Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Katie Didn't

America has spoken, and they have done so loud and clear.

We don't want "cute and perky" delivering our news. At least not nationally.

Katie Couric will soon be bidding CBS goodbye, the nearly five-year experiment of her anchoring the CBS Evening News officially a failure.

Couric started reading the TelePrompTers for CBS in 2006, fresh off her run on the "Today" show, the only female among the three major networks who delivered the evening news during the week. The "fish out of water" move was designed to carve into the ratings gap separating CBS from their counterparts, ABC and NBC.

By that measure, the hiring of Couric was a colossal mistake for CBS.

Recent numbers put CBS's newscast at an average of 6.1 million viewers nightly, far behind ABC (8.1) and leader NBC (9.2).

Apparently when it comes to network news, it'd better be delivered by someone who isn't cute and perky, and who isn't a woman.

Couric: Cute and perky didn't do it

In fairness, Couric didn't project the same persona reading the news as she did kibitzing on "Today," but that is what many viewers must have seen when they passed her by while channel surfing: the same pixie doll whose smile lit up the morning airwaves.

For whatever reason, females anchoring the network newscast have been very few and very far between. ABC made an infamous blunder back in the mid-1970s when they partnered Barbara Walters with curmudgeon Harry Reasoner. The two of them had the same chemistry properties as oil and water when mixed.

Now, with Couric leaving when her contract expires this summer, it would be surprising if another woman was given a shot in the near future.

Don't weep for her, though. Couric is still too big a name to be unemployed for very long. In fact, the buzz is that she already has another project lined up.

Couric's departure has had a lot of "imminent" to it for at least two years, when word leaked that CBS executives were squirming in their seats because of the tepid numbers that Couric was bringing them. It's not all her fault, however; CBS's numbers were in the tank before they hired Couric.

I don't watch the news, local or national, because I find it too depressing. I read the newspaper, and the newspaper on the Internet, since I only get a paper-paper three days a week. So I'm not one to ask when it comes to, "Which network newscast do you like the best?"

Clearly, NBC has held that position on the mantel for a long time, with Brian Williams kicking everyone's rear end.

After five years and no discernible uptick in viewership, it's also clear that Couric being female, and being a perky one, didn't float a lot of boats in TV land.

We still like suits and ties and humorless when it comes to TV network news.

Ladies, you haven't come as long of a way as you think, baby!


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

A Word About Our (Shrinking) Sponsors

Doesn't anyone ever advertise on television anymore?

That might seem like a foolish statement, because Lord knows our favorite TV programs are chopped up like stir-fry vegetables so that 2-3 minute commercial breaks can be added.

But the TV advertisement market seems to have been cornered by just a few categories: prescription drugs, beer, cars, car insurance and wireless gizmos. Those five seem to dominate 80% of the break time, with the remaining 20% scattered into far less significant groups.

Where are the cereal ads? Big Boy commercials? Laundry detergent ads? Candy and gum spots?

The memories of my youth, when it comes to ads on TV, keep pointing to iconic characters like Madge (Palmolive dish soap); the Tidy Bowl Man; Jack Guilford's old man in the "Cracker Jack" spots; Mr. Whipple (Charmin bath tissue); the folks on the boat singing about Faygo; and a plethora of cereal characters (Toucan Sam, Cap'n Crunch, the Trix rabbit, etc).

The commercials back then were typically 60 seconds in length, so the ad agency folks had much more time for character development over the course of their campaign. A 60-second Cap'n Crunch commercial could just about tell and entire story---while also keeping firmly in mind that it was cereal they were hawking.

Today's artsy-fartsy spots often leave you hanging as to what they're even advertising until the final few seconds.

I suppose Flo, the Progressive Insurance Girl, is an example of today's iconic characters of advertising. That's fine. At least those ads are plentiful in their variety. Who else is already sick of the wireless gizmo commercial with the two guys on the ski lift? And it's only been on the air for a few weeks.

Mr. Whipple!!

We used to see Madge a lot, working in her salon, dipping a unsuspecting woman's fingers into a bowl of Palmolive. That's true. But the women were different and even though the gist was the same and the catch phrases never changed, there was still an element of variety to the campaign.

