Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Heisman to Cam Would Showcase the Sham

I recently dropped this in the comments section after a post on the blog WVU Sports with Mike Casazza. Casazza is setting the pace for all writers/bloggers in West Virginia and beyond. He's always a great and fun read and he's built a loyal, invested community of readers through the website. If you're a fan of college athletics, and perhaps have ties to WVU, it's an excellent place to frequent.

What I wrote on the site, I never would have envisioned coming from my brain just a few years ago. But times have changed and my outlooks on education and college athletics have been wildly recast.

Here's my take on why Cam Newton being awarded the Heisman Trophy would be both a sham and a shame.


Climbing gingerly onto the soapbox…

A few might be surprised at what I’m going to say and the fact I am saying it publicly. When I was a sports reporter, I would have looked at this from that perspective and said, “Newton, hands down.” Innocent until proven guilty, etc. would have served as my argument’s rationale. I was always a football fan first, critic second.

But this Heisman race has me more disenchanted with college athletics than at any other time in my life as a fan or follower.

When I look at that Heisman Trust Mission statement, I see the words integrity and diligence. Cam Newton is far and away the most valuable athlete in college football, no doubt. But, his integrity is easily called into question.

This isn’t about the alleged sins of the father. The NCAA believes Cam had no knowledge of his father’s actions, so be it. However, while at Florida, we know Newton was no Boy Scout.

Though the information was leaked illegally through UF, it’s well documented that he violated the university’s honor code by attaching his name to someone else’s work. When he was caught and given a chance to re-do the project, he didn’t even try…he bought it off the Net, according to multiple reports. There’s also the additional problem with his possession of a stolen computer. The stories revolving around those police reports are incredible.

He made mistakes; we all do. But the non-privileged majority of college students have to answer for those mistakes. Cam Newton did not. He was supposed to meet with UF’s Student Conduct Committee, but he bailed and went to Blinn College.

There is no integrity in cheating on a test, buying a paper online and ditching your comeuppance. None.

LaMichael James was suspended for a game for an altercation with his former girlfriend. He served his sentence with electronic surveillance and went through the system. No plagiarism or fabrication. James stood in court and handled it the right way. He’s clear in my eyes.

But, as for Newton, as talented as he may be, the adversity he has overcome has been solely due to his poor choices. His father never would have attempted (ALLEGEDLY) to get cash from Mississippi State if Cam followed the rules and actually tried to be a legitimate student-athlete at Florida. The overwhelming criticism that has been heaped on Auburn’s football program and the Newton family has its origin in his individual decision making.

The Pandora’s box of media speculation around Newton has led to a backlash and wave of support for him. He went from hero to villain to bystander and back to hero. Undoubtedly, he’ll ride that wave of momentum to the Heisman.

But he shouldn’t have been allowed to.

Clearly integrity really doesn’t matter to the Heisman Trust because they are fine with having him as a finalist. They may associate themselves with integrity, but when cash comes calling, they act just as the majority of the NCAA does…they shake the negative thoughts out of their heads, look the other way (preferably toward a camera lens) and take care of business. If the Trust cared about integrity, they would stand up and remove Newton as a finalist. But, sadly, they don’t.

Each voter has earned the right to vote because they worked to get there. And, if Newton is awarded with the Heisman, his athletic talent and indeed his hard work earned that trophy. But, integrity would not have been factored in.

Maybe I’m an old man now, but I would not write Cam Newton’s name on a ballot that I earned through professional merit. A vote I earned by doing my own work would not go to a person, even an amateur student-athlete, who refused to play by the rules and dodged the justice system.

Even if the Heisman Trust no longer stands for the principles in its own statement, I would because I do think we should weigh a person’s integrity and character into such high honors like the Heisman.

Cam Newton has the potential to be the next Matt Ryan. He also has the potential to be the next JaMarcus Russell.

If integrity and honor matter, and I think they do, Cam Newton would not win the Heisman Trophy. However…

On December 11 on ESPN, we’re all going to see, once again, those principles no longer apply to the highest individual achievement in college football.


Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Anchors Away? KIAH Drops Its Desk Jockeys

Who gives you your news?

Perhaps it's a slew of national cable show hosts. Perhaps it's an exclusive pair of big name pundits. Maybe it's a chipper or somber duo (depending on time of day) on a local television channel. It may even be a host of a drive time radio program.

Chances are, especially for the younger audiences, the answer to our lead is 'None Of The Above.' It's a trick question because most of time, it's you. You're surfing through websites and news bulletins, clicking quickly between networks, getting your fact fix at a breakneck pace.

So much of our current media-related technology is based on instantaneous assimilation of desired information...eliminate the middle man, get to the story, move on to the next one. Do consumers, namely local television viewers, still need someone traditionally presenting the news?

KIAH TV in Houston doesn't think so. They haven't just hedged their bets either, they are all in. The station in the nation's tenth largest media market has gone 'anchorless,' electing to cut seated news anchors out of their shows to create a faster and more viewer-engaging product.

The station caused even more industry insiders to scratch their heads by placing a help-wanted ad looking for an 'Executive Producer and Imaginator.' That ad has since been taken down, but the Tribune Company's website shows KIAH continues to search for a 'Producer/Editor - Predictor,' and the very interesting job details say they only want applicants who "Get It" and are "earbud wearing, app downloading, rss reading, podcast playing, text messaging, flip-flop wearing professional[s] of any age or sex."

