Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've Moved This Blog to a New Site

The stilltalkintv blog has been moved to its own site, called stilltalkintv.com

Please visit the new site as new posts will not be on this page.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Cautiously Optimistic About The Big C

Cathy Jamison (Laura Linney) worries about being too boring early in tonight’s 10:30 premiere of the Showtime series dark comedy about a woman dealing with cancer in her own way, “The Big C.”

But have no fear -- this series with the potentially uncomfortable subject matter is never boring. Strained perhaps, but not boring.

That’s largely due to the astonishing, life-affirming performance of Linney, who may be best known around here for the Academy-Award nomination she received for her performance in “The Savages” as the daughter of an elderly man she and her brother brought home to a Buffalo nursing home.

It can be debated whether trying to find comedy from a cancer diagnosis is appropriate – especially by those who have fought the disease or know loved ones who have. I have a very close friend who understandably wouldn’t consider watching the show for that very reason.

But there is no debating that Linney sparkles as Cathy, a tightly-wound schoolteacher whose diagnosis leads her to live life to the fullest and change her behavior with her emotionally-challenged and childish loved ones and strangers.

“The Big C” is another Showtime series starring a big name actress that deals with independent women. But this one is different from Edie Falco’s “Nurse Jackie” and Mary Louise Parker’s “Weeds” in that Linney’s character is much more sympathetic and easier to love.

A Minneapolis school teacher, Cathy is surrounded by an exceptional cast of quirky characters – some would say too quirky -- who are much more interesting than she is on the surface.

Her husband Paul (Oliver Platt, in a role he practically invented) is a child who drives a motor scooter and steadfastly avoids eating onions. Her teenage son Adam (Gabriel Basso) is a spoiled brat and practical joker. Her brother Sean (John Benjamin Hickey) is into liberal causes and eating trash.

The cast also includes a smart-aleck student with a salty tongue, Andrea (Gabourey Sidibe of “Precious” fame); A handsome, caring young doctor played by Reid Scott (“My Boys”); and a contentious neighbor, Marlene (Phyllis Somerville), who has a dog and initially no need for human friendship.

Cathy’s interaction with this group of mostly misfits (except the doctor) leads to the show’s humor. The material isn’t laugh out-loud funny, but symbolically and darkly humorous.

The most troublesome aspect of the first three episodes concerns Cathy’s decision to keep her cancer from her loved ones, who therefore misunderstand and battle her new attitude. However, Cathy’s choice can be viewed as a reflection of her inability to let loose and share things even with those she loves.

Perhaps by the end of the first season’s seven-episode run, Cathy will have come out of her protective shell and realize that sharing can be one of life’s best coping mechanisms.

It also isn’t until the third episode that Cathy expresses any strong anger about having terminal Stage Four melanoma. Until then, she largely deals with the diagnosis in a cheerful, smiling, self-deprecating way that appears to be her primary way of coping.

The series isn’t a tearjerker. Cathy’s actions don’t always make sense and the behavior of her quirky loved ones can become more than a little annoying.

But have no fear of the subject matter. “The Big C” celebrates life with one of America’s greatest actresses.

Rating: 2 and a half stars out of 4


Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Art of Attribution is in Danger

Sunday is usually a day of rest for stilltalkintv but an exception is being made because of the tragic events that led to the shooting deaths of four people after a wedding party in a downtown restaurant.

Here are a few thoughts about the coverage:

* I woke up Sunday morning in time to catch departing Channel 4 “Wake Up” anchor Jericka Duncan (she is going to a Philadelphia station) report that Buffalo police investigators “may have the wrong man in custody.”

A minute or so later, veteran reporter Rich Newberg said “Buffalo police may have arrested the wrong man.”

My immediate thought was whatever happened to attribution?

Channel 4’s reporters appeared to arrive at their conclusions because a relative of a wounded victim said that Keith D. Johnson was the wrong man.

By the end of Channel 4’s story, Newberg reported that Erie County District Attorney Frank A. Sedita III was expected to go to City Court today to ask that the murder charges against Johnson be dropped. (They were dropped this morning).

It made this journalist wonder why Channel 4 didn’t say at the top of the story something like this: “District Attorney Frank Sedita said he expects to ask a City Court judge today to dismiss the charges against a Buffalo man arrested in connection with the shooting deaths of four people.”

