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“Idol” Thrown for Another Local Loss

Tom Brady

Tom Brady


This doesn’t appear to be the lucky season of “American Idol.”

The New York Giants’ 20-17 overtime victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game pushed a special Sunday edition of “Idol” back to 11 p.m. Eastern time.

That negated the promotional boost “Idol” was expected to get from the football lead-in in a season that already has shown steep local and national ratings decline.

Sure enough, the majority of WUTV viewers fled Sunday after the post-game coverage. The Giants win averaged a 31.9 rating on Channel 29. It had a 36.7 rating in the last 15 minutes when the Giants kicked the winning field goal. Two-thirds of those viewers left “Idol.” It started out with a 12.5 rating and gradually lost its audience. It averaged a 9.3 rating on Channel 29 for the hour, finishing with an 7.9 in the last 15 minutes when many people go to bed.

New England’s win over Baltimore had a 31.5 rating on Channel 4. While the Buffalo ratings for the games was higher than the national average, the 2011 conference title games had higher ratings here. Pittsburgh’s win over the New York Jets had a 35.7 rating on Channel 4 and Green Bay’s win over Chicago had a 34.4 on Channel 29.

Still, the New England-New York Giant Super Bowl rematch featuring top quarterbacks Eli Manning and Tom Brady should be a big local and national draw, with a rating as high as 50 certainly possible here. After all, WNYers hate the Pats and many displaced New Yorkers who live here still love the Giants.

NBC probably would hope for a Super Bowl that goes into overtime, but that won’t help its karaoke show, “The Voice.” Its new season is slated to premiere after the game. If the game goes long, “The Voice” will experience the same fate as “Idol” did Sunday.

If you want to catch up with what former Channel 4 anchors and reporters Lisa Flynn, Michele McClintick and Ellen Maxwell are up to, pick up a copy of Buffalo Spree magazine. My piece on their lives after TV and their views of TV news appear in the February issue.

That was a nice sympathetic and heartwarming piece on 97 Rock’s Larry Norton in the Buffalo News. The paper reported he has been doing his morning show from Florida for more than three years. Of course, stilltalkintv reported that five months ago and noted the station didn’t want to refer to his whereabouts too often. The News story was a PR person’s dream, which sympathetically noted that Norton first moved there to take care of his father, Wallace Norton. His father died in November, 2010.

That begs the question left unanswered in the story. His dad died more than a year ago. Why hasn’t  Norton come back to Buffalo full-time since then to do his show?

Norton isn’t the first radio personality to work from Florida. Former WGR sports talk show host Chuck Dickerson bashed the Bills regularly from Florida.

When I worked at newspaper, I used to think that many letters to the editors demanded an answer. That was the case this Sunday when a reader asked why DISH customers don’t get the same support as TWC subscribers who have lost Sabre games due to a contract battle with rights-holder MSG. That’s easy. DISH has a fraction of the subscribers that TWC has in WNY and most sports fans have a satellite preference for DirecTV .




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Bills Could Be Good Before Blackout Rule Change

English: John King, journalist for CNN

CNN's John King

This is what I’m thinking:

I hope Buffalo Bills fans didn’t get their hopes up reading the front page story in Saturday’s Buffalo News with the headline of “Blackout Rules for NFL Games Studied by FCC.”

Don’t hold your breath waiting for NFL blackouts to end. These kinds of political issues generally take years to resolve and even longer if there is a change in the presidency and another one involving who heads the FCC. The Bills might even be decent again and selling out every home game by the time anything regarding the blackout rules changes.

It was another case of a politician – in this case Congressman Brian Higgins –  getting some good publicity for something that he is unlikely to have much influence on. I mean what politician wouldn’t want to be on the side of sports fans who are tired of sports blackouts?

This is the sort of free publicity grab that New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman made when he announced he would try to get Time Warner Cable and MSG officials to meet again to resolve the dispute which has mercifully kept Buffalo Sabre games off of local cable.

Did anything happen? Nah.

The News story on the blackout issue (which made the front page even though it ran a week after it had been reported elsewhere) noted that sports fans “may get a reprieve” from blackouts now that a “longtime federal policy that prevents satellite and cable broadcasters from airing games that are not sold out” is being reconsidered by the FCC.