This is clearly a station looking to do anything it can to make a dent in the local ratings battle where they've been lagging. The KIAH management has taken a highly aggressive approach and noted in the 'Imaginator' job listing that "most TV news sucks." Not really an articulate statement, but accurate nonetheless.

As crazy as this story is, KIAH's approach and the fact they are implementing such a radical shift in newsroom philosophy at a top ten media market has got lots of people talking. In America's #1 market, some anchors and execs lament over dwindling ratings and the loss of the 'anchor-viewer' relationship. WXYZ's Stephen Clark sees the anchor's newsroom role "changing dramatically" but still sees need for a "ringmaster."

This story has lit up media message boards and has the Ron Burgundy and Veronica Corningstone's of the world sweating in their massage-cushioned seats. But, they need fear not. KIAH isn't fooling anyone.

The station's management has touted their new approach, but they are being hypocritical. They're just repackaging with more mobility and are perhaps more anchor-driven than most stations.

As they strive to create new content while shifting away from the traditional approach of tying the viewer to an anchor via presentation, they are making no bones about their big ticket star Mia Gradney. Before the launch of their 'anchorless' newscast, they placed billboards all over town featuring weekday anchor Gradney with the somewhat promiscuous message 'Watch Me at 9' with a cursive 'Mia' signature.

A visit to their website brings viewers to an extensive entertainment section called 'More With Mia' which features photo galleries of Gradney in *ahem* form-fitting clothes and also includes Mia's takes on fashion and film.

But remember...it's not about the anchors anymore at KIAH. It's about the news.

Yeah right.

It's definitely more fast-paced and can keep a viewer's eye engaged, but a lot of it is schlock...content intended to be interactive with a web audience. One visit to the station's 'Hot Videos' website displays clips of 'Indian Pole Gymnastics,' a 'Yo-Yo Contest' winner, 'Woman Gets Face Full of Beer After Foul Ball,' and my personal favorite, 'Old Lady Dances in Wal-Mart.'

Now that's news!

The 'Hot Videos' site is about getting web hits, but the newscast itself isn't as wild as one may think either. You can watch some of their pieces on the website. The clips begin with a station ID full screen graphic and fade to a moving studio camera shot of Gradney standing in front of a CG and or monitor and introducing a reporter's package or story. Nothing groundbreaking.

It appears KIAH's incredibly revolutionary and controversial approach boils down to the following strategy: Take Mia, Remove Desk & Chair, Move Her Around Like A Chess Piece, Use Lots of Reporter Intros/Standups/Look-Lives, Rinse & Repeat.

KIAH has also worked to make their news copy more 'fresh' by encouraging a looser, more 'water cooler' style of writing. They also incorporated more graphics, music and quick hit stories.

KIAH isn't reinventing the wheel, they are putting a sleek, padded cover on it.

However, struggling stations across the country are keeping a weather eye on the Houston ratings battle. If KIAH gets the bump they desperately need, other management teams are sure to follow suit.

In a newsroom, the lead anchors' salaries are often heads-and-shoulders above those of assignment reporters and especially videographers and editors. Their contributions to the newscasts differ from market to market and station to station, some anchors do a lot of producing, calling, writing, editing and managing...others hit the gym after lunch, go home to change, roll in at 4 and go home between shows. Depends on the person, depends on the market and depends on that station's 'chair diva' tolerance.

And much like the general managers at those languishing stations, pampered (and not so pampered) anchors are looking at KIAH while watching their backs. And they should.

They might just have their chair pulled out from under them.

*As I've stated before on this blog, maintaining a consistent 'posting schedule' is incredibly tough, but I'll do better...I promise...again.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Will Stern Flee Satellite? Reviewing Howard's Gamble & His Future in Media

At one time, not too long ago, Howard Stern was the inescapable face of both broadcast debauchery and success.

In his prime, he was arguably the greatest manipulator of media content since P.T. Barnum.

He was a catalyst for the politically-correct movement in the U.S. Whatever he said became taboo. His shows were like a litmus test for what wasn't socially acceptable.

For the past five years he's been rolling in dough on satellite radio and yet simultaneously ignored by mainstream non-subscribers. But, all of that could change in a few months.

His contract at Sirius XM ends in December and, as John Jurgensen points out in the Wall Street Journal, Stern has got a huge decision to make.

Should he stay or should he go?

The future of satellite radio may depend on it, and the media industry's ears are collectively perked.

Stern recently got caught in the news spin cycle as Fox was reportedly considering him to replace Simon Cowell on 'American Idol.' Since the rumors let fly, he's done nothing but insult uber-popular Ellen Degeneres, saying she is going to "ruin 'American Idol'" and saying he's "not going to sit there with her - that dummy." Ellen's made it clear she won't share a space with Howard either. That's a move Fox can't possibly make and likely never even seriously considered.

But it's got people talking about Stern again. Which is just fine by him.

He left the public airwaves on Jan. 1, 2006 to avoid being constantly entangled in more costly government fines. Between 1990-2004, the FCC fined 'The Howard Stern Show' over $5 million, upping the ante each time. Stern lamented about it constantly and got so fed up, he went off the grid.

Since he left the 'public domain Matrix' however, satellite radio has struggled to remain even remotely relevant. Sirius XM monopolizes the medium and Howard Stern is their biggest attraction. After all, they've paid him and his staff a total of half a billion dollars over the past five years to bring in listeners. But the medium hasn't been well received. The hard-core Stern fans are there, but they aren't enough to keep it viable, despite Howard's best attempts.

Stern's bank account is overflowing; he's at no loss for money. But the money has never driven him. His ego is behind the wheel. And it's hungry.

