The 2020 T Dog Media Turkey Awards

2020: The Year Of The Turkey

Given a global pandemic, massive unemployment, riots, police brutality, and political division, it’s safe to say 2020 has been one big turkey.

This year has been the ultimate Wheel Of Misfortune, with numerous Bankrupt and Lose A Turn spaces, and several Whammies thrown in for good measure.

So this year’s turkey awards don’t really say much in the way of anything given how 2020 has gone, but the show must go on. Perhaps the best thing is I don’t have use a video application named after a 1970s PBS kids show to hand them out.

But sensibilities must be balanced here. For one, I’ve opted not to award any turkeys regarding the coverage of civil unrest that took place this year, despite some scathing articles on the matter. But one station (WMAQ-TV) did win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement of News Gathering (Spot News) for their civil unrest coverage, and trust me, that’s much, much better.

So here they are – the 15th annual T Dog Media Turkey Awards:

Big 95.5. The moribund country outlet lasted longer than anyone thought, getting excised in September for a Rock format.

NewsNation. Nexstar’s new prime-time news venture over WGN America landed with a thud barely drawing 100,000 viewers a night and a much-ballyhooed interview with President Trump turned out to be a dud. Hey, that rhymes.

WGN-TV News. The addition of music beds during serious stories makes me feel I’m watching A Current Affair or Dateline NBC rather than a legitimate local news program.

WGN Radio. The return of Bill Cunningham to Chicago’s airwaves Sunday nights tells you Sean Compton – a holdover from the disastrous Zell/Michaels era – is still here.

Peanuts Worldwide. The holding company who owns the rights to Peanuts TV product made a deal with Apple TV for streaming rights of their holiday specials. While I have no problem with this, the way they handled it – by making the holiday specials unavailable to linear TV outlets at a time when exclusivity is a thing of the past when it comes to off-network programming – was a major public relations disaster (they later rescinded and made two of those specials available to PBS.)

Marquee Sports Network. The launch of the Cubs’ new network on February 22 was botched completely with some platforms not being able to get the channel the day of launch.

NBC. On October 15, ABC scheduled a town hall with now-President-Elect Joe Biden. So what did NBC do? Schedule a town hall with President Trump at the same time. The loser? The viewing audience and public interest obligations.

Anti-maskers. It’s a freaking global pandemic, put on a mask! It’s not too hard.

Ajit Pai. The FCC Chairman decided among other things, not to get involved in a case about a Puerto Rico station’s TV show about a puppet making racial and homophobic slurs, not to mention his decision to push for the elimination of Section 230, whose general counsel decided they have authority. Pack your bags, Pai – you’re gone come January.

Dan McNeil. His latest gaffe? Making lewd jokes on Twitter about ESPN’s Maria Taylor, which promptly got him fired. Again.

Ellen DeGeneres. Behind-the scenes troubles on her show – racism, bullying, etc. – not to mention her own rude behavior led to an underwhelming apology from Ms. DeGeneres during her season premiere in September. With ratings in freefall, get ready for the Ellen ’22 farewell tour – unless NBC can weasel its way out of its contract.

John Kass. After a bunch of columns which seemed like they were written by nutball Newsmax and One America News Network journalists and fearing his antics would undermine the credibility of the Chicago Tribune, it was off to the opinion section of the newspaper.

30 Rock’s reunion special. The Emmy-winning NBC sitcom’s “reunion special” turned out to be nothing more than an one-hour infomercial for NBCUniversal properties, including theme parks, cable networks, and new streaming service Peacock, leading to over one hundred NBC affiliates pre-empting it.

Chicago Bears. Even a pandemic couldn’t stop a bad Bears team from taking the field, who’ve won so many Turkey Awards during this blog’s duration, they can open a wing at Halas Hall to showcase them along their lone Super Bowl trophy.

The return of Weakest Link, Supermarket Sweep, etc., Look, I like Press Your Luck’s reboot and those of Card Sharks and Match Game. But Weakest Link? Supermarket Sweep? Just please stop because now you’re reaching the bottom of the game show barrel. What’s next, a reboot of Trump Card?

Chicago White Sox. Speaking of reboots, did broadcast network TV executives suddenly take over running the team? How else you explain 76-year old Tony LaRussa’s return to the managerial position?

CBS’ marketing department. Producing promos branding shows as “A CBS Original” set to awful 1970s rock music isn’t exactly going to get the audience to watch your programming.

Amy Jacobson. A wannabe Megyn Kelly (and Lord, we don’t need any more of her) got herself temporarily banned from Gov. Pritzker’s coronavirus press conferences after appearing at a anti-lockdown rally, raising serious conflict of interest issues – something not new to her.

Donald Trump. You thought I forgot about him, didn’t you? Really, there is no explanation needed on why the soon-to-be former President is in this space every year.

2020. I needed a 20th item to round out this list and this year is just perfect.

Have a happy – and safe – Thanksgiving.

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The Media Notepad: WBEZ hires Sasha Anne-Simons as new midday host

Also: Charlie Brown returns; Fox renews syndicated shows; Sinclair to rebrand RSNs after Bally’s

Chicago Public Media’s WBEZ-FM has filled its open midday position. 

Her name is Sasha Anne-Simons and she’ll take over from the since-departed Jenn White on December 14 as host of Reset, which aired weekdays  from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. For the last few months, the spot was filled by Justin Kaufmann on an interim basis. 

Simons hails from WAMU-FM, American University’s public radio station in Washington, D.C. Oddly, WAMU is the place where Jenn White went after she left WBEZ last summer, so I guess you can call this a trade. White now hosts NPR’s 1A from D.C. 

“It is a great honor to host Reset and a huge responsibility I don’t take lightly. I’m excited to make Chicago my new home and to explore the region with curiosity and affection,” said Simons. “I look forward to merging the national conversation with the big stories of the Midwest, while holding those in power accountable. I will meet this remarkable moment in history with empathy, new energy, and the solid journalism that WBEZ has brought to its listeners for decades.”

Simons hails originally from Jamaica and grew up in Toronto and has worked in public media in Rochester before heading to WAMU in 2017. 


Good Grief, Round-Headed Kid it’s a Christmas miracle – in a surprise move, Apple TV Plus announced Wednesday the Peanuts holiday specials that were acquired by the tech giant for their streaming service on an exclusive basis is now being made available to PBS member stations for airing on linear television.

This Sunday, the 1973 classic A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving will air on WTTW and digital subchannel PBS Kids (Channel 11.4) at 6:30 p.m. and both will also play A Charlie Brown Christmas on December 13 in the same time slot. For the first time, both specials will air commercial-free as stations with non-commercial licenses, can’t accept standard TV advertising (but can accept underwriting commercials between shows.)

The specials were standard holiday fare for decades, first at CBS, and later at ABC. But in a shocking move, Apple TV bought the exclusive rights not only to stream but also the linear TV rights resulting in a backlash from viewers, even though the specials were made available on every available home video platform over the years.

Details of this deal weren’t revealed, though this is PBS, so I’m guessing the member stations aren’t paying anything for the specials. There is also no word if this is a one-time airing, as the 1966 Great Pumpkin special did not air on linear this year. Both specials are still slated to stream on Apple TV, and is being made free for viewers for in a three-day window. 

The reversal of Apple’s decision just goes to show you the power of over-the-air broadcast television – even in an era where a wealth of alternatives abound.