NFL blackout rules prevent games from being carried on local broadcast affiliates if they aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance. Under NFL rules, Channel 4 can’t carry CBS broadcasts of Bills home games if they aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance and Channel 29 can’t carry Fox broadcasts of Bills home games that aren’t sold out 72 hours in advance. (Sometimes, the rule is relaxed to 24 or 48 hours.)

The FCC blackout rule prohibits cable and satellite carriers from carrying the same game that local broadcasters can’t carry. That’s why Bills fans can’t get non-sold out home games on DirecTV’s Sunday Ticket, which carries every NFL game not subject to league blackout rules..

FCC Commissioner Robert M. McDowell reportedly wants to take a fresh look at the rule “in light of marketplace changes.” He added that television and merchandising revenues now exceed ticket sales. Earth to McDowell. It has been that way for decades. The Bills TV millions far exceed the money they get from ticket sales. My best estimate is that TV revenue is at least two times as much as Bills ticket sale revenue. The TV money enables small market teams like Buffalo to survive.

The FCC’s plan to revisit the rule led Higgins to send a letter to the FCC noting that Bills fans are harmed more by the blackout rule because Ralph Wilson Stadium has a capacity that is 6,000 more than the average league attendance and that makes sellouts harder.

“Last year almost half of Bills home games were blacked out,” Higgins reportedly said on the House floor. “That is unacceptable.”

With all due respect, the capacity of The Ralph isn’t the problem. It actually helps the small market team stay here. The Bills used to sell out when they had 80,000 seats. All the losses in recent non-playoff years, the Buffalo weather and a 2011 schedule loaded with December games were the problem.

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.

The News story also suggests that the NFL will be joined by other leagues in opposing any changes to the blackout rule. However, the NHL and the NBA generally don’t blackout home games that don’t sell-out. As every baseball fan in Buffalo knows, major league baseball blackout rules are so confusing that somehow Cleveland and Pittsburgh are considered home markets in Buffalo and their games are often blacked out on ESPN. Now that’s ludicrous.

CNN’s John King has taken plenty of heat for starting the South Carolina Republican debate by asking Newt Gingrich about one of his ex-wife’s salacious claims in an interview with ABC News. Gingrich used the timing of the question to attack the well-respected King and the media, which is something that Republicans do best.

Should King have waited a little to ask a question that deserved to be asked? Probably. One of the elementary rules of interviewing is to wait for an appropriate time to ask the tough questions. Having said that, Gingrich owes King (and Gingrich’s ex-wife) a thank you. His response helped him win the South Carolina primary a few days later.

Finally, CNN’s Susan Candiotti initially reported on the death of Penn State’s legendary football Coach Joe Paterno Sunday morning without referencing the sex abuse scandal involving one of his former assistants, Jerry Sandusky, that led to Paterno’s firing. Howard Kurtz, the host of the CNN media show “Reliable Sources,” appeared surprised by that omission. He immediately asked Candiotti what prominence that sad chapter would have on Paterno’s obituaries and eulogies. By the way, Candiotti was a Channel 2 reporter once upon a time.




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“Idol” Takes 25 Percent Slide Here

This is what I’m thinking:

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - AUGUST 06:  Actor Jon Hamm...

Jon Hamm

The glory days of “American Idol” seem to be over in Western New York.

As predicted here Wednesday, the karaoke singing competition series took a big hit locally for its two-hour premiere.

The premiere had an 11.0 rating (representing 11 percent of area TVs) on Fox affiliate WUTV, which was down about 25 percent from the 14.9 rating the 2011 premiere had on the station. The 25 percent hit was considerably above the reported 17 percent national decline for the premiere.

However, the local rating comes with some asterisks. A year ago, the “Idol” premiere didn’t have to compete with a Buffalo Sabres game on cable. And while the 11.0 rating isn’t close to the ratings for popular CBS shows in WNY, “Idol” remains the top-rated regular Fox series locally by far. And it remains a significant demographic hit.

It is difficult to determine how much audience “Idol” lost to the Sabres game with Chicago Wednesday because the Fox show would appear to draw from a different audience. The Sabres 6-2 loss to Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks on the NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) had a 7.7 local rating. It beat “Modern Family,” ABC’s popular and award-winning comedy, which averaged a 7.4 rating.

