Thursday, June 30, 2011

Jeff Probst signs talk show deal with CBS Television Distribution

Jeff Probst with "Survivor" producer Mark Burnett (left). 

CBS Television Distribution announced on Monday it has signed Survivor host Jeff Probst to helm a daytime syndicated talk show to debut in September 2012.

The Emmy Award-winning host plans to cover a wide variety of topics from newsmakers of the day to families and individuals facing challenges (like having to put up with Probst for an hour?) The series is targeted for daytime and early fringe time periods - the same ones Disney/ABC is targeting for Katie Couric's new talker, also set for September 2012.

"There's no one else in daytime TV like Jeff Probst. He is interested in finding the answers to the same questions our audience is asking, which makes him relatable to both women and men,"according to John Nogawski, President of CBS Television Distribution. Adds CTD's Programming and Development head Aaron Meyerson: "Anyone who has seen Jeff on Survivor knows how he connects with people, and has an instinct that makes him a natural and compelling host for daytime. With the same adventure Jeff approaches his own life, the show will take the same path. Whether it's a newsmaker-of-the-day, a celebrity or ordinary folks, Jeff will go further than typical discussion. The show will cover a range of topics from relationships to human interest. And like Jeff, the show will encourage action, change and discovery."

Probst will continue to host Survivor and serve as executive producer of the show. 

CBS' decision to add Probst to its roster of first-run properties comes as the company's Oprah Winfrey Show ended its run in May after 25 years. Probst will be competing with not only with Couric for time periods, but also newcomers Ricki Lake (which is actually a return) and Anderson Cooper, whose show debuts this fall. Probst could catch a break: CTD has yet to announce renewal plans for talker Rachael Ray, whose contract is up next year. 

Probst has proven to interact really well with guests, particularly with Survivor contestants during those live reunion shows. But should saucy topics - like paternity tests or mothers who sleep with their teenage daughter's boyfriends - should ever come up, keep in mind Probst is more than qualified to handle wild guests - he's had to put up with Johnny Fairplay, Russell Hantz, NaOnka, and Phillip, didn't he?

The Grab Bag: Contract renewals, a promotion, and RTV guts its lineup

RTV: The R stands for "ruined".

- Good news for fans of Richard Roeper and Roe Conn - the duo at WLS-AM signed a three-year contract extension to continue their successful afternoon show through the year 2014. The move come as Cumulus is about to take over Citadel Communications, owners of WLS-AM and FM in a merger.

If you want to see Richard & Roe in action while they are doing their radio show, by golly, you can - the 3 to 6 p.m. portion of the show is simulcast on WMAQ's digital 5.2 subchannel, also known as Chicago Non-Stop.

- Univision has named Carlos San Jose Vice President and General Manager of its Chicago duopoly of WGBO-TV and TeleFutura affiliate WXFT. He begins his new position on July 5 and reports directly to Ramon Pineda, who is Senior Vice President and Regional Director of the Univision Television Group. WGBO is the market's top-rated Hispanic broadcaster.

- If you are one of the few viewers of RTV, then you probably noticed some changes since Sunday - the diginet (whose signal through low-power WPVN has limited reach in the Chicago area) lost rights to the classic series from the NBCUniversal library and replaced the programming with low-budget and obscure fare from The Peter Rodgers Organization (I Spy, The Bill Cosby Show, etc.), a few dramas from Sony Pictures Television, and Canadian dramas from PPI Licensing, such as Cold Squad and DaVinci's Inquest. In addition, RTV has low-budget fare like Crook & Chase, Celebrity Kitchen, The Great Outdoorsman, and Daytime. Not exactly what I call a classic TV channel (what is this... TNN's lineup from 1987?)

No word on why RTV couldn't come to a deal with NBCUniversal, but sources suspect it might have something to do with Comcast's takeover of NBCU earlier this year. The loss comes at a bad time as competitors Antenna TV and MeTV have beefed up their affiliate and their programming lineup.

- As you know by now, HLN nighttime host Nancy Grace is exiting syndicated strip Swift Justice after one season because according to producer CBS Television Distribution, the series is moving from Atlanta to Los Angeles to cut production costs. But according to Atlanta Journal-Constitution media writer Rodney Ho, this might not be the case: Grace was sued for $15 million in March for breaching a contract by former collegue Patricia Caruso, who pitched a syndicated series with Grace and agreed to be executive producer of what would become Swift Justice with Nancy Grace. When the series was announced however, Caruso was not included in the deal. CBS decided to move the show shortly after the lawsuit was filed (Nevada judge Jackie Glass, of  the O.J. Simpson case fame, takes over the show this fall.)

