Saturday, November 28, 2009


This is Brian Williams's Daily Nightly blog entry from Nov. 25:

"At one point last night--at several points, actually--I turned to my wife and asked, 'What, exactly, are we doing here? Can you believe where we are?' I suppose there are people who are blasé about State Dinners, but we are not among them. I was honored to attend. It was a warm and glittery evening in a beautiful place...with better-than-average people! It was a thrill to see everyone--the boldface names, obviously--but more importantly: the members of the military stationed throughout the dinner, members of the uniformed and protection divisions of the Secret Service, and the outstanding White House servers and ushers--many of the great people I've come know over the years...they make the place go, and it was great to see all of them. Needless to say, it was wonderful to see the President and First Lady and to greet their distinguished honored guests from India. It's not something you ever get used to...nor is there a way to describe how strange it was just now--while typing this--to look up and see my wife and me on cable, in a clip from the arrival last night.

Back to life as usual--there are groceries to buy, houseguests who arrived while I was at work today, the annual family football game on Saturday (which means I'll be walking funny for 3-5 days next week) and football (and the parade, of course) on TV. I hope you have a Happy Thanksgiving, I hope you spend it with your family--and I hope you grab a moment to think of all those serving this country in uniform and their families."

I had to have my blood sugar levels checked after reading this blog entry. There was so much saccharine and glucose present that I thought I was going to slip into a diabetic coma. First Brian starts out with the "Golly, gee, what are we doing here with all these important people" shtick. Then he heads right into his pandering-to-the-military routine, followed by more pandering to the secret service and the "outstanding" White House staff--the "great people" who "make the place go". Next, it was back to the "I'm just an average guy" persona (buying groceries and shining military challenge coins) followed by the reference to the Williams family football game--an intentional and obvious Kennedy comparison. He ends with more pandering to the military. The only thing missing is a pseudo-heartfelt plea for viewers to donate more money to an Afghan orphanage. Honestly, I'm surprised Brian brought his wife to the White House dinner--I was sure Jon Bon Jovi was going to be his plus one. I think I'm going to be sick--and it's not from too much turkey.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Nightly News Exploits Tragedy

Apparently, the Nightly News producers thought that Monday's story about the defective cribs that killed dozens of infants was the ideal time to reward some regular NBC sponsors with free advertising. Instead of simply listing some of the stores where the cribs were sold, the producers displayed full-color, full-screen logos of Target, Wal-Mart, Sears and K-Mart. The Wal-Mart logo even included the slogan "Save money. Live better". All together, these logos were on screen for 15 seconds. I'm curious: What does NBC charge for a 15-second commercial on Nightly News? Using a story about infant deaths as a way to reward advertisers is appallingly disrespectful to those families who suffered the loss of a child. Meanwhile, at the beginning of the story, the manufacturer of the cribs was identified on-screen as "Storkcraft" (one word), but at the end of the story it was identified as "Stork Craft" (two words). Well, which is it?

At least there's some good news. Now that Susan Boyle has released her solo album, we can expect Nightly News to once again cover her on a regular basis. When the Boyle stories from Sunday and Monday are added to the coverage she received in April and May, her total Nightly News air time is now in excess of 17 minutes. Congratulations, Nightly News producers. You're all doing a great job.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

An Educated Consumer

It appears that Brian Williams never gets tired of pandering to his viewers. During his Thursday obituary for clothing retailer Sy Syms, Brian noted Syms's ad slogan, "An educated consumer is our best customer." Brian's comment was, "Which I always thought applied just as much to this business." Really? So an educated viewer is Nightly News's best customer? If that's true, why does Brian feed his viewers a steady stream of garbage stories about skateboarding bulldogs, pink dolphins and kazoos? Why does he offer up a constant barrage of "Making A Difference" stories with zero news value? Is that what he thinks educated viewers want? And does he think those stories are helping to educate the viewers? When I think of news shows that attract educated viewers (or help to educate them), I certainly don't think of Nightly News. I think of The Newshour With Jim Lehrer or Worldfocus (both on PBS). I think of Democracy Now. I think of BBC World News. I think of Bill Moyers Journal. And I think of NPR. Interestingly, Friday's "All Things Considered" (on NPR) featured a piece about NBC. Specifically, it was about NBC Universal's "artist in residence" arrangement with Jon Bon Jovi. The piece was by Andrew Wallenstein, the senior TV reporter for The Hollywood Reporter. Here is an excerpt:

