Reporter's Notebook

The art and science of the interview

Posts Tagged ‘NCIS

Links in the Media Chain

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“Here lies one whose name is writ in water”.  That’s on the headstone of the grave of poet John Keats.  In his time and ours, it means that there is no such thing as the irreplaceable person. I’m thinking about this as I remember all of the commentators, journalists and reporters who I used to see and hear and don’t anymore.  But also, how when I do hear or see them again, I realize how I, against my will, stopped thinking about them and how insidious that tendency to forget can be.

Most recently, I think of KOIN’s Chad Carter.  Mr. Carter was a morning host for KOIN’s morning news broadcast before he was let go just about 10 days ago.  In an interview with KOIN Meteorologist Bruce Sussman back in 2011, he said he grew up in Portland and interned at KTVZ in Bend, Oregon.  He lived in Texas before getting the chance to come back to Oregon in 2006.  He worked for local rival KPTV and was eventually hired at KOIN.  You just can’t think of anyone more home-towney than that.

But Mr. Carter is just the most recent example of people who were heavily in the limelight and suddenly one day, they were just gone.  Even his profile has been removed from KOIN, as if the station wants to erase any history of him ever being there.  That’s how institutions behave.  But we the public can be just as selective.

For instance, Mo Rocca is the new “it” for CBS This Morning.  He’s portrayed as a guy Friday who is all purpose funny and versatile.  Just what a news show wanting to have a good mix of professional and fun needs to stay on top of the ratings.  But a couple generation ago, it was George Plimpton.  And as funny as Mr. Rocca is, I can imagine that a couple of generations from now, people will be thinking of him in the same way I think of Rudolph Valentino.

I’m also thinking of people like Daniel Pinkwater.  Mr. Pinkwater is a children’s author who was a regular on National Public Radio for years with host Scott Simon before he suddenly wasn’t anymore. Horticulturalist Ketzel Levine, the so-called “Doyan of Dirt” by Mr. Simon; also inexplicably didn’t appear in her regular timeslot one Saturday morning several years ago.  Sports commentator Frank Deford, also on NPR, seemed to be seamlessly replaced by Mike Pesca and Stephen Fatus.  And financial expert Marshall Goodman was a fixture on the American Public Media Program “Marketplace” until he, along with previous host David Brown, vanished.  Often, there is no explanation as to why the people are gone, and if there isn’t, that’s probably a good indication that the parting wasn’t amicable.

Sometimes, these people refuse to be forgotten.  Ann Curry’s saga with Matt Lauer on the “Today” show is more of a management than journalism case study in behind the scenes politics at morning TV news broadcast shows.  But Ms. Curry has thrived despite the misery Mr. Lauer inflicted on her and his ham handed methods to try to clean up his own image in light of it.

And Barbara Walters, who will tomorrow announce her retirement from TV on “The View” did not let Harry Reasoner destroy her during ABC’s co-anchor experiment in the 70s.  Then ABC News’ Roone Arledge gets credit for seeing her real power was in reporting, not putting up with crap from someone who didn’t realize he was already behind the march of history.

But many excellent journalists and reporters have been scraped from the credits and scrapped because media companies are moneymakers and they are constantly shaking them to make mo’ money, mo’ money.  Consultants and focus groups drive budgets, whether they’re fueled by donations or stock prices.  And when colleagues get the ax, you are sad and at the same time, maybe guilty that you still have your job.  Maybe angry that the team has a hole in it (NCIS fans know this feeling well), but silent because you know where the power lies and it’s not in front of the camera.

That’s something else about not being indispensable.  It seems ones life goes smoother if one doesn’t see oneself as being more important than one ultimately is.  If Dante had an inferno for reporters, there would probably only be four levels rather than nine.  The top ring would be for innocents who were unjustly fired.  The next one would be for the incompetent.  The next would be for the stupid and the bottom ring closest to the fire would be for the pompous.  And because of this tragic flaw, the media gods hate them most.

What reporters and journalists do is important, but we can’t act like it is.  Because I think we are all just links in a chain from the past to the future and there is a lot of humility in that.  Sort of like lying on the ground at night and looking up at all of the stars.  It makes you feel kinda small, or at least it should in the healthy, non-sociopathic.  The people from the past likely couldn’t imagine us and the people in the future likely won’t remember us. So the work we do now has to be to make the best “us” we can.  To improve on those that came before us and give a good foundation for those who come after us but ego-wise, I don’t think any of it can be about us.

So getting back to Keats, it seems there is little to be done about a finicky public that cries for what it says it loves and misses until somebody dangles something shiny in front of its face.  In every one of these cases, only insiders know what really led to these arrivals and departures. But you can bet media managment have their talent and reporters on tight leashes to keep bad feelings from you letting their smiling faces into your living room.  Maybe Mr. Carter is a standard bearer for those who realize that all you can do is to do your best, keep calm and then, … move on


Greek Chorus

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Greek Chorus

I need me a Greek Chorus. Everybody great has had a Greek Chorus. I’m not saying I seek greatness, but I am saying I need three smart heads around me to keep me out of the ditch where I occasionally end up sometimes. There are lots of examples, especially in contemporary TV, where the power of three heads was better than two and a lot better than solo. To wit …

Dr. Gregory House: Chase, Cameron and Foreman. Are they his foils or his slaves or his torturers? Whatever they are, when he lost them, he went downhill. You can’t replace passion, reason and, uh … whatever, with an entire classroom.

