Thursday, November 5, 2015

Wicked City: FAIL

My bride and I are fairly selective in our TV viewing habits, but sometimes when a new show comes along we’re willing to give it a try. Such was the case with a new offering from ABC called “Wicked City”. The promos looked good (they always do) but after viewing the second installment of the show last night (via DVR) we looked at each other and gave it a thumbs down.

It’s pretty typical network fare; there’s murder, violence, sex (and the network shows get bolder every year), and recognizable TV stars. One of the reasons I wanted to give it a chance is because one of the female leads is a young lady (Erika Christensen) who starred on the now-concluded NBC TV show “Parenthood”, which I liked. (I think I’m a lot like Zeke, for those of you who watched the show.)

The writing for Wicked City was what you’d expect of a show trying to appeal to that standard 25-54 demographic, and one of the things you must ask yourself is – what do a 25-year-old and a 54-year-old have in common? Not much, which is why that 25-54 demo has always puzzled me.

The show is supposed to be set in the mid-80’s in Los Angeles, which is another reason it appealed to me: I lived in L-A in the mid-80’s. But a few minutes into the show, I was annoyed by what a lot of TV shows trying to reach the younger demographic do: they intentionally and horribly distort what things were really like 30 years ago.

First of all, in the “establishing shots” for the locale, they use an image of the Los Angeles skyline like the one at the top of the post. Clue: the L-A skyline didn’t look like that in the mid-80’s. It looked like that in the 60’s. One of the more striking elements of the current L-A skyline is the U.S. Bank Tower, the stark white skyscraper that was called the First Interstate Bank Building when construction started in 1987.


This is what the L-A skyline looks like today. The U.S. Bank Tower is the tallest structure, right in the center of this photo. That's City Hall on the far right- the smaller white tower.

In one of the first scenes of the first episode of the show, the action takes place on Sunset Boulevard, one of L-A’s many famous streets. I noticed the cars were all 60’s models (they were focusing on a guy cruising the Sunset Strip in a ’66 GTO) but there wasn’t a single car from the 80’s anywhere in sight.

And all the cars had those old gold on blue California license plates. From ’63 to ’69, California plates were gold on black – usually three letters followed by three numbers – and from ’70 to late ’82, the plates were gold on blue, usually three numbers followed by three letters. Late in ’82 they started using a white background with blue characters, and there were seven characters on the plate. My ’84 California plates, which are still hanging on my garage wall, were “2EUM865”. 

They started out with a 1 and then three letters followed by three numbers; when they ran out of combinations they went to a 2 followed by three letters and three numbers, and now I think they’re up to plates starting with a 9 followed by three letters and three numbers. Who knows what they’ll come up with when the 9’s run out. And, in California, plates stay with the vehicle when you sell or trade it.

As usual, I digress.

That business of having a series supposedly set in the mid-80’s and using cars and plates from the mid’60’s has always annoyed me. But TV, and sometimes even movies, do this a lot. If a show is supposedly set in the ‘50’s, it’s pretty much a lock that the art directors will use vehicles from the 30’s and early 40’s. Why? Somebody once told me it’s to give the visuals a more “old-time” feel.

I’m not sure if that’s true, but it happens a lot and it annoys me. And with Wicked City, the crazy part was all the vehicles featured are 60’s cars, except the cop cars….which are mid-80’s Chevy sedans. Go figure.

Another thing the art directors, or whoever, deliberately did, is misrepresent the fashions. The skirts on the ladies are waaaaaaay too short for the mid-80’s, and in many cases are more like the mini-skirts of the 60’s. (As a confirmed “leg man”, I notice things like that.)

I guess the idea is that if they actually used vehicles and styles from the mid-80’s, when the series was supposedly taking place, that the millennials in the viewing audience would think it looked “too recent”.
Whatever the reason, it annoys me, there’s too much of it, and…sorry, ABC, but Wicked City is no longer being DVR'd at the Compound.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Trip To The Blackhawks Game

Last Saturday my bride (pictured above) and I drove down to Chicago to see the Blackhawks play the Columbus Blue Jackets at the United Center. Both of us have followed hockey for years; watching the Hawks last season, which ended in another Stanley Cup victory for them, was a blast.