"Over the course of this month and next, Bon Jovi will have spent more time on NBC's air than the peacock logo. He'll be on the Jay Leno Show, the Tonight Show, Saturday Night Live, just to name a few. Jon was even featured on 'Inside The Actors Studio', which is kind of weird, considering he isn't exactly Meryl Streep...That's right folks, Bon Jovi can be shoehorned into any show. NBC calls them 'artists in residence'. Hmm--shills on the shelf is more like it. And I know it's just TV, but the problem is it doesn't stop at entertainment. NBC has even booked Bon Jovi on the evening news for a segment about the band's charity projects. [We hear Brian Williams's voice] 'We are back and it's time now for our "Making A Difference" report and tonight we begin with Jon Bon Jovi. He is one of New Jersey's favorite sons....' Look, I'm sure it's a swell cause, but it makes me want to take up a collection for the preservation of traditional news values. A slot on the evening news should not be for sale. But if this marketing arrangement tells us anything, it's that the rules of old no longer hold. The days when a band looked at TV as a place to buy a 30-second ad has given way to an age where the content and the commercial are one and the same. The least NBC Universal and Bon Jovi could have done was try some interesting integrations. I would have liked to have seen Jon flip any of his luxury homes on Bravo's 'Million Dollar Listing' or at the very least stand trial for crimes against decent music on 'Law & Order'."

A slot on the evening news should not be for sale. Now THAT'S educating the consumer. Here are some suggestions for other ways NBC Universal can integrate "artist in residence" Jon Bon Jovi into their programming over the next few months:

> He can play the weird intern on an episode of "The Office".
> He can play Liz Lemon's love interest on an episode of "30 Rock".
> He can substitute for Brian Williams as Nightly News anchor next month when Brian is receiving a prestigious award from the National Association of Television Advertisers. NATA will be honoring Brian as the evening news anchor who best uses his broadcast's news time to promote sponsors' products.
> He can guest star on "The Biggest Loser" and attempt to lose 2 pounds.
> He can be the singing weatherman on The Weather Channel.
> He can appear on "Heroes" and sing a cover version of David Bowie's "Heroes".
> He can be seen (with Jared) eating a foot-long Subway sandwich on the season premier of "Chuck: Presented by Subway".
> He can hold a flashlight under his chin and host a "Ghost Hunters" marathon on NBC Universal's SyFy Channel.
> He can shave his head and host the "Kojak" marathon on NBC Universal's Sleuth Channel.
> He can wear a cape and host the "Dark Shadows" marathon on NBC Universal's Chiller Channel.
> He can host a series of public service announcements on NBC to inform viewers where the heck they can actually find SyFy, Sleuth and Chiller. He can also inform viewers that The Law Channel and The Order Channel will be merging to form The Law & Order Channel.
> He can play Monk's more neurotic cousin on an episode of "Monk" on NBC Universal's USA Network.
> He can pay a surprise visit to "The Real Housewives of New Jersey" on NBC Universal's Bravo.
> He can fill in for Chris Matthews on MSNBC's "Hardball" (and rename it "Stickball").
> He can get a prostate exam on MSNBC's "Dr. Nancy".
> He can offer an in-depth analysis of the health care bill on MSNBC's "Andrea Mitchell Reports".
> "The Ed Show"? It's now "The Jon Show".
> He can host an episode of Chiller's "Scariest Places On Earth", visiting the New Jersey cities of Newark and Camden.
> He can fill in for David Gregory on "Meet The Press" and discuss the important issues of the day with members of Whitesnake, Poison and Def Leppard.

