instituted PTAR in 1971 - forcing the Big Three networks to give the 7:30 ET time slot to affiliates to program themselves. Affiliates in the 50 largest metropolitan markets were barred from airing off-network fare in the hour before prime-time, relying only on local or first-run programs. The move was a huge boon for the first-run syndication industry, as most stations used first-run shows in a “checkerboarding” format, i.e. airing a different show in the same time slot every night. Unfortunately, most of the early first-run entries back then weren't known for their quality. And while affiliates couldn't run off-network sitcoms in the hour before prime-time, independent stations did by airing repeats of off-net sitcoms such as Andy Griffith and I Dream of Jeannie and reaped even bigger benefits than network affiliates did airing first-run fare.

In 1973 for example, early evening fare consisted of a sitcom titled Dusty's Trail, a Gilligan's Island clone set in the Old West featuring Bob Denver no less; another sitcom titled Ozzie's Girls, a sequel to the classic sitcom Ozzie & Harriet where the elder Nelsons took in two young college women as borders and hilarity supposedly ensues; and an one-hour import from Canada titled Starlost, which featured a crew on a 200-mile ship in outer space. Considered one of the worst sci-fi series of all-time and shot on glorious videotape, the scripts and the cast of the show indeed looked "lost". Needless to say, none of these shows made it to a second season.

In 1983, Comedian Alan Thicke with MGM and Metromedia, decided to challenge Johnny Carson with Thicke of the Night, a 90-minute talk show. The only thing he challenged was his own sanity. Hated by critics and ignored by viewers, the series averaged a 0.8 rating - a record low at the time for any first-run strip. Thicke finally vanished in September 1984, lasting longer than anyone thought (Thicke said he fainted after watching after watching his debut. Imagine what he did after watched the second episode...)

During the 1987-88 season, the NBC O&Os decided to return to checkboarding programs in prime access at 7:30 p.m. ET (6:30 in Chicago), this time, featuring a different syndicated sitcom each night. With the likes of Suzanne Sommers in She's the Sheriff and Michael Richards stumbling around in Marblehead Manor, the critically panned programs were incompatible with each other and wound up attracting different demos. The experiment mercifully ended months later.

The 1990's saw syndicators trying to replicate the success of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Baywatch, and Xena with one action hour failure after another. Remember Viper, Fame L.A., and Queen of Swords? Neither does anyone else. Meanwhile, the talk show graveyard was littered with the courses of Chuck Woolery, Dennis Miller, Bertice Berry, Whoopi Goldberg, Charles Perez, Stephanie Miller, Ron Reagan, Terry Bradshaw (yes, Terry Bradshaw!), etc... I could go on and on.

But of all the time the critics spend on the shortcomings of syndication, it has produced some great success stories.

The first syndicated hit can be traced to the surprise ratings successes of Sea Hunt and Huckleberry Hound in the 1950's. The Muppet Show and the weeknight version of Family Feud were overnight sensations in the late 1970's. King World changed the business forever with the success of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! breaking the ratings records in the 1980's, and making the company and its founders very rich. Phil Donahue and Oprah Winfrey both put daytime talk on the map, but Geraldo Rivera, Jerry Springer, and Jenny Jones were responsible for raising the sleaze factor.

Aresnio Hall became the first successful African-American late-night talk show host, while Maury Povich introduced A Current Affair into our homes, spawning an even sleazier arch-rival in Hard Copy.

Scripted shows also has their share of success. Fame moved into first-run syndication in 1983 after a season and a half on NBC, while Star Trek: TNG premiered four years later and became a monster success. Both shows proved with great writing and acting, a program can draw an audience, no matter what platform the program was airing in. Then came the success of Baywatch, another short-lived NBC castoff. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, was a smash hit in 1993, while Bablyon 5, Xena, and Hercules also were quite successful.

First-run sitcoms became a staple on weekend schedules in the 1980's with revivals of Too Close for Comfort, Mama's Family and Charles in Charge – all three would find greater success in first-run than they ever could on the major networks. Meanwhile, Small Wonder was a monster hit, finishing in the Top 10 syndicated programs list for three of its four seasons on the air.

But those success seem long ago as syndicators have found it tougher and tougher to launch new shows and succeed. Only two programs were christened bona fide hits in the last fifteen years: The Rosie O'Donnell Show and Dr. Phil (keep in mind some successful shows currently on the air - Judge Judy, Regis & Kathie Lee/Kelly, and Ellen - started out slow and built their audience over time.)

Unfortunately, the syndication business of today has become a shell of its former self. Only one scripted action hour exists (Legend of the Seeker) with none coming down the pike for next fall. There are too many courtroom shows in daytime, with at least two more coming. Many viewers and advertisers have fled syndication over the years, as most first-run and off-network programs have seen rating declines.

The problem with syndication seems to be the lack of originality, innovation, and creativity, and its one that has plagued the business for decades. Syndication is seen as a business whose model is more built on sales and earning revenue than anything else. The familiar formats work because they can draw an audience and generate revenue. Risk-taking is – well, too risky, which is why you see Judge Judy clones all over the place.

And while shows like Wheel and Jeopardy! and even Oprah outdraw a lot of prime-time shows, TV critics could care less (unless someone like Ken Jennings can win seventy games in a row, like did on Jeopardy in 2004.) And when they do write about syndicated fare – it's usually not positive. For example, Chicago Tribune TV critic Clarence Petersen criticized PTAR in a 1973 article for failing to create the local, diverse programming the rule was intended for. Petersen singled out Let's Make A Deal (the highest-rated first-run show at the time), quoting a New York City TV critic as saying “a show of such unbridled avarice that Mafia members are said to turn it off in disgust.”[1] Luckily for host Monty Hall, he seldom visited the Big Apple.

And things haven't changed much. If you look at syndication today, you see a sludge of court, talk, and off-net programming, with most not even coming close in quality. Can someone tell me why Jury Duty (with an average rating of 0.2) and Comics Unleashed (in reruns) are still on the air? Why does Steve Wilkos deserve a third season while ratings hover around 0.8? Are station managers this neglectful of their schedules they don't care what they air anymore?

And those barter ad spots... ugh. Many shows in syndication are filled with direct-response ads like those for Hoveround chairs and Craftmatic beds (are they targeting the 25-54 audience or the nursing home crowd?) Daytime TV in syndication is looking more and more like the ragged dollar store down the street. When you find The Best of Cristina's Court DVD at the local Family Dollar in the bargain bin for only 99 cents, you'll know what I'm talking about. I guess I better hop in my Hoveraround chair and head on down there to pick up a copy.

Some stations have given up completely. NBC affiliate WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee no longer airs syndicated strips (aside from Better TV, which is currently in 20 markets), and decided to expand its newscasts instead. If the quality of the product doesn't improve, more and more stations - notably ABC, CBS, and NBC affiliates - will move away from syndicated fare and produce their own, notably in the form of local news or talk shows. Already, network affiliates in San Francisco, Boston, Miami, and few other markets are airing local newsmagazines in prime access.

In fact, one of those stations – CBS-owned KPIX-TV in San Francisco (who now airs Eye by the Bay weeknights at 7:00 p.m. ) was a pioneer in the concept when it introduced Evening Magazine in 1976, a local entertainment and lifestyle magazine strip. Then-owner Group W expanded the show to four of its other owned stations (it some markets it was called PM Magazine) and later to other local stations, using material in a “cooperative”, where they could customize content to suit their market with locally-produced segments. Oddly enough, Westinghouse Broadcasting was the only TV station group owner who understood what the PTAR rule was all about (though it took them six years.)

So, it's easy to see why syndication doesn't get any respect. It needs to get away from the real estate mentality and into one more creative and innovative-based. After all, the housing market collapsed in the past year. The syndication business could wind up doing the same.

Coming up in Part II - A new, ground-breaking model for producing programming arrives - and its happening right here in Chicago. Is this the future for syndicaton?

[1] - Petersen, Clarence (1973-02-11), "Even the Mafia can't stomach it", Chicago Tribune pg L8, TV Week.

T Dog's Groovy Grab Bag

WFLD relaunches web site; More Howie; NATPE Wrap-up.

- Fox-owned WFLD has relaunched its website (, as part of an effort to revamp its websites in all eighteen markets where it owns stations. WFLD is the second to get a makeover; Fox's WNYW-TV in New York was the first.

WFLD's new website looks more clean and organized than the previous one, which looked quite cluttered.

