Democracy Soup

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Posts Tagged ‘CBS

David Letterman is the bridge between Johnny Carson and the current late night crop

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Johnny Carson asked David Letterman on the “Tonight Show” in 1991, “Can you envision yourself 20 years from now doing your late night show?”

Letterman laughed, making it clear that he had no interest in lasting as long as Johnny Carson’s 30 years in late night.

The fact that Letterman lasted 33 years in late night speaks to two things about David Letterman. He would have been embarassed to say in front of Carson that he had that level of ambition. And Letterman wanted to outlast Carson in general and Jay Leno in the 11:30 pm Eastern time slot.

So if you are a Millennial and wonder if Letterman has gone past his prime, go back to that Johnny Carson episode in 1991. It’s not that Carson is bad, but that the talk show world was different from when Carson started.

David Letterman was that world for that generation. When “Late Night” started in 1982, the TV world centered around Baby Boomers. Late night TV had made a few pushes such as “Saturday Night Live” (thought the original cast had left), “Fridays” on ABC, and SCTV reruns on NBC. Monday-Thursday was the “Tomorrow” show territory but that show had an intellectual audience and had peaked a few years back.

In 1982, David Letterman was late night. Stupid Pet Tricks, The World’s Most Dangerous Band, Viewer Mail, velcro, legendary appearances (sometimes for the wrong reasons) from Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler as well as Crispin Glover.

Letterman would go outside the studio to dispute other NBC shows, national and WNBC-TV, New York. He would drop various items from a rooftop. This was not Carson by a long shot.

Letterman came up with a late night show that emulated Carson and also gave us something new. Letterman had a monologue and a band, but Carson had a longer monologue and a band that was more interested in old music than new music. Ironically, the shorter monologue and smaller band were demands from Carson to differentiate his show from Letterman’s. Turns out that helped Letterman greatly.

Then again, when Letterman had the opportunity to expand the monologue and band at CBS, he did both.

Letterman’s humor might have been too old for Millennials, but his music taste expanded instead of being held back. Carson would never have dreamed about having on what would have been the 1991 equivalent of First Aid Kit.

If Letterman is missing a beat these days, it’s that his style has lost some of its anger, its edge. Unlike the Incredible Hulk, we did like Dave when he was a little angry.

Letterman challenged his guests. Cher, Madonna, and Oprah had issues with that. Bill O’Reilly as well, but for different reasons.

Letterman might not voted for John McCain, but Dave had the presidential candidate on quite often, asking him better questions than his news counterparts. When John McCain blew Letterman off in 2008, and his people discovered the CBS News feed where McCain was on the Evening News, his feisty nature made for beautiful TV.

Letterman was sincerely hurt but recognized in the moment, and this happened while the show was going, that this was comedic gold. When Letterman shouts at the TV monitor, asking McCain if he needs a ride to the airport, the audience bursts into laughter and applause. The situation was legitimately awkward: pinch hit guest Keith Olbermann, in the height of his MSNBC run, looks shaken at what is going on.

In subsequent nights, Letterman went after the joke about being abandoned. Letterman’s efforts were rewarded as McCain went back on the show and admitted to a national audience that he had “screwed up.”

Jon Stewart had McCain on a lot, but after McCain turned the page, the presidential candidate never went on “The Daily Show” ever again. McCain did go back to Letterman.

That exchange with McCain was less than 7 years ago. Carson never had anywhere near that kind of moment in his last 15 years.

During the Jay Leno vs. Conan O’Brien battles, you wanted to watch for Letterman’s reaction. Watching Letterman’s take on Leno made you forget that they used to be friends and that Letterman helped Leno get famous during the Late Night era. But that anger made Letterman funny.

Letterman’s take on General Electric when the company bought NBC was amazing television. That is the major reason why Letterman didn’t get the Tonight Show. But the idea of taking on your bosses spoke to a generation that couldn’t do that in real life but could on TV through Dave.

Letterman’s comedy was about release. Throwing items off a roof to see what would happen when they hit the ground. Full disclosure: we did that in college though inside down the center stairwell in the process of emptying out our refrigerators at the end of the year. We felt the euphoria that Letterman and his audience did on TV.

So as Letterman does his last show tonight on CBS, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, James Corden, Conan O’Brien, and in September, Stephen Colbert will be some of the many choices the current young generation will have to mourn their retirement years down the road.