Sick Children And Dead Animals

On the Nov. 20 Nightly News, the "Making A Difference" segment was about children in a South Dakota hospital who watch zoo animals on a special closed circuit TV channel in their hospital rooms. (Let's forget about the fact that Nightly News is once again exploiting sick children to get ratings in yet another tear-jerker MAD segment.) The segment was sponsored by Beano, a GlaxoSmithKline product. Glaxo is one of the world's largest utilizers of animal testing. Does anyone from Nightly News want to tell the kids that the segment about them was sponsored by a company that kills lots of animals? Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention to the relationship between their stories and the sponsors who pay for them?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Brian, Keith and Ted

From Brian Williams's Nov. 16 Daily Nightly blog: "Sharp-eyed viewers will notice we're in our Los Angeles bureau tonight–a remote broadcast necessitated by a visit we must pay to Arizona later this week." Sharp-eyed viewers? There was a huge sign reading "NBC News Los Angeles" above Brian's head throughout the entire broadcast. And concerning Brian's Arizona reference--give me a break! Obviously, that's Brian's not-very-subtle way of making sure viewers know that he will be traveling to Arizona State University to accept the Walter Cronkite Award. I don't want to get into a debate with the ASU Cronkite committee about their judging standards (or lack thereof), but I love the way Brian just dropped that right in the middle of his blog! Talk about crying out for attention! Brian is about as humble as his doppelganger Keith Olbermann. I hope he didn't injure his shoulder from patting himself on the back so much. Brian demonstrates over and over that he is the living embodiment of Ted Baxter. (Rumor has it that Brian will walk onto the ASU stage serenaded by a chorus of Afghan orphans.)

And it seems that Brian is not the only one at Nightly News who enjoys drawing attention to himself. For the second consecutive night, Andrea Mitchell treated viewers to the excerpt from Sarah Palin's book that talks about--Andrea Mitchell (and her fish-slimed waders). How many nights is Mitchell going to read that passage on the air? I hear that next week, Mitchell is going to be signing copies of Palin's book at the Fifth Ave. Barnes & Noble.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Nightly News Disrespects Alicia Keys

During the week of Nov. 9-13, NBC wasted more than twenty minutes of valuable Nightly News time on "Making A Difference" stories about celebrities and their charities. (Obviously, the producers' goal was to use the lure of celebrities to attract viewers. The charity aspect was just the excuse that allowed them to put the celebrities on the air.) That's the equivalent of almost an entire broadcast. No surprise there--it's a sweeps period. But I can't help wonder how much actual news could have been reported in those twenty minutes. Of course, actual news isn't going to increase the ratings nearly as much as fawning stories about celebrities. Look--Brian Williams is hanging out with Jon Bon Jovi! And Anne Thompson is chilling with Glenn Close! And isn't that Natalie Morales with her BFF Halle Berry? Nightly News is so-o-o-o-o cool!

But there's an interesting--and appalling--subplot to Nightly News's Celebrity Week. On Nov. 10, the "Making A Difference" segment was about Alicia Keys and her "Keep A Child Alive" foundation. This is the foundation's mission statement from their website: "Keep a Child Alive is dedicated to providing life-saving anti-retroviral treatment, care and support services to children and families whose lives have been affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa and India by directly engaging the global public in the fight against AIDS." On Nov. 11, 12 and 13, the "Making A Difference" segments were sponsored by GlaxoSmithKline products. GlaxoSmithKline and its predecessor companies spent years fighting to prevent low-cost generic AIDS drugs from entering Africa because that would have undercut their profit margin on the AIDS drugs they were already selling. Glaxo refused to grant a license to other companies who wanted to manufacture a lower-priced generic version of the drugs to sell in Africa. In fact, in 2001, Glaxo actually sued Cipla, an Indian pharmaceutical company, to try to prevent them from introducing a low-cost AIDS drug into Ghana. Glaxo also sued the South African government over the Medicines Act, which would have allowed the government to obtain inexpensive AIDS drugs. And for years, Glaxo fought to keep their own AIDS drugs from being sold at low prices in Africa. In 2003, an AIDS advocacy group sued Glaxo to attempt to force them to allow low-cost AIDS drugs into South Africa. South Africa's Competition Commission eventually found Glaxo guilty of anti-competitive behavior, a decision that finally paved the way for the introduction of generic AIDS drugs into South Africa. In 2004, Glaxo was sued by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation over its AIDS drug pricing policies in South Africa. According to Michael Weinstein, AHF's president, "As a result of Glaxo's actions, thousands and thousands of South Africans were unable to afford or obtain Glaxo's life-saving AIDS drugs, and we believe thousands of those individuals have died of AIDS as a result." So while Alicia Keys is helping to save the lives of AIDS patients in Africa, Glaxo was actually responsible for thousands of AIDS-related deaths. It is obscene that the NBC producers would allow Glaxo to sponsor "Making A Difference" segments in the same week that Nightly News profiled the "Keep A Child Alive" foundation. Shame on them for disrespecting Alicia Keys.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Heeeeeere's Brian!