Toni grew up on Chicago hockey; as a teenager she listened to the late Lloyd Petit call Blackhawks games on her transistor radio. She bugged her parents to take her to Blackhawks games and even got to know some of the players. She maintained her love for the sport and was even an officer of the Badgers Blue Line Club during the Jeff Sauer years.

The last time we’d been to the United Center was quite a few years ago, to see the New York Rangers play the Blackhawks. We took our hockey-loving son to see his beloved Rangers about a decade ago, so we were looking forward to returning to the United Center to see a game in person again.


The drive from Madison to Chicago is an easy one, now that the Northwest Tollway (I-90) is six lanes all the way from the Illinois line into the big city.  We hop off the I-90 at I-290, The Eisenhower Expressway, and the sight of the city skyline (above) from “the Ike” is always a special treat. We had hotel reservations for Saturday night at the Marriott a few blocks from the United Center.

We checked into our room late Saturday afternoon ($289 for one night, plus $45 for the privilege of parking my venerable giant gas-sucking SUV road warrior in their lot overnight), changed into our “hockey fan garb” and went down to the hotel bar for a little pre-game pre-gaming.


Here we are at Rooks, the hotel bar and lounge. Toni has on her official Blackhawks Brendan Saad #20 jersey from last season, though you can’t see it in this picture. Saad was traded to the Blue Jackets just before the start of the season, to her dismay – and to the chagrin of millions of Blackhawks fans, who were hoping the team would keep Saad on the roster.

One of the reasons we picked this game to go to was that it would be the return to Chicago of Brendan Saad, although tonight he’d be in the Blue Jackets uniform.

Before long it was time to catch the Marriott shuttle to the United Center. That’s one of the benefits of staying where we did: the hotel shuttle will take you to the game, and after the game, you just call the front desk and they’ll send it over to pick you up and bring you back.


We made our way to our seats and this was our view – pretty nice! We were in the last row of the section, and – stroke of luck! – I was in the seat above the aisle, so I was able to stretch my legs out all the way! The sightlines were good and we were able to see every part of the rink. Toni did a GREAT job of buying the seats!  By the way, face value on our seats was $150, and we paid double that – which is about standard. It’s not easy to get Blackhawks tickets unless you’re willing to shell out some serious jack.

Chicago prices in general are high, just as they are in any major city. At the United Center, a Vienna Beef hot dog was about 8 bucks; a 12-ounce soft drink was 8 bucks and a 12-ounce beer was 12 bucks.


After we’d downed the hot dogs, Toni took a selfie in front of a huge electronic Blackhawks mural that was on the opposite wall. The players are Kane and Seabrook, for those who don’t follow closely.

We got back into our seats in time to see the teams warming up on the ice.


Here’s Toni’s photo of her man, Brendan Saad, wearing number 20 for the Blue Jackets, warming up with his new teammates before the game.

The Blackhawks did a nice thing for Saad – during the first TV time-out, they had a special video recognition for Saad, who had just gotten his Stanley Cup Champions ring earlier that evening. The Blackhawks fans were gracious and gave Saad a big round of applause after the video, as they had when he was initially introduced in the starting lineups before the game.

The game experience at the United Center is first-class. There’s always the high of Jim Cornelison singing the National Anthem, and the Blackhawks fans tradition of cheering through the whole song. And during the game, the huge video boards keep you apprised of all the relevant game stats, and during the breaks, the entertainment video bits are really good.

Here’s another selfie Toni took of us, this time in our seats, between the first and second period of the game. Speaking of selfies….the two young ladies seated to our right, who came to the game with their boyfriends/dates/significant others/whatever spent most of their time during the game taking one selfie after another.

The guy seated next to me on my left was a long-time Blackhawks fan, very knowledgeable and very active. He looked to be about my age, but he was a multi-tasking multi-media machine during the game, texting his kids, posting to Facebook, sending out Tweets, all while keeping right up with the game.

He said he and his wife had just been to Camp Randall for the Iowa game, and they both raved about “the game experience” in Madison.

There was a lot of sports energy in Chicago that night and you could feel it at the United Center – the Cubs were in a playoff game in New York, and they had that game on all the TV’s in the concourses at the United Center, and the Bears were at home that weekend. It was a great time to be in the city.