Fox has renewed its three syndicated shows through the 2022-23 season: 25 Words Or Less, Divorce Court, and Dish Nation

“We at Fox First Run are so pleased to produce reliably strong, feel good programming for FTS and syndication”, said Stephen Brown, executive vice president of Fox Television Stations. “With shows helmed by Meredith Vieira, Judge Faith Jenkins, Sherri Shepherd and the amazing cast of Dish Nation, plus the upcoming You Bet Your Life with Jay Leno, we anticipate nothing but growth ahead.”

All three shows air locally on the Fox-owned duopoly of WFLD and WPWR and other Fox-owned stations, although a few shows don’t appear on all of them. For example in Detroit, Divorce Court airs on CBS-owned WKBD-TV instead of Fox-owned WJBK. Fox retained the three shows after selling the rest of their syndication portfolio to Disney. 

Ratings for 25 Words have inched upward over last year with a 0.8 national rating in the last Nielsen syndication report, while Divorce Court whose new judge Faith Jenkins replaced Judge Lynn Toler earlier this season earned a 0.6 rating, and Dish Nation has a 0.3. While ratings remain low, these programs fill slots on Fox-owned stations in key daytime and late-night time periods.

Of note regarding Dish Nation, the program now bares little resemblance to when it premiered in 2012 (remember Scott Shannon appearing in the first season?) In addition to adding Sherri Shepard, Dish now features Chicago native and 90’s female rap icon Da Brat and the Real Housewives‘ Porsha Williams, among others. The radio personalities record their segments for Dish exclusively for the show.


In a long overdue move, Sinclair Broadcasting finally announced they were re-branding their 21 regional sports networks – as Bally’s?

Sinclair announced the move as part of a larger deal Wednesday night with the Rhode Island casino conglomerate as sports betting has become the biggest thing since sliced bread if anyone who’ve watched live TV over the last few months have been bombarded with DraftKings, FanDuel, and BetRivers ads. The deal is worth $85 million over a decade, and also gives Sinclair’s Tennis Channel, Stadium, and 191 television stations gambling content as the vast majority of them are affiliated with the Big Four networks who have sports rights. 

Sports gambling is now legal in 25 states, including Illinois and Indiana. 

Both the Marquee Sports Network and Yes are not part of the re-branding deal, but Bally’s gaming content could air on those channels as RSNs to be re-named include Fox Sports Wisconsin, Fox Sports Midwest, and Fox Sports Southwest. There is no word on what the branding would look like, but the Bally name is expected to replace Fox, who once owned the RSNs. So in the future, you may see something like a “Bally’s Sports Midwest” logo when you see St. Louis Cardinals highlights, for example.

The MLB, NBA, and NHL must sign off, as these leagues already have deals with rival sports betting companies.

Bally recently purchased Bet.works and its betting software for $125 million and plans to develop a gambling tool it can use to advertise during game telecasts. Sinclair was already looking for sports gaming companies to partnership with.

Sinclair purchased the 21 RSNs from the Walt Disney Company for $9.6 billion last year but the acquisition hasn’t paid off for Sinclair thus far as the pandemic wiped out sports events last spring and hurt the broadcast company’s bottom line as it was forced to take a $4.2 billion writedown.

Earlier Wednesday, Sinclair announced it named its soon-to-launch three-hour morning headline news show the ever-generic The National Desk, available on the company’s CW and My Network TV affiliates, and its online Stirr platform. The show is being co-anchored by former WFLD news anchor Jan Jeffcoat and is slated for a January premiere.

The original Bally Corp. once had a diversified portfolio filled with properties including casinos, Great America theme parks, pinball and video game manufacturing, and a now-defunct chain of total fitness centers as they spun those properties off over the years to focus on their casino businesses, acquired by Hilton Hotels in 1996 and later spun off to Caesars Entertainment. The Bally name was resurrected this year as casino operator Twin River Holdings bought the rights to use the name from Caesars. 

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Mancow Muller exits WLS-AM; Bruce St. James to replace him

Pandemic, expiring contract forces end of show

[Editor’s Note: This post was updated on November 21 as Muller’s replacement was named on Friday.] 

The last time Mancow Muller found himself out of a job was two and a half years ago when the station he worked for was sold and flipped to a Contemporary Christian music format.

This time, it’s voluntary – Muller announced earlier this week he was exiting his WLS-AM morning gig after just two years as his contract expires at the end of next month, his second tour of duty with the station. 

Beginning December 14, former KTAR/Phoenix host Bruce St. James will take his place. St. James spent ten years as host of the Bonneville-owned station. 

In an interview with Robert Feder who broke the story, Muller felt he was burned out – and the pandemic has only hastened his feelings.

“Much of the enjoyment I had left doing radio has been sucked out of it,” Muller told Feder on Monday. “Alone in an office building with no guests and endless rules is not my idea of a creative process. . . . For me, no interaction has been the radio kiss of death. Talking during this political season and hearing endless tales of woe from my listeners has been radio without joy.”

Since the pandemic started in March, many radio personalities had to work at home or in empty studios in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The pandemic has also wrecked advertising revenues in all media, with radio especially hard hit with numerous radio chains laying off tons of personnel, Cumulus included. Rival chain iHeartMedia has announced a running list of layoffs than began two weeks ago.

The move leaves a hole in WLS’ lineup, a situation which could accelerate as syndicated radio personality Rush Limbaugh has terminal lung cancer as his show’s end is right around the corner. No replacement has been named as Muller exits November 25, though names such as Steve Cochran and Roe Conn have been floated about. In the interim, guest hosts will sit in. 

The move to re-hire Muller – by his old nemesis Marv Nyren was odd. While he was on WLUP-FM in 2017, Muller slapped Nyren with a lawsuit claiming “emotional distress” (the frivolous suit was dropped mere weeks later.) Nyren was Muller’s boss at WKQX when he was fired from the station in 2006, where Muller sued him for libel. Nevertheless, Nyren re-hired Muller anyway to become WLS-AM’s new morning man. 

The infamous “Everybody Loves Mancow” photo I created some years back as his radio sagas became about as laughable as a TV sitcom.

Adding to this was the controversy surrounding him and pastor James McDonald of Harvest Bible Chapel, who sued Cumulus and WLS for libel after Muller aired outtakes of McDonald on his show, as he was accused of embezzling money from the church, among other things. Muller blamed McDonald for tainting his relationship between him and Cumulus, and is threatening to countersue. Muller claims WLS management barred him from talking about the case on the show. 

The Kansas City, Mo. native has worked in radio for over a quarter of a century in a variety of formats in his hometown, Salinas, Calif., and San Francisco, where he earned notoriety for stopping rush hour traffic in order to get a haircut, mimicking then-President Bill Clinton’s haircut at a airport, delaying flights. Muller arrived in Chicago in 1994 to helm WRCX-FM’s morning show and jumped to WKQX four years later in a well-publicized move. Many have criticized Muller for being more or less, a low-budget Howard Stern clone. 

After Muller left WKQX, he moved to WLS-AM with an ill-fated show with Pat Cassidy from 2008 to 2010. His syndicated radio show was carried by WCKG-AM starting in 2011 and added as a daily simulcast by Fox-owned My Network TV affiliate WPWR-TV in 2012, whose ratings were often hash marks – meaning basically a zero rating or the audience was too small to measure by Nielsen. Both were simultaneously canceled in 2014.with WCKG bailing out months earlier

Muller was then hired by the aforementioned WLUP in a rigged morning show “contest” from 2015 to 2018. Since he left WKQX, Mancow was unable to reclaim the popularity he had at the station or at WRCX. His recent stint as a conservative talk show host at WLS didn’t resonate much in the ratings, finishing outside of the top ten.  