Gone are the days when commercial catch phrases made their way into the public consciousness.

The last was probably the Wendy's spots with old Clara Peller, who crabbily asked, "Where's the beef?!"

Even George H.W. Bush stole it for political gain.

I am so tired of prescription drug ads. And, they make me angry, because I can't help but think that the cost of those ads are part of why their products' prices are ballooning.

Even Coke and Pepsi have given up; they don't advertise much anymore, either.

Thank goodness for YouTube, where you can easily get lost searching for and viewing classic TV commercials from various decades. What a treasure trove of nostalgia!

I now return you to your regularly scheduled blog...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Our Little Early Bird

I'm not one to get too personal in this space but sometimes you just have to make an exception.

It was 18 years ago today, at 3:57 p.m. to be exact, when the medical staff at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak cut a 2 lb, 14 oz little pipsqueak of a girl out of my wife in an emergency C-section. The screaming, wiggling little thing could have fit in a shoebox but gave the nurses all they could handle.

Our daughter was a preemie, and there was no place better to take care of her than at Beaumont, which had---and still has---an outstanding neo-natal care department.

My wife had been laid up with toxemia in the months leading up to the birth, which wasn't supposed to occur until sometime in June. But during a routine check-up on Good Friday, 1993, her doctor advised her to go to Beaumont, and not to pass GO and not to collect $200.

We thought there were simply going to be some more tests and that she'd be home by the end of the day.

Imagine my surprise when, the next time I saw my bride (we'd just been married since September and our daughter was conceived on our honeymoon), she was being wheeled out to the waiting room, in a wheelchair and a hospital gown.

So much for being home by the end of the day.

It was soon determined, after getting my wife a bed in a semi-private room, that the baby---our baby not due until early-June---would have to be delivered, by hook or by crook.

They induced my wife with pitocin, which is standard. But after a day of that, it was evident that a vaginal birth was unlikely.

I spent the night with her and the next day, after another morning of waiting for the bun to come out of the oven, and with family in the waiting room, suddenly everything got frenetic.

In a flash, there were more nurses than usual and the bed was being wheeled away and I was handed a blue gown, hat, and mask.

The bed was wheeled down the hall, toward the delivery room. There wasn't panic, just urgency.

OK, maybe I panicked a little.

Upon entering the delivery room, I was told not to touch anything that was color coded blue. I remember saying, "I will not touch anything blue." That's a good time to follow orders.

I held my wife's hand and I'd never held the hand of anyone so cold who was still alive. The anesthesiologist sat next to me. I remember asking if she was supposed to be so cold. I don't remember what he said. Probably, "Yes, now shut up."

Several minutes passed and I heard someone shout, "Sharon, would you like to see your baby coming out?" and they held a giant mirror for her---and me. Only, I looked away. Sorry---too much that I didn't want to see.

Then, the baby was out and she was being carried to a nearby table. I was told to come see.

The first words out of my mouth, and I'll never forget it, were, "Is she going to be OK??!!!"

The reason for my concern was the wiggling, purple and red person I was staring at. She was SO SMALL. Turns out she wasn't even three pounds, which means she wasn't even as heavy as a bag of sugar. As I said, a shoebox would have been a suitable abode.

The nurses assured me that, yes, she'd be OK.

For about two months, our little girl lived in Beaumont's NICU, in an isolette, wires attached to her body and often her eyes covered to protect them from the harsh light. Everyday we visited, my wife twice a day---once in the day and again with me in the evening after I left work.

Finally, on June 4, 1993, our little Nikki came home---and even then she barely scraped the scales at four pounds.

Looking back, we should have been more scared, but the staff at Beaumont was so good and competent, and their reputation was so stellar, that I guess our fears were alleviated. That, and Nikki never encountered any serious health concerns while in the hospital; that helped.

Turns out that my wife's regular doctor had difficulty delivering her because of the position of the baby. Thankfully, the head of the department was in the hallway, purely by chance. And he was summoned, with both my wife and our baby's survival in jeopardy. He used his experience and skill in safely extricating our child.

This I found out later, and I'm glad I did. I didn't care to know that at the time!

