Wednesday, July 28, 2010

TV Frostbites: Changes Ahead For American Idol

It’s not been a good year for “American Idol”.  First – the contract for Paula Abdul, one of Idol’s original trio of judges wasn’t renewed, so the producers had to scramble to find another person to fill her chair on the panel.  .  Who did they get to replace Abdul – none other than daytime talk show host and comedian Ellen Degeneres and even that announcement  was overshadowed with Simon Cowell announcing that this would be his last season of Idol. 

Another problem that Idol had this past year is with the talent that they people had to choose and vote on.  The talent on this year’s Idol was less than stellar – which could be the reason why the ratings for the show were down and lack of ticket sales have caused the cancellation of some of the dates on this summer’s “Idols On Tour” show.

Fox can see the writing on the wall and they’re going to do everything in their power to save this show – one of the few network television shows that can guarantee audiences of 15-20 million each and every week.

The Hollywood Reporter is reporting this week that Fox is close to bringing in Nigel Lythgoe, who along with Simon Fuller, created the world-wide Idol franchise and who was one of American Idol’s producers for the show’s first seven season.  You can bet the house that if Lythgoe does return to Idol you can expect a lot of changes. 

One of the changes could be seeing the show going back to a three person judging panel.  Lythgoe was not a big fan of the addition of a fourth judge, because he felt that it took the focus off the contestants.

And there could be changes to the judging panel.   Only two of current judges have a contract – Randy Jackson and Ellen Degeneres.  Jackson is on the final year of his contract and Degeneres has a multi-year contract; and they have yet to sign Kara DioGuardi (who has a one year at a time contract arrangement).  If Lythgoe has his way – the only judge to be safe on the panel is Randy Jackson.

Who would Lythgoe bring in to take Simon Cowell’s place on American Idol?  He has a pretty strong wish list and any of the names – such as Sir Elton John, Justin Timberlake, Harry Conick, Jr., Usher and Chris Issak – would be a welcome addition to the show.  He has even mentioned that he wouldn’t mind seeing Paula Abdul come back to the show – but that might be a little difficult now that she has her own show coming up on CBS.

Since this original post -- a few things have happened in the land of American Idol.  Thursday, July 29th -- Ellen Degeneres announced that she is leaving the show after just one season.  She explained her reasons in this press release:

 "A couple months ago, I let Fox and the 'American Idol' producers know that this didn't feel like the right fit for me. I told them I wouldn't leave them in a bind and that I would hold off on doing anything until they were able to figure out where they wanted to take the panel next. It was a difficult decision to make, but my work schedule became more than I bargained for. I also realized this season that while I love discovering, supporting and nurturing young talent, it was hard for me to judge people and sometimes hurt their feelings. I loved the experience working on 'Idol' and I am very grateful for the year I had. I am a huge fan of the show and will continue to be."

Also, representatives from Sir Elton John and Justin Timerlake have announced that they will not be part of the new judges panel on American Idol when it debuts later this year.   

In other TV news:

CBS is doing something nice to brighten up the summer TV doldrums – they are rerunning their surprise reality hit show – “Uncover Boss” -- every Sunday night from 9 to 10pm.  This is the show where the CEO of some pretty famous companies, such as Roto-Rotor, Waste Management, 1-800-Flowers, and more, go undercover to things really are with their companies.  In the end, the CEO lets everyone know who he really is and they institute some of the ideas the workers of the company mentioned to the “Uncover Boss”.  This Sunday – the Uncover Boss is from Hooters.  

Monday, July 26, 2010

He's Coming Home....For A Visit, That Is

  A photo of Van and Rich taken during Van's last visit to Flint

I can see it now. 

He’s counting down the days. 

I wouldn’t be surprised if he has a  calendar set up at his home in Macon, Georgia and he’s using a big black Magic Marker © to mark the days off. 

30 days.  29 days.  28 days. 27 days.  26 days.  25 days.  24 days.  23 days.  22 days.  3 more weeks!

After some seven years, my buddy Van VanDeWalker is going to be visiting his hometown of Flint, Michigan and to say that he’s excited about this visit would be the understatement of the century.  He’s pumped!  If you could put anticipation for a trip on steroids – Van would make Barry Bonds look like a piker when it came to being “juiced”!