So what’s next? While Muller says there’s no joy in radio anymore (that’s for sure), don’t count him out. Once things return to normal – if that’s possible, he might stage yet another radio comeback, despite what he says (because we’ve heard him say this stuff before.) If not, he could consider a run as a Republican (of course) candidate for Illinois governor or Mayor of Chicago, as Muller was seen at numerous “Reopen Illinois” and “Back The Blue” rallies around town in recent months and has regularly blasted local Democrats on his show. Either way, this won’t be the last you’ll hear from Mancow Muller, so don’t pop those champagne bottles just yet. 

I’m keeping mine in the fridge. 

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Spin the Wheel: “Wheel of Fortune” comes to prime-time for first time

Wheel gets first prime-time exposure 

Another syndicated game show is taking a spin in primetime. 

Wheel of Fortune is heading to primetime with a first-ever celebrity edition where it’ll air on Thursday nights starting January 7 on ABC. Those celebrity contestants have a chance to win a million dollars for their favorite charity. 

Sony Pictures Television produces Wheel of Fortune in syndication and is distributed by CBS Television Distribution, who’ll have no involvement with the prime-time version. 

It also marks the first time Wheel has actually aired in prime-time. Since 1983, the show has aired in “prime access” in most markets, the hour designated for local or syndicated programming before prime-time begins (the show DOES NOT air in daytime, as many trade magazines erroneously reported.) The FCC made that declaration in September 1971 and for the first 25 years, disallowed programming – network and off-network (rerun) alike on Big 3 affiliates in the nation’s 50 largest markets – allowing Wheel to rise to prominence to become the highest-rated show in syndication until Judge Judy knocked it off its perch.

With the ABC deal, Wheel now joins a exclusive club of programs to air on all three major commercial networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) including The Price Is Right, Bachelor Father, To Tell The Truth (whose current revival airs in primetime on ABC) and various incarnations of Password. Wheel began in daytime on NBC in 1975 and moved to CBS in 1989 before returning to NBC for a final nine-month run in 1991. 

The move is also perfect given Wheel already airs as a lead-in to prime-time on numerous ABC affiliates and seven ABC-owned stations including WLS-TV, who has aired Wheel at 6:30 p.m. since January 1984. Wheel has aired on O&Os WABC New York and KABC Los Angeles at 7:30 p.m. since 1990 and 1992, respectively. In most eastern and pacific time zone markets, it’s paired with Jeopardy! (also from Sony/CBS) from 7 to 8 p.m. 

Wheel is the latest syndicated game show to get exposure in prime-time on ABC, where the network has had success with Celebrity Family Feud and last January’s Jeopardy! The Greatest Of All Time. ABC obviously plans to make prime-time game shows a near year-around thing, with the revivals of Match Game, Press Your Luck, and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire all doing well. In fact, the number of game shows on prime-time schedules nearly matches those in the 1950s, before the quiz show scandals brought the entire genre down. 

The only syndicated game show not to have exposure in prime-time is Fox’s 25 Words Or Less, whose ratings have increased in season two. 

Sony dealing a celebrity version of Wheel to ABC is also surprising in a way, given Wheel is one of the oldest skewing programs on television – one that doesn’t exactly scream “youth appeal” as much of its audience is 55-plus. Wheel is going to be judged by the 18-49 rating it gets as this is key prime-time demo and the results may not be pretty. But it’s basically a good promotion for an existing show that airs right down the street on your TV grid and could give young viewers a chance to sample the syndicated version. 

And Pat and Vanna need it. Because when you Google Wheel of Fortune, one of the questions that came up is “Is Wheel of Fortune canceled?”  

 

 

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Chicago White Sox return to ESPN 1000

Team returns to WMVP in new three-year deal

After a turbulent last few weeks after the team announced the return of 76-year old Tony LaRussa as manager, the Chicago White Sox announced another retro signing – a return to WMVP-AM, branded as ESPN 1000.

The multi-year deal was originally supposed to be announced Tuesday, but was delayed after a bombshell report was released the same day over LaRussa’s DUI arrest in Arizona earlier this year – his second in a decade.  LaRussa was officially charged on October 28 – one day before the White Sox hired him to replace Rick Renteria, who was fired at the end of the most recent season. It turned out the White Sox knew he was arrested of the offense.

Before the discovery of his most recent DUI arrest, fans and pundits alike mostly criticized the move, given LaRussa was an old-school manager given his past attitudes toward issues such as racial injustice and whether he can manage a team of youngsters who like to express themselves. The revelation of his most recent DUI arrest added more criticism to the pile this week, with Chicago sports fans already antagonized over the way the Bears have played and how management has run the team and you wonder if they need all of this shit in a middle of raging pandemic.

LaRussa was White Sox manager from 1979 to 1986, where he helped the team win a divisional title in 1983 and advanced to the ALCS for the first time in 24 years but were dispatched by the Baltimore Orioles in four. LaRussa went on to win World Series titles with the Oakland A’s (1989) and St. Louis Cardinals (2011).

As for the deal, it marks a return to the now-branded ESPN 1000 for the first time since 2005, when the White Sox last won the World Series as WMVP held the rights for seven years. In 2006, the White Sox jumped to The Score (WSCR-AM) and then an ill-fated deal in 2015 with Cumulus-owned WLS-AM, whose parent filed for bankruptcy and was able to get out of its deal with the team and the Chicago Bulls.

Since the 2018 season, the White Sox had been on WGN-AM – then owned by Tribune Media but was acquired by Nexstar in early 2019 as the company declined to renew the rights. The team and WGN never really clicked, given the radio station was always known to be the home of the crosstown rival Cubs from 1924 until 2014 when the team moved to Entercom’s WBBM-AM and later WSCR.

ESPN 1000’s deal includes the standard pre-game and post-game shows a new year-round weekly magazine show, White Sox Weekly. 

“The White Sox are an extremely entertaining, talented baseball team with an incredibly bright future, and we’re thrilled to partner with them to bring the White Sox to ESPN 1000 fans,” said Mike Thomas, ESPN Chicago market manager in a press release. “We’re dedicated to bringing the best content in Chicago sports to ESPN 1000, and having the Sox back on our airwaves just ensures that we’re making good on that promise.”

The press release did not mention current play-by-play talent Andy Masur and Darrin Jackson, making their future status unknown. Masur replaced long-time voice Ed Farmer, who died earlier this year.

ESPN 1000 is owned by the network, but is managed by suburban Milwaukee-based Good Karma Brands, who took over the station last year.

Editor’s Note: Correct link in third paragraph.

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Documentary “Chicago at the Crossroad” to feature how the end of public hosuing re-shaped the Chicago area

WTTW to air latest Chicago-based documentary Thursday night  

Fresh off the critical success of City So Real comes another documentary about urban life in Chicago – only this time, it deals with even gritter subject matter.

Thursday night, PBS station WTTW is premiering the Emmy-nominated Chicago at the Crossroad, a one-hour documentary about the demolition of public housing in Chicago and how it lead in an increase in violent crime in the Chicago area, especially on the city’s West and South Sides, south suburbs, and Northwest Indiana as those former residents moved into those areas. 

Technically, there is still public housing in Chicago from the Chicago Housing Authority to the Housing Authority of Cook County in the suburbs, and many are for seniors. But the number of units have sharply declined over the years as public high rise projects such as Cabrini-Green and Robert Taylor Homes and projects in suburban Summit, Robbins, and Ford Heights were closed and demolished years ago. Most of those units were never replaced. 

