Friday, September 30, 2005

Q: What's the Difference Between the Keystone Cops and OPS Administrators? A: There's a Difference?

We are forced to offer grudging congratulations to WOWT's Brian Mastre for his "where is she now?" piece on the girl suspended by the Omaha Public Schools in 2000 for bringing a pair of safety scissors to North High School, where she was a student at the time.

Mastre's story mirrored our own reaction to news earlier this week that OPS had again overreacted and threatened to severely discipline a 5-year-old for accidentally bringing a butter knife to kindergarten via his bookbag. "Didn't they learn this lesson five years ago?" we kept asking. That seemed to be the jist of Channel 6's story, as well.

Eventually, in the current case, the district backed off, but only after the poor kid's parents brought in high-powered attorney James Martin Davis. It's yet another in a series of ham-handed moves by the state's largest school system.

What makes this incident more amusing—and frightening—is that a district capable of botching a simple case like this wants to foist its bumbling ways on 27 more schools that currently belong to the Millard, Ralston, and Elkhorn school districts.

We have seriously considered starting a spinoff blog called OMA Schools to chronicle the follies of OPS. It seems to us that superintendent John Mackiel's ego is driving much of what goes on at OPS these days, and a balloon that big is just asking to be popped.

Say It's Ain't So, Sarah

We had wanted to believe it wasn't true. But now, having heard it from several reliable sources, we are sad to report the impending departure of KMTV weekend meteorologist Sarah Walters. One source claims she's headed for Phoenix for a TV job there (insert your own Phoenix and hot joke here), while another suggests that she is following her husband to an unknown location due to job transfer.

Walters has been at Channel 3 since 2003, coming to Omaha from Palm Springs, California. As we've noted several times before, she is not only the best thing KM3's weather department has going for it, but she's also the most competent on-air meteorologist in the whole town.

Yes, she's incredibly attractive, but being "easy on the eyes," as they used to say, doesn't get you very far in our book (just ask Andrea McMaster).

No, it was Walters' intelligence and easy manner that won us over. Where others tend to go into hysterics and/or uncontrolled fits of weatherspeak, Walters calmly presents the necessary information and gives us a level-headed sense of how it might (or might not) affect us. Those qualities are rarely seen in TV weather forecasting these days, when most stations are nursing their latest-overhyped-gizmo fetish. Walters has been a breath of fresh air and she will be missed.

Traffic Face

According to the latest info, this will be the new face of KETV's morning traffic reports. If she looks familiar, it's because she is Miss Nebraska USA Jena Murrell.

Murrell will apparently staff an in-studio traffic monitoring station, from which she'll deliver her reports.

Pageant winners have had mixed results in Omaha. Channel 7's Brandi Petersen has emerged as something of a star at the station since being hired right out of college as an on-air reporter, and she has acquitted herself quite well, for the most part.

On the other hand, there is Kara Rovere, a former Miss South Dakota who was an anchor/reporter for WOWT for several years before going to work in public relations. Dubbed (by us, anyway) "The Skeletal Remains of Kara Rovere" for her progressively emaciated appearance, Rovere left us with the impression that South Dakota must not have many thin or attractive girls if hers is the look that wins beauty pageants.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Traffic to Go Getting a Face

A KETV source tells us that adolescent traffic reporter Laura Liggett is a transitional figure. Sometime in the near future, we're told, Channel 7 will add an on-screen personality to tell us how little is happening on local streets and highways.

Morning traffic reports are an interesting topic. For example, we just love it when the Channel 6 morning crew gives us a "live view" of some spot or another on I-80 at 5:35 and there are maybe two cars in sight. Scott Akin or Malorie Maddox, having had all ability to speak spontaneously beaten out of them by a consultant's monotonously repetitive format, will typically assure us that "things are running smoothly," even though it's comically apparent to viewers that there's barely anyone on the road at that hour.

Such moments point out how superfluous 99% of these "reports" are in a market this size. Honestly, even when there's a problem, how much do these updates do to alleviate congestion? Not much, we're guessing.

