Getting on Board with the Arena

Yesterday’s ground-breaking ceremony for Louisville’s new downtown arena was evidence that this project is really going to happen, so it’s time to get on board with it and trust that what this smart bunch of folks is building is a good thing.

It’s time to forget that the LG&E site may not be the best location, that arena chairman Jim Host (I worked for him a long time ago) ramrodded the deal, ran over those who objected to his plan and wields overwhelming power in determining who gets what. It’s four years before the first game, plenty of time to forget the millions being paid for the site (with the applause of beneficiaries like LG&E and Humana). In four years, maybe I’ll be among those who have accumulated the wealth to buy a seat for a U of L game. Of course, I’m anxious to see all the new events that will be coming to town once the new facility is built.

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The Sham of Breaking News

On Tuesday,  WHAS-TV teased its late news viewers with an upcoming “Breaking News” story. Once on the air, anchor Doug Proffitt quickly cut to reporter Rebecca Rector on “the scene” where breaking news was happening — right now. Viewers were assured that WHAS-TV had this “breaking story” that was crucial for viewers to know.

Here’s the story, which wasn’t mentioned in any other newscast or in the following day’s paper.  There was a fire at a business (closed at the time) where peanut butter is made. No one was in the building when the fire started, and no one was injured. Damage to the building was limited to a room where peanuts roasted.  Rector interviewed a firefighter at the scene, who calmly told her the fire was under control. A machine was being used to blow smoke out.  No word on the condition of the peanuts.

This hardly qualifies as the lead story on a newscast, much less of the “breaking news” hype. Is there some pressure on the station management level to falsely alarm folks with the “breaking news” banner? Putting reporters on the street to cover non-stories like this — is that what WHAS thinks people want? What happens when something significant occurs — is there another level — “really important breaking news”?

Give credit to the other local stations for not falling completely into this trap, at least on this night. Chasing fire alarms for something to put on the air live is just one step above lawyers chasing ambulances for clients. But at least those guys don’t  put their work out there for all to see.

Categories TV

Lighten Up with Bugs, Sly and Tweety

There was face painting, crafts, caricatures and free photos with Bugs Bunny, Sylvester and Tweety at Monicathe Light Up Louisville celebration downtown Nov. 24. The weather was perfect, which may have helped keep even larger crowds away from the city’s indoor kids activities, which were packed with families for a couple of hours.

The sight of Bugs Bunny, provided to the event by Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, was enough to generate shrieks of delight for youngsters, at least those who didn’t shy away. There’s something about a six-foot tall bunny just scares the heck out of certain three-year-olds. Most were happy to get their picture snapped with the cartoon characters. It was the first time that the city used Picture Marketing for one of its events. That’s Monica from the city’s Community Relations and Events staff posing with Sylvester and Tweety.

Parents who pick up the photos online (they got a card with a bar-code scan at the sight) can see the photo and send it along to friends and relatives, save it on their computer for home printing, or order prints directly at the site. The special site set up for the event features plenty of information about the event and its sponsors.

Cards? I Don’t Want No Stinking Cards

Did you think you were the only one who failed to use that gift card from Aunt Louise at Christmas last year?

Get this — In the U.S. alone this year, there will be a 20 percent increase in gift card purchases above 2005, with the total exceeding $80 billion. And 10 percent of them will never get cashed in.  Who wins here? How about Home Depot, which reported a balance of $43 million in accrued, unused gift card balances in one quarter last year — money that will end up as profit on the bottom line, according to a Tower Group report.

I think the gift card concept is as bad for the Christmas gift-giving tradition as cell phones have been to telephone booths. The holiday is about bulky packages under the tree, seeing kids shake boxes for a week before the event, figuring out how to get a bike assembled and into the living room on Christmas Eve, loading the car with sacks of presents for the trip to Grandma’s.  It’s buying an outfit for my wife at a department store on Christmas Eve.

A gift card says “I couldn’t be bothered to think about getting you a personal gift, so I’ll just tell you where to spend the money I’m giving you. And, by the way, you’re worth about $25 to me. I love you.”

My three boys would all be happy with gift cards this year, but they won’t get them from me. They’ve gone so far as asking for cards from specific stores. They want ITunes cards, and Borders cards. They can expect CDs and books, gifts that reflect the individuals they are and that show I care about them. And some socks.

I know they’re going to have a lot of fun shopping for me as well. Racquetballs and golf balls. Every year. It’s what I want, and they like getting me something I’m going to enjoy. In a big box. Under the tree.  No gift cards — I’ve still got a few from last year.

What Happened to Kramer?

I posted the video from YouTube here because you have to see it to believe it. It shows how easy it is to ruin a once-promising career.

If Michael Richards was worried about forever being remembered only for his role as Kramer, now he’s changed that for good. As an original fan of “Seinfeld” I’m sorry to see this happen to him — but it does show how close to the surface racism is in our country.

It’s just sad.

Lethal Legalese

innocent manThe Kentucky Supreme Court has decided it’s OK to use lethal injections on Death Row inmates, though we haven’t seen many executions here. I hope we don’t start seeing them, either. The court ruling came down Wednesday in a case brought by two convicted murderers. It’s a timely ruling, in the little world inside my brain, because I just finished reading John Grisham’s first work of non-fiction, The Innocent Man, in which an innoncent man comes within five days of his execution date in Oklahoma.

Mark Hebert has a good take on lawyerly blunders with the press by the state.

