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Rooting for The Buffalo News On D-Day


Today is D-Day at The Buffalo News.

By that, I mean it is planned to be Digital Day, when one needs to subscribe to the newspaper in order to read more than 10 stories a month online.

It could be delayed because of Hurricane Sandy since many newspapers are dropping their pay window during the potentially devastating storm.

Today also is expected to be the first day that the new news editor, Mike Connelly, arrives at One News Plaza. But that’s a story for another day.

The Buffalo News

The Buffalo News (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The current November edition of Buffalo Spree includes my interview with Buffalo News president Warren Colville in which he explains in great detail why The News had to begin charging for its online content. I suggest you pick up a copy ASAP.

As a college teacher, I’ve learned first-hand over the last seven years about how difficult it is to get young readers to buy and read the printed newspaper.

Every semester, I take an informal poll of how many students buy the local newspaper. If more than 10 percent raise their hands, I consider it a triumph. And I teach journalism and communications students, who you would expect would be more interested in reading the paper than most people their age.

It is very discouraging, especially since I love the newspaper. The students also don’t read The News online all that much. That’s partly because some of them come from outside of Western New York and partly because they get their news online from other sources.

The News remains profitable partly because WNY has a large audience of older readers who still like to have a newspaper in their hands. I find the current advertising campaign of The News amusing for several reasons. As I’ve noted before, its slogan asking where else but The Buffalo News can you find things involving real estate, sports and entertainment is laughable to my students who find all of that just about everywhere else online but The News.

Additionally, it is amusing that so many of the ads feature pictures of the younger female readers who are the toughest for the paper to reach. When I was at The News, an edict went out to put a photograph of a woman on the top of Page 1 every day on the theory that it would attract female viewers.

The point is as The News loses its print subscribers, it needs to find new ways to enhance revenue and that’s where charging for online content comes in. I’m not sure the strategy will work but I sure hope it does because The News still does some high quality, in-depth work that — unlike some real estate, sports and entertainment coverage — really isn’t done anywhere else despite staff reductions.

Sunday’s paper had two cases in point – an excellent Jay Tokasz story on the complicated life of the late Rev. Joseph F. Moreno Jr. and a Mary Pasciak story about the battle between Buffalo Teachers Federation president Phillip Rumore and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo.

Those stories alone were worthy of the $1.99 The News is charging new subscribers for the Sunday paper, which allows them to get online content for free.

It is a bargain even if you don’t put into the equation all the money-saving coupons available in the Sunday News. The News needs enough subscribers to sign up for the printed newspaper or the online product to continue having a large enough staff to allow reporters to do such strong work.

This isn’t to say Sunday’s paper was perfect. Early deadlines undoubtedly had much to do with some coverage decisions in the sports department that were as head scratching as some of the late-game pass plays called by Bills Coach Chan Gailey.

Not counting the University at Buffalo’s latest loss, the biggest college football game for WNYers most likely was Notre Dame’s 30-13 thrashing of Oklahoma. ABC’s Brent Musburger announced afterward that “Notre Dame is relevant again.” The story about the Irish win was buried with a one column head that read “Irish still perfect” while wins by Kansas State and Georgia got huge headlines across the top of separate sports pages. If you can find a Kansas State or Georgia fan in WNY, email me.

The Irish fared better than Syracuse, another college team with local interest. SU’s exciting 37-36 comeback victory over South Florida with three seconds left was its biggest comeback win in 70 years. It was carried on Time Warner Cable. It got one line in small print.

The Notre Dame and Syracuse decisions illustrate how tough early deadlines can be for a newspaper. The paper can be much more current and thorough with its online content. 

Sports coverage drives newspaper sales. That’s one reason why the News now has at least four people covering the Buffalo Bills. The NHL lockout is damaging a lot of local businesses and that includes The News because the Sabres aren’t playing games that readers want to read about.

They include many readers who have moved out of town and have enjoyed reading The News online for free to follow the local sports teams and what is going on in a WNY community they still love.

I know because I have adult children who live outside of WNY and read The News online. They won’t be shutout since they can still read 10 stories a month for free. However, that is less than a week’s worth of Bills stories so they may have to pony up some digital dough.

But maybe not. Here’s a secret I accidentally discovered when calling The News about my digital subscription. I was told by a News telephone representative a few weeks ago that up to five people can use my password to read The News online and that it is perfectly legal to share with out-of-town relatives.

CORRECTION: My Spree article mentioned News layoffs have reduced the staff size. My bad. I should have used the word buyouts instead of layoffs. The News never has had layoffs. It’s an important distinction. Unfortunately, my later use of buyouts was edited out. The error is being corrected online.



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Late News, Friendly Trump Slam, and Wheaties

Christine Baranski

This is what I’m thinking:

Nice to see that the Buffalo News finally reported Thursday that Channel 4 morning co-anchor Joe Arena has left for Pittsburgh and at least temporarily has been replaced by Ed Drantch on “Wake Up!”

You read it here first, oh, about a month ago.

In his interview with the News, Arena dropped a line in about talking to rival Channel 2 before taking the offer on the table from Pittsburgh.