- NBC has ordered twelve more episodes of Howie Do It, a Candid Camera type program featuring pranks played on unsuspecting citizens, hosted by Howie Mandel. Ratings among adults 18-49 were up 67 percent from its year-ago time period (7 p.m. CT Fridays.)

The program airs on NBC in the U.S. and on Global in Canada, whose parent company (CanWest Global) co-produces the show with other production companies. The program is taped in Toronto, Howie Mandel's hometown.

- NATPE ended this week with a thud (it actually began with a thud), with attendance down 14 percent and only a handful of news items coming out of the convention. Harry Jessell from TV Newsday (registration may be required) and Marc Berman from Mediaweek have the wrap-up (and in the TV Newsday story, check out yours truly's comment below...)

While Marie Osmond, How I Met Your Mother, and a few weeklies made some headlines, there weren't any regarding proposed strips Judge Jeanne Pirro and Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?

Updated 7:08 p.m. 0n 2009-01-31 (corrected liks)

Friday, January 30, 2009

T Dog's Four Pack

It's back! After a few weeks of being on hiatus, the weekly list of winners and losers returns.

The Four Fab Pack

- Marie Osmond. What a career comeback. She's performing with her brother on stage in Vegas and now her new talk show for fall has cleared 70 percent of the country in syndication. And she's still fine.

- The Big Bang Theory. Even though it was a repeat, this week's episode was LOL funny, about Sheldon's ordeal over getting his driver's license. See you in off-net syndication in 2011!

- House votes down DTV switch. It's time to get this over with. But those who support the switch to June 12 are still pushing hard.

- The Doctors. Amid the doom and gloom coming from NATPE this week, here's another bright spot: This past Wednesday in Cincinnati, the new one-hour medical advice show scored a whopping 14.4 household rating and 24 household share at 9 a.m. (!) on CBS affiliate WKRC-TV.

That's many more viewers than The Oincho Cinco & Dusty Baker Power Failure Hour - starring Bengals player Chad Johnson and Reds manager Dusty Baker, who continue to prove why Cincinnati's pro sports teams don't win a lot.

The Four Flop Pack

- Gov. Rod Blagoveich. How many shows he appeared on this week to proclaim his innocence? Good Morning America, Today, Larry King, and I think Sesame Street and How I Met Your Mother. Pathetic. Goodbye and good riddance.

- Geraldo Rivera. How about it when he blasted Rep. John Fritchey and his kind for being crooks on his cable news channel show. Yes, this crap is from the same guy who basically exploited people on his daytime talk show constantly for eleven years. And he talks about politicians being scumbags? You practically wrote the book on being one Geraldo, so Who Are You Crappin'?

- The Chicago Bulls. The only thing worst other than having to watch the Bulls? Watching the Clippers and the Wizards play.

- NATPE. Attendance is down 14 percent from a year ago as the economy and the changing way of doing business took its toll on the yearly gathering in Las Vegas. The lackluster crowds led to a lackluster convention, with hardly any news coming from there. It's time to re-invent this gathering, a concept NATPE brass doesn't seem to grasp.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Univision flips three radio outlets

(No direct links here, so you'll have to take my word for it)

In an odd move, Univision radio has flipped its three Spanish-language FM stations to different formats.

This is going to get confusing, so bear with me... Beginning today, "Recuerdo" (an adult contemporary format) appears on WVIV-FM (103.1, which used to be The Eighties Channel a while back) and WVIX (93.5), replacing "La Kalle" (Dance/Urban), which moves to WPPN-FM (106.7), which was the home of Passion (Spanish oldies), which has been dropped.

Which I hope you all got that... Which out.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

T Dog's Groovy Grab Bag - The NATPE edition

This version of the Groovy Grab Bag comes to you from the National Association of Television Program Executives convention going on in Las Vegas. Before we start on a barrage of news and notes, let's talk about the convention itself: things are not going so well.

Attendance at the convention is way down, as station managers and others have decided to stay at home given the way the economy is going. Celebrities are not as viable as they were in years past. Meanwhile, the show with perhaps the biggest shot of succeeding (Sony's Dr. Oz) isn't even represented at NATPE since Sony stopped attending the event years ago. Plus, Sony is refusing to make him available to the press. Whose their PR rep, the same people who handle Beyonce? Sony pulled this same stunt in 2004 with its new talk show Life & Style, when none of the stars showed up. And we all know how that show turned out.

There will be a NATPE convention in 2010 in Las Vegas
, but after that, it's anybody's guess. The poor attendance this year may not bode well for its future.

Just a few reminders why this convention isn't what it used to be. Sad, really.

Now on to the news:

- Marie Osmond's new daytime talk show from Program Partners has been declared a "firm go" after clearing WNBC-TV in New York and KTLA in Los Angeles, clearing the 70 percent threshold it needs to get on the air for fall. No Chicago clearence as of yet, but reports are surfacing that WCIU-TV may land the show.

The program is based taped in Las Vegas, where she and her brother Donny are in a Vegas variety show at the Flamingo Hotel and Casino. Both co-hosted a daytime talk show with each other from 1998-2000 - and of course, a variety show in the 1970's.

-Made in Hollywood, a weekend half-hour entertainment magazine, has been sold to CBS-owned stations in 21 markets, including WBBM-TV here. The series takes a behind-the-scenes look at upcoming Hollywood movies and features interviews with actors, writers, directors, and producers. Also included in the deal is Made in Hollywood: Teen Edition, which covers stations' E/I requirements. Both shows are distributed by Connection III.

Made in Hollywood currently airs Sundays at 1:30 a.m. on WCIU.

- Twentieth has announced it has cleared off-network sitcom How I Met Your Mother in broadcast syndication for fall 2010 in 75 percent of the country, including WFLD/WPWR here.

- NBC Universal's new Deal or No Deal strip recently hit a season-high 2.0 rating, up 5 percent week-to-week. The program is expected to return for season 2.

- TBS has picked up Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns for 80 more episodes. Perry plans to use the same blueprint he used for House of Payne to take the show into syndication in 2010. Based on the film of the same name, the series has racked up impresive ratings for the cable network so far in its ten-episode test run. TBS plans to premiere the series for a regular run this summer.

Chicago PPM results for December

Since this survey is an anomaly because of the Holidays (a.k.a. skewed because of Christmas music), we'll refrain from the listing the winners and losers. But that doesn't stop yours truly from making a few observations... Remember, this is based on overall 6+ numbers:

- WLIT (Lite FM) did gangbusters with Xmas music in December, as it finished first. The real question now is - will listeners stick around?

- Blago's troubles were very good for WBBM-AM and WLS-AM.

- WVAZ (V103) finished a strong third, and its numbers keep growing month-to-month.

- The bleeding has stopped at WGN-AM, and is trending upward (wait until the Cubs come back...)

- A good survey for WBBM-FM (B96) as its numbers are trending up, but is still behind WKSC-FM (Kiss).

- WSCR-AM (The Score) holds a lead over WMVP-AM (ESPN 1000), but the male demos will tell the real story.

- WCFS-FM (Fresh) is up, but they also played Christmas music to try to take audience away from WLIT (pathetic.)

- Trending downard: WKQX-FM (Q101), WLUP-FM (The Loop). Not a good survey for Emmis.

- Barely showing a pulse: WPWX-FM (Power 92). Power off.

Click here to see the numbers.

Could Channel 2 dump its street-side studio?

If you're one of those who waives to the few people watching Channel 2's newscasts through the window of its street-side studio, time may be running out.

CBS-owned WBBM-TV is considering moving its newscasts from the street-level studio it occupies along Dearborn Street at Daley Plaza to the second floor.

Nothing is definite yet, but the station is considering moving the news set to the second floor at The Church of Tisch, given the station's newsroom is located there, and the floor has a better view of Daley Plaza and the Picasso statue than the street-level studio.

The new digs so far has not boosted the station out of the doldrums at 10 p.m., where it often places behind reruns of Family Guy on WGN and its 6 p.m. news is behind reruns of Two and a Half Men on WGN and The Simpsons on WFLD-TV, not to mention its news competition.

WBBM moved to its new headquarters at Daley Plaza last September after 52 years at McClurg Court, and started broadcasting its news in HD (even though over-the-air digital TV viewers still can't get Channel 2's HD signal. Well, at least I can't.)

DTV switch date defeated in House

If you haven't gotten your converter box - you'd better bet cracking.

The House defeated a bill that would have extended the analog cut-off date to June 12. The Obama Administration wanted the deadline to be extended because there was fear a lot of Americans weren't ready for the switchover and the coupon program ran out of money.

