The Media notepad: Chicago’s African-American radio stations hold their own despite population drop

As yet another report showing the Chicago area’s African-American population on the decline, the market’s black-targeted radio stations seem to be holding their own.

Even the entrance of classic Hip-Hop/R&B station 104.3 Jams (WBMX) didn’t have much of an impact on the overall share of African-Americans listening to radio in the Chicago market, though WBMX reportedly had taken audience away from Top 40 sister station WBBM-FM (B96).

In numbers reported by Robert Feder Tuesday, IHeartMedia-owned WVAZ-FM remained in first place among all Chicago stations and was also first in middays (with Bionce Foxx) and in afternoons (with Joe Soto). Ratings for sister station WGCI went up from last month and actually closed the gap with WBMX.

Crawford’s urban duo also held their own: Power 92 (WPWX) finished 22nd with a 2.1, while Soul 106.3 (WSRB-FM) finished in a time for 30th with a 0.9 rating, which is respectable given its limited signal.

Still, the population decline of the Chicago area’s African-American community should be a concern to all involved, including radio stations and media buyers as residents are leaving the area due to poor employment opportunities, high taxes, and rampant gun violence. Last Saturday, activists led by the Rev. Michael Pflager and the Rev. Jesse Jackson marched down the heavily-traveled Dan Ryan Expressway between 79th and 67th streets, shutting down the inbound lanes of the roadway and generated national media coverage. The march began on the northern border of Chatham at 79th, once a crown-jewel of middle-class black life in Chicago now struggling with high crime rates, similar to other black neighborhoods in the city.

Meanwhile, WGN-AM’s morning show with Steve Cochran surged to sixth place, but WGN lags below 20th place in other dayparts. B96 rebounded from a 37-year low with a jump to a 2.9 rating, but remained in 17th place and is still behind rival Kiss 103.5 (WKSC-FM). And WLS-AM had a book to forget with a 25th-place finish.

Keep in mind these numbers are month-to-month and urban and Top 40 numbers tend to rise when the weather is warm and kids are out of school. We’ll see what the numbers are in September and October.

1994 logo.

The CW announced Wednesday it was terminating its affiliation agreement with WBNX in Cleveland – with only five days notice.

Beginning Monday, The CW is shifting its programming to Raycom-owned WUAB-TV. “The CW has some of the most popular series on television among young adults,” WUAB vice president and general manager Erik Schrader said in a statement. “Now along with our sister CBS affiliate Cleveland 19 [WOIO], we will be able to offer both viewers and advertisers a wide range of entertainment options.”

The move comes as The CW is continuing to upgrade its affiliate roster and is launching a new Sunday night lineup in October. Last year, The CW shifted to a digital subchannel of San Diego’s KFMB-DT (8.2) from Televisa’s XETV, resulting in the station abandoning English-language programming. In 2016, The CW struck a deal with Fox to affiliate with WPWR-TV here in Chicago (CW 50), after leaving WGN-TV as the Tribune-owned station wanted to focus more on sports in prime-time.

Technically, WUAB is a My Network TV affiliate, but doesn’t brand it as such as the programming service’s lineup airs in late-night, which is expected to remain. CW programming on WUAB is airing in-pattern in primetime and also includes a Saturday morning E/I block and a daytime hour, which is being taken over in September by Jerry Springer reruns. My Network TV programming airs from 9-11 p.m. in Chicago over CW 50.

As for WBNX, the station will revert to an independent Monday for the first time since 1997, when it became a WB affiliate. Future programming plans for the WInston Broadcasting-owned station have not been announced, though reports surfaced the station is in deep financial trouble – perhaps a reason for the switch. WBNX parent company is a subsidiary of an Evagencial Christian organization, but had no reported problems with the often-racy fare The WB and The CW airs.

WUAB is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. Notably a home of the Indians and Cavailers, WUAB became a UPN affiliate in 1995 and also aired WB programming for its first two years. It chose My Network TV over The CW in 2006 when UPN and The WB merged to become The CW, which WBNX became an affiliate of.

Divorce Court, a show many people forget is still on the air, is moving its production facilities this fall to Atlanta from Los Angeles for its twentieth season. As first reported by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Rodney Ho, the series becomes the third syndicated court show to tape in Atlanta following Couples Court With The Cutlers and Lauren Lake’s Paternity Court. It is not known why Divorce Court is shifting to Atlanta, though generally this type of move could be related to reducing production costs.

Over the last few years, syndicated shows have shifted from Hollywood to Atlanta but have also done this in reverse: now-defunct court show Swift Justice and Family Feud moved their shows from Atlanta to Los Angeles, in the latter case due to host Steve Harvey’s other projects, including Steve and his syndicated radio show.