It was obscene that Brian Williams devoted more than four minutes of Monday's Nightly News to a fawning, obsequious interview with Jon Bon Jovi. More accurately, the story was about Brian hanging out with Bon Jovi and talking about all the great things the singer has done. Look how cool they are together! Meanwhile, on that same broadcast, a story about the historic health care bill was given less than three minutes of news time. I think we know where Brian's priorities are. Brian would much rather hang out (in his cool shades) with A-list celebs than report the news. In fact, each day this week, Brian will be doing a story about a different celebrity. Well, what do you expect? It's a sweeps month. Nightly News has become so much like an entertainment show that Brian might as well just drop the pretense and hire an Ed McMahon-type sidekick to sit next to him at the anchor desk. And Michael Douglas should start introducing Nightly News by saying, "Heeeeeere's Brian!"

But wait, there's more. Brian didn't mention that Bon Jovi's gig on Nightly News is part of an exclusive two-month "artist in residence" deal Bon Jovi arranged with NBC Universal as a way to promote his new album which will be released on Nov. 10 (the day after his Nightly News appearance). As part of the deal, Bon Jovi will also be appearing on Today, The Tonight Show, The Jay Leno Show, Saturday Night Live, and Inside the Actors Studio (which airs on NBC Universal's Bravo channel). So I guess that's the definition of a symbiotic relationship. Nightly News gets a ratings bump from Bon Jovi's appearance, and Bon Jovi gets to promote his new album. Sadly, Brian is taking Nightly News to a new low. We expect celebrities to go on Leno or Conan or SNL to promote their latest project. That's why those shows exist. But when a network news show invites a celebrity to appear for the purpose of promoting new material, that's just shameful. So from now on, every time we see Brian interviewing a celebrity on Nightly News, we should be wondering what type of promotional deal the celebrity devised with NBC. Brian, to paraphrase a Bon Jovi song, You Give News A Bad Name.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Fagin Of NBC

What part of Brian Williams's job description as the Nightly News teleprompter reader includes soliciting viewer contributions for his pet charities? It was grotesquely inappropriate to see Brian begging viewers to contribute to an Afghan orphanage that he profiled on Oct. 30 (and again in a follow-up story on Nov. 3). Common sense and logic tell us that most people have only a finite amount of money to give to charity. When they are coerced into donating to a particular cause, that money comes at the expense of other causes. So all the money that Nightly News viewers gave to the Afghan orphanage would have otherwise gone to orphanages in Bosnia, Zimbabwe or the United States, or to other equally needy causes. Would Brian like to explain to orphans in those countries that they won't be getting any money from his viewers because the Afghan orphans are more important? (But I certainly hope he continues to tell us again and again how generous Nightly News viewers are. We love to be pandered to.) And this isn't even the first time that Brian has used his broadcast to promote one of his favorite charities. On July 23, Nightly News aired a "Making A Difference" story about "Horizons", a summer school program that allows public school students to attend private schools. Brian introduced the story by saying, "It's popular, it's growing, it's a favorite cause in our household...." So that means we all need to know about it? News flash: Not every discussion between Brian and his wife has to be turned into a Nightly News story. It is completely inappropriate for an anchor to use a news broadcast to hawk a favorite charity. If Brian wants to promote his pet causes, he should do so in a different forum. Brian is supposed to be reporting the news, not telling us where to donate money. Nightly News is a news show, not a telethon. In fact, I'm surprised that Brian didn't borrow a page from Jerry Lewis and refer to the Afghan orphans as "Brian's kids". Maybe he should ask for a drumroll every time he announces his new donation total.

Of course, viewers haven't seen the last of the Afghan orphans. Brian introduced his Tuesday follow-up story by saying that the original segment "...has since become one of the most popular we have ever done in terms of viewer response." And that's really what matters to Brian and his producers--popular stories that increase the ratings (it's hardly a surprise that Brian chose to air this story during a sweeps period). Since the Afghan orphans spell good ratings, we can expect Brian to milk this story more than he did with Susan Boyle or the balloon boy. He will exploit those orphans like Fagin from "Oliver Twist". Maybe in his next visit to the Afghan orphanage, Brian can lead the kids in a rendition of "Food, Glorious Food".