Here’s the logline, from the film’s website:

Chicago at the Crossroad tells the story of a city caught in the violent aftermath of a policy of mass displacement shaded by a long history of segregation. Much is said about the violence that plagues Chicago’s hyper-segregated communities. But what is known about the systems that created them, the laws that isolated them, and the policies that abandoned them? And how does a city heal from the decades of heartbreak and pain? This is that story…

The one-hour documentary premieres Thursday at 8 on WTTW, with encore presentations Sunday at 5 p.m. and Friday morning at 6 a.m. on WTTW’s Prime subchannel 11.2.

The documentary is written, produced, and directed by Brian Schodorf, who is an Emmy-Award winning producer whose company Schodorf Media Creative produced Chicago At The Crossroad. The documentary has already been nominated for seven Chicago/Midwest Chapter Emmy Awards, including for Outstanding Achievement for Documentary Program.

City at the Crossroad is the latest Chicago-based documentary to spotlight the city’s racial segregation and gun violence epidemic to date as the city continues to suffer on the global stage thanks to exposure from right-wing pundits, Fox News, and soon-to-be former President Donald Trump, who constantly bashed the city on the issue every chance he got.

The documentary debuts two weeks after City So Real premiered on NatGeo and Hulu, which covered the 2019 Chicago Mayoral race and unrest after the murder of George Floyd. Since the premiere, the five-hour series has earned critical acclaim with a 93 score on Metacritic and a 96 score on Rotten Tomatoes, earning a Certified Fresh label – all a huge improvement over CNN’s inane Chicagoland in 2014, which was basically an infomercial for then-mayor Rahm Emanuel (I’ll review City So Real here in a few weeks.) Canada’s CBC also featured Chicago’s issues with gun violence and racial segregation in an episode of the now-canceled arts series Interrupt This Program in 2017.

WTTW itself has produced documentaries on Chicago’s gun violence under the banner First Hand, who covered the subject last year and the coronavirus pandemic this year.

Here’s the trailer for Chicago at the Crossroad: The film is also available on Amazon Prime.

 

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Bears slide in standings and ratings

Tennessee Titans linebacker Derick Roberson (50) brings down Chicago Bears quarterback Nick Foles (9) in the second half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 8, 2020, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

But national spotlight games keep on coming

Over the years here at T Dog Media, it seems I’ve written more negative news about the Chicago Bears than positive  – 2006 and 2018 the exceptions, of course.

But in most other years, writing about the team has been an absolute drag – especially the infamous 2014 and 2017 seasons. And despite a 5-1 start, this season is no exception as once again, Chicago’s NFL Lakefront Team® continues to parade idiot after idiot coming in to Halas Hall, from clueless head coaches to incompetent general managers, as Ryan Pace makes Trump’s four-year run in the White House look like a stunning success.

Ok, maybe not.

Then there’s the quarterback situation, as the team hasn’t had a reliable one since I think 1908. So it’s no surprise the team currently has Chicago’s longest championship drought at 35 years, although the way the New York Jets, Detroit Lions, and Miami Dolphins continue to play, having the longest championship drought in sports isn’t likely to commence anytime soon.

At least the Bears win at something.

With that said, Sunday’s game against the Tennessee Titans in Nashville drew a season-low 22.8 household live-plus-same day rating, down 28 percent from last week’s game against the New Orleans Saints at Soldier Field. Both games aired on Fox-owned WFLD-TV. 

To be fair, Sunday’s game aired in a lower HUT level time slot at noon, where ratings are generally lower. But the drop from last week is notably stunning, especially as the team is still over .500. 

But the team’s offensive woes – not to mention the roasting of the team by local media and national pundits, may have turned off a significant part of the fan base. Still, a 22.8 is pretty good, given hardly any other program – sports or non-sports, even came close in the ratings as fragmentation and a heavy dependence on delayed viewing (especially for scripted shows) has eroded live plus same day ratings across the board. Streaming also plays a factor. 

Next week, the Bears are once again on ESPN’s Monday Night Football, against the Minnesota Vikings. But in a surprising last-minute move, ABC-owned WLS-TV – who gets the first right of refusal when it comes to MNF games featuring the Bears and carried the last MNF matchup against the Los Angeles Rams, turned down the game this time around and is airing on CW affiliate WCIU instead, who hasn’t aired a Bears game since 2016 when they were an independent. This tweet sums it up: 

So why do the Bears continue to get plum prime-time and late afternoon slots as the team has been an embarrassment for the most part? Yes, the team has put up some absolutely awful and dreadful and pathetic efforts over the last decade, but the Bears are still a big national draw (or so the NFL thinks), proven when the team actually had a winning season in 2018. And Bears fans are among the most loyal in the league, so ratings are technically never low compared to say, L.A.’s two teams. It’s a reasons why the Giants, Jets, Cowboys, and a few others get these slots, no matter what their record is. 

And don’t forget…like the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry, the Bears-Packers one is the oldest in the NFL and still sells as there has been at least one primetime game since at least 2006. 

Of note on Sunday, the audio went out before halftime (at least for SiriusXM customers), with a least a minute of dead air. Even the radio feed knew this Bears game wasn’t worth salvaging. 

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Media Notepad: WLIT now in Christmas music mode

Meet WLIT’s newest DJ. He’s a seasonal worker. (Credit: Chicago Business Journal)

Also: Fox News wins election night; NBA season to start Dec. 22

IHeartMedia’s WLIT launched its Holly Jolly format (or Christmas music as everyone else calls it) starting at 4 p.m. Friday, and is likely to last through the end of the year. This is the 20th year WLIT has turned its playlist to a Christmas Jukebox, playing Mariah Carey’s very overrated Christmas song ad nauseum. 

“After a year like 2020, we need holiday music more than ever,” said WLIT program director and afternoon personality Mick Lee told Robert Feder. “Listeners can count on us to help spread joy, hope and love across the city as we celebrate 20 years. … We’ll have fun contests, a few new surprises, and of course, the wonderful holiday music.”

While WLIT will dominate ratings for the next two or three surveys, they’ll likely draw those who generally are not regular radio listeners as other stations have held up well during this period. In other words, don’t expect a lot of drain from other radio outlets as the format tends to skew female and older – a lock WLIT already has on the market as an Adult Contemporary station. WLIT is expected to generate significant revenue during the 4th quarter and it’s especially important this year as radio stations’ finances – and other media platforms, were hammered by the pandemic. 

The news has already generated significant mainstream media coverage from the Chicago Tribune to local news stations. 

Many radio stations have already flipped to Christmas, even before Halloween started. Already, WLIT’s sister station KOST-FM in Los Angeles flipped Thursday. 

One station to potentially flip…the recently-launched Trump Country 93.7 in Ft. Myers, Fla. With Joe Biden beating Donald Trump to become the 46th President of the United States (I’ll have more on this in a future post on how a Biden administration impacts the media business), WCFF will likely be Christmas Country 93.7 very soon (and it doesn’t necessarily have to be Christmas country music.) 


Even though the Presidential race wasn’t decided on Tuesday night, there was no disputing who is the winner was as Fox News topped the charts election night, drawing a record 13.7 million viewers with 5 million of them in the key 25-54 demo. The others are as follows: CNN (9.1 million); MSNBC (7.3); ABC News (6.1); NBC News (5.6); and CBS News (4.5) 

Both CNBC and WGN America each turned in a tepid performance with their new ventures. CNBC drew only 127,000 viewers for its coverage anchored by Shepard Smith, while WGN America’s NewsNation could only muster 95,000

Other networks with coverage include Univision, Telemundo, NewsMax, OANN, Fox Business, and Black News Channel among others. In total 21 networks had some form of election coverage.