Then again, in some demented way, we loved the early days of radio station KKAR, when they'd have retired deputy sheriff Chris Saklar driving around in a 1987 Dodge K-Car (get it?) and phoning in traffic updates. What always amazed us was the obscure locations he chose to report on.

"No problems to report here at 39th and Dorcas," he'd say, as if he'd expected it to be a major trouble spot. Somehow, though, he never seemed to notice places like 90th and Dodge or I-80 at 42nd Street. "I'm at 73rd and Izard," he'd beller cheerfully, "and it's smooth sailing this morning." Ahh...those were the days.

So it's with similar anticipation that we await KETV's new on-screen traffic ace. With the exception of about six days a year, there's not gonna be much to report on, so whoever gets the job will have to spend a lot of time making it look like there is. And that, friends, is a recipe for some really idiotic television.

This could be fun.

KETV Lowers the Bar Some More

In an attempt to lure more stupid people to their morning newsblock, Channel 7 has replaced traffic reporter James Lawrence with what sounds like a 14-year-old girl named (we think) Laura Liggett. Whereas Lawrence's reports sounded smooth and professional, Liggett's are punctuated with lots of ums and giggly yammering.

The upshot of bringing her on board, however, is that weatherbimbo Andrea Bredow will now have someone to go to the mall with.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Premature Evacuation

As reported in Sean Weide's Reader column last week, KPTM reporter Cliff Judy has bailed out of the station after less than three months on the job. What would lure him away? Apparently the bright lights of Wichita.

He's not much of a reporter yet (he's only been out of college since May), but give the guy credit for having the sense to get out of 42 before he even had all his boxes unpacked.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Excuse Us, But We Had to Step Out for a Moment

• An unexpected trip to Chicago kept us away from local TV for a few days. The pinheads running Channel 6 should really get to a major market sometime and see how to do things right. For example, how is it that WLS, which has ruled Chicago for years, can put together newscasts that don't rely on repetitive gimmickry and meaningless, overhyped phrases? How is it that their morning show can get by without reading the same stories eight times an hour in the same mind-numbing format?

• Speaking of the Big Six, it occurred to us that it would be really cool to combine meteorolgist Jim Flowers' nearly orgasmic approach to any sort of weather "event" with Husker radio announcer Jim Rose's clearly orgasmic response to just about any on-the-field development. The result would be euphoric screaming to the point of incomprehensibility each time "Hybrid Jim" spotted a hook-echo on the radar screen.

• KETV anchor Rob McCartney was absent from Monday's 5 p.m. newscast. Who the hell thought that Tom Elser would be a suitable substitute? Or did Elser win a bet?

• Also on the Channel 7 front, who saw bumbling anchor Suzanne Deyo this weekend? Are we the only ones who think her helmet of hair makes her look like Fred Flintstone's semi-invisible friend, Gazoo?

• We've decided that Amanda Mueller must've lost a bet at some point. That's the only way we can imagine her ending up at KPTM. Fox42's fetching weekend anchor is far too talented and attractive to be working at that rattle-trap station. Look for her to be moving to another station or another market as soon as her contract is up.

• Our latest strategy for coping with the malodorous appearances of Travis Justice on KMTV newscasts is to hit the mute button and pretend that it's just a commercial, albeit a painfully long one. The problem is that when you take away the Milhous-grows-up voice and the idiotic musings, you're left with just a pudgy, ugly guy in a suit. Memo to Jim McKernan: SAVE YOUR STATION; FIRE THIS TOOL!

• Can WOWT's Gary Smollen sound any less enthused than he did on Monday's 5 p.m. newscast? Would somebody please hold a mirror up to his face and see if he's still breathing? Sweet Mother of Pearl! Listenig to this guy deliver a story is only slightly more exciting than listening to a middle school librarian's lecture on the virtues of the Dewey Decimal System.

