Exec’s TV journey leads to Kabul

Weekly Variety and variety.com
Posted: Sat., Feb. 11, 2012, 4:00am PT

Exec’s TV journey leads to Kabul
Former U.S. station honcho programs in a war zone

By Brian Lowry

Farrell Meisel always dreamed of programming a television network. He just never figured he’d be doing it in a war zone.

Having cut his teeth at local stations in the U.S. — including a stint at WWOR in New Jersey — Meisel embarked on a career in international television two decades ago. Stints all over the globe followed — launching Turner in Moscow, furthering Viacom’s efforts in the Middle East, News Corp.’s in Poland, and setting up Arabic-language channel Alhurra Television.

Now Meisel finds himself in Afghanistan, serving as group CEO of groupOne Media and 1TV, a commercial TV channel. Given the nascent stage of media in the war-torn country, a friend of Meisel’s half-jokingly referred to him as “the Brandon Tartikoff of Kabul” — a nod to the legendary NBC programmer.

For those in media who might occasionally wrestle with the headaches associated with their jobs, the details of Meisel’s gig offer a welcome dose of perspective. Plus, there’s the fairly real threat whatever he achieves with the fledgling network could be erased when the U.S. finally leaves or seriously diminishes its presence, particularly if Afghanistan’s political fortunes turn and the Taliban finds itself back in an expanded position of power.

“It’s a very challenging, sometimes difficult environment,” Meisel says, reflecting a gift for understatement.

Meisel travels with bodyguards, and resides in a protected compound that’s home to other expatriates. As an added security measure, he varies his schedule.

As for the other schedule that preoccupies him — programming 1TV — he refers to it as a “full-fledged operation,” with about 50 hours a week of local shows and the rest acquired from abroad. There’s a version of the quizshow “Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?” but the U.S. presence is muted, with most of the imported dramas coming from Turkey, India, South America and Canada.

“Flashpoint,” a Canadian series about a SWAT team, has proven perhaps unexpectedly popular, though even that presents some issues: Women depicted in such programs must have parts of their bodies pixelated if they’re not modestly dressed. An actress wearing a tank top, for instance, would require some work in the editing suite.

Because of high illiteracy rates, all foreign shows have to be dubbed. But there’s a clear appetite for impartial news and information, including “The Mask,” a series in which women and girls — with their faces somewhat eerily cloaked and covered — provide harrowing tales of personal abuse. There’s even a latenight show, “Sweet Night,” in “The Tonight Show” mode.Of course, popularity is somewhat relative and difficult to gauge. There are no ratings as we know them, and TV reaches only about 40% to 45% of the country. Limits on TV penetration include the ability to afford sets, mountainous terrain and Taliban-controlled areas “where television is frowned upon,” Meisel says. (A competing channel, Tolo TV, airs “Afghan Star,” a hit singing competition that became the subject of an HBO documentary.)

Meisel chatted during one of his periodic visits to the U.S. — a journey that itself takes more than a day to complete. He credits his boss, a young Afghan entrepreneur named Fahim Hashimy — with possessing the foresight that went into establishing the channel, as well as a young staff learning its craft from the ground up. “Everything we’re creating is homegrown,” he says.

Meisel says he initially began looking to reinvent himself professionally because he “didn’t like where local television was headed.” In his travels (one can only imagine the frequent-flyer mileage amassed), he has dealt with frustrating conditions before — introducing the former Soviet Union’s first commercial station was no picnic — and cites a level of satisfaction in serving an area so clearly in need.

If nothing else, Meisel’s story should make anyone Stateside think twice about glibly using TV-scheduling-as-warfare analogies. Still, Meisel insists he’s a poor candidate for a profile in courage, and won’t be the first or last American media exec to brave Afghanistan.

“There is a sense of accomplishment and pride” regarding the work being done, he says. “Yet it is wearying. I’d like to do it in a safer place.”

Contact Brian Lowry at brian.lowry@variety.com

Read the full article at:
http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118050069?refcatid=19

“Television in the Midst of Conflict”

July 21, 2011
O’Globo, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

“Television in the Midst of Conflict”

As CEO of Afghan’s 1TV, Farrell Meisel talks about the difficulties of operating in a country in conflict

By Thais Britto – OGLOBO

RIO – After 15 years working in American TV from New Orleans to Washington, passing through New York, then Farrell Meisel, journalist could have chosen to stay in the country and develop a linear, predictable and fruitful career. But in 1992, he felt he needed a change and applied for a job at Turner Broadcasting System. Six months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the company planned to establish the first commercial TV channel in Russia.