Overall, 56.9 million viewers tuned in for election night – but surprisingly down from 71.1 million viewers from 2016, suggesting many others were streaming. 

Locally, WGN-TV aired election coverage from 7 p.m. to approximately 2 a.m. 

Really not much to say about coverage, other than ABC News’ programming with Chris Christie and Rahm Emanuel was absolutely the worst, while I saw no need for all those political analysts at WGN. On the flipside, CNN’s John King and MSNBC’s Steve Kornacki breaking down the counties and how they voted by using a touchscreen was absolutely masterful. Tuesday also marked the final appearance of Carol Marin as a political analyst at NBC-owned WMAQ-TV (and Thursday at WTTW’s Chicago Tonight), as she is steeping down to focus more time as a journalism professor at DePaul University. She will definitely be missed. 

The Jussie Smollett case did not play any role in the Cook County State Attorney’s race as Democrat Kim Foxx won a second term, although Republican challenger Pat O’Brien did manage to nab about 40 percent of the vote. Even though Smollett drew worldwide headlines early last year for what many now say is a hoax and Foxx’s fumbling of the case after deciding to drop all charges, Smollett faded from the headlines and did not impact the election. 


In what can be described as good news for ailing regional sports networks, the NBA and its players union have struck a deal to start a shortened 72-game season on December 22. Details are yet to be worked out. 

So far, it is not known what kind of Covid protocols the NBA would take, and it would depend greatly on how local government in each city would decide how many fans would be allowed in arenas. The NBA suspended its season in March like every other sports league, and resumed play in a bubble in Orlando. For the Toronto Raptors, they could play in Buffalo -similar to the Blue Jays did with the Canadian border closed to most travelers due to the pandemic. Both cities are separated by Lake Ontario and some broadcast TV and radio stations can be received in each other’s markets.

The news is great for RSNs, who’ve been struggling without sporting events. In Chicago, it affected both NBC Sports Chicago and Marquee Sports Network, as both were able to benefit from a 60-game MLB schedule. It was revealed this week Sinclair – who is a part-owner of Marquee with the Chicago Cubs, took a expensive, $4 billion writedown of its acquisition of 21 RSNs. Sinclair recently lost carriage on Hulu + Live TV, and failed to strike a deal with YouTube TV. 

As for the NBA, ratings for this year’s delayed-until-October finals between the 2020 champion Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat were the lowest ever, as were those for the World Series and Stanley Cup Finals as the games faced tough competition from cable news networks in an election year and cannibalizing off one another as many of these events were scheduled at the same time. Also an issue was the social justice protests that alienated many conservative viewers. 

As for the NHL, the league is planning a January 1 start date for the start of the 2020-21 season. 

NBC Sports Chicago is home to the Chicago Bulls, Blackhawks, and White Sox. 

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“Jeopardy!” host Alex Trebek dies

Iconic game show host dies at 80 after a battle with pancreatic cancer for the last 20 months

Fans are mourning the loss of beloved game show icon Alex Trebek, who lost his battle with pancreatic cancer Sunday morning at the age of 80.

Trebek was host of long-running Jeopardy!, which has received a surge of buzz in recent years, thanks to the winning streaks of James Holzhauer and before him, Ken Jennings. Since the game show returned to the airwaves in 1984 after a nine-year break, Jeopardy! remained among the top five syndicated programs throughout its entire 37-year run, a subject I took a deep dive into last year.

“Words can’t even describe what a tremendous loss this is for our Jeopardy! family, said Steve LoCascio of CBS Television Distribution, who took over distributing Jeopardy after acquiring original syndicator King World Productions. “Not only was Alex a television icon, but he was one of the most genuine, kind, caring people you could ever know. The way he openly and bravely battled cancer, while continuing to host the show, was a true inspiration. He has brought joy to the millions of fans – including generations of families — who have welcomed Alex into their living room each night. Our hearts go out to Alex’s wife and children. We have truly lost a legend.”

Born in Sudbury, Ontario, Trebek’s first broadcasting job was a radio anchor/reporter position at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). In 1963, he was the host of a Canadian dance music show, Music Hop

Trebek was actually the host of many game shows in the 1970s and 1980s, including The Wizards Of Odds, High Rollers, Battlestars, and Double Dare (not related to the Nickelodeon game show.) During the time Jeopardy! was on the air in syndication, Trebek hosted Classic Concentration and took over for Lynn Swann as host of To Tell The Truth for NBC.

As a Jeopardy! host, he also appeared on Cheers, Mama’s Family, Beverly Hills 90210, and voiced an animated version of himself on The Simpsons

Trebek has won six Daytime Emmy Awards as Outstanding Game Show Host while Jeopardy! during his run has won 33 Daytime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Game Show, plus a Peabody. Trebek also accepted a 2020 Television Critics Association Career Achievement Award. 

In March 2019, Trebek announced he was undergoing chemotherapy for stage four pancreatic cancer and updated fans on his progress thru social media. But later, he had to undergo additional chemotherapy sessions. Nevertheless, he continued to host. 

This past March, Jeopardy! suspended production due to the coronavirus pandemic as Trebek was at a high risk of contracting the deadly disease due to his condition, but did resume production for season 37 this summer with all the proper safety protocols in place.

Jeopardy! producer Sony Pictures Television said in a statement the final episode with Trebek hosting is scheduled to air December 25, although it could be prone to network pre-emptions as it falls on Christmas Day. It is too soon to tell what would happen with Jeopardy! afterword though stations have contracts with the show through the end of the 2022-23 season.

Trebek is survived by wife Jean, and his two children. 

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The Media Notepad: Judy Sheindlin strikes deal with Amazon

Credit: CBS

Also: This TV/Light TV has new owner; Rock 95.5 does modestly well in first survey

As anticipated following her announcement on Ellen earlier this year, Judy Sheindlin released more information about her new project Thursday in a press release.

For one, the her new courtroom show is still untitled – but perhaps the biggest takeaway is beginning next year, her new show is airing exclusively on a streaming service iMDB TV -a partnership between the website and Amazon.

“Judge Judy Sheindlin is a TV icon and visionary who has entertained millions of fans for decades. As we build the IMDb TV slate of high-quality, ambitious Amazon Studios Originals,” said Lauren Anderson and Ryan Pirozzi, co-heads of content and programming for IMDb TV.  “We are delighted to deliver customers a court program from the legendary Judge Sheindlin who, without a doubt, is the very best in the business.”

According to Deadline, one hundred episodes have been ordered but there is no word on how many episodes would be distributed a time, or if it would be done so on a daily or weekly basis.

Sheindlin declined to renew her contract with CBS Television Distribution, meaning Judge Judy is coming to an end next spring after 25 seasons. It has been syndication’s top-rated show for the last few years, although this past week it was bumped from the top spot by Family Feud.

Even though reruns have been sold in deals to unidentified stations starting next fall, the loss of Judy Sheindlin is yet another blow to broadcast TV and the syndication business as linear outlets are finding it harder to compete with streaming services. Just two weeks ago, Apple TV took over the rights of all Peanuts holiday specials, ousting ABC after twenty years and ending a 55-year run on broadcast network television.

