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Archive for June, 2010

Farewell, Larry King!


Announcing his retirement via twitter by saying he was going to “hang up his suspenders” this fall, the end of an era is finally at hand. Though it wasn’t pretty at the end as over 40% of his audience pretty much disappeared (actually, they died), he leaves a considerable legacy and a tremendous body of work.

I blogged a piece back in April entitled “Who exactly is watching Larry King?” in which using government morbidity statistics, I found the following uncanny correlation:

Could it be – and I swear to you I am not exaggerating here- that his audience is dying? Literally keeling over? I mean 2.4 million Americans die every year. In his key 65-74 demographic, about 400,000 people can be expected to lose their lives on an annual basis. Since last year, King has lost about 570,000 viewers.

But all that doesn’t really have as much to do with Larry himself as it does with the folks at CNN who stubbornly refused to put his show to rest. I suppose it would be hard to blame them considering Larry held that cable network up for decades, raking in hundreds of millions in revenues.

The “debate” he moderated via his show between Vice President Al Gore and Ross Perot in January of 1993 remains the single most watched program in cable history. The list of celebs, politicians, luminaries and victims of scandal who have graced his set reads like a who’s who list of the 20th century.

Larry, the TV guy

My own connection with Larry dates back to the mid 1990’s when I came to CNN to run their radio network. Westwood One’s radio simulcast of Larry’s TV show hit my revenue line and the graph of his radio revenues was an upside down hockey stick; not good. Working with my buddies at Westwood we tried and tried in vain to get Larry to remember that his contract still included this radio simulcast and that maybe he could cut down on the visual references.

The big highlight in that regard was the night during the OJ Simpson murder trial when Larry had a polygraph expert on to determine the veracity of the testimony of Detective Mark Fuhrman. It was an entire hour of looking at spikes and valleys on polygraph charts featuring such scintillating phrases as, “Wow, look at the spike there, you think that means he was lying?” This made for tremendously underwhelming radio, to say the least. The Westwood folks did their best to replace those shows with more radio-friendly evergreens but it was ultimately a losing battle. It was almost as if Larry was purposely leaving the radio part of his life behind with every “watch this clip,” he uttered on his TV show.

I remember this very issue escalated into a knock-down-drag-out between me and Wendy Walker Whitworth, Larry’s long-time Executive Producer. The venerable, then Senior CNN Vice President, Gail Evans, intervened to bring peace to the family. The issue was quickly resolved. Larry got his way and I gave up getting him to acknowledge he still had a radio audience.

Larry, the Radio guy

He did great radio. That’s how he got the TV gig, remember? It helps explain the large radio microphone on his desk. Larry’s overnight show on the Mutual Radio network was really good. I’ll always remember the night John Lennon was shot. I was doing morning-drive newscasts then for a local Washington radio station so I always listened to Larry’s radio show on the way in to work. The program that morning was complete and poignant and totally did justice to the importance of that moment in our lives- I’ll never forget it.

As a TV talk show host, Larry was often ridiculed for throwing softball questions at his guests. I always thought that criticism was unfair. He never pretended to be Edward R. Murrow (Murrow actually did his share of soft celebrity interviews in his time). Larry asked the questions your average folks sitting on the couch watching the show would ask. I would argue that was his appeal in the first place. He was the “everyman” of interviewers.

Thank you Larry

There will be many tributes to Larry King in the weeks ahead and he richly deserves all the kudos he gets for becoming an American icon and mastering his particular style of interviewing. He became a part of our national consciousness. We should be grateful to CNN and to Larry for finally figuring out that his exit was necessary and inevitable. And we should be grateful to Larry for gracing our living rooms for so many years- back when people still watched live TV in their living rooms.

A Taste of Louisville

June 28, 2010 1 comment

Clockwise from upper left: Muhammad Ali, Churchill Downs, The Louisville Slugger, The Hot Brown, The Brown Hotel, Col. Sanders

Spent a portion of the weekend in Louisville, Kentucky attending a Public Radio Station News Directors conference and, really, it was only a drop-in, but it’s an interesting place. A hell of a lot of really important stuff has Louisville connections.

As we were on final approach into Louisville International airport in our tiny but fast jet operated by Chautauqua airlines, I was ideally positioned to see that little race track they have there. The one called Churchill Downs that’s home to the Kentucky Derby. And by the way, it’s only called an international airport because it’s a big hub for United Parcel Service- they don’t actually have any international flights with people on them.

Later that afternoon as I sauntered through town with some friends in the wilting 99 degree heat I ran into Muhammad Ali Boulevard. I had forgotten “Cassius Clay” was from Louisville. In fact, his first nickname was “The Louisville Lip.”

