Monday, July 27, 2009

One Month Later -- What does Pat Brown's departure mean for local TV news?

    


** On Friday, June 26, 2009, Pat Brown gave her last weather report on NBC-owned KNSD 39 (Cable Channel 7) in San Diego.

** The pioneering host of the groundbreaking "P.M. Magazine" show on KFMB Channel 8 during the 1980s – Ms. Brown had a near continuous presence on the San Diego television news landscape. The former state pageant queen from Sheperdstown, West Virginia (1977), moved west – and effortlessly re-invented herself into a beauty-with-brains TV personality and news reporter – before settling into her last incarnation as a weather anchor armed with an effervescently sunny on-air disposition. In an industry never known for stability, Ms. Brown's admirers knew her to be just that – a consistently productive and positive force for San Diego television programming – and for the community she continues to serve.

** The following Monday, Ms. Brown was replaced by Fritz Coleman, a nearly 30-year veteran of the TV wars from KNBC Channel 4 in Los Angeles, one of NBC's flagship-owned stations (alongside WNBC in New York).



** But that wasn't the headline to some of us. The headline was that the award-winning Mr. Coleman, by all accounts a "nice guy" with broad appeal – is now broadcasting his San Diego weather reports from Los Angeles – on a custom-built set back at KNBC.



** Though such "arrangements" aren't new – the move was the first of its kind involving a network-owned news station in San Diego. It illustrates the dire economic health of local television news – with KNSD NBC 39 (in my view) – probably faring the worst, budget wise, among its competitors. Station managers everywhere have been slashing budgets – first dumping behind-the-scenes staff and "superfluous programming" – while saving their biggest (and most visible) cuts for last.

** Pat Brown's departure wasn't your garden variety "revolving door" personnel change. It was emblematic of something worse that has cast a chill in the rooms and halls of KNSD NBC 39 – and beyond. Wishful-thinking station heads might be blocking out the precedent – and scoffing at satirically minded suggestions that any station that "jobs out" any portion of its local identity to a distant area code – is setting itself up to be wiped out entirely - by a thousand paper cuts afflicted over the next several years. Some TV insiders are quietly saying that "it could've been worse." Well, that's true. Maybe they should be thankful. They believe the tempest surrounding Ms. Brown's departure will "blow over." And likely it will. Fritz Coleman has already won over some skeptics – and I give credit to news director Greg Dawson for trying to manage the ill-smelling winds of anger still blowing after this change.

** But the bigger picture that's unique to KNSD NBC Channel 39 – has less to do with Pat Brown and more to do with the station itself being owned by NBC. Ms. Brown's departure raised eyebrows, for sure. But what was more ideologically significant to journalists – was that her departure and subsequent replacement by talent based in Los Angeles - was the first blatant evidence of what's been going on for a long time at network-owned stations in markets smaller than San Diego, e.g., the creeping decentralization of news and weather information – led by network executives who work in distant offices. Thus we have a classic instance whereby it's not always good to be OWNED by a network – and why it's sometimes better to be a network affiliate operating with greater independence.



** Since about 2002, TV news stations have been trending toward hiring more versatile reporters and anchors. These so-called "video-journalists" carry their own cameras and edit their own news segments – and sometimes get the privilege to present them live on the anchor desks where their higher-paid colleagues sit. Everyone knows that every "hybrid journalist" invited to the anchor desk to present his or her story – is being "screen tested." Such "hybrids" save big-time dollars for station managers – and equally significant, they can serve as "leverage" when the contracts of highly paid news anchors come up for renewal.

** On the surface, it appears to some that Pat Brown's "Achilles heel" was not being "versatile" enough. If so, you can count on other anchors at NBC 7/39 to be reviewed similarly for "fitness and compatibility" with the network's finance department. Hence the oft-heard advice during the last few years remains sound, e.g., "if you're still in TV news – the faster you can jump on the "hybrid train" the better – thus avoiding obsolescence and/or getting dragged or tossed behind.

** Local news anchors draw salaries that are double, triple or even higher than those working behind the scenes. An anchor's "work" is to bring in ratings. So what's that got to do with Pat Brown? Nothing unless you think she was a drag on ratings. I personally don't. It was all about saving money – but in a way more pernicious because the station is owned by a network - that decreed that news about the weather – does NOT require a local person to deliver it, hence can be pared less painfully than other departments.

** Everyone working in television news sees the handwriting on the wall. But in the past, even when times were good - that handwriting was mostly about being dumped in a budget cut and being replaced by someone cheaper, usually someone younger from a smaller market.