After all, think about it - a TV series moving production from Atlanta to L.A. because its cheaper to shoot there? Strange, given Georgia has tax incentives to lure production away from other locations (Tyler Perry's sitcoms shoot in Atlanta and Steve Harvey's Family Feud moves there this fall from Orlando.) Plus,  BET (and former CW sitcom) The Game moved from Hollywood to Atlanta for this very same reason.

Even more odd, The Game is produced by CBS Television Studios - a sister company to CBS Television Distribution, which syndicates Swift Justice. Something is fishy here... if anyone thinks the real reason Swift Justice is moving to L.A. because  of cheaper production costs, then I have a 2011 Chicago Cubs World Series Souvenir Program to sell you.

Monday, June 27, 2011

WGN-TV, Tribune renew "Friends" through 2017

WCIU clears Rules of Engagement; show now in 75% of country 

You can always count on your Friends - especially in syndication.

Tribune Broadcasting announced a third-cycle syndication renewal for Friends, the Emmy-winning sitcom that was a mainstay on NBC's "Must-See TV" from 1994-2004. The renewals cover the fifteen Tribune stations currently airing the series, including WGN-TV here in Chicago and WPIX-TV in New York  and KTLA in Los Angeles. Tribune stations have carried off-network repeats of Friends since 1998, and ran on WGN at 6 p.m. until 2006 when it was replaced by the ghastly According to Jim (not exactly a bright programming move.) However, Friends has been a solid utility player in late-fringe for years.

Other Tribune markets renewing the series include Philadelphia; Dallas; Washington, D.C.; Houston; Seattle; Miami; Portland,  Ore; Indianapolis; Hartford; Grand Rapids; New Orleans; and Lancaster-Harrisburg-York, Pa. market.

The renewals come as syndicator Warner Bros. announced last month it was pulling HBO's Entourage and Curb Your Enthusiasm from broadcast syndication after just one season. Both series were cleared primarily on Tribune stations.

-Not only Friends is scoring deals, so are its numerous army of clones (well, at least one of them.) WCIU announced recently it has picked up Sony Pictures Television's Rules of Engagement, beginning in the fall of 2012. The Friends-like sitcom (the difference here in the show features two married couples and a Joey clone played by David Spade) has cleared 75% of the country, including WCIU, WPIX, and KCAL-TV in Los Angeles. Other station groups clearing the series include Sinclair, Meredith, Belo, and Newport.

In a rather odd move (for an odd show), CBS is moving Engagement to a Saturday night time slot beginning this fall.

Friday, June 24, 2011

T Dog's Six Pack: You can even win by being a loser

More X Factor for everyone - whether we want it or not.

This week, Randy Michaels makes a comeback - which sends the Alternative Rock format on the ropes; and the Crosstown Classic - not to mention interleague baseball - is a flop. The week's winners and losers:


Randy Michaels. If this was on an ethics level, The Court Jester shouldn't be here. But he is. And he made a bold power play by partnering with private-equity firm GTCR to acquire a majority stake in Classic Rock WLUP-FM, and Alternative/Modern Rock WKQX-FM and New York City's WRXP, with plans to flip WKQX to either an all-news or news/talk station.

X Factor. Fox is so high on this show, they are giving Simon Cowell's baby four hours a week in primetime for its first two months on the air (though it is subject to preemption from the ALCS and World Series.) Have you ever seen hype like this for a freshman show?

My Network TV. (yeah... as you can tell, I'm really stretching the winners list this week.) Another item that shouldn't be here. But after singing CBS-owned independent WSBK-TV in Boston, the programming service now has adequate clearance in the home of the Stanley Cup champions instead of former affiliate WNDS-TV (now known as WBIN), which didn't cover the whole market. 


The Alternative Rock format. With the loss of radio's third largest market and possibly the biggest radio market in the United States, Alternative Rock could be the next Smooth Jazz -a format barely hanging on for dear life. For those who don't want to pay for Sirius/XM or bother with Internet Radio, the options for Alternative Rock fans in New York and Chicago could be severely limited.