And let’s not forget Col. Sanders. I LOVE original recipe Kentucky Fried Chicken. No, truly, it is one of my great weaknesses in life. Plus- they have the best cole slaw and mashed potatoes ever. Because I happen to never ever be near a KFC but love that stuff so much, to me it was kind of like a religious experience to see the large KFC restaurant in downtown Louisville that has a bigger-than-life-sized statue of the Colonel himself.

Speaking of food, you can’t visit Louisville without eating a “Hot Brown.” Well, you could, but the experience wouldn’t be complete. I stayed at the Brown Hotel, a gorgeous, old, historic hotel where this fine culinary contribution to America was invented. It’s an open faced sandwich with turkey and bacon and tons of melted cheese and it’s so good I’m salivating as I write about it at this very moment.

And, of course, there’s the Louisville slugger. The best baseball bats in America are still made in downtown Louisville. Thanks to a friend’s cell phone camera, there is, somewhere, a photo of me standing, drenched in sweat, in front of the largest replica of a baseball bat in the world- a gigantic 120-foot tall version of the Louisville slugger. These are the bats (the regular-sized ones) that were used by Babe Ruth, Lou Gerhig and Ty Cobb. And 60% of today’s major leaguers.

I did not get to drink bourbon (which I hate) or take in the 4th street collection of clubs (Louisville’s version of Bourbon street). But it was very cool seeing Churchill Downs, and the hometown of Louisville sluggers, Ali and the Colonel. If they could just turn the temperature down a little bit. I love fried chicken but prefer not being fried myself.

Leading With Their Hearts

Photo: AFP

They don’t have to win another game. They have already captured our hearts.

Did you see trading stop on the floor of the New York stock exchange as traders hugged one another? What was the reaction in your office? In mine, the joy was palpable.  High-fives and hugs everywhere as Landon Donovan kicked that rebound into the net in the 91st minute to beat Algeria 1-0 to take the U.S. into the round of 16 in the World Cup.

We are not supposed to care about soccer. But this is not just about a game. Having watched the match again last night, this time on Univision, the Spanish-speaking announcers hit the nail on the head. Noting the American team’s remarkable comeback from a 2-0 deficit against Slovenia in the previous game, the Univision play-by-play team could only talk about what closers the Americans are.

Here’s the rough translation as soon as the final whistle signaled the conclusion of Wednesday’s miracle in South Africa:

The United States, everyone’s team! The United States, the team of the stars and stripes! The United States keeps writing history in the world of futbol! If you are capable of dreaming it you’re capable of achieving it. More than ever the U.S. has shown what you can do when you lead with your heart…when your heart tells you yes while your mind and events seem to say no… in the 91st minute we were witness not just to Donovan’s goal…today we have seen a goal of faith, a goal of hope…we are reminded of the final stanza of the American national anthem…the home of the brave!

Never underestimate the hyperbole and emotion of Univision. But they got it right. This is all about heart; the U.S. squad’s heart and our hearts.  They had me at Goooooooooooooaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaal!

Crazy Hot

I don’t know what the weather’s like where you are, but here in Washington, DC…it is hot.  It is really, really, friggin’ hot.  So hot you realize asphalt has a liquid state.  So hot you break out in a sweat at 7:30am before you even head to work. 

Wait there’s more.   You should know I have outright stolen these from a web site that admitted it stole some of these from other web sites; and they’re all about Arizona but it all works for right here, right now.

     It is SO hot….

  • you learn that a seat belt makes a pretty good branding iron.
  • you can attend any function wearing shorts and a tank top.
  • you discover that it takes only 2 fingers to drive your car.
  • you notice the best parking place is determined by shade instead of distance.
  • hot water now comes out of both taps.

True, not the funniest stuff in the world, but they get points for being  topical.

And now for the photo gallery portion of our presentation.  This picture needs no caption.  The dog is brilliant and lucky he can fit in there:

I thought at first this was a cat, but it’s another hot dog:

 

And I run this photo as a public service:

 

Oh- and one global warming question.  How come when it snows 30 feet in the winter-time, critics of global warming theories giggle and laugh and throw spitballs from the back of the classroom….but when it’s 99 degrees in June, heat-records are falling and August has arrived a full two months early, these critics are nowhere in sight?

Happy August.

Clueless Newsmakers of the Week

 

Frankly, there are quite a few but two that stand out; that make you wonder if they exist in the same universe as the rest of us.  Clueless Wonder awards this week to Texas Republican Congressman, Joe Barton and Washington Redskins defensive lineman, Albert Haynesworth.

 Joe Barton

In the most conspicuous act of political suicide in ages, Congressman Barton, in prepared remarks at the House committee hearing that featured BP CEO, Tony Heyward, yesterday, infamously apologized to the oil giant for having been forced to set up a $20 billion “Slush Fund” by President Obama.

