Category Archives: Television

Monster lizard ravages East Coast

During my career in TV news, I was fortunate, or unfortunate as the case may be, to be witness to all sorts of live, on-air screw ups. Many were funny, but some were not. But that it not the point of this post. In honor of all my friends and family who are digging out and trying to stay warm, here is a classic from my favorite radio news guy, Les Nessman.

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The Dynasty Continues

 

phil-robertson-p11I didn’t exactly stay glued to my computer or TV to keep track of the minute-to-minute developments over Duck Dynasty patriarch Phil Robertson’s comments in GQ, but it has been an amusing holiday diversion. Some thoughts…

I’m not sure why anyone was so shocked. His comments on gay sex and gay marriage are certainly out of vogue with popular culture these days. However, they do reflect a stance that was considered conventional wisdom until just the very recent past. Let us remember, the idea of gay marriage was a fringe concept until just the last few years.

Some complained about the loss of “freedom of speech” and cited the First Amendment without having a clue what the concept entails. As it relates to a case like this, the Freedom of Speech clause in the First Amendment protects a person’s right to state his opinion. It offers no protection against the reaction to those comments. I can call those people morons all I want, but I should be prepared for a negative response.

If your fame and fortune rests on your intangible image in popular culture, then you really should be very careful about protecting that image. The same thing happened with our neighbor Paula Deen.

When you develop a vaccine to prevent breast cancer, you can rest on your accomplishment and say anything you want. Your spot in history is still reserved by your accomplishments. However, when you have no tangible foundation, your public image is like a filled balloon. Everything is fine until someone comes along with a pin. I think this applies only partially to Phil, because I’m not sure he really cares one way or the other. Remember, this is a guy who gave up on a potential NFL career because the season interfered with hunting season. If Duck Dynasty were to go away, he still has the duck call business that got the whole thing started.

It is no surprise that A&E kissed and made up. Let’s face it, DD is the only thing that makes A&E stand out in a field of second-tier cable networks. Think about it. Without DD, what is A&E?

It’s that network that runs “Law and Order” marathons. No, that’s TNT.

How about the network that runs old movies. No, that’s AMC.

Wait! It’s the network that runs those syrupy melodramas for women. No, that’s Lifetime.

I know. It’s the network that shows people how to fix up and sell their home. No, that HGTV. (Mrs. Poolman’s favorite channel, by the way.)

Get the picture? A&E sure did.

Love those sappy Christmas commercials!

I am a total sucker for those sappy TV commercials that come on this time of year. Hallmark has always produced some classics. No slap-job :30 second spots for them. Running up to two minutes or more, these are little micro-dramas are fully intended to produce a little warm spot in the coldest of hearts. The Publix grocery store chain has produced some very nice ones lately, mostly with small children. And this year, Apple has joined the crowd with a really excellent effort. Here are a couple of good ones from this year, and one oldie-but-goldie Hallmark spot from years past.

Where have you gone, Lou Grant?

By now everyone in the world has heard about the colossal screw up last week when KTVU-TV fell victim to a prank and announced fake, racist names of the crew of that crashed Asiana airliner.

While most people are chuckling and asking “How could that happen?” the men and women who run local TV newsrooms should be shaking in their boots. If they have any self-awareness at all, they should be dropping to their knees and praying “Thank God, they didn’t call my station.”

I spent more than 26 years in the  local TV news business most of them as a news director, running local news departments. I have been out of the business for more than ten years, but I stay in touch. Many of the problems I saw when I was there remain today, and have gotten worse.

This may not be exactly what happened, but it is a very plausible scenario. A call or email comes into the newsroom. Some junior staffer, probably fresh out of college takes the call and gets excited and yells “We have the names of the pilots!”

Someone only slightly more experienced responds, “Oh my God, we have to get this on the air, NOW!”

Already someone else has called the promotion department to tell them to start working on a promo hyping the “exclusive breaking news.”

The chyron operator (the person who types the letters that you see on the screen) transcribes what is given to him.

Meanwhile, not until the anchor reads the names on the air does anyone actually look at the names and say them out loud.

Supposedly in the KTVU case, someone at the station called the NTSB where an intern confirmed the names. How this happened, I cannot explain.

So why does something like this slip through?

1. Too many stations overemphasize flash and speed over substance and accuracy.  How many times have you seen or heard “breaking news,” or “this just in,” or even better “live, late breaking.” On the other hand, how many times have you seen a station brag, “We got it right!” Getting it right may be an assumption, but when it isn’t emphasized, it falls by the wayside. It may only be a dumpster fire, but if it’s live and breaking news, we’ll be all over it.