David Letterman is the bridge between the old time talk shows and the current crop. In Letterman’s NBC show, he would often give credit to Steve Allen — the first “Tonight” show host — for borrowing some of his old bits. Every single major late night talk show host has Letterman to thank and credit for their success.

video credit: YouTube/Johnny Carson


Barack Obama calls for infrastructure fixes 4 years too late

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In 2009, Barack Obama inherited a situation with crumbling infrastructure and a lot of people out of work. In a 2+2=4 world, the logical step would be to take the people out of work and have them build up infrastructure. Even if everyone couldn’t do those skills, there were enough people who could, and if they had jobs, other jobs and businesses wouldn’t have fallen in 2009 and 2010.

In 2009, if CBS or any other broadcast network came out with a show idea about giving someone a job, that could have turned into the next “American Idol” or “The Voice” or “So you think your smart 5th grader has talent.”

In 2013, President Barack Obama, having been elected to a second term, has proposed a “Fix it First” to help rebuild infrastructure. Obama said 70,000 bridges were in need of repair, among countless problems. Jon Stewart thought the bridges were a rather immediate concern.

In 2013, CBS is running a show called “The Job” where they make people go through humiliation for a “dream job” such as being an editorial assistant at Cosmopolitan magazine. As the promo notes — “the employer has all the power” — a rather depressing and not altogether accurate statement.

This feels more about humiliation than help; Stephen Colbert put it best when he labeled the program despertainment.

“And with one hire per show, ‘The Job’ should run for 12.3 million episodes.”

In both cases, the feeling is “too little, way too late.” The difference is that Obama is being sincere and CBS, well, doesn’t look like they really want to help.

Our infrastructure still needs fixing as does our job market. So we can certainly use the help. One bridge and one job at a time is too little, but better than we have had lately.

Getting infrastructure improved and a jobs program requires help from the GOP, and that party isn’t interested. Nor are Republicans game for raising the minimum wage.

Republicans preach about the value of work, yet they aren’t willing to pay for it. The proposed raise to $9/hour wouldn’t be immediate. The minimum wage would go up incrementally over three years to $9. Even then, the minimum wage will be undervalued, worse if someone is a tipped employee.

Liberals joke that the GOP wants the world of “Leave It to Beaver” brought to life. If the minimum wage reflected buying power in 1957, the wage would be well beyond $9 right now.

The United States needs rebuilding, but the GOP doesn’t want to pay for it. Poor people need a raise, but the GOP doesn’t want to pay for it. The GOP wants people to get jobs, but won’t submit any plan to get those jobs.

The good news for the Republicans is that Barack Obama can’t run for president in 2016. So they might as well give Obama the chance to succeed or fail based on his requests. Don’t worry, Obama won’t get as much horrible stuff as you think he will, or anyone else for that matter.

We need help, but the GOP doesn’t want us to get that help. The GOP House controls the House. So as the saying goes, “Lead or get out of the way.”

Will political conventions have to survive on only 3 days?

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Now that political conventions are merely a PR pep rally, will they permanently shrink to 3 days instead of 4?

The Republicans started this trend in 2008, shortening the coronation of John McCain and Sarah Palin to 3 days to honor those who suffered under Hurricane Gustav. The Democratic Party chose in 2012 to not work on Labor Day, a day the Republicans were going to work in 2008 until the adjustment for the hurricane. Now the Republicans aren’t going to work on Monday thanks to Hurricane Isaac.

Of course, the GOP also took Monday off because the major networks weren’t going to cover the RNC since they wanted to give equal time to both conventions. The Republicans wanted the broadcast networks to carry Ann Romney’s speech. So now the wife of the presidential nominee will speak on Tuesday.

This trend wouldn’t have started except the major parties wanted to run their conventions as late as possible. They want the momentum to run as late as possible as people finally pay attention to the presidential race.

One night for the presidential nominee, one night for the vice presidential nominee, one night for the keynote speaker and the rest.

The networks don’t really want to cover the conventions: 3-4 hours is all they want to do. The FCC licenses for public service be damned.

NBC won’t cover the second night of the Democratic convention for the kickoff to the NFL season. The NFL moved its debut game early for the Republicans in 2008 so as not to interrupt John McCain’s speech. The Dems moved Joe Biden’s speech to earlier on Thursday. NBC won’t show Bill Clinton’s speech at the convention. This would be a good time to remind TV stations of the ability to show more than one feed through the digital spectrum, but stations are under using that technology.

Another good reason for the parties to start thinking about earlier starts. If not for the hurricanes, think about the difficulty of competing against the NFL.

As we said during the Olympics, let the games begin!