No longer does Van have to settle for reliving the memories of biting down and hearing the snap of a Koegel Vienna with Angelo’s coney island sauce, mustard and onions…he’s going to be able to enjoy one, two, maybe three.

Van can attest to the fact that not only does seven days without a Halo Burger make one week – imagine seven years between a Bill Thomas olive Halo burger.  Knowing Van  he’ll probably tell you that having to live all those years without a Bill Thomas Halo burger was a living hell – something akin to being water boarded by Dick Cheney.

The anticipation for this trip is high…really high…and it makes sane men do strange things.  If I were a betting man, I’d place a few bucks on one of the first things that Van does when he gets off the plane at Bishop Airport is to kiss the ground.   Yup, he’ll get down on his knees and kiss the tarmac and hope like hell that airport security doesn’t bitch slap him.  I’m sure that before Van leaves the airport in his cheapest you can find but still expensive rent-a-car, he will buy a Flint Journal from one of the airport coin boxes to read back in his motel room.  And, if I know Van, he’ll be sneaking a peek at a headline here and there while waiting for the traffic lights to change on the way to his budget motel. 

One of the reasons that Van will be visiting Flint will be to attend a high school class reunion,  but one day of his three day visit will be taken up by doing one thing – joining me for a tour of the old town and seeing first hand just how much things have changed. 

Whether it was going to Kearsley Park on a hot summer day to learn basic lessons of safety at Safetyville, USA or taking in a Thanksgiving Day Northern/Central game at Atwood Stadium on a cold winter day – that’s the Flint that will forever be a part of a lot of us.  Or maybe it was jumping on an MTA bus and meeting all our friends downtown to see a movie at the Palace or Capitol Theater, or enjoying a ice cream sundae in the restaurant at Smith B’s or a bag of caramel popcorn from Dales. There are so many moments and places that both Van and I are going to relive as we drive around Flint and remembering how it use to be.

When we drive by Windmill Place – I’m sure we’ll have a laugh remembering when that Saturday a long long time ago when I participated in a “Celebrity Hot Dog Eating Contest”.  The organizers of this even pitted me against some small bellied “celebrities” from WTRX, Channel 5 and some other media organization that I can’t remember and they didn’t have a chance against my hot dog eating skills – me, the well-trained eating machine.  These guys were no match and I didn’t even have to pull out all of the stops to trounce the competition.  . 

Van will be surprised as I take him to one of the new sub-divisions in Grand Blanc and remind him that the radio station that we once worked for – WTAC – once stood where these beautiful homes now stand.  I’m sure he’ll also be surprised by all of the changes on S. Saginaw in Grand Blanc….this wasn’t the way he remembered the way it looked.

Van will also be surprised when I point out to him that the “Jumbo Video” store on Dort Hwy., across from K-Mart, is where the Ember’s Lounge once stood.  It was at the Ember’s Lounge where all of his friends left him alone on the dance floor to do a drunken Pee Wee Herman dance as we enjoyed our drinks and watched him from our table.

Our sight-seeing trip to Flint wouldn’t be complete without checking out the Citizens Bank weather ball or driving by that forty foot waitress in front of at the coney island restaurant on Corunna Road.  For old times sake – we’ll probably buy a lottery ticket or two at Paul’s Pipe Shop and see first hand all of the improvements downtown from the Durant Hotel to Channel 5’s new Flint headquarters to the new grocery store that just opened.  We’ll probably visit the old neighborhoods and share stories about what made living there so great and as we’ll probably pay a visit to Gracelawn to honor family members who have left us that made these memories we’ll share possible. 

So, join us in counting down the days.  August 20-23, 2010 – Van VanDeWalker visits Flint.  Believe it or not – on August 21st – Van and I are going to combine two of our loves into one thing….coney islands and Scrabble.  So, don’t be surprised if you see two guys chowing down the dogs at Angelo’s while they’re playing a game of Scrabble.  You’re more than welcome to watch – but please – no helping the participants.  

