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A Win-Win Blackout Proposal for Bills and Local TV

 

The NFL owners’ decision to allow games to be televised if ticket sales are 85 percent of non-premium seat capacity of stadiums may initially have been looked at as a victory for fans in small-market cities like Buffalo.

Ryan Fitzpatrick of the Buffalo Bills passing ...

Ryan Fitzpatrick: Buffalo TV Star

But after further review, it also can be viewed as a victory for big market teams, which are putting all the pressure on the Buffalos, Jacksonvilles, and Tampa Bays of the world.

Most of the big market teams will hit the 85 percent capacity mark before a snap in September through season ticket sales and others can probably attain it more easily than the small market teams.

The big market teams have just eased the pressure on themselves and given it to small market teams like Buffalo and Jacksonville, which have to decide whether to accept the option or be ready to accept a big chorus of boos from their fans.

They increased the pressure on the Bills by punishing them if they use the 85 percent rule by forcing them to give visiting teams more money.

Back in January, I was wrong about a lot of things concerning the push to end the blackouts after the FCC announced it was reconsidering the policy.

 I thought the Bills would be good before the NFL would be forced to end the blackout rule. In a way, that wasn’t totally wrong. The league isn’t being forced, it reacted to the pressure it was receiving by volunteering to solve the problem and essentially telling the FCC and Congress to stay out of it.

Smart move that.

Back in January, I also was right about a few things. Here are a few paragraphs that I wrote back then.

“I can almost hear the counter-arguments from the Bills about why the NFL blackout rule is necessary. The team’s ticket costs are among the lowest in the league, which should make it easier to sell-out the games. I pay $80 a ticket to sit on the 50-yard line. A buddy of mine has New York Giants season tickets in the same place for triple that amount and he also has to pay a seat license fee.

“Additionally, the Bills (and other cold weather cities with lousy teams) probably will argue that if the NFL blackout rule is dropped that ticket sales for any games in November and December will plummet, and the league doesn’t want to become a studio sport that plays games before empty stadiums. I mean why pay for a ticket for a game in the rain or the snow if you know every game is going to be on TV?

“I’m not saying that the FCC shouldn’t revisit the rule. The NFL knows its own rule isn’t enforceable anymore because of internet thief. Several long-suffering friends of mine have told me that they’ve been able to go on internet sites to watch Bills blacked-out games (as well as Sabres games during the TWC-MSG mess).

“So it wouldn’t be surprising if the NFL eventually does something about the piracy and relaxes its blackout rule even if the FCC takes years to decide to do nothing. I can see the NFL eventually allowing blackout-out games to be carried on cable or satellite for a price say of $20 to $40 a household.”

As I suggested, it is doing something voluntarily.

According to a comprehensive story in today’s Buffalo News by Gene Warner that corrected some misconceptions about how many tickets must be sold, the Bills have a tough decision to make on whether to embrace the 85 percent rule because it could cost the team hundreds of thousands of dollars.

As we wait for the Bills decision, I have a modest proposal involving television. If the games are televised with only 85 percent of the non-premium tickets sold, the biggest winner would be the local TV stations that carry them.

Channel 4, which is affiliated with CBS, carries most Bills home games. Channel 29, which is affiliated with Fox, usually carries two a year. The games usually get ratings ranging from the high 20s to high 30s, which gives the stations a chance to gain $100,000-$150,000 or more a game in advertising if the blacked out games are carried.

The stations aren’t exactly throwing around money these days – witness what Channel 4 has done to its news staff — like Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick throws around footballs on Sundays.

But if I were the Bills, I would investigate sharing the potential losses from the 85 Percent Rule with the TV stations. Even if the stations gave the Bills $60,000 to $70,000 a game, they would still make a good buck.

The stations and the Bills would be doing a community service.It would be a win-win that everyone could cheer.

pergament@msn..com

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Demler’s Commentary, Bauerle’s Rant and Cruise Sightings

 

I’ve been going through the nightmare of moving and sorting through 40 years of papers, VCR tapes (remember them?) and DVDs so I haven’t had much time to watch TV or listen to radio.

But what I have seen and heard has astounded me more than Supreme Court Justice John Roberts’ support of the Affordable Health Care Act.

English: Cropped image of Tom Cruise and Katie...

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes in Happier Times

On Friday, I heard Channel 2 anchor Maryalice Demler channel Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series “The Newsroom” and deliver a “commentary” five minutes into the 11 p.m. newscast.

What was the big issue that made Demler feel we needed to hear her two cents?

She needed to express her support of the decision to suspend the Rochester students involved in the bullying of the Rochester bus monitor.

I was so astounded at the idea that Demler or someone at Channel 2 suddenly thinks that she is Irv Weinstein and we need to hear her take on news that she reads that I didn’t take any notes. That and the fact I couldn’t find a pen and paper amid the rubble of moving.