With the defeat of the bill (which sailed through the Senate unanimously), the date for the analog cut-off is still February 17 - at least for now.

The House vote became a partisan one, as most Republicans voted against the bill. The piece of legislation was opposed by broadcasters, public safety officials (who need the analog signals) and others.

Currently, it is estimated 6 million Americans are not prepared for the digital switchover.

Thought: I'd never thought I say this, but yours truly is siding with the Republicans on this issue (and I guess I'll become a Cubs fan, too.) Don't mean to sound harsh but, if these 6 million Americans didn't get the message regarding the DTV switchover date - a date set four years ago, mind you - why should the rest of us should pay? Let them figure it out for themselves. Delaying the switch isn't going to make the number drop any faster. Whether if its Feburary 17 or June 12, somebody will complain about their TV getting shut off. Deal with it.

Update: Here is a more detailed look on the digital transition from TV Barn - plus some audio. Good work, Aaron!

Updated at 9:10 p.m.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"Star Trek: The Next Generation" returns

Star Trek: The Next Generation
is returning home to where it all began. Its mission: to boost ratings in a landscape of tawdry talk shows, crummy courtroom shows, and According to Jim-like off-network sitcoms.

Reruns of the sequel to Star Trek, which practically put one-hour scripted action dramas on the map in syndication in the 1980s and 1990s, has been sold to 83 percent of the country for its second syndicated act by CBS Television Distribution for this fall. 178 episodes were produced between 1987 and 1994, and all are available for this upcoming package. Station groups signing on include CBS, Sinclair, and Tribune (individual stations were not identified.)

Paramount Domestic Television announced the revival of Star Trek for syndication in October 1986, and premiered on September 28, 1987 to more than 25 million viewers. The series went on to be nominated for eighteen Emmy Awards, and became the first syndicated drama to nominated for Outstanding Drama Series in 1994, its seventh and final season.

Star Trek: TNG helped make Paramount's syndication operations one of the richest and most successful in the industry, and helped put a huge number of independent TV stations on the map. One of those stations was WPWR-TV in Chicago, which ran the show Saturdays at 6 p.m. (and again at 10:30 p.m. on Sundays) and always finished a strong second in its time period.

The program also was successful as an off-first run all-cash strip, bucking the trend at the time of hour-long dramatic series failing to find an audience in off-network syndication.

Star Trek: TNG moved to TNN (now Spike TV) in 2000, leaving broadcast syndication (WPWR even aired a "goodbye marathon" of the series.) The series has been thrown around the cable dial since, previously airing on G4 and SciFi Channel and now on WGN America.

The program helped spawned three other Star Trek series: Deep Space Nine (Syndication, 1993-99), Voyager (UPN, 1995-2002), and Enterprise (UPN, 2001-05), plus four movies.

The original Star Trek ran on NBC from 1966-69, but proved more popular in off-network syndication - so much so, several movies featuring the original cast were made. In 2006, Star trek returned to broadcast syndication as a weekly, completely remastered in high-definition (Star Trek: The Original Series airs on WWME-TV Saturdays at 5 p.m.)

An animated version aired on NBC's Saturday morning lineup from 1973-75, produced by Filmation.

Thought: Great move by CBS Television Distribution. The return of Star Trek: The Next Generation provides a good alternative to the profiliation of court, game, and talk shows in syndication. It's a all-barter deal (unlike in its last cycle in weekday syndication when it sold for cash - meaning no barter spots), so it's a good deal for stations.

T Dog's Think Tank Archive: No cable required. This post is from October 26, 2006, when NBC Universal announced it was selling Law & Order: Criminal Intent into broadcast syndication as a strip - the first time an off-network drama was sold into syndication in this manner in eight years.

Did you know? In addition to Star Trek: The Next Generation, Paramount also brought out another first-run drama titled Friday the 13th: The Series in 1987, though the show had no connection to the movie franchise of the same name. When Friday the 13th started having trouble attracting advertisers because of its often gory content, Paramount pulled the plug in 1990 after three seasons, along with another first-run drama, War of the Worlds after two.

Monday, January 26, 2009


The National Association of Television Program Executives convention got underway today in Las Vegas. While it won't be as jumping as it was in recent years, there is business to be done here in the world of syndication and beyond. Plus, look for not one, but two T Dog Think Tanks on the state of syndication in 2009. We'll have news from the convention all week, so keep it here.

- TV Week named "Judge" Judy Sheindlin Syndication Personality of the Year. She's got a BS Meter, and is not afraid to use it (and it goes up - way up, when the meter is around Governor Blago.) Read the interview here.

- Broadcasting & Cable has an article up on the convention, stating its a rebuilding year for syndication in 2009 (though it seems every year is a rebuilding year. Detroit Lions fans can relate, right?)

- Litton has some news: It has renewed weekly series Storm Stories for a second season in syndication while giving a "firm go" to new courtroom strip Street Court after clearing 65 percent of the country, including WCIU-TV here.

- Disney-ABC Television Distribution has renewed Legend of the Seeker for a second season after Tribune picked up the show for its 26 stations, including WGN-TV here. Legend airs Saturdays at 4 p.m.

"Ugly Betty" to be yanked

It looks like Ugly Betty may be down for the count.

ABC has decided to replace the low-rated one-hour dramedy with two half-hour comedies: The new In The Motherhood and the returning Samantha Who? in its' Thursday night (7 p.m. CT) time slot. The move is effective March 26, but the plan is to put Ugly Betty on hiatus and bring it back after the two comedies' run ends, with means Betty could have its season finale in June.

Betty, along with Heroes, were the toast of the freshmen town in 2006, but both have slid in the ratings and in the quality department over the past year-and-a-half. Both programs have been criticized for increasingly silly storylines during this time span.

The move could seal Betty's fate, though no decision has been made on whether or not it will be back for a fourth season.

According to, ABC officials said it has "complete confidence in Ugly Betty and the hiatus is no way meant to reflect a loss in faith for the show which remains large part of ABC's identity."

Thought: All right, ABC, what is this? Okay, you're yanking Ugly Betty off the air for two months because of declining ratings, replacing it with two lame-brain comedies, and now you say you have complete faith in the show? What bull. If you did, you wouldn't be yanking it off now, would you? You idiots screwed the show up to begin with by failing to move it from its early Thursday night time slot, letting it die opposite Survivor. And guess what? Until early March, it's still going to get beat by Probst & Co. by wide margins, no less. Wow, talk about adding insult to injury. And you still have faith in the show?

While Ugly Betty deserves its benching, ABC's "having your cake and eating it too" stance on this show is just another reason why viewers are abandoning network television (remember what CW did last year with Girlfriends?)

This TV clears 60 percent of U.S.

This TV, the new digital movie channel launched by MGM and Chicago-based Weigel Broadcasting on November 1, 2008, has now cleared 60 percent of the country on digital subchannels, including several major markets.

This features movies mostly from MGM's library (though not from the pre-1986 library, which Turner/Time Warner owns), as well as classic TV series such as The Outer Limits (1964 version), Mr. Ed, and The Patty Duke Show.

In some markets, This TV replaces now-defunct music video channel The Tube, which went out of business on September 30, 2007.

One of those markets is Los Angeles, where Tribune-owned KTLA fills the vacant 5.2 channel slot once occupied by The Tube. Another Tribune station (WPHL, Philadelphia) does likewise, which fills the 17.2 channel left vacant by The Tube and its replacement, World Championship Sports Network (now Universal Sports, which has moved to one of WCAU-TV's digital subchannels.)

Other Tribune markets nabbing This include Hartford and New Orleans.

This has also cleared digital subchannel space on Raycom stations in Cleveland, Memphis, Louisville, Cincinnati, Knoxville, and ten other markets. These markets also once carried The Tube.

Several Equity Broadcasting stations have replaced Retro Television Network with This TV as well, such as WNGS-TV in Buffalo. Several Sinclair and Quincy Newspaper stations have also cleared This TV for their digital subchannels.

Other recent clearences include Boston (WHDH), Detroit (WDIV), Houston (KPRC), Seattle (KOMO), Tampa (WMOR), Portland OR (KATU), Harrisburg/Lancaster (WGAL), and Albany NY (WRGB).

Here in Chicago, This TV can be seen on WCIU-DT, digital channel 26.4 and Comcast cable channel 246, and in Milwaukee on WDJT-DT, digital channel 58.3.