The Blackhawks clobbered the Blue Jackets, and hearing that horn they blast after a Chicago goal in person is an auditory experience not to be forgotten. It’s LOUD. With less than a minute left, after the Hawks had scored an empty-net goal, there was a brawl just left of the goal below our seats, so we got treated to a little extra-curricular activity on top of the excellent game itself.

When it was over, we made our way out of the United Center, called the hotel, and the shuttle was there to pick us up in about 10 minutes – not bad! We went back to the hotel bar for a post-game libation, and were joined by another couple staying at the hotel who had also been at the game. Mike owned an auto repair business in Lombard, IL and his girlfriend Kim lived in Germantown, WI. We had a great time recounting the game and talking sports with them – and before we knew it, the bartender was yelling “last call!”

It’s been a while since my bride and I closed a bar, but it was a great night, and we really enjoyed the entire experience.

We rolled out of bed a little after 8 – showered and went down and grabbed breakfast, and then checked out and headed back to Madison.

Our next hockey odyssey will be in early February, when we fly to Columbus to watch the Blue Jackets (and my wife’s “boyfriend”, Brendan Saad) at the Nationwide Arena in downtown Columbus.

Cant’ wait.  Meantime – go Hawks!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rest In Peace, Aunt "Pete"

All my life, I’ve had strange premonitions; my latest came true this morning when I checked my e-mail and found a note from my sister Mary that our last living Aunt, Sara Jane Morrissey Fisher, had passed away Sunday, following a brief bout with colon cancer.

I had been thinking about Aunt Sara Jane a great deal for the past few days, and Sunday, I couldn’t get her out of my mind. Since there was no Packers game Sunday afternoon, I spent an hour or so in my office at home, collecting some pictures of a recent family get-together and some of the most recent pictures of our grandchild, Ellia, to send to Aunt Sara Jane. I wrote a couple pages of information and enclosed the pictures. When I went to put the envelope into the mail box for pickup Monday morning, as I closed the lid of the box, I had this extremely powerful thought that Aunt Sara Jane would never read the letter. I mean, a VERY strong premonition. Twilight Zone stuff.

She never will read that letter.

I didn’t know my Aunt Sara Jane was battling cancer. She lives in San Clemente, California, and the last time I actually saw her was around 1973. But she was an iconic presence during my formative years, and will always hold a very special place in my heart.

The photo at the top of this post was taken around 1956 at Grandpa and Grandma Morrissey's big house in Oshkosh. That’s Aunt Sara Jane, with my sister Lynn and me. Thank heaven, a couple years after this photo was taken, the legendary baseball coach Russ Tiedemann corrected my abominable batting stance.

Aunt Sara Jane was seldom called Sara Jane by any of her family members. Her nickname was "Pete", and my brother Pat, the family genealogist, says "Several years ago when I visited Pete, she told me how she got her nickname. She told me that her nickname for dad was 'bob a Reeba' and he call called her 'Sweet Pea' but she had a hard time with the Pea part and always said Sweet Pete. It stuck." She was Aunt Pete to me; her parents called her Pete, and so did all three of her brothers and sisters.


Sara Jane Morrissey was born on December 6th, 1931, the youngest of the four children of James J. Morrissey and Mabel Curran Morrissey. My dad, Bill, was the oldest; Aunt Ruth Ann was next in birth order, then dad's younger brother John, whom everyone called Jack; and then Sara Jane. Sara Jane was named for her aunt Sara Jane Morrissey, who was a full professor at Columbia University in New York.

Here's a photo of my dad, Bill, putting his Army cap on Aunt Pete. My brother Pat's best guess is it was taken around 1946. Dad was not one of the many GI's who made it "Home alive in '45" - after the end of World War 2, he didn't have enough "points" to be discharged immediately and had to spend several months serving in the Army of Occupation in Japan before he could come home.

Aunt Pete was 17 years old when I was born. I was the first child of the next generation, and as such, was spoiled rotten by my aunts and uncles, great-aunts and great-uncles, grandparents, By the time I was old enough to start remembering things, Aunt Pete became a figure of mythical proportions in my young life.

My earliest recollections are from when I was 4 or 5 years old. I spent a great deal of time at my grandparents’ home in Oshkosh – lots of weekends and lots of other visits, when my parents would go on vacation, when another of my brothers or sisters was born; just lots of time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

After graduating from Oshkosh High (there was only one high school in the city back then), Aunt Pete went to work as a secretary at Northwestern Mutual Life in downtown Oshkosh. To my young eyes, the Northwestern Life building was a skyscraper – all of six or seven stories. And Aunt Pete took a bus to work – a bus! How exciting! She got to ride on a REAL bus with other grownups!

