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, 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 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'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'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,, 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?