• This post is starting to bear an eerie resemblance to the weekly column that Larry King formerly did for USA Today. So we'll stop for now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Swallowing One for the Team

Monday night was Channel 3's turn to recycle a story already done by another local station. In this case, KMTV anchor/reporter Mary Williams (Weeyums, to hear her say it) delved into a subject that WOWT anchor Tracy Madden tackled several weeks ago.

The story involved Creighton Medical Center doctors' ability to have patients swallow a pill-sized camera which then transmits images of said patients' innards. When Madden did the story, she swallowed the pill herself, giving us stunning images of her esophagus.

Weeyums' story looked very similar, with Mary even interviewing the same physician featured in the Madden version.

If you're gonna do the same story, at least try to make it look a little different, for cryin' out loud.

Monday, September 19, 2005

She's Baaack! Omarosa Returns, Frightens Early Risers

A station insider reports that KETV's Elictia Hammond was missing from the morning shift on Thursday and Friday due to an allergic reaction. We don't know what she's allergic to, but whatever it is, we want to get a truckload of it and smear it all over the doors and parking lot of the station.

Referring to our enthusiasm for having Brandi Petersen anchoring in the mornings, the aforementioned insider reports that "we would love to have Brandi opposite John [Oakey]," and that "it would be huge." Ordinarily, we wouldn't read too much into the remark, but having been told by another Channel 7 source several months ago that Hammond is pretty universally despised by her co-workers, we can only assume that our insider feels the same way about her.

So if you hear someone say that Hammond in person is "just like she is on TV," it's not necessarily a compliment.

The Real Power of Television

In addition to being an excellent remembrance of ABC Sports legend Chris Schenkel, this post in one of our favorite blogs gives voice to a feeling that many of us of a certain age are having as the greats of TV past fade into the mists of time. (It's the same feeling we got during last night's Emmy broadcast, first with David Letterman's tribute to Johnny Carson, then with the appearance of Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather, and a huge-screen image of the late Peter Jennings.)

Wide World Narrows [BC Beat]

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Up in the Morning

We don't know why, but Brandi Petersen was anchoring KETV's morning show on Thursday. Regular anchors John Oakey and Elictia Hammond were missing. Getting even one day of relief from the unbearable Hammond is always appreciated, but finding rising star Petersen in her place was an especially nice bonus.

Credit Channel 7 management with at least some smarts when it comes to anchor selection. Petersen seems to be edging out the mechanical Suzanne Deyo as the station's go-to anchor/reporter. Tune in to just about any 10 p.m. 'cast and it's Petersen you'll see reporting the top story live from the 'plex. Similarly, when lead anchor Julie Cornell is off, it's Petersen who's more likely to be sitting next to Rob McCartney.

The situation is just one more humiliation for Deyo, who was pulled as morning anchor after doing a miserable job as the successor to Jill Cordes(now of the Food Network). Having the less experienced Petersen blow by her to become the station's preferred substitute anchor can't be easy to swallow. At some point, you think Deyo would take the hint (or someone would tell her) that, anchoring isn't her strong suit. She lacks the spontanaeity and warmth required of an anchor, and her delivery is wooden, even on a good day.

She is, however, an outstanding reporter—something we've also mentioned previously. Both Deyo and KETV would benefit from having her in a role that takes advantage of her strength.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

So Much for Protected Identities

An alert reader sends us this:

"At 5 p.m., Kathy Sarantos-Niver of KMTV interviewed the girlfriend of the homicide victim from last night. Kathy said "she asked us not to show her face" yet we kept seeing shots of Kathy and the woman standing next to each other. There was one shot of the woman's hands, but the other four times they showed the pair, you could clearly see the woman was a 20-something, brown-haired white woman."

Maybe the thinking is that a couple of glimpses of Sarantos-Niver will be so disconcerting for the audience that no one will remember what the other woman looks like. Or perhaps Kathy's "I-Have-a-Secret" delivery will be construed by viewers to be a vow of secrecy.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Monday Morning Notes

• Based on our comment boards, there's no shortage of speculation about where Kent Pavelka is headed, now that he's no longer hosting the morning show on radio station KFAB. One of the most intriguing suggests that the former Husker play-by-play man might be headed for KMTV. If Channel 3's management decides to pull the plug on the disaster that is sinus sufferer Travis Justice, Pavelka would be a high-impact player who obviously knows sports, but who also did a stint as commentator at Channel 3 a few years back. While we don't have a lot more interest in Pavelka's opinions than in Justice's, anything would be an improvement over Mr. For What? It's Worthless!

