Thursday, April 25, 2013

"...This Hour's Forecast Will Be Delayed As Our Weather Girl Has To Do An Extra Hour At The Drive-Thru Window...."

(...WARNING!  The following piece is rated "R", as in Parents and Grandparents R Going To Find The Language Offensive While Kids R Going To Roll Their Eyes And Suggest That Parents And Grandparents Should Just Chillax...)

Something is very wrong about all of this.

But it's not what I imagine you're going to think.

First, as our story begins...

A local news anchor was fired on Monday after his first-ever words on air turned out to be very inappropriate.

As AJ Clemente prepared for his debut on the evening news program for North Dakota's NBC affiliate KFYR, he uttered some words that he must have dearly wished he could take back.

"F---ing sh-t," he was heard whispering into his mic as an announcer introduced the show. It was Clemente's very first moment on air, and also his last. He was first suspended for using profanity and his coanchor, Van Tieu, opened up the 10:00 p.m. news hour with an apology.

"We were caught off guard and [Clemente] didn't realize his microphone was on. And while that was no excuse - we do train our reporters to always assume that any microphone is live at any time - unfortunately we cannot take back what was said. But, we do apologize and hope that you may forgive us and rest assured, that something like this will not happen again.," she said.

Here, for your perusal, prurient or puritanical as the case may be, is the "s**t heard round the world."

A few hours after, the later newscast on the now already infamous station opened like this...

A few days after, the "s**t" continued to fly...

Recently fired North Dakotan local news anchor A.J. Clemente continues his unlikely media tour tonight with an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman. Clemente, whose first day on the job lasted mere seconds after he exclaimed “fuckin’ shit!” on air, got some important career advice from veteran television host David Letterman.

By now, it must have occurred to even the most obtuse, culturally de-sensitized average guy or gal (read: any one who thinks reality television represents the very best of what the performing arts have to offer) that there is something wrong here.

The guy opened his mouth when he shouldn'ta and got caught with his mike open and pants down.

Well, who among us has not tasted the piquant flavor of foot at one time or another.

As a broadcaster of some experience, I can personally testify that the fear of letting something inappropriate fly out onto the airwaves is, to any one worth their announcer salt, a constant, nagging little gnawing that, hopefully, keeps us on our toes when it comes to what's coming out of our mouths.

As a matter of fact, while I'm pretty confident no one can tag me as a prima dona when it comes to "work requests", I've made it policy to always insist, wherever I have been on air, that regardless of whatever other piece of equipment might be iffy or in obvious need of repair or replacement, the one thing that will, at all times and in all situations, be in good, dependable working order is the bulb in the button that lights up red when the micophone that I'm using is live.

Even at that, there have been plenty of moments when I have found myself, seemingly long after I have fired off a new song or commercial stopset, looking down at a mic button still glowing red and anxiously rewinding and replaying, in my head, anything I might have said outloud post new song and/or commercial stopset initiation.

Because common sense would dictate that no one in their right mind would be anything less than ever vigilant if their was a live micophone anywhere within mouthshot.

But radio, and TV, personalities aren't usually hired for their common sense.

And just like Ralphie in "A Christmas Story", we have all, to a one of us, let the "fuuuuuuuudge" fly at moments we wistfully wish we could relive.

So, suffice to say, that even the most obtuse, culturally, yada yada individual can see, from watching and listening, that this new kid on the Bismarck block effed up.

Very wrong, you say?

Frankly, these days, it's strictly a matter for the ear of the beholder.

I will grant you, though, that there is, to be sure, something very wrong here.

And, no, it's not that Letterman is giving fifteen minutes of arguably undeserved fame to a guy whose sole contribution to the hallowed tradition of broadcasting, at least to this moment, has been making kids laugh while sending Grandma and Grandpa into cardiac arrest with a zeal not seen since the golden days of George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can't Say On Television."

Letterman's job is to showcase people and things that people are talking about.

And people are certainly talking about A. J. Clemente.

What's very wrong here is not so much what A.J. said.

What's very wrong here is what A.J. said after.

Give the original on air faux pas a second listen.

And, this time, pay close attention to how he responds to the clearly flustered female anchor who is struggling to get the derailed daily news back on track.

I'll wait right here.

Okay. Let's be fair.

This is Bismarck, North Dakota.

Not Chicago. Or New York. Or L.A.

Or even Jacksonville, Florida.

Simply put, while I'm sure that Bismarck is a charming community with lots of charming people, it's a very small television market that, in the great big scheme of broadcasting, is little more than a very, very small blip on a very, very big radar screen.