Channel 2 often talks to Channel 4 staffers who are trying to leave. It even has hired a few, including Melissa Holmes, Kevin O’Neill and Mary Beth Wrobel. OK, it has hired more than a few.

However, there didn’t seem to be an opening for Arena since Channel 2’s lead male anchor Scott Levin is still relatively young and “Daybreak” co-anchor John Beard hasn’t given any indication he is ready to retire.

I suppose Arena could have been a safety valve in case Beard exits in a few years, but he wouldn’t have been paid enough in that role.

Even Donald Trump’s friends are blasting his latest offer to give a charity $5 million if President Obama gave out his college transcripts and passport details.

Donnie Deutsch, a famous advertising executive who is on the “Today” panel of “The Professionals,” said he is a friend of The Donald and isn’t concerned that that friendship would end by blasting his latest cry for attention.

“I’m repulsed by it,” said Deutsch. “It is wrong, there’s a racist base to it, a vulgarity to it… He has got to stop this. It is repulsive.”

I’d say that would end a friendship. But Deutsch is right.

Republicans aren’t too happy that the National Geographic Channel plans to air a movie, “Seal Team Six,” about the capture of Osama bin Laden on Nov. 4, two days before the presidential election. The GOP should have been quiet about it, since its complaints will drive interest in the film with a cast that includes Cheektowaga’s William Fichtner as a CIA operative. I imagine many cable viewers couldn’t find the National Geographic Channel but they will search for it now.

I would think that Melissa Holmes would be the frontrunner to replace Jodi Johnston on Channel 2’s “Daybreak” after the November sweeps end. Surely whoever gets the job won’t work the split shift of 5 a.m. and 5 p.m. that Johnson has had. So if Holmes is bypassed for “Daybreak,” I’d expect her to get the anchor slot at 5 p.m. In that way, she’d have a similar shift to Channel 4’s Diana Fairbanks, who anchors at 5:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. daily.

Channel 4 used its promotional arm – the Buffalo News – to announce that sportscaster Steve Vesey has officially been given the title of sports director. That was bound to happen after the second sportscaster the station hired, Lauren Brill, had early struggles and wasn’t much competition for Vesey. As good as Vesey is, Channel 4’s sports team is a far cry from the team of John Murphy and Paul Peck that left the station in the last several months.

Inquiring minds want to know: Why hasn’t Channel 2 dropped its silly 10 at 10 format on WNYO that reports the stories in backwards order of their importance? Beats me. I would hope it would end it soon because it is a dumber idea than proposing a new $1.4 billion downtown stadium. Well, almost as dumb anyway. I’m beginning to think 10 at 10 only remains because I’ve been so critical of it. I promise not to write another word about the stupidity of it if Channel 2 would agree to drop it soon.

Fox has announced that it plans to premiere the new Kevin Bacon series, “The Following,” at 9 p.m. Monday, Jan. 21. That’s where “Mob Doctor” currently airs. It is expected to be canceled by… well by now. However, Fox is promoting the November return of “Mob” after the World Series. Bacon’s series was created by Kevin Williamson of “Dawson’s Creek” fame.”

Is it just me or is ABC’s “Revenge” just getting too complicated? I think it is easier to understand Mitt Romney’s constantly evolving political stands than it is all the problems circling around Emily Thorne (Emily VanCamp). Romney’s new pitch to voters is he is going to be an agent of Big Change. Gee, I thought Big Change is what he’s been doing for weeks as he turned from conservative Mitt to Moderate Mitt.

Line of the week courtesy of Will (Josh Charles) and Diane (Buffalo’s Christine Baranski) after she got angry with the bean counter played by Nathan Lane: Will to Diane: “What got into you?” Diane: “Wheaties.”

I think that’s what advertisers refer to as product placement.



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Crystal Brings Back Series Memories

The opening of the World Series on Fox featuring Billy Crystal Wednesday night really brought back childhood memories.

While Crystal described some of the memorable moments in World Series history, footage of  the walk-off Series winning home run by Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski off of the New York Yankees’ Ralph Terry in 1960 briefly played along with other highlights.

“You had to show the Mazeroski clip,” cracked Crystal, a famous Yankee fan who keeps a Mickey Mantle card in his wallet.

As the late Maurice Chevalier would say, “I remember it well.”

In fact, I had just told my sports journalism class at Buffalo State about Maz’s homer to note how much television has changed the Series. I raced home from school that day just in time to see Mazeroski’s heart-breaking home run as leftfielder Yogi Berra (yes, he was out in left field) looked at it clear the wall.

That’s right, Game 7 of the Pirates-Yankees series was played on a weekday afternoon. A close friend of mine said he even remembers that the Buffalo News used to have the score of Series games in its last edition when it was an afternoon and early evening paper.

Billy Crystal

Boy, have times changed because of TV. Fox did start Game 1 of San Francisco’s 8-3 win over Detroit at the reasonable time of 8 p.m. Wednesday. It was still going on at 11:15 p.m. when I went to bed and I’m told it ended at 11:50 p.m.

These games can last past midnight, hardly inductive for school-age kids to stay up and watch them to their conclusion. TV’s control of baseball irritates East Coast fans. But remember, the West Coast isn’t exactly happy, either. After all, the game started at 5 p.m. California time and also started an hour or two earlier in some time zones than it does in the East.