Marvel ditches Comic-Con. Disney-owned Marvel shuns the annual comics and geek fanfest for their own D23 Expo in Anaheim (where Disneyland is conveniently located, no less.) What a dick move by Marvel, choosing synergy over fans and providing a parade of lame excuses ("Get bigger or go home".) Look Marvel, this isn't the NATPE Convention and you're not a syndicator. It's a small world after all.

The Crosstown Classic. With the Cubs and White Sox struggling - not to mention Cubs slugger Alfonso Soriano and White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen ripping into fans, is it any wonder why Chicagoans don't give two shits about the Crosstown Classic? It's about time fans wised up and see what this event really is - an overrated, bloated, boring event sponsored by a bumbling oil company.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Q101, The Loop sold to... Randy Michaels?

The Court Jester rides again.

In a move that took everyone by surprise, Emmis Communications sold controlling interest in WLUP-FM (The Loop) and WKQX-FM (Q101) and a New York City station (WRXP-FM) to a constroium headed by former Tribune Co. CEO Randy Michaels and Chicago-based equity group investement group GTCR, Inc. 

The news was first reported yesterday as a tip on Robert Feder's Time Out Chicago blog.

Michaels' new company - christened Merlin Media, LLC - is expected to take over all three stations in 45 days under a local marketing agreement (LMA). Emmis also retains "a significant minority stake" in all three stations.

Already, Merlin Media hired two executives to help run its' operations: well-respected Chicago radio veteran John Gehron, who is Merlin's Chairman of the Advisory Board (Gehron remains as Chief Operating Officer of Chicago-based AccuRadio) and Liz Aiello, who is Vice-President and will oversee Merlin's New York station.

Merlin also has launched a website, which basically a placeholder for now.

Emmis' other New York properties, including Hip-Hop/R&B outlet WHQT-FM (Hot 97) and Urban AC WRKS-FM, are not included in the deal and Emmis is retaining full ownership of both properties. Emmis purchased Q101 in 1988 from NBC, when it still was a Pop Adult station (a forerunner to today's Hot Adult Contemporary format.) WLUP was acquired by Emmis in 2005 after swapping stations in Phoenix with Bonneville Broadcasting. Rock outlet WRXP was acquired by Emmis in 1998.

While changes are not expected at WLUP or WRXP, WKQX could be getting a complete overhaul: Merlin is expected to drop the Alternative Rock format which has been present in one form or the other at the station for the past 19 years and launch either a all-news or a news/talk format - meaning the current staff at Q101 is unlikely to be retained.

It's a huge blow to the Alternative Rock format, which is now left with no full-signal station in the nation's third largest radio market. Q101 switched to Alternative Rock from Hot AC in the spring of 1992 and was an instant success, riding high on the popularity of grunge music at the time.

At one time, Q101 was in a heated rivalry with ABC's WZZN-FM (94.7), which flipped to Alternative in September 2001 to take them on and the volley between the two made headlines in the industry - with some comparing it to the WLS-WCFL Top 40 wars of the early 1970's and the WBBM-WYTZ Contemporary Hit Radio wars of the late 1980's (ironically, ABC also owned WYTZ, which was also on the 94.7 frequency.) In 2003, The Zone adjusted its format to Active Rock, but folded in September 2005 leaving Q101 as the victor.

While Q101 was successful in attracting a young male audience and had decent billing, the station was doing poorly overall, tied for 22nd in the latest PPM reports. On the other hand, WLUP's ratings have grown since a format adjustment in January, finishing 16th overall in those same reports. The lackluster ratings for both stations showed up in the balance sheets: Emmis was bleeding in the red locally and there has been speculation building for the past year about the potential sale of both stations.

For Randy "Court Jester" Michaels, he returns to the Chicago media scene in a bigger force than expected. Michaels left the Tribune Co. in disgrace last year amid allegations of lewd conduct within the walls of the Tribune Tower - some of the shenanigans described in a new book written by former Tribune employee Jim O'Shea. Michaels also hired many of his ex co-workers/cronies at Jacor/Clear Channel like Lee Abrams, one-time Howard Stern-boss Kevin "Pig Virus" Metheny, and countless others. The Court Jester is best known for his remarkable turnaround of Tampa's WFLZ in 1989 and basically re-writing the book in taking on - and taking down a competitor. Unfournately, he fell flat on his face in Chicago when he tried to re-invent flagging WYTZ in 1991 by renaming it "Hell 94.7". It lasted a week, with the CHR format exiting the station later that year.