• Every time we hear the meteorologists at Channel 3 plug their new "desktop weather tool," we can't help but think the station needs to come up with another way of describing it. As we see it, the term "weather tool" should only be used to describe KETV's mumbling meteorologist Chuck McWilliams.

FirstPrimeNewsWatchLive: Where the Bullshit Never Stops

• As we watched Ned Flanders Jim Flowers prattle through the weather segment recently on Channel 6, we were inspired to compile a list of meaningless phrases and useless add-ons we see on local newscasts. (Most of these have the stink of "Consultant" all over them.) The Big Six probably holds the lead in this arena, as well, but we could be wrong. Here's what we've come up with so far:

Channel 6:
Precision Doppler 6000
Precision Forecast
Precision Forecasters
No-Wait Forecast (or is it No-Weight?)
No-Wait Precision Forecast
Precision Futurecast
Precision Webcast
Weather Where You Live
News Where You Live
Lead-off Sports
Sports Machine
Neighborhood Tracker
6 On Your Side
Our Heartland Children
Sheila Brummer

Channel 7:
Big Red Zone
7 Can Help
7 Can Help Kids
Super Doppler Storm Team
First News

Channel 3:
First Warning
For What It's Worth

Channel 42:
Prime Assignment
Calvert Collins

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Job Change! Job Change! Job Change!

Radio personality and sometime TV pitchman Kent Pavelka completed his final day at radio station KKAR Friday. Come Monday, it'll be the first time in 32 years that the former Husker football and basketball play-by-play man won't be doing a morning radio program.

Our alert tipster reports that "his departure clears the way, contractually, for him to pursue other broadcasting opportunities -- particularly those related to covering University of Nebraska sports." Hmm.

Does this mean he could be heading back to KFAB as well?

So much for taking Friday off.

UPDATE: Pavelka Giving Up KKAR Job [OWH]

Things We've Been Meaning to Post

• KMTV unveiled its new "weather lab" last week. It's an improvement over the old "weather center," if only because the meteorologists no longer appear to be working in a windowed broom closet. The "lab" also appears to have a ceiling that's more than six feet high. (If only they could apply this principle to the rest of 3's claustrophobia-inducing set.)

Perhaps it's just the camera angles, but much of the equipment seems spread out over a large area—kind of like a kitchen where the refrigerator, sink, stove, and dishwasher are placed at 15 foot intervals around the room. Every time the anchors tease an upcoming weather segment, viewers see a shot of whatever-meteorologist-is-on-duty hiking from one gizmo to another. Presumably, during a severe weather event, we'd see three or four of them gathered around a monitor, gesturing and chattering in exaggerated fashion, just as they do in all those promos.

• Are we the only ones praying for someone to lose that annoying Chrysler commercial featuring the petrified Lee Iaccoca and the barely-audible mumblings of droopy-eyed Snoop Dogg? What a pile of shizittle.

Sean Weide's Reader column last week included results of July's barely-noticed sweeps period. Pretty much more of the same; KETV and WOWT continue to battle it out in most dayparts with WOWT winning at 10 p.m., while KMTV runs a distant third, blah, blah, blah. Same song, umpteenth verse. And so the wait continues for Channel 3 GM Jim McKernan to realize that no amount of hyping severe weather coverage can counterbalance the repellent effect of "commentator" Travis Justice, who increasingly resembles Cliff Claven, only with a microphone and bad hairplugs.

Behold the Grueling Four Day Work-Week

FYI, as a rule, OMA News will henceforth publish on Mondays through Thursdays. Except in extraordinary cases, Friday will be part of the weekend as far as we're concerned.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Vacation Mail

During our four weeks away, we received dozens of emails about this, that, and the other.