I recall Demler saying something about how her parents would have reacted if they had seen her misbehave like that. Somehow, sneakers were involved.

Whatever she said really didn’t matter. Supporting the decision to suspend the students was about as controversial and as big a waste of time as supporting the idea of having parades on July 4th. At the end, she asked viewers for their thoughts, suggesting that Channel 2 was trying to get its audience involved.

Channel 2 has made several positive innovations over the years and a few lame-brained ones as well. Having Demler give “commentary” is right up there with giving us the top 10 stories at 10 in backwards order. We don’t really want anchors giving their opinions on news stories. It is a bad precedent. If I were a regular viewer, I’d wear out my sneakers protesting the idea in front of Channel 2’s studios. However, I suspect viewers won’t worry as much about bad journalistic practices as I do and probably will flood Channel 2 with their support for Demler’s commentary.

The second startling thing I heard was on radio. I’ve been driving back and forth from my old home to my new one and have had a lot of time to listen to the radio.

On Friday, I listened to WBEN conservative talk show host Tom Bauerle give a conspiracy theory that suggested someone might have been behind his inability to post his views on the social media. I found it incredibly hard to believe because I don’t think the government, the Obama administration or the social networks like Facebook really spend much time worrying about Tom Bauerle.

The funny thing is that wasn’t the nuttiest thing Bauerle said during the week. He also ranted that the Supreme Court decision to support the health care act angered him so much it made him understand why the South wanted to secede from the North before the Civil War.

OK, it was a stretch and talk show hosts are allowed to go off the deep end. But didn’t Bauerle realize that the North was right on the key war issue – the end of slavery?

He was comparing his distaste for the Supreme Court’s support of Obama Care with the South’s support of a heinous practice that just about every reasonable thinking person would conclude had to end.

In a way, Bauerle’s comparison might have made some thoughtful, open-minded listeners realize that history will be on the side of Obama Care when it is written decades from now.

Of course, “thoughtful” and “open-minded” aren’t often words associated with Bauerle’s listeners or the listeners of anyone else on the right wing talk station.

At night on WBEN. Fox’s Sean Hannity laughably was explaining that he knew the law better than Chief Justice Roberts, who had the deciding vote on Obama Care.

Finally, there were the supposed Tom Cruise sightings in Buffalo, promoted by a Church of Scientology meeting.

I first heard about them Friday – the day that Cruise’s wife, Katie Holmes, filed for divorce — from Channel 2’s Scott Levin. There were no confirmation, but hey who needs confirmation in the media anymore?

Then I picked up Sunday paper and found a story somewhat buried that talked about all the Cruise sightings. The story went on for a little bit and I almost didn’t get to the end. That’s when readers were told that Cruise was actually in Iceland or someplace out of the country Saturday promoting a movie.

In the trade, we call that burying the lead. In other words, all the local Cruise talk and the story about it were as silly as the attention that Tom Brady’s bad-mouthing of Buffalo hotels got months ago. Oh, well, we will probably be fortunate if Demler doesn’t do a commentary on the Cruise sightings.

pergament@msn.com

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County Executive Poloncarz Does My Job

And you may have thought I was tough on the media.

Wait until you hear what County Executive Mark Poloncarz has written on Twitter and Facebook today about local TV news production values.

He was actually doing my job.

It is the type of stuff that you might expect a Republican to write rather than a Democrat like Poloncarz since the GOP usually has much more fun bashing the media.

But in fairness, Poloncarz wasn’t bashing media personalities as much as he was bashing station owners.  

Here’s a sampling in an exchange with Channel 4 anchor-reporter Lou Raguse. I initially thought that someone might have hijacked Poloncarz’s accounts but Mark Cornell, the county director of policy and communications, confirmed at mid-day “that was really him.”

Poloncarz: “If my staff made as many mistakes as recently seen on local TV news I would be excoriated by the same media.”

Poloncarz: “It seems to be an epidemic lately. I don’t watch any one channel, instead scan them all, and production quality is way down across the board.”

Those comments were made on Twitter.

On Facebook, Poloncarz was quoted as saying he felt sorry for Channel 4 anchor Don Postles on Wednesday’s 10 p.m. news. “Wrong (graphics), bad live feeds. It seems to be an epidemic.”

Then he took a veiled shot at the Republican he defeated in the county executive race, Chris Collins.

“The media consultant who recommended the cutbacks on TV news was probably a Six Sigma Blackbelt. Unfortunately, they have cut back their product so much to make it unwatchable.”

“In the process of saving money, they have destroyed the product and no one wins.”