But in a business that seemingly rewards failure (see Katie Couric and Jay Leno), Michaels' resurgence was a given. Nobody expected it to happen this soon.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

T Dog's Six Pack: Dewey defeats Dallas

It's like saying Power 92 is #1 in the Streets!

Yep, it's been a week of mistakes for some - ask the Miami Herald and the Toronto Star who declared some teams champions last week when they weren't, and for anyone who went into Downtown Vancouver Wednesday evening. It's not just some bizarre universe where Dewey defeated Truman for President - nope, it's another edition of T Dog's Six Pack (actually, it's seven...):

Trophy worthy

NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals rock the house. The six-game NBA Finals and the seven-game Stanley Cup Final were rating smashes: The Mavericks-Heat series drew an average of 17.3 million viewers, with 23.9 million tuning in for the sixth and deciding game, in which the Dallas Mavericks won their first NBA title. Meanwhile, the seventh and deciding game of the Stanley Cup Final between the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins drew 8.54 million viewers for NBC in the U.S. and a record 8.76 million for the CBC in Canada, making it the most-watched NHL telecast in the country's history. The Bruins won their first Cup title since 1972.

Oprah Winfrey. The last first-run episode of her long-running talk show drew 16.4 million viewers and an 11.5 household rating- the most watched episode of the show since 1993. Congrats, Oprah! (on the other hand, she has a lot of work to do to try to get viewers to watch her newly-launched OWN network.)

WLS-FM. Remember when the 94.7 frequency would go through some kind of a format change at least every two years? - Well, WLS is having its biggest ratings success since the early years of the WYTZ/Z95 era.  In the May PPM survey, the oldies outlet finished as the second-most listened music station in Chicago, and finishing first in the 35-64 demo - not  to mention burying newcomer K-Hits (WJMK-FM).

Razzie worthy

Power 92. After firing its three most popular radio personalities and finishing in a tie for 27th place overall (and 12th among its target 18-34 audience) in the May PPM survey, it's time to write off Power 92 as a lost cause. New slogan should be "Power 92: #1 as a Major Fail In The Streets".

TV Critics blown away in the Windy City. With Paige Wiser's forced departure from the Sun-Times, Chicago's two major newspapers are left without a full-time TV critic for the first time in recent memory - a huge loss for the medium locally.

LeBron James. Oh what class you show on - and off the court. Ripping the fans who hate you saying they have "miserable lives" was classic. Yes, we "miserable people" don't have championship rings... oh that's right LeBron... neither do you. What an asshole.

All right... let's add one more item...

Vancouver. Speaking of assholes, Canucks fans booed the Boston Bruins' Stanley Cup Presentation Wednesday night and acted like a bunch of assclowns with a post-game riot, which included breaking windows, setting fires, and looting stores. These morons gave Vancouver a black eye and made the city they live in the butt of jokes around the world (something Chicago is used to.) LeBron James would be a perfect fit up there - if Vancouver still had a basketball team, that is.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

WGN-TV expands morning news to 4 a.m.

If you thought the 4:30 a.m. news craze was something... wait 'til you hear about the next one in the works - the 4 a.m. news craze.

Tribune's WGN-TV announced today it is launching a new 4 a.m. newscast beginning on July 11th, becoming the first station in the Chicago market to expand into the half-hour. The move comes as more and more viewers are waking up earlier to start their commutes (or so they say.) But what's driving this early morning news expansion is advertiser demand - many are willing to pay a premium to reach viewers heading out the door in the morning.

Erin McElroy (formerly Mendez) and Paul Konrad will anchor the newscast from 4 a.m. to 5:30 a.m., with Larry Potash and Robin Baumgartnen taking over for McElroy at 5:30 when she shifts over to the traffic beat.

With the expansion, WGN now has five hours of news in the morning from 4 to 9 a.m - more than any other Chicago station, and nine hours of news a day - roughly over a third of its daily schedule. 

WGN usually leads the market with its morning newscasts, ahead of Good Morning America and Today and decisively beats WFLD's competing newscasts.

With WGN shifting to a 4 a.m.start for its news, look for others to do the same: WMAQ-TV became the first to offer a 4:30 a.m. newscast in 2007 and the rest of Chicago's stations eventually followed.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Grab Bag: Power 92 fires its daytime personalities; VanOdsol exits Q101; and Rosenthal's new gig

Sorry, you guys never really were.