Judy currently airs at 4 p.m. on CBS-owned WBBM-TV with new episodes (and without audiences due to the pandemic.) She remains executive producer of another show she created (Hot Bench), which moved to WCIU after being bounced out of its 2 p.m. time slot for The Drew Barrymore Show on WBBM in September, and both are syndicated by CTD, who’ll remain Bench’s syndicator next season if it returns.


The first ratings are in for iHeartMedia’s new Rock 95 Five  (WCHI-FM, formerly WEBG-FM) and the station is off to a decent start.

According to figures released by Nielsen on Tuesday, Rock 95 Five finished tied for nineteenth place with ratings up 22 percent from a month ago when the station was still playing country music for all but the last week of the survey period. The station switched to Mainstream Rock on September 3.

The arrival of Rock 95 Five certainly took a bite out of the numbers for Entercom’s WXRT-FM, who fell from a tie for third to eighth. But it had no effect on Hubbard’s The Drive (WDRV-FM), who surged to third place.

Meanwhile, the departure of Big 95.5 FM had no effect on US 99 (WUSN-FM) who were flat, suggesting those former listeners may have fled to alternative country music outlets, via Sirius/XM, internet radio, or streaming.

iHeart’s V103 (WVAZ-FM) dominated the market for the second straight month, proving their rapid rise to the top was no fluke with the stations finishing first in each key daypart (with the exception of middays, which went to WBBM-AM/WCFS-FM), led by Steve Harvey in the mornings.

On note is the huge leap Newsweb’s WCPT-AM made in the rankings to 24th place, from practically below the ground two months ago, though behind conservative talk WLS-AM (Salem’s WIND-AM does not subscribe to Nielsen.) Credit election season for the ratings increases.

But as you know, all of these rankings will change after the next survey period because…Santa Claus is coming to town to deliver ratings goodies to iHeart’s WLIT-FM, who’ll switch to a Christmas music format in the next week, or so.


Byron Allen, head of Entertainment Studios. (Variety)

In a surprise move, comic-turned-media mogul Byron Allen announced two new channels in his stable: diginets This TV and Light TV as MGM has decided to exit the business,

With these acquisitions, Allen now owns The Weather Channel, Entertainment Studios, and twelve local TV stations, among others. Both This and Light are seen in an estimated 81 million households.

“I am happy to announce that Allen Media Group has achieved another critical milestone by successfully acquiring two over-the-air broadcast television networks This TV and Light TV from MGM,” said Byron Allen, founder-chairman-CEO of Entertainment Studios/Allen Media Group and one of the few African-Americans in an ownership role in the media industry. “We are going to continue to invest a substantial amount of capital into the programming, marketing and distribution of these networks. We are strong believers in broadcasting and free-streaming direct-to-consumer platforms.”

This TV was launched on November 1, 2008 in a partnership with Weigel Broadcasting, but approximately five years later was replaced by Tribune Media with This relocating from the subchannel of WCIU to WGN locally. Approximately a year ago as the company was about to be sold to Nexstar, Tribune exited its relationship with MGM as it became sole owner after Tribune signed a deal with Court TV to replace the movie diginet.

This has since resurfaced at low-power WRJK-LP. Wikipedia lists its headquarters as Chicago; it is not known if this would be the case in the future.

Light TV – a network featuring family-friendly TV series and movies was launched in 2016 and was headed by MGM CEO Mark Burnett and wife Roma Downey on the diginet channels of some Fox-owned stations, including WFLD-TV here.

This past summer, Allen and his company settled a lawsuit with Comcast over distribution of his cable channels on their systems after deciding to withdraw his case from the Supreme Court as they struck down much of his lawsuit. Rep. Bobby Rush slammed Comcast last year over the issue. 

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The state of syndication in 2021 (three months early)

A card promoting the September 2020 premiere of “The Drew Barrymore Show” over its 2nd Chicago home, WCIU/CW 26.

 

Pandemic, shifting audiences makes it challenging for stations and syndicators

Generally, I write these state of syndication articles in January before the NATPE gathering in Miami. But as we know, there has been nothing normal about the current times we live in, the television business included (and of course, NATPE isn’t likely happening as a traditional gathering in 2021.) 

And no business has been affected more than syndication as an article pointed out in Broadcasting & Cable (now part of the NextTV network) Monday.

At one time, syndication was home to a variety of numerous genres, from scripted sitcoms to kids programming, from action hours to talk shows. But in the last decade or so, syndication has been heavily dependent on daytime programming as other genres were over by cable and later streaming.

Then the pandemic hit in March, throwing daytime programming for a loop as stations were forced to pre-empt shows for press conferences held by elected officials. Moreover, viewers have flocked in droves to the cable news channels, which not only had an impact on entertainment programming in all dayparts, but sports and even local news viewership as the election draws closer.

And the election and the pandemic isn’t the only subject drawing viewers away, at least for one cable network. And worse, as far as the Chicago area goes, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker has resumed his weekday coronavirus press conferences, meaning more pre-emptions for syndicated shows. 

Here’s where we stand as we start the November sweeps period this week:

Ellen’s decline. With Warner Bros’. Ellen likely headed for the exits after her contract with the NBC-owned stations are up after next season, the group’s Kelly Clarkson is likely the beneficiary to take over her prized 3 p.m. time slot, as I discussed here last summer regarding the bad publicity she has getting. Ratings for Ellen have declined by double-digits in all measurements, and is likely hurting the NBC-owned stations’ news lead-in. 

The article also states Warner is pairing back its syndication operations, similar to what Sony did in recent years as it has one show left in first-run (Dr. Oz.) Ratings for Extra and TMZ – both on the Fox-owned stations are also down, and TMZ has been downgraded to late night in Chicago as WFLD opted to lead its new 4 p.m. newscast with Debmar-Mercury’s Family Feud. Warner’s The Real has been renewed for a few more years but is expected to surrender some slots to the new Nick Cannon Show, which was pushed back to next fall. 

Drew doing well. The Drew Barrymore Show – which has received positive reviews for the most part – is likely to come back for another season (as part of two-year deals) as the CBS-syndicated show has averaged a 0.6 rating and is doing well in New York opposite Live With Kelly and Ryan. While being interrupted for Pritzker’s pressers in its 2 p.m. slot at CBS 2 (WBBM-TV) here in Chicago, at least Drew has an alternate clearance on CW 26 (WCIU) at 5 p.m. 

Tamron back for season three. As reported here earlier, the Disney Media Distribution (formerly Disney-ABC Domestic Television) talk show was renewed for a third season on ABC’s seven-owned stations with the exception of ABC 7 Chicago (WLS-TV), of course. All eyes will be on Tamron to see where her show ends up in Chicago if current incumbent CW 26 doesn’t renew. 

The exit of Judge Judy. One thing not being discussed is the exit – in original production at least – of Judge Judy, syndication’s top-rated show. While Judy Sheindlin signed a deal with a new production company to do a new show, no further details have been announced. Moreover, it is not immediately clear if the same stations now airing Judy would continue airing reruns of her show next fall. 

Last week, CBS signed Niecy Nash to launch a new talk show next September. Although station deals have yet to be signed, it could go in the time slots now occupied by Judge Judy on the CBS-owned stations who currently carry the show, including CBS 2 here. But it depends greatly on what each station’s needs are. 

The future. As reported here, Fox is re-launching You Bet Your Life with Jay Leno – likely for prime access time slots (6-8 p.m.) but station sales will depend on whether or not local TV execs remember (or want to remember) the last version with Bill Cosby, which was a disaster and canceled in December 1992 after only three months on the air. 