The News now is lucky if the games end early enough on the East Coast to get a decent story in the paper. Credit this morning goes to News baseball writer Mike Harrington, who wrote a very good story about the Giants’ win on deadline.

Harrington probably was grateful that Giant third baseman Pablo Sandoval made his life easier by hitting three home runs and leading a blowout that could have been written by the sixth inning – leaving room for some quick quotes from Sandoval and Giant manager Bruce Bochy.

I would bet not many 10-year-olds knew Sandoval’s name or nickname (Panda) before his incredible feat.

I also will bet Sandoval’s feat will make it into tonight’s Fox opening and in future World Series packages right alongside Mazeroski’s home run and Kirk Gibson’s memorable home run for the Los Angeles Dodgers that caused announcer Jack Buck to say “I don’t believe what I just saw.”

The rating for Game One of the World Series on local Fox affiliate WUTV soared 40 percent from Game One of the 2011 series between St. Louis and Texas. That sounds like a lot, but Wednesday’s game still only had a 6.9 rating, up from a 4.9 a year ago.

To put that in perspective, the Series had a lower local rating than the CBS series “Survivor” (11.5), “Criminal Minds” (11.4) and “CSI” (7.1)”;  the ABC series “The Middle” (8.4), “Neighbors” (8.0), “Modern Family” (10.1) and “Suburgatory” (7.2); and the NBC series “Chicago Fire” (7.2). And the news on Channel 4 (8.3) and Channel 2 (8.0) had higher ratings, too.

In the old days of the Series, the competing networks would avoid carrying original episodes of entertainment shows because they didn’t stand a chance of competing with baseball.

You may have noticed that the rating for ABC’s “Nashville” didn’t make the above list. It does get a strong DVR and On Demand audience, but its live audience only hit a 4.5 rating, about 40 percent lower than “Chicago Fire.” “Nashville” could end up being one of those shows with a great pilot that couldn’t be replicated in future episodes. I thought the second episode was a bore, but didn’t watch Wednesday’s third episode.   

Channel 2’s Scott Brown did a strong truth test piece Wednesday on the extraordinarily deceptive ad by Kathy Hochul’s campaign that suggests Chris Collins fired a lot of people when he purchased Buffalo China and also cut their benefits.

Brown’s story ran the same day that The News did an Ad Watch dissecting the ad’s dishonesty. However, Channel 2 had the added bonus of having the man featured in the ad, former Buffalo China worker Thomas Boyce, on camera. He didn’t defend the details of the ad very well.

Collins’ campaign is furious and wants the Hochul camp to stop running the ad. May I offer a compromise? Why don’t Hochul and Collins make a deal in which each gets to drop one dishonest ad that angers each camp the most.

Of course, Channel 2 and all the TV stations are benefitting from the dishonesty of the ads from both campaigns by getting an enormous amount of ad revenue. As Brown pointed out, the stations can’t change the content in the political ads, a policy that enables all political candidates to lie as much as they want to in their ads.

Please vote on which story from a real estate developer was more overplayed by the media: Rocco Termini’s suggestion that the Bills move to Hamilton, Ont. or Donald Trump’s $5 million offer if President Obama will give out some documents about his life. It’s a close call, but I’m voting for Trump. Can’t the media just declare a moratorium on reporting his foolishness? He is a national joke who craves attention. Please stop giving it to him.

Back to the Series: Last year’s “American Idol” winner Phillip Phillips sang the national anthem before Game 1 of the Series Wednesday night. I suppose that was a promotion for “AI,” which returns to Fox on Jan. 16. I had two thoughts as he gave his routine, low-powered performance. 1) How the heck did he win? And 2) Boy, it is going to take more than some new judges to get “Idol” back on track this season.

Finally, Crystal had one extra reason to be in the Series opening, As Joe Buck noted after the opening ran, Crystal plays a San Francisco minor league announcer in his next movie “Parental Guidance.” It co-stars Bette Midler as his wife and is — naturally – financed by 20th Century Fox.



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A Quiz, A Prediction and Some Irrational Behavior

This is what I’m thinking:

Here’s a quick quiz that asks you to decide whether this area likes baseball more than presidential debates: Do you think the Fox broadcast network had a higher rating Monday than Fox News on cable had in WNY for the debate?

I’ll return later in this blog to answer that question.

Speaking of the Fox broadcast network, it has renewed Simon Cowell’s “The X-Factor” for a third season. I don’t think that matters to most of WNY. It averages less than a 5 rating on WUTV, which is less than half of what NBC’s “The Voice” averages here on Channel 2. “X” does  well nationally with viewers ages 18 through 49.

Lou Raguse

My spies are telling me that Time Warner has moved CNBC off of its analog channel and some subscribers need a digital set-top box, digital adapter or CableCARD to get it and CFTO, C-Span, E! and EWTN on their sets. TWC is offering the tuners free through December, 2014. TWC’s Joli Plucknette-Farmen  explained last month that the move of the channels to digital will free up bandwidth to allow it more space for popular HD and On Demand content, faster internet speed and other goodies. TWC also said that an analog channel takes the same amount of space as two to three HD channels and as many as 14 digital channels.