For example, one alert reader tipped us off to the fact that KPTM's Calvert Collins does not appear to have majored in theology:

On Sunday, July 31st, Calvert Collins of KPTM did a report on a reunion of Boystown alums and noted that Father Flanagan's great grandson was in attendance.

Another fills us in on NTV, which has fed a fair amount of talent into the Omaha TV market:

As shitty as the town of Axtell is, it's in great shape compared to the station. The station sits literally in the middle of a cornfield . . . It looks like a mobile home park. Think Randy Quaid's character from "Christmas Vacation." There is trash all over the outside of the station. From just your run of the mill litter, to satellites and other big equipment that blew over and has never been picked up. . . . The news director at NTV is one of the most incompetent news people in the state (I'm counting Scottsbluff). His main duty is to deliver farm market reports for the morning and noon shows. It consists of verbatum repetition of grain, hog and cattle prices. It lasts for three plus minutes, no matter. And yes your ears will begin to bleed. Here's a sample.

In Grand Island, corn is off 5 cents on the spot price at 4 oh-five, and off 5 cents on the new crop at 4 oh-five. (Long pause) Grand Island wheat is up a nickel on the spot price at 3 oh-seven, (akward pause) down a penny on the new crop at three oh-six...

The station has no over the shoulder graphics (lost those back in early 2004), limited live-shot capabilities. Also a new "used" switcher has been sitting on the floor in master control for almost 9 months, but hasn't been installed.

The pay is terrible at NTV. $8/hr for reporters/photogs/producers, mid-twenties for anchors.

Another implores us to investigate Tracy Madden's dermatological status:

"What are those things on her face? Are they moles? They appear to be covered with makeup, but it's not hiding much. They're very distracting. Like that guy "the Mole" in that Austin Powers movie. It's all you can look at when she's talking. She's making good money, when her next vacation comes up, she should get to a skin doctor and get them taken off on Day One so they'll be healed up by the time she come back."

And then there was a 3,400-word missive from a new reader giving his (or her) take on Omaha's four news-carrying stations. Some highlights:

• KPTM has had the worst newscast since it debuted in 19-- whatever. Even when they run a promo for a story that I might be actually interested in seeing, I cannot bear to watch the whole newscast, or any part of it up until that point, because the production values are so hideous!

• The powers that be at KM3 (hey that rhymed) should pair Peterson up with weekend anchor Sarah Simmons, under the condition that she does something with her hair.

• I do think that it is nice that for Ryan McPike's 21st birthday that they made him Chief Meteorologist. And that his predecessor Mark Lee held the job for him in trust, almost like an uncle who is the overseer of an inheretence, until he reached the age of maturity to do the job. Beyond that there is something kinda off balance about those three (Deb [Ward], Greg [Peterson], and Ryan) sitting on the anchor desk together. It's like Mom and Dad are doing the news, and Jr. is doing the weather.

Travis Justice is the worst TV personality ever. And I use the word personality VERY VERY loosely. He has no tact, no real charisma, no sense of decorum, and he serves no real purpose for being on TV at all. Be it in his commentator role throughout the week, or his sports host gig on Sundays. He has yet to say ANYTHING that I can firmly agree with. He doesn't stir interesting or intelligent debate, and being a former score jockey doesn't really qualify you to be a commentator any way!

•What's with all the black and blue all over the place? The TRON look went out . . . okay the TRON look was never in, but let's do away with the black and blue and hints of red crap!

• KETV . . . I remember the good ole days of NewsWatch 7, Carol Schrader, Michael Scott, Jim Flowers, and John Knicely. I am even old enough to remember John Mooney. . . . We loved Carol. Carol was real people. If a story moved her, Carol would cry on ya. AND WE LOVED THAT! She was to date the most genuine anchor on Omaha TV. Didn't understand the hair, but we forgave that because, dammit it was Carol!