As Jurgensen points out, the self-proclaimed 'King of All Media' could run to the Web, but that has limitations as well. Not only is Stern known for being a radio star, the Web's current struggles with ad revenue are no better than any other mass medium. And, Web-streaming radio isn't exactly lighting the world on fire.

And causing fires is precisely what Stern does best.

When he was on the public dial, for millions of Americans, Stern might as well have been The Antichrist. His show pushed the ethical boundaries of media nearly every day...women faking orgasms, his daily trashing of public (and not so public) figures, his mockery of people with disabilities, his language, the sexual innuendo, his fans' prank call campaign, his sketches...it never ended.

If anyone lived the ideology that, "Any press is good press," it is Howard Stern.

When he was fired from WNBC, he ran all over New York talk shows and bashed them on every network in town. He dominated the country's largest market and, of course, some of the fellow ego-maniacs in NYC ate it up. He somehow managed to balance being 'The Most Arrogant Man on Earth' while painting a sympathetic figure.

Stern worked to make his firing the launching pad for his career. He landed a gig at KRock in New York that he would hold for 20 years. His popularity was mostly relegated to the Big Apple early on, but word was spreading and he started picking up other major markets. Then, his career exploded when 'conformist teen America' got a hold of him.

His appearance as 'Fartman' on MTV's 1992 Video Music Awards sparked a firestorm. At the time, critics called the sketch the 'filthiest' in American media history. Parents saw him as Public Enemy Number 1. He represented all that was tasteless and wrong. So, naturally, kids flocked to his shows and he used that energy to try and top himself at every turn.

He thrived in the attention.

He was beastly and brilliant.

Stern parlayed that new audience into a New York Times best-selling book and then a popular 1997 movie by the same title, 'Private Parts.' He ran for governor of New York, went through a very public divorce and, with his personal life more settled with his now-wife Beth Ostrosky, shocked the radio world by announcing his move to satellite in 2004. He was so anxious to crack the FCC for pushing him off public air that he announced the deal a year and three months before his new contract started.

When he walked out of KRock and into the studios at Sirius, some thought radio would change forever.

It didn't.

Five years later, he's resurfaced from the depths of satellite radio and now prepares to stand on the shores of the mainland.

Like the royalty he alleges to be, Stern wants to act as Poseidon...to make a decision that could send tsunami-like waves down on the media landscape.

Sirius XM says Stern is staying right where he is.

Radio wants him back, as Clear Channel is already courting him, saying their company is "the most logical company for (Stern) to optimize his exposure and financial return."

The online option is there, but critics and fans alike are now wondering if Howard's crown is cracked. Business Insider points to the numbers, which say, 'Yes.' He's still landing some A-List guests (Benicio Del Toro), but a lot of his content is based on in-house shtick with his own cast of characters. Artie Lange, Jackie the Joke Man, Baba Booey, Fred, Benjy and long-time co-host Robin Ophelia Quivers...the crew has always been prominent, but now they are the crux of the show. Can that survive on traditional air after they've been doing everything under the sun on satellite for five years? Can they even reconnect after all that time away?

Clear Channel is willing to bet they can. And, if one of the world's largest and most powerful radio companies is interested, others will follow suit.

With both Conan O'Brien and Howard Stern available, a major network struggling to compete in those formats (like Fox) may be very interested in acquiring such high-profile talent. Fox needs to make a splash in late night TV and News Corp (Fox's parent company) is desperately searching for a way to make dough online. Someone big is going to make a move.

Wherever he lands, Stern is going to do all he can to continue his 'scorched earth' approach to media. He comes in, burns what he sees to the ground, and leaves with the embers still leaking smoke. All the while, he's got a megaphone on his mouth and a Playboy bunny at his side.

Stern is to media what William Tecumseh Sherman was to the South. He's an 'eviscerator'...harsh and unforgiving.

But, unlike Sherman, Stern never tires of battle. After much of the Confederate force had surrendered, General Sherman wrote: "I confess, without shame, I am sick and tired of fighting - its glory is all moonshine."

Stern apparently doesn't mind moonshine. His fight for glory continues. He's hinted about using technology to advance himself independently. But other than that, he isn't saying much to non-subscribers. Stern wouldn't talk to Jurgensen, which is more than comical given his profession.

Howard Stern was the King of All Media, but since he moved to satellite, that throne has been left for the likes of Oprah Winfrey, Rush Limbaugh and Ryan Seacrest.

What is to become of Stern?

Will he return as King? Will he instead come back as a media 'Prince of Darkness' under Seacrest's bright and dominant path? Or are Stern's days of royal splendor over...A jester on the fringe, an extra. Part of the play, but rarely on center stage.

To me, he has to base this on dough. Satellite radio is not going to swim; it is sinking. Taking big money from them will keep him out of the public's eye and make him obsolete. It's a career killer.

Stern has two main options if he wants to stay relevant or develop a fresh audience.

Option 1: Stern returns to public radio. Clear Channel owns the Premiere Radio Network with nationally-syndicated shows starring Jim Rome, Steve Harvey, Limbaugh, Seacrest, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and a slew of others. They are the monolith. They can pay him an exorbitant sum.

Problem with Option 1: Working with Premiere and Clear Channel puts Stern under the same corporate umbrella with those hosts. And Stern would likely spend lots of time ripping into Hannity, Beck or Limbaugh, leading to an ego-war of biblical proportions. That may be a headache that Clear Channel doesn't want.