And were it not for the You Tube world in which we live, young Clemente's misstep into the poop pile would have ended up being little more than giggly chat around the KFYR water cooler for a few days.

But we do live in a You Tube world and the airing, inadvertant or otherwise, of the "f" word is never, ever just giggly chat around water coolers anymore.

Hence, the bright lights of fame, misfortune and a little shy of fifteen minutes of fame with Dave.

That tempest on a TV screen, though, is only a symptom of the condition.

The condition itself is far more wide spread, more egregious and, ultimately, more damaging to the culture than any unfortunate attack of potty mouth.

And the condition is seeping its way through the television and radio industry more swiftly and more often with each passing day, a juggernaut that makes the Andromeda Strain look like the sniffles.

Inadequate, uncapable, inefficient, even untrained and uneducated bodies hired and placed behind microphones for no better reason than they meet what has become, too often, the baseline criteria for being acceptable broadcasters.

They have a pulse.

And they work cheap.

A.J. Clemente seems like a nice guy.

But nice guys, or nice gals, don't quality broadcasters make.


And while A.J. has rightly, and laudibly, stepped up and fallen on the swearing sword, there's plenty of culpability to go around.

Nice kids who are hired as news anchors, clearly struggling to form a complete sentence without a teleprompter.

Housewives who are hired as radio hosts, clearly struggling to contribute anything to the presentation beyond amateur babbling and paid laughing.

Full time accountants, retail store employees, legal assistants, fast food workers, et al who are hired as show co-hosts or, worse, hosts clearly struggling to discern the difference between mic pot 1 and mic pot 2, but more than appreciative of the glamour and glitz that comes with being an "on air personality".

Not to mention the seven bucks an hour.

Management whose sole goal seems to be minimizing cost as much as possible, humanly or otherwise, regardless of the degradation of the broadcast product that results.

A.J Clemente made a mistake.

But, chances are, owing to both his ironically obtained high profile and his likely willingness to sign on for more glamour, glitz and/or seven bucks an hour will likely have a new gig on camera or on mic before you finish reading this piece.

And that's what's very wrong.

Because, at least for the moment, the guy simply isn't very good.

And there's a lot of that going around in the TV and radio business these days.

Now, that's some fuckin' shit.

Monday, April 22, 2013

"...Good News, St. Pete.....Here Comes The Sun...."

Eulogies have never been my thing.

But I'm not without my regrets when it comes to saying goodbye.

Wasn't all that long ago, though, that I realized my sadness wasn't always on the same frequency as others.

That particular tuning just ahead.

Richie Havens, a Brooklyn-born folk singer whose husky voice, open-tuned guitar and pointed protest hymns welcomed the hippy masses to Max Yasgur's farm at the original Woodstock, died suddenly at his home on Monday of a heart attack. He was 72.

Also known for his soulful covers of pop and folk songs, including Beatles classics "Here Comes the Sun" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," Havens toured and recorded music for over 40 years before retiring from the road three years ago.

"While his family greatly appreciates that Richie's many fans are also mourning this loss, they do ask for privacy during this difficult time," a statement reads from a representative.
A public memorial will be planned for a later date

More than once, I've observed, out loud and in print, that I'm intrigued by the paradox of our typical reaction to the passing of a fellow traveler.

If, as we all seem to profess in one form of theology or another, a better, happier, more fulfilling place awaits us, then it seems the expressions of loss that come pouring out of us when someone dies are a contradiction.

Should we not, in fact, be filled with joy that someone we love and/or respect and/or admire has moved on to that better, happier, more fullfilling place?

The Irish seem to get it.

The format of a traditional wake is nothing less than a full throated celebration of both the life which has just ended and the departure of our loved one to that better, happier, etc.

Testimonials will, undoubtedly and certainly deservedly, flow pretty freely for the next day or two on behalf of Richie Havens. And many more than the majority of those will be, undoubtedly, accompanied by expresssions of sadness, loss, pain., even a little wailing and weeping among those whose hearts tend to be less easily found just behind their shirt pockets than they are on their sleeves.

As for me, I'm appreciative of the gifts that Richie Havens was given and his own gift of sharing them with me for such a long time.

And I'm not just a little envious that he as moved on to the aforementioned fulfillment.

But, I'm not without feeling.

And I do feel a little sadness.

If only because Richie Havens was a bright, shining, authentic celebrity jewel.