Grisham’s book proves that truth can be stranger than fiction, as he sees bumbling Oklahoma lawyers screwing up in the case of Dennis Fritz and Ron Williamson (a former minor league baseball player). After 11 years in prison, including several on death row for Williamson, the pair are proved innocent using DNA testing. In those 11 years, Williamson went from being a odd character in a small town (Ada) to a mental incompetent, from a healthy 220-pound athlete to a skinny and frail ghost of a man.

There were few consequences for the prosecutor, the police, the people who lied at trial, the state’s experts who altered testimony to fit the prosecutor’s vision, the detective who elicited courthouse confessions through questionable interrogation techniques, even the reporters who took the state’s one-sided story to press — all of which shows that even in today’s criminal justice system, a person falsely accused can end up facing a court-ordered murder.

Speaking of “Stranger Than Fiction,” I saw the movie of that title, starring Will Ferrell, whose Harold Crick is a memorable and heroic character. While the premise — that a novelist is narrating Crick’s life story while he’s living it — is absurd, the movie is terrific. The novelist, played by a chain-smoking, feeble Emma Thompson, is known for always killing her characters, and predicts an imminent demise for Crick. Hearing this, Crick sets out to change his life and the outcome of the story. Dustin Hoffman is great as an English professor to whom Crick comes for advice.

Black Monday in Local Radio

Few would argue that the last decade has been bad for fans of quality radio programming. With local station owners selling out, there are just a few owners in the radio game, the biggest of which is Clear Channel. Last week, Clear Channel Communications Inc. announced it was being sold to private equity investors and the company’s founding family for $18.7 million.

In Louisville, Clear Channel is dominant, with nine stations under its banner, along with the Kentucky News Network and the Total Traffic Network. Among its station is WHAS, long the dominant local voice in radio. Sometime last week, the station began airing a Fox News broadcast, rather than local news, at the top of each hour.

Then, on Monday, the hammer dropped, when it was made public that at least six staff members, and perhaps as many as 14, were fired in what the station called a “general staff reduction.” Among those sent packing were well-known voices belonging to traffic reporter Mark Travis, WAMZ DJ Night Train Lane, sports broadcaster Doug Ormay, Scott Clark of The Fox and newsman Joe Hall.

There’s no doubt the station sale had something to do with the bloodletting. It’s hard to believe that its owners believe the best way to operate this powerful group of stations is to see how little can be spent in operating them. The encroachment of national (cheaper) broadcasts into traditionally local programming has been going on for a long time, and the local station identity is fading fast.

What’s next? If I were a member of the WHAS newsroom, I’d be very worried about job security. If I were Terry Meiners, Francene or Tony Cruise, I’d have my backup plan at the ready. Because the way things are going in radio, the only thing to differentiate WHAS from a station in Cleveland will be the weather.

I want my OJ

WDRB in Louisville was among a handful of Fox affiliates nationally which had refused to air the “If I Did It, Here’s How It Happened” special featuring an interview with O.J. Simpson.

Simpson, obviously in dire need of funds, had convinced the Fox network to air the special, but it’s drawn so much criticism that Fox canceled its plans for the show Monday afternoon. WDRB general manager Bill Lamb beat the network to the punch, announcing his decision to pass on the show locally.  In announcing the decision, said he’d rather explain why he didn’t carry the program than why he did. The special was set to air next Monday and Tuesday, but a groundswell of negative public opinion forced Fox to cancel its plans nationally.

Nobody likes to see someone get away with murder, but to go as far as enrich Simpson for telling his story went beyond the pale for U.S. audiences. Fox announced the show late last week, and has been taking critiques from all corners of the globe ever since. Even my wife started her own boycott of Fox programming, though I convinced her it was OK to watch the Colts game on Fox Sunday. Bill Maher, on his HBO show, joked that he would have watched it, re-inforcing what’s wrong with American taste.

I might have watched the show, but I know it would have drawn some incredible ratings. It would have been irresistable, like Fear Factor and shows like it. Who admits to watching Pro Wrestling? Yet America has made poor taste a staple of the TV diet. By canceling the show, Fox gives up a story that would have dominated conversation at American Thanksgiving celebrations and given Entertainment Tonight and shows like it something to follow up the TomKat wedding.

For now, and the foreseeable future, Fox has said no to OJ. But there are enough people who want more OJ news, and you can bet that some network, somewhere, on cable probably, will enrich Simpson and air his show and publish the book.

News Judgement (or lack of it) is what’s wrong with TV News

Last night I decided to take a close look at a newscast, and I came away with a theory about what’s wrong with TV news, and why so many folks complain about it. The 11:00 p.m. WHAS newscast (no comparisons in this post to other stations, for now) led with a near-breathless Doug Proffitt inviting viewers to stay with the station for a “breaking news” item in the case of a murder in Clifton.

There was a cut to reporter Rebecca Rector standing outside a PRP residence, where she was expecting to hear from a police spokesman at any minute about a potential suspect and arrest.  You got the feeling that the important part of the story was whether or not Dwight Mitchell was going to come out and speak to her.

That was followed by quick cut to the weather (clear, might rain tomorrow, yawn). Also in the first few minutes, there was an interview with a Jefferson County school offiicial about a Ballard freshman stealing his teacher’s car. That story was the station’s lead on its earlier newscast, on a day when two prominent potential candidates for the governor’s race held press conferences announcing their intentions not to run.

What’s wrong with this picture?

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