Aunt Pete was a strikingly beautiful, tall Irish lass with a full head of bright red hair and the fair skin the Irish are known for. She always dressed professionally and carried herself like a model. She spoke in perfectly modulated tones, and as if she’d had years of elocution lessons. She had the wide vocabulary of an inveterate reader.

When she would come home from work while I was visiting Grandma and Grandpa, she always brought home a small, white bag full of the best carmel corn in the world, which was sold at the Carmel Crisp shop, a store near the big insurance company skyscraper downtown. I was allowed only a small taste of the carmel corn before Grandma served dinner (which was called supper back then) so it didn’t “ruin my appetite”.

If only my appetite could be ruined a little more often these days, now that I’m in my 66th year and carrying a pound or two too many……

The carmel corn treat after dinner was a regular part of any visit during a work day. And so was story-telling time! My grandparents had a huge home very near the UW-Oshkosh campus. There were five bedrooms upstairs. Aunt Pete’s bedroom was at the end of the long upstairs hallway, and across the hall was the small bedroom which was called “the little room”, where I slept while visiting. Every night that I visited, Aunt Pete would either read me a story from a book, or engage me in making up a bed-time story. The stories we made up had to involve “desperados” (one of her favorite terms) and “good cowboys” who had to triumph over the desperados.

Those bedtime stories in that small room at the end of the hallway were unforgettable.

As I got a bit older, if I was visiting on a weekend, Aunt Pete would take me to the movies. The small town a half-hour away where I grew up, Hortonville, didn’t have a movie theater, but Oshkosh had several. Aunt Pete would take me on the bus (YES! THE GROWN-UP BUS!) to the Time Theatre on Main Street or the Raulf Theatre a few blocks from the Time, and we would see the science fiction movies that were so popular at the time, along with the standard cowboy and Indian fare and the occasional comedy.

When I was seven, Aunt Pete took me to see “The Solid Gold Cadillac” – a film shot in black and white, except for the late minute or so, which was in glorious color, when the solid gold Cadillac appeared. When I was ten, she took me to see North by Northwest – and so began my love of Hitchcock films. We always discussed the movies we’d seen on the bus ride home.

I still remember so many of those trips to the movies, and will never forget the bed-time stories from when I was younger.


When I was 10 or 11, Aunt Pete started dating a young man who had lived a short distance from the original James and Mabel Morrissey homestead in tiny Waukau, WI. His name was Merrill Fisher, and he drove the greatest car I’d ever seen: a long, black Jaguar Mark Two 3.8 sedan. That alone made him a cool guy in my book!

I loved to ride in that car, which looked exactly like the car pictured above. I imagined it was as close as I’d ever get to riding in an actual British racing car.


In September of 1961, Aunt Pete married Merrill. I was 12 years old and remember the wedding very well. In the picture above, taken at the reception at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Oshkosh, left to right it’s Grandpa James Morrissey and Grandma Mabel Morrissey; the radiant bride and her husband; Merrill’s mom Mayme Fisher and his dad Alford Fisher.

I wish I had more pictures of my Aunt Sara Jane – the family archival photos which I have are bursting with candid shots of my dad (the first-born) but very short on photos of Sara Jane – the curse of the last-born. After they were married they moved to Neenah, where Merrill was involved in a cemetery/mausoleum business.

Shortly after that, my cousin Rita was born – their only child. By the time Rita was born, I was in my teens, and didn’t have much time for cousins who were so young. I remember my younger brothers and sisters playing with Rita, but because of our age differential, we didn’t have much interaction.

Above is a photo circa 1965 of a family Christmas at my folks' house in Hortonville. Left to right, in front of the fireplace (and cut in half!) is my mom, Pauline; my sister Erin is sitting on Aunt Ruth Ann's lap; her daughter, my cousin Rita, is sitting on Aunt Pete's lap, and that's my brother Pat at the end of the couch.