And so much of what remains to replace him is so very clearly, and sadly, costume.

Monday, April 8, 2013

"...M I C...K E Y....I R O N Y...."

There is a bittersweet irony to today's news.

That follows shortly.

Los Angeles (CNN) -- Annette Funicello, one of the best-known members of the original 1950s "Mickey Mouse Club" and a star of numerous 1960s "beach party" films, died Monday at a California hospital, the Walt Disney Co. said.

Funicello, who was 70, "died peacefully from complications due to multiple sclerosis, a disease she battled for over 25 years," the Disney statement said.
"We are so sorry to lose Mother," her three children said in a statement. "She is no longer suffering anymore and is now dancing in heaven. We love and will miss her terribly."
Funicello was just 13 when she was selected by Walt Disney himself to be one of the original Mouseketeers of the "Mickey Mouse Club," the 1950s television variety show aimed at children.
Funicello, who had a background in dance, quickly became one of the most popular Mouseketeers.
She "was and always will be a cherished member of the Disney family, synonymous with the word Mouseketeer, and a true Disney Legend," Disney chairman and CEO Bob Iger said.
She remained with Disney after leaving the "Mickey Mouse Club," appearing in TV shows including "Zorro" (1957), "The Nine Lives of Elfego Baca" (1958) and starring in the Disney feature films "The Shaggy Dog" (1959), "Babes in Toyland" (1961), "The Misadventures of Merlin Jones" (1964) and "The Monkey's Uncle" (1965).
The most enduring images of Funicello, though, may be of her in a swimsuit, her primary wardrobe when she co-starred with teen idol Frankie Avalon in beach party movies in the early 1960s. These included "Beach Party" (1963), "Muscle Beach Party" (1964), "Bikini Beach" (1964), "Beach Blanket Bingo" (1965), and "How to Stuff a Wild Bikini" (1965).
Although she started out in a more modest version, each movie revealed a bit more, leading eventually to Funicello in a bikini.
The movies helped sell her music. Funicello had Top-40 hits including "Tall Paul," "First Name Initial," "How Will I Know My Love," and "Pineapple Princess." Along with the singles, she recorded several successful albums, including "Hawaiiannette" (1960), "Italiannette" (1960) and "Dance Annette" (1961).
Funicello reunited with Avalon in 1987 to star in "Back to the Beach," in which the two former teen idols played as parents of a pair of troublesome teenagers. Avalon and Funicello followed the movie with a nostalgic concert tour in 1989 and 1990, singing their hits from the 1960s.
"We have lost one of America's sweethearts for generations upon generations," Avalon said of her death. "I am fortunate enough to have been friends with Annette as well as appear in many films, TV and appearances with her. She will live on forever, I will miss her and the world will miss her."
"She will forever hold a place in our hearts as one of Walt Disney's brightest stars, delighting an entire generation of baby boomers with her jubilant personality and endless talent," Iger said in a statement released Monday. "Annette was well-known for being as beautiful inside as she was on the outside, and she faced her physical challenges with dignity, bravery and grace. All of us at Disney join with family, friends, and fans around the world in celebrating her extraordinary life."
Funicello moved with her family from her birthplace of Utica, New York, to Los Angeles when she was 4.
Walt Disney saw her dancing the lead in "Swan Lake" at the Starlight Bowl in Burbank when she was 13. Disney asked her to audition for a new children's TV series he was developing called "The Mickey Mouse Club." She was hired on the spot to become a Mouseketeer, Disney's statement said.
She became the viewers' favorite soon after the show debuted in October 1955. Although only three original seasons were produced, the show continued to be see in reruns for another four decades.
Doctors diagnosed Funicello with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative neurological disease, in 1987. She kept the illness a secret until 1992, the year she established The Annette Funicello Research Fund for Neurological Diseases. The charity, which is still active, supports research into the cause, treatment and cure of multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases.
Funicello made few public appearances by the late 1990s as she became more debilitated by the disease. She lived under the care of her second husband Glen Holt, a rancher she married in 1986.
She had three children -- Gina, Jack Jr. and Jason -- from her first marriage to Jack Gilardi, which ended in 1981.
"It hurts me deeply in the passing of Annette," Jack Gilardi said. "She was such an important love in my life and blessed me with three beautiful children. I will remember her always and she will live in my heart forever."
Tributes and accolades for Annette, as well as Margaret Thatcher and Roger Ebert, are both deserved and inevitable, given their "celebrity".
Celebrity, though, like any status has a shelf life.
Put another way, those of us who grew up listening and watching Roger, witnessing Mrs. Thatcher's service to country and world and watching Annette and Cubby and Karen and Jimmie and Roy and company feel the myriad emotions that result from both experiencing the loss of someone familiar and feeling that nudge that unfailingly accompanies these kinds of passings, the nudge of awareness that our own finish line is just a little bit closer than it was yesterday.
But, those who know of Mr. Ebert and Mrs. Thatcher and Ms. Funicello only from archival footage or parental chit chat or whatever news they've heard in the last couple of days will be aware only that three people who were, at one time, well known, have died.
And while they can easily comprehend those passing intellectually, there is, obviously, no reason for them to feel any emotional connection.
Understandable. And totally fair.
I didn't really spend much time mourning the loss of Marilyn Monroe when she died in 1962.
I was eleven.
That said, it occurred to me today that the passing of Annette Funicello, in particular, was worthy of more than just a predictable obit sprinkled with a respectful and loving dose of tribute and accolade.
Because there is something both noteworthy, and ironic, about this particular shuffle off the mortal coil.
For pretty much her entire life, Annette Funicello was not only a celebrity, but a role model for young women, first, as a child entertainer who brilliantly walked the fine line between wholesome and lame, then, as a young actress whose movies are, in fairness, relics of their time, but whose personal presentation always managed to walk the fine line between sexy and slutty and then, in the third act, as an inspiration to anyone and everyone who find themselves living a life wearing the yoke of physical challenge.
And in each, and every case, for the duration of her life,  she lived that life with style, grace, class and a spirit that only the most cynical would think unworthy of aspiration.
In a world of celebrity that today offers up Lohans and Hiltons and Kardashians or even second generation Mouseketeers like Britney Spears or Christina Aguilera as the standard of style and, God forbid, role modeling, only those of us who grew up listening and watching Annette can fully appreciate the difference.
And those of us old enough to remember the funny hat with the big round black ears that we simply had to have feel both a special kinship with the lady who just left us...
...and a little extra melancholy at the caliber of celebrity that remains.
Oh...and the irony?
The accolades and tributes being offered up in honor of Annette Funicello will, at least in so far as today's young celebrity watchers are concerned, fall pretty much on deaf ears.
While those of us who know better will think fondly, and wish Godspeed, to the lady who first inspired us to hurry home every afternoon to put our ears on.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