** But at a network-OWNED station – you have the additional fear of watching departments consolidated or phased out in stages, replaced by talent or crews located hundreds of miles away at other stations bigger than your own. It's analogous to newspapers shedding staff while publishing articles by news syndicates or wire services that are written in other states.

** What's unfortunate is despite the acknowledged downturn in local TV news nationwide - (because web-based news keeps siphoning viewers away) – the band-aid patches applied by network-owned-and-operated "suits" can't stop the bleeding. And watering down a station's local news product – under the aegis of saving money during a recession – also risks washing away the higher purpose of targeting audiences and advertisers in a region that will drift further away from KNSD NBC Channel 39 – and toward competing stations that remain committed to San Diego.

** It bears repeating that San Diego is the ninth largest city in the U.S. Yet corporate America and NBC keeps treating San Diego as if it's geographically, demographically and politically identical to Los Angeles. I sense that Mr. Dawson knows this to be true, even if he can't say it. Corporate America has always acted as if San Diego is a suburb of Los Angeles – and even believe its WEATHER is the same – despite San Diego's location on a harbor and Los Angeles's location on a smoggy basin.

** NOTE: Philadelphia is about the same distance to New York (and yet so different in character) - as San Diego is to Los Angeles. But NBC knows that replacing Philly-based weather anchors at WCAU NBC Channel 10 - with their counterparts at WNBC 4 in New York - would be greeted with outrage. Yet network executives continue to have a "blind spot" about San Diego - seeing it as being the same as L.A. - despite the polarizing political and cultural differences that are obvious to viewers in both cities.

** Pat Brown will re-invent herself like she always has – and will turn up soon because of her strong ties to the community. But in my view, intra-state or interstate consolidations – involving network-owned news stations like KNSD Channel 39 in San Diego – are incompatible with efforts to maintain revenues from local advertisers. Magnify that when you consider NBC's prime-time lineup is weak on every evening except Thursday – and that its sports product is limited to golf, NFL Sunday Night Football and the Olympics.

** The final irony amid all these words is this. A visit to KNSD NBC 7/39's website on Monday, July 27, 2009 at 9:45 p.m. Pacific Time – yielded the following banner slogan:





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(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hitler Gets Slammed by Housing Meltdown

    


** Michelle Miller Slingerland, a former colleague in real estate marketing, sent this to me today and it's a knock-out.

** The parody below consists of new subtitles placed over Hitler's dialogue -- (portrayed by Swiss actor Bruno Ganz) -- ruminating about the adverse effects of the housing crash.

** Its creator is a contributor who goes by the name, "Jamnospam" -- and he or she has assembled what I believe to be the best of the parodies taken from the critically acclaimed German drama, "Downfall" ("Der Untergang," 2004) -- director Oliver Hirschbiegel's take on the final days of Adolph Hitler.

** The parody (and "knock-offs" like it) -- draw from the same climactic scene, which show Hitler going on a tirade, railing against his officers. All have been somewhat controversial, generating protests from Holocaust groups -- as well as objections from Constantin Film Production, which distributed the film. According to news reports, Constantin has even called on YouTube to remove many of the videos, citing copyright infringement.

** However, YouTube left this version alone because its creator skillfully inserted a title card, citing (with a link) fair-use law and its relationship to parodies protected by the First Amendment.



** As Mel Brooks says about his parodies of Nazi Germany -- beyond punishing Nazis for their crimes, an equally effective way to "get back" at Adolph Hitler is to mock him, to make fun of him, to humiliate him, etc. This is how he defended his work on "The Producers" in 1968 -- and again when the Broadway stage version of his film won a record-breaking 12 Tony Awards in 2001.

** While "knock-offs" of this parody have addressed pop culture phenomena -- none, in my view, have the sparkling clarity and wit as this version, e.g., Hitler's whining references to "flipping properties for profit," missing his "granite countertops," and the presumed safety of his 401(k). He even takes out his rage against the National Association of Realtors (NAR).

** The popularity of this parody is uncontested, generating nearly 2 million hits since its debut in November 2008.

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Sorry if you're missing out on the Cash for Clunkers Program.

    
** Only a brief single entry today, just to make sure you're awake.

** My vote for the week's best topical e-card is below. It again comes from my favorite alternative e-cards site -- (I should get paid for continuing to shill this company):



** See my entry from July 1, 2009 to learn more about the crazy people responsible for these witty-as-heck little cards.

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Surprise rooftop concert attracts thousands in NYC.