Thursday’s hour-long installment of “Idol” at 8 p.m. dropped to a 10.0 rating on WUTV, down about 30 percent from the 13.3 rating a year ago. It finished second in the first half hour of its time slot to CBS’ “Big Bang Theory,” which had a 16.6 rating on Channel 4.

It is too early to predict how low “Idol” will go this season. Judges Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson certainly did everything they could Wednesday to tell the audience that this year’s crop of singers is better than that of years past as they passed several performers in a row on to Hollywood.

Wondering what the highest-rated TV program of last week was in WNY? That’s easy. It was the New York Giants upset of Green Bay Sunday in the NFC playoffs with a preliminary rating of 29.2 on WUTV, almost three times the “Idol” audience. Baltimore’s Sunday win over Houston had a 24.0 preliminary rating on Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate. As usual, the two Saturday games had lower ratings here. San Francisco’s victory over New Orleans in the best game of the weekend had a 21.8  preliminary rating on WUTV. The lowest football rating of the weekend was New England’s romp over Denver and Tim Tebow on Channel 4 with a 19.9. Buffalo fans found out weeks earlier that Tebow Magic was an illusion when the Bills beat the Broncos.

AMC announced a week ago ( a few days after star Jon Hamm) during the Television Critics Association meetings in Pasadena, Calif. that the return of “Mad Men” will be Sunday, March 25, but for some reason it became a big Twitter item Thursday. Showtime  also announced last week that “Nurse Jackie,’ “The Big C” and “The Borgias” will return Sunday, April 8.

Meanwhile, NBC announced that the two-hour premiere of Donald Trump’s “The Apprentice” has been moved back a week to Feb. 19 and that “Harry’s Law” will move to 8 p.m. Sunday on March 11.

Melissa Holmes reported on Facebook Thursday that she probably will make her debut Monday as Channel 2′s 10 p.m. anchor on WNYO-TV.


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Ch.4′s New Anchor is Community-Minded


Diana Fairbanks

Like a good reporter, Diana Fairbanks did a little up-close and personal research before deciding to join Channel 4 to anchor its 5:30 p.m. weekday newscast and the 10 p.m. weekday newscast on sister station WNLO-TV.

As she walked through the Channel 4 newsroom during one of her recruiting visits to the station late last fall, she noticed something about the station personnel.

“It didn’t take very much to see they had some really strong veterans and a lot of young people,” said Fairbanks in a telephone interview. “They seemed to be missing people in the middle. I asked about it and was told that’s why they wanted to bring me in.”

Fairbanks is expected to make her on-air debut within the next week or so after the station does some promotion and its new high definition set is ready for the February sweeps.

She arrives after working at two stations in Traverse City, Mich., for more than 11 years. She worked her way up from morning anchor to evening anchor. Judging by a goodbye piece done by her co-anchor and subsequent Facebook comments, Fairbanks became an extremely popular, community-minded anchor.

And she plans to follow the same script in Buffalo.

“It is real important if you report on the community that you care about it,” said Fairbanks. “It is  important to find why the people love where they are living.”

She can’t love where she is living now. She’s in an Buffalo apartment while her husband stays in Michigan and tries to sell their house. The couple has a daughter.

According to the farewell piece by her Michigan co-anchor, Fairbanks didn’t expect to stay in Traverse City for as long as she did. But she said an anchor promotion, the birth of the couple’s child and her husband’s job in public relations for a ski resort made re-signing new deals the right thing to do.

“It (Traverse City) is a great community, which is one of the reasons it was so easy to stay there,” said Fairbanks.

She started talking to Channel 4 in the fall and finally signed with the station right around Christmas. She is aware that Channel 4 has cut its staff in recent years, but said it is an industry trend and added the same thing happened in Michigan and it wasn’t done as well.

“Hopefully, the industry is on the upswing,” said Fairbanks.

After months of negativity, Channel 4 is  hoping Fairbanks will help put the station on the upswing as well.

I owe Syracuse University basketball legend Carmelo Anthony an apology. Earlier today, I asked what was he thinking when he agreed to appear in an episode of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” that seems to be inspired by the ongoing Bernie Fine scandal at SU?

According to a NBC release, the New York Knick star and Miami Heat star Chris Bosh appear in next Wednesday’s 10 p.m. episode. Here’s the summary of the episode as provided by NBC: “When a well-respected basketball coach (guest star Dan Lauria) is accused of sexual abuse, Detectives Olivia Benson (Mariskia Hargitay) and Odafin Tutuola (Ice-T) are joined by a new detective Nick Amara (Danny Pino) to uncover the truth about a star player’s (guest star Mehcad Brook) past. Special appearance by Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh.”