In 1993, Meisel moved to Moscow as head of operations at TV6. Since then, he spent little time in the United States, worked in places like Istanbul, Singapore, Warsaw, London and Bucharest. In 2003, his path turned to countries in conflict. For three years he served as a consultant in the development of Alhurra, a station financed by the U.S. government during the Iraq War in an attempt to “promote democracy and freedom in the Middle East.” Since last year, he has been the CEO of 1TV in Afghanistan.

Last month, Meisel was in Brazil to give a lecture on the challenges of content production in hostile environments. And, by phone, talked exclusively with the magazine about their TV experience.

“Our goal is to give an opportunity for citizens to express themselves. The Afghans do not have a free media. They’ve lived at war for 30 years. In our programs, we seek to address issues that directly affect their lives from women’s rights and freedom of expression,” he explains.

Meisel is the only American on the team of about 300 people working in 1TV. A year on the air, the station is the third most popular in the country and has in his crate an eclectic array of attractions that includes news, variety shows, soap operas, series, talk shows and comedy. According to the journalist, television reaches 40% to 50% of the population, and some programs have achieved very good effect.

One is called “The Mask” and brings to the stage that women have suffered some type of abuse to share their stories:

“The biggest challenge is to help young Afghans understand the importance of free press and not be afraid to speak. This is very new to them. In the case of ‘The Mask’, we want to show women and girls, of course, and men, it is necessary to promote the strength and quality of life of women.”

Recently, a survey showed that Afghanistan is the country with the largest number of crimes against them.

Despite good intentions, the work is not easy. He said his employees face unimaginable complications for professionals who work elsewhere in the world.

“ The country is still at war. Sometimes we face situations such as power loss and lack of fuel. And safety is a major issue. Kabul seems a city of metal, because of the threat of violence. But the general feeling is that things are improving. Of course it is all going very slowly. Developing education and strong trading will take years,” said Meisel.

Link to the original story:

http://www.leitor.com.br/adm/ver_link_brasiltv.asp?veiculo=O%20Globo%20-%20Rio%20de%20Janeiro/RJ&data=17/7/2011&edi=Revista%20da%20TV&pag=15&qtd=1&class=5935&img=..//clientes/brasiltv/h110721_128a.jpg

Valor Economica (Brazilian national business daily newspaper) – Sao Paulo, Brazil 22-24 June 2011 “Media In Afghanistan, the revolution has begun”

Farrell Meisel, an American executive, manages the television network in Kabul, that produces political debates and programs about abused women: “even among young people, many Afghans do not believe in equality, ” says Meisel.

By Diego Viana, São Paulo

Sitting in front of the Studio’s door, the woman waited for the time of the recording. Shrunken against the wall, holding a carton of juice, she cried copiously. When given the time, she stood up and walked into the room to appear on the program “The Mask” (“Niqāb”). Created by Sami Mahdi, 28 years old, a former lawyer, “Niqab” is broadcast by the 1TV channel from Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. Sitting still, behind a blue and white mask that protects their identity and gives them courage, women recount their experiences of domestic abuse within the country.

The importance of these invited guests and the impact of the repertoire of the program, is among the achievements, which American Farrell Meisel, Chief Executive Officer of 1TV is most proud. The channel launched in 2010.
Meisel, who is based in Kabul, just spoke at the 12th Annual Brasil Forum about the experiences in making “television free and open.” With great certainty and a sense of purpose, the executive discusses his experiences in Afghanistan, “working through his first year, and experiencing his first spring in the country” his wife, Vered Kollek, a filmmaker, describes his seriousness, and commitment in Kabul, yet, emphasizes the aspects of life and the risks he is taking surrounding heavy security. “I adapt. I do not go to places that are under alert,” Meisel explained with emphasis.

He started his international career in 1992 after working for years in American broadcasting, when he launched and founded TV6 Moscow, the first private TV station, after the fall of the Soviet Union. The year he made the change saying he was tired of the direction of American TV. “Everything was the same, the market showed no promise and quality greatly diminished.” Since then he has managed channels and media companies in Turkey, Poland and Singapore, among other locations. Then, he launched the Alhurra Television Network (“The Free One” in Arabic), funded by the U.S. Government.” The project paved the way to create more freedom for viewers who were deprived of their rights, from years of Arabic state TV monopolies.