While it usually is unwise for politicians to pick a fight with the media or media companies, Poloncarz was getting praise in the social media for doing my job. Though some bloggers speculated that being media critic for a day might hurt Poloncarz, almost all of the comments on Facebook were supportive of his comments because he was telling the truth.

And he wrote on Twitter later today that he also has gotten support from anonymous people in the media.

“He tweeted that he received comments from folks in the media that ‘you were right,’” said Cornell.

I add my voice to that sentiment.

pergament@ msn.com

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Sheen’s New Show Looks As Tired As He Does

 

After being in a big CBS hit for years, Charlie Sheen is back in the minor leagues in the new FX comedy “Anger Management” that premieres with back-to-back episodes starting at 9 tonight.

Playing a therapist named Charlie Goodson who ruined his baseball career in a fit of anger years ago, Sheen faces his own messy departure from “Two and a Half Men” head-on in the opening scene with dialogue that is about as subtle as a 100 MPH fast ball.

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 08:  Anger Management e...

Charlie Sheen with "Anger" executive producer Bruce Helford

 Then he tries to be a calm Bob Newhart to a therapy group that consists of angry men and women of different age groups who can’t censor themselves.

This being on basic cable, the frank dialogue – the show is rated TV 14 – consists of words that only recently became acceptable on broadcast network shows and still can’t be written in a daily newspaper.

Since I’m now a blogger I can tell you the words include ass, balls and queer. The opening two episodes are in the same ballpark as “Two and a Half Men,” which means a lot of sexual innuendo and sex talk.

Sheen looks as tired as the jokes and the situations his character is in. But since he has surrounded by some old comedy pros including writer and executive producer Bruce Helford (“”The Drew Carey Show,” “The George Lopez Show”) and director Rob Schiller (“King of Queens”), not all the jokes strike out. There is an occasional good line in the opener, helped by Sheen’s deadpan delivery. But there is nothing as remotely funny as the train-wreck promos for the series being shown in movie theaters.

Helford has tried to make Sheen’s character sympathetic by having him volunteer to treat prisoners and giving him a good relationship with his ex-wife, Jennifer (Shawnee Smith of “Becker”) and a teenage daughter, Sam (Daniella Bobadilia) with OCD issues.

But just about everything in “Anger” seems to be forced. He has a sexy therapist friend Kate (Selma Blair) who enjoys sex without ties as much as he does. The dull therapy group includes Lacey, a foul-mouthed violent woman; Patrick (Michael Arden), a passive-aggressive gay man; Nolan (Derek Richardson), a laid-back guy who enjoys seeing other people get angry; and Ed (Barry Corbin), an angry old man. Michael Boatman also is aboard as Michael, a good friend and neighbor of Charlie’s who has little to do in the first two episodes. And Brett Butler plays a bartender at Charlie’s favorite bar who dispenses drinks laced with advice.

The second episode tonight titled “Slumpbuster” is a real sick loser as Charlie gets a visit from a woman — who wouldn’t ordinarily meet his standards — who he slept with when he was in the minor leagues years ago.

Of course, it was going to be pretty difficult for Sheen to come out a winner so quickly following “Two and a Half Men” and his crazy talk last year.

With “Anger,” he is pretty much in a lose-lose situation of trying to live up a hit and prove that his delivery was as important as the lines written by the “Men” writers.

I was never a fan of the sophomoric “Men.” But compared to “Anger,” it is an Emmy winner.

 After watching “Anger” Wednesday night, I got a bigger laugh watching the end of Channel 7’s Eyewitness News. At the end of each newscast, anchors still are forced to remind us that the station was the first one in town to have real high definition. They’ve been saying that for so long now that it just seems laugh out-loud funny to me. 

Speaking of Eyewitness News, it was surprising to see it use an ABC report at 6 p.m. Wednesday on the Rochester bus monitor who met the Canadian man who made her rich after he started an online fund after seeing her being bullied by students. I mean the story was in Rochester. Couldn’t Channel 7 send someone there to cover the story itself?  

pergament@msn.com                                                        

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Mayday for Nielsen Diary Method?

English: 040702-N-5539C-001 Pearl Harbor, Hawa...

Jay Mohr: "Action" Star

 

Once upon a time, I was part of a Nielsen diary family. The ratings service later wrote me to say my results were being thrown out after I wrote a column about my experience.

And what an experience it was. As I recall, each member of the family received a whopping $1 for the week to fill out a diary (I’m told they’ve gotten a raise since) that explained what we each watched for seven days.

Needless to say, being paid substantially below minimum wage wasn’t much of an incentive to keep the diary that accurately. I learned to understand why so many diary members may have filled out the week with smart shows they wished they had watched rather than dumb shows they did watch.

Before Buffalo was metered in April of 2000, the diary method is believed to have been partly responsible for making Irv Weinstein and Eyewitness News so dominant for years. According to the un-provable theory, WNYers just filled in Eyewitness News in their dairies as their primary news source out of habit.