So Happy Birthday, Nicole. You're officially an adult. But always our baby.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Organized Assassin

It has often been the M.O. of the American assassin to not have much of an exit strategy---no real end game beyond committing the act itself.

Leon Czolgosz had absolutely no chance of escape following the murder of President McKinley in 1901. Same with Charles Guiteau, killer of President Garfield 20 years earlier.

Witness the random, aimless meanderings of Lee Harvey Oswald following the shooting of President Kennedy, when he couldn't even get out of town despite the chaos within it.

There was one exception, however.

One hundred and forty-six years ago Thursday, actor and miscreant John Wilkes Booth sneaked into the suite of President Abraham Lincoln in Washington's Ford's Theater and shot him point blank in the back of the skull.

Booth's mission was accomplished; Lincoln was mortally wounded and he would die several hours later.

Beyond that, Booth knew what he wanted to do---get out of Dodge, and fast.

After pulling the trigger of his pistol, Booth leaped from the suite to the stage, severely injuring his leg in the process. He shouted something, "Sic semper tyrannis," Latin for "Thus always to tyrants." It was part of Booth's flair for the dramatic; it was also a reference to what Brutus said at Caesar's assassination, and it was the motto of Virginia.

Booth had arranged for a getaway horse and an escape route was in his head. Booth was part of a plot that was to not only kill Lincoln, but also Vice President Johnson and Secretary of State Seward. The mission was to take out the president and the next two successors, in an effort to throw the government into panic and leave an opportunity for the Confederacy to take advantage.

In his 2005 analysis of Lincoln's assassination, Thomas Goodrich wrote, "All the elements in Booth's nature came together at once – his hatred of tyranny, his love of liberty, his passion for the stage, his sense of drama, and his lifelong quest to become immortal."

That pretty much sums it up well.

John Wilkes Booth (1838-1865)

Booth died 12 days after shooting Lincoln, after being shot inside a barn on the farm of the Garrett family in northern rural Virginia. He was ratted out by William S. Jett, a former private in the 9th Virginia Cavalry.

But Booth had an exit strategy; he just couldn't quite pull it off.

His dying words, allegedly, were, "Tell my mother I died for my country."

Booth blamed Lincoln for the country's troubles, and believed himself to be the man deemed to punish the president.

Unlike the assassins of our other fallen presidents, John Wilkes Booth never intended to be caught. He fully expected to escape and live the rest of his life basking in the glow of his misdeed.

Even Oswald, it could be argued, believed himself to be doomed following the murder of Kennedy. In fact, I would suggest that Oswald didn't even think he'd be successful. I believe his panicked moves after the killing suggests those of someone who was scared to death that he actually killed the president, and didn't know what the hell to do or where to go.

Not Booth; he didn't want to be a martyr, he wanted to be a Confederate hero, and live to enjoy that status.

Booth's sister Asia had been given a letter by her brother in January 1865, some four months before the assassination. Booth instructed her not to read it until after his death.

It read:

"I know how foolish I shall be deemed for undertaking such a step as this, where, on one side, I have many friends and everything to make me happy ... to give up all ... seems insane; but God is my judge. I love justice more than I do a country that disowns it, more than fame or wealth."

Such is the mind of the determined---and organized---assassin.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Take This Spot and Shove It

Those advertisers sure know a captive audience when it sees one.

I'm talking about the newest way they're getting you to watch their ads---by boldly placing them in front of various videos you click to watch on the Internet.

And they're getting worse.

It used to be that the advertiser spots you'd be forced to view would last 10 seconds. No biggie; 10 seconds isn't too long to settle in and watch what you hope will be a compelling, funny, interesting, cute video.

Then the spots grew to 15 seconds in length. OK, what's 15 seconds, right? That doesn't seem too long.

Now they're a full 30 seconds in length, and they're showing up in more and more videos, annoyingly so.

Now we have a problem.

First, 30 seconds is a long time. It may not seem like it, but grab a watch with a second hand, close your eyes, and count out what YOU believe are 30 seconds. Almost guaranteed, the watch will tell you that you're shy.