Attribution like that certainly is much stronger than just having reporters say the wrong man may have been arrested.

After watching Channel 4’s report, I picked up The Buffalo News story. In the second paragraph, the story said “law enforcement officials said they think they got the wrong man.”

Now that’s the proper attribution. It certainly is more powerful hearing law enforcement officials think they have the wrong man than it is hearing a reporter or a relative of a victim think that.

The second paragraph was followed by a comment from Sedita noting he has “serious reservations about whether we have the right guy here.”

The point is that attribution often seems to be a lost art in journalism. And that’s sad.

* Not to pick on Channel 4, but I found it appalling that its Saturday newscast featured some outrageous online comments from viewers about the story that were read by anchor Joe Arena. One viewer comment claimed Buffalo has become “the murder city” and another viewer comment claimed that Buffalo has become “a war zone.”

If a station is going to allow outrageous comments like that to be made on its air, it should at least give statistics that indicate whether there is any evidence to back them up.

* While I am on the subject of attribution, it is time to address a lighter story about the origin of the word “Fandemonium” in regards to the good old days when the Buffalo Bills were very good.

A Buffalo News story today says that former Buffalo Bills play-by-play man Van Miller “coined” the term.

Sorry, that’s not exactly the case.

According to Bills observers, the word “Fandemonium” was initially coined by former Bills linebacker Darryl Talley and quoted by Buffalo News reporter Gene Warner in a story that ran before Miller said it.

However, Miller should be credited for spreading the word on a subsequent radio broadcast and making the phrase part of Bills history.


Saturday, August 14, 2010

Tasker and Bentley Go Soft on Bills Opening Disaster

Some random thoughts while watching the Buffalo Bills not even reach low expectations in a 42-17 preseason loss to the Washington Redskins Friday night:

* Ex Bills Steve Tasker and Ray Bentley assuredly were a lot softer on the Bills during Channel 7’s telecast than the team’s fans undoubtedly were in their living rooms and area bars.

At game’s end, Bentley noted that there were some “bright spots” for the Bills. He added that 16 injured players on the roster were unavailable and noted the game “was probably not a true test of what the Buffalo Bills will be this season.”

It was hard to immediately see Bentley's “bright spots.” The early field goal drive?

Earlier Tasker noted that the Bills “didn’t stop playing.” So I suppose that could be a “bright spot.”

Hey, they were auditioning for full-time jobs. So why would they stop playing?

Referring to Bills Coach Chan Gailey, Tasker also said “No question this night did not turn out the way he wanted.”

You think?

Tasker and Bentley seemed more like apologists during the game than announcers.

Nobody expects announcers picked by the team to be assassins but a little more honesty would be preferable to their soft criticism. The lead of the game story today in the Buffalo News story written by Allen Wilson was “Ugh” and called Coach Chan Gailey’s debut “a colossal flop.”

Now that's an honest assessment. Just once you wish Tasker or Bentley had stated the obvious, especially when the Bills were down 35-3: The Bills are playing worst than expected and the quarterbacks still don’t have a chance to find any open receivers with backup linemen protecting.

* Some of the graphics during the game made one feel like he was taking an eye test. Last season’s statistics were in such small type that you’d need better than 20-20 eyesight to read them.

* Just got my first text from my older son, who was at the game. By the way, the game wasn’t played in the nation’s capital as you may have read. The Skins now play in Landover, Md., not D.C. Anyway, it is safe to say my son was a little more critical in his text than Tasker and Bentley were during the game.

* Don’t you hate it when announcers immediately side with the officials even when replays make some calls look questionable. Tasker quickly called a Skins reception near the goal line a touchdown before a commercial. After the commercial, Bentley noted the receiver may have been juggling the ball before he crossed the goal line. During the season, it would have been worth a challenge.

* Hey, some actual criticism. Tasker noted that Bills rookie back C.J. Spiller was put in the no-win situation of pass blocking a defensive end and that receiver Lee Evans should have tried harder to break up a pass that was intercepted. Still, it was hard to see what Evans could have done to prevent the interception. Bentley called out rookie linebacker Arthur Moats, who hustles but may have been beaten defensively on a few plays. I say “may” because Tasker wasn’t sure who was supposed to cover a wide open receiver.