• Then along came Julie and Bill. The Cornell/Randby's out of FL. Julie went from reporter, to substitute anchor, to early morning anchor, to 5pm anchor, to Carol's job, in a 4 year period. And to this day, Julie refuses to show any positive emotion, eventhough she indirectly drove Carol out of her job. Julie and that geek she is paired with each night, Rob McCartney, are two of the most mismatched pair of anchors on TV since Dan Rather and Connie Chung. There is NO chemistry between these two. . . .

Jon Schuetz tries too hard to be funny, and I think after all of these years on the air it is finally time for him to let his Jack Lord haircut go! . . . I prefer John Oakey as a sports anchor, but if he must anchor the news, can he do it alone?

Andrea Breadeux [Bredow], or however you spell that, looks like one of those cartoon characters from the Frosty the Snowman Christmas Special that used to air every year. . . . Chuck McWilliams is a zombie.

• The NewsPlex was fresh and innovative when it was introduced about 10 years ago but it is time for an overhaul. Don't do away with it alltogether, but a new paint scheme and at least a different newsdesk would be nice.

• And tone down the theme music, we know the news is on, but don't kill us with the over the top symphony.

• Finally, saving the best for last, WOWT CH 6 For the Heartland. For as long as I can remember, and I am 31, my family and I have always been Channel 6 News viewers. . . . They always had the best sets, the best anchors, the best reporters. . . . Being the first on the air in Omaha, being the first to broadcast in color, once having Johnny Carson as an employee, and so on . . . now we have gone from all of that . . . . to Shiela Brummer?

• The set that they utilize for the majority of their newscasts . . . looks like they are in the basement of some military bunker, or nuclear reactor. The fake flashing monitors in the background are just DUMB!. . . . The graphics are tired, the fonts are basic, the pace of the newscasts are weak. . . . Brummer looks like a knock off Barbie doll. One of those off brands that you find in the toy department at Walgreen's. She is slightly cock-eyed . . is she smiling or is she being serious? And she doesn't have very good command of the English language.

• Love Dave Webber. . . . I like Courtney Gerrish well enough, but if she is a smoker, and I believe she is, she needs to quit. Because if her voice gets ANY deeper, I am going to start thinking that she is channeling Lucille Ball.

Lucille Ball, eh? Something similar happens to us every time we see Elictia Hammond; we think she's channeling Billie Hayes, the actress who played Witchiepoo on H.R. Pufnstuf.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Patton's Deals with Not-So-Fresh Feeling

KMTV's Devon "Lockjaw" Patton, who co-anchors the weekend news and practices his ventriloquism act simultaneously, gave the "Andrea McMaster treatment" to the name of Omaha's most prestigious all-girl school. In describing a car wash organized by one of its students, Patton pronounced "Duschenne" so that it sounded like douchin.'

There is speculation in this office that later this week, Patton will reveal his new part-time gig as a spokesman for Massengil.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Local Telethon Effort Pulls in a Bundle for Jerry's Kids

Despite high gas prices and the outpouring of support for victims of Hurricane Katrina, the 40th installment of the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon brought in nearly $55 million, a figure that Lewis said was higher than he was expecting. The program was carried locally on KMTV for the 35th consecutive year.

Looking better than he has in nearly five years, a noticeably thinner, more vigorous Lewis hosted roughly eight hours of this year's Muscular Dystrophy Association fundraiser. Lewis shocked many viewers in 2001, when he appeared on the program bloated and barely able to breathe (later revealed to be related to steroid treatments he was undergoing for pulmonary fibrosis). While his breathing appeared to improve in subsequent years, the comedian's weight ballooned from his normal 170 pounds to 250 or more, and he frequently appeared frail and confused.

Not so this year. Reporting that he is down more than 70 pounds from his peak weight, Lewis was more his usual wacky, outspoken self, rattling off facts and figures and razzing celebrities and corporate presenters who came to L.A.'s Beverly Hilton Hotel to be part of the show.