Friday, July 23, 2010

Some News About The News And The People Who Report It

It’s been an interesting week in television.  If rumors are any indication of anything – there will be one less female anchor hosting a network newscast in the not too distant future.  There have been rumors this past week – although no official confirmation – that CBS would like to buy out the remainder of Katie Couric’s contract with CBS News and replace her as anchor.  Would it surprise me if something like that happened?  Not really – especially with all of the rumors swirling around the internet and news blogs of some sort of deal being worked out to combine CBS News and CNN.  The other question is – who would CBS hire to fill the anchor chair if something like that did happen?  I dunno!  Maybe the news and entertainment division could work up a new program and call it something like “Who Will Be The Next CBS Evening News Anchor?” and have a bunch of reporters competing against each other for the position.  You could even have CBS/Viacom’s Chairman Sumner Redstone in the boardroom telling one reporter each week that they can “turn in your reporter’s notebook and go home’. 

Along with the talk of CBS wanting to buy out Katie Couric’s contract is the report that NBC’s Jeff Zucker (the man responsible for Jay Leno at 10) would like to have Katie Couric back home on NBC’s “Today Show”.  C’mon Jeff – do you really think that Katie is going to come back and be the perky one on the “Today Show” with Matt and Al after she has being the evening news anchor at CBS?  Jeff – Katie coming back to the “Today Show” wouldn’t exactly be a forward career move – that’s unless you have another brilliant idea – maybe something like “Today At Night” – a prime time hour of news and information and can use every Monday through Friday at 10pm.  Jeff Zucker could try and convince the affiliates on how cost effective a move having the “Today Show” on at night would be.  It would be less expensive that those pesky hour long dramas that you have to buy and schedule and what’s a more perfect lead-in to the late night local news that a network newscast.  Katie could report the news and do those hard-hitting interviews (like asking Sarah Palin what she reads) and the premiere show could feature one of Katie’s always entertaining colostomies.  Hell…maybe Zucker could be the one that the person that Katie chooses to insert a camera to go where cameras aren’t meant to go.  I know it all sounds pretty far-fetched – but nothing is impossible or far-fetched in the TV news business these days.

When I say noting is impossible or far-fetched in the TV news business these days – all you have to do is look at what’s happening at CNN.  Once known as the most trusted name in news -- CNN is quickly becoming the most desperate cable channel in America today.  When Campbell Brown resigned, CNN finally came to the realization that they couldn’t compete against the other channels with news and nothing but the news.  So, what does CNN do?  They are about to combine the news that you need to know with the equivalent of the kind of theater you’d expect to see on a prime time wrestling show.  If a bell is going off in your head that it sounds vaguely like “Crossfire”— the old CNN show where they pitted a liberal against a conservative and let them go at it – then you get a gold star for your forehead for having a good memory.  But they don’t stop there…the hosts that they have hired for this new program will be conservative columnist Kathleen Parker and Eliot Spitzer, who was once the governor of New York until news came out that he like to hire hookers.  Don’t expect a lot of respectable polite political discussions on this show – be prepared for a lot of shouting and attention getting theatrics or, in other words, a reason for you to tune in to CNN instead of the other cable “news” networks.

And the hits don’t stop there – CNN is looking to replace Larry King – who’s turning in his suspenders after twenty-five years of softball questions to some of the most powerful people in the world.  It’s pretty much a forgone conclusion that CNN will hire British TV personality and hack journalist Piers Morgan to fill the 9pm slot.  Most Americans know Piers from the Simon Cowell produced “America’s Got Talent” and from his appearance on “Celebrity Apprentice”.    Hiring Morgan will be the dumbest thing that CNN has ever done.  Trust me – before six months time – Piers Morgan will do something and say something to embarrass the network and give CNN critics fuel to burn the whole house down.  Piers Morgan is an ass and there’s no way in hell that he should be allowed to do an interview with a serious newsmaker – if my memory serves me right – Morgan once asked a British Prime Minister if he and his wife are members of the “mile high club”.  So, brace yourself for CNN’s new prime time line-up of Parker and Spitzer followed by Piers (I know Sharon Osborne) Morgan.  It’s a line-up like that that might have Anderson Cooper seriously consider taking the evening news spot on CBS.