Digital TV switch to be delayed until June 12

The Senate has voted to delay the digital TV switch until June 12 from February 17, the original date the switchover was to take place.

The vote was unanimous, and it is now expected to go to the House, where it is expected to easily pass.

Consumers were to get $40 coupons to help them get a converter box if they already did not have cable, satellite, or an over-the-air digital signal. But the program recently ran out of money, and consumers who request the coupons now have to be put on a waiting list.

The delay for four more months could cost broadcasters like PBS money, which said it may lose $22 million if the switch were to be put on hold (which could mean more pledge drives, a.k.a. "beg-a-thons".)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

It's Jared vs. The Noid

Welcome to Sub Sandwich Smackdown!

In one corner, you have long-time vet Subway and another you have feisty challenger Domino's and their new oven-baked sandwiches, which they claim beat Subway's in a two-to-one taste test.

Bunk to that, says Subway.

If fact, Subway sent Domino's a cease-and-desist letter, ordering them to stop airing the ads, claiming they were deceptive.

Well, Domino's president appeared in another ad which aired Wednesday night with the letter - and set fire to it, literally (I'm not making this up.)

Domino's defends its attack ads on Subway, claiming they were reviewed by lawyers and the television networks before getting the green light to air.

So, who do you have in this fight? Jared, the guy who lost all that weight by eating Subway sandwiches and exercising? Or The Noid, the little runt who ruins pizzas before you eat them? (Moot point, given the pizzas are basically ruined before he jumps on them, since they taste like the cardboard they come in.)

All of this and more on the next episode of Sub Sandwich Smackdown! Right here on My Network TV.

"Lost" loses steam in the ratings

The fifth season-premiere of Lost didn't gain viewers as the event notched its lowest-rated season-premiere to date.

Lost averaged a 5.0 rating and 12 share among adults 18-49 and drew 10 million viewers for ABC in the 8-10 p.m. (Central) time slot Wednesday night for ABC. While the results were still pretty good, it's still down from the fourth-season premiere in 2008 (which aired on a Thursday) and Lost viewers every half-hour, never a good sign (excuse the pun.)

By comparison, American Idol drew 25 million viewers and a 9.6/25 in 18-49s for Fox on Wednesday.

Locally, Lost averaged a surprisingly low 5.8/9 in households for WLS-TV (The highest-rated market for Lost was Detroit, where WXYZ-TV earned a 10.1/15.)

By comparison, WLS' 10 p.m. newscast on Tuesday earned a 13.4/22 in households.

WFLD hires Fowler as news director

Fox-owned WFLD-TV has hired former WBBM-TV news director Carol Fowler to work in the same capacity.

Fowler replaces Andrew Finlayson, who today took a job with News Corp. as director for online content and business for the Fox Television Stations Group.

Fowler was news director at CBS-owned WBBM for six years before being fired last fall in a newsroom shakeup. During her tenure, WBBM's news ratings failed to improve.

The move comes as both WBBM and WFLD are still not impressing anyone with their news ratings. Despite some gains - including beating rival WGN-TV in the ratings head-to-head with all-day coverage of the Governor's arrest, WFLD still trails WGN in all news time periods by considerable margains, even at 9 p.m., where WFLD can't seem to take advantage of its network prime-time lead-ins (something WBBM and WMAQ-TV have been accused of in the past.)

Meanwhile, WBBM's 10 p.m. newscasts still lags behind those of its rivals, while WFLD's new 10 p.m. newscast failed to match the numbers of Simpsons repeats, which occupied the time slot last year. Both programs are often beaten in household ratings by repeats of Family Guy on WGN.

Thought: This move is a questionable one as Fowler is liable in a still-pending lawsuit filed by Amy Jacobson, who was caught at the Stebic house in 2007 in videotape shot by WBBM. Fowler couldn't improve ratings at WBBM, so what makes anyone think she can improve the news ratings at WFLD?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

T Dog's Groovy Grab Bag

Inauguration ratings; Litton clears Street Court in New York and Chicago; Erica Cobb has a new gig.

- The Inauguration of Barack Obama scored in the ratings yesterday, with the most watched swearing-in ceremony since President Reagan in 1981, with a 29.2 rating in the 56 markets metered by Nielsen on an "overnight" basis. In Chicago, here's how the household ratings broke down for each local station from 11a.m. to 11:30 a.m.:

WLS (ABC): 13.7/28; WMAQ (NBC): 7.4/15; WBBM (CBS): 2.2/5; WFLD (FOX): 2.1/4

Ratings for WGN-TV were not available.

Best performance of a station in a top 30 market: KSDK-TV (NBC) in St. Louis, which notched a 17.2/39. Worst: KSWB-TV (Fox) in San Diego with a scant 0.5/1. Of particular note in the Top 30 was a lot of CBS affiliates trailing their NBC and ABC counterparts, including Detroit, whose local news-less O&O (WWJ) notched only a 1.1/3. (Thanks to Douglas at Click here and scroll down to see the entire list.)

Keep in mind the ratings do not take into account millions more watching on the Internet.

- Litton Entertainment has cleared its new courtroom strip Street Court on WCIU-TV here in Chicago and WPIX-TV in New York. With these big clearences, the program is likely to get a "firm go" at the NATPE convention in Las Vegas next week.

Street Court is presided by former Brooklyn D.A. Michael Mazzariello (also known as "Judge Mazz"), who takes the warring parties out of the courtroom and on the scene of where the dispute happened.

On WCIU, Street Court could take over the 2 p.m. time period now occupied by Judge Karen, which has reportedly been canceled after one season. Sony has not recently said anything about the show's future, or that of Judge David Young.

- Erica Cobb, who appeared on the now-defunct Eddie & JoBo show on WBBM-FM, has landed at Entercom's KALC-FM in Denver(Alice 105.9), where she will join the BJ & Howie show, effective Monday.

The Clear Channel layoff

While Barack Obama was being sworn in as our 44th President, something else was going on. And it wasn't good.

Clear Channel made what is perhaps the biggest one-day layoff of any media company in history by axing around 1,850 jobs nationwide from Chicago to Atlanta, from Detroit to San Francisco, and everywhere in between.

Clear Channel CEO Mark Mays confirmed the layoffs - which amount to 9 percent of the company's workforce. The axings were spread around its radio, outdoor advertising, and corporate headquarters. The company also plans to cut back on local programming and add more syndicated content.

While ad sales and promotion positions were eliminated, some on-air personalities were shown the door as well -literally.

Two-decade veteran Rick O'Dell of Smooth Jazz WNUA-FM was one of those fired yesterday. O'Dell was the station's popular midday personality and also served as the music director and program director. The move also raises the speculation about the future of WNUA, whose ratings have fallen since the implementation of the Portable People Meters, the new ratings system now used by Arbitron, and the Smooth Jazz format has already been sacked in markets such as Minneapolis, Denver, and Washington, D.C.

Also out was WKSC-FM's Marty Headrick, who handled promotions and production.

Word is two dozen employees were axed from Clear Channel Chicago.

And it didn't stop there as a long list of terminations were posted on All Access and Radio and Records. As far as the Midwest is concerned, layoffs occurred at Clear Channel clusters in Madison, Wis.; Minneapolis; Cleveland (where 46 were let go); St. Louis; and in Detroit, where the entire staff of all-sports WDFN-AM was let go - including the Stoney and Wojo morning show - and the station may flip formats. Another all-sports radio station - this time in San Diego (XTRA-AM) had its entire staff purged as well.

Read Clear Channel President/CEO Mark Mays' and Clear Channel Radio President/CEO John Hogan's letters to employees here.

Thought: Man... Where do I begin? Employees escorted out by security... entire staffs being let go... firing your morning personality - who finished first in the ratings... Yep, it's the Clear Channel way.

No, it's the corporate radio way. And its little wonder why listeners are fleeing for iPods/MP3 players, satellite radio (until Uncle Mel screws that up), and Internet radio (until the RIAA shuts it down because of their royalty "tax".)

Today, Clear Channel openly admitted it doesn't care about its listeners or its employees - something everyone has known for years.

And did anyone think they would try to get away with this by trying to bury this news on the same day Barack Obama was being sworn in as our 44th President? News about the layoffs were leaked out last Thursday. How dumb do they think we are? No, Clear Channel executives are the dumb ones. What a dick move.

Even more appalling is their plan to cut back on live, local programming and add more syndicated content. The audience has been telling them for years they demand live and local programming. But since Clear Channel doesn't listen to or care about the listener, why bother?