2. The economics of the TV business are such that there just aren’t as many experienced people left in many newsrooms to actually provide a system of checks to catch mistakes before they air. This was a noon newscast in a major market. You would think there would be some senior people around to call the shots at that time of day. However, when you get to a smaller market, especially on weekends or in the early morning, it is just a handful of inexperienced people processing a high volume of news content. The same young producer or reporter who gathers in the information also writes it and approves it for air. There is no one to give it a second look, or if there is, they are frequently as green as the first person.

3. TV newsrooms are not staffed by rocket scientists. This is a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about. This is not a blanket indictment of everyone who works in TV news, nor am I saying that TV news people are all morons. For the most part, they all have college degrees, so at least in theory they are literate. And clearly, there are some very sharp people working out there.  However, on the average over the past two decades or so, the TV news business has not attracted the cream of the intellectual crop.

It starts in college. If he or she is being honest, a broadcast journalism professor will admit (as many have to me) that the students he/she is teaching are not the best and the brightest. The students who were at the top of their admission class are majoring in subjects that will produce a more lucrative career, like pre-med, pre-law, finance, engineering, and so on. When compared to majors like engineering, chemistry or even nursing,  broadcast journalism is a fairly easy major. It is often a second choice or back-up plan for students who couldn’t hack it in the more demanding majors. (In full disclosure, about a hundred years ago, I was one of those students.) Further, it is not at uncommon for the top graduates in a broadcast journalism program to take a look at the starting salaries in the TV business and say, “Screw this. I’ll go to law school or get an MBA.”

4. It’s very sad that a large number of those students/graduates aren’t really interested in journalism or news in general. They want to be on TV. They might be just as happy, or perhaps more so, being a “spokes-model” or a contestant on “Big Brother,” as covering the city council in small-town USA. For most new, young TV reporters, the job of collecting and presenting news is just a means to an end — a way to get on TV. If the stars align in their favor, maybe they get a shot at their true dream, to get off the street, away from the day-to-day drudgery of actually covering news, and become an anchor. As a result, there is very little emphasis what traditionalists might consider real journalism. “How does my writing look?” is replaced by “How does my hair look?”

5. Back to college for a moment, although the salaries aren’t a lot different, there is a contrast between the broadcast journalism students and their academic cousins across the quad in the print journalism department. It tends to attract a different type of student. In print journalism, it doesn’t really matter what you look or sound like. The most fame you will achieve early in your career is a byline and maybe a thumbnail photo. Strangers won’t come up to you in the grocery store and ask you why you changed your hair style. While still in school, you are actually expected to be able to write something longer and with more depth than a tweet.

I wish I had a good conclusion for this post, but I don’t. I continue to watch local TV news here. Mostly I just want to know if it’s safe to go to bed and what the weather will be in the morning. I really don’t care about the “live, late breaking” dumpster fire.

Passing of my evil twin

We had a weird experience last week. Mrs. Poolman and I were over at Poolboy’s condo for dinner when Mrs. P’s cell phone rang. It was one of our friends asking if I were OK. There was a rumor sweeping the hospital where they work that “The Poolman” had died suddenly that afternoon. I pinched myself and then asked Poolboy a question to make sure I was still really there. (Remember “The Sixth Sense” with Bruce Willis.) Once I confirmed I really was alive and breathing, I started wondering which of the other “The Poolman”s in town had deceased. The next morning I discovered it was the many I jokingly referred to as “my evil twin.”

We were never very close, but we had a long, and incredibly coincidental relationship.

We first encountered each other in 1984. I was a TV news director in Nashville. I read in one of the trade journals that another “The Poolman” had recently been promoted to news director at a station in Kansas City. I wrote him a letter (This was before e-mail, twitter, Facebook, etc.) to congratulate him.

“I hope you do well, so anyone who confuses us will also think well of me.”

Several months later, we met in person at an ABC affiliate news director’s meeting. A couple of years after that, again at a news directors’ meeting, we met on a sidewalk in Salt Lake City. Our conversation turned to family history and, to both of our surprises, we discovered we grew up with a few blocks of each other in the Pittsburgh suburb of Mt. Lebanon. He was about six years older than I, so we weren’t there at the same time. By the time, my family moved back about the time I was starting high school, he was already off at college.

We ran into each other from time to time in the world of television news. In 1992, I moved to the CBS station in Savannah. In 1995, I returned from lunch one day to find people in the newsroom acting strange towards me. I pulled someone over and asked them what was going on.

“Well, Poolman, your secret is out. We all know you are moving across town to the competition.”

“What?”

“They announced it to the staff this morning. The Poolman is the new news director at the NBC station.”

I knew immediately what was going on. So for the next five years My Evil Twin and I competed directly with each other as rival news directors with the same name at TV stations in the same town.

We both left our respective stations around the same time in the early 2000s, and both stayed in Savannah. My Evil Twin, aka “the other Poolman” ended up with two tours of duty at the third station in town. So we continued to run into each other until he got out of the business entirely a couple of years ago.