"...On The Matter Of How Little It Really Matters...."

It's known, to those who know, as an "inside the biz" thing.

More on that in a moment.

First, a couple of takes from major media on what has become a major media event in the last few days.

Now that everything is official, Conan O’Brien is speaking out about Jimmy Fallon taking over The Tonight Show from Jay Leno next year.

On his TBS talk show Wednesday night, O’Brien congratulated Fallon and — without directly referencing Leno — noted the new host is “the perfect guy” for the iconic talk show.

“I want to congratulate Jimmy, that is a really fun gig,” O’Brien said, drawing laughs. “It is! … It’s a fun gig and you know what? Jimmy is the perfect guy to do it; he’s going to do a fantastic job. So congratulations Jimmy.”

O’Brien took over The Tonight Show from Leno three years ago, then exited NBC after the network wanted to return Leno to the 11:35 p.m. slot. Earlier this week O’Brien’s show Conan was renewed through 2015.

In a refreshing sign of empathy for his competitor, David Letterman expressed surprise during his Late Show monologue Wednesday that NBC would allow Jay Leno to leave his job while he’s on top.

“Now earlier today, NBC announced that Jimmy Fallon will take over for Jay Leno as host of the Tonight Show in February of 2014. This is – something’s wrong here,” according to a Late Show transcript released by CBS. “This happened once before with Conan O’Brien, and then they had to bring Jay back, and so he had to start his show all over again, and now it looks like the same thing is happening. And I just – I don’t get this. He’s retiring, so it says, and good for him. I’ve known him 38 years. I’ve known Jay Leno for 38 years, thank you. I don’t know what aspect of that you’re applauding, but thank you…So now he’s out again, but going out on top. So congratulations to Jay, a job well done. And, I mean, how many times can a guy be pushed out of the job, I mean. And what’s the matter with NBC? What’s the matter with these guys? You know, honestly, what are they thinking?”

Earlier in the show that was taped in New York today, Letterman made a series of quips that relate to his previous life at NBC. “I got a call from my mom today, she says, ‘Well, David, I see you didn’t get the Tonight Show again.” “It seems like we just went through this,” Letterman continued.