Over the years many people have written me a letter and questioned the results of the rating services. They usually say something like this: “I can’t believe nobody watches my favorite show (fill in the blank) and it is going to be canceled. Everyone I know watches it. It is smart and involving. Nielsen (and Arbitron before it) has to be wrong.”

I bring this up because those complainers have some evidence on their side this May. According to the Media Daily News, a trade publication, Nielsen has acknowledged problems that impacted the May diary results. The MDN said Nielsen blamed printing errors that affected the diaries and problems at its call center operations, which help dairy keepers fill their pages out.

The MDN added that the problems have “frustrated station executives” around the country, but that Nielsen claims it “made adjustments in a timely enough fashion so that May sweeps data is sound and station executives can be assured that ratings are reliable.”

Count Channel 2 executives among the frustrated after the local May demographics measuring different age groups arrived. The household ratings arrive here daily by meters and a few weeks later the demographics – which are more important to many advertisers – arrive.

I’m not going to bore you (as usual) with numbers, but will tell you that Channel 4 did better in the demos in some time periods than expected and Channel 2 did worse than expected.

Channel 2 is complaining about the results and especially believes that Channel 4’s ratings in one key time period for the age 50-54 demo is preposterous and practically impossible.

The whole mess has sparked some debate on whether using diaries – which always have given some questionable results – is even more untrustworthy in an age when just about everyone is attached to some technological device (iPad, iPhone, android) and less willing to write down anything by hand.

 I mean I don’t get many hand-written letters anymore from complainers. They just send me emails from their phones, computers or iPads.

I suspect after reading this that the people who wrote handwritten letters to me over the years will now think “Boomtown,” “EZ Streets,” “Action” with Jay Mohr, “Profit” and “Nearly Noon with Danny Neaverth” really had larger audiences and never should have been canceled.

If you don’t have HBO and are interested in Aaron Sorkin’s new series “The Newsroom,” the pay-cable network has a free deal for you. HBO is showing Sunday’s pilot for free on HBO.com, YouTube, DailyMotion, TV.com and some cable operators’ Free On Demand feature. ( I haven’t checked Time Warner Cable, but I know a local member of the PR staff is a regular reader so maybe he will answer that question).

According to published reports, “The Newsroom” had a strong debut for HBO, getting around the same number of viewers as “Game of Thrones” did in its debut. That’s if you trust Nielsen. Of course, HBO runs “The Newsroom” several times a week to get a cumulative rating so the debut rating isn’t as important as the debut ratings of network shows.

pergament@msn.com

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Hong Says Goodbye Friday; “2 Sides” Cut in Half

AIRWAVES: In the course of cleaning up my office from 40 years of paper work prior to moving,  I discovered a note from Murray Light, the late editor of The Buffalo News. Light praised a new breezy column format of quick items. I called it Airwaves. In his honor, I’ve decided to reprise it.

Channel 4 morning anchor Victoria Hong’s last day at the CBS affiliate will be this Friday. She is getting her freedom almost a month ahead of Sports Director John Murphy, who wanted to get out at the end of May and can’t  leave until July 25. Of course, Hong is leaving broadcasting to work for Delaware North while Murphy is staying in the business. He is starting a new nightly radio show on WGR and working on longer web features that were tough to do considering his time restraints at Channel 4…

Emily Guggenmos: A "Wake Up!" Candidate

Hong’s relatively quick departure undoubtedly will mean that someone on Channel 4’s staff will fill-in alongside Joe Arena on “Wake Up!” The most logical temporary replacements are either newcomer Emily Guggenmos or Nalina Shapiro, who already works in the morning and used to anchor the weekend version of “Wake Up!” … I also wonder if Emily Smith, the Western New York native who wanted to join Channel 4 a year or so ago and presently is working at WCBS in New York City, still wants to come home and will apply for the job… Speaking of Guggenmos, she filled in over the weekend for her husband, Lou Raguse, as the news anchor. With Murphy on vacation and new sports hire Steve Vesey getting a day off, Guggenmos also was the sports anchor. I thought she was doing really well reading the sports script, and thankfully wasn’t trying to act as an expert talking about the Buffalo Sabres draft choices. Rather than pretend she had seen the draftees play, Guggenmos told viewers how the new players “described themselves” and what skills they “are said to have.” Then she got to seventh-round draft choice Judd Peterson and said that the high school player had scored “47 goals in just three games.” Wow. That’s incredible. Or impossible. The Buffalo News reported Sunday that he scored those 47 goals in 30 games. That’s still impressive. It was the kind of mistake that made you wonder if Guggenmos knew what she was reading all the time. Of course, I’m not blaming Guggenmos. I’m blaming Channel 4 management for thinking anyone can be a sports anchor. It is one of the things that drove Murphy and his former backup Paul Peck out of the station….