    


** Just finished watching an astounding web-only video of a true legend -- former Beatle Paul McCartney performing a seven-song, 30-minute set late yesterday afternoon/evening on top of the marquee of the Ed Sullivan Theater in NYC, attracting thousands on the streets near Broadway and 53rd.

** CBS/Viacom/Worldwide Pants have since taken down the 22-minute video which showed five songs that never aired on network television. The other two songs ("Get Back" and "Sing the Changes") -- were integrated into the Letterman show itself, where he was last night's solo guest -- in conjunction with a summer concert tour throughout the U.S. to promote his "Electric Arguments" album (released last year).

** Although just one video remains ("Get Back"), what's striking about it is: 1) the crowd reaction, filled with a mix of young and old, many watching from the windows of nearby high-rises and, 2) at age 67, Sir Paul still has a vigorous ability to churn out "lesser tunes" from his legendary songbook -- in a way that's entertainingly RAW, away from the antiseptic effects of a recording studio.

** Coming full circle with the Beatles in 1964 at the Ed Sullivan Theater -- and then back to the same theater in 2009 -- is pretty amazing. The other five songs in the seven-song set that McCartney played: "Coming Up" (1980), "Band on the Run" (1973), "Let Me Roll It" (1973), "Helter Skelter" (1968) and "Back in the USSR" (1968).

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)

Monday, July 13, 2009

Bad Drywall, Bad PR -- Making the Best Out of a Smelly Mess.

    

** My favorite business writer for the Wall Street Journal, James Hagerty, has written a short update about the bad drywall from China that was used by some builders in the United States.

** The upshot is Miami-based Lennar Homes -- the largest major builder to publicly come clean about the drywall -- has set aside tens of millions of dollars to get it replaced in hundreds of homes in Florida.

** Unless you've been in a cave -- most of us who remain interested in the travails of the home building industry already know that the Chinese drywall has been implicated in hundreds of reports in more than 20 states (mostly in the Southeast) -- from homeowners complaining about bad smells, irritated throats and eyes and visible evidence of metal corrosion.

** In my view, too many builders fearful of present and future liability/litigation have been hidebound about this issue -- or at the very least, have been too careful when called upon to respond publicly to questions about bad drywall.

** So while I think it's laudable that Lennar has decided to tackle the issue head-on, the cynic in me is bummed that the WSJ had to find out about Lennar's actions in a mandatory filing with the SEC on July 10, a Friday before the weekend.

** PR pros already know that "end of week" filings always looks suspicious to news editors accustomed to companies trying to bury a controversial issue. But companies keep doing it, even though their timing is almost universally viewed as damage control, e.g., an effort to minimize public and investor relations exposure a company might otherwise receive -- from a similar "splash" appearing on a routine business day. If Lennar was truly interested in improving public and customer relations -- it could've issued a press release about it -- even if it meant using the same legally-vetted language in its securities filing. (A check of Lennar's investor relations website indicates the company did not issue a press release about this.)

** Having once worked for more than a decade inside the walls of a publicly traded Fortune 500 company, there's little doubt to me -- that a discussion took place about the ramifications of any announcement related to the bad drywall -- between Lennar's finance and legal departments -- with or without input from its marketing and public relations teams.

** I strongly believe the level of candor imbedded in a company's corporate culture -- is the pivot point, the deciding factor if you will -- that determines whether damaging information reported in a securities filing -- will be concurrently reported in a news release -- that goes independently to customers via the media.

** I'm curious about what other marketing and PR experts think about the balancing act required in cases like this -- whereby a company attempts to minimize exposure to liability -- while still appearing sensitive and forthcoming to customers. Most of us still hold Johnson & Johnson's proactive handling of Tylenol in 1982 (tampered bottles discovered laced with cyanide) -- and in 2009 (FDA committee recommends banning Percocet and Vicodin and stronger warnings about acetaminophen causing liver damage in high doses) -- as the gold standard of public relations/marketing/crisis communications.

** You can read the WSJ story in its entirety by clicking here or on the image above.

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Happy Canada Day? -- (And some thoughts about bad e-cards.)

    
** Greetings to all Canadian expatriates living in this country who are still proud to call themselves Canadian -- and in fact, who make it a point to remind me they're Canadian -- every chance they get!