A few years later, around 1970, Aunt Pete, Uncle Merrill, and cousin Rita moved to Oil City, PA, where Merrill had become a partner in another cemetery/mausoleum operation; and a few years after that, the family moved to Canfield, OH, a southern suburb of Youngstown, where he had purchased Sunset Hill Memorial Garden.

I took a trip to visit them in 1973, and spent a wonderful long weekend with the three of them, just visiting and being shown the local sights. But now, Uncle Merrill was driving a huge, new Cadillac Sedan deVille. Business was good.
The visit was during a period of time that I was trying to re-connect with family members who had meant a great deal to me when I was growing up. A few years after that, Aunt Pete and Uncle Merrill were divorced, and Aunt Pete continued to live in their beautiful home on Deer Trail for many years, moving to southern California (San Clemente) a few years ago, to be closer to her daughter and her daughter’s husband.

That was the last time I ever saw my Aunt Pete, that long weekend visit in ’73. The last time I saw her daughter, my cousin Rita, was in Appleton, WI in 1984, when Rita flew in from southern California to attend my Aunt Ruth Ann’s funeral. In her later years, Aunt Pete was not much for travelling; she couldn’t bring herself to go to her sister Ruth Ann’s funeral, even though the two of them had stayed very close personally, so she sent Rita on her behalf.

I stayed in touch with Aunt Pete, sending birthday and Christmas cards, and a few times each year, for the past few years after she moved to southern California, sending her pictures of my brothers and sisters, my kids and the events in their lives, and just keeping Aunt Pete “in the loop” with family activities.

I am sad that she’s gone; her pain from the colon cancer and chemo is gone; but the memories of my wonderful times with her will always live on in my heart and mind.

Rest in Peace, Aunt Pete.

Thanks to my brother Pat for collaborating on this post by providing photos and information.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

No, My Collie Doesn't Have A Cold

It’s called devocalization or ventriculocordectomy or vocal cordectomy –or, in plain English, de-barking. What happens is, as I understand it, a vet or vet tech sprays some “numbing medicine” down a dog’s throat to anesthetize the vocal cords, and then sticks a trocar or some other surgical instrument (or, nowadays, even a laser) down the dog’s throat, twists it around, and in so doing pretty much wrecks the dog’s vocal cords.

It doesn’t stop the dog from barking, of course; it just reduces the volume by quite a bit.

Sometimes, de-barking is done by court order, if a dog owner has so pissed off his neighbors by letting the dog bark all day and night that they turn to the courts to get relief. Sometimes, it’s done just because the dog’s owner wants it done. And, a number of dog show people just do it as a matter of course.

I think in most cases it’s cruel and shouldn’t be done.  Dogs bark for a reason. Some breeds bark more than others, but good training can minimize what humans perceive as unnecessary barking.

I’m writing this rant because again, in the past few weeks, I’ve had a number of questions from people who want to know why our “little girl” – Sunny – our purebred Blue Merle Collie pictured at the top of this post – has such a funny little bark. When she barks, it’s very low volume, and it sounds something like Jackie Gleason saying “hubba hubba hubba”.

At least that’s what my wife and I think it sounds like.

A few weeks ago we got a new route driver for one of the big national delivery services. I don’t want to give specifics in case his boss reads this and chews him out for “wasting time”. Since I’m self-employed and work at home, I’m usually around during the day when the delivery people are making their rounds. Anyway, when the new guy delivered some stuff, he said “does your dog have a cold?”

I knew right away he was talking about Sunny. One of her “jobs” is to alert me every time a TRUCK (she knows that word well) comes into the huge cul-de-sac that defines our secluded suburban neighborhood. During much of the day, when the weather is decent, Sunny and her older “sister”, Shadow, roam and patrol the vast expanses of our property, held in check by the fences we erected to keep them within the perimeter of what we call “The Morrissey Compound”.

Here are Shadow and Sunny (above), starting their daily patrol duties.

I explained to the delivery man that Sunny was, essentially, a “rescue” – we rescued her from her former life as a show dog. She won lots of awards, but her breeder/owners just didn’t think she represented “their look” all that well. Each breeder goes for a specific “look” for their dogs. So a few years ago when we came looking for a companion for our first purebred Collie, Shadow, the breeder said they had a really nice Blue Merle who actually had the same “father” as Shadow, and they were taking her off the show circuit and looking for a good home for her.