Besides that, having to sit through a 30-second ad to watch a video that often times is barely that long itself, is the height of annoyance.

Not that the advertisers care about that, of course.

Consider it payback for all the times we zoom past their commercials on TV programs that we've recorded on our DVR.

Zoom past THIS, the advertisers are saying.

You see, once the "sponsor message" begins playing, you can't get past it. You are, for those 30 seconds, about as helpless and as captive as a fly in a spider's web.

I even had to watch the same ad a second time, because I had the nerve to click "replay" of the video I had just viewed. I wanted to yell, "I meant replay the VIDEO, not the commercial!!"

Sure, you can simply not pay attention to the ad. But the fact remains: they took 30 seconds away from you, regardless. Sometimes even 60.

I know what you're saying.

"Eno, this is just another case of whining when it won't do you any good."

True, but doesn't it feel good sometimes to rant, even if it's unlikely to bear fruit?

You think sitting through a 30-second commercial is bad? Don't look now, but there has been talk that the Internet itself may not be a free thing anymore---and I mean, beyond the cost you pay your provider every month.

Yes, I'm talking about pay-per-view sites and other little fees to make money off content that has been, since Internet time immemorial, 100% free of charge.

But that's still a ways off. Right now, the annoyance is forcing us to watch 30-second ads before our selected videos.

Never has half-a-minute seemed interminable.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Hollywood Walk of Lame

I wasn't around when it started, but I have a feeling that the Hollywood Walk of Fame's original intent was to be a big deal.

The HWOF was established in 1958 and to date includes over 2,400 stars that are laid on both sides of a 15-block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard and three blocks of Vine Street in Hollywood.

It attracts over 10 million visitors annually, according to Wikipedia. So by that definition, the HWOF is a big deal. But it's a big deal as a spectacle, not so much for its Hall of Fame chops.

It used to be that to get a star on the HWOF, you had to be among the industry's giants. But for years, pretty much any Tom, Dick or Harry in the entertainment biz is getting his or her due, in the form of those five-pointed terrazzo and brass stars.

The Hollywood Chamber of Commerce decides who should get a star, and they've been doing so at breakneck speed in recent years. As a result, whenever I hear of another person getting a star, the news is usually met by me with some eye rolling.

The first time I nearly gagged was when I heard Gary Collins was getting a star. I'm sure actor and pitchman Collins is a nice guy, but, seriously? A star on the HWOF?

The HWOF is in the news again, as actress Penelope Cruz was honored last week with her star.

Carol Burnett, one of the folks truly deserving of a star, is emblazoned into the sidewalk at 6439 Hollywood Boulevard

I'm only cranky about this because I think the HWOF started as a noble idea and at one time to be emblazoned into the sidewalk was a true honor. Now, I think it's just something to snicker at.

Actually, in addition to acknowledging entertainers, the HWOF was supposed to encourage redevelopment of Hollywood Boulevard. That's fine, but why not "encourage development" by honoring the best of the best?

The selection committee is causing so many stars to be molded that you wonder what their criteria is to bestow a star on someone.

Well, here it is, according to the Wiki:

Each year, an average of 200 nominations are submitted to the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Walk of Fame Selection Committee. Anyone, including fans, can nominate anyone active in the field of entertainment, as long as the nominee or his or her management is in agreement with the nomination. (A letter of agreement from the nominated celebrity or representative must accompany the application.) Nominees must have a minimum of five years' experience in the category for which they are nominated and a history of "charitable contributions." Posthumous nominees must have been deceased at least five years.

At a meeting each June, the committee selects approximately 20 celebrities to receive stars on the Walk of Fame during the following year. One posthumous award is given each year as well. The nominations of those not selected are "rolled over" to the following year for reconsideration; those not selected two years in a row are dropped, and must be renominated to receive further consideration. Living recipients must agree to personally attend a presentation ceremony within five years of selection. A relative of deceased recipients must attend posthumous presentations. Presentation ceremonies are open to the public.

Whew! Got all that?

Hollywood can do whatever it wants, of course. It hardly needs my permission. But my advice to the committee would be this: discretion may be the better part of valor here.

Check that; it's probably too late to put this toothpaste back into the tube.