Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Flipping Channels: Hello Sochi, Goodbye Leno

Posted By on Tue, Feb 4, 2014 at 8:34 AM

It's been a better than anticipated season so far for NBC, despite not being able to overtake CBS for the No. 1 spot among total viewers. They've gotten a huge lift from the NFL, with Sunday Night Football and The Voice helping them post a tiny lead in terms of viewers 18-49.

Now they're hoping to get another boost from the Winter Olympics, whose opening ceremonies air 6:30 p.m. Friday, though the actual broadcasts begin Thursday with team figure skating, snowboarding, and women's moguls freestyle skiing. Numerous events will be shown on not only the main network, but also the NBC Sports Network, MSNBC, CNBC, and USA all the way through the closing ceremonies Feb. 23.

As usual, the bulk of the broadcast coverage will be tape-delayed, but viewers who prefers live action can certainly see plenty of it. The nine-hour time difference between Sochi, Russia and the USA means NBC Sports Network's weekday event coverage will begin at 2 a.m.

Live streaming is being handled by nbcolympics.com and the NBC Sports Live Extra app. A record 1,539 total hours of coverage is scheduled over the various networks. The Today Show is also broadcasting live from Sochi starting Feb. 10.

Leno's exit
Jay Leno's departure from The Tonight Show 10:30 p.m. Thursday (WSMV-Channel 4) after 22 years has gotten the type of coverage usually reserved for departing heads of state or international events.

From extensive newspaper and Internet stories to a 60 Minutes interview, Leno's gotten more favorable attention over the past month than at any time since his return to the hosting job in 2010. That culminated a debacle that included a brief primetime show and Conan O'Brien's eventual departure to TBS.

Things have been much smoother this time around than the intra-network squabbling that went on at the start of his tenure. The lobbying and negotiations that occurred while management was trying to decide between Leno and David Letterman (who eventually left for CBS when he didn't get the job) was chronicled in Bill Carter's best-selling volume The Late Shift.

Leno has praised his successor Jimmy Fallon, whose first night is Feb. 17. He told TV Guide, "This time (being replaced) feels right. You get to a certain age and you're the old guy. For me to be talking about rap music and things, that seems a big silly. Plus, Jimmy is 24 years younger than I am. When I saw him doing duets with Justin Timberlake and things like that — I can't do that. That's not what I do."

One significant change will be the show's billing. The program will now be called The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. A second is the installation of The Roots as the show's new house band. Other possible changes are briefly discussed in a Fallon cover story in the current Vanity Fair.

For whatever it's worth (and to his detractors that's nothing) Leno leaves with The Tonight Show still topping late-night ratings. However Fallon's viewed by the audience, NBC brass expect him to maintain that record.

Ailes well ends, well ...
Weeks before its publication, New York magazine contributor Gabriel Sherman's book The Loudest Voice in the Room: How The Brilliant, Bombastic Roger Ailes Built Fox News — And Divided a Country (Random House) triggered plenty of online reaction and counter-reaction.

Left-wing websites excerpted unfavorable and unflattering segments about Ailes' treatment of female Fox journalists, while right-wing websites claimed liberal bias and distortion in Sherman's approach. David Brock's The Fox Effect: How Roger Ailes Turned a Network Into a Propaganda Machine probably comes closest to what's presented in Sherman's almost 400 pages (plus another 100 of footnotes and source material).

The early sections cover Ailes' days as a producer on The Mike Douglas Show, various theatrical ventures, and into his participation in the campaigns of Richard Nixon and George W.H. Bush. His background as a political operative, coupled with a knowledge of television's power and the appeal of popular entertainment, led to what Sherman deems the Fox News formula: ideology packaged as news and politics as entertainment.

Sherman admires Ailes' media savvy but depicts him as someone whose preoccupation with loyalty inevitably lends to paranoia and abuses of power. He credits him with turning a longshot notion — competition with then cable juggernaut CNN — into cable's top-rated news network and an extremely profitable entity.

For those who have already plowed through four books on Fox News, not to mention the documentary Outfoxed, the best parts of The Loudest Voice in the Room are Ailes' interaction with network stars such as Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity. It's fascinating to read behind-the-scenes details of conflicts and power struggles that have nothing to do with ideology and everything with ego.

I'm not sure either Ailes or Fox has been as potent a force in national politics as Sherman claims, especially since he begins the book chronicling their inability to prevent the re-election of President Obama. But his book comprehensively traces the rise and development of Fox News into a major player in cable circles, and Roger Ailes' larger impact on media and politics.

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