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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WLKY Speaks Up on Spokespersons

On Monday, WLKY-TV produced a Target 32 investigation that didn’t expose any corruption or bring to light anything most folks in media don’t already know. John Boel’s story found that there are a hell of a lot of P.R. jobs in government, and the people who have them are making some pretty good money.

Boel looked up the salaries of local spokespersons in Metro and State government and found some eyebrow-raising nuggets — like the fact that the Jefferson County Public Schools pays its spokesperson, Lauren Roberts, $111,724 per year. Or that the Mayor’s office pays three people a total of $206,371 to speak for him, more than twice his own salary. In state government, it seems every department has a spokesperson and Boel found that the cost of the entire staff of them to the state is about $3.4 million.

Read moreWLKY Speaks Up on Spokespersons

Categories TV

Election Night Coverage

Most folks waking up this morning are grateful the election is over. Regular advertisers are taking back TV, yard signs are coming down and reporters are turning their attention to other news. I spent the evening channel flipping and Web surfing — here are a few observations:

It was a time of experimentation for blogging. At LEO, it served as a good excuse to start a much-needed new blog — the Louisville Lip. The paper sent staffers around to polling places and filed some valuable and newsy bits. At the Courier-Journal, reporter Chris Poynter spent the day running around town and blogging about the experiences of people with a stake in the election, like the guy standing with a sign at Eastern Parkway and Bardstown Road. Both those blogging efforts stopped as the results began to pour in. The C-J editorial director David Hawpe spent the evening blogging his thoughts, a surprise given his public rant (I witnessed several weeks ago) against blogs at a public event.

The best thing broadcast was on WAVE-TV, where Jim Milliman and Jack Conway debated the races from each side’s point of view. Neither ever backed down, and each made good points. But neither would concede a single race, even when evidence against them presented itself. Milliman, even as results showed Yarmuth gaining steam, dismissed the results and claimed the late votes would push Northup out front. Conway, who could and should have run the race Yarmuth won, continued to push Mike Weaver and Ken Lucas in their futile races up until 7:30.

The best national coverage was on CNN — where Wolf Blitzer headed an all-star cast of analysts that included James Carville and Bill Bennett. Watching Fox News’ revealed the right-wing bias that network has become known for, with Brit Hume hanging on to every piece of good news for the Republican side like a life raft. On the other hand, the experiment of combining The Daily Show and the Colbert Report on the Comedy Channel for an election special fell a little flat. Colbert’s denials that Democrats were actually gaining was good for a laugh or two, but on a night of such seriousness for the country, Stewart and Colbert took a turn toward silliness that didn’t cut it. That our nation’s youth (including my sons) are turning to these guys for news tells me we’re headed toward a nation of youths who value laughs over substance.

Of note, if you get a chance, read Maureen Dowd’s Rolling Stone cover story on Stewart and Colbert, which I picked up in a doctor’s waiting room yesterday. Dowd’s questions bring out great responses and a better understanding of their shows.

Finally, a word on the campaign for Congress her in the 3rd District. Yarmuth’s win was satisfying in one important way — it showed that Louisville voters saw through the various dirty tactics of the Northup campaign. Distorting Yarmuth’s columns to make false claims on his positions failed. Lifting a decade-old speech out of context to falsely motivate South End voters failed. Running from a record of support for an unpopular president failed. Maybe, in two years, the Republican candidate will run on a record of accomplishments, and not one of tearing down Yarmuth for dated newspaper columns.

Moving Up to D1 at WKU

I went to Homecoming in Bowling Green last weekend, and barely recognized the place — or some of the folks I went to school with 25 years ago. The place is awash in new structures, enrollment is up, and there’s a $37 million renovation coming to L.T. Smith Stadium

So when Gary Ransdell, the president of the school, stopped to talk with me and a few friends about the school’s plans to move up to Division I in football, my opinion of the move was instantly changed. My only knowledge of it was a Rick Bozich column in the C-J, which criticized the move because he envisioned the ‘Toppers being a sop for powers from the Southeastern Conference.

But Ransdell said, for one, that the schedule would more likely include schools like Vanderbilt, and that they would retain the rivalry with Eastern. There will be one “money” game per year, but Western has taken on Georgia and Auburn in recent years anyway. As the third Division I school in Kentucky, Western will become a popular opponent. Who knows, they could even field a competitive team. It wasn’t that long ago, remember, the Louisville was on the brink of dropping football to a lower level, and now they’re playing in the most-watched game in the country.

No, this isn’t any “collision course with the National Championship” chatter, but it is conceivable that with some improvement the ‘Toppers could sweep schools like Middle Tennessee, Troy and Florida Atlantic (hello, Howard Schnellenberger) and be in contention for an actual bowl game.

The school’s Board of Regents votes on the proposal today, but it’s a done deal.

The Business of Public Radio

Donovan Reynolds, whose been in the hotseat at the Public Radio Partnership for just two months, trimmed four staffers this week. Among them — Michael Bright, whose position as VP of programming and marketing was “an unnecessary level of bureaucracy.” I saw Bright a few weeks ago, subbing for Reynolds as a speaker at a PRP-sponsored event for the Center for Non-Profit Excellence. While I knew Reynolds was going to make changes, I had no idea Bright’s job was in jeopardy.

I do like the idea behind Reynolds’ moves, though, and I wish more politicians would run on a platform of cutting costs by streamlining their staffs.  He found four folks the PRP can do without, leaving a staff of 21 full-timers. That’s a 16 percent cut and a lot of pledge dollars. He does plan to add a necessary fund-raising post, and seems serious about getting aboard the new technology bandwagon. Let’s hope so. The PRP Web sites…..suck.

Reynolds is one of those guys who has a professional manner, a good listener, but in the end doesn’t seem to mind telling people things they don’t want to hear. That’s just what the PRP needs.