“As Coach Ray Masters (Lauria) is inducted to the Metro Basketball Hall of Fame by former students Carmelo Anthony and Chris Bosh, an ex-player accuses the coach of sexually abusing him as a child. Detective Nick Amaro (Pino) transfers into the SVU squad and is thrown on to the case. The detectives interview former players but no one admits to abuse, forcing Benson (Hargitay) and Fin (Ice-T) to dig deeper into Coach Ray’s most successful player, basketball star Prince Miller (Brooks) and his manager/cousin (guest star Heavy D.) Also starring: Kelli Giddish (Detective Amanda Rollins) and Dann Florek (Captain Donald Cragen.)”

As an astute reader noted today, the episode actually is a repeat that first aired on Sept. 28, weeks before the Fine scandal broke. That’s an eerie coincidence.  You wonder how Anthony feels now about being associated with an episode with obvious similarities to the scandal involving Fine, who used to be his assistant coach at SU. I bet this is one repeat that gets a decent-sized audience.

It is always nice to start the morning with some front-page humor, intentional or not. On Wednesday, the front page of the Buffalo News had this classic preview headline of a story in the sports section: “Hometown Boy: Patrick Kane says he hopes his Blackhawks beat the Sabres tonight.”

As Weekend Update anchor Seth Meyers would say on “Saturday Night Live”: “Seriously? Did someone really write that?”

Let’s hope Kane hoped Chicago would win. If Kane hoped the team he grew up rooting for beat the team he plays for professionally, then NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman would have had to consider suspending him for the season. And “Law & Order” would have had to have an episode ready about a hockey star charged with throwing a game. Kane’s Blackhawks won, 6-2.




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“X Factor” May Bite “American Idol” Here

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 08:  Judges Steven Tyle...

Tyler, Lopez and Randy Jackson

This is what I’m thinking:

Will Western New Yorkers continue to be big “American Idol” fans?

That’s a huge question when the American institution premieres tonight after local viewers largely ignored the Simon Cowell copycat singing competition “The X Factor” last fall.

Quickly, name the “X” winner? The show seemed more determined to find a singer with a good story than to find a great performer.

Of course, last year was supposed to be the year that “Idol” slipped severely because of Cowell’s departure. But the arrival of judges Jennifer Lopez and Steven Tyler kept the local losses down and it remained a hit.

But this year could be different. Fox always had protected “Idol” by refusing to have more than one run of it each season starting in January. The disappointing local ratings and to a lesser degree national ratings for “The X Factor” could be viewed as evidence that it was a wise choice. Now the question is what factor the arrival of “X” and other popular singing competition shows will be on “Idol’s” ratings.

Of course, you could make the argument that the weak “X” viewership suggests local viewers were waiting for the real thing (and I’m not talking about the Coke glasses in front of the judges). But I doubt it.  More likely, viewers are getting tired of all the karaoke on TV. I would expect that there will be a bigger “Idol” decline than last year despite any new creative efforts by the show’s producers unless we see a bigger infusion of talent than there was last year.

If you missed Monday’s salute to 90-year-old Betty White, NBC is repeating it Saturday night. It is a nostalgic, entertaining 90 minutes of television loaded with comments from veteran stars of series that used to air on Saturday nights when the networks carried quality original programs rather than repeats. Viewers undoubtedly will focus on who has aged well (Valerie Harper, a/k/a “Rhoda” gets my vote) and who hasn’t (I think the winner is obvious but won’t name her). Viewers may also be surprised to see how long White has been playing roles in which her characters feasted on double entendres.

I keep reading comments on my site, the Buffalo News site and elsewhere suggesting that Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula buy out the TV contract from MSG and put the games on a local TV station. Of course, once upon a time Channel 2 and Channel 7 used to carry an extensive schedule of Sabre games. But the rules of network affiliation have changed since then. Most, if not all, broadcast deals nowadays would prevent local network affiliates from carrying an extensive schedule of Sabre games. Local affiliates generally are allowed a limited number of preemptions every year in newer deals and some networks are even refusing to allow any preemptions. So you probably should forget seeing an extensive schedule of prime time Sabre games on Channel 2, Channel 4, Channel 7 and Channel 29, all of which have network affiliation deals. That would leave independent stations that would likely be unable to afford the huge rights fee associated with Sabre games.