Because Sunny was a show dog, the breeder de-barked her. We didn’t know this until the day after we “rescued” Sunny and brought her home, and heard her bark for the very first time.

I explained to the delivery man that Sunny was de-barked, which is why she made that funny little sound he heard. (Shadow doesn’t bark at trucks or cars; she saves her “talking” for rabbits, squirrels, cats, and the other wildlife that appear from time to time around the Compound.) The delivery man was astounded when I explained to him what de-barking was. He thought maybe she had a cold or sore throat. He’d never heard of de-barking. He loves dogs. He was genuinely shocked. He wanted to know why anyone would do such a thing.

Now, every time this delivery man has a package for one of the seven homes that open onto our giant cul-de-sac, he comes over to the fence and plays with Sunny and Shadow for a few moments. They’ve come to know him, and wag their tails furiously as he approaches.

Collies were originally bred to be working dogs, to help Scottish ranchers herd their sheep. They were bred to run almost continuously during the workday, helping the rancher move the sheep from field to field. They’re extremely loyal and are pretty high on the “dog IQ chart”.


They’re also very gentle and loving when they’re not “on task”. Here’s Sunny (above) with our granddaughter. Sunny lets her bop her nose, pull her hair, and do all the wrong things that babies do with pets. Our granddaughter loves both our Collies, and she laughs and smiles when she plays with them.

So, no, my Collie doesn’t have a cold. She was de-barked. But we love her no less because she has a funny-sounding bark that causes people to ask if something is wrong with her. No, there’s nothing wrong with her.
As far as we’re concerned, she’s just fine.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Nothing Is Going To Change

The father of the young reporter killed on live TV by a disgruntled former co-worker told Fox “News” last night that next week, no one will remember what happened to his daughter.

And I think he’s right. No one, except TV news folks.

Sandy Hook was the turning point, which demonstrated once and for all, that this nation is not going to do anything about improving access to mental health care and limiting access to guns. And the vast majority of Americans are going to turn a blind eye to the statistics that show when it comes to gun violence, the U.S. is completely off the chart when compared to every other nation.

The nearly unbelievable story of yesterday’s live-on-TV-murders hit home to me and a lot of my friends who are broadcasters. My very first job in TV news was as a one-man-band with an 8-mm film camera, working as a Fox Valley “stringer” (news lingo for part-time reporter) for a Green Bay TV station.


When you’re on a TV shoot, whether it’s being broadcast live or not, you’re concentrating 100% on the task at hand, and you do your best to tune out everything else around you. That’s probably why the gunman was able to get so close to the young reporter, her photographer, and the lady they were interviewing. Thousands of "live shots”, as the TV folks call them, are done every day all across the nation.

But I don’t think there’s ever been one before involving the killing of a reporter on live TV.

My wife, Toni, did hundreds of “live shots” during the decade or so that she worked for Channel 3 in Madison. The only time I was ever concerned for her safety was a live shot she was on from Sun Prairie one evening on the 6 o’clock news. (Well, there was one other time, after a huge blizzard, that Toni crawled up onto the roof of somebody’s house to do a live shot about “ice dams” – but I knew if she fell off the roof it would be into a huge snowbank.) Back to the Sun Prairie live shot: I saw a bolt of lightning strike far in the background of her live shot. The technology that allowed live shots back in those days involved a remote truck with a tall mast and antenna that sent the signal back to the TV station – in other words, a lightning magnet.

The second I saw that lightning bolt in the distant background of her live shot, I was confident that the moment she finished the live report (which was about 10 seconds after I saw the lightning) that her photographer would run to the remote truck and take down the tall mast. TV news crews take that kind of risk – lightning anywhere in the vicinity – very seriously.  What they have probably never worried about – until yesterday – was being gunned down by a disgruntled former colleague during a live shot.

With the vast number of news people in the print and broadcast ranks shown the door in the past decade, Lord knows there are plenty of unhappy former news people out there.

This particular crime is getting far more in-depth coverage on all news media because, first of all, it involved people in the news profession. And because it involved TV folks, there’s a wealth of ready-for-news photos and videos of the victims. Had this happened to a used car sales person, the TV news folks would have relied, probably, on the person’s Facebook account, or the victim’s family, for pictures. So, in a very sad and twisted way, it’s a made-for-TV news story.