Option 2: Stern creates a newly-branded site with a corresponding show on a pay-TV network like HBO, Cinemax, etc. Stern's old E! TV show was wild, but didn't draw the audience he wanted and never broke through. It got stale quick. He needs to be uncensored, and he can do that online and on pay-TV. He would have to move away from traditional radio, but the writing may be on the wall for that medium as well. Why not try to piggyback off of the success of Websites like FunnyorDie.com and create two streams of income?

Problem with Option 2: The Website would have to be engaging and would have to require subscription. Web surfers hate paying anything to view content and even Howard's most insane fans might not like this shift away from radio. Also, the show would have to be a far cry from the E! TV-style. The nudity & language would draw an audience but it wouldn't make good ratings for very long. His staff is stuck in their ways and a radical shift in format may not be possible.

I've got a feeling Stern's ego will push him out of satellite radio, but there is great risk involved. That being said, throughout his career Stern has mastered and re-mastered the art of turning denial and frustration into dollars and fame.

Stern won't quit or go gently into that good night, and he won't work on the cheap. It means too much to him...there is no middle ground on which he can exist. He desires the biggest pay day and the biggest stage.

This fallen king will return to the throne or die, hand out-stretched and mouth agape, at the foot of it.

Friday, February 12, 2010


One day, it will happen.

I will place the following phone call:

"Hey, good morning Captain, it's Jeff. I can't make it into work today, and actually might miss the next two weeks....

What's that? Yes, I said two weeks. It's a funny story really. I'm at Centra Southside Community Hospital...

No, no, I'm okay. Now. But I'll be in a neck brace for a while and I've lost all feeling in the right side of my body.
Car accident? Ah..no. Assault and battery? Hmm, not quite. Home invasion? That's pretty close.
Actually, like I said it's funny. I was playing Wii, and trying to nail a 100 on Bird's-Eye Bulls-Eye, did you ever play that game? Anyway, my feet got all sweaty and I was flapping my arms like crazy so I slipped off the balance board, smacked my head on our fireplace and caused our plasma TV to land on my head. My head actually went through the TV, it was pretty intense.
Yeah, I know. Think our health plan covers that?...I didn't think so. I'm in room 325. Bring ice and a lawyer if you visit. I'm suing the crap out of Nintendo."

You laugh (or at least scoff, I hope), but it's not far from the truth.

Apparently, the Wii is trouble.

Look at this 14-year-old girl's foot. She fractured the base of the fifth metatarsal after playing Wii for five straight hours and falling off the balance board. Nice. Don't believe me, it's in the New England Journal of Medicine as more and more clinicians are seeing patients for 'Wiiitis.'

Watch the video for some of the Wii Fit Plus training games and you'll see why. The games are amazing and fun...if you are coordinated and sober.

Don't think it's serious?

Check this out. People are falling of the balance boards, dislocating shoulders, getting 'Wii-knee,' having resulting corrective surgery and worse. As the article notes, 'traumatic hemothorax' occurs when cavities around a person's lungs fill with blood after a hard fall. Wii-related cases have been document. Try to picture THAT living room scene.

The Wii is friggin' potentially fatal. No, really. A 25-year-old Britain collapsed while jogging during a WiiFit run. Not the Wii's fault, but, I'm just saying...

For those average folks out there, the Wii can be more harmful than tackle football or reporting at the bottom of a snowy hill. [Seriously, go back and click...it's worth it.]

[Still with me? Good.]

Each one of these Wiis should come with a 'Wii-ll & Testament.' And you'd best be ready to get a new TV, furniture, light fixings and/or significant other.

Don't believe me again?

Check out this montage.

Or this one.

Or this one. (My favorite thanks to the Weezer tune. Go the 1:26 mark as the lass destroys a lightbulb. I've come close roughly three dozen times.)

Personally, I'm one 'Grand Slam Tennis' awkward serve away from a tourniquet.

*SIDENOTE: Why would anyone allow a camera to be present and or recording in a room while you are on this thing? Check out Grandpa here. You think anyone is going to be talking about his accomplishments or community service at his wake?

Hell no, they'll be talking about the time he nearly squashed a grandson playing 'Super Hula Hoop.'

And this is me in 30 years. This guy thinks Wii Sports Bowling is 'off' and gets a little furious. He's a new hero of mine.*

While the InterWeb community has also turned the WiiFit into the next, how do I say, 'adult' phenomenon, there's no doubt the Wii's real power is simple.

It makes coordinated, balanced and athletic people look absolutely ridiculous. And it makes uncoordinated, unbalanced and unathletic people look like brain-crazed, hip-flailing zombies.

And the whole concept of it says quite a bit about its users. The linked parody video nails it.

"Don't want to invest $3.19 in a hula hoop? Why not pick up a Wii for $300 and enjoy the same fun in the comfort of your living room, without that annoying plastic hoop."

I can't personally hold too much against WiiFit Plus. It's actually helped me quite a bit.

Since hopping on it for the first time on 1/14, I've dropped over 9.5 pounds.

How you ask?

Well, when I first did the 'Body Test,' my Mii avatar swelled to the size of a Zeppelin. (See inserted picture for reenactment, sans T-shirt and Guinness pajama pants. If I ever had an action figure made of me, it would wear those pants.)

When a dude in that kind of shape hops on the board, the cute, high-pitched WiiFit voice disdainfully says two very painful words.

"That's obese."

The tone of the voice is matter-of-fact and sounds quite, well, disappointed.

Congratulations WiiFit creators, you sucked me in from that point forward. I've been irked to the point of consistent physical activity.