It probably doesn’t mean anything to the current Time Warner Cable-MSG battle because these things take years, but the Wall Street Journal reported last week that there have been longstanding rumors that TWC might try a takeover attempt of Cablevision, a smaller cable operator that owns MSG. If TWC ever tried and were successful, it would control the cable operator it is fighting with now.

Finally, “The X Factor” winner was Melanie Amaro.


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New Ch.4 Anchor Already Has Local Fan

Katharine McPhee

Katharine McPhee

This is what I’m thinking:

Before she even started on the air on Channel 4, Diana Fairbanks had a fan in Western New York.

Michele McClintick Mehaffy, a former Channel 4 anchor and reporter, briefly worked with Channel 4’s newest anchor hire in Traverse City, Mich. more than a decade ago.

“She is a very solid anchor,” Mehaffy told me via Facebook. “Extremely smart and very personable. I think she’ll really connect with Buffalo viewers. She was loved in Northern Michigan. Fantastic hire for 4.”

Fairbanks will anchor the 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. news, which hasn’t had a permanent anchor since Lisa Flynn left Channel 4 more than 18 months ago.

Meryl Streep better bring her glasses if she wins an Academy Award for playing Margaret Thatcher in the biopic “Iron Lady.” Streep’s rambling acceptance speech was one of the low points of Sunday night’s sleepy Golden Globe awards. Next year, winners should be fined if they mention their agents.

While watching San Francisco take the lead over New Orleans Saturday in the fourth quarter of a NFC playoff game, my first thought was “they scored too early” and 49ers quarterback Alex Smith should have taken a knee at the 1-yard line and tried to run out the clock so New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees didn’t get enough time to take the lead back. I was surprised when Fox analyst Daryl Johnston and play-by-play Kenny Albert didn’t at least debate the issue. When Brees led the Saints to a touchdown-leading score in about 30 seconds, my immediate thought was that he also did it too early and left too much time for Smith. Sure enough. Smith had time to lead a final game-winning touchdown drive.

I was in New York City Sunday night after the New York Giants upset defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay but immediately thought I was in Buffalo when the 11 p.m. news came on. Channel 4 in New York spent the first five minutes of the newscasts talking about the Giant win. And you might have thought that only happens in provincial Buffalo.

NBC is calling the lame Chelsea Handler comedy, “Are You There, Chelsea?” a hit after one episode. That was more laughable than anything in the premiere.  The premiere last week had a weak 4.8 rating in Buffalo and things are bound to only get worse now that viewers have sampled it.

I’d also be tempted to criticize NBC for all the promos it has been running for the upcoming musical drama “Smash” if I didn’t love the pilot so much. NBC’s non-stop promos mention it premieres the Monday after the Super Bowl, but NBC actually is giving it multiple previews pre-Feb. 5 on various online media sites and special screenings. Its promos also claim the series is introducing Katharine McPhee, who actually was introduced several seasons ago on “American Idol.” She is being introduced as an actress and gives a stunning performance.


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“Alcatraz” is Rock-Solid Entertainment

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 08:  Actor Sam Neill sp...

Sam Neill: Looking for Inmates


The story of Alcatraz is timeless and tonight viewers learn that some of its federal prisoners beat Father Time.

Of course, time goes slowly when you’re in a maximum security prison so perhaps that’s the reason the escaped prisoners in the mysterious Fox series “Alcatraz” haven’t aged in 50 years.

The latest intriguing series from J.J. Abrams’ production company has some elements of “Lost” and some elements of “Mission Impossible.”

Tonight’s 8 p.m. opener on WUTV of two episodes is what is referred to as a premise pilot as it spends an hour explaining what the Fox promos have done in 30 seconds.

Sam Neill (“Jurassic Park”)  stars as Emerson Hauser, a former Alcatraz prison guard who heads  a secret special task force designed to capture 256 former  inmates of The Rock who somehow did the impossible and avoided being transferred after the closing of the federal prison and are on the loose causing more mayhem once they got off the mysterious island. The inmates aren’t the only ones missing. There are also 46 guards unaccounted for.