NBCUniversal is offering an off-network strip of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit although Chicago P.D. was in daily syndication the last two seasons and was abruptly yanked. Also, look for any last-minute additions announced as CW, My Network TV, and independent stations are always looking for programming slots to fill. But the number continue to shrink as even those stations are expanding news options. 

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Retired WLS-TV anchor Joel Daly dies at 86

Helped usher in station’s ratings dominance

Months after meteorologist Jerry Taft died, another former well-liked personality from WLS-TV has passed. 

Anchor Joel Daly, who spent 38 years at the ABC-owned station died peacefully Thursday morning at the home of his daughter Kelly. In recent years, Daly had been suffering from vascular parkinsonism – a condition that leads to mini-strokes. 

Born in Montana, Daly arrived in Chicago from Cleveland’s WJW to the then-WBKB-TV in 1967 (the station’s call letters were renamed to the present-day WLS-TV in October 1968.) On February 12, 1968, Daly was paired with another local news anchor named Fahey Flynn and was re-christened The Flynn-Daly News. By 1970, their newscasts were renamed “Eyewitness News”. 

Along with weatherman John Coleman and sportscaster Bill Frink, the news team pioneered the “happy talk” era of news, often criticized by many observers. But it worked: in the early 1970s, WLS-TV knocked off Floyd Kalber and NBC-owned WMAQ from the top spot and remained there for the entire decade, even becoming more dominant when ABC shot to the top of the prime-time network race in 1976. 

But WLS’ fortunes started to decline by 1979 and sometime later, Joel Daly lost his 10 p.m. slot. With WLS spending much of its time in last place in the early 1980s, WLS opted to pair Daly with Linda Yu for a new 4 p.m. newscast in 1984, replacing the tail end of a low-rated afternoon movie. By the end of the year (and thanks to the success of a new show called Jeopardy!), he would once again co-anchor a top-rated newscast and two years later, WLS would start a long run of dominance that continues today. 

In the early years at WLS, Daly also gave commentaries on the air with the one after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination as the standout: “A man of peace is dead, and violence was not his legacy. . . .Flags at half-staff; rifles at high-port. What a sad and sobering commentary. The United States of America, deeply divided. The so-called Land of the Free, a veritable land of fear. Someone must listen.”

Daly was much more than a news anchor. He was also a lawyer – earning his Illinois law degree by going to night school and often gave his views on legal issues. Daly also sung with a country cover band and was a licensed pilot.  

In 2005, Daly announced he was stepping down from his long run at WLS after nearly 40 years, save for occasionally appearing to discuss legal issues. He would also host the station’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade and he wrote an autobiography titled The Daly News: A Life In Television News.

Among his accolades, Daly won five local Emmy Awards, and was inducted into the Chicago Silver Circle and the Chicago Journalism Hall Of Fame. 

Daly is survived by his daughter Kelly, granddaughters Kate and Madison, and sister Viola. Due to the pandemic, funeral services will be held at a later date. 

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Time to “Toon In With Me” – MeTV adds classic animated shows

One hour weekday block to launch with Bill Leff, plus three hours on Saturday mornings

On the same day Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the Peanuts gang packed up their bags and headed to Apple TV’s streaming service packed up their bags and headed to Apple TV’s streaming service, there was another announcement – one returning classic Merrie Melodies and Looney Tunes cartoons back to broadcast television. 

Weigel Broadcasting’s MeTV announced Monday it is launching an hour-long strip of cartoon fare weekday mornings in a yet-to-determined time slot titled Toon In with Me beginning in January. The block is being hosted by Chicago radio veteran Bill Leff, who worked at WGN-AM, WLUP-FM, and other radio stations and is also a stand-up comic, with experience at Second City.  He’ll be joined by Kevin Fleming, whose credits include writer of several animated shows on Cartoon Network, and Lelia Gorstein, who co-wrote and appeared in the film Love Dump. 

In addition, MeTV is also adding a three-hour Saturday morning block of cartoons  also starting in early 2021, but will not have hosts. 

“Toon In With Me will evoke the hosted children’s shows of decades past, blending nostalgia, fun, charm, comedy and cartoons, reimagined with new, original, live-action characters,” said vice chairman of Weigel Broadcasting Neal Sabin. “It all adds up to a new program for viewers of all ages, ready to share the fun and positive energy together weekday mornings.” Original live-action sketches featuring Leff, Fleming, Gorstein, and others are being planned for the show to serve as interstitials. 

In fact, Leff said he watched those children’s shows of years past growing up in Chicago as he told Robert Feder, citing Chicago hosts Bill Jackson and Ray Rayner as influences, the latter doing a similar show for WGN-TV from 1962 until his retirement on January 23, 1981.  

Bill Leff (and Wendy Snyder, from their WGN Radio days

The return of Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies marks the first time any Warner Bros. cartoon material has aired on broadcast network television since The Bugs Bunny & Tweety Show left ABC in 2000, a long time Saturday morning staple on the network and CBS. In addition, the MGM shorts featuring Tom & Jerry, Droopy Dog, and the Tex Avery catalog will also appear on Toon In. These were a part of the Tom & Jerry Show, which ran on CBS from 1965 to 1972 (in edited form), and subsequently in syndication for about two decades.

In September 2019, MeTV brought The Flintstones back to broadcast after a 25-year hiatus and has been a major success. 

Children’s cartoons and animated fare were a big business for independent stations and syndicators, practically printing money for them as late as the early 1990s when The Disney Afternoon and Fox Kids had afternoon kids blocks. But changes came in the mid-1990s when The WB (Kids’ WB) and UPN formed and had their own blocks, practically eliminating the kids’ syndication business. With more kids shifting away to cable amid other alternatives, by 1999 local Fox affiliate execs were asking the network to drop Fox Kids because it was no longer profitable for them, finally doing so in 2001 while Kids’ WB weekday block ended in 2006.

Saturday mornings were also a huge profit center for the three major networks from the 1960s through the 1980s with Fox Kids joining the race in 1990, later joined by Kids WB.  But the arrival of the FCC’s mandatory three-hour E/I rules and a shifting children’s TV landscape decimated the business as the major networks and local stations found running news shows and paid programming became more profitable. The shift started in the late 1980s, when a few NBC affiliates started pre-empting the network’s Saturday morning block for local news, a key in forcing the network out of the Saturday morning cartoon business in 1992 by expanding Today, although some teen-oriented shows remained. CBS followed suit in 1997 and ABC in 2011, though by that time, was airing mainly live-action repeats of Disney Channel sitcoms. 

Even the long-running and cherished Bozo Show succumbed to these changes, becoming a Sunday-only show in 1994 and was revamped three years later to make it more educational-friendly in a move criticized by viewers. WGN pulled the plug in 2001.   

It’ll be interesting to see if Toon In works. While not really targeted only to kids per se – basically Boomers and Gen Xers who grew up watching this fare wanting to relieve their youth, it is a nice respite from the depressing news of the day and infomercials on other channels, even if it’s only an hour every weekday. 

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Report: Apple + adds Peanuts holiday specials, ends broadcast TV run

“A Charlie Brown Christmas” first aired on CBS in 1965. (c) United Features Syndicate, Inc.

A Charlie Brown Christmas abruptly exits network TV

Details are scarce, but it looks like Snoopy, Charlie Brown, and his flimsy Christmas tree are heading off of linear TV and into the house Steve Jobs built.

According to a tweet sent from the official Peanuts account Monday morning, the Halloween special It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown is streaming exclusively on Apple TV + this year. 