In Afghanistan, Meisel said the initial vision of the channel has come from founder Fahim Hashimy, who is 30 years old. His vision is to unite all the people. Television in the country began in 1974, but was banned by the Taliban from 1996 to 2002. Today, the media is expanding rapidly, with channels created quickly, with nine channels probably viewed out of 20 and radio according to a research report on “Afghan Media 2010”, sponsored by the American USAID (United States Agency for International Development). The annual growth of operators is around 20%.

“He (Fahim) chose the name, Yak, or 1 in Dari (Afghan Farsi), which Fahim wanted, in order to unite the people of the country. Fahim attaches great importance to this mission,” Meisel said. Among the other channels, Tolo-TV is still the leader, but it was founded in 2004. Every country needs competition and multiple voices in a democracy. We produce a variety of uncensored programs. We have cable TV coming from neighboring countries, such as Iran and India and programs are closely monitored and censored by the Ministry of Information and Culture. 1TV broadcasts objective news and investigative programs. In the debates, there is heavy discussion, with no exception. ‘The Mask’ is very well received. However, even many Afghans don’t believe in equality at this point. One of our female presenters of the program was forced to quit because of pressure from her family,” Meisel stated.
The 1TV CEO is committed to public service and wants to see more of these programs. “We want programs that can stimulate, inform and entertain, and we’ll get results”, Meisel said.

There are about 65 channels around now, maybe 25 new ones launched in the last few years. Media advertising expenditure for TV are around $30 million, but those estimates are questionable. Advertisers, according to the USAID study include wireless companies such as the UAE’s Etisalat, government agencies, the U.S. Government, NGO’s and multinational institutions. At 1TV, there are 300 employees. Television and Radio are by far the largest outlets to reach the public – about 40% coverage.

Illiteracy is very high among Afghans – approximately 30% of the nearly 29 million Afghans can’t read – 43% are men, 12% are women. The figures bring out the social role of television and the channel’s mission. The debates and “The Mask,” are defining the channel’s identity, in particular to empower women,” says Mahdi, on the tape projected in the presentation, and he created this with the thought of his mother: “To help women. If I’m helping women, I’m helping my mother, “Mahdi said.

These initiatives are important to the country where regulations and “ad hoc” legal rules are enforced by authorities. “We have to work with many groups, including government ones to improve people’s lives. Yet, people here deserve to have their freedom. It is a process,” said the American executive, who is dedicating his career by entertaining and training Afghans with Western values by using commercial television to reach the masses.

Link to the original Portuguese language article:

http://www.leitor.com.br/adm/ver_link_brasiltv.asp?veiculo=Valor%20Econ%C3%B4mico%20-%20S%C3%A3o%20Paulo/SP&data=24%20a%2026/06/2011&edi=Eu%20e%20Fim%20de%20Semana&pag=23&qtd=1&class=5935&img=..//clientes/brasiltv/n11062459a.jpg

Walter Cronkite

There is a generation that hasn’t known Walter Cronkite. He was forced to leave his post as the Managing Editor and Anchor of the “CBS Evening News” in March, 1981. He later reportedly said, he didn’t really want to go. And we weren’t ready to see him go. But, corporate politics has a way of catching up with even the best.

Much has been said and written since the news broke tonight at 8:42 PDT that Walter had died.

Just a few weeks ago rumors had swirled that he was dying. While the news was not unexpected, it was still a shock when I received the news on my BlackBerry. We’re now receiving the news primarily from new devices and technology, which, by in large is wonderful. However, that has challenged the so-called traditional media, so much so, media companies are in deep financial distress.

Back when Cronkite anchored the “Evening News” from 1962, when it was just a fifteen minute broadcast, until March 6, 1981, we learned of most major news events from television. Radio news in most markets became, what we call “rip and read.” Afternoon papers were dying. In fact, the year that Cronkite retired from the anchor desk, the coveted “The Washington Star,” then owned by Time, Inc., went out of business. Other dailies would soon follow.

Cronkite is a primary reason why we turned to television news. He was calming, trusted and respected the news. He had integrity. You can’t make that up.

Walter  covered every major news story since he reported on WWII for the United Press wire service. He was at the Nuremburg trials, sitting not far from those in Hitler’s inner circle, who were on trial for crimes against humanity. He was one of the first anchors at the CBS station in Washington, D.C. He anchored the political conventions in 1952 and 1956. He even briefly hosted a CBS morning news show with Dick Van Dyke.