Katie Couric never got fired for making similar ‘mistake’ to NBC producer fired for editing George Zimmerman phone call

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NBC News fired a producer who edited a call from George Zimmerman to police. The network also mentioned that “several people” involved were disciplined. While the infraction was a serious journalism offense, punishment was dealt and the incident was explained as “a mistake and not a deliberate act to misrepresent the phone call.”

Of course, the intense media scrutiny of the Trayvon Martin case led to people being more interested in the journalism infraction.

Still, this makes what happened to Katie Couric, or rather what didn’t happen to Katie Couric, rather remarkable. Couric made a similar edit in an interview to make presidential candidate John McCain look better. Couric nor anyone else was disciplined much less fired. And this was after Couric’s producer was fired for plagiarism for a first-person story that Couric said was her own, but it wasn’t.

So why wasn’t Couric fired? Disciplined? Fined? Sadly, we don’t know since while CBS News admitted that what Couric did was a violation of its practices, no action was taken.

When Katie Couric worked on the “Today” show and when she pinch-hit on “Good Morning America,” she was on shows that while a part of the news department, they aren’t treated as real news shows. Viewers see “Today” and “Good Morning America” as news. Even though Couric was the managing editor of a Big 3 nightly newscast, her news skills weren’t the reason why she was hired by CBS News.

Sarah Palin was guest-hosting on Katie’s old show “Today” sneaking in her attacks on the lamestream media. Not that Palin wants to be in the same room as Couric ever again, but it would be fun to get Palin’s reaction to Couric helping her running mate at a key point in a presidential contest.

That conversation would be more interesting than anything we got out of Palin and Couric being on the morning shows. But then again, those shows aren’t interested in hard-hitting news.

“Of course, Gupta can’t interview the high-fructose corn syrup people because they need to be protected. Mike Wallace wouldn’t have done it this way.”

We don’t know if Wallace watched last week’s “60 Minutes” but it was his final episode of the program where Wallace made his reputation as a newsman.

Though Wallace got his start in more frivolous forms of TV entertainment, he showed about three generations of TV viewers how to get answers from people who weren’t happy to share them with millions of people.

Gupta’s story on “60 Minutes” was something that would not have passed the muster of Wallace or Don Hewitt. They both would have been horrified at what the NBC producer and Katie Couric did.

American TV Journalism is lesser after Wallace retired, but greater for having had him on the national stage for as long as we have him, RIP. You deserve it.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta embarrasses ’60 Minutes’ in attempt to protect high-fructose corn syrup

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“Is Sugar Toxic” was the question Dr. Sanjay Gupta put to us on “60 Minutes.” Gupta is a doctor, and so the show had him do the segment, but the science and presentation behind the segment left a lot of unanswered questions.

Gupta had very little skepticism for the controversial theory that sugar is toxic, and ignores the idea that high-fructose corn syrup could be the source of said toxicity.

We do get to hear about a significant study on the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup. But more often that not, Gupta paints a picture where HFCS and sugar are the same, yet in the end, sugar only is blamed even though high-fructose corn syrup is still the prevalent sweetener in processed foods.

For more on this story, check out my column on our sister blog,

Katie Couric’s CBS legacy is plagiarism, ethical violations, hypocrisy, and Sarah Palin

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The government may shut down soon, Medicare may go down the tubes, and Glenn Beck is leaving his show, but not Fox. But there was only one story to write about this week: the Katie Couric/CBS era is coming to an end.

It’s no often — or ever — that a nightly news anchor would move on to a syndicated talk show, but this is why Couric was never suited for the CBS Evening News chair. The comparisons ran to Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw, like Couric, former “Today” hosts — and Walters and Brokaw went on to host the evening news. But Walters and Brokaw had a news background and a news sense; Couric never had either one.

Now, I thought this going into the gig — Couric would be a lightweight, wouldn’t be interested in news angles that didn’t involve herself. And these came true. What we hadn’t counted on was flat out plagiarism and ethical violations.

Funny how the tributes to Couric leave that out.

Let’s start with the major ethical violation: Katie Couric substituted a different answer in an interview with John McCain. The different answer was designed to make McCain look better. The policy was a direct violation of CBS News policy and basic journalism decency. But no one was punished, much less fired.

Then, the plagiarism: Katie Couric read essays on the air as if she had written them. She didn’t write any of them, and a producer plagiarized one of them. The producer was fired, but Couric wasn’t punished in any way.

Followed by the hypocrisy: Katie Couric lashed out against sexism in the coverage of the Hillary Clinton campaign, yet Couric had the most prominent sexist line asked of Clinton. Who was the reporter who asked Hillary Clinton, “Someone told me your nickname in school was ‘Miss Frigidaire’. Is that true?” Katie Couric.