Captain James T. Kirk: Bones, Spock and Scotty. Again, passion, reason and something in-between. You need that something in between that is part, “Jim, don’t do it” and “Captain, we don’t have the power!” Again, you’re not necessarily going to argue with three brains that know your one brain all too well.

Marshall Matt Dillon: Doc, Kitty and Festus (or Chester). A gritty brain trust from the mid 19th century that never steered James Arness wrong. Doc was old but feisty as hell. Kitty was a gravelly voiced barroom beauty with a mean sucker punch.  Dennis Weaver as Chester was eager and loyal and was replaced by Festus who I just loved. Festus was a man for the ages. If you had a Festus, you had nothing to worry about. Newly never seemed to fit in the clique. Never.

Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs: For our more modern times, Ziva, McGee and DeNozo. Are you seeing a pattern here? The person with the Greek Chorus is usually someone with great responsibility. They’re almost a tragic figure in how the Gods have positioned them to do their duty in the world.  Mark Harmon’s character drives his charges as hard as he deeply loves them and savagely protects them.

Colonel Robert E. Hogan: Kinch, LeBeau and Newkirk. A passionate Frenchman, a methodical Irish con man, and an African American geek genius. Together, they advised, protected and beat up on Bob Crane’s cool concentration camp colonel. Although Hogan’s Heroes was comedy, Crane probably could’ve used a Greek Chorus off set.

Detective Adrian Monk: Randy, Sharona (or Natalie) and Leland.  Tony Shalhoub’s brilliantly played OCD suffering character was best served by his chorus by their compassion for him.  The totally understood this heroic figure that they saw shot down by the murder of his wife, and they did everything they could to clear the path for him so he could at least function.  Eventually, their love for him led him to redemption and recovery.

Oh, and let’s not leave out many of the reality talent shows; The Voice, So You Think You Can Dance and of course, American Idol.  Although most choruses are represented in threes, (American Idol had Randy, Paula and Simon for eight seasons, until the ninth, when they added a fourth judge), many other reality shows have four or more.

In many cases, the Greek Chorus foretold of impending disasters that would befall the hapless person they were singing about by pointing out weaknesses that would bring them down if they didn’t change course.  Or, it represented the fears or hopes or rage of the main character that he or she could not openly express because to do so would jeopardize their position of authority. While I ain’t the boss of nobody, I wouldn’t discount the advice of three people who knew me as well as I knew myself. Think of the places we could go? Maybe I’ll put something on Craig’s List.

New Oreo Commercial

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Oreo

Commercials are funny things. The trend throughout the 70s and 80s was 60 second commercials. Then it dropped to 30 seconds in the 90s. Then, for awhile in the 00s, marketers experimented with 20, 15, 10 and even 5 second commercials on the thinking that people didn’t have the patience to watch long commercials anymore and that a quick, focused ad would stick in the mind better. It’s the same thinking that eliminated the black between commercials. Remember that? Commercials used to fade completely to black and the sound used to go completely silent. Then, after a second, the new commercial would start. But stations started editing the end of one to the beginning of another because network bean counters realized that over the course of an evening, they might be losing as much as several minutes of potential revenue to black which could add up to hundreds of thousands of lost dollars a day.

Kinda sorta the same thing with program intros. I think of old school intros like Gunsmoke, or the Rockford Files or Gilligan’s Island. Maybe, more recently, Law and Order, as intros that were at least a minute. But Hawaii Five-O has an intro version that is less than 15 seconds long.  CSI’s isn’t much longer.  Again, the longer the intro, the shorter the time for commercials.

But this new Oreo commercial is delightful in that it is a luxurious minute and a half long. That is crazy! That makes it longer than the intros to Psych, NCIS or the Big Bang Theory. And it’s full of animation that reminds me of Prince from his Paisley Park days, but with robots and monsters and vampires.  It’s totally fun.  Could Oreo be onto something? Do they think that our culture has suffered enough blazingly short commercials and that now it’s time to swing the pendulum back? I mean, who cares if the local attorney or used car sales man has a 180 second ad on at 3:17 a.m. But, Oreo? That’s Nabisco, and Nabisco doesn’t screw around with its revenue. The Oreo cookie was the best selling cooking in the US in the 20th century, and is still the best selling cooking well into the 13th year of the 21st century. Let’s see what everybody else does. Expect down-and-dirty-in-a-minute-thirty copycats.

UPDATE:  Many of the drug companies are now using 1:00 to 2:00 commercials to promote their drugs and discuss the potential hazards of them.  According to ispot.tv, they include 1:00 commercials by the makers of Lyrica and Embrel.  The maker of Eliquis is running some 1:15 spots and a spot for the drug Xarelto is 2:00 minutes long.  These represent hundreds of thousands of dollars for drug companies, for example.  It is no wonder time and space for commercials has become a hot commodity.  Wasting a second of time is not in a network’s interest.