Emerson’s team responsible for the capture of inmates out for revenge is formed in the first hour tonight. They include a strong, feisty, determined and damaged female detective, Rebecca Madsen (Sarah Jones) with her own “Rock” history, and a lovable Rock historian Doctor Diego Soto (Jorge Garcia of “Lost”). Parminder Nagra (“ER”) comes aboard in the second hour as Doctor Lucy Banerjee, who has a history with Hauser. The cast also includes Robert Forster as Rebecca’s Uncle Ray and two actors playing villainous wardens. Jason Butler Warner is Associate Tiller in the first hour and Jonny Coyne is Warden James in the less riveting second hour.

“Alcatraz” gets off to a slow start in the first hour because of all the explaining needed to be done, but once it gets going it is decent escapist and rock solid entertainment.

As in Abrams’ Lost, “Alcatraz” is set on an island, features ageless characters and includes a conspiracy (who took and controls the escapees and how are they coming back) and a mystery (why haven’t they aged?). The second episode tonight involving a sniper expands the premise without helping to solve the mystery of how all these bad guys have beaten Father Time while serving time. They are captured one at a time, which gives “Alcatraz” enough material for 12 seasons.

With some decent twists, twisted humor and a 1960s soundtrack, the time for “Alcatraz” once again is now.

Rating: 3 stars out of 4



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MSG and TWC Chats Need an Interpreter

BUFFALO, NY - FEBRUARY 23:  New Buffalo Sabres...

Terry Pegula

It is time for The Interpreter again.

I can’t get spokespersons for MSG and TWC to chat with readers as the Buffalo News did Friday.

But the spin from TWC’s Joli-Plucknette-Farmen and MSG’s Daniel Ronayne and some of the comments from questioners cried out for some interpretation and explanation.

It wasn’t so much what the spokespersons said as what they didn’t say. They didn’t lie. They just didn’t tell the whole truth as they tried to spin their organization’s take on who is the villain that is keeping Buffalo Sabres games off the air.

Here are some of the questions that were left unanswered.

Why don’t cable programmers want cable systems to allow subscribers to pick the channels they want a la carte and allow Sabre fans to buy MSG?

Plucknette-Farmen correctly noted that cable programmers don’t want a la carte. She didn’t explain why. The cable industry’s position is that allowing a la carte would mean the end of numerous channels and prevent any new startups. Programmers get fees from how many subscribers cable systems have, not from how many subscribers watch their channels.

Some subscribers pay big money for all the sports channels like ESPN even if they don’t watch them. Some subscribers pay big money for the entertainment channels like USA Network, FX, Bravo, E!, TNT and TBS and don’t watch them. If only those subscribers who watched paid, it is cable’s position the money to invest in sports, movie and series programming would be severely reduced. And it would be tough to start new channels. If subscribers had a vote, there probably wouldn’t be any new channels.  I mean do you think we really needed the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN)?

And guess who owns some of the big cable channels? Time Warner, which spun off former subsidiary Time Warner Cable a few years ago. Time Warner also owns TNT and TBS, which have some of cable’s most expensive sports and entertainment programming. And it owns CNN.

There is some push to put sports packages on tiers paid for only be those subscribers who watch them and it is being done. But sports league resist being on tiers because they lose the money from subscribers who don’t watch them.

How much is MSG asking TWC to pay per subscriber?

Plunkette-Farmen said the industry estimate is that systems pay about $5 a month for MSG and MSG plus and added MSG is asking for a 53 percent increase. She wouldn’t say what that amounts to, but the math is easy. She is suggesting that Time Warner is asking at least $2.50 more monthly per subscriber, which would amount to more than $6 million a year in Western New York alone and much more in the metropolitan New York City area. Ronayne disputed the 53 percent figure but wouldn’t reveal another number. Cable usually is very secret when it comes to rates. But if MSG is asking for an extra $2.50, TWC would have to find a way to make up the extra $6 million here. You know what that means. Another rate increase next year.

Will Sabres Owner Terry Pegula eventually start up his own sports network like the former Empire Sports Network with the help of Team President Ted Black, who has expertise in the area?