His death leaves just three “The Poolman”s left in Savannah. So to quote Mark Twain, “Reports of my death are grossly exaggerated.” — hopefully, for some time to come.

Poor Paula

The headline in today’s local paper reads  “Publisher drops Deen cookbook.” “The Perils of Paula” has been all anyone in Savannah has been talking about for the past ten days. In case you have been hibernating, you know that local Savannah restaurateur-made rich-and-famous Paula Deen has been under attack ever since the contents of a deposition were made public, in which she admitted using the “N-word” some 30years ago.Paula w

I am of two minds on this issue. My first reaction was this was an incredibly disproportionate reaction to a three-decade old petty misdemeanor. I mean – come on! Let he who is without sin, cast the first stone. I am not condoning the utterance. I just think this is a case of capital punishment for a parking ticket. I feel sorry for Paula. She actually lives around the corner from us, and occasionally we’ll see her shopping in Publix.

On the other hand, to borrow another cliché, “Those who live by the sword, die by the sword.” In this case, the sword is the combination of publicity and image.  Paula built her food empire and her fortune based on image and publicity. It’s not like she is the greatest chef in the world. Her folksy “Southern charm” made her the queen of The Food Network. Once she caught on, her momentum just kept building. But that kind of fame and image can be like a balloon – big and voluminous, but of little of substance. One leak and the whole thing disappears.

Paula did not do a good job protecting that balloon from lurkers with needles. The damning deposition originates in a lawsuit related to a restaurant Paula created for her brother, Bubba. We know a number of people who have worked at “Uncle Bubba’s,” and they tell us that things were run pretty loose there. I have no idea of there is any merit to the actual lawsuit filed by one of Bubba’s former managers, but it is safe to say that the operation was not squeaky clean. That is not unusual for restaurants, and in most cases, it doesn’t matter — unless you are Paula Deen and you have a mega-million business riding almost entirely on your image. You must make certain there is no one lurking in the background with a hat pin looking to burst that giant balloon. Apparently, she did not do that, and that is her biggest mistake. Too bad.

Hymns, funerals and extra mourners

I am not much into music, especially religious music. In church I try to sing along, or at least lip sync, when I know the song. However there is no way I can contribute to a song I haven’t heard enough to recognize the melody.

This past Saturday, I was the reader at 5:30 Mass.  Afterwards, I went over to Julie, the song leader, to compliment her on her contribution. A few weeks ago, after a Mass that had four hymns I had never heard before, I had teased her that she and the organist were apparently trying to sing every song in the hymnal at least once during the year. So when I approached her on Saturday, she asked if I thought they were doing any better with their music selection. This got us talking about “So what are your favorite pieces?” I mentioned a few, but said my all-time favorite was “On Eagle’s Wings.”

Julie responded, “Well you must not go to many funerals, because we always sing it there.”

I told her I had been to many funerals as a child (more on that in a moment), but fortunately, I had not much opportunity to do so lately.

During the course of the conversation, I recalled a television show that had a short run in the 1990s that focused on an urban Catholic parish. I couldn’t remember much about it, but I did remember one episode that concerned the death of a nun and a beautiful rendition of “On Eagle’s Wings” at her funeral.

Mrs. Poolman has accused me of being a bit obsessive on more than one occasion. I do hate to leave mysteries unsolved. When I got home, I got on-line and tried to locate this program. Actually, a quick Google search for “tv, drama, catholic, priest” turned up the answer in nothing flat.  “Nothing Sacred” was an ABC network program that had a short run in 1997-98. Beyond that, it turns out there are a number of episodes on YouTube. Since the show had only a short run, it was pretty easy to narrow down the episodes to find the funeral scene. Here it is. The clip is of the entire last segment of the show. The song starts just past the 9-minute mark.

So, why, you might wonder, did I attend so many funerals as a child? It had nothing to do with dying family members, although there were those too. I went to a Catholic grade school, and my sixth grade teacher, Sister Mary Leonard, was also the musical director for the parish. Fairly frequently, when she was called upon to play music for a week-day funeral. Usually there was no substitute teacher available, so Sister just brought the class along for the funeral. Three to four times a month, a grieving group of family and friends would show up at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church to say farewell to a loved one, and there, sitting in the back rows of the church, were 40-45 sixth graders.  We were all well trained on the proper procedures and etiquette of the Requiem Mass. We knew all the responses and the words to most of the hymns.

One day, we even attended a wedding. I wonder if the father-of-the bride looked over as he was escorting his daughter down the aisle and wondered, “Are they coming to the reception too?”

Looking back on it, I am a little surprised at how well behaved we all were. However, by that time, we were all veterans of a number of years of parochial school, weekly Masses, monthly confessions, etc. We were well aware that any cutting-up during a funeral Mass, might result in a lightning bolt from the choir loft. In any case, it would not be a pleasant experience. We knew what was best in the long run.