When he took over the nightly newscast on CBS in 1962 from another respected journalist, Douglas Edwards, television news was still in its infancy.

CBS defined quality in broadcast news, both on radio and TV. Cronkite led CBS News to new heights as the primary voice. The 1960s and 1970s were difficult decades. Just a year after Cronkite became the anchor of the 15-minute broadcast, and 2 months after CBS expanded the program to 30 minutes, renamed the “CBS Evening News,” President Kennedy was killed in Dallas.

Millions remember Cronkite’s unflappable presence as he took us through the four days in November when we were in grief and shock.

The stories that followed over the years from America’s deepening involvement in Vietnam, Cronkite’s riveting documentary and commentary about America’s presence in ‘Nam, which may be credited for President Lyndon Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election is quite known.

CBS News’ coverage of the U.S. space program is legendary. Its reporting of the Watergate crisis that brought down Richard Nixon’s presidency has not been rivaled in broadcasting. It was “The Washington Post” and CBS News that persevered. Cronkite convinced Egyptian President Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Begin to agree to be on the same broadcast, later prodding President Sadat to make his historic visit to Jerusalem, Israel, which later paved the way to the peace accord between those former enemies.

Like most of my generation, I can remember almost every major event from the early 1960s, much to the credit of Cronkite.

I was in West Gemany in the summers of 1973 and 1974 as university student during the final two years of Nixon’s reign as President. However, via American Forces Radio, I heard Cronkite and Dan Rather reporting on the severity of what we would later learn were the crimes that Nixon and his men committed. We were in unchartered territory. Cronkite made those events understandable and calming when it came time for Nixon to quit, and later during the early months of the Ford Administration. Our Republic did not collapse.  Other than “The Washington Post” and later “The New York Times,” it was the CBS News team that brought the story home to us. Those reporters were some of the finest in our industry: Eric Severeid, Daniel Schorr, Robert Pierpoint, Bob Schieffer, Harry Reasoner, Bernard Shaw, Leslie Stahl, Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Richard C. Hottelot, Bert Quint, among so many others.

The world and the media have changed so dramatically since Walter passed the baton to Dan Rather in 1981. We’re now in a 24/7 news cycle via cable, the Internet and social media. Much of journalism today is defined by rumor and gossip. Witness the hysterical coverage of Michael Jackson’s death. The very worst of broadcasting is on exhibit almost daily. Broadcast and print have pretty much evolved into a caricature.

Tonight, CNN was prepared and devoted its prime time to Cronkite’s career. They mainly carried it well. MSNBC had broadcast at least an hour. Cronkite’s successor, Dan Rather, was seen on “The Rachel Maddow Show,” an MSNBC talk show. FOX all but ignored the evening.

What is more startling is that CBS ignored the loss of Cronkite’s death, as well, other than a ‘program interrupt’, read by Katie Couric, at 8:42pm EDT, (5:42pm PDT during the West Coast re-broadcasts of the network newscasts). CBS chose not to air any special programs tonight.

When asked by “The New York Times” media reporter, Brian Stetler, why CBS did not have any coverage tonight, Sean McManus, the CBS News and Sports President said, “few viewers watch on Fridays; Sunday night spot is much more prominent.”

CBS treated its most-respected treasure (since Edward R. Murrow) as a commodity. It wasn’t the first time. CBS all but banished Cronkite to television Siberia. They did not use his knowledge and expertise during his post-anchor years, much like NBC has wisely called on Tom Brokaw to bring perspective and analysis during big events. Cronkite’s most celebrated post-CBS broadcasts were for CNN and the Discovery cable network.

As “The Washington Post” media reporter Howard Kurtz stated on Facebook and Twitter tonight: “Much of the loss of respect for media since Cronkite is the fault of journalists.”

I hesitated to use Cronkite’s most acclaimed closing signature in this piece, but, McManus’s comment pretty much sums up the state of journalism today.

“And that’s the way it is.”

Good bye, Walter. YOU WILL BE TRULY MISSED.

The British Airways ‘Class’ System

I fly a lot. In fact, I probably have spent more time in the air, then on the ground.

Today, we were flying from Nice to London on British Airways. The aircraft, a Boeing 767, was full. There were several people on the flight we knew. We were coming from Monaco after attending the Monte Carlo TV Festival, where my wife’s movie, “Back Door Channels: The Price of Peace” had its World Premiere. 

The seating configuration was 2 on the left, 2 in the middle and 2 on the right side. We were in the middle section of row 1.