It's an all-local version of The Grab Bag! News and notes from Chicago media:

- In news that broke Friday evening on Chicagoland Radio and Media's website, Urban Contemporary WPWX-FM (Power 92) has drastically changed its weekday lineup by cutting loose several of its on-air personalities including late morning host Trey Da Chocolat Jock, early afternoon host Shawn Knight, and late afternoon host Sam Sylk, who used to work for rival WGCI. The station also plans to spit its evening team The Hot Boyz with Shag Nice staying in evenings while Tone heads to afternoons. Power 92 also plans to drop The Tom Joyner Morning Show with The Rickey Smiley Show (Joyner can still be heard on Soul 106.3.)

The shakeups are merely a cost-cutting move.  

After nearly pulling even with WGCI in the ratings a little over two years ago, Power 92 has all but collapsed since. In the last PPM survey, WPWX ranked 28th in the 12+ numbers, while WGCI placed 11th. Despite this, all three of their daytime personalities did manage to ranked in the top 10 in the adults 18-34 demographic - but each still trailed WGCI. Whatever it is, it's time to write off Power 92 as a lost cause, despite their self-proclaimed ranking as "#1 In The Streets".

At this time, the station has no plans to change formats.

- Also exiting from radio - but on completely different terms - is James VanOdsol, who is leaving Alternative Rock WKQX-FM (Q101) to focus more on selling his new book Off The Record Collection: Riffs, Rants, and Writings About Rock. VanOdsol had been the hardest working man in Chicago radio - in addition to holding down weekend shifts at Q101, he also was an Affiliate Manager for Emmis Interactive during the  week (Emmis owns Q101 and WLUP-FM.) VanOdsol is also a rock music blogger.

A book release party is scheduled for June 24 from 7 to 10 p.m. at Challengers' Comics + Conversation at 1845 N. Western in Chicago. He'll be on hand to sign autographed copies of his book.

- Another shake up on Chicago's media beat - but this time its good news: Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal is becoming the paper's new business writer, beginning next week. Rosenthal will cover a wider aspect of the business world as opposed to the media business, which he has been writing about for the Tribune since April 2005. Rosenthal previously was the Sun-Times' TV Critic and before that, he also wrote about sports and sports media for the Sun-Times.

The Tribune plans to make an announcement in the coming days regarding its media beat coverage. Congratulations to Phil Rosenthal on his new job!

Phil Rosenthal is not related to the Everybody Loves Raymond creator and producer of the same name.

T Dog's Think Tank: Rewarding failure

"I failed at doing the CBS Evening News. Now ABC is going to reward me with a big contract for doing a talk show no one will watch. Suckers!! "

On Monday, Katie Couric joined The Walt Disney Company as a syndicated talk show host in what has to be the worst syndicated deal ever. The multi-year, multi-platform deal also has Couric as a regular contributor to ABC News, where she'll appear on the network's news platforms.

Yes, this is the same Katie Couric who flopped as an anchor for the storied CBS Evening News, which was in last place during the duration of her run. She departed the show on May 19.

And guess who's on board as executive producer of Couric's new show? None other than former NBC exec Jeff Zucker, who nearly brought the network down with his boneheaded decisions.

It's just another example of how the media business rewards failure. But don't be surprised - we Chicagoans are used to it - the Cubs and Bears reward failure all the time. It explains why Jay Cutler, Lovie Smith, and that Marmol pitcher on the Cubs still have jobs (it also explains why current WFLD news director Carol Fowler keeps getting work.)

Yeah, yeah, I know - Couric and Zucker worked together at NBC's successful Today Show back in the 1990's. But this is a "what you have done for us lately" business. Since both left Today, Couric and Zucker haven't really done anything worth noting.

No point investing in fresh new talent when you can grab today's has-beens, thrust them in front of and behind the camera, and call this bullshit a success with a 1.0 rating. Even local stations aren't buying this game anymore, as local station GMs are having doubts on whether Couric can succeed (see Jane Pauley's venture into talk show hell a few years ago.) If viewers didn't want to see Couric anchor the news, why would they want to see her host a talk show (though admittedly, her talker would likely be in the vein of Oprah, and viewers would like to see Couric more in that type of role.)

Even more stupefying is how this deal came about.

ABC announced it has cleared Couric at 3 p.m. time slot on all eight of its owned stations, including WLS-TV in Chicago, where it would be replacing long-time ratings winners Inside Edition and Jeopardy! (to see the full list of programs the ABC-owned stations are airing at 3 and 4 p.m., click here.) But at the same time, the network announced it was giving the affiliates the time slot back to program - and hoping ABC affiliates pick up Couric.