Come hell or high water, by the end of 2010, I will be borderline 'Normal' by the game's Body Mass Index standards. That means I'll have to drop 25+ pounds this year, but I am doing it. I'm already nearly halfway there.

Why am I so motivated?

Is it because I wake up at night with the words, "That's obese," ringing in my ears and think about my Mii shaking his head in disgust and shame?
Is it because the game actually REBUKES you for missing workouts, tests or goals?
Is it because I want to get to 'Normal' and immediately grab the balance board, run outside, place it in front of my car and give it a real Balance Test?

The answer to all of these is an emphatic, "Yes."

And apparently I'm not the only one taking frustration out on the Wii.

This guy shoots one. (It's clear it also called him 'Obese.') And these guys dressed up as two Nintendo legends to smash theirs.

When I do get to 'Normal' stage, and I will, I will have the good people at Nintendo to thank. The WiiFit Plus' constant mockery of my physical conditioning is enough to drive me insane.

Insane enough to lose the weight I've been packing on for the past 14 years since I graduated from high school slim and trim (and dumb). The stack of 'clothes I once wore' will diminish. And it's all thanks to Nintendo.

Of course, I'm happy to credit Nintendo now.

But, if you ever come to visit me in room 325 at Southside Hospital, bring that ice I was talking about. But, right before you enter the room, call this guy because I want a chunk of that Nintendo coin.

And, oh yeah, before we go to trial, make sure you delete this blog post for me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

"Bold & Fresh Tour"? Try 'Bought & Sold'

The folks over at Fox News are smart. Real smart.

When you've got a good thing going, and they do, you ride it out. In blackjack, any Swingers fan knows you always double down on 11, and in media, you always package your best sellers.

Hence, the 'Bold & Fresh Tour' featuring Bill O'Reilly and Glenn Beck. These titans of conservative talk take to a stage separately, and then together, to give their takes on the state of the nation. To see a clip, go here. [Click on the 'Fox News' tab in the video player and select the clip called 'Glenn and Bill."]

The 'high energy' ad (lots of music, sound effects, graphics) promises that the duo will provide some comedy, needle each other by questioning their respective statuses in news and then angrily lace into government as they do on their shows.

Original content? Not so much. A chance to see two of the most popular talking heads in person? Bingo. A nice money generator and a way to continue Fox's aggressive 'grass roots' approach to media.

In truth, it's simple.

All media outlets across the country are working desperately to become vital to a local audience. Why watch local TV news when you can watch network/cable nightly news? Well, because only the local station is on your block; you can see them at WalMart. So, as a network, Fox is working to address that issue by creating a viewer community. And, they are using their best and most controversial hosts to drive the campaign.

In more truth, it's brilliant. But, people need to see this tour as what it is.

This sort of traveling rhetorical circus won't clear up the murky swamp of political dialogue. It won't serve to enlighten the minds of supporters or detractors. These 'great minds' of media aren't going to advance our understanding of government infrastructure.

The tour is about selling books, hats, T-shirts, tote bages, travel mugs and tickets. The cheapest tickets, from what I found on ticketmaster.com, sell for $132.50 each for the upcoming event in Florida. Night in and night out, all Beck and O'Reilly discuss is how poor this country is becoming and how our elected leaders are working to suck dollars out of our wallets.

But, if your dollars are going into their wallets...well, that's just fine.

Contradicting themselves is nothing new to Beck or O'Reilly.

Beck's shtick has been to ire the frustrated voting masses and to convince us to take to the streets. His shows are predictable; he uses remotely-linked historical references and quotations to draw comparisons between President Obama and Karl Marx/Stalin/Hitler. He scares you, settles you down and then works to inspire you into immediate action.

Glenn Beck tells you to invest in gold because it's good for all of us. And, coincidentally, good for him...since he is a paid spokesperson for goldline.com. The Daily Show pointed this out last year.

Beck claims that America's health care system doesn't need to be overhauled, just a few months after blasting the same system when he was being paid by CNN. Once again, The Daily Show took the time to outline Beck's 'transgressions' when the man himself wouldn't admit his convenient change of mind.

But Beck's greatest gift to conservatives has been his ability to motivate voters into visible action as part of Fox News' movement to create community among both voters and, more importantly, viewers.

The '912 Project' helped give the now infamous tea baggers an organized way to voice their issues. That could have been a positive thing for the country, except that many instead used it as a forum to showcase misunderstanding and ignorance. The signs at some of these rallies were frighteningly pathetic.

There is just one such 'tea party sign collage' in this blog to serve as an example of just how uneducated and truly scared some of our fellow citizens have become. Referring to our president as 'Osama,' claiming the arrival of white slavery and saying that we are simply a Christian nation, all others aren't welcome, etc.

Beck is working hard to promote his latest rally, one set for August on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The event will raise funds for an excellent cause but, make no mistake, it's also about Beck. After all, it's guaranteed that attendees will chant two things: "USA!" and "GLENN BECK!"...maybe not in that order.

Democratic/liberal hosts go berserk over footage of those tea party rallies while Fox News proudly puffs out their chests as they clamor over each other, praising themselves for reigniting the flame of liberty for modern Americans.

It's not hard to recall when a disoriented and frustrated public showed similar anger at then President George W. Bush. People hanging him in effigy at rallies or making threats to kill him on sight. The same kind of hate and vile behavior found at some tea parties.

Not every tea bagger or liberal-thinking protest participant acts in such a way, but there are enough to make us all nervous.