But, I think, as the young reporter’s dad said, a week from now people won’t remember it. The perp is dead, of his own hand, so there’ll be no arraignment, trial, or sentencing to report. You can bet that TV news crews are already paying a lot more attention to their surroundings when they’re on a “shoot”, the unfortunate TV term for these things.

But there’ll be no serious talk about gun violence, mental health access, or anything of the sort.

It’ll be business as usual in another day or so, until the next incident.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Too Many Cooks Spoiled The Stew

It was a simple idea, back on the 12th of May, 1982, when something called “The Weather Channel” first appeared on your TV screen. Cable channels were beginning to blossom.
ESPN, which went on the cable on the 7th of September in 1979 was born of a similar theory: now that this thing called cable TV is in a significant number of households, let’s start a service that highlights sports all the time. ESPN originally stood for the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network, but you’ll never see or hear it referred to that way.

The Weather Channel gave the weather. That’s all they did. TWC quickly found a niche in the scores of self-proclaimed weather geeks like me scattered all over the nation. Any time you wanted weather, you tuned in TWC, and you’d never be more than a few minutes from your local weather forecast. They promised “local weather on the 8’s” and they gave two minutes’ worth of it at 8, 18, 28, 38, 48, and 58 minutes past the hour.

Simplicity; utility; beauty.

Oldsters like me who began their TV life in the early ‘50’s watching two or three snowy channels pulled in via so-called rabbit ears on a huge, clunky receiver that barely rendered black and white pictures were enraptured when cable TV service arrived in our community. Cable started out as CATV, Community Antenna Television, an idea from Americans out in the Great Plains who, in their socialist fervor, pitched in to build a huge tower in their community to pull in TV signals and distribute them, via coaxial cable, to their homes.

On the first day of August in 1981, MTV was launched, and, as with ESPN, the rest is history. Both these “cable channels” spawned a number of offshoots, which now enable them to extort huge fees from the handful of giant cable operators left in our nation. Don’t blame the high cost of cable on your local station. ESPN is by far the biggest pig at the trough.

For years – decades, actually- TWC honored its promise and its premise: deliver weather information, and only weather information, every hour of every day. I was a heavy user, as the marketing folks say. Anchoring morning news on local radio and TV stations for four decades will do that to you, particularly if you live in the snowbelt and have to be in the studio at 3 AM. You need to know if you’re going to need extra time to get to work at that ungodly hour of the night. 3 AM is the middle of the night, not “early morning”, and it's long before the snow plow jockeys have their first cup of coffee for the morning.

TWC reliably gave weather geeks like me all we needed to know: what’s happening right now in the atmosphere, and what’s likely to be happening in the next day or so. We were able to catch the national weather information and the local information simply by having the TV on TWC for ten or twelve minutes.

Then, a decade or so ago, TWC lost its way. The corporate suits in the brass and glass towers in Gotham (TWC is actually headquartered in Atlanta) decided that TWC just wasn’t…well, wasn’t exciting enough, or something.

So they gradually added more and more programs which strayed from the core concept that had made TWC must-carry TV for every cable system in the nation. They began to add cheaply-produced “feature” shows to TWC. One of the first of these, which appeared in 2003, was called “Storm Stories”. TWC sent Jim Cantore, the biggest weather geek of them all, out into the wild with a camera crew and said “go chase some storms or something”. The show, when it premiered, wasn’t bad. Cantore was a hero to weather geeks, and he kept the focus on weather.

Gradually more such shows were added to the lineup. Shows with titles like “100 Biggest Weather Moments” (2007) and “When Weather Changed History” (2008).  It wasn’t so much that these shows were annoying; they were just off-mission.

Then, in 2008, TWC’s fate was sealed. NBC-Universal bought TWC, and swiftly applied the collective programming “genius” of all the suits in all the corner offices at 30 Rock. In ’09, they puked out a show called “Wake Up With Al”, featuring the once-rotund-but-now-slimmed-down has-been Al Roker, known more as a jokester and failed comedian than a meteorologist, and paired him (as is the fashion with network TV morning shows) with his granddaughter, a buxom young thing named Stephanie Abrams.

The picture at the top of the post shows Al and Stephanie in various poses for their fun-filled morning "weather" show.