Divorce Court is presided by former Cleveland municipal judge Lynn Tolver, who replaced Judge Mablean Ephriam beginning with the show’s eighth season. On the air since 1999, Divorce Court is the long running for the four incarnations (1957-69; 1985-91 and 1993.) Unlike the previous versions, the current Divorce Court features real couples and the decisions involve binding arbitration. In the first three versions, the decisions handed down by the judges were not scripted, but improvised.

Divorce Court airs weekdays at 3 and 3:30 on CW 50. The show is distributed by Twentieth Television, but its future after next season is up in the air as both Disney and Comcast are bidding to acquire most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, including Twentieth.

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Harlan Ellison dies

Harlan Ellison. (Getty Images)

Acclaimed sci-fi tv and movie writer dies at 84.

Known as one of pop culture’s acclaimed outspoken writers, Harlan Ellison died Thursday at the age of 84. Born in Cleveland, Ellison died in his home in Los Angeles.

Ellison has written more than 1700 pieces of work, spanning novels, science fiction, comic books, short stories, screenplays, and television. His career brought him stops in New York and here in Chicago, where he was editor of Rogue magazine.

In 1962, Ellison headed out to California to launch a screenwriting career. Among the first shows he sold to was The Loretta Young Show and later sold scripts to The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, Route 66, The Man Of U.N.C.L.E, Circle Of Fear, Babylon 5, and the original versions of Burke’s Law and The Outer Limits. Ellison even penned a script for critically-panned sitcom The Flying Nun under the name “Cordwainer Bird”.

But his biggest breakthrough came in 1967 when he wrote the acclaimed Star Trek episode City On The Edge Of Forever. The script won the Writers Guild Award for best episodic drama in the television category. The shooting script of the same name won the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation. Ellison’s last television credit was in an episode of 2007’s Masters Of Science Fiction.

Ellison’s acclaimed short story and non-fiction work included Reprent Harlequin! Said The Ticktockman; I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream; and A Boy And His Dog, later made into a 1975 film starring future Miami Vice star Don Johnson.

Ellison also was a voice-over artist, lending his voice to animated series such as Mother Goose and Grimm, The Pirates of Dark Water, and two episodes of Scooby-Doo Mystery Incorporated where he played himself.

Although Ellison won respect for a lot of fans and colleagues for his work, he often clashed with those who didn’t see his vision. For numerous years, Ellison criticized the changes made in the script of Forever made by Star Trek creator and executive producer Gene Roddenberry. Ellison once again used the pseudonym Cordwainer Bird, taking his name off the credits of the syndicated 1973 science fiction drama The Starlost after the producers changed his script for the pilot episode so much it wasn’t recognizable as Starlost was one of TV’s biggest bombs of the season. In 1985, CBS scrapped an episode he wrote for The New Twilight Zone after they found his story about a drunk who scared children about a malicious anti-Santa Claus too dark (he did however, go on to write three more episodes for the show.)

Despite his television work, Ellison was critical of the medium in two published essays on the subject. He noted “that to work in television is akin to putting in time in the Egyptian House of the Dead.”

Ellison also was involved in several lawsuits with studios over his work, including suing ABC and paramount in 1977 for plagiarizing he and Ben Bova’s short story Brillo as the basis for the short-lived series Future Cop. He also sued James Cameron for plagiarizing a 1964 Outer Limits episode he wrote as much of the story was used in Cameron’s film The Terminator. In 2006, he sued publisher Fantagraphics Books for defamation.

Ellison has won numerous awards for his writing. In addition to Forever, Ellison won ten more Hugo Awards, including The Deathbird and Dangerous Visions; won six Bram Stroker awards, including a Lifetime Achievement Award in 1995; eighteen Locus Poll awards; four Writers Guild Awards; and five Nebula Awards, including being the only individual to be a three-time winner of the Nebula Award for Best Short Story.

Ellison is survived by his wife Susan, and has an official website but it has not been updated since 2012.

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Justice Department approves Disney, Fox deal

Required sale of RSNs paves way for merger

In a marked turn from its dealings with AT&T and TimeWarner, the Justice Department announced Wednesday it has approved a $71.3 billion deal between The Walt Disney Corporation and 21st Century Fox for most of the latter’s business. The deal was originally announced in December 2017, with Disney offering $52 billion for much of Fox’s assets.

The deal is sealed on one condition – selling off Fox’s 22 regional sports networks. Disney already owns ESPN and its numerous spin-offs.