They sure made O'Reilly nervous six years ago. Okay, maybe not nervous, but certainly upset.

O'Reilly really made his inroads into cable ratings out of those rallies. His shows were intense, his gaze fierce and his words piercing. Words like 'unAmerican' or 'socialist,' or 'communist.' He got in the face of military generals, journalists from all over the world, and famously was very hostile to the son of a 9/11 victim.

Jeremy Glick's stand on that show is memorable to say the least. O'Reilly tells the kid to 'Shut Up' so that O'REILLY can respect Glick's father...incredible television. I can only imagine what Glick's father might have thought. I assume it would be, "Respect me by respecting the son I loved and raised." Even hardened 'No Spin' fans have trouble supporting O'Reilly's actions with Glick.

Both Glenn Beck and Bill O'Reilly have made their names by being 'out there' on the political right. Their job is not easy, but the premise is. Get ratings, make us money, remain relevant at all times, incite viewer passion, and please don't forget to say 'Fox News.'

It's working. FNC just had their best year ever as 47% of primetime cable news viewers watch Fox. They are crushing CNN, MSNBC and Headline News. It's not even a contest.

And what do you do when you're winning big? You push a hunk of chips into the middle of the table. You work to take every last dime from everyone in the room. That is what the 'Bold and Fresh Tour' is. A marketing ploy meant to sell books and promote two of the richest media figures on the planet. No one involved needs your money. They just want it. Every dime you are willing to play/pay.

These two are frankly the best at what they do. But this latest marketing move shows exactly what Fox thinks about its largest group of viewers.

And Fox does not think much of its viewers.

They don't believe viewers want real, unfiltered news. Their ratings have proven that. This started back in the '80s with The Simpsons and Married With Children. Fox used to aim for the 'lowest common denominator' viewer. Less educated, poor and crude. It worked on me.

As far as news is concerned, Fox believes viewers want faces...faces that yell, alarm the public and can then immediately spin a good joke on another's behalf.

Like all businesses, Fox is selling a product. It just so happens that their product in this case is a pair of men whose rhetoric causes unhealthy distrust and paranoia. The nature of their business allows them to be held unaccountable for their words and actions. Each night you tune in it's a fresh new show, the insults hurled the previous night are either forgotten or retraced with greater vitriol.

And no, Keith Olbermann is no better.

For those of you who plan to attend one of the Beck/O'Reilly tour stops, ask yourself these quick questions:

"Am I really a better citizen by financing this approach to news?"
"Do I truly support every belief these men espouse?"
"Do I have something to gain mentally or spiritually by attending this event?"

If you answer 'Yes,' to any of these questions, then feel free to buy your tickets. Give them your money.

I just hope that when they yell, they don't spit at your $130+ seat on accident. Because if they do, they certainly won't notice.

They won't notice because they are used to it. What's it to them?

After all, every single night, Beck and O'Reilly purposefully spit on millions of Americans.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Dear NFL, Do SOMEthing With the Pro Bowl

I can't think of a single professional 'all-star' GAME that I actually like.

I love the NHL Skills Competition when good players are in it; last year's was fun.

The NBA Slam Dunk Contest is great, though too long and their 3-Point Shootout is watchable when it has recognizable contestants/winners.

The MLB All-Star Game is generally awful, despite the league's best efforts to give it relevance. The Home Run Derby is something to see, but only when a guy catches fire and starts destroying baseballs, such as Josh Hamilton in 2008. The dude hit 28 dingers in the first round...and lost.

In general, the all-star games themselves are glorified exhibitions and make for poor viewing.

But, far and away the worst pro all-star game is the Pro Bowl. The NFL is the country's most powerful sport...incredible ratings, nationwide fanbases, round-the-clock coverage, etc. Yet their all-star product is far and away the worst among all pro sports.

Watching the Pro Bowl is akin to paying for a movie that you really don't want to see. You watch it because your friends want to see it, your fears are immediately met in the first two minutes, and you are forced to sit in utter anguish until its over. Bad vibes going in, bad experience all around. I can't name a single person I know that actually watches it.

I'm a huge Steelers fan...I have the ugly ties, uncouth home decor and annoying license plates to prove it. So when I heard Ben Roethlisberger chose to skip this year's Pro Bowl, I was disappointed. Big Ben says he's sitting out to help heal his shoulder, but that's not the whole story. He's already been to it once, and that experience was probably enough. When asked about Roethlisberger's status, his own coach said nothing was really wrong.

And in truth, Ben is right. Why should he go? The game is boring, it has no 'stick' among players/coaches (no one cares), the hassle of travel is unnecessary and there's no real incentive. These guys make so much money, the bonus isn't worth it.

Get selected and then get out, that's what the stars do. They don't even attend the game after stepping out. They collectively thumb their nose at it every year...it's a joke.

Here are some of the other players who have declined their invitations this year:
Tom Brady, Larry Fitzgerald, Randy Moss, Stephen Jackson, Jake Long, Lance Briggs, Andre Gurode, Charles Woodson, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Wes Welker.

Welker and Rodgers-Cromartie have nasty injuries that would keep them off the field even if they wanted to play. But, the majority of the other injured players were all more than willing to suit up for a game they cared about, a game that mattered. The Pro Bowl doesn't matter and no one cares, therefore, they see no reason to play in it.

Imagine Moss & Brady talking it over last week after PLAYING the Ravens:

TB - "Dude, you going to the Pro Bowl?"

RM - "What?!?" (Incredulous look) "LAME! You?"

TB - "Not unless you go too, I don't want to do all of that."