I hate the ad for Kathy Hochul that lambasts her opponent Chris Collins for having a 6000 square foot house with a private gym. Big deal. So he has a big house. He can afford it.

President Obama is a very busy man trying to hit all the swing states but he is finding time to visit “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” tonight and MTV on Friday night.

I almost pulled into a ditch Tuesday afternoon when WBEN afternoon host Sandy Beach said he didn’t have a problem with how many times Mitt Romney agreed with President Obama during Monday’s debate because not agreeing with your opponent sometimes would be “irrational.” Tell that to Sean Hannity. Rush Limbaugh. Tom Bauerle. Or tell it to yourself Sandy. All of the WBEN hosts are so anti-Obama that they are irrational.

Who is more likely to like aggression, men or women? I bring this up because a CNN poll after Monday’s debate had a passive Romney winning the debate, 46-41, among men while women scored it for the more aggressive President Obama 56-34. I would have thought the stereotypes would have scored it the other way around. I suppose it just proves men can be more irrational.

OK, back to the top of the blog. San Francisco’s 9-0 win over St. Louis had a 4.1 rating on WUTV, the local affiliate of the Fox Network. The Romney-Obama debate had a 6.1 rating on Fox News, which is the most popular cable news channel locally. Fox News hit a hit of an 8 rating at 10:30 when its analysts weighed in with their reviews. That says a lot about how conservative this area can be.

He’ll probably end up being right, but young WGR sideline reporter Joe Buscaglia surprised me Monday when he said it was certain that the Buffalo Bills will lose at New England in a few weeks. If there is anything certain in this NFL season, it is that nothing is a certainty. There is no reason to believe the Bills don’t have a chance. After all, Arizona – a team the Bills beat – beat the Pats in Foxboro.

Bills basher Rodney Harrison wasn’t impressed by Chris Johnson’s big day against Buffalo in Tennessee’s win over the Bills. He noted Sunday “This was against Buffalo’s defense. Unfortunately for him, you can’t play them every week…He has this type of talent, but he has to make up his mind if he’s going to do it on a weekly basis.”

ABC has announced that this is the last season of “Private Practice,” the spinoff of “Grey’s Anatomy.” That’s no surprise. It almost was canceled after last season. But it still does pretty well in WNY, especially with DVR viewers.

Finally, I am begging local TV news to please put in perspective the silly reports about plans for a billion dollar stadium for the Bills to play in and about a possible move to Hamilton, Ont. Channel 2 and Channel 4 both led with the stadium report on Tuesday even though those who are proposing it are doing so without support from the Bills, the state or the league and say it is a minimum of five years away. The Bills have a better chance of beating New England and going to the Super Bowl this year than a billion dollar stadium has of being built. If you have to cover those stories, please, please bury them at the end of newscasts and don’t play them at the beginning and give them credibility. I’m surprised Channel 4’s Lou Raguse didn’t break out laughing after he quickly pointed out that the Bills’ Russ Brandon labeled the stadium idea “a non-starter.” 

Not surprisingly, WGR’s Mike Schopp supported the Hamilton Hail Mary move suggested on Channel 2 by Rocco Termini, whose expertise is in development (The marvelous Hotel Lafayette) and not in NFL politics. Schopp’s co-host Chris Parker thought it was a rotten idea. For the record, I’m a season ticketholder and I’m with Parker, whose whole purpose in life these days is to protect listeners from Schopp’s foolishness. If the Bills ever leave for Canada, it is going to be for Toronto and not its poor relative Hamilton.  


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“SNL” Will Hold Ammunition on Final Debate


Sadly the bayonets won’t be sharpened on “Saturday Night Live” this weekend even though President Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney gave the NBC satirical show plenty of ammunition Monday night.

That’s because “SNL” is airing a repeat of the season premiere with Seth MacFarlane this weekend.

Hey, the cast has to get a week off some time and the November sweeps are coming.

It’s too bad that the “SNL” bye week comes now, since it would have been so easy to predict there would have been sketches on bayonets, President Obama’s aggressiveness and Romney’s sweating and prevent defense passivity.

MacFarlane was one of the many tweeters throughout the 90-minute debate, including some one-liners about the President’s trending comment on Twitter about “bayonets and horses” to Romney about the decline of naval ships since 1916.

Chuck Todd

As predicted here Monday, network analysts were pretty passive and reluctant to declare a winner in the third and final debate before the instant polls came out.

The only clear winner was moderator Bob Schieffer, who didn’t trend on Twitter because he played a referee who didn’t get in the way of the conversation and was hardly noticed.

Perhaps the most telling post-debate comment came from NBC’s Chuck Todd, who noted that if there hadn’t been any pre-debate polls you would have thought that a more passive Romney thought he was ahead because he didn’t respond directly to any charge made by an aggressive President, who acted like he thought he was behind.

Interestingly, the pre-debate story was that this final debate mattered because the national polls were so close. After the debate, CBS’ John Dickerson and some Republican analysts suggested it didn’t matter much if at all. Huh?