Say what?

Yep, ABC is giving the 3 p.m./2 p.m. Central time slot so the affiliates can program themselves. But there's no doubt ABC's syndication division will pitch their own affiliates first before going to NBC and CBS stations. Good grief, wouldn't it be easier to put Couric's talk show on the network at 3 p.m. (ET) instead?

Simple. ABC and Couric thinks it can make more money going the syndication route rather can clearing it for free on their own network.

There was actually something on the books back in the day that would actually prevented all of this. Called the Financial Interest and Syndication Rules (or fin-syn for short), the rules kicked the networks out of the syndication business, prevented them from owning programming in prime-time (existing programming was grandfathered), and kept them from acquiring or merging with major studios. Created in 1970, the rules were were done in 25 years later by the rise of Fox, cable, satellite TV, and the Internet. And with those rules gone, we see lots and lots of vertical integration, which has stifled creativity and unleveled the playing field.

But the real loser in all of this is the longtime soap General Hospital.

The 48-year soap could be axed if the replacements for the already canceled All My Children and One Life to Live bomb in the ratings.

ABC said it would "continue to support" GH, but we all know this is a cock-and-bull story. The reason ABC canceled the two other soaps were because of high production costs and declining ratings (or so they say.) Even with lower ratings, the  two lifestyle shows - The Chew and The Revolution - would be cheaper to produce than soap operas and could make a profit - even with lower ratings because of lower production costs. And even if one or both of the series fail, ABC could easily come up with new programs in the lifestyle genre to replace them - General Hospital getting even one of those spots isn't guaranteed.

And General Hospital's recent ratings performance doesn't help its cause either. Neither does the decision not to renew the contract of actress Vanessa Marcil, who returned to the series last year after stints in prime-time shows including Beverly Hills 90210 and Las Vegas.

So rewarding failure is commonplace in media, in sports, in life. If Katie Couric fails at this new venture (or more likely, her show loses a boatload of money five years from now), look for ABC to replace her with former Will & Grace co-star Megan Mullally, whose talk show expired after only a few months in 2006. If it were up to these fools, she would probably get another shot. And why not? Former NBC exec Ben "Party All The Time" Silverman would be producing.

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Paige Wiser out at the Sun-Times

In a move which leaves neither big-time Chicago newspaper without a television critic, The Chicago Sun-Times fired Paige Wiser after a little over two years on the job after submitting several inaccuracies in a Glee Live! concert review, an offshoot of the popular Fox series.

Wiser had been with the paper for the last seventeen years, mostly as an entertainment reporter and gossip columnist. She took over the television beat on April 17, 2009 from Doug Elfman, who was let go due to budget cuts.

In the review published on June 5, Wiser's review of the Glee Live performance "included the mention of a song that was not performed and a description of another song that the critic did not witness", according to a statement Editor-In-Chief Don Hayner posted on the Sun-Times website this afternoon.

The Sun-Times apologized to its readers for the errors.

Wiser went to the Glee concert on Friday in northwest suburban Rosemont with her two kids in tow with approval of her bosses, according to an interview she gave to Phil Rosenthal at the Chicago Tribune's Tower Ticker blog. However, Wiser left the concert early due to her children falling ill during the show (one fell off a chair, another vomited.) Wiser used information in reviews of other Glee shows to pad the article - but one of those songs was not performed during the Chicago performance.

In the interview, Wiser admitted wrongdoing and was apologetic. She also mentioned the stress she under due to the recent cutbacks at the paper.

While the Glee review was yanked from the Sun-Times' website, most of her columns and blog still remain on the site as of this writing (to point out the kind of conditions she had to work under, articles on her blog regarding Dancing With The Stars were penned by Miriam Di Nunzio.)

With Wiser's departure, both the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune are simultaneously left without full-time TV critics for the first time in recent memory. Last year, Tribune TV critic Maureen Ryan left the paper to join AOL. Many newspapers are eliminating the TV critic position as the industry grapples with declining circulation and advertising revenue during one of the worst recessions in the nation's history.

A few months ago, the Sun-Times let advertising and media columnist Lewis Lazare go; this week, he landed a similar gig at

Monday, June 06, 2011

Katie Couric heads to the Mouse House

After flopping out at CBS, Katie Couric is looking to shine at ABC.