RM - "No way man, I'm going to go see 'Edge of Darkness' that day. Big plans, don't want to break them, you know. But Ochocinco will go for me, he loves that crap."

As fans, it's an insult. Why would anyone pay over $100 to watch a bunch of alternates play a few snaps and sit down? The players laugh the whole time, tackle half-heartedly, yuck it up for the cameras, do sideline interviews...on-air garbage.

For kicks, I just visited Ticketmaster's Pro Bowl site and could have bought a ticket at the 20-yard line for $130 right this minute. The game is in 10 days! The fact the tickets are available and cheap is a clear sign that NO ONE is interested.

Check out this pic from the stands last year.

Aloha Stadium, the traditional and now former home of the NFL's annual dog & pony show, seats 50,000, but, despite the game's location and the league's prestige, it was never a good game environment. Empty seats abound, the crowd noise is low. Awful.

This year's game will be at Sun Life (formerly Dolphins) Stadium in Miami, with a football seating capacity of 75,540. And, ten days before the game, individual seats on the 20-yard line are going for $130. Can't wait. That stadium's lower level will fill up...after ushers say, 'Screw it,' five minutes in and let people sit in the first deck.

I understand why the NFL needs this. It's closure to the season for any fan whose team is not in the Super Bowl, but when the league's stars aren't interested, it needs to be revamped. The NFL did the right thing by placing it before the Super Bowl, at least our interest will be somewhat piqued. But, that eliminates some of the best players...a damned if you do, damned if you don't scenario.

The NFL also plans on bouncing the Pro Bowl from town to town each year, hoping to cash in on markets/fans excited to host it. With this year's game being in Miami, you would think a few Dolphins would be there to help draw local interest. Nope. Jake Long was the only local selection, and he's out due to injury. Nice move. It's important to note the tickets are available to Miami season ticket holders, which I'll admit would be a nice 'bonus' at the end of the year.

However, it's too little, too late.

The fans have spoken. We're not interested. For whatever reason, the Pro Bowl doesn't click. Really, of all the major pro all-star events, only the NBA's Slam Dunk Contest resonates...all of the actual all-star games struggle to bring in a good audience. The MLB game gets a few casual viewers because of their asinine decision to link the game's winner to home-field advantage in the World Series. That almost makes it interesting...but not really.

I propose that we drop the traditional all-star games all together or find a way to incorporate skills challenges into the game somehow...make it fun, mix it up. Who cares, no one is watching anyway.

Bring back the NFL Quarterback Challenge and the Pro Bowl Skills Challenge. The reason the NFL QB Challenge got canned was because Mike Vick was prominently featured in the 2007 version, then he got busted...rather than edit him out in time, they dropped it. Nice.

These challenges are kind of fun, and holding them at halftime would give non-starters and specially selected players (snubs) a chance to enjoy the game as well. Hell, an EA Sports Madden Challenge for players would be great. They already host one anyway and the players take it very seriously. You could do this as the pre/postgame show...would be awesome. Grant you, it would have to be heavily censored for language, but hey, it'd be a great pay-per-view event!

Dear NFL, do SOMEthing with the Pro Bowl.

Otherwise you'll see more athletes passing up the chance to shine as an all-star for the opportunity to rest and relax. All they are doing is diminishing the all-pro legacy while ignoring the game of football, and the fans, that made them rich.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mark 'The Liar' McGwire Has No Place In Baseball

Time for a lightning-quick take on the 'stunning announcement' that Mark McGwire juiced for nearly a decade while crushing bombs in the majors.

It's important to note that sports fanatics and critics are likely on one side of the fence on the steroids issue. You are either completely against using steroids and find the act a crime against baseball. Or, your take is that it's too difficult to determine what effect Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) may have had and, therefore, though it's unfortunate, the game is bigger than the sin.

The folks on the latter side of the fence are wrong.

I've blogged about steroids before, regarding a player very close to my heart. But McGwire's admission brought me back to the issue.

For those of you willing to take McGwire's apology, watch this interview with ESPN's investigative reporter T.J. Quinn. Did you listen to it?

McGwire claims taking steroids didn't lead to a single home run. You can't hit homers if you don't play in the game and take at-bats. McGwire said he took the drugs to get onto the field and...take at-bats. Therefore he is lying or in denial.

McGwire's career batting average was .263. Though that's respectable, the guys on the all-time homer leader list with him have generally better numbers. A-Rod (ANOTHER admitted user) is right behind Big Mac on the list, soon to pass him, but his career average is over .300. Frank Robinson (just ahead of McGwire) batted .294. Barry Bonds, MLB's tainted home run king, batted .298.

What does all that mean?

That McGwire was a pop-or-flop hitter. The ultimate fence-swinger.

He had over double the number of homers than he did doubles, 583 to 252, and he struck out more than he walked, 1596 to 1317. That final stat means less and less in today's playing era, but it still shows that he was by no means a patient or incredibly talented hitter.

He doesn't deserve the Hall of Fame...he never really did.

Did he help save baseball in the late 90s? That's arguable. He captured our attention and his feats impressed us. I was there watching every swing. But it didn't feel right then and it feels a lot worse now. To think that we idolized Big Mac and Sosa...two of the worst cheaters in the league's history...it's sad. I'm embarrassed.

And McGwire should be too. I find it unbelievable that a team, an owner and a group of players would find it acceptable to have him stand as their hitting coach.

He didn't do it on talent and work ethic alone. He cheated.

Aren't we taught that cheaters never prosper...that they don't win?