Then the instant polls came in. CBS’ poll of uncommitted voters gave it to the President by a landslide, 53-23, with the rest undecided. CNN’s poll that skewed more Republican had the President winning 48-40. ABC’s scorecard on “Nightline” by former Republican campaign advisor Matthew Dowd and the moderator of the second debate, Martha Raddatz, gave the President the win, too.

Similarly, a CBS poll declaring President Obama a winner in the second debate had a much higher margin of victory than the CNN poll declaring him the victor.

The President’s back-to-back debate wins might make some Republicans sweat as much as Romney did Monday in Florida. CNN’s Anderson Cooper was the only one who I heard bring up Romney’s sweating, which reminded some old-timers of what happened to Richard Nixon in his famous 1960 debate with President Kennedy.    

Some Republican analysts – notably CNN’s Alex Castellanos and ABC’s Nicolle Wallace – seemed to suggest Monday that the calm Romney could turn out the winner among undecided voters because he looked calm and presidential and shifted the foreign policy subjects to the economy.

The “looking presidential” strategy wouldn’t seem to be a difficult standard to meet. Can you name the last presidential nominee who didn’t meet that easy standard? McCain? Kerry? Gore? They all looked presidential.  

Equally, strange was the idea that Romney had won by losing well and agreeing with the President so often. NBC’s “Today” opened today with the headline that read “Fire and Nice.” I don’t think I should have to tell you which nominee fit those descriptions.

 A CBS poll that showed that Obama had improved his standing with uncommitted voters by 22-12 percent over Romney seemed to contradict the claim that you can win by being nice.

The analysts were playing nice with Romney. Consider this: If President Obama had performed like his challenger did Monday night, do you think analysts would have been so nice?

Come to think of it, President Obama did perform like Romney in the first debate. And justifiably got hammered for it. The media’s reluctance to do the same with Romney seems to be out of fear that it would get hammered by Republicans claiming they were pro-Obama. The people in CBS’ poll didn’t seem to have that worry.

The question that is open to debate is whether the third debate mattered that much at all. There is a view that the first debate that changed the race is the only one that really mattered and the President’s wins in debates two and three weren’t as important.

That very well could be true. But if Western New York is any indication, that won’t be because interest in the second and third debates lessened that much. The second debate had a combined 41 rating here on all the channels that carried it, which was higher than the 39 rating for the first debate had on those channels. To put the debates in perspective, the Buffalo Bills’ 35-34 loss to Tennessee Sunday had a 33.3 rating. In other words, the debates outscored the Bills games here.

The combined local rating for Monday’s third debate was 37.6, which still is impressive when you consider it was opposite a Monday Night Football  game (7.9 rating) and San Francisco’s game 7 win over St. Louis for the National League baseball title (4.1) and also was supposed to focus on a subject – foreign policy – that many Americans don’t care about that much. So WNYers were still very interested in the final debate.

If President Obama loses the election in two weeks, he will forever regret his performance in the first debate.

If President Obama wins, the bayonets will be out on the Romney strategists that told him “nice” was the way to go in the final debate to look presidential.


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Twitter Is Source for Debate Reviews and News About Ch.4

Now I know how President Obama and Mitt Romney probably feel after a debate.

Most likely, they are thinking “I wish I had said…” about various topics.

On Sunday morning, I was on WBEN’s “Hardline” with Dave Debo and asked for predictions on who would win Sunday’s Bills game and tonight’s final presidential debate.

I picked the Bills to win because they were playing at home against Tennessee but added I wouldn’t bet on it because the NFL is a crazy league these days. Wrong.

I wouldn’t pick a debate winner. That’s where I really went wrong.

Ed Drantch

“I should have said” the winners are going to be Twitter and Saturday Night Live.

Twitter really has become the go-to-place for these debates, with the winner announced in snarky comments about the nominees as the debates go on.

Long before CBS’ John Dickerson, NBC’s Chuck Todd or ABC’s Matthew Dowd weigh in tonight, the social network world will declare a winner.

Twitter declared President Obama the big loser in the first debate, with the help of Obama supporter Bill Maher. Maher’s derisive tweets said more than any network commentator could have said. The President’s win in the second debate was also clear on Twitter when he was welcomed back by Maher and other supporters.

It can take a few days for “Saturday Night Live” to weigh in. This past Saturday, Tom Hanks played a funny cameo in the cold open that poked fun at all the questioners from Long Island in the last debate.

It wasn’t the first time that “SNL” has poked fun at the supposed undecided voters in this election. In a very funny skit weeks ago, it pretty much called the voters who will decide the election idiots.

You’d have to be an idiot to listen to Fox News, MSNBC or WBEN polls to declare a winner since viewers or listeners to those channels are predisposed to root for the nominee they support. In Fox and WBEN’s case, that is Romney. In MSNBC’s case, it is President Obama. Further evidence of Obama’s loss in debate one was the loud disappointment of MSNBC’s Chris Matthews in the President’s performance.

Considering the importance of the final debate tonight, I suspect the broadcast network analysts will be more reluctant than usual to call a winner. 