At this point, to us core users – weather geeks of the world – we gave up hope on the weather channel. As the American Meteorological Association was spending millions of dollars to try and convince us that TV weather people are scientists with scads of math and physics courses in their training, Al and Steph clowned it up on what once was the premier televised weather service in the world.

Before long, shows like “Deadliest Space Weather” (2013) appeared; the same year brought us “Heavy Metal Monsters” and “Prospectors”. This crap, which does nothing but annoy the core users of TWC, culminated with the launch of “Fat Guys In The Woods” (I am NOT making this up) in 2014.

The boys in carpet corridor at 30 Rock must have been peeing themselves in excitement with the cheap programming they were able to produce and run; the synergy of using veteran NBC personality Al Roker on not one but TWO platforms (oh, the bean counters must have loved THAT); and the sheer genius of all that high-powered Gotham talent being brought to bear on TWC.

Except, their product stunk.

They were, no doubt, convinced that their market share would increase in leaps and bounds, and that they’d soon be right up there with ESPN and MTV in being able to charge confiscatory rates to the cable purveyors. Why, the number of clicks they dreamed of generating on TWC’s online platform must have been intoxicating!

The NBC brain trust said “hey – we got news; why don’t we stick a couple minutes of news on TWC; and while we’re at it, let’s add a couple minutes an hour of financial news…what a great idea”….NOT.

Except, their efforts failed.  As of this week, TWC is for sale.

Greedy corporate suits have ruined it. What started out as a place you could go to get the forecast any time of day or night became a dumping ground for poorly conceived and executed programs that had no appeal whatsoever to the core viewer, who cared only about the state of the atmosphere.

There’s a saying in TV programming called “Jumped The Shark”, which came from the great old TV show Happy Days. When an episode featured The Fonz on skis, jumping a shark, even the numbskulls in TV programming land knew that Happy Days was dead. When NBC-Universal bought TWC, two things happened immediately: they poured a lot of money into new weather technology for TWC, which was a good thing; but it was as predictable as the sunrise time that within a few years, TWC would jump the shark, as it has.

All those big time “cooks” have ruined the stew; they’ve made TWC essentially unwatchable by the very core of us who proved that there are enough of us out there that you can dedicate a TV channel to weather, and enough people will watch it that it will be a viable commercial enterprise.

Anybody wanna buy a cable weather channel?

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

I Can't Stand ABC-TV News

They speak a language which is so harsh to my ears that I am repulsed by their broadcasts. Apparently some consultant told all of the reporters, and many of the anchors, that the words “is, are, was, were, have, and had” are not to be written or spoken.

If you grew up as long ago as I did, you learned in grade school that these words, and a few others, are called “auxiliary verbs” by the grammar folks. Or, sometimes, just “helping verbs”.  Helping in the sense that they help us understand the meaning of the intended communication.

Take this sentence, for example: “Authorities looking for a cause.” It sort of makes your “inner voice” anticipate what comes next…and your mind may even begin to complete this sentence fragment by starting to form a complete sentence, like “Authorities, looking for a cause, are leaving no stone unturned”.

But in the horrible jargon that so much broadcast news has devolved into, particularly at ABC, the sentence fragment “Authorities looking for a cause” is foisted at us as if it were communicative, because the consultants (and the newsspeak people) won’t put the word “are” into the sentence, to make it a simple, declarative sentence, which is immediately understandable: “Authorities ARE looking for a cause.”

Just for fun, turn on an ABC-TV national newscast. Listen to see how many times during any given story the reporter will drop the auxiliary verbs out of his or her report. It will sound something like this: “A wildfire (is) burning out of control in central California. Authorities (are) still trying to figure out how it started. Residents (are) saying they had no way to escape and had to hunker down in their homes. Evacuation centers (are) being set up in neighboring communities.

This sort of newsspeak is supposed to give you a sense of immediacy, but for most of us, it’s just annoying, because no one except news reporters ever speaks that way. It creates what other consultants – those who advocate the use of conversational English – call “listener/viewer fatigue”. Your mind simply gets tired of having to insert all the auxiliary verbs the reporter leaves out.

Other network reporters, and plenty of local folks, to be sure, speak in this strange manner, but I’ve noticed that at ABC-TV over the past couple of months, it’s become nearly universal.

 This will all change again in a few years, when a new set of consultants holds sway with the networks. Meantime, I find ABC-TV News to be unwatchable.