Channel 2 has moved the debate show “2 Sides” with Kristy Mazurek and a guest debater up 30 minutes today to 11:30 a.m. after its 11 a.m. newscast and cut it from an hour to a half-hour. Wise move that.  An hour seemed as interminable as a visit to the dentist. In its place at noon is “3rd Rock From the Sun” repeats with John Lithgow that presumably are aimed at kids just out of school. At 12:30, it is carrying paid programs. It appears that “The Healthy Zone” with Janet Snyder, which had been airing at 11:30 a.m., is taking a summer break…

It looks like the Buffalo News has quietly dropped the daily humor feature it had been using on page 2 of the sports section when either a local or national writer wrote five quick one-liners. Wise move. There may be nothing harder for a sportswriter than trying to be funny about sports news, especially when readers may not be able to tell the difference between what is a joke and what actually happened. Understandably, the batting average of the writers often wasn’t very high. After a while it seemed like a waste of space. The column has been replaced by sports news, which makes it a win-win for readers… The News has also traded a daily item on Buffalo sports history for items about the birthdays of Buffalo sports figures. Of course, historical sports events in Buffalo may be tougher to find than birthdays. They’ll never run out of birthdays. Still, the feature seems to be a bit of a stretch…

Former Channel 2 weathercaster Autumn Lewandowski has told her friends that she will be doing weather as a fill-in at Channel 7. That would essentially mean former Channel 7 weathercaster Jen Stanonis — who is now at Channel 2 – was traded for Lewandowski or vice versa.

pergament@msn.com

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NBA-NHL Statistical Tie; Guthrie for Curry Trade Predictable

This is what I’m thinking:

And the local TV playoff finals winner between the NHL and the NBA is…

Well, it depends on how you keep score.

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 17:  TV personalities ...

"Today" co-hosts Ann Curry and Matt Lauer in happier ratings times

The NBA is the local five-game average winner by the slightest of margins with an asterisk. Miami’s five-game series win over Oklahoma for the NBA title averaged a 6.3 rating on Channel 7, which is the local ABC affiliate.

The first five games of the Los Angeles Kings’ Stanley Cup title series win over the New Jersey Devils averaged a 6.1 on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate, and NBC’s cable sports channel.

That’s where the asterisks come in. Two of the five games in the NHL series were on the NBC Sports Network, where fewer viewers were available.

The NHL is the winner if you count the sixth game rating of 7.9 on Channel 2. That gives the NHL series an average of 6.4. .1 ahead of the NBA series here.

Of course, a sixth game in the Miami-OKC series would have likely pulled the NBA average equal to or greater than the NHL series since ratings for series tend to increase in sixth and seventh games.

The point is that the figures indicate a statistical tie and indicate that TV interest in the NBA and NHL title series around here were about equal, which is counter to the widely-held media opinion here.

However, Buffalo is much more interested in the NHL than almost every city nationally and it is much less interested in the NBA. Buffalo was either the No. 1 or No.2 market for all six Stanley Cup final games.

The national overnight rating for game five of the NBA series was 12.6, more than twice the rating in Buffalo. And overall, ABC said the series featuring Miami’s LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and OKC’s Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook was the most-watched and highest-rated five-game series in eight years. 

To say I’m not surprised about the rumors that Savannah Guthrie will replace Ann Curry on NBC’s “Today” shortly because of a ratings drop would be an understatement.

Here’s what I wrote on May 11, 2011, shortly after Curry was named to replace Meredith Vieira: “Curry’s promotion is a safer choice than Natalie Morales or Savannah Guthrie, who will be associated with the new “Today.” Morales gets Curry’s old job, which she has often done when Curry was off to some country to add to her news credentials. Guthrie moves from covering the White House to working the 9 a.m. “Today” shift. It seems like such a lateral move that you almost wonder if NBC is covering its bets and putting her in a place that would make it easier to fill Curry’s seat if Curry fails in her new role.

And here’s what I wrote on April 9 of this year: It looks like NBC is trying to make Savannah Guthrie a star. She was a substitute anchor on the NBC Nightly News last week and it wouldn’t be surprising if her role on “Today” expanded soon and she eventually replaced Ann Curry as co-host. It would be a smart move.

I forget to mention something Friday that was in my notes about Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO series “The Newsroom.” By the pay-cable network’s standards, the language and sex is pretty tame. Except for a few F-bombs, the series could play on NBC without the FCC making a federal case of it or the Supreme Court having to get involved. Of course, Sorkin couldn’t have very well loaded his series with gratuitous sex and extra curse words when his lead character, Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), is “on a mission of civility.”

Next year is shaping up to a star-packed season of NBC’s “Smash.” It announced Friday that Jennifer Hudson will have a multi-episode arc on the series. NBC previously announced that Tony Award winner Jeremy Jordan of Broadway’s “Newsies” has joined the cast. BTW, Christian Borle, who plays the writing partner of Debra Messing’s character, won a Tony for his Broadway work on “Peter and the Starcatcher” … In other casting news, Showtime has announced that metal rocker Marilyn Manson will play himself in an episode of the new season of “Californication.”

pergament@msn.com

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On Balance, “The Newsroom” Is Enjoyable And Preachy

 

Aaron Sorkin, the creator of “Sports Night,” “The West Wing” and the short-lived “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip,” is repeating himself in his HBO series “The Newsroom.”

HOLLYWOOD, CA - JUNE 20:  Actors Jeff Daniels,...

Jeff Daniels, Jane Fonda and writer Aaron Sorkin of HBO's "The Newsoom"

Not that there is anything wrong with that.

Watching even a Sorkin repeat is sort of like watching a “Seinfeld” repeat – a viewer can enjoy the rhythms, the dialogue, and see and hear something a little different each time.

“The Newsroom” — which premieres at 10 p.m. Sunday on the pay-cable network — isn’t revolutionary TV, though Sorkin is using it to promote a revolutionary idea that even he acknowledges is a fantasy – that national newscasts shouldn’t worry about making viewers happy and making money and instead concentrate on educating them to which government officials and politicians are telling the truth.

It is a series that might have better called “News Junkies,” because it more likely will appeal to regular viewers of “Meet the Press,” “Face the Nation” and “This Week” each Sunday morning who follow current events very closely.

As usual, Sorkin tries to make the audience accept his lectures by giving them what they want – stories about love triangles and relationships, office politics and some off-the wall humor like having a newsman promote the idea that “Big Foot” is real.

I wanted to love “The Newsroom” so much that I watched all four episodes that HBO sent along in one night. I didn’t love all of the rapid-fire lectures, but the series improves with each episode. Finally, by the fourth episode, Sorkin gives viewers what they long for in all his series – some reason to become as emotional about his passion as he is.

What I do love about the series is its cast. Jeff Daniels is excellent as Will McAvoy, the demanding anchorman at the fictional Atlantis Cable News (CAN) who wears $4,000 tuxedos, smokes and goes on a “mission of civility” in the news and in his personal life after years of playing it so safe he is called the “Jay Leno of news.” Will is a bit of a jackass who slowly wants to prove he is human. He also is a Republican who wants to believe his party cares about humans and isn’t represented by the Tea Party.

His executive producer, MacKenzie McHale, is played by Emily Mortimer, an actress I fell in love with when she starred in the under-rated Andy Garcia movie “City Island.” MacKenzie also is the former girlfriend who broke Will’s heart when he had one, and the two still clearly have feelings for each other of resentment and love. They also respect each other as journalists and they respect the audience more than their competitors do.

Sam Waterson is wonderful playing a cynically humorous character that is 180 degrees from his “Law & Order” persona. He plays Will’s boss, Charlie Skinner, who protects the anchor from the network owner, Leona Lansing (Jane Fonda). She is chummy with many of the people that the new Will criticizes and worries that having an opinionated anchor who upsets congressman and billionaires will be bad for business.

The rest of the cast is younger, ambitious and idealistic. They include Margaret Jordan (Alison Pill), as an earnest secretary-turned associate producer who is dating Don Keefer (Thomas Sadowski), a jerky executive producer. Meanwhile, it is clear to the audience that she would be better off with the smart, caring guy that MacKenzie brought with her, Jim Harper (John Gallagher, Jr.) to change the news world.

If you’ve watched Sorkin TV, then you know the drill. There is enough jealously going on inside the newsroom to fill an edition of People or US magazines and have an hour-special on E! – all things that Will has contempt for.

The cast also includes Olivia Munn as Sloan Sabbith, who is put on Will’s newscast because she is brilliant and because – this being TV – she is beautiful. Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) also is aboard as Neal Sampat, a good newsman even if he believes in Big Foot.

Sorkin uses real news events and news footage – the BP oil spill, the shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, gun control arguments and the misrepresentation of President Obama’s stands by Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann are among the topics – to drive home his legitimate point that sometimes it would be better if newsmen didn’t worry so much about balance when the facts are on one side.

It isn’t surprising that Palin or Bachmann would be Sorkin targets since he has justifiably hammered them in cable news interviews over the years. Like his fictional principled anchor, Sorkin doesn’t worry about balance. His anchor may say he is a Republican, but he would be the most liberal Republican in the nation judging by his lectures.

While there is an occasional swipe at President Obama for not doing enough on gun control, overall “The Newsroom” could be part of his re-election campaign.

One of the more passionate scenes in the first batch of episodes is an exchange between two veterans chewing the scenery, Waterston and Fonda (who finally shows in the third episode).

Leona isn’t happy about Will’s transformation from Leno to opinionated. The argument ends with Fonda’s character countering a Charlie defense of Will by saying “a lot of people might argue that Will is on a witch hunt.”

That line seems like a Sorkin defense of his lectures. But Sorkin lovers should be used to his politics by now because of “The West Wing” and probably will love the cast so much that they won’t mind being preached to again.

On balance, “The Newsroom” is educational and entertaining.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4

pergament@msn.com

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The Extreme Makeover of Ch. 4 Is a Bad Dream

Remember when being a TV anchor or reporter used to be considered a dream job?

Those days appear to be long gone in Western New York.

Don Postles: A Survivor

In the last few months, two Channel 4 anchors have decided to leave the station to take what they have called their “dream jobs” outside of TV.

First, Channel 4 Sports Director John Murphy finally confirmed the worst-kept secret in Western New York by saying he would leave the station in late July to take his “dream job” with the Buffalo Bills and do a radio show, some features for the team’s website and some other duties with the National Football League team.

On Monday, Channel 4 morning anchor Victoria Hong confirmed to stilltalkintv that she was joining Murphy out the door to take a “dream job” as director of communications with Delaware North.

Murphy and Hong will be the latest Channel 4 employees to leave TV and not look back.

I’m a pack rat so I know exactly how many anchors and reporters have left the station in the last 3 and a half years.

I’m moving in a few weeks. In the course of emptying out my office of tons of paper, I’ve found a lot of things that most normal people wouldn’t have kept around. More on that in a later blog.

One of the things I found was a sheet dated Jan. 26, 2009 with a list of Channel 4 on-air personalities. The sheet had pictures of 25 men and women back then. Guess how many will be left at the station after Murphy and Hong leave?

I’ll give you one paragraph to guess. In the meantime, I’ll give the variety of reasons that Channel 4 staffers have left. Some like Murphy and Hong left for their dream job. Others left for lifestyles issues like taking care of their children, having regular hours or getting more sleep. Some left because they got jobs in bigger cities. A few didn’t have their contracts renewed. Some left for jobs that paid them more money. Some just got tired of working in an industry where the wages are declining, the work is increasing and the stress is off the charts.

OK. Are you ready for the answer?

Of the 25 people on the sheet, 10 remain at Channel 4, a station that until  few years ago was known for its stability. That means there has been a 60 percent turnover in about three and a half years.

The list of former anchors out the door or about to be out the door include Murphy, Hong and former anchors Lisa Flynn, Mylous Hairston and Michele McClintick.

The list of reporters who have left include Lorey Schultz, Tricia Cruz, Jericka Duncan, Melissa Holmes, Rob Macko and Alysha Palumbo. Two of the four members of the weather team back then – Mary Beth Wrobel and Lindsay Schwarzwaelder — have left. When Murphy leaves, the entire sports department in 2009 will have gone – Murphy, Paul Peck and Robin Adams.

Who is left, you ask?

Most of them are veterans trying to survive in a business that isn’t always kind to even talented and respected people as they get into their 50s and 60s because they generally have higher salaries. Those salaries have declined in recent years, but they still are healthy by Buffalo standards.

The list of 10 Channel 4 survivors include main anchors Don Postles, Jacquie Walker and meteorologist Don Paul, veteran reporters Rich Newberg, Al Vaughters , Luke Moretti and George Richert, veteran weather backup Mike Cejka, health reporter Dr. Peter Ostrow (who presumably is a part-timer) and Joe Arena, who joined Channel 4 a few months before the date of my list and is a relative youngster by comparison to the rest on the list.

Most of the first 10 personalities that are listed on Channel 4’s website today aren’t exactly households names yet in WNY – Steve Vesey, Brittni Smallwood, Emily Guggenmos, Lou Raguse, Diana Fairbanks, Ed Drantch, Bryan Shaw, Rachel Kingston, Anthony Congi and Nalina Shapiro.

Right now, being in TV may be their dream job. It certainly better be their passion because the TV news industry clearly isn’t what it used to be.

pergament@msn.com

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NBA May Pull Local Upset; Hong Tired of Losing Sleep

There was one line in Buffalo News writer Greg Connor’s interesting column on Kevin Sylvester’s move from TV host to host of a new Buffalo Sabres show on WGR radio that caught my eye.

Victoria Hong: Fools Wake Up Alarm

In the column, Sylvester addressed his replacing ESPN host Colin Cowherd in the 10 a.m. to noon spot on WGR, a move I find regrettable because I am a Cowherd fan.

“I’ve been on Colin’s show a few times,” Sylvester told Connors. “I think he does a great job. He talks a lot of NBA, and the NBA’s not nearly as big in Buffalo as hockey.”

That is certainly the popular view in Buffalo and there is no denying the popularity of hockey here. Of course, hockey has an advantage – the Sabres play in the NHL. The Buffalo Braves left the NBA decades ago.

But here’s a little quiz: Do you think Buffalo TV viewers are more interested in watching the Stanley Cup finals or the NBA finals?

Most sports fans would probably bet their houses on the NHL winning.

And they just might be wrong this year because of the dynamic NBA final series pitting Miami superstar LeBron James and Oklahoma City superstar Kevin Durant.

The first two games of the Stanley Cup finals between Los Angeles and New Jersey had a 7.8 rating and a 6.8 rating on Channel 2, making Buffalo the No. 1 market in the country for the finals for those games.

The first two games of the NBA playoffs between James and the Heat and Durant and the Thunder had a 7.4 rating and a 7.0 rating on Channel 7.

In other words, the NHL average of 7.3 was only .1 ahead of the NBA average of 7.2 for the first two games of the series here. The NBA appeared headed for a comfortable triumph here until Game 3 of the series Sunday ran into the final round of the U.S. Open golf tournament. Nationally, the NBA game dominated the Open. Locally, golf beat the NBA game head-to-head in prime time by 2-1 and peaked with a 13.1 rating by the time Webb Simpson was declared the winner.

The NBA game only had a 5.0 rating here, hitting a peak of 8.0 after golf ended. That is still higher than game 3 of the NHL playoffs, primarily because that game (3.31 here) was on NBC’s cable network instead of its broadcast network.

Even with the 5.0 rating, the ratings for this year’s star-studded NBA finals were up about 15 percent here from last year’s final won by Dallas over Miami.

Miami’s 104-98 win over OKC Tuesday averaged a 5.9 rating here, compared to a 5.2 a year ago. The four NBA games so far have averaged a 6.3 rating here, which is about 10 percent higher than last year.

The first four Stanley Cup finals games in the six-game series averaged a 6.0 rating here with an asterisk – two were on cable where audiences are lower. The four games in the series carried by NBC averaged a 7.3 here, with a high of 7.9 in the decisive game six.

The NBA – which is getting killer ratings nationally despite the fact the two teams play in small markets — could win here with an asterisk (hockey’s cable games) if the ratings for Thursday’s Game 5 rebound as they typically do when potential deciding games are played.

This may be the only market in the country where ratings for the hockey finals are anywhere near the ratings for the NBA finals. However, a look at the local basketball ratings so far suggests that WGR, local TV and the Buffalo News might consider giving the NBA more love. WNYers certainly do.

I’m surprised there hasn’t been more sports talk this year about the unfairness of the NBA system of giving the top seed the first two games and then going on the road for three games before coming home for the final two games if they are necessary.

It means if the top seed loses one of the first two games as OKC did that it might never make it home again. Of course, it always has been difficult for the team with the three straight home games to win them all as Miami is trying to do Thursday.

If the NBA is trying to save travel time by this format, this year the distance between the East Coast and West Coast teams isn’t that bad. Miami and Oklahoma City are about 1,200 miles apart.  

In the NHL format, teams play two games at home each, game five is played at the top seed, game six is played at the lower seed and game seven is back at the top seed. This year, that meant a lot of traveling between L.A. and New Jersey – the two play in cities about 2,800 miles apart. But it seems to be a much fairer format to the home team.  

Why is morning anchor Victoria Hong planning to leave Channel 4 to work for Delaware North as soon as the station allows her to go as first reported here two days ago?

The answer is Hong 3:16.

This isn’t to be confused with the religious sign often seen at athletic events — John 3:16.

Hong 3:16 a.m. is the odd time she’s been getting up for the last 10 years as the host of Channel 4’s “Wake Up.”

“My bed time has been getting later and later as my kids have gotten older,” said Hong. “That doesn’t leave me with a lot of time for sleep. I think it affects your mind and body.”

She said she sets her alarm clock 20 minutes ahead to fool herself into thinking she’s sleeping later and to give her more time to get ready than she thinks she has.

But why 3:16 instead of 3:15?

“It makes me feel good that it is not a regular time,” she explained.

That might sound goofy to you, but I do much the same thing. However, not at 3:16. Usually, I set my clock four hours or so later than that.

Silly me forgot Tuesday that there are actually some cable systems in North America that carry The NFL Network. Rogers Cable in Canada is one of them, which is why cable subscribers in Ontario shouldn’t have a problem with the Bills-Miami game Nov. 15 carried in Buffalo on independent station WBBZ. An astute reader called that to my attention so I corrected what I had written in earlier editions of Tuesday’s blog. 

pergament@msn.com

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