There is a debate over how much the debates matter. Clearly, debates do matter even if debate winners don’t always matter much. According to the poll, Romney’s win in the first debate appears to have mattered much more than President Obama’s win in the second one. Incumbents often have lost first debates, but not as badly as President Obama. If neither nominee stumbles badly tonight, the third debate won’t matter much at all.

Now on to the Bills game and some of the controversies that resulted in their 35-34 loss to Tennessee:

No. 1: Why didn’t Bills Coach Chan Gailey go for two points after Buffalo scored the touchdown to take a 34-28 lead with seconds left in the third quarter. Good question. Amazingly, it wasn’t even addressed before or immediately afterwards by CBS play-by-play man Marv Albert and analyst Rich Gannon. They just assumed that was normal procedure with a full quarter left. Gailey might have thought that two Titans field goals could have given Tennessee a 34-33 win if the two-point conversion had failed. But not all coaches feel that way. In the Sunday Night Football game, Pittsburgh Coach Mike Tomlin went for a two-point conversion before halftime when trailing Cincinnati, 14-12, and it succeeded to tie the score. I would have tended to go for it if I had been Gailey because the last thing you want to do is lose by a point because you didn’t have the confidence in your quarterback to go for two.

The second controversy concerned the late interception by Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick before the Titans winning touchdown drive. Gannon, who had sung Fitzpatrick’s praises throughout the game,  rightly called it a very poor throw. The Twitter universe killed the quarterback. It should be pointed out the Bills scored 34 points and the defense had a chance to stop the Titans on their final drive and failed to collect a fumble and a sure interception. Fitzpatrick hardly was the only one to blame for the defeat or even the primary one to blame. But Twitter isn’t known to be fair. Ask President Obama.

Finally, Twitter also was where I first read that Ed Drantch is replacing Joe Arena as the co-host of Channel 4’s “Wake Up” alongside Nalina Shapiro. Drantch announced it Sunday on the social network. I had heard and reported that he and Anthony Congi appeared to be the frontrunners for the job, but I will say I thought Congi was the more logical choice. I’m also not sure if Drantch is the permanent answer, though his Twitter post seemed to suggest the job is his for now.


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HBO’s Hitchcock Movie Is Creepy, Disjointed


Alfred Hitchcock could have gone through binders of 400 women with acting experience to cast the female lead in “The Birds,” his terrifying follow-up to “Psycho.”

He chose a pretty blonde model and single mother of Swedish heritage named Tippi Hedren who didn’t have any acting experience and was unknown to American audiences.

Toby Jones and Sienna Miller

The weirdly disjointed and occasionally entertaining HBO movie “The Girl” attempts to go deeper into why he cast her at 9 tonight on the pay-channel.

It really isn’t much of a Hitchcock mystery. Hitchcock liked how Hedren looked and eventually became more than a little psycho about her.

Based on the book “Spellbound by Beauty,” ”The Girl” features a strong, compelling performance by Toby Jones – lately of “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “The Hunger Games” – as the creepy director. Sienna Miller, who has been in a bunch of lesser known films, fills the most important requirement for Hedren – she’s beautiful.

After a positive start to a relationship in which Hitchcock was in control and had all the power, things go very badly and Hedren is tortured by Hitchcock. The film makes some of his directorial choices seem instinctive rather than planned. It becomes a short, quick amateurish psychological study of the legendary English director. He comes across as a creepy old man with a poor body image who obsesses about Hedren sexually and forcibly tries to act upon it. It is difficult to watch the film without wondering if Hedren was the only actress he treated this way.

He does it all in front or alongside his supportive wife. The crew of the film also is horrified to see Hitchcock’s on-set treatment of Hedren in one terrifying scene involving scores of live birds attacking her.

Unfortunately, the film doesn’t develop Hedren’s naïve character enough to make her sympathetic or to care deeply about how she was treated during and after the two films she made with Hitchcock under the seven-year contract he gave her.  She also starred in a second Hitchcock film “Marnie” (with Sean Connery) and the film suggests she was treated just as badly as she was on “The Birds.”

The film also doesn’t give any indication of how “The Birds” was received after it premiered and whether it added or distracted from Hitchcock’s legacy. My vague memory is its reviews in the 1960s were initially mixed, though it later was considered a classic.

“The Girl” isn’t quite for the birds because Hitchcock’s entertaining odd stories and uncontrollable emotions keep flying around. But other than Jones’ exceptional performance, the film is strangely uninspiring and surely won’t add to Hitchcock’s legacy.

Rating: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Add NBC’s “Animal Practice” to the list of early season cancellations. It joins CBS’ “Made in Jersey” as the first two new fall series to be canceled.

Inquiring minds want to know: When is HBO”s “Girls” coming back. The Lena Dunham series returns Jan. 13.


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Voting for Dumbest Political Ad and Poll

Bob Schieffer, chief Washington correspondent ...

Bob Schieffer: Final Debate Moderator

This is what I’m thinking:

What’s your vote for the dumbest local political ad?

The top candidates are the three wishes ad that a Republican super pac is running against Congresswoman Kathy Hochul and a Democratic ad that puts a mask on her opponent Chris Collins and accuses of him doing something awful.

It is too close to call. My biggest wish is all the silly ads in the Hochul-Collins race that insult the intelligence of voters would go away.

ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” duo of Tony Kornhesier and Michael Wilbon gave a nice shout-out to Bills Owner Ralph Wilson Wednesday on his 94th birthday. Wilbon also noted that he saved a complimentary note that Wilson sent him after one column.

I had to laugh when I read the Thursday story in the Buffalo News about third parties like PBS and AARP wanting to stay out of the political races. The ad quoted PBS president and chief executive Paul Kerger. It was a funny typo because the PBS head is named Paula Kerger. She probably even should be in one of Mitt Romney’s binders of women if he were elected President.

Boy, have times changed since I was a kid. It was amused to read all the post-debate criticism of the choice of Hofstra University in Nassau County as the host area for Wednesday’s town hall presidential debate because it is such an obvious liberal area and the format involved questions from supposedly undecided voters. When I lived in Nassau County in my childhood, it was Republican country. It has gone Democratic in recent presidential elections, but reportedly in 2011 its county executive, its comptroller and all of its state senators were Republicans so I’d hardly call it a liberal stronghold.

Long Island also has one Republican Congressman, Peter King, who on CNN Wednesday called President Obama’s conduct after the assault on Benghazi “shameful.” That would be true if King had any evidence that the administration was covering anything up. But since he didn’t, his accusations based on speculation were “shameful.”

I wasn’t impressed with the second episode of ABC’s “Nashville,” which is a local DVR hit. The much-praised premiere of Connie Britton’s show had a 5.5 live rating on Channel 7 that ballooned to an 8.7 after secondary viewing over seven days was added.

I wondered why CBS’ Bob Schieffer hadn’t been a part of the network’s post-debate analysis for the first three debates – two presidential and one vice presidential. But then I read Thursday that he asked off analysis because he is going to be the moderator on the third presidential debate Monday. Now that’s a principled man. Too bad he isn’t running for something.

The landslide winner of the dumbest political poll goes to WBEN. I read somewhere on a social network that the WBEN poll of who won the second presidential debate scored it 92 percent for Romney and 8 percent for Obama. The station’s website reports a text poll had 135 voting for Romney and 13 for Obama. What a shocker – the audience for a right wing radio station that carries Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Tom Bauerle and Sandy Beach thought their guy won even though most non-partisan polls thought the President was the winner. If I worked at WBEN, I’d be embarrassed.

I’m really enjoying John Murphy’s WGR radio show on the Bills when I’m in my car at night. But after he effusively praised CBS analyst Rich Gannon Wednesday night, I had to wonder when Murphy hears Gannon call games and how often. After all, Murphy is pretty busy on Sunday afternoons calling Bills games on radio when Gannon is working on CBS. Perhaps Murphy hears Gannon occasionally when watching tapes preparing for the next Bills opponent. Gannon is working Sunday’s Bills games against Tennessee alongside Marv Albert, who hardly distinguished himself on Bills games last season.


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A Reviewer Who Avoids Reviews

Several weeks ago I was in New York City and saw a movie that I knew wouldn’t open in Buffalo for weeks.

It was a documentary called “Searching for Sugar Man.” My companion (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase) and I didn’t really know anything about it other than it was playing at our favorite movie house on West 62nd Street and it was raining outside.

The first few minutes of the movie about a Detroit singer named Rodriguez — who was supposed to be the next Dylan decades ago — were a little slow.

However, the movie became mesmerizing as the tale continued of a guy whose records were a flop on the States but became a big deal in South Africa in the 1970s. Music executives and fans who didn’t know if Rodriguez was dead or alive spun the incredible story.

If I had known his fate, I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed the film as much.

I bring this up before revealing a dirty little secret: I don’t read reviews before I see anything.

The primary reason is I want to go into TV shows or movies without knowing what is going to happen to experience everything as a reviewer would — purely without knowing if the Dark Knight, Timothy Green, The Master or Liam Neeson survive or how they do.  


This may seem odd to read from a guy who has reviewing TV shows for 30 years. But in my reviews, I try to avoid giving out so-called spoilers and doing play-by-play.

I tell my students in my media criticism class to ask themselves if they would want to know the plot twists or who lives or dies in a movie or TV show before they see it.

Too often, reviewers serve as play-by-play men or women who tell readers how they felt as they reveal details that were best avoided.

That’s partly because reviewers aren’t given binders full of material or a course on how to do their job. I don’t think I had one conversation with a fellow reviewer at the Buffalo News about the best way to review TV shows or films before the public gets to see them.

That was a mistake.

I did read the Buffalo News review of “Searching” that ran last week and want to compliment reviewer Melinda Miller’s refusal to reveal details about the movie that viewers would rather learn themselves. It was an excellent review that described what the movie was about and why it was so compelling without giving out too many details.

Of course, it is just about impossible to keep anything secret these days. As Miller noted, “Searching” was the subject of a recent “60 Minutes” story by Bob Simon. It was an excellent piece that explained what the film has done to Rodriguez’s legacy and was certain to draw more people to the film. But I was glad I saw the film before I saw “60 Minutes.”

Of course, reviews aren’t the only way that details are revealed. They also are revealed in promos for the films.