In a deal announced today, The Walt Disney Company has signed the former Today and CBS Evening News personality to a multi-year, multi-platform deal, which includes a daily syndicated talk show and beginning this summer, a regular contributor to ABC News. Ms. Couric departed as anchor of The CBS Evening News after just four years on May 19 (60 Minutes' Scott Pelley becomes the new anchor of the newscast as of today.)

The untitled syndicated talk show has been already been cleared on ABC's eight owned stations, including 23 percent of the country, with WLS Chicago; WABC New York City; KABC in Los Angeles; WPVI Philadelphia; KGO San Francisco; KTRK Houston; WTVD Realeigh, N.C.; and KFSN in Fresno with all clearing the show at 3 p.m. But in a rather unusual move, ABC is giving its affiliates - all 220+ - the 3 p.m ET/2 p.m CT time slot back to purchase and launch the show in syndication - if they choose to do so.  Former NBC executive Jeff Zucker will serve as executive producer on the show.

While the series replaces General Hospital at 3 p.m. in Eastern Time Zone markets, Couric will replace existing syndicated fare in others, including Chicago, where CBS Television Distribution's Inside Edition and Jeopardy! are currently running in the time slot Couric is headed. It is not known where these two shows will end up on WLS' schedule. Also unknown is the fate of General Hospital - the soap is the last remaining one on ABC's daytime schedule. Next season, ABC is cancelling All My Children and One Life To Live and replacing them with lifestyle series The Chew and The Revolution, respectively.

It's a major coup for Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution. Founded in 1985 as Buena Vista Television - the syndicated arm of Walt Disney was created to sell Wonderful World of Disney reruns, Siskel & Ebert, and the animated Disney Afternoon block among other shows, this represents an opportunity to do something the company hasn't done since the launch of Live With Regis & Kathie Lee: launch a second successful daytime syndicated talk show, something it wasn't not successful with. Danny Bonaduce, Wayne Brady, Tony Danza, and Iyanla Vanzant are among the hosts Buena Vista has tried and failed with over the years (not to mention Stephanie Miller and Keenan Ivory Wayans as late-night talkers.)

In 2007, Buena Vista was renamed Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution.

Currently, Disney-ABC has a bare-bones syndicated schedule with only two first-run shows next season: Live! With Regis & Kelly (Regis Phillbin is exiting the program in November) and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire; and just a handful of off-network shows and movie packages (by comparison, CBS Television Distribution has more than ten series in first-run and over fifty off-network series.) Last season, Disney-ABC canceled first-run weekly hour Legend of the Seeker after two seasons after Tribune Broadcasting passed on renewing the series for a third, and canceled At The Movies (once known as Siskel & Ebert, Ebert & Roeper, etc.) after a 24-year run last August.

But a syndicated Katie Couric talk show would immediately raise Disney-ABC's stock in syndication.

The only other time ABC returned any afternoon time slot back to its affiliates was on December 31, 1984 when the network returned the 4 p.m. (ET) time slot following the cancellation of The Edge of Night, which broadcasted its final episode three days earlier after a 28-year run - nine of them on ABC.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

T Dog's Six Pack: Oprah, Master Shake, and you

 Aqua Fraud?


In this edition of the Six Pack: The biggest Oprah Winfrey diss ever, Chicago's news media possibly aiding and embedding a cover-up by city officials, and a sequel of a series that turned out not to be a sequel after all:


WFTV and Bob Jordan. WFTV news director Bob Jordan (no relation to WGN-TV's Robert Jordan) gave perhaps the biggest Oprah Winfrey diss ever when asked by Orlando Sentinel's Hal Boedeker about why the ABC affiliate decided to drop repeats of the now-defunct The Oprah Winfrey Show for extended coverage of the Casey Anthony trial:

“We’re here to serve an audience. The market has more interest in Casey on trial than in repeats of a show that has been canceled.”
Burn! Laugh out loud funny!

Of course, other stations and a local cable news channel in Orlando were running coverage at 4 p.m., a time period Oprah once ruled and WFTV was still airing repeats of the now-ended talk show. As everyone knows, Ms. Winfrey decided to end her show to focus more on her new cable network (which is tanking in the ratings.) But the quote Mr. Jordan gave was hilarious and brillant! It just goes to show you how much the local station community "loved" her all these years, especially when those license fees started getting way too expensive and her show's value as a news lead-in declined.