Locally, the telethon raised just over $384,000 in pledges and donations. Anchor Greg Peterson and morning anchor Mary Williams (who's starting to look like Vicki Lawrence) hosted the Omaha cut-ins, with meteorologists Ryan McPike and Charles Thongklin staffing the fishbowl at a west Omaha grocery store during the morning and Sarah Walters taking the afternoon shift.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Staying Up to Watch the Stars Come Out

It's not a local show, but it has aired locally since 1970, and it's worth a moment of our time as we approach the holiday weekend. We're talking, of course, about the Jerry Lewis Labor Day Telethon, this one being Jerry's 40th holiday installment, although he has done countless other non-Labor Day shows going back as far as his days with Dean Martin.

As it has for the past 35 years, KMTV will air the program from Los Angeles' Beverly Hilton Hotel beginning at 7 a.m. Monday and ending at 6 p.m. Greg Peterson and Mary Williams will host the annoying-but-profitable local cutaways. (The telethon itself begins at 8 p.m. CDT on Sunday, but about ten years ago, Omaha's Muscular Dystrophy Association office decided to forego the first 11 hours of the 21+ hour broadcast to maximize its net gain from local pledges. You can catch the first couple of hours live at MDA's website; Superstation WGN from Chicago joins the program at 10 p.m.).

Lewis, who is now 79, has spent less time on the program in recent years due to his own ongoing battle with pulmonary fibrosis. In many ways, it's surprising that Jerry's still alive, much less hosting the show. When he was first stricken with the disease in 2001, his appearance—altered by steroids that caused him to gain close to 100 pounds—shocked many and suggested that he wouldn't be around for Telethon 2002. Given that Jerry's ailment typically kills its victims within five years of onset, such speculation was not unfounded. However, Jerry now appears nearly as healthy as he was prior to the illness, having dropped at least 60 of his unwanted pounds after weaning himself from the steroids. While he moves more slowly than he has in the past, remember that he is closing in on 80 years old.

Like Lewis himself, his telethon has seen its vitality wane in the past decade or two. For one thing, many of the program's orginal mainstays—Sammy Davis, Jr. and Frank Sinatra, to name two—have died or retired.

A second factor is that the broadcast has become more heavily scripted than it was in the early days, when Jerry would regularly find himself with ten or fifteen minutes to fill. Sometimes he'd plunge into the audience with buckets and badger the crowd for money, while at others, with his eyes glazed over from too little sleep and too much Percodan, he'd scold viewers at home for not being forthcoming enough with the pledges his kids needed. In short, you never knew what was going to happen.

As David Letterman once told an interviewer, the program was riveting because it showed us "a volatile guy in a volatile circumstance with no sleep in front of a live Las Vegas audience at two in the morning—you just don't get that kind of excitement anywhere else. "

Now, virtually every minute is filled with corporate sponsors, short videos of dystrophic children and adults, and pre-taped appeals from the sorts of celebrities who, in the old days, would come onstage to talk with Jerry and then deliver their messages.

But the factor that has dissipated the telethon's impact more than any other is cable television.

If you lived in Omaha in the 1970s, your television set offered three options—Channel 3, Channel 6, and Channel 7. (If you count a snowy Channel 10 from Lincoln, or an oddly-hued signal on Channel 26, you had five options.) Except in the case of an enormous news event, none of these stations was on past 1:00 or 1:30 in the morning. So when Labor Day weekend rolled around and there was a chance to see live entertainment from Las Vegas' Sahara Hotel all night long, many of us were only too happy to "Stay Up With Jerry and Watch the Stars Come Out," as Ed McMahon exhorted us to do. (This will be Ed's 38th telethon. As he tells it, he stopped by Manhattan's Americana Hotel—the show's original home—in 1968 to make a short appearance when Lewis asked him to fill in briefly while Lewis took a break. That turned into an hour, then two, three, and, to make a long story short, McMahon has been there as Jerry's sidekick ever since.)