A senior broadcast executive and his wife, a well-known American actress, were to our right. We got to know them during the few days in Monte Carlo at the various receptions hosted by the State Minister (Prime Minister) and H.S.H. Prince Albert, and other fuctions. The executive currently works for a major broadcast network. His chairman, who founded the network, was someone I worked for a few years ago, and a great guy.

Now back to our story. 

As we were awaiting for the doors to close, and to hear those witty comments coming from the flight deck – the British welcoming greetings, details of our 80 minute journey and the weather are always a hit on British flights.

Suddenly, a member of the ground crew walked over and told our friends, “Sorry (the Brits always start with that word), your seats have been moved.” Our friends looked up and stared. They asked why. There was silence. They just HAD to move. 

So, our friends moved from the first row to the fourth row. In the scheme of things, not horrible. But, it was the manner in which the BA staffer insisted.  Then, a man in his mid-40s man, and a woman, with a straw hat, dark glasses , and who appeared to be much older arrived.

It turns out that actress Joan Collins (aged 76) and her fifth husband, Percy Gibson, (according to “Wikipedia”, he’s 44), took over the seats. 

We were told later by a BA stewardess that the former “Dynasty” star and her husband put up a fight at the gate insisting that they sit in the first row. The stewardess said they fly often and they’re very particular. My wife told her that the executive and his wife are well-known. In fact, the actress has starred in two major series on U.S. television, both with wide distribution worldwide. Ironically one of the series is finishing its 7-year run and another one is in its second year.

My point is that BA had no right to abruptly move people just to accommodate Joan Collins and her husband. But, this is how BA treat passengers, who are not in their class of elite. Not my “favourite” airline anymore.

 

 

 

Meeting one of television’s giants

There are few places on our planet more beautiful and relaxing than Monte Carlo, Monaco. The tiny Principality generally has pristine weather, excellent service and wonderful cuisine.

For 49 years, the Monte Carlo Television Festival takes place here.

The Nymph Awards for excellence in television are given each year. It’s also an opportunity for well-known actors and actresses, directors and producers, to be interviewed by the media. Some are here as judges for the Nymph Awards. Others are here to promote their series.

Joe Sargent, who’s a veteran of motion picture and television, is the head of this year’s jury. As television’s history is written, you’ll see his works and think fondly of them. From his early work on “Lassie” to “The Man From U.N.C.L.E.”, the a stunning motion picture thriller, “The Taking of Pelham One, Two, Three” starring Robert Shaw and Walter Matthau, (recently remade with John Travolta), the brilliant “The Man” with James Earl Jones; “Col0ssus: The Forbin Project” (his first feature); to some of television’s finest, “The Marcus-Nelson Murders”, which inspired the “Kojak” series; “Tribes” and “The Night That Panicked America”, Joe Sargent is at the top of the list for producing riveting stories that capture quality along with ratings or box office grosses. His most-recent work for HBO, “Warm Springs,” was another brilliant achievement capturing the struggles and determination of FDR when confronting polio, which afflicted him for 25 years until his death. 

It would be wise for television programmers to take a hard look at the likes of Joe Sargent. It’s not too late to save television – broadcasting and cable, from the too frequent scheduling of senseless drama, comedy and the overabundant use of silly reality shows. Our medium will be better for it, as will our viewers.

The State of the Industry

Like many in the broadcast and media world, I’ve been troubled at the somewhat rapid changes by media owners in order for their TV stations and publications to survive.

What’s even more troubling is the excuse that the current recession is the cause of less paid readers and viewers. This isn’t the case.

For years, television news (both national and local broadcasts) have suffered erosion for many reasons. Yes, there are more channels on cable and satellite. And, we know that younger consumers do not watch or read as much as more mature consumers.

While we are moving more to the Internet and to our smart phones for news, information and recreation, the truth is, the quality of television news and the printed media, has been on the decline for years.

Local news, for example, continues to champion fires, traffic accidents, murders, projecting these stories in a dramatic way with glitzy graphics, sound effects and formats that have become predictable to even the casual viewer. The fact is, with rare occasion, local television news has failed to reach the public with quality, while continuing to accentuate style. It’s the age old debate of quality versus quantity.

The daily paper, the weekly magazine and less frequently published periodicals fell into that trap, as well.

The daily is thinner and not because of the loss of ads. One to two inches of the papers have been cut. Every major paper from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, along with truly local newspapers like the Dallas Morning News, The Arizona Republic (Phoenix) and hundreds of others have chopped the heart out of the papers.