That’s a popular theory from hopeful fans. But MSG’s deal with the Sabres doesn’t end for five years. Ronayne wouldn’t answer when asked if there was an out clause. Even if there were, the startup of a regional sports network in Buffalo would be very expensive. As a sports market, Buffalo isn’t Pittsburgh, where Black came from. Pittsburgh is a much bigger market and has a major league baseball team and has popular major college football and basketball teams in addition to a NHL and NFL team. You must remember that Empire was started by the former owner of the Sabres and Adelphia, John Rigas. He essentially paid himself (Adelphia) a per subscriber fee to carry his own team’s games before Adelphia closed the network in 2005. Even if Pegula eventually started his own network, he would have to negotiate with cable and satellite providers for a subscriber fee to carry it. Do you think TWC would be any easier with him in negotiations than it would be with MSG?

What happened to the subscriber fee that Empire got from Adelphia?

Adelphia kept the money and put the NFL Network on the channel as a replacement. Shortly after TWC bought Adelphia, it dropped The NFL Network without returning any money to subscribers. The NFL Network remains off of TWC.

When do the MSG deals with DirecTV and FiOS expire so subscribers can judge if they would be safe switching to those channels?

This is another question that Ronayne avoided answering. The underlying question is whether DirecTV and FiOS subscribers should feel safe that the Sabres game would continue to air on those providers for years to come. I don’t know the answer. But both providers have more reason to keep the Sabres on without an argument like this one. DirecTV wants to keep its reputation as where sports fans want and need to go. FiOS wants to build its subscriber base here. Diehard Sabres fan who can’t live without them probably should head to DirecTV or FiOS and they’ll get The NFL Network as a bonus.

Is MSG preventing the Sabres from streaming the games live?

The Sabres told stilltalkintv two weeks ago that was the case and told the Buffalo News the same thing last week. Ronayne claimed that MSG doesn’t have the right to stream the games. So either the Sabres were wrong or MSG’s spokesperson is making a Clintonesque statement. So I asked Sabres spokesperson Mike Gilbert. Sure enough, Ronayne was being Clintonesque. Gilbert asked Ted Black, who wrote: “MSG has the right to stream, subject to NHL rules. NHL promulgated rules, but MSG hasn’t reached an agreement with the NHL to exercise rights. We asked MSG if we could get the rights back and deal with the NHL. MSG refused.”

What is TWC doing with the $5 month per subscriber fee it said the industry estimates it had been paying for MSG?

It is keeping it. It is offering a month-long preview of a package of sports channels that cost $5.95 a month on the MSG channel. Raise your hand if you’d rather get the $5.95 than the preview. I know I would. I canceled the sports package after TWC raised its rates again.


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“The Finder” Is Amusing; “Revenge” Has Good Twist

PASADENA, CA - JANUARY 08:  Actor Geoff Stults...

Geoff Stults


Walter Sherman (Geoff Stults) is a former military hero with brain damage and incredible instincts who collects damaged people, finds prized guitars and military heroes and has an amusing view of those who live with him in Florida.

His spirit in Fox’s “The Finder,” the latest occasionally amusing comedic drama from Hart Hanson (“Bones”), is captured with this early line from Walter about Florida: “It has a bottomless supply of sociopathic criminals to break your heart.”

“The Finder,” which premieres at 9 tonight on WUTV, has a bottomless supply of quirkiness that requires a viewer to wildly suspense disbelief.

After finding John Fogerty’s prized guitar, Sherman is asked by the son of a missing man to  find his father, who  Sherman had earlier saved when he was a military hero.

The premiere spends a good deal of time amusingly revealing Sherman’s history and introducing the gang of misfits he lives and plays with. The case includes deep-voiced Michael Clarke Duncan as the friend who owes Sherman his life, Leo Knox; Maddie Hasson as a pretty juvenile delinquent, Willa Monday, who they are trying to redeem; and Mercedes Masohn as pretty U.S. Marshall Isabel Zambada, who in the “Bones” tradition is alternately aided, irritated and romanced by Sherman.

Sherman warns the missing man’s son that sometimes he finds thing that those looking for don’t want to know about it.I won’t tell you more than you need to know about the plot, which is all over the place. But I suspect many viewers will find “The Finder” acceptable silly entertainment that doesn’t tax the brain. Rating: 2 and a half stars

George Clooney and Emily VanCamp could be the co-anchors of the CBS morning show and practically no one in Western New York would care to watch it or read about it.