Cable's upfront. Once questioned by advertisers because of questionable content, Cable TV may sweep up in the coming upfront with big price increases, thanks to the growing popularity of reality TV series and the agencies finally tuning out the whining of the likes of the Parents Television Council and Rev. Michael Pflager (each are on rather shaky ground). On the other hand, society's acceptance of these shows means the apocalypse may soon be upon us. 

Jane Lynch. The Dolton native and star of Fox's Glee has been tapped to host the 92nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Fox September 18 - certainly a great honor! Hopefully, she'll leave the megaphone at home.


The Chicago news media. Didn't WFLD once have a marketing slogan on "Asking the Questions?" Well, where were the questions by some media outlets on why the city evacuated North Ave. beach on Monday and bought the city's cock-and-bull story about the beach being closed because of people having heat-related issues (isn't the beach meant for escaping the heat?) Callers to WLS-AM and WVON-AM, and the Sun-Times and a news report on CBS 2 pointed out the real reason for the beach closings: an approaching "flash mob" of gang members looking for trouble. Kudos to the Second City Cop blog for calling the media out for their BS reporting on the matter. I hope this is remembered come license renewal time, because local stations are supposed to serve the public interest  - not the lying government bureaucrats.

Aqua Unit Whatever. Adult Swim announced last month it was changing the name of Aqua Teen Hunger Force to Aqua Teen Unit Squad 1 and bringing back the detective format it abandoned after three episodes. Instead, the only thing that's changed is the name and theme song, while the format is similar to what it was when it was still called Aqua Teen - akin to Valerie's Family changing its title to The Hogan Family and nothing else. Still love Aqua, but Adult Swim needs to realize this isn't 2003 and this type of "April Fools'" marketing it pioneered years ago is now completely dated. Here's an idea for the next name change: how about Aqua Fraud Hunger Force?

PBS. Tough week for the non-com programming service: your website is hacked by intruders who put up a fake story about the late Tupac Shakur living it up in New Zealand and then the Governor of Florida vetoes the state's PBS funding, and now are considering airing commercials. At the rate things are going, PBS may vanish before The CW does.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Tribune, Univision, and CBS' "The Talk" undergo exec shake-ups

Numerous executive shake-ups in the last few days... in the offices and behind the scenes:

Another protege from the Court Jester era is out the door... Tribune Broadcasting President Jerry Kersting exited on Tuesday and his position eliminated while Nils Larsen was elevated up to CEO of Broadcasting. Effective immediately, Larsen will be responsible for Tribune's 23 television stations, cablers CLTV and WGN America, and WGN Radio. Larsen (a Sam Zell protege) is also retaining his titles as Chairman of Tribune Broadcasting and Chief Investment Officer.

Kersting was brought on in April 2008 by former Tribune CEO Randy (Court Jester) Michaels as yet another former Clear Channel/Jacor employee. Last year, Kersting replaced syndication veteran Ed Wilson as President of Tribune Broadcasting.

Larsen promotion to his position may be short-lived. The ongoing saga surrounding Tribune's bankruptcy (which it entered in 2008) is expected to be resolved in court this summer, with a new Board of Directors elected. With this, the board will more than likely select a new CEO and make changes in the executive ranks. 

Meanwhile, in the "Wow...that didn't last long file"

- One-time WGN-TV vice-President and General Manager Peter Walker has decided to exit after nearly a year as President of Univision Local Media, as reported Monday by Robert Feder at Time Out Chicago. Walker was hired to manage Univision's Spanish-language media properties in Chicago, including WGBO/WXFT-TV and several radio stations including WOJO-FM.

- But if you think lasting less than a year on the job is something, how about lasting just a week? That's exactly what happened to Susan Winston, who exited as Executive Producer of CBS' The Talk last Friday after just one week, in a story that broke first on B&C's website. Winston was hired to replace original EP Brad Bessey, who exited after only a few months.

The Talk is a horrid rip-off of ABC's The View -  with five female co-hosts who are mothers. It helps to note the format did spawn two failed ripoffs: 2001-03's The Other Half, which featured male co-hosts, and 2004-05's forgettable Life & Style, perhaps the worst daytime talk show ever produced (How bad was this show? One former co-host of Life pulled an Harlan Ellison and had her name removed from the show's IMDB page.)

Having to work with co-hosts Leah Remini, Sharon Osbourne, and Ms. Church of Tisch herself, Julie Chen (husband of Church of Tisch pastor Les Moonves), you can easily see why Ms. Winston wanted to bolt from the premises after only a week.