Some fans and reporters may choose to remember the following Mark McGwire:

But I choose to remember THIS Mark McGwire:
The one that lied to our nation's elected leaders and to all of us. The one that evaded the truth...until he wanted to get back into baseball and was FORCED to admit his wrongdoing. Commissioner Bud Selig said McGwire needed to do this to ease his transition back into the game. How sad.

The game, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Hall of Fame don't need him.

In my opinion, they never did.

Monday, January 11, 2010

No More Late Nights: I'm Tuning Out

*Yep, I'm trying to get back to blogging again...once, maybe twice a week. Quick posts, no more 3,000+ word novellas. Too much time and I can't stay on top of them. (Obviously, since it's been over half a year. I'm embarrassed.) Now, let's get to it...*

Friends, NBC is about to kill late night television.

The ridiculous notion of returning Jay Leno to 11:35p.m., moving Conan to 12:05a.m. and pushing Jimmy Fallon to 1:05a.m. will only help solidify Letterman's recent ratings boost. And, when that fades (probably by first quarter 2011) we will see late night TV take a nosedive. Forever.

I can only imagine CBS execs calling each other like giddy pre-teens: "Did you hear? They pushed Jay back to the Tonight time and smacked Conan to 12:05! OMG! That's stupid, right?!? That's so stupid!...I know, right!...Ha ha, what?...Oh, who cares if Dave and Craig are awful, we're going to make a killing!"

It's clear that the best TV comedy went to cable a long time ago. I wouldn't be surprised if Conan, or even Fallon, follows suit. Conan better if he wants to stay relevant.

It wasn't always like this...these guys used to be incredible...

Growing up, staying up late was cool. It was the coolest. Cooler than Reebok pumps, slap-on wristbands or NKOTB. (If that acronym doesn't ring a bell, imagine the Jonas Brothers/Hanson and Justin Timberlake all rolled into an awkward tween-girl megacraze...that about sums up their impact on girls in my middle school.)

I always wondered what my parents watched on TV when we went to sleep. It HAD to have been awesome...that was my thought process. Of course now I realize that my Dad was writing checks and my Mom was falling asleep on the couch, but back then it seemed like they had the potential to witness amazing things first-hand during the night, while I jealously tried to avoid thinking about schoolwork.

At school, the 'cool' kids (the ones whose parents I would later discover were lazy) used to talk about how funny stuff on TV was late at night. The coolest kids would all retell SNL jokes on Monday and Tuesday. I didn't even know what they were talking about. I saw my first SNL show when I was 17. Ultra-lamo, that's me.

But, far and away the coolest thing about watching TV that late at night was Carson/Leno or Letterman. I don't think the younger generations today could understand their full effect on comedy during that time. Even though TV viewing options were expanding, they still defined 'funny.' They were monsters for the networks and ate up the ratings books. Every comic looked to them to try and get an edge. They drove America's comedy shortbus.

When I finally got 'hip,' I would watch them whenever I could and I would bounce between Leno and Letterman. Honestly, neither of them ever related to me, but I respected what they did and occasionally they were side-splittingly good. But throughout the last few years, the one guy that I could sit and watch night in and night out was Conan O'Brien.

I still remember his first few shows. He was really awkward and his timing, well, it took time. But when he nailed it, he was something to watch. Our college dorm lobbies were packed every night with students fighting over the 'huge' 24-inch TVs...we would fight over Leno/Letterman, but everyone agreed Conan was the best. And he earned his shot at the Tonight Show...

Which makes the current farce at NBC too much to take.

I can't imagine trying to buoy the guys' egos while fretting over a ratings disaster, but to say NBC is mismanaging their late night schedule is akin to saying that Gilbert Arenas may need to take an online course on gun safety.

Up until the past few months I was a guy who would stay up late and surf the late night shows, just as I did as a college kid, to see the guests...try to catch a Conan skit. But not one of these media giants and their staffs could figure out how to stay viable and fresh. Some of Jimmy Kimmel's stuff is great, but it happens so rarely than watching online is a better use of your time. The best stuff Fallon's show ever did was in the webisodes leading up to the show's debut.

And that makes me realize that late night TV is going to fall hard. Letterman's shtick doesn't appeal to the Millenials and Conan is grasping at straws. It may take a few years to get there, but I get the impression that Dave is just trying to wait out Leno. Once Jay fizzes out, Letterman will throw some more barbs at NBC for passing on him and he'll just up and quit. I think he'll do it abruptly, much as he handled his office sex scandal. But, he'll likely go out on his own terms, which is something Jay can not say.

Conan gets the raw deal, but he didn't carry the ratings...he had an incredible run, but he missed his chance. Time and comedy seem to have passed him by, which his shocking given how connected and strong he was just a few short years ago. 'In the Year 2000' and 'Photo Gallery' were must-watch skits that kept you tuned in every night, but Conan's creativity is gone.

NBC isn't doing anyone any favors, except CBS of course. They've abused the Jay/Conan fan bases enough...moving time slots, making their problems public, etc. Those insulted viewers are going to go elsewhere...and I'm starting right now.

I pledge to never watch another live late night show of this ilk ever again. If you haven't been paying attention, funnyordie.com, collegehumor.com and The Onion are reinventing funny online. And, there's no TV-ratings/language filter...some of it is nasty, but by God most of it is funny.

They're fresh, they're occasionally insightful (okay, very occasionally) and they're hilarious. And, they aren't embarrassing themselves nightly.

Hey, late night! You are dead to me.

I'm going online.

Now, who's coming with me?