“Didn’t we just go through this? Jay Leno now is being replaced, and this is the second time this has happened. I mean, it’s crazy. He’s being replaced by a younger late night talk show host – what could possibly go wrong? Honestly. They had pretty good luck with this in the past. But NBC, God bless ‘em, announced the official date for Jay Leno’s departure – no mention of his official date of return, however. I happen to know Jay’s got another job on network that has greater viewership, higher ratings – Univision. He’s going there.”

Some random thoughts.

First, it's inevitable that, once the dust settles, Fallon is going to have his work cut out for him as he is compared to the guy considered the platinum standard when it comes to late night television hosts.

Johnny Carson.

Personally, I don't find Fallon all that hot, let alone holding a candle.

But, in fairness, it should be pointed out that the Jimmy Fallon of 2013 shouldn't be compared to the Johnny Carson revered by millions.

Because that Johnny Carson is the iconic host who retired in 1992 after thirty years of building, and keeping, an audience.

And not the less than well known part time stand up comic, former game show host who, in 1962, looked like a pretty debatable "what are they thinking?" replacement for the guy who, in 1962, was considered the standard when it came to late night television hosts.

Jack Paar.



So, at this point at least, if comparisons are inevitable, then the fair is fair comparison should be the Jimmy Fallon of 2013 compared to the Johnny Carson of 1962.

Which brings us around to that "inside the biz" thing I mentioned earlier and the bottom line that seems to escape a lot of the pundits waxing ad nauseum in print, on air and online about this massive shift in the tectonic plates of talk.

Most people really don't care all that much.

Oh, make no mistake, ask almost anyone if they have a favorite and you'll likely get an answer.

And in the game of "he with the most viewers makes advertisers the most money", the network executives whose future, not to mention present,employment is tied to winning that game, it matters, a lot, who gets to do the monologue and the behind the desk chit chat that has been the m.o. of every talk show host since the days of....well...

Jack Paar.



But ask any one of those same anyones who were earlier questioned about a favorite if they really care, one way or another, who gets the gig, chances are that the answer, in most cases, will be something along the lines of .....

...uh, no...not really.

Because the simple, and seemingly obvious but oft overlooked, fact is that it's not really the kind of thing that people think about all that much.

Not that you could tell from all the noise being made in print, on air and online about it.

Noise, though, being made primarily by media whose jobs are, primarily, to make noise.

And, as a result, to create the illusion that this kind of thing matters a whole lot more than it really matters.

It happens a lot.

A lot more than you might think.

If you were ever inclined to think about it.

And not just in "big" event stories like the change of hosts on a nationally televised talk show.

Even in some "smaller" events like, say, the departure of one local radio host and the arrival of another.

Over the years, I've done my share of moving on from and/or moving in behind the microphone and, along the way, have come to realize that, at least in terms of local broadcasting, "celebrity" as we tend to think of it, is, actually, mostly, an illusion.

Not that you could tell from all the noise made inside the hallways and offices of general managers, program directors and various and sundry water cooler hanger outers.

But travel five hundred feet in any direction from the building and you'll spend a lot of precious time trying to find one person who knows, let alone cares, that "Mike in the Morning" has become "Milt in the Morning".

Unless, of course, you happen to run into Mike.

In which case you'll find somebody who knows and cares a lot.

And the radio business, on a small scale, just like the television business, on a larger scale, is filled with folks who spend an inordinate amount of time, energy and/or resources wasting time, energy and resources on something that the average listener and/or viewer couldn't possibly care less about.

What in the world happened to Mike?

If he's a pro, he's sucked it up and moved on to another market to replace "Mickey in the Morning".

If not, he's hanging around in the market, scratching out a living doing voice overs and emceeing any local event that wasn't able to book a current on air, waiting for his loyal listeners to rise up, in numbers too staggering to ignore, and storm the station with placards of protest, convincing station management that he should be returned to his rightful place as the single most important thing to happen to broadcasting since Marconi first rigged some wires.

It's usually a long wait.

Because those loyal listeners have other, more pressing things to care about.

Like how to feed their families, keep their kids safe, pay their mortage....

...and if they're running late for work.

Information that they can easily get....from Milt.

The British have an expression that applies here.

The king is dead.

Long live the king.

Leno is done.

Fallon is next.

Good luck, Jimmy.

Jay, seriously, dude, let it go.

Yo,, too.

People couldn't have liked your shows more.

But they couldn't care less.