Disney gets 90 days to sell off the RSNs; it can ask for a 90-day extension. The approval by the government is seen as a huge advantage for Disney over Comcast, who has expressed interest in the Fox properties.

A map of where Fox operates regional sports networks, including  seven in the Midwest.

The move drew praise from several industry organizations, including the American Cable Association. They felt if Disney kept the RSNs, it would lead to higher prices overall and would have tremendous leverage given their ownership of ESPN.

But it’s not over yet.

Comcast is looking to recruit private equity firms to top the $71.3 billion offer from Disney. Fox can still consider other offers, including from Comcast. And a major investor in 21st Century Fox – TCI Investments said Fox should wait to hear a competing bid from Comcast.

As reported here earlier this week, the current bidding war between Disney and Fox over the properties could have an impact on the Cubs’ plans to launch their own regional sports network. With Disney and Fox out of the running, the Cubs do not have a lot of options other than AT&T, who could make a play for the orphan RSNs and add them to their existing properties.

Other suitors could be Charter Communications, Mediacom, and even tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Apple, but the latter is a long shot.

Charter has Spectrum SportsNet in Los Angeles with separate channels for the Lakers and Dodgers.


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Cubs’ proposed network in jeopardy?

Changing marketing conditions could be factor; AT&T may be only hope

If the Cubs are looking to launch their own TV network in 2020, their options are becoming quite limited.

According to a report Monday in Sports Business Journal and Awful Announcing, AT&T is considering looking to add the baseball team to their portfolio of sports rights. AT&T operates a few regional sports channels (RSNs) in several areas including Pittsburgh, Denver, Salt Lake City, Houston, Seattle, and Las Vegas. Three AT&T SportsNets (Pittsburgh, Northwest, and Rocky Mountain) were former Fox Sports RSNs, being sold to Liberty Media in 2006, becoming part of DirecTV and rebranded with the Root Sports name in 2010. Liberty sold DirecTV to AT&T in 2014, including the sports networks and were rebranded AT&t SportsNet. AT&T’s merger with the former TimeWarmer was recently approved after a lengthy battle with federal regulators.

Among the teams AT&T has rights to include the Pittsburgh Penguins, Colorado Rockies, Houston Astros, Utah Jazz, Seattle Mariners, and the Vegas Golden Knights. Sports Business Journal noted the newly merged company could go after the Cubs, which would be a huge addition to their portfolio.

Currently, the teams’ television rights are spread out among three outlets: ABC-owned WLS-TV with 25 games; Tribune Media’s WGN-TV, with 45 games, and Comcast’s NBC Sports Chicago with around 70. Deals with all three expire around October 1, 2019.

The sports trade journal noted the Cubs were in talks about an extension with NBC Sports Chicago for the last several months.

The news comes as a surprise as the Cubs have been talking about launching their own RSN for years, using the New York Yankees’ YES Network as a model. But the talk has stalled with changing market conditions as the allure of a RSN… isn’t so alluring anymore.

Cubs win the World Series in 2016 after 108 years.

For one, the Los Angeles Dodgers paired up with Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum) to launch a RSN channel for the team, only to find resistance from cable and satellite operators in a standoff now years long. Only Spectrum in the Los Angeles area carries the Dodgers’ channel as DirecTV and Dish refuse to carry it, due to the high price-per-subscriber amount Spectrum was seeking.

Another reason is the future of Fox’s regional sports networks are in question as much of 21st Century Fox is up for sale, including the RSNs. Currently, Disney and Comcast are in a bidding war for the properties, and both have told federal regulators they plan to sell the RSNs to avoid anti-trust issues if they are required to. The scenario could play out after the Cubs’ contract with their current rightsholders expires and could be tougher to make a deal with Fox Sports’ RSNs, whomever ends up owning them.

Also, many viewers are cutting the cord and opting instead to subscribe to slimmer packages offers by alternative providers, including YouTube, Playstation Vue, and Fubo. The Chicago Fire soccer team already took advantage of this trend, as they struck an exclusive deal with ESPN Plus to carry all of their games.

And keep in mind WGN-TV is in the process of being sold to a Maryland car dealer with connections to Sinclair Broadcasting for $60 million. This could play a role in whether the Cubs would stick around “Chicago’s Very Own”, who has aired the team since 1948.

Given all of this, the only realistic shot the Cubs have in launching their own channel is with AT&T, with the possibility of the Cubs getting an equity share. The team could use AT&T’s interest as leverage in any negotiations with NBC Sports Chicago or Disney/Fox.