Monday’s much-publicized debut of the new Charlie Rose-Gayle-King-Erica Hill version of the show had a 2.9 rating, which actually is decent by CBS standards around here. Tuesday’s edition slipped back to the usual territory of 2.2 on Channel 4. That means about 13,000 households in Western New York were watching on average.

There was quite a shocker at the end of Wednesday’s “Revenge,” the season’s guilty pleasure. I won’t reveal it because I know how many of you watch it a day or so after it initially airs on ABC. I keep forgetting that the Daniel, the rich boyfriend of VanCamp’s character, Emily Thorne, was found dead in the pilot.  I also wish viewers weren’t told that before the series went into flashback.

Buffalo Sabres fans get a reprieve from the TWC-MSG contract mess next Wednesday when the new NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) carries Buffalo’s game with Pat Kane and the Chicago Black Hawks game. A NBC Sports Network spokesman said it can’t be blacked out here.

The ratings for the 10 p.m. news on the day that Melissa Holmes arrived at Channel 2 illustrate what the former Channel 4 anchor-reporter will be up against as the new 10 p.m. anchor for her new station’s newscast on WNYO-TV. Channel 2 had a 2.0 rating Monday night to a 4.9 rating for Channel 4’s news on WNLO. The ratings for both newscasts might have been low because of the national college title football game being carried on ESPN.


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Rebates, Apologies and Explanations

This is what I’m thinking:

2006-10 logo of the Sabres, known disaffection...
Image via Wikipedia

If Time Warner Cable and MSG aren’t going to make a deal to get the channel that carries Buffalo Sabres games back, then cable subscribers should get the money TWC is saving by dropping the channel.

A rebate certainly is preferable to substituting NBA TV on the channel where MSG used to be carried.

It would also help subscribers know exactly what they are paying for the channel that carries the  Sabres, New York Knicks games and college sports.

It is a bone of contention with former employees of the defunct Empire Sports Network that Adelphia never gave subscribers back the fee the cable company was paying to air that regional sports network.

A reader advised Sabre fans with TWC that Versus (which is now the NBC Sports Network) is going to carry all playoff games so they shouldn’t worry if the team makes the playoffs. In the past, Versus didn’t carry all first-round games and the local broadcaster (MSG) was often allowed to blackout its coverage of that round. I’ll have to check to see if anything has changed in NBC’s new deal with the league.

With hockey ratings among the best in the country, the NBC Sports Network would almost assuredly want to carry as many Sabre games as possible. But MSG is still carried on DirecTV and FiOS here and would be expected to adhere the blackout policy.

The best first-round scenario for a Sabres fan with TWC would be to have the team go on a hot streak and make the playoffs and play a Canadian team so that CBC would carry all the games that don’t go to TSN, its version of ESPN.

I had to laugh at the front page attention and all the local TV news coverage given to Attorney General Eric Schneiderman over his attempts to broker a deal between MSG and TWC. Maybe he’ll be able to be helpful as former Attorney General Eliot Spitzer was during a similar dispute. But Schneiderman doesn’t have any power in the situation. Natrually, he enjoyed the public relations boost from all the coverage. People in Buffalo might even know his name now.

Apologies to Jericka Duncan and Robin Adams, who I left out of my Sunday blog about all the female anchors and reporters who have left Channel 4 in the past two or three years.

Speaking of funny front page stories, wasn’t it shocking to read that ratings for the Sabres have dropped severely now that 40 percent of the TV audience with TWC doesn’t get them? However, it was interesting to think about the damage to advertisers.

I know the Carubba Collision hit of the game is extremely popular during Sabre games, but am I the only one who wonders if the advertisment is appropriate now that concussions have become such a big issue in the NHL?

A voice inside me said “say something nice about TWC” so here it goes. The new streaming features called HBO GO or MAX Go are a bonus to subscribers with those pay channels. To get them on your computer or other electronic devices, go to the TWC page and sign up.

Western New York has never been a big college football town as far as TV is concerned. So the 9.8 local rating for ESPN’s coverage of Alabama’s 21-0 national title victory over LSU was pretty decent when you consider it wasn’t nearly as entertaining as many of the high-scoring bowl games this postseason.

Is Ron Paul still talking on CNN after his second place finish to Mitt Romney in the New Hampshire primary? I couldn’t believe how long he was allowed to lecture. Imagine if he had won.


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