Show Notes--Week Of Nov. 1

1) During Sunday's Nightly News story about the congressional race in upstate New York's 23rd district, we were shown some footage of former Republican candidate Dede Scozzafava, who had withdrawn from the race. Because the footage was not recent, the producers appropriately labeled it as "file" footage. On Tuesday's Nightly News, the exact same footage of Scozzafava was shown, but there was no "file" label attached to it. Why?

2) On Thursday's Nightly News story about the House health care bill, Kelly O'Donnell informed us that the bill would, "...create government-backed insurance called a public option." But the accompanying on-screen graphic read, "Create Government 'Public Opinion'." Is anyone paying attention?

3) On Tuesday's story about the H1N1 virus (which Nightly News is still calling Swine Flu), a calendar page from this past August showed Aug. 30 and 31 falling on a Friday and Saturday, respectively. In fact, those days fell on a Sunday and Monday.

4) On Tuesday's broadcast, Tom Costello reported on harmful BPA levels in plastic bottles and canned food liners. Costello told us that the chemical was present in "brand name foods from vegetable soup to tuna fish, green beans to corn and chili." But the accompanying graphic showed only generic cans labeled "chili", "vegetable soup", "green beans" and "tuna". Where are the name brands? Meanwhile, ABC's World News reported the same story on the same night. The ABC story showed canned goods from Del Monte, Progresso, Campbell's, Hormel, Hunt's, Bush's and Chef Boyardee. Clearly, Nightly News refrained from showing brand names as a favor to the many food companies that advertise on NBC shows. Just this past week, Nightly News ran commercials for Bush's Beans (Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday), Progresso canned soups (Monday, Thursday and Friday), and Swanson chicken broth (Monday, Thursday and Friday). This is yet another appalling example of how the Nightly News producers adjust the content of news stories to please the sponsors.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Brian's Holiday In Afghanistan

Before anyone else nominates Brian Williams for sainthood because he spent a week in Afghanistan, there are some things that Nightly News viewers should know. Brian went to Afghanistan for completely self-serving reasons, both professionally and personally. For one thing, it's no coincidence that Brian went during the beginning of a sweeps period. Sweeps period ratings are used to set ad rates, so networks always try to schedule their most sensational and popular programming during sweeps. Hence, Brian Williams in Afghanistan. (Another example is how FOX successfully lobbied Major League Baseball to delay the beginning of the World Series until the last week in October. That was done to make sure the entire series was played during a sweeps period.)

But Brian's trip to Afghanistan was also made for personal reasons. Anyone who's watched Nightly News knows that Brian is obsessed with the military. He often brags about being on the Board of Directors of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. He has an eerily extensive collection of military challenge coins, which he was only too happy to display on the air during the Jan. 14 Nightly News. His interviews with high-ranking military brass are reverential, if not worshipful. When Brian sees stars on a uniform, he gets stars in his eyes. Brian went to Afghanistan so that he could play soldier. He got to dress like a soldier, travel like a soldier, talk like a soldier, eat like a soldier and sleep like a soldier. He got to mingle with the enlisted personnel and hobnob with colonels and generals. The trip to Afghanistan was like a fantasy camp for Brian. In fact, many civilians actually pay good money to "enlist" in fantasy boot camps where a former marine drill sergeant will put them through the rigors of boot camp-style life. Of course, Brian didn't have to pay for his military experience--he continued to draw his 8-figure salary while he was vacationing in Afghanistan. So let's not canonize Brian just yet for fulfilling one of his fantasies. Selfishness is not a virtue.

The Bard Of 30 Rock

Will someone please buy Brian Williams a reference almanac? During his intro to Monday's "Making A Difference" story about Chicago students who perform Shakespeare, Brian said of the Bard, "And while he's been gone for over 400 years...." Not quite. Shakespeare died in 1616, so he's only been gone for 393 years. I would expect this type of mistake from a lesser scholar, but et tu, Brian? Something is rotten in the state of 30 Rock. Remember: The fault, dear Brian, is not in our producers but in ourselves. A fact checker, a fact checker! My kingdom for a fact checker! Perhaps the studio lights were so bright that Brian couldn't read his teleprompter. If so, he should have proclaimed, "Out, damned spotlight!"