Last weekend, I saw the new Ben Affleck flick “Argo” about the CIA invention of a fake movie to be filmed in Iran as cover for the rescue of six Americans who had been hidden in a Canadian Embassy during the hostage crisis more than three decades ago. I attended it without reading the local review.

The movie has been promoted for weeks. The promotions included some of the best lines in the film. Check that. They included all of the best lines in the film that didn’t include the F word.

I wish I hadn’t heard the lines from actors John Goodman and Alan Arkin before I saw the film because they probably would have been funnier to me if I had experienced them for the first time in the theater.

Of course, I knew how the rescue film was going to end because it was based on real events. The least I could have hoped for is the best lines had been saved from the promos.

I still thoroughly enjoyed the movie and highly recommend you see it this weekend if you haven’t already. But the failure to save the best lines was enough to make me almost use the F word leaving the theater.

I hope you don’t have to use that word too often when you read my reviews if I accidentally tell some things that you probably don’t want to know.

Speaking of the movies,  the Buffalo Bills may have lost another one. According to the website Deadline, Paramount has put the proposed Kevin Costner flick “Draft Day,” which is getting a lot of local media attention, in “turnaround,” which means it doesn’t plan to make it any time soon and another studio can grab it. Costner was to play the Bills general manager in the film that was to be directed by Ivan Reitman of “Ghostbusters” fame. According to Deadline, Paramount put it into turnaround because of the busy schedules of Costner and Reitman and it doesn’t necessarily mean it has given up on it.  One of my former students tipped me off to the website story.



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A Debate That “Changed Debates Forever”


Now that was a debate befitting “my people” in Nassau County.

I grew up about five miles from Hofstra University in Hempstead so I know Long Islanders like a good fight.

And the second presidential debate between President Obama and Mitt Romney Tuesday night was all of that and more.

It was a great TV show.

A friend of mine heard ABC analyst George Will call it the best debate in history.

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley said “we never have seen anything like that” and added “this will be the night … Presidential debates were changed forever.”

Pelley continued that the President and Romney were toe-to-toe “in the most rancorous debate ever.”

“The President certainly accomplished what he failed to accomplish in the first debate,” added Pelley.

CBS analyst John Dickerson added that at one point it looked like moderator Candy Crowley “was going to ask them to go outside.”

NBC’s Brian Williams referenced the Robert DeNiro boxing movie “Raging Bull.”

“Liberals can breathe a sigh of relief,” added NBC’s David Gregory. “The President showed up and showed up big time.”

A quick CBS poll had President Obama winning 37 percent to 30 percent, with 33 percent calling it a draw.

A quick CNN poll of an equal number of Democrats and Republicans who watched it had the President winning 46-39 percent.

That verdict was consistent with the analysis on ABC, where Matthew Dowd (who worked for President George W. Bush) and Democrat Donna Brazile declared the President the winner and Republican Nicole Wallace blamed Crowley for giving the President more time. (Fact check: Romney gave the President extra time by asking him questions during his own time.) Brazile quickly noted that Republicans always blame the referees after they lose debates. Good point.

Crowley was no Martha Raddatz but she had a tougher job forcing these heavyweights to follow the rules than Raddatz did in the vice presidential denbate.

President Obama did better in the post-mortems than I expected before the debate. My theory was that the pundits would most likely call it a draw no matter who won. Several did just that, including NBC’s Savannah Guthrie who said there “were good performances by both candidates.”

I thought the President won more decisively on points and style than he was given credit for and that Romney came off as Joe Biden at times by being rude and even holding back a laugh once when he disagreed with what the President was saying. According to the instant reactions of a CNN focus group in Ohio, Romney had seven low moments to the President’s three.

Romney’s best strategy was talking about creating jobs about 12 million times by somehow growing the economy. Smart move. He was instantly fact-checked as wrong by Crowley on what the President said after the attacks a day after the attacks in Benghazi. Dumb move. When the governor tried to score points on a tragedy that cost four American lives, he gave the President an opportunity to illustrate his passion and defend his administration.

The President smartly took the blame for what happened in Libya and said he found Romney’s  suggestion that anyone in his administration would “play politics or mislead” under those tragic circumstances in Libya “offensive.” It was the President’s strongest moment. CNN’s focus group of those undecided voters in Ohio overwhelmingly thought Romney mishandled the Libya question, as did most analysts.

Romney also may have damaged himself with a couple of “Saturday Night Live” moments, including one in which he answered a question about the need for equal pay for women by suggesting that they needed to get home to cook dinner.

In another unintentionally funny moment, Romney asked the President if he had looked at his pension lately. “I don’t look at my pension, it is not as big as yours,” cracked the President, hitting Romney with his massive pocketbook.

I thought the President ate Romney’s lunch frequently after losing his lunch (and perhaps the presidency) in the first debate. If you’re going to take points away from Biden for being too aggressive, then you have to use the same criteria for Romney. The President also won with the instant fact-checkers on most issues.

What does it mean? Who knows? I think NBC’s Chuck Todd said it best.

“We’re headed for a grind-it-out last 22 days,” said Todd.

In other words, don’t bet your pension (if you have one) or dinner on who is going to win the next debate or the November election.


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