By the mid-80s, however, the television landscape was almost a reverse image of what it had been just a decade earlier. And in 2005, there are few stations that aren't on 24/7. If, like most people, you have cable or satellite service, there are dozens of things to watch at any hour of the day or night. And that's to say nothing of rentable movies and TiVo. In short, television finally caught up with Jerry, and gave us, on a daily basis, what Jerry knew we wanted back in 1966 when he hosted his first Labor Day telethon: non-stop entertainment.

Having raised close to two billion dollars for MDA in 39 previous telethons, Lewis has earned a place among the great humanitarians of our time, whether you like him or not. Indeed, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences will award him an Emmy later this month to recognize his unflagging commitment to the cause.

So if you have a chance on Monday, spend a few minutes with Jerry and Ed. If you watch long enough, you may even glimpse a little of the spontaneity that once made the Jerry Lewis Telethon "must-see TV." As McMahon is likely to say, "even if you miss a little, you'll miss a lot."

Don't Say They Didn't Warn Us

Totally off-topic, we know, but if you want to read an eerily accurate description of the devastation in New Orleans, check out this article from National Geographic's website. What makes it eerie is that it was written last year.

McMaster Defends Her Turf

Signaling that it intends to defend anchor/reporter Andrea McMaster's title as Omaha's expert in stupid reporting, Channel 6 dispatched her to give us the lowdown on "Helping Kids Cope" with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Employing her best robot-like pronunciation, McMaster informed us that it is "im-por-Tunt" to discuss the events in New Orleans with our kids, but that we shouldn't show them pictures of dead bodies and such. (She invoked the i-word at least thrice.)

In her followup ("reporting live," John Knicely continues to parrot), she observed that some younger children may believe that an occurring anew each time it is shown on TV. What she failed to mention was that she very likely suffered from the same misperception until she had to do this story.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Stretching for a Local Angle

Thank God for Joe Jordan. Were it not for the KMTV reporter's amazing investigative skills, no one would have known the awful truth: OMAHA DOES NOT HAVE AN EVACUATION PLAN!

Honest-to-God, this was his story at 5 p.m. today.

Yeah, Joe. When we're hit by that Category 4 hurricane, our elevation inexplicably drops to 20 feet below sea-level, and the storm surge causes levees to fail and flood the entire city, how will we get out of town? Isn't it shocking that authorities have overlooked this?!

Perhaps his greatest display of cluelessness came, however, when he asserted that the snowstorm that hit Omaha in October 1997 gave us "a taste" of what this week's hurricane victims are going through, noting that power was out to some homes here for several days after the snow stopped falling. Hmm. Either we've forgotten the part of the snowstorm that rendered thousands of homes uninhabitable and put Omaha out of commission for a matter of months, or Jordan has failed to grasp the magnitude of what has happened in New Orleans. Both scenarios frighten us.

Who Won't Wear the Ribbon?

Today, a reader (notice the absence of the adjective typically used with this word), sent a comment (accidentally deleted) that said, "Hey Ted, you like to jump on the local stations about uselessness... So where's your link to the Red Cross or Salvation Army for hurricane relief?"

Our feeling is this: if you're too stupid or lazy to type in a URL or Google "Salvation Army," then you're probably one of those idiots who has already shipped a box full of used winter coats and costume jewelry to a Red Cross office in Mississippi or Louisiana. (A friend who covered Hurricane Andrew back in 1992 described to us how Floridians were swamped with some of the most useless—and, frequently, perishable—shit that one can imagine.) We don't want that on our consciences.

Maybe this is just the hay fever medicine talking, but the question we have has to do with how our putting a link to one of these organizations would improve things. To us, doing that would be too much like putting one of those stupid ribbons on your lapel or your fence or your car: it's a feel-good gesture that accomplishes nothing, other than to give the wearer an insufferably smug air of self-satisfaction. It's one of those mindless rituals that seems as if it was devised by some empty-headed elementary teacher to make it look like she's actually doing something, when in reality, she's just trying to keep the kids busy and/or get on the local news.

We are horrifed by the images that are coming out of those states right now. We can't even begin to fathom the hell that those people are going through. We wish we could make it better. But a link here ain't gonna do the trick. So we'll pass.
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