But you’re asking…. can the Ricketts family possibly launch the channel themselves, without any help from a cable channel like YES initially did? Though the Ricketts have deep pockets, a start-up channel would cost a tremendous amount of money, and widespread distribution isn’t guaranteed – even with the Cubs as a primary attraction. Thus, a partner such as AT&T to help absorb the costs makes sense. And even YES had to sell a majority stake in its channel to Fox.

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The Media Notepad: “Roseanne” to return as “The Conners” – without Roseanne

(ABC/Greg Gayne)

Springer officially canceled

Also: Eddie Olczyk joins Kap and Co.; Disney boosts bid for Fox to $71 billion

Welcome back to the family: to replace the canceled ABC sitcom Roseanne, ABC has ordered a ten episode straight-to-series spinoff with the working title The Conner Family, though more likely, The Conners. The series is to star everyone involved in Roseanne with the exception of Roseanne Barr, who was fired from the show last month after she sent several racist and anti-Semitic tweets. It was the first time a network canceled a show under those kind of circumstances – despite the revival of the 1988-97 series ranking as the top-rated scripted program of the 2017-18 season.

“The Conners’ stories demonstrate that families can always find common ground through conversation, laughter and love,” ABC said in a statement. “The spinoff will continue to portray contemporary issues that are as relevant today as they were 30 years ago. [The Conners are] forced to face the daily struggles of life in Lanford in a way they never have before” following “a sudden turn of events.” It was not revealed how the show would deal with Roseanne Conner’s exit.

In the same press release, ABC made sure Barr would not be involved in any way or profit financially from the new show. For ABC, the pickup fills a hole on Tuesday nights where Roseanne would have aired.

This isn’t the first time a series has continue sans its star – Valerie Harper left NBC sitcom Valerie in 1987 after a pay dispute with Lorimar-Telepictures and the series continued as The Hogan Family for three more seasons on NBC and another on CBS (like Roseanne, The Hogan Family was also set in a Chicago suburb, the real-life Oak Park.) In 2003, the death of lead character John Ritter forced changes in the format of 8 Simple Rules For Dating My Teenage Daughter, later becoming 8 Simple Rues. It ran on ABC until 2005.

A “Springer” billboard near 94th/Stony Island.

The news of Jerry Springer’s “production hiatus” has indeed become permanent.

After confusion about the show’s future, NBCUniversal Television Distribution announced Thursday it has officially canceled The Jerry Springer Show after a 27-season run, according to Programming Insider.

Broadcasting & Cable reported on June 13 about Springer’s show stopping production with reruns heading to The CW to replace the canceled Robert Irvine Show and would also stay in syndication in reruns. The CW would also have the option to put the series back into production if they wanted to.

But on June 16, Cincinnati media blogger John Kiesewetter noted the talk show would exit My Network TV affiliate WSTR, who carried the series locally in the Cincinnati market – meaning the show would no longer air on any non-CW affiliates, including WCIU or sister station The U Too, Springer’s current Chicago rightsholder.

A full week later, the AP picked up the story, noting Springer was ending production but was sold in reruns to the CW and “other networks”. NBC Universal added to the confusion with them and Springer refusing comment.

Now NBC Universal makes it official, and it is unlikely The CW would pick up an option to produce new episodes.

As you would guessed, the decision to end production didn’t really generate much attention, aside from a Richard Roeper piece in the Sun-Times Tuesday. Last Friday, this blog detailed the legacy (if you can call it that) Jerry Springer left on TV and society.

So I guess the madness does ends here. Can we move on to something else?

Bob Iger and the Mouse. (Getty Images)

The war is on: Disney announced this week it has raised its offer to buy much of the 21st Century Fox studio to $71.3 billion, nearly $20 billion more than it originally proposed for the company. This comes as Comcast tried to outbid Disney by sending Rupert Murdoch a $65 billion, all-cash offer.

Comcast has stated it would sell Fox’s regional sports networks should they win. Thru NBC Sports Group, Comcast runs several RSNs including NBC Sports Chicago, home of the Cubs, White Sox, Blackhawks, and Bulls. The sale could also potentially affect plans for the Cubs to start their own sports network if they are looking for an RSN partner. The New York Yankees’ YES Network is 49 percent owned by Fox, and the team has expressed in re-acquiring the 51 percent it does not own.

Comcast would also wind up with a majority stake in streaming service Hulu, although it is not known Comcast would sell it off.

Bidding wars for media properties aren’t new: when Viacom planned to buy Paramount Communications in 1993, it had to fight off a bid from shopping giant QVC, then headed by former Fox executive Barry Diller. The bid wasn’t successful, and Viacom won in the end – but it took months.