* Since the goal of the game is to find players, it would have been nice to hear Tasker or Bentley tell viewers if anyone was playing well for the Bills.

* Here is what I believe to be an announcing first in a preseason game. Tasker talked about Bills fans having “angst” because of the way the team is playing and they are only down 14-3. Never heard "angst" used before in a game. Imagine how much angst there was when the game was 35-3.

* Tasker and Bentley agreed that Gailey kept quarterback Trent Edwards in longer than expected to make him feel more positive rather than sit him after an interception. Bad idea. Things only got worse for Edwards as the game went on.

* Comic relief: With the Bills having a fourth down and about a yard to go, Tasker suggested they go for it with 32 seconds left in the half. Then Bentley pointed out there were several minutes left in the half and Tasker was looking at the play clock. Who could blame Tasker for wanting to make this game end quickly? It would have been a good idea to call it a half then anyway.

* Tasker and Bentley both applauded Gailey’s decision to go for a first down deep in the Bills territory. Neither veteran announcer thought the obvious: The Bills were just trying to draw the Skins offside. It didn’t work.

* Turning philosophical with Bills down 21-3, Tasker said “you think the sky is falling. You forgot there are five more months of football. You’re going to play a lot better than this, you’re going to play a lot different.”

Right after those optimistic words had gotten out of Tasker’s mouth, the Redskins ran back a punt for a touchdown and a 28-3 lead.

A little humor was called for. I could almost hear Bills Nation collectively saying “the sky is falling! The sky is falling!”

“This is not the start (the Bills) had hoped for,” assessed Bentley.

You think?

* It’s the fourth quarter and I suspect I did what many Bills fans did. I put the volume on mute and phoned a Buffalo native who lives out of town and whose first question was: “Why are the Bills so lousy?”

Clearly, the “angst” is spreading out of town.


Friday, August 13, 2010

Murphy, Kelso, Tasker, Bentley Ready to Judge 80 Bills Auditions

Steve Tasker
John Murphy, who is entering his seventh year as the radio play-by-play man of the Buffalo Bills, isn’t buying the idea that interest in this year’s edition of the team is down as it prepares for the preseason opener at 7:30 tonight against the Washington Redskins.

“I know it is fashionable to say ‘I don’t care about the Bills,’ but I think people are interested,” said Murphy this morning. “In all my years covering the team, I’ve never had a year when people weren’t interested in the Bills even in a bad year.”

In a way, all the negative talk about the Bills makes tonight’s game carried on 97 Rock and Channel 7 more interesting.
Murphy views the game as one of 20 Bills games he’ll get to do with analyst Mark Kelso this season – four preseason and 16 regular season games.

“I don’t look at as a preseason game but as one of 20 broadcasts to do our best,” said Murphy.
It won’t be easy tonight. Murphy discussed the difficulty of doing the first preseason game with TV announcer Steve Tasker Thursday while they drove together to the Rochester airport for the team flight to D.C.

“It is not like a regular season game,” said Murphy. “There is no pace, no strategy. It is 80 different auditions going on simultaneously. It makes it tough to broadcast. Steve said it also is tough on the established players because they are playing with young players who believe it is the game of their life.”

But back to the negativity about the Bills. Murphy concedes the Bills have big question marks on the offensive line and at quarterback but wants to see if the defense will go as good against the Skins as it has been in training camp.

“As far as wins and losses, I hope they can win seven games,” said Murphy.

That’s almost double the fashionable nationwide prediction of three or four wins.

Of course, the Bills preseason opener with the Redskins on Channel 7 will be the TV event of the early summer and reduce the radio audience. The ABC affiliate has a 30-minute pre-game show at 7 p.m., followed by the 7:30 p.m. telecast announced by former Bills Tasker and Ray Bentley.

It’s a relatively meaningless game for everyone except new Bills Coach Chan Gailey, the three quarterbacks and several rookies trying to make a good first impression.

But the Bills are the biggest TV draw in this market. Regular season games regularly get ratings in the high 20s and 30s. Preseason ratings carried live can get ratings in the low or high teens, which is double or triple what the top entertainment shows on the networks get here in the summer.

Channel 7 also is carrying next Thursday’s game in Toronto with the Indianapolis Colts at 7:30 p.m., the Aug. 28 home game with the Cincinnati Bengals and Terrell Owens on Aug. 28 (live, if it is sold-out) and the Sept. 2 preseason finale at Detroit.

The Redskins game or the Colts game – which is played on Thursday when potential viewership is higher than it is on Friday -- figures to be the highest-rated of the four.

* Inquiring minds want to know: Who is Christie Witt, the new Traffic Tracker on Channel 2’s “Daybreak”?
She is a 2009 graduate of Medaille College who went on to graduate school at my alma mater, Syracuse University.

On a personal note, she was a former student of mine in a media criticism course I teach at Medaille.
Besides doing the morning traffic reports, Witt also is a web producer at the NBC affiliate.
Considering her relative on-air inexperience, Witt has been quite good delivering her quick early traffic reports and is bound to improve as she puts more TV miles on the road.

* Inquiring minds also want to know who is going to replace Lou Piccone as the radio analyst alongside Paul Peck on University at Buffalo football games this season on WECK?

Jim Kubiak, a former St. Francis High School star quarterback who had a solid career at Navy before playing for the former Buffalo Destroyers of the Arena League, is expected to be announced as UB’s choice shortly. It could happen as early as today. Kubiak is bound to be an improvement on Piccone, a likable personality who provided few insights as an analyst and didn’t seem to realize his role wasn’t that of a cheerleader.

*Speaking of Channel 7, I had to laugh when looking at the 10 most popular items on Channel 7’s “Inside WKBW” website feature. Here is the list: 1. Bridget Blythe 2. Job openings 3. Jennifer Stanonis 4. Laura Gray 5. Ginger Geoffery 6. Joanna Pasceri 7. Kyla Igoe 8. Linda Pellegrino 9. Aaron Mentkowski and 10. Kendra Eaglin.

Do I have to tell you why I laughed? There are eight women on the list and one weatherman. Look at the list and make your own judgment on the order of the women. I wonder how being out of the Top 10 made lead anchor Keith Radford, Mike Randall and Patrick Taney feel.


Thursday, August 12, 2010

Sex and the City Part 3, Batavia Style

This is what I’m thinking on a rainy morning:

Sex and the City, Part 3: The June adultery case involving a Batavia woman ended with a reduced charge and reduced coverage on local television.
The adultery charge gave the story top-of-the-news treatment in June. On Wednesday, local stations dismissed the case against a 41-year-old married Batavia woman, Suzanne M. Corona, in about a minute down a few stories in the newscast after she pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of public lewdness.
Channel 2 and Channel 4 did find time to allow Corona to give a brief post-plea lecture on marriage.
She explained to reporters that she felt the case was “a private matter between husband and wife.” Then she added “everyone has a different type of marriage.”
Yeah, just what viewers need: A marriage lecture from a woman who admits to public lewdness after picnic table activities with an Oakfield man, Justin M. Amend, who earlier pleaded guilty to the same misdemeanor.
Corona had the right to give the lecture. The stations had the right to ignore it and should have done just that. Dr. Phil she is not.
Igoe Ends Streak: When former Channel 2 consumer reporter Mike Igoe (picture above) heads to Zhuhai, China later this month to teach media courses, he’ll end a pretty impressive TV streak.
Igoe said it was the first time he’ll miss being involving in the Jerry Lewis MDA Telethon in 30 years during Labor Day weekend. He had been a host at different stations in Wilkes-Barre, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Buffalo’s Channel’s 2 in that time.
Channel 2 and Channel 4 bragging: You got to love the promotional bragging going on between Channel 2 and Channel 4. Before the news starts, Channel 2 notes it has the best newscast in New York State because a broadcasting organization gave it that award. Of course, Channel 4 brags about being the most-watched news in Western New York. Somehow, Channel 7 hasn’t decided to brag about all the praise that The Toronto Critic (TTC) gave co-anchor Joanna Pasceri in a recent stilltalkintv blog.
Channel 2 to End Paid Programming at 11:30 a.m. Good news for viewers of Channel 2’s 11 a.m. weekday newscast. Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner said the station plans to drop paid programming at 11:30 a.m. weekdays. However, he isn’t ready to say what the station plans to put in its place. One thought: Why not rerun the 11 a.m. news at 11:30 a.m. like cable stations do with a variety of programs so viewers get a second chance to see it?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Shatner's Show is a Piece of You Know What

I had to laugh at the question headline in Tuesday's Buffalo News about the new CBS comedy, “$#*! My Dad Says,” starring William Shatner: “Is Shatner’s new show cursed by its title?”

I laughed harder at the headline than I did while recently watching the pilot that comes from the same writing-producing team behind the longstanding NBC hit “Will & Grace.”

The answer is it isn't cursed by its title. To put it bluntly, it’s cursed because it is a crappy show that should only benefit from the controversy surrounding the title that has been fueled by the conservative Parents Television Council.

The PTC is doing Shatner and CBS a favor to draw attention to this series about a lifelong, gun-toting, thrice married, verbally abusive 72-year-old father named Ed with two sons from different wives.

This being a sitcom, Ed gets an epiphany in the pilot from a gay man behind the counter of a local department of motor vehicles and decides to become a more supportive dad to his younger son.

Shatner isn’t far off from his “Boston Legal” character, Denny Crane. He totes a shotgun, riles against Andy Rooney and says countless inappropriate things that are supposed to be funny because they are said by Wiliiam Shatner, the female version of Betty White (whose late-in-life comedy career also got a boost from "Legal").

Unfortunately, Shatner is machine-gunning painfully unfunny lines rather than sharing clever dialogue with James Spader.

The mildly suggestive title isn’t the only thing that may upset PTC members. Ed’s daughter-in-law, Kathleen (Nicole Sullivan), shouts out she has a “broken vagina,” Ed talks about urinating three times early in this mess and there are an assorted number of sophomoric jokes dealing with bodily functions.

In short, it is a piece of ----.

Hmm. I forgot. I no longer have to be that politically-correct. One of the frustrations of writing for a daily newspaper concerned the dirty language barrier. The clues about the title given in Tuesday's News article are unintentionally, hysterically-funny.

Under one editor, I often couldn’t insert dialogue in my column that was declared suitable by networks for all audiences at 8 p.m. in prime time. It was like newspapers had to live in the old, pre-cable world for fear of offending someone or some organization.

It would have been better if the paper could have labeled my column “mature” for audiences over the age of 12 who have attended a sporting event once in their lives.

If PG-13 language offends you, then stop reading now because I’m about to give the offensive word in the title of the Twitter feed that inspired the best-selling book (listed by the New York Times as “---- My Dad Says”) that led to the TV series. Here goes the actual title: “S-H-*-T My Dad Says.”

OK. I just couldn’t break years of newspaper suppression and use all the initials. But you get the picture.

The PTC needed some historical context to ignore this issue.

Twenty years ago, the big language controversy was over an early line in the CBS comedy, “Uncle Buck,” that was based on the John Candy hit movie.

A very young character said “you suck” early in the pilot. During an interview session in Los Angeles with TV critics before the show premiered, you might have thought the republic was doomed because a kid said something that had become known to mean “you stink.”

The series, which starred Kevin Meaney, went on the air and quickly died because it was lousy. Like “S-H-*T My Dad Says.”

I probably should add that my kids know that I’m much more offended by bad behavior than bad language. I don’t advocate cursing around the house and certainly don’t want my adult children doing it in front of adults because it makes one look classless.

But a curse now and then among friends can be tolerated and practically is inevitable in some loose phone conversations involving sporting events.

Recently, I caught myself before I was about to use a mild expletive when talking to my 17-year-old son Max.

Max got upset with me. Not because I almost cursed – but because I tried to catch myself. He said he used to be in the backseat after his older brother Ben finished high school basketball games and he’d hear an occasional expletive as we replayed the games.

In Max’s view, repressing the curse word meant I wasn’t as comfortable or as close to him as I was to Ben.

So I did what any father would do at that point and told him he shouldn’t give “a sh*t” about that.

Of course, I didn’t say that. Max had me over a barrel because of my longstanding belief that mild expletives between friends and relatives occasionally don’t harm anyone.

I couldn’t win my argument with Max. Just like the PTC can’t win in its battle over the title of this crappy CBS comedy.