Friday, July 09, 2010

Once a Flaming Talk Show Host -- The Only Flame Now in Dave Barber's Life is on his Grill and He's Happy About That

It wasn’t that long ago that the radio market in Flint, Michigan was filled with some incredible on-air personalities from wild and kinetic rock n’ roll antics of Peter C. Cavanaugh on WTAC to the mid-day housewife’s best friend, Betty Clark on WFDF.  Country music fans listening to WKMF couldn’t get enough of disc-jockeys such as Johnny Irons and Big Bill Anderson and then there was Buffalo Dick’s Radio Ranch on WWCK – Jeff Lamb’s somewhat bent take on children’s television shows that kept everyone entertained in the late 70s.

It’s a pretty safe bet that if there was anyone on the radio in Flint, Michigan who made a lasting impression on people – good or bad – that person would be Dave Barber.  While working overnights spinning records at WTRX – Dave dipped his toes into the world of talk radio by filling in for a vacationing Wally Kennedy.  Unlike other fill-in hosts for Wally Kennedy – Dave didn’t play it safe – he instantly went into his flame-throwing mode and the style of talk show that people remember Dave doing.

“I figured I couldn’t do the show the way Wally did it, so I started flame throwing,” Dave says.  “I mean I had an opinion about everything.  It managed to get a reaction (not always favorable).  Wally tended not to be very confrontational, so I stood out like a sore thumb.  It’s not what people listen to, it’s what they remember and can write it down in a rating diary and back in the late 70’s my show had a 40 share of the Flint audience.”

And just like Howard Stern in New York City – radio listeners in Flint, Michigan might not have liked or even loved Dave Barber, but they would listen to him just to hear what he would say next or who he would verbally dissect without missing a beat.

A complicated radio personality – Dave was part newsman, part antagonist and part Las Vegas lounge lizard who would like nothing more than to be a part of Old Blue Eye’s Rat Pack.  On one hand Dave Barber could be playful on the radio, but most of the time you took him pretty seriously and the last thing you ever wanted to do was to get in a pissing match with him.  He warned more than a few of the callers to his show – “If you want to play mental gymnastics with me, I’ll tell you right now, you’re going to lose,”  and he would see to it that even your best argument didn’t hold water and you weren’t worthy to even take up any of his time.  With Dave Barber – you either loved him or hated him….and he usually made sure that there was no middle ground for you to choose.  He knew how to push his listeners’ buttons and get them to respond, and in turn, it’s safe to say that Dave Barber provided Flint with some pretty exciting talk radio.

It’s been four years since Dave Barber’s voice has been heard on Flint radio.  In March of 2006, Dave left his hometown of Flint, Michigan to take a morning spot on WPRO radio in Providence, Rhode Island.  The radio business is not unlike any other business – if you want to move up in your career you had to take some challenges and Dave knew that the job in Providence was that next big step in his radio career, but it’s not easy to leave your comfort base and move to a new area where nobody knows your name or who you are. 

“The move was far more difficult then I expected,” Dave said.  “I did not know one single person and to be honest with you, I don’t know if I would have made the move if I knew what I know now.”

After nearly a year in his new job, Dave received his first employee performance review from the vice-president of talk programming for Citadel broadcasting (the company that owns WPRO, as well as WJR in Detroit and the ABC Radio Network).  Dave got a glowing review and everything was coming up roses, or so he thought. 

“I was so excited about the good review,” Dave says, “I decided to treat myself to a vacation in Miami to see the Super Bowl.  Things changed though when I got back to Providence -- On my first day back from vacation, I was fired.  And to complicate the matter even more -- the general manager of the station wouldn’t even give me the reason why I was being let go -- I was just told that I would understand in a few days.” 

A few days passed and Dave discovered the reason he was let go.  A former Rhode Island radio personality, who was better known, had just been fired from his job in Boston and was now available, so WPRO decided to bring him back to Providence

“So, I was the odd guy out when they hired him to come back to the market.  Plus, I don’t think it helped that I questioned the war in Iraq on the air, because the General Manager’s husband was a military General.  A little something that nobody bothered to tell me about.”

It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Dave was vocal about his feeling against the war in Iraq – he’s always let his feelings known on the air about the issues of the day – whether it was the war, the Auto World fiasco, abortion rights or capital punishment and he wasn’t afraid to take on people in power. 

Dave’s feud with former Flint Mayor Woodrow Stanley was pretty much chronicled by the Flint Journal. 