For years, with some exception, the majority of the papers have filled their columns with Associated Press wire copy. In the days before the 24/7 cable news talk channels and the Internet, that would have sufficed. Most papers cannot afford to have correspondents in international and national locales.

Network news is effectively using the video services of the Associated Press and Reuters with voice-overs from their one reporter in London. The networks will air lift a reporter in to a trouble spot and then most of their reporting is commentary.

This didn’t happen overnight. It’s taken years for the bean counters to look at ways to cut the costs, assuming that consumers will come back.

I suspect we will continue to read about more newspapers folding, or shifting most, if not all of their content to the web. The Christian Science Monitor, a niche daily, but an important one with quality in its pages, was the first. The Detroit News and Detroit Free Press will cease home delivery three days a week and shifting their content onto the web.

Now, it’s a matter of survival. The sense of urgency to bring back quality to television news and the newspapers seems to have gone.

The Daily Paper

The daily newspaper is in big trouble. Readership has been down for years. Consumers just aren’t reading. The analysts like to totally place blame for this on younger consumers as they tend not to read or watch the news. The younger consumers we are told get their information via mobile, the web and radio in brief. That is true.

But, have the publishers and analysts dug deeper to look at the product? Simply stated, the daily newspaper today from The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and smaller ones are not as relevant as they once were. Oh sure, let’s blame it on Generation-Y. The papers have been sliced into smaller ones. We’re told, it’s easier for the consumer. It saves trees. By cutting a column or two columns, there is less news because there are less ads.

The Tribune Company of Chicago has filed for Chapter 11. The Journal Register Company, owner of the New Haven (CT) Register is closing some of its weeklies. The company, which manages joint operating agreement (JOA) that governs the Detroit Free Press (Gannett-owned) and The Detroit News (Media News Group-owned) is now publicly discussing the elimination of home delivery except for Thursday, Friday and Sunday mornings.

Media companies are slashing jobs faster than a moyhel can circumsize a seven day old boy.

They’re making the same mistakes that have been made by the broadcast networks, little three auto makers in Detroit and the so-called ‘legacy’ airlines. They’ve chased the consumer away.

Until they find ways to retain the consumer, we’re now going to see papers close down.

Jay Leno Goes Prime Time!

A few years ago, when the network broadcasting system began to show cracks, it would have been unthinkable for one of the three original networks to put a strip show (one that airs nightly) on at 10pm.

But, these are even more trying times today. The network system is broken. It took years, but, with barely 22 hours of original hours for a prime time series, 19 minutes of ads and promos, a larger cable / satellite universe, the Internet, mobile and other entertainment distractions, one of the three networks had to do something.

NBC was put into a very difficult position four years ago when it announced that Jay Leno would step aside next June, 2009 so Conan O’Brien would take over “The Tonight Show”. NBC didn’t want to lose Leno, but there were few options.

NBC’s prime time performance continues to lag. For most of the 1980s and 1990s, NBC dominated. Those days are long gone.

By creating a nightly vehicle in prime time for Jay Leno, NBC keeps Leno from haunting them at another network, (ABC?); it helps the lead-in for the late news on its affiliates, which need a strong lead-in, and the network slashes program development costs. The bottom line is it’s a smart move. Whether the revised format works, is another question. No doubt the program will skew old, but so does most of network television.

NBC changed the rules of the game a bit. It had to.

You want what!

Let’s be clear, as President-elect Obama, often says. The 3 Detroit automakers want more taxpayer money, because they’re running out of the last bailout. If “Detroit” doesn’t get it, GM says they’ll go broke by year’s end. So, what? I’m sorry for the millions of workers that might be connected to GM and the ancillary businesses, but, the truth of the matter is, we would be rewarding the US automakers for producing crap cars. Yes crap cars.

I haven’t owned a US crap car since 1980 after my Cutlass Supreme died on the Niagara Falls bridge. The starter had to be replaced. This is about 6 weeks after the engine died and something else had to be replaced. And this was after I traded in my previous car from Oldsmobile, a sports car, because the starter died. I’ve never looked back. I’ve been more than pleased with Volvos, Hondas and Hyndais along the way.

If they can produce good to great cars efficiently, why can’t Detroit? In the end, I’m sure Congress will find some reason to throw more money at the automakers, but there must be conditions. It’s not a great time to be taking about more retrenchment. But, the issues that confront Detroit didn’t happen over night. They have been stuck in the deep freeze for at least 40 years.