A quick check of ABC’s listings for the next two weeks showed no Great Pumpkin special airing in primetime, meaning something was up. 

Then Monday afternoon, Vulture reported Apple’s Great Pumpkin airing was part of a bigger deal – one Apple made with WildBrain and Peanuts Worldwide, who owns the entire library (with the exception of theatrical content) of Peanuts TV specials – meaning all the holiday specials airing on ABC in recent years are now heading to Apple, abruptly ending 55 years of Peanuts specials on broadcast network television, including A Charlie Brown Christmas. 

As the Round-Headed Kid would say…sigh. 

According to Vulture, it appears ABC’s deal to carry several Peanuts specials – the Valentine, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s specials – not to mention other past specials edited to fill an hour’s time as the holiday specials were originally a half-hour in length, expired – though it is not known if ABC declined to renew or Peanuts Worldwide opted to move the specials to Apple without seeking any renewal for ABC. 

As part of the new deal announced Monday, Peanuts Worldwide and Lee Mendelson Productions will produce new specials for Apple + , including one for Earth Day, Mother’s Day, and a follow-up New Year’s special to the one produced in 1985. Earlier, Apple struck a deal with the outfit to produce new content for its fledgling streaming service including Snoopy In Space and just two weeks ago, a new Snoopy Show and documentary on the Peanuts comic strip. There is no word if existing non-holiday specials (and there are many of them) are included in the deal. 

“A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving” first aired on CBS in 1973. In 2001, the special retuned to TV after a few years’ absence via ABC. (c) United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

ABC had been airing Peanuts specials since 2001 after 36 years at CBS, where A Charlie Brown Christmas had been airing since 1965. By the mid-1990s, CBS would start phasing out those holiday specials and others, leaving A Charlie Brown Christmas as the only one left by 2000. When Peanuts moved to ABC, the Thanksgiving and Halloween specials returned to network TV, not to mention a few long-lost titles such as You’re Not Elected Charlie Brown and Be My Valentine. Two new Christmas specials and a new Valentine special were also produced. 

This deal illustrates how hard it is these days for broadcasters and cable to compete with streaming services. Peanuts is perhaps the only animated franchise not owned by a major media conglomerate as its value has only increased since the death of creator Charles M. Schulz 20 years ago. But due to its independence, the franchise was unable to take advantage of vertical integration like Pixar does, whose Disney ownership lands their content on sister property ABC, and Dreamworks Animation, who is owned by NBCUniversal and their holiday content generally lands on co-owned NBC. 

While a lot of fans are understandably not happy with this deal, keep in mind this was bound to happen sooner or later when Peanuts Worldwide announced a partnership with Apple two years ago. Peanuts and Wildbrain figured they wanted all of their content in one place and you can’t blame them. Apple is making the specials available for free for a three-day window adjacent to each holiday and if you own the DVDs and/or Blu-Rays, you’re already set as these specials have been available on home video on basically every format for over thirty years. 

On the other hand, ripping A Charlie Brown Christmas away from linear TV when other beloved classics such as How The Grinch Stole Christmas and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town only recently returned to broadcast network television while Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty The Snowman never left now puts Charlie Brown and company at a disadvantage from a pop-culture standpoint.  

But television traditions aren’t forever, as last year’s departure of Chicago Cubs baseball from WGN-TV after 71 years to their new Marquee Sports Network home illustrated. Nevertheless, losing A Charlie Brown Christmas in a blockheaded move to a bare-bones streaming service leaves the medium of television all the more poorer. 

Official press release from WildBrain 

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T Dog’s Think Tank: Voters lose as networks schedule dueling town halls

 

ABC and NBC schedule Presidential town halls opposite each other as ratings dictate decisions instead of common sense  

NBC’s decision to schedule a President Trump town hall opposite Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is so ridiculous, it’s hard to explain.

A second Presidential debate was supposed to take place tonight between Trump and Biden. But Trump tested positive for the coronavirus so having them appear in person together was a no-go. After Trump rejected the idea for a virtual debate (with Biden in one location and Trump in another), Biden then decided to do a town hall forum for ABC, as they did one with Trump earlier in its place.

But in a last-minute move – given Trump recently proclaimed himself “free from the coronavirus”, NBC decided to schedule a town hall forum featuring Trump on the same evening – opposite the Biden one on ABC. So instead of a second debate in which Trump turned down, we get two candidates on two networks opposite one another where Biden will be in Philadelphia and Trump will be in Miami and both are taking place at 7 p.m. Chicago time, airing live in all time zones for an hour. The Trump town hall is airing not only on NBC but co-owned MSNBC and CNBC as well.

George Stephanopoulos of Good Morning America is moderator for Biden’s town hall while Today’s Savannah Guthrie does the same for Trump’s as the scheduling highlights the rivalry between the news divisions of ABC and NBC.

So instead of the focus on the issues – notably Covid, the recession, and racial injustice, we will get endless pieces on the ratings generated by whom watched whom as this is what President Trump wants because Lord knows, he’s practically failed at everything else while in office.

What a joke.

This entire debacle tells you one thing – the broadcast networks have abandoned serving the public interest in order to chase ratings and revenue at a time democracy is falling apart – they might as well be cable channels at this point. All the BS the National Association of Broadcasters tell you – “we’re here to serve our communities” – is just that – BS.

You wonder if anything like this would’ve taken place in another era. The broadcast networks and local stations in general have been taken over by huge media conglomerates – in this case, Disney with ABC and Comcast with NBCUniversal. Republicans are certainly more friendly to media deregulation than Democrats are, as a case regarding the FCC’s media ownership rules are now before the Supreme Court.

My guess about this deal NBC made with the Trump administration is even though he calls the network (and the rest of the news media) “fake news” and co-owned MSNBC as “MSDNC” (as in Democratic National Convention), it’s about parent Comcast’s and other media corporations’ deregulatory agenda, something I pointed out a few years ago when the major networks decided to carry a Trump speech. You know the orders to give him an hour came from the top of the Comcast chain.

There’s also the matter of NBC’s ties with Trump, dating back to the his days with The Apprentice, which brought huge ratings to the network for his dog-and-pony show. The program converted to Celebrity Apprentice a few years later, and still drew solid ratings.

The media’s questionable way of handling political forums are disturbingly becoming more common as the snippiness between competitors are now more heated, like politics itself and as a result, voters and the public lose out.

For example, local TV and radio stations in Chicago last year each held separate “forums” involving mayoral candidates Toni Preckwinkle and Lori Lightfoot. The problem was, there were many as ten of them, as both candidates became repetitive and failed to inform the voters on any issues.

And regarding politicians whoring out to media companies, there was the “town hall” from 2016 involving then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel where thanks to his buddies at the Illinois Broadcasters Association and Radio Broadcasters of Chicagoland, spoke simultaneously on 47 radio stations in a very rushed and uninformative half-hour presentation on Chicago’s problems. Listeners for the most part hated it, but enough of them tuned in to make it a “success”.

So now we are forced to watch one or DVR/stream the other when American viewers are crunched for time and have other things to do and now you have to commit two to three hours of your life to watch two town halls.

But Big Media couldn’t care less about you and your busy lifestyle. It cares about ranking in ratings and revenue and you slaving to them at a time with “appointment TV” is going away in a on-demand universe. I understand it’s a “business”, but as the nation is struggling from the pandemic, maybe focus on educating voters on what they need to know and put aside your stupid Today/GMA grudge match as most viewers – especially in Chicago where both lose to WGN’s morning news – don’t give a damn about it.

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