“Woodrow was simply corrupt,” Dave said about the former mayor.  “He circled himself with corrupt people and he didn’t like it that I let people know that about him.” 

How many talk show hosts do you know that have to protect themselves against the people that they talk about on the air?  Not too many, but at one point during the Stanley feud, Dave was allegedly struck by the former mayor and he had to have a restraining order issued against him. 

“Hey, Stanley loved me so much that he called me ‘his bitch’ to anyone who brought up my name.”

Dave irritated some other politicians – such as former Michigan governor John Engler.  Dave challenged Engler -- who embraced “family values” during his campaign for governor -- yet allegedly abused and cheated on his first wife – according to a request for an annulment from the Catholic Church that Engler’s wife filed.

“She said she would sue me if I reported it,” Dave said.  “I did and she didn't, so you see truth is a defense.”

As much as Dave loves to talk about his days in talk radio – he knows that those days are now over and he feels that was is happening now in the radio business is sad and embarrassing.

Currently, Dave Barber is the program director for Rhode Island’s Capitol Television. 

“Think of it as C-Span for Rhode Island.  I report to the Speaker of the House and I serve as the stations’ only on air person.  It’s all politics all the time.  My life today is completely different then it has ever been and I have never been happier.”

When Dave Barber lived and worked in the Flint area – he ate at only the finest restaurants in the area…today, Dave Barber enjoys eating meals at home -- meals that he cooks on his deluxe grill and, if you believe some of his Facebook postings, he has become a pretty fair grill master. 

And when asked about what he misses about the Flint area, Dave answers quickly, “Koegel Viennas!  Here in Little Rhody they call coney dogs “hot wieners”.  I was spoiled in Flint.  A hot dog in Flint is like filet mignon. The dogs here crawl out of the bun.” 

Anyone wishing to forward some Kogel’s out Dave’s way – you can contact him at Capitol Television.  You could call him at home – but he might be too busy grilling or getting ready for an evening in front of the television watching “American Idol.” 

In the interest of full disclose -- the author of this blog, Rich Frost, was once Dave Barber’s producer at WTAC – which doesn’t make him a bad guy – but it’s something he thought you might like to know.

Monday, July 05, 2010

A Classic TV Movie....More Problems for Jay Leno and NBC...and There's Some Good TV to Be Found on Basic Cable

Can you read this?

I think my fingers have gotten a little chubbier after all that I have to eat this fourth of July weekend and the extra chub might affect my typing skills – so bear with me if a few words are spelled wrong.  The food this Fourth of July weekend was pretty much delicious – with the exception of some food that I sampled on a trip up north Friday and I have to give credit to Marty and her youngest son Bill, who pretty much has become the family’s “Grill Master Extraordinaire”!

But enough about food and the fourth – let’s talk some TV and there is a lot on TV to talk about. 

“Duel” anyone?

The fine arts and entertainment channel Ovation (DirecTV Channel 274/Dish Network Channel 157) has been highlighting the work of some film directors a little ahead of their time with a series called “American Revolutionaries: The Directors”.  One of the directors featured in this series is Stephen Spielberg and the movie that they’re showing is the classic made-for-TV movie that he directed for ABC named “Duel” starring Dennis Weaver (who many people may still remember as Chester on the old CBS western “Gunsmoke”). 

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the movie “Duel” – it’s the story of a salesman (Dennis Weaver) who decides to take the scenic route to his next appointment, but little did he know that he was going to be terrorized by a faceless driver in a huge semi-truck that has the words “flammable” printed in big block letters on the back and side of the truck.  It doesn’t matter of Dennis Weaver is in front or in back of this semi – he’s pushed and terrorized the whole time.  You never see the face of the driver in the truck throughout the whole film – but you don’t have to – because every time that you see this truck you know things are going to get a little ugly for Weaver. 

According to the people hosting this show -- this low budget TV movie was all that Spielberg needed to kick start his career – because the first film that he got to direct after “Duel” was aired was “Jaws” and everyone remembers how that movie scared people at the beaches the summer that it was released.

Another director that they’re highlighting in this series is Mel Brooks – who wrote (with Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder) and directed one of my favorite movies of all time “Blazing Saddles”.  I actually seen this movie in a theater some ten times and laughed just as hard the tenth time that I did the first time that I saw this film.  Unfortunately, this series on Ovation won’t be showing “Blazing Saddles”, but will be airing another Brooks’s classic “The Producers”…is everybody ready for “Springtime for Hitler”?