It no longer matters what the audience wants. To radio companies, its the bottom line that matters. Quality doesn't (which explains syndicated crap like Delilah, Van Pelt, Seacrest, etc.) The audience can either take it or leave it. And from the look of things, the audience has left it.

And don't give me this BS about the weak economy. While it is tough times out there, why aren't Clear Channel execs having their pay cut? Mays and Hogan are still incredibly wealthy from what I hear, especially after taking the company private. These layoffs would have happened anyway, weak economy or no.

And don't forget: it's not just Clear Channel. Dan McNeil was dropped from WMVP-AM on Friday by the mighty overlords at ESPN, who think Mike & Mike is the best radio show in the world (not) and annoying prick Scott Van Pelt is the next superstar. I hope his sister Lucy pulls away the football, hits him with it, and beats him up... CBS Radio have axed personalities from its FM stations, including four at WBBM-FM in the last two years alone. Citadel made a huge layoff at WLS nearly a year ago.

You know, when I started this blog in September 2006, I promised you a twisted look at the media business. But with all the layoffs and firings over the last several months, writing about this business is becoming less and less fun. There's nothing humorous about heartless media companies like Cheap Channel treating employees like cow manure - and then putting them out to pasture.

Yesterday was indeed a historic day in America. Leave it to the radio business to make history on the same day for all the wrong reasons.

(Editor's Note: On Wednesday, it was revealed the Mays brothers were voluntarily cutting their own pay, from $800,000 a year to $500,000. Of course, they still get their bonuses, which could top out at a paltry $4 million. Wow, how nice of you guys... to clean your conscious like that, so you can sleep at night. Too bad you can't say the same about the people you assholes laid off, who are laying awake at night wondering how they are going to pay their bills. Totally despicable. - T.H.)

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Our new President

Our very own Barack Obama - from the South Side of Chicago - is the nation's 44th President - and the first African-American to be in the Oval Office. It's a historic day in this country.

Just like the day the Chicago White Sox won the 2005 World Series - President Obama's election makes yours truly proud to be a Chicagoan, an African-American, a South Sider - and to be an American.

Thank you, President Obama.

Monday, January 19, 2009

More on McNeil's departure

As you know by now, ESPN's WMVP-AM cut Dan McNeil from the Mac, Jurko & Harry show, with only Jurko & Harry remaining, joined by Carmen DeFalco - for now.

Ed Sherman (formerly of the Chicago Tribune) wrote in his sports blog for Crain's Chicago Business with more on McNeil's firing - one important factor was McNeil's high salary, commanding $600,000 a year (but that's lower compared to what other local radio personalities have been paid.)

McNeil has become the latest well-known - and well-paid radio personality to be let go, which has been the pattern for the last year or so. Other exits include Howard McGee, Steve Dahl, and Eddie Volkman & Joe Bohannon.

Let's face it - in an era where economics factor into everything, it's the bottom line that matters. Believe it or not, there are some station managers who currently air The Oprah Winfrey Show that would glad to see her go if she doesn't come back after 2011, given the license fee for the show is up there in the cost department. Despite the fact most reality shows bomb in the ratings, they stay around because the programs are cheap to to produce. If it's on a shoestring budget - it's in. Quality be damned!

Though quality doesn't really qualify in this case. Judging from the comments I read on Sherman's blog, McNeil hasn't exactly been Mr. Likeable. Then again, what Chicago sports radio personality isn't?

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Welcome new neighbors to The Sidebar

The T Dog Media Blog has two tenants who recently moved into The Sidebar: Welcome new neighbors Media and Marketing Mix blog from the Sun-Times' Lewis Lazare and Jerry Del Colliano's Inside Music Media blog. You'll find both new links on The Sidebar under "T Dog's Media Friends" to the right.

Yours truly has also recently added another new webiste (Chicago Radio & TV) to The Sidebar as well.

Moving out is Jump the Shark, which has been evicted mainly because of a few personal issues that have come up between me and the staff who run the site, which by the way, hasn't been updated in months (The Ex-List and My Own Worst Enemy are no longer "current" shows.) You can still find JTS by typing in to your browser, but it will be no longer featured on this site.

Enjoy the new links!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

TCA Notes

The major broadcast networks made their presentations at the Television Critics Association's Winter Press Tour this week. Among the highlights:


- NBC announced Conan O' Brien's final night on Late Night will be on Feb. 20, just three months before he is scheduled to take over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno in Los Angeles. Replacing him is Jimmy Fallon, who takes over March 2.

O'Brien took over Late Night on September 13, 1993 after previous host David Letterman jumped over to CBS.

- NBC (mercifully) has cut the episode orders for bombs Knight Rider and Kath & Kim, but has not made a decision on Lipstick Jungle.

- The net also says it won't cut back on pilots, despite the fact it is handing five hours a week to Jay Leno to program at 9 p.m.


- The network wants more comedies in the vain of Roseanne and Home Improvement, which were past hits for the network in the 1990's. That and more was on the mind of ABC Entertainment honcho Steve McPherson on Friday as he spoke with the press. Among the items he talked about: The possible end of According to Jim. "‘Jim’ has been an amazing asset for us.”, says McPherson. Yeah, an amazing piece of crap.


- CBS Entertainment honcho Nina Tassler says summer series Swingtown won't be back - ever - while she says network television "is still kicking", but kicking "a bit differently." Given how network television has pulled in viewers last Sunday and Tuesday nights, she might have a point.

- CBS is shooting a variety-show pilot with John Mayer, the network confirmed. Hopefully, it won't be the mess Rosie Dead was.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Dan McNeil out at WMVP

The Mac, Jurko, and Harry show at WMVP-AM ESPN 1000, is now just Jurko, Harry, and some other person.

Bosses at the Disney-owned sports radio talk station showed him the door today, not opting to pick up the fifth year of his contract. Replacing McNeil as of Monday on the afternoon show is Carmen DeFalco.

McNeil hasn't been an angel throughout his career at WMVP and WSCR-AM (The Score), being suspended often for run-ins with talent and nasty remarks on the air regarding others (um, it's radio, remember?)

Even though WMVP declined to pick up the rest of his contract, he cannot appear on another competitor until at least May, when the fifth year option was supposed to kick in.

No comment from McNeil.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Chicago Fox duopoly lays off seven

The rumors of Fox-owned local stations laying off appear to be true: WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV recently eliminated seven positions, including the vice president of programming and promotions position, which was held by longtime Chicago TV veteran Dominic Mancuso. Mancusco departed on January 7, though the announcement of the layoffs came on Wedensday.

Ironically, Mancuso's last position before working for Fox -a station manager at WGN-TV - was also eliminated.

So, why do you live here?

The Chicago Tribune asked this question regarding Chicago's frigid weather in January - a really, really, really stupid question.... And boy, did yours truly ever respond:

This article is one of the most insipid pieces of crap I've ever read on the Tribune's website. It's January. It's supposed to be cold! Big deal! Why is this a story? Does The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press waste space by asking why people live in Detroit in January (or any other time of the year?)

So, "why do you live here", you ask? To witness the ridiculous freak show that is Chicago media - nowhere else you can find TV station bosses making employees pay for their expensive lunches, TV reporters showing up at the Stebic household in a bikini, and Jerry Springer showing up as a commentator on your newscast. Only in Chicago!

This article just proves what a joke Chicago journalism is. What's next, you're going to hire that pathetic loser Jim Belushi as the editor-in-chief? Oh, it looks like you already have. Another smart move by Sam "committed to mediocrity" Zell. Perhaps a better question you geniuses should ask is, "Why is no one is reading the Tribune anymore?"

Ah... it's nice to have the biting commentary back. All it takes for one dumb article to set yours truly off. And this just shows you how the Chicago Tribune has gone down the drain since Zell the Dope took over.

T Dog's Think Tank Archive (from July 15, 2007): Local media blows it again

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin calls it quits

He's leaving on January 20. Good riddance. Don't hit your pompous ass on your way out the door.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

T Dog's Groovy Grab Bag

A new size for the Trib; A new FCC Chairman (hooray!); Stargate Atlantis exits with a bang; Fox cancels Prison Break.

- One advantage the Chicago Sun-Times had over the Trib was its tabloid-like size and the ease of reading it on the bus or on the "L". Now, that's gone. Oh-oh...

Chicago Tribune introduces a new size: The paper plans to introduce a new tabloid-size version of the paper available only on newsstands and retail outlets beginning on Monday. Don't worry, you'll still find the regular-size version of the Trib via home delivery. The paper also plans to continue to sell Red Eye, which comes in a similar tabloid-size edition targeted to younger readers.