** This also allows me to segue into a discussion about an ultra-hilarious website that many cyber-savvy users have long known about for sometime. It's called Someecards.com. On this august occasion -- see below a series of "Canada Day-themed" e-cards created by the site. They give you a good idea of the deadpan, sarcastic and occasionally offensive sense of humor embraced by its fans:



** I was introduced to Someecards in 2007 by Ari Wells, an art director at Roni Hicks & Associates in San Diego. Shortly after an informal bull-session in a brainstorming room -- (where no one was brainstorming, just sort of hanging out) -- she e-mailed me the following from the site:




** I laughed out loud and replied with this:



** Obviously, I'm a big fan of Someecards. I do not endorse the use of e-cards to replace traditional cards -- or picking up the phone to say thank you -- (because some are lame and the exercise itself feels kind of cheap). But I do make an exception when it comes to Someecards.com.

** However, it's obviously not for everyone. (And if you work in a politically correct environment, NEVER send such cyber greeting cards while "on the clock" -- nor ever use your office e-mail program.)


** Someecards is the product of two creative wunderkinds who come from the agency world -- Brook Lundy and Duncan Mitchell. You can read an article about Brook Lundy, co-founder and president -- that was published sometime back at the Huffington Post.

** An entry at Wikipedia claims Someecards especially appeals "to younger urban audiences." I don't quite believe it -- because most users with whom I've interacted with the site -- were born before 1980. The site is advertiser-supported, but little is known about how much revenue it brings in. Someecards does boast, however, some very high profile sponsors, including several major online retailers and movie distribution companies. It has been embraced by many users of social networking sites throughout the United States.

** On some days, its wry and occasionally demented observations about relationships, the workplace and world events -- are just the tonic to lift your spirits! I say, give Someecards a whirl! (No, I do not work for Someecards.com.)

(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)

A Class Act - Karl Malden, 1912-2009.

    

** In April 1998, when Karl Malden was 86, my wife and I got a chance to meet him and his daughter Carla at a screening of "On the Waterfront" at a theater in La Jolla, north of San Diego. He was also there to promote his fabulous and somewhat dishy memoir, "When Do I Start?" -- which had been released the year before in hardcover -- (and as of this writing, is still gloriously in print in paperback because it's that fantastic, esp. his impressions of the stars he worked with -- which he felt OK writing about -- given the fact that even in 1998, he had already outlived most of 'em).

** In conjunction with his appearance, I loaned my linen-backed, original 1954 movie poster to "On the Waterfront" to the film society group hosting his visit. It was displayed on stage after the screening -- and also at an adjacent bookstore where he signed copies of his books with his daughter, who wrote the text. He answered a ton of questions from the huge audience that turned out -- esp. what it was like working with Brando, Elia Kazan and Vivien Leigh. He said Kazan was a genius, that Leigh was closer to Blanche DuBois in real life than Blanche herself, and that Brando was the greatest actor he'd ever worked with. He spoke of Brando with great sadness, calling him a man who had everything -- drop-dead looks, talent and money -- but who became a corpulent, tragic figure who lost it all, squandering his money and becoming increasingly eccentric, working in bad projects after the Godfather, desperate to make money just to pay his bills.

** The entire night, Malden was sharp as a tack -- and had the command and respect you'd expect as a president of AMPAS -- but who also had that self-deprecating persona that made him endearing, esp. jokes about his lack of matinee idol looks, his Broadway stage experience vs. his work on film -- and his conviction that his years as a spokesman for American Express ("don't leave home without it") made him more famous than all of his other work combined. In fact, he joked that his obituaries would all mention his Oscar -- and predicted ALL would also mention his work for American Express -- saying it would be the "signature role for which he was better known to most of the public."

** The man we met that evening was gracious and accommodating to every fan present. He represented the "old Hollywood," the type like the late Gregory Peck and Charlton Heston -- and the still-with-us Tony Curtis out here in California -- who have good manners and love to mix with fans. Malden loved the attention -- and I got the impression he was ultra-surprised and ecstatic that a "supporting actor" could generate such a large turnout. He and his daughter signed our book thus: "To Koose and Yoe, best always from Carla Malden and Karl Malden." I took my "On the Waterfront" poster off its easel and asked him to sign it. He did, just above his name credit. I've mentioned this poster several times at movie poster art forums -- in the context of certain signatures which add sentimental value -- but don't necessarily add $$ value to vintage memorabilia. That poster is no longer in our collection -- but I recall it fetched an OK price when I sold it. But I kept his book, personalized as it is. I view it similarly as my "Psycho" poster, whereby my wife got Janet Leigh, during a visit in 2000, to personalize her signature, "To David -- Psycho-tically yours, Janet Leigh."


(Original material © 2009 by David Kusumoto.)