NBC: More Problems than Hits

Remember last summer when NBC tried to convince us that come September we would all be turning to NBC for Jay Leno at 10?  NBC told producers and program suppliers that instead of those expensive prime-time drama programs – they were going to cut cost with running Leno five nights a week at ten with a fresh new show every night.  Leno at 10 was probably the biggest programming bomb in NBC history next to “Pink Lady and Jeff” and “Super Train”.  Leno bombing at 10pm brought about another programming blunder – when NBC thought they would send Jay Leno back to 11:35 and in turn – take “The Tonight Show” away from Conan O’Brien, who had only been hosting the show for seven months. 

One of the reasons that they gave Conan his walking papers was because his ratings were smaller than what Leno got when he did “The Tonight Show”.  NBC probably thought that they would put Leno back at 11:35 and everything would be ok – it would be like the whole “Leno at 10” fiasco was some soap opera dream sequence that never happened in real life.  Well…it happened….and here’s the kicker to the story:  Jay Leno’s ratings at 11:35 are actually worse than what Conan was getting for NBC and Conan was attracting a younger audience that what Jay does…oh well.  It’s going to be interesting to see what kind of audience Conan is going to pull in when he premieres this November on basic cable TBS.

More problems for NBC

One of the shows that NBC was hoping would be a big ratings draw for them come September is a new show called “Love Bites”.  The show, similar in format to the old TV show “Love American Style”, is having a few problems getting off the ground.  The woman who wrote the pilot, and who was once one of the top writers on “Sex and the City”, has left the show and one of the stars of the show – Becki Newton (who suppose to be a virgin on the show) has gotten pregnant.  So, instead of a September premiere – NBC is pushing back production on the show and they’re hoping to have “Love Bites” in shape for a January premiere.

With an hour hole to fill in the prime time schedule – NBC has turned to “The Donald” for a new season of “The Apprentice”.  Unlike the past few seasons that have featured celebrities – sixteen people are going to fight to become Donald Trump’s Apprentice and these people are combination of people who have either lost their jobs or are recent college graduates, who have had a hard time getting noticed in today’s job market.

Good TV is Easy to Find This Summer on Basic Cable

Traditional over the air television is in deep trouble – especially when basic cable channels are beating them at their own game.  When a basic cable channel like TV Land can attract broadcast network size audience with a mediocre sitcom like “Hot in Cleveland” – something is really wrong.

Last week, FX aired the first episode of the new comedy “Louie” starring comedian Louis C.K. and it’s probably one of the funniest shows on television today.  The premise of the show is nothing unusual – it’s basically the same thing that Jerry Seinfeld did on NBC – but Louis C.K.’s comedy has more bite than a shark at feeding time.  Where Jerry Seinfeld could be a little “cute” with things like the girl with the name that sounded like a…you know what….or give new meaning to the phrase “master of your own domain” – Louis C.K. comes out and tells it like it is.  Catch “Louie” Tuesday nights at 11pm on FX.

Fans of Dennis Leary and “Rescue Me”….the show is back on FX Tuesday nights at 10pm.  This is the last season for the show – so you don’t want to miss one episode to see how Tommy fares this season with his libido and battles with the bottle.  (Note:  Dennis Leary has signed with FX to do a new series after the completion of “Rescue Me”).

Jason Lee (of “My Name Is Earl” fame) is back as a Memphis cop who loves Elvis on the new TNT show “Memphis Blues” – Tuesdays at 10pm on TNT.  I caught the premiere episode of the show last week and it shows some promise – and if you watch closely – you’ll see some of Jason’s old cast mates from Earl pop up in the show.

Last, but not least, fans of Kyra Sedgwick and “The Closer” – the new season returns to TNT – Monday, July 12.  Expect some big changes to happen to Brenda and her job with the Los Angeles police department – let’s hope that budget cuts don’t split up her team of detectives.

Well, my stomach has settled down from all of the fourth of July goodies that I have consumed….so, I think I’ll find the remote control and set back and enjoy a show or two….and until the next time…remember – it’s only TV.