- TCA News: Fox announced the cancellation of Prison Break after four seasons, with the series unceremoniously ending in April. On the other hand, Fox is introducing a new animated sitcom titled Sit Down, Stand Up. The project from Arrested Development creator Mitchell Hurwitz debuts on April 19 after The Simpsons.

Also, Fox has picked up Sony's 'Til Death for another 22 episodes, basically ensuring an off-network sale in syndication for fall 2010. Just what we need: An unwatchable sitcom paired up with another unwatchable sitcom (According to Jim) five days a week on your local station.

- SciFi's airing of the series finale of MGM's Stargate Atlantis last Friday drew 2 million total viewers and averaged 973,000 viewers among adults 18-49.

Don't forget: The season premiere of Battlestar: Galactica is this Friday.

- President-elect Barack Obama is expected to name tech policy advisor Julius Genachowski as the new chairman of the Federal Communications Comission. Reading the article from B&C, I can tell he is already better than current leech Kevin Martin. Given the way that moron has screwed up our nation's telecommunications system, Genachowski is already an improvement.

"Rewind" with Anna Davlantes

Given all what's going in Chicago lately, I guess there's a need for another public-affairs program (one show can't cover it all...)

WTTW is debuting a new review-of-the-week show this Friday night at 8:30 p.m., aptly titled Rewind. The new program is hosted by WMAQ-TV anchor and reporter Anna Davlantes.

Though the program plans to be somewhat similar to Chicago Week in Review, which airs Fridays at 7:00 p.m., a stark difference is instead of notable media people appearing to talk about the issues of the week, Rewind's panelists are basically everyday people. Panelists are urged to apply through WTTW's website.

In an e-mail to the Trib's Phil Rosenthal, Davlantes stated that Rewind is going to be different from other public-affairs shows by targeting a younger audience who may be shutting out "certain content". At the end of each show, the panelists are invited "to talk about an issue, they feel, was under-reported, misreported or missed altogether by the media. Again, it's a chance for people to have a voice. That's the focus."

Rewind is part of a Friday night local programming block for the popular PBS station, which includes Review, The Friday Night Show (both under the Chicago Tonight umbrella), Check Please, and now Rewind.

It's a good alternative for those who don't want to see Howie Mandel do anything (besides host Deal) or watch lame, worn-out network programming on this lackluster night, which includes need-to-expire fare such as Everybody Hates Chris, Wife Swap, and Supernanny.

Did you know?: Rewind was the title of a Fox sitcom in 1996 starring Scott Baio, which never got on the air.

Monday, January 12, 2009

TCA News

From the Winter Press Tour:

- BET isn't going to pass up a history-making event as this one. The network is going to be there front and center for President-elect Barack Obama's Inauguration. BET will air special programming beginning this Saturday, including extended coverage of Obama's Inauguration on Jan. 20. Click here to read more.

- HBO is launching a new show shot entirely in Africa. Titled The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, it stars Grammy Award winner Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose running a detective agency in the country. The series is based on the best-selling book series by Alexander McCall Smith.

For the record, the last drama shot in Africa was CW's short-lived Life is Wild, which ran during the 2007-08 season.

- After crowning a new Miss America (can anyone tell me who the last one was? Anybody?), TLC debuts a new series called NASCAR Wives, which goes behind the scenes of "the other half" of race car drivers.

For more TCA items, including those on Comedy Central, Starz, and Nick, click here.

TD Jakes shelved until 2010

Wendy Williams goes forward.

CBS Television Distribution has decided to shelve preacher T.D. Jakes' new syndicatedtalk show until 2010, according to the distributor. The reason given was the tough economic conditions stations and advertisers are facing this year.

Meanwhile, Debmar-Mercury's new Wendy Williams syndicated talk show is going forward, clearing 70 percent of the country.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Report: Sony cancels "Judge David Young" and "Judge Karen"

Broadcasting & Cable is reporting that two Sony-distributed courtroom strips (Judge David Young and Judge Karen) are expected to be canceled soon. Young will exit after two seasons and Karen after only one. The possible moves come as the tough economy has taken a toll on the first-run syndication business, as ratings and revenue coming in are very low for many daytime shows currently on the air.

Young airs on WFLD-TV locally at 1 p.m. and Karen airs at 2 p.m. on WCIU, where it has often finished second in its time period, beating syndicated talk shows hosted by Rachael Ray and Bonnie Hunt.

The moves come as the courtroom genre has been overcrowded for years (with more than ten shows), and the shakeout has now only begun. And the genre is also a tougher sell to advertisers - especially for some of the more lower-rated programs, compared to more ad-friendly talk shows such as Oprah and Regis & Kelly, and even Martha Stewart's talk show - which despite low ratings - was recently renewed for another season.

Two more freshmen strips (Program Partners' Family Court and Debmar-Mecury's Trivial Pursuit) are expected to leave stations' schedules as well come September.

Also, Merv Griffin's Crosswords, which went on production hiatus last summer and was expected to return with new episodes this calendar year, now may not return at all. Many stations that carried the strip from Program Partners last season dropped the show at the start of the 2008-09 season.

Earlier this week, Twentieth Television pulled the plug on The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet.

Updated at 11:00 p.m.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

T Dog's Groovy Grab Bag

The first four-post day in a long time! Here's some more news...

- From Chicagoland Radio and Media: WGN-TV news anchor Allison Payne is expected to return to the desk Monday evening. She has been sitting out off and on for the last year or so recovering from a set of mini-strokes.

- The contestants for the new season of Celebrity Apprentice were announced today. So, where are the celebrities?

- TCA Update: The TCA Winter Press Tour has kicked off in Los Angeles earlier this week. Click here for the latest to see what cable nets We, National Geographic, Sundance, and IFC are up to.

- A follow-up to a story yours truly posted yesterday on a cable standoff in Kansas involving... well, a lot of parties. ABC affiliate KTKA-TV is now back on Dish Network in the Topeka area, after a week of being off the satellite system (However, Kansas City stations KMBC-TV and KCWE-TV were still MIA from Sunflower Broadband's cable system...)

KTKA is owned by Free State Communications, a wholly-owned subsidary of The World Company - which happens to be Sunflower's corporate parent.

Patrick Knorr, the COO of Sunflower Broadband, blamed the "faulty regulatory system for retransmission consent that creates an environment in which customers are put in the middle of negotiations."

Really... How about the greedy corporate giants who have basically done the same thing? Hey Mr. Knorr, did your wife let you back in the bedroom yet?

- As you heard by now, Apple announced a new three-tier pricing for songs in its iTunes store, with songs being priced at $. 69, $.99, and $1.29 - as well as stripping out the dreaded Digital Rights Management, or DRM for short. An interesting item in page 3 of today's Chicago Tribune showed what it would be like if the world at large were priced in the new iTunes system. In the category of "TV shows in which attractive women are inexplicably attracted to fat guys", priced at $1.29 was The King of Queens, priced at $.69 was The Price Is Right (um... I don't get it) and priced at $. 99 was According to Jim.

Funny, I thought According to Jim was only worth five cents.

Digital switch may be put off

In a move certain to make a lot of people angry, the digital TV switchover may not take place on Feb. 17 as planned.

The new Obama administration wants to postpone the switch because money to fund those digital converter box coupons have run out. The possible move is being supported by the four major networks.

With all the time, money, and TV commercials devoted to this transition, why are they now deciding to postpone the switch? Thank you Kevin Martin, FCC, and the federal government, you've done it again. I guess the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions aren't the only sorry organizations who are thoroughly mismanaged... Maybe the government should hire Lovie Smith and Matt Millen to run this now-wasteful program... it would make no difference.

"My Name is Earl" clears WPWR

More Twentieth Television news: The syndicator has cleared NBC sitcom My Name Is Earl in 47 percent of the country beginning this fall, including nine out of the top ten markets.

Fox-owned My Network TV stations are part of the deal, including WPWR-TV in Chicago. The program is also expected to run on sister station WFLD-TV.

Earl has also cleared stations owned by CBS, Tribune, Local TV, and WPCH-TV in Atlanta. Midwest clearances include WKBD-TV in Detroit, WDAF-TV in Kansas City, WITI in Milwaukee, KTVI in St. Louis, and WTTV/WXIN in Indianapolis.

Among non Fox O&O stations, the biggest sale was to WPSG-TV in Philadelphia, a market where Fox owns a station (WTXF).

My Name Is Earl is about a crook (Jason Lee) who wins the lottery, gets hit by a car, develops a belief in something called karma while in the hospital, then later finds the ticket, and makes a list of things he has to do to make up for all of his wrongs. Comedy hilarity ensues.

Twentieth cancels "Morning Show with Mike and Juilet"

In what may be a harbinger for things to come regarding first-run syndicated fare, Twentieth Television has canceled The Morning Show with Mike and Juliet after a two-season run.

The daytime strip, which competed with Live with Regis & Kelly in most markets (including Chicago until WFLD-TV expanded its morning newscast), averaged an season-to-date 0.8 Nielsen household rating, putting it twelfth out of thirteenth talk shows in syndication.

Despite performing well in several markets, The Morning Show fared poorly in others, particularly in larger ones.

Twentieth blamed economic conditions as the reason why the series is ending production, which comes in June. The program ends its run on September 11.

The Morning Show originally launched as a limited-test run series on 26 Fox O&O markets (which since has slimmed down to 18) before launching nationwide in syndication.

Over the last fifteen years, Twentieth has had a hard time launching a successful first-run talk strip. The casualty list includes Bertice Berry, Gordon Elliott, Gabrielle Carteris, Terry Bradshaw, Forgive and Forget, and Earvin "Magic" Johnson. Twentieth plans to focus on renewing its stock of courtroom shows for next fall.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

T Dog's Groovy Grab Bag

- Station swap: Raycom and Local TV are trading stations with each other and maybe one to be named later... Raycom has traded CBS affiliate WTVR in Richmond, Va. to Local TV for Fox affiliate WBRC-TV in Birmingham. Raycom, which is based in Alabama, will now have a presence in most of the state. Earlier, the Justice Department rejected Raycom's sale of WTVR to Sinclair Broadcasting after Sinclair planned to sell Fox affiliate WRLH-TV to a third party, but would continue to operate it.

Raycom had to sell WTVR after it purchased Jefferson-Pilot's TV stations, including cross-town rival NBC affiliate WWBT-TV, which it couldn't keep because of anti-trust regulations.

Previous owners for WBRC (who had past affiliations with NBC, CBS, and then ABC) included Storer, Taft, Great American, New World, and Fox itself. Local TV acquired WBRC in an eight station deal a year ago.

- WUSA-TV, the CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., is dumping its low-rated weekend morning newscasts later this month and is replacing them with - you guessed it, infomercials. The station may also fill the slots with some local programming. Once the market's top-rated station in the 1980's (whose schedule at the time included The Oprah Winfrey Show and Wheel of Fortune), WUSA is now in fourth place overall, including news.

- Turning back to the Windy City, WLS-TV reporter Dan Ponce has ditched his reporting gig to pursue a music gig. He's in a vocal group titled Straight No Chaser (yes, this is the name of the group.) Dan Ponce is the son on WTTW-TV's Chicago Tonight host Phil Ponce and the brother of WMAQ-TV reporter Anthony Ponce.

Dan is also an avid Simpsons fan. Let's hope he watched the episode (Bart Gets Famous) where Homer was attacked by a monkey while he was in an one-man band playing "Tighten Up"(or at least trying to.) Funny Stuff.

Talk about your conflict of interest....

An interesting item from TV Barn: Sunflower Broadband (or Cable, or whatever they want to be called), which serves northeastern Kansas, dropped two Hearst-Argyle owned Kansas City stations from its channel lineup because they were asking too much money from them to be carried on Sunflower's cable system. So Sunflower Broadband COO Patrick Knorr replaced departed ABC affiliate KMBC-TV from K.C. with Topeka's ABC affiliate, KTKA-TV. However, CW affiliate KCWE-TV was not replaced with another CW outlet (Oh, dear! No Gossip Girl or 90210. What's a young girl to do?)

Recently, KTKA was dropped by Dish Network in the Topeka area. Why? Because Sunflower Broadband - whose parent company is the owner of KTKA - was asking too much money from Dish Network to carry them! And guess who the general manager of KTKA is... Knorr's wife, who happens to fighting Dish on the comp issue. (Whaaa?) Gee, does Mr. Knorr sleep on the couch every night? He must scarfing down bags of Keebler cookies and Fig Netwons every day at work and browsing through Maxim during his "downtime" at his office with the door closed because we all know he ain't getting any... The hypocrisy is really, really getting thick in here...

In the words of The Score's Boers and Bernstein... Patrick Knorr, Who are you Crappin'?

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

"Odd Couple" returns to local TV

For the first time in... I don't know... many years, repeats of The Odd Couple are back on TV.

On Thursday (an odd day to start airing a TV show on a "strip" basis), WWME-TV (or Me-TV) began airing The Odd Couple weeknights at 11:30 p.m. The sitcom, based on the Neil Simon play (and also spun off a 1968 theatrical featuring Walter Mattheau and Jack Lemmon) debuted in 1970 on ABC and ran five years (with six time period changes) before going into off-net syndication in 1976.

The series featured Tony Randall (as Felix Unger) and longtime dramatic actor Jack Klugman (Oscar Madison) as mis-matched divorced roommates in New York. You know the deal, Unger was the neat photographer, Madison was the sloppy sportswriter and tried to co-exist without driving each other crazy (and as it would turn out, make great comedy.)

The television version was developed by Garry Marshall, who of course, went on to create one of the most successful programs of that era, Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley.

The show was a longtime staple of WGN-TV's lineup until 1987, when it moved to WPWR-TV for a even more successful run. Even though Me-TV recently picked up the show, it has been running for years at Tribune's WPIX-TV in New York, where it is still immensely popular (it drew a 4 household share last October in its 2 a.m. weeknight time slot.)

The Odd Couple, originally produced and distributed by Paramount, is now syndicated by CBS Television Distribution.

Now, if you thought the recent remakes of Knight Rider and 90210 were bad, take a trip back to 1982 and you'll find The New Odd Couple on ABC. Only this time the roles of Felix Unger and Oscar Madison were by black actors Ron Glass and Demond Wilson, respectively. It turned out some the scripts used in the new version of Couple were recycled from the original (I'm all for recycling, but come on...) The show expired after thirteen episodes.

Crisis at RTN - Film at 10

A feud between Equity Media Holdings and Luken Communications left RTN off the air for close to four hours on Sunday morning. The spat came after a breakdown in an extension of an agreement on the use of Equity's automated system to uplink customized local schedules to RTN's 80+ affiliates.

After failing to come to an agreement, Luken officials decided to move master control operations from Little Rock, Ark. to Chattanooga, Tenn, therefore knocking the network off the air Sunday morning. Because of other issues of need to iron out, all RTN stations will be running the same satellite-fed schedule, at least for the time being.

However, Equity-owned stations (WPXS-TV in Mt. Vernon, IL, serving the St. Louis market and WNGS-TV in Buffalo) have dropped the RTN network entirely.

Equity owned RTN but it was sold to shareholder Henry Luken last spring. Equity recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection - the same day Tribune filed for theirs.

Retro Television currently carries a lineup of classic TV shows mostly from NBC Universal's library and formerly carried programming from CBS' library. But a dispute with CBS over unpaid debt led them to pull its show from the channel last summer.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Critic's corner: Yay, "Mad Men"

The semi-annual TV Critics Poll from TV Week is out, and it has AMC's Mad Men as the best show and Fox's Do Not Disturb as the worst. Yours truly has been reading lists from TV Week/Electronic Media for nearly 20 years, and its'always a fun read, whether I agree with them or not. Some observations:

- Cable made its presence known on the Best TV list, with eleven series representing.

- Also showing some muscle was CBS, with How I Met Your Mother and The Big Bang Theory.

- It appears J.J. Abrams still has the golden touch: His new sci-fi drama Fringe made a solid debut showing at No. 21. But the most impressive debut came from HBO's True Blood, which came in fifth.

- Can anyone tell me why Chuck shot all the way to number ten in the poll? It should have been lower.

- As for the worst shows, no arguments here, but why is Heroes missing? The chapter titled Villains was by far the worst piece of television to air this fall (through it's hard to argue against Do Not Disturb. Or if you live in Detroit, Lions football games.)

You can access both lists by clicking here.

Local area critics who took part in the poll included the Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan and the South Bend Tribune's Jerry D. Bonfigilo.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

WLIT rocks around the PPM tree in December


WLIT-FM (The Lite), WBBM-AM, WVAZ-FM (V103)


Well, since this month's survey is an anomaly because of Christmas music, let's give this a pass.

WLIT dominated the PPMs in December with the Holiday Lite, a.k.a. Christmas Music. Their success pretty much lowered ratings for other stations in the Chicago market, with The Lite jumping five points from last month in 2+ numbers. WLIT also swept all major demos in the PPM survey.

Not only that, WLIT ranked first in the country with the most listeners for the holiday format among digital and Internet streams, according to Arbitron.

Whether this translates to more listeners for the station throughout the year remains to be seen.

While WLIT plummeted its competitors, a few did manage to increase their audience among 2+: WVAZ-FM, WGCI-FM, and public broadcaster WBEZ-FM.

To see the 2+ numbers for December, click here.

To read the breakdowns in the 18-34 demo, click here.

To read the breakdowns in the 25-54 demo, click here.

Winter Classic shoots and scores in ratings

The third annual NHL Winter Classic which featured an outdoor game played at Wrigley Field between the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings drew an 2.9 Nielsen overnight household rating for NBC on New Year's Day, up 12 percent from the 2007 Classic between Buffalo and Pittsburgh.

Here in Chicago, WMAQ-TV notched an 11.8 household rating and 21 share - the highest mark for a Chicago Blackhawks game locally in known memory (Hawks games averaged around a 3.5 rating locally on Fox in 1995 and 1996, the first two years of the network's contract with the NHL. Remember the glowing puck? Yikes.)

WDIV-TV in Detroit averaged a 10.5 household rating and 20 share, and the third highest-rating came in Buffalo, where WGRZ-TV notched a 10.1 rating and 20 share. The game was also carried in Canada by CBC, and additional viewers in Detroit and Buffalo may have checked the game out on the public broadcaster, given both cities' proximities to our neighbor to the North.

As for the broadcast, NBC did a great job on covering Thursday's game, with a professional looking presentation, and good job done by Dave Strader and Eddie Olczyk on calling the game. Wrigley Field looked great and it looked even better in HD. Even the intermission segments were terrific, especially the one where Blackhawk players went out of their way to pay their last respects to Hawks GM Dale Tallon's late father in the middle of a long road trip last fall. The only thing yours truly didn't like was the outcome: The Hawks lost 6-4.

Related link: Restore the Roar

2008's Toilet 10

I've noticed that hardly anyone has come up with a worst TV show list for 2008 (too easy, perhaps?) Maybe the economy was bad enough not to talk about any bad TV...

Anyhoo, here are the worst, the inane, the horrible, horrible, stench of what was left behind in 2008 in terms of media - and remember, we're not just listing TV shows here:

1. Heroes: Villains (NBC). After finishing second in the 2006 Excellent 10 list, it is no surprise this program finishes first among this year's worst media items. In just two years, it has gone from one of the best shows on TV to one of the worst, thanks to poor writing, abandoned storylines, bad acting, too many characters, shoddy special effects, and ratings half of what they were for Chapter Two, which aired in 2007. For all the money spent on this crap, Villains looked like a low-budget 1950's monster movie.

2. The FCC. From blaming Worlds of Warcraft on the college dropout rate to being a mouthpiece for right-wing groups, and from Chairman Kevin Martin's proposal for a porn-free broadband service to bungling the transition to digital TV, this is just more proof the agency is being run by incompetent idiots, with Martin being the biggest idiot of them all. These morons couldn't run a Dairy Queen let alone a major agency which handles our nation's telecommunications.

3. The Detroit Lions. Staff who get their jobs through nepotism, a front office who could care less about the public, and leaders who are complete clowns. No, this isn't Illinois politics we're talking about (but it ought to be), but the 0-16 Detroit Lions - the first winless NFL team in 32 years. This team is a complete utter embarrassment, even for Detroit. The people running this team (including head clown William Clay Ford and former coach clown Rod Marinelli) should be in jail with Mayor Kilpatrick for perpetrating this fraud of a team on the citizens of Detroit.

4. Rosie Live (NBC) This made The Star Wars Holiday Special look like Masterpiece Theatre.

5. Do Not Disturb (Fox) Yeah, a real cinch to make this list.

6. Nine-FM. After four years of failing to find an audience, what took Newsweb so long in pulling the plug on this inane format? (Nine-FM has returned to the airwaves on a Kankakee station.)

7. The Return of Mancow and Delilah. Radio's two answers to questions nobody asked - or want - return to Chicago. Oh, and Mike North's back as well, co-hosting a new show with Dan Jiggetts on Comcast SportsNet. All of this proves you don't need to have an advanced degree - or brains - to get on-air work in Chicago. Is Mariotti not too far behind?

8. The Cable News Networks (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC.) From "terrorist fist jabs" to "breaking news" regarding Obama breaking a nail, from using holograms to news personalities sniping at each other on-air... Good grief. Look, if you want serious journalism or serious analysis on World issues, go to NPR, the BBC, or even Channel 20 locally in Chicago - not these guys. The cable news channels offer little of any substance or anything remotely useful. Cable news' style and presentation is really no different from that of local news - loud and very annoying.

9. Retread Hell (NBC's Knight Rider and CW's 90210.) Who here really wanted these two shows back? And moreover, who really cares about Shannen Doherty and Jennie Garth and their aging, aloof characters anymore? Talk about being typecast. And now remakes of Melrose Place and The Partridge Family are in the works. Are you kidding me? No wonder the major nets are losing audiences. What's next, a new version of The Monkees? Wait a minute...

10. Momma's Boys (NBC). Outside of Flavor of Love, this has to be the worst reality show to ever air on television. Another dumb project green lighted by Ben "Bulls Ballboy" Silverman.

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS: According to Jim (ABC), Bret Michaels: Rock of Love (VH-1), Celebrity Family Feud (NBC), The Ex-List (CBS), I Survived a Japanese Game Show (ABC), Star Wars: The Clone Wars (Cartoon Network).

And here are some more dishonors:

YOUR DAD IS DEAD BITCH, SO GET OVER IT: Corrinne from Survivor: Gabon made a nasty comment regarding a fellow contestant's deceased father during Tribal Council. Asked during the reunion show, Corrinne refused to apologize for making the remarks.

Well, I guess her nasty attitude more than qualifies her to become a part of Mancow's Morning Madhouse - a gig just a step above the $5-an-hour job she currently holds at the local chicken shack. My prediction for 2009: Corrinne will join the cast of The View, where she'll sit beside "the ditzy blond" who is also from Survivor and also a pain in the ass.

TAKEN FOR A SAP, PART I: Sam Zell's purchase of the Tribune Co. Yours truly supported the move at first, thinking it would save jobs, improve local news coverage, and restore the media company to greatness. Well... Tribune filed for Chapter 11, hundreds of people were laid off, and introduced a moronic "Breaking News" section on all of its Chicago web properties - which features mostly crime blotter stories. Oops.

TAKEN FOR A SAP, PART II: Heroes creator Tim Kring criticized fans of his show who watched it "live" (a.k.a. watching it on your TV set every Monday night at 8 p.m.) as opposed to on DVD and DVR, calling them "saps" and "dipshits". So if Mr. Kring claims to be smarter than the rest of us, why is he still working in television?

SCROOGED: Radio companies who fire people before the holidays. Ask Lisa Greene, Eddie & JoBo, and Steve Dahl.

WORST EXECS OF THE YEAR: NBC's Ben "Bulls Ballboy" Silverman, The CW's Dawn Ostroff, Clear Channel Chicago's Darren Davis, Matt Millen, and anyone else running the Bears, Bulls, Lions, and Oklahoma City Thunder. Sure, I can list some more, but because of space limitations...

WORST TITLED TV SHOW: New York Goes to Hollywood. Huh?

WORST FALL: WGN-AM's shocking ratings slide in key demos after the new Portable People Meter became currency for radio measurement in Chicago.

MOVIE THAT REALLY, REALLY, LIVED UP TO ITS NAME: The flick Disaster Movie. Enough said.

THE RECORD BUYING PUBLIC. For making Britney Spears a success again, and the continued successful careers of Chris Brown and 'Lil Wayne. If anyone needs to rot in a jail cell besides Governor Blago and Mayor Kilpatrick, it's these fools who keep buying this crap they call "music".

AND THE LAST WORD: Sadly, 2009 could hold more of the same mediocrity in movies, music, government, and media. In other words, Momma's Boys will probably be renewed and we can expect a sequel to Disaster Movie. Happy New Year!