Let’s turn to the Washington Post’s Dana Milbank to give us a play-by-play of Thursday’s bizarre act of political self-destruction:

 “I’m ashamed of what happened in the White House yesterday,” the Texan said of BP’s offer, under pressure from President Obama, to set aside $20 billion to pay damages to Gulf Coast residents ruined by the oil spill. “I think it is a tragedy of the first proportion that a private corporation can be subjected to what I would characterize as a shakedown.”

Heads of the other committee members spun, cartoon-like, in the direction of Barton. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) froze, her coffee cup suspended equidistant between tabletop and lips. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), the panel chairman, scrunched his face and shook his head as though he had just witnessed a bloody wreck.

In a sense, he had. And Barton wasn’t done. The $20 billion BP would pay to those who are now out of work because of the spill is a “slush fund,” he said. Then he did the unthinkable: He apologized to the man whose company is destroying a large piece of the nation. “I apologize,” he said, adding that he doesn’t “want to live in a country” that does such things to poor BP.

There, in front of the cameras, one of the most senior Republicans in the House had suffered an acute attack of Obama Derangement Syndrome. The president had just secured from a British oil company a promise to set aside $20 billion to help devastated Americans — and Barton had sided with the firm that has devastated the Gulf of Mexico.

Turns out Rep. Barton has received more campaign contributions from the oil industry than any other member of the House.  A more loyal friend could not be found.   The man was so clueless about what had just happened that during the lunch recess, as he was on his way to meet with outraged leaders of his own party, he was approached by a reporter who asked if he had any comment to calls for his immediate ouster as the ranking Republican on the energy committee.  From Politico.com:

He said calls for his ouster were “news to me” as he went to meet with Boehner and Cantor. Asked whether he planned to stay in his job, he replied, “Damn straight.”

In the next few minutes he was handed an ultimatum.  Apologize for your apology to BP or you will be stripped of your ranking status on the committee by the end of the afternoon.  

 It is truly remarkable that in about one short 3-minute period, the White House that had looked so feckless and helpless in the oil spill fiasco, that itself, had been so tin-eared and clueless at the outset of one of the worst ecological disasters in American history had been handed such a gift- a Republican villain in the BP Spill story.

Albert Haynesworth

 For those of you who don’t know about this creep, Albert Haynesworth is the highest paid defensive lineman in the NFL, brought in by the Washington Redskins last year and apparently told by owner, Daniel Snyder that he’d be allowed to play the position any way he wanted to.  Fast forward a year and there’s a new coach in town who wants Albert to play a different position as part of what’s called a 3-4 defense.  

He demanded to be traded. He refused to attend voluntary training sessions. The Skins tried to dump his sorry ass but apparently no other team wanted to swallow his bloated salary or a $20 million bonus that was due to him in the Spring.    Coach Mike Shanahan made it clear- if we can’t trade you and you take this $20 million bucks, we expect you to play whatever position we decide. 

He took the money and then refused to show up to mandatory training sessions and this week, reiterated his intent to leave Washington and play elsewhere.

His teammates have turned against him, calling him selfish. The fans, of course, loath him.   He has burned every bridge he had in Washington and now possibly, across the NFL.  And if the Redskins can’t get rid of him, he will remain a cancer on the team for the entire season.

Cut him.  Swallow the losses and cut him.  Let the millions of dollars in losses burn a great big hole in Dan Snyder’s pockets as a lesson to not be such a chump about bringing in high-priced free-agent divas.

Darwinian Theory

It’s called the law of natural selection.  Only the best of a species survive.  Each of this week’s recipients of the Clueless Newsmaker of the Week award has shown their unique talent for self-destruction.  While interesting to watch in the uncomfortable way a gruesome car accident is impossible to ignore, it will be better for the world when these two gentlemen finally succumb to their inevitable fate and become a mere footnote in history.

On Olive Branches and Peace Offerings

June 15, 2010 1 comment

Having had a small spat with a co-worker the other day, I decided to extend an olive branch.  That got me thinking.  Why is the olive branch a peace offering?  Can you plant them and they become olive trees?  What if the person to whom you’re giving the branch, doesn’t like olives?  Where does one find an olive branch?

You can google “olive branches” all day long and never really find out the exact origins of the connection between peace and this ancient agricultural product.  But the connection is real and widespread.

Governments, Bibles and Greek Mythology

Got a dollar handy?  Look at the back of the bill at the Great Seal of the United States.  That’s our mighty eagle there, clutching a batch of arrows in one talon and a branch in the other with thirteen olives and leaves.   The symbolism is inescapable.  We are a gentle, peaceful people who can crush you. 

There are a lot of olive branches in the Bible.  Noah, of Ark fame, was given great hope by a dove he had sent out on a scouting mission to check out if there was any dry land out there.  First time, the dove came back empty-beaked.  Not a good sign.  Flood waters still everywhere.  The second time, the dove comes back with a little something in its mouth; why it’s an olive leaf; signs of life and great hope for Noah and all the critters on the crowded ark.  Third time, the dove does not return, indicating things were dry enough now that the little bird had found a place to live.  But it was the olive leaf that heralded the promise of an end to the great flood.

Zeus liked olives too.  The Greek God wanted to give his new city named Athens to the one of his junior Gods who gave him the best gift.  You would think Poseidon would have been the front-runner having cast down a lightening bolt and brought forth a spring.  Water—hello?  But no.  Athena comes along (and frankly with that name you’d think she might have been disqualified from the contest) and creates the olive tree.  Not just one measly olive branch, mind you.  This is a tree full of them.  Guess who got Athens?

The Long-lived Olive Tree

As for growing olive trees (which is still the best way of finding actual olive branches), my investigation has revealed the following.  You cannot grow an olive tree from the seeds of store-bought olives.  The brine the olives are sitting in has killed the little seeds. 

But you can buy tiny little olive trees from nurseries and even grown them on your balcony.  If you want actual olives, you will have to wait about five years before the tree produces any.

It’s at this point, that I think I discovered what the big deal is about olive branches.  In Mediterranean climates, olive trees can live a thousand years.  A thousand years!  Ten centuries producing fruit and looking pretty.  Now that is one useful plant.  Is there absolutely anything else you can give someone that lasts that long? 

Well, actually there is.  You could give them a container of uranium which depending on whether its uranium 238 or uranium 235 has a half-life of 4.5 billion and 704 million years, respectively.  But giving someone a radioactive present is neither sensible nor appreciated.

In Conclusion

In review, we now know olive trees can live a thousand years.  We know a dove brought back an olive branch to Noah which tipped him off that the great flood was abating.  We know Athena actually invented the olive tree and got herself an entire city for her efforts.  We know the American eagle can either wipe us out with a slew of arrows or offer 13 olives and branches and nestle peacefully at our side.

But here is the true power of the olive branch.  My little office spat was, frankly, not big enough to merit the actual purchase of an olive tree and the attendant branches.  But it should be noted that my mere mention of wishing to offer an olive branch was enough to wipe away all tensions and start us off on a path toward a new era of goodwill and understanding. 

Olives are good in salads too.

The World Cup Drone

(Photo by Matt Dunham/Associated Press)

My father-in-law, after watching a World Cup game Saturday, said “I think there’s something wrong with my TV. There’s a constant static.” No, Ned, do not adjust your set.  Those are the vuvuzela trumpets.

I assume it’s constant because out of a crowd of 100,000- any given 20,000 people have not run out of breath and are blowing their little hearts out. Then when they tire, the next set of 20,000 people take over.

It has not yet sent me over the edge but others are beginning to crack. John Leicester with the Associated Press has pretty much lost it.

JOHANNESBURG (AP) The constant drone of cheap and tuneless plastic horns is killing the atmosphere at the World Cup. Where are the loud choruses of “Oooohhsss” from enthralled crowds when a shot scorches just wide of the goalpost? And the sharp communal intake of breath, the shrill “Aaahhhhss,” when a goalkeeper makes an acrobatic, match-winning save? Or the humorous/moving/offensive football chants and songs? Mostly, they’re being drowned out by the unrelenting water-torture beehive hummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm of South African vuvuzela trumpets. Damn them. They are stripping World Cup 2010 of football’s aural artistry.

The good news for South Africans is that these vuvuzela trumpets generally sell for a dollar but for the World Cup are going for $15. Clearly, someone’s getting rich here, but that’s ok;  a lot of South Africans need this extra cash.

As for Mr. Leicester, upon further review, his entire article seems to reveal an intimate knowledge of British soccer, leading me to believe some of his frustration may be due to that 1-1 tie between England and the United States Saturday.  Frustrating for the English, that is.  Can’t be fun to watch your goalie turn an easy save into a goal for the opposing team, making a fool of himself  like that before hundreds of millions of viewers across the planet.  I suppose if my team had blown it that badly, stuff like never-ending, head-splitting, droning trumpets might very well  add to the level of general irritation.

But they’re not going anywhere- those trumpets. They will keep on blowing. It is not our TV’s that need to be adjusted. It’s we who must adjust. It’s the South African way.  If it gets really bad for you, get in the lotus position, clear your mind, let the drone take you into another state of mind and gently chant “ommmmmmm.”