And that Clinton interview, outside of the sexism, was horrendous, and interviews are supposed to be Couric’s specialty.

Who earned $15 million a year to languish in 3rd place in the TV news race, yet had to have Bob Schieffer sit at the political desk to help her when she clearly didn’t know what she was doing? Katie Couric.

We should note that Couric’s legacy with CBS does include the Sarah Palin interview. You could argue that Couric got lucky, both with a naive simpleton for an interview subject and that the previous interviews didn’t draw out that much of the subject. Credit where credit is due: Couric pulled off a good interview.

And these are the skills she used on the “Today” show and she will use in her syndicated future. The truth won’t be as important, her ratings might not suffer, and she’ll still be making too much money.

Whoever takes over the CBS Evening News will have to overcome the taint that Couric has given to the program. The legacy of Edwards, Cronkite, and Rather was significantly damaged by Couric. But CBS now has a low threshold that the next person can re-establish some of that credibility. What we know for sure is that CBS can’t do any worse than Katie Couric in the evening news chair.

Censoring ‘Huckleberry Finn’ and other art, if necessary, should be as light as possible

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“Money get back, I’m all right Jack, Keep your hands off my stack. Money, it’s a hit, Don’t give me that Do goody good bullshit.”

— “Money,” Dark Side of the Moon, Pink Floyd, 1973

Depending on which company owns your terrestrial radio station, you might not hear the lyrics as they were intended. If your favorite radio station is owned by a large company (e.g., CBS, Clear Channel), one of the words above will be edited out of the song. We think we can guess which word that would be.

Never mind that the song has been a hit off the record that has spent more time on the charts than any rock and roll record, or that critics consider Dark Side of the Moon to be one of the best rock albums ever, or that the song played uncensored for three decades.

The word in the song was one of many other hit songs in the 1970s that contain profanities: Steve Miller Band’s “Jet Airliner,” Eagles “Life in the Fast Lane.” Those songs get less airplay than “Money” but are subject to similar censorship.

But even in the 30 years that radio played these songs uncensored, censorship was selective. Songs from African-American artists would get censored while songs from white, classic rock artists went uncensored.

This isn’t just in the United States: this most recent story shows how a certain f-word has been deleted from the Dire Straits song “Money for Nothing” for Canadian radio.

Censorship of a different kind is prevalent in the literary world. Adults who read “Huckleberry Finn” can usually deal with the “n-word,” but schools have been reluctant to teach the classic book because of that word. There was a historical context to the word at the time of the story, but obviously, there are different perspectives today than 1885.

NewSouth Books is planning to release a new version of the book that substitutes the “n-word” with “slave.”

When radio stations do censor the word “bullshit,” they usually have a moment of silence to substitute the word. But the word “slave” doesn’t really constitute the meaning. After all, Jim wasn’t a slave in Huckleberry Finn.

In the press, there is some attempt to soothe people who are easily frazzled by “bad language” by substituting dashes or symbols for vowels in a word. So why can’t the “new and improved” Huckleberry Finn be along the lines of “n—-r”?

Large companies started to censor songs from white, classic rock artists not because of some moral issue, but their corporate decisions came down to money.  Oh and one black nipple.

The Janet Jackson Super Bowl incident increased the skittishness of large companies, so art suffered indirectly as a result. The FCC raised fines to ungodly amounts, scaring TV and radio into censorship that would have been allowed in years past. Never mind that the FCC hasn’t punished a single station for playing Pink Floyd’s “Money” as the artists intended it; censorship still reigns.

Book companies aren’t being threatened with financial penalties for publishing Huckleberry Finn. In fact, the word — far more offensive than “bullsh*t” — can be found in books across the country. But using books in the classroom — financial incentives — is why NewSouth is using the adjusted version.

Companies that decide in favor of censorship should be inspired by the doctor’s motto: “First, do no harm.”

Only censor when absolutely necessary, and if doing so, do so in a way that keeps the original intent of the art.

In the case of “Money,” leave the song as is. The word is not sufficiently harmful to the society, especially when no one has really objected to the word in the song. Suddenly censoring it 37 years later because you are afraid of possible being fined, when there is no danger of that actually happening — this does not qualify for censorship.

In the case of “Huckleberry Finn,” leave the word but do so in a way that does not offend — such as n—-r or n*gg*r — to give the reader the impact of the language Twain used at the time, but reflect modern sensibilities.

In a perfect world, we could all but mature enough to handle “delicate” material. But since that won’t happen, less is as good as it will get.

Written by democracysoup

January 14, 2011 at 7:59 am