The war over Fox is taking place as a judge recently OK’d a deal between AT&T and TimeWarner rejecting the Justice Department’s concerns as the transaction closed on June 16. With the deal, TimeWarner has changed its name to WarnerMedia – which makes sense given the Time Inc. portion of TimeWarner was spun off years ago (the magazine conglomerate was recently purchased by Meredith Corp.)

As we say in this business, “stay tuned”.

Eddie Olczyk. (USA Today)

In news first reported by Robert Feder last Tuesday, current Blackhawks and NBC on NHL commentator Eddie Olczyk is expanding his presence into sports talk radio: last week, he joined David Kaplan’s Kap and Co., where he’ll be a regular co-host on Mondays and Fridays from 9 to noon on ESPN-owned WMVP-AM (ESPN 1000.) Olczyk joins regular rotating contributors Jordan Cornette and Pat Boyle.

The 51 year-old former Blackhawk played with the team from 1984-87 and again from 1998-2000, and was part of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. As you may be aware, Olczyk spent time away from the booth this season due to treatments for colon cancer. He announced in March the cancer was in remission and returned to job full-time with NBC Sports covering the Stanley Cup Final and Triple Crown, including the Kentucky Derby (Olczyk is also a horse racing expert.)

“I would like to just say that this has been the best medicine I’ve had in a long time, getting back to hockey and horse racing after my battle with Stage 3 colon cancer.”, Olczyk told Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Tribune.

And we fans are more than fortunate to have a talented broadcaster like Eddie Olczyk around.

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So long and no thanks for the tronc

From the L.A. Times newsroom party – good riddance “tronc”. (Twitter/Jen Yamato/LA Times)

Named expected to change back to Tribune Publishing after sale of LA Times, Ferro departure

One of the most ridiculous names in media history is heading into the history books after two years.

In a move approved last month, the parent company of the Chicago Tribune is reverting back to Tribune Publishing, after a disastrous  stint under the name “tronc”.

The move comes as the sale of Los Angeles Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune closed Monday with former tronc board member Patrick-Soon Shiong for $500 million, leaving the company with ten main newspapers. The original Tribune Co. purchased the Times in 2002 from Times Mirror and twelve years later, Tribune split into two publicly traded companies: Tribune Media and Tribune Publishing, the latter becoming “tronc” in June 2016.

Tronc stood for “Tribune Online Content”, created by Ferro himself meant to highlight the shift away from news print and toward digital content. But over time, it became a symbol of everything wrong with the newspaper industry, from disappointing revenues to layoffs to sexual harassment allegations, the latter committed by now ex-chairman Michael Ferro. He departed tronc in March – hours before an expose was published detailing sexual harassment changes against him.

The renaming drew scorn across social media when it was announced and famously skewed by Last Week Tonight host John Oliver as he took apart a corporate video no one understood. When the name change was announced, “tronc” meant “a content curation and monetization company focused on creating and distributing premium, verified content across all channels.”

As I noted on this blog in 2016: Judging by the stuff I’m seeing in the Tribune lately, sitting around waiting for a shooting to happen in Englewood isn’t exactly what I call “creating content”. Reporting on a murder, a game, or the state budget impasse isn’t the same as being an artist, writing a book or a script, or creating a video game. By Ferro’s definition, criminals, idiot politicians, and Donald Trump running his mouth are the ones who are “creating content” for “tronc”. Ferro has no f—ing idea what “creating content” means.

The low point came during the 2016 NLCS between the Chicago Cubs and Los Angeles Dodgers when a vapid intern at the Los Angeles Times took a shot at Chicago’s homicide rate in response to an L.A. -bashing article written by the equally vapid Rex Huppke –  – the type of “content” tronc was peddling.

Even worse, the tweet came after three people were shot and killed in Los Angeles the day before the tweet was made – insulting minority inner-city communities plagued by violence in both cities. I guess this was “the future of content” tronc was talking about.

Unfortunately, the name (and the antics) overshadowed the great investigative work the papers – the Chicago Tribune included – did on numerous pressing issues,  notably the Tribune’s multi-part series on sexual abuse in the Chicago Public School system. With the nitwits running tronc gone – and the name changing back to Tribune Publishing, the people who work on these types of stories now have a chance to shine without any side distraction. The tronc name is more associated with the dysfunction of the company than great investigative reporting.

I guess you can say tronc got tronc’d.

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Journalist Elizabeth Brackett dies at 76

Her passing draws tributes from colleagues, others

The Chicago journalism community is mourning the loss of Elizabeth Brackett, a journalist best known for her work on Chicago Tonight and other local stations. She passed away Sunday at Stroger hospital days after a bike accident, occuring last Wednesday on the path just east of South Lake Shore Drive near Oakwood Blvd. She was riding when she fell off the bike and fractured the vertebra in her neck.

Her death solicited reaction from numerous colleagues and politicians, including the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

Brackett got her start in the business as a researcher and reporter for WBBM-TV after a failed aldermanic run. After a stint at WGN-TV, she joined WLS-TV during a tumultuous time in Chicago politics as Harold Washington was vying to become the city’s first African-American mayor. Brackett became the Chicago-based Midwest correspondent for PBS’ McNeil/Lerher Newshour in 1984 and began work on Chicago Tonight after the show shifted its bureau to WTTW in 1991.

During her time on the show, Brackett reported on numerous issues, including politics. She also profiled several Chicago figures, including then-State senator Barack Obama. Brackett retired from the daily grind in 2014, but continued to file reports for Chicago Tonight on a limited basis, notably on an issue she was very passionate about: the environment.

In addition to her journalism, Brackett was also an accomplished triathlete, competing in triathlons well into her 70s, winning an impressive five titles in her age group – the last one in Rotterdam last year. She regularly rode her bike down the Lakefront path, as she was doing last Wednesday.

Among the numerous awards Brackett received include a Peabody, an Emmy (for her profile on Obama), two Peter Lisagor Awards, and was inducted into the Silver Circle of the Chicago Television Academy.

She also authored the book Pay to Play: How Rod Blagoveich Turned Political Corruption into a National Sideshow, released in 2009 after the governor was removed from office the year before after he tried to sell Obama’s U.S. senate seat after he was elected President.

Brackett is survived by husband Peter Martinez, two children, two sisters, numerous stepchildren and grandchildren, and six nieces and nephews. Services will be held Wednesday at Kenilworth Union Church in Kenilworth at 1 p.m.


T Dog’s Think Tank: The legacy Jerry Springer leaves


For better or worse – mostly worse, Jerry Springer shaped television and society

To say Jerry Springer didn’t have an impact on our culture is like saying cigarette smoking doesn’t cause cancer.

But here we are in 2018 as what we saw as outrageous back then is the norm now. Before  Jersey Shore, Flavor Of Love, Love And Hip-Hop, The Real Housewives of Whatever City, and other reality tripe – and before the incivility we see everywhere these days, there was Jerry! Jerry! Jerry! As his show enters “production hiatus” – perhaps permanently as The CW recently bought rerun rights to his show, we look back at the legacy Jerry Springer left.

When Springer started in 1991, it was produced at Cincinnati’s WLWT (where he anchored their newscasts) and was your typical discussion show a la Donahue – early guests include Rev. Jesse Jackson and Oliver North. In 1992, the show moved to Chicago’s  NBC Tower and two years later, the series nearly faced cancellation. So in order to boost ratings, the show needed to up the sleaze factor. And boy, did it ever with topics like “My Boyfriend Turned Out To Be A Girl” among others. In 1994 and 1995, Springer was one of many “trash TV” shows in the marketplace, including Ricki Lake, Charles Perez, and Jenny Jones, whose “secret crush” episode led to a murder.

Then came the on-air fighting – something you’d rarely see on a talk show until Geraldo Rivera’s nose was busted by a chair in a melee involving Neo-Nazi skinheads on an 1988 episode of his talk show. Springer’s first altercation came in a 1994 episode with a group of Black Panthers and Nazis squaring off.

By 1997, Springer soared to the top with numbers not seen in daytime syndication in decades with numerous on-air altercations. Management at WMAQ thought it was a good idea for Springer to do a nightly commentary segment on the station’s 10 p.m. newscast, leading to the resignation of anchors Ron Magers and Carol Marin. The show had a lengthy list of critics from both sides of the political coin, from the liberal Rev. Michael Pflager of St. Sabina Church (who led boycotts outside the NBC Tower over the show) to the conservative Parents Television Council. Even The Chicago City Council – the same group who gave us “Council Wars” – hauled Springer into a hearing asking whether or not the fights on the show were authentic.

One of many “Jerry Springer” knockoffs: the now-defunct Spanish-language talk show “Jose Luis Sin Censura”.

In the late 1990s, Springer defined pop culture with more than fifteen million viewers a day. He wrote a book named Ringmaster which became a movie. He had an opera about himself. There was a VH1 spinoff called The Springer Hustle, airing until the network realized it can stage fights on its own reality shows. There was even a MTV “spring break” edition of his talk show.

And through all of this, Springer himself didn’t understand the hype, often stating his show had no redeeming value.

We can see the influence of Springer  in society on an everyday basis. We see it in politics with the election of Donald Trump to the highest office in the land (Springer even said Trump belonged on his show, not the White House.) We see the influence in dozens of cable reality shows like Shore. We see it on social media and on YouTube, with confrontations, fights, and other viral videos. We even see it in sports, with every baseball brawl and hockey fight. Springer even spawned numerous Spanish-language knockoffs such as Laura and Jose Luis Sin Censura, which was even more racy than Springer as protests over anti-LGBT content forced Estrella TV to pull the plug as this blog documented in 2013.

Springer has been culturally irrelevant for some time now – like The Simpsons and Family Guy, it has long crossed over to “is this show still on the air?” territory. In Chicago, its once sky-high ratings for NBC 5 were reduced to rubble by the time it reached WPWR’s little-watched daytime schedule as topics became more bizarre and at one time had puppets, a character named “Reverend Schnorr”, and even an in-house midget. The show left its longtime Chicago home in 2009 for Connecticut as most locals here didn’t notice or care. More violent fights have happened on Love and Hip-Hop and Jersey Shore than there have been on Springer in recent years. It’s no surprise its departure is being greeted with yawns.

As Springer says at the end of every episode… “take care of yourself…and each other.”

Leave it to a show like his to point out exactly what we’re not doing.

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Judge approves AT&T-TimeWarner deal

Warner Bros. becomes an AT&T company thanks to a judge’s ruling.

Merger survives court challenge

Tuesday’s federal court decision clearing the way for AT&T to acquire TimeWarner has implications not only for consumers and businesses, but the entire media landscape.

Judge Richard Leon of the D.C. District Court ruled in favor of the two companies on Tuesday imposing no conditions after a long six-week trial. The merger was announced on a Saturday night in 2016, bringing together the likes of the nation’s largest telecom company and one of the largest studios in the country, who owns the rights to Bugs Bunny, The Big Bang Theory, and cable networks TNT, TBS, CNN, Adult Swim, and premium service HBO.

Judge Leon found no evidence the merger would harm competition and hurt free markets, and the Justice Department failed to prove rival distribution chains would suffer. The companies argue the merger is needed to compete with the likes of streaming services Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon and tech companies such as Google and Microsoft.

The Justice Department, who sued to block the deal, may appeal. However, Judge Leon said he would not grant a stay. The deal is expected to close on June 20.

President Trump called the deal “not good for the country”, but critics charge the only reason he was opposed because of CNN, a news network he feuds with declaring it “fake news”. The Justice Department ordered AT&T and TimeWarner to spin-off or sell either DirecTV or CNN.

The ruling is expected to have a serious impact on the media business as companies are looking to scale up. In fact, NBCUniversal parent Comcast Corp. is looking to outbid Disney for control of the properties 21st Century Fox is selling. Comcast said it would make a bid as soon as Wednesday if the judge ruled in favor of AT&T and TimeWarner, which he did.

The ruling is also expected to impact the other pending merger, Sinclair’s $3.9 billion purchase of Tribune Media, whose chances of approval have apparently gone through the roof. The FCC and the Justice Department however, has yet to sign off on the deal.

Other smaller companies may have to get bigger or get left out at the barging table. Lionsgate, Discovery (who recently acquired Scripps’ networks), AMC Networks, Entertainment Studios, and Hallmark are among possible acquisition targets.

And the ruling is expected to have implications outside the media business as well. Pharmacy chain CVS is looking to acquire insurance company Aetna – a merger derided by some as too much power in the healthcare industry.

Reaction was swift, and much of it negative – from consolidation critics, unions, and Democratic politicians. But the biggest critic of the deal – Trump – has been silent as of this writing. It is not known if cable/satellite bills would rise or fall and if distribution channels would be limited for outside product, among other things. But given the huge change in the media business thanks to the advent of streaming services and the availability of watching your shows on something other than a traditional TV set, it has become more difficult for companies to compete and maintain profitibility.

TO read the 172-page decision on the AT&T-TimeWarner case, click here.

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WGN Radio revamps lineup

Justin Kaufmann joins Steve Cochran in mornings; Patti Vasquez moves to evenings and adds Andrea Dalatris as co-host

As the sale of Tribune Media to Sinclair Broadcasting is soon to close pending FCC and Justice Department approval, WGN-AM announced some lineup changes Wednesday, affecting its evening lineup and morning show.

As first reported by Robert Feder, Justin Kaufmann is giving up his evening Download show and is becoming a full-time contributor to Steve Cochran’s morning show.

Replacing Download in evenings is a new show hosted by Patti Vasquez, who is being bumped up from late-nights. Joining Vasquez is Andrea Darlas, who becomes co-host and news anchor of the evening show with Kaufmann is essentially taking Darlas’ place as Cochran’s contributor. The program is subject to pre-emptions due to sporting events, in which Vasquez’s and Darias’ show would be delayed until 10 p.m.

Download is continuing as a podcast, while clips from WGN programming will run from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m. as WGN Nightside. Nick Diglio continues in overnights, adding the 1 a.m. hour.

The changes take place on June 18 as WGN completes its move to the new 303 East Wacker Drive building from its old Tribune Tower home with WGN signing on from its new eighteenth floor studios at 2 a.m. Monday morning with a newscast. The station is going back and forth between its new and old homes for the time being.

The move pairing Vasquez and Darias is a smart one given a dearth of female talk voices in Chicago radio. The current “MeToo” and “Time’s Up” movements has raised awareness of the need for more diverse voices in the media business.

The changes certainly can’t hurt. Once a powerhouse, WGN recently finished outside the top twenty in the latest PPM ratings reports and fared even worse in key demos. Known for its conservative leanings, Sinclair is unlikely to tamper with the new schedule once its $3.9 billion acquisition of Tribune Media is complete – at least in the short term.

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The Media Notepad: WGN Radio exits Tribune Tower

Also: Kathy Brock calls it a career; a Sinclair station’s May ratings survives controversy; CW 50 viewers to re-scan their sets

It’s an end of an era for WGN Radio.

The Tribune Media-owned radio station’s on-air operations moved out of its longtime Tribune Tower digs and into a building at 303 North Wacker Drive as its former home is being renovated into retail space and apartments. The first newscast signed on from the new WGN-AM Studios around 2 a.m. Monday morning. The move is expected to be completed on June 15.

Former tenant the Chicago Tribune moved out of the Tower weeks ago.

WGN occupied a window-side studio for years along Michigan Avenue, and also had The Walk Of Fame alongside. But as of today, WGN is now broadcasting from new skyline studios from the eighteenth floor. New amenities include two skyline studios, six new podcasting stations, and a live performance and music area and seating up to 25 people. In addition, there is a 24/7 “WGN Newsroom Hub”, with updated news gathering resources and video production facilities (for the web, obviously.)

The move comes as Tribune Media is being sold to Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcasting, ending over 90 years of local ownership. Sinclair has no plans to sell the news/talk outlet as it owns four radio stations in Seattle bought from Fisher Broadcasting, owners of KOMO-TV-AM-FM.

WGN’s move to 303 East Wacker creates a bit of a “radio row” in the area: Both Entercom and Hubbard’s stations are based in the nearby Prudential Building while iHeartMEdia’s stations are located at the 225 North Michigan Avenue Building – all within walking distance.

Speaking of Sinclair, you’re probably wondering how its stations did in the May sweeps after the controversy created by the company’s mandated message across its TV station group last March. At least in one market, it didn’t really have an impact on ratings.

Former Cincinnati Enquirer TV/radio critic and now WVXU/WMUB-FM blogger John Kiesewetter reported Sinclair’s WKRC-TV in Cincinnati remained on top of the local news race. The CBS affiliate swept all news races, and even reported ratings increases at 5 p.m. However, the 11 p.m. newscast fell fifteen percent from the year-ago time period and its 6 a.m. newscast also lost ground, but remained on top.

Numbers used are households, not demos as Cincinnati is not a Top 25 local people meter market where overnight demos are available. Cincinnati is the country’s 35th-ranked TV market, according to Nielsen.

The declines could be attributed to the controversy in which anchors Rob Braun and Cammy Dierking read the statement about “fake news” from Sinclair, which led to Braun receiving death threats. Even longtime Cincinnati news anchor Nick Clooney weighed in, telling the Enquirer back in March: “I have no idea what these folks are doing for a living, but it isn’t news.” Other factors could be in play as well: ratings for live TV are down across the board as viewers head for streaming services and other alternatives and May was a light news month, aside from the Santa Fe High School shooting on May 18.

Plus, Cincinnati tends to be a more politically conservative market than Chicago, New York, or San Francisco is, as part of the DMA includes heavily red-state counties of Indiana and Kentucky.

WKRC has been the local market leader for years, dating back to the turn of the century. If you recall, NBC affiliate WLWT was the market leader in the 1980s and 1990s in part due to former anchor Jerry Springer, who left in 1993 to focus more on his then-Chicago based talk show. A 1996 affiliation switch from ABC to CBS also helped WKRC, where CBS programming is very popular in this part of the country. WKRC was founded in 1949 a CBS affiliate, but switched networks with ABC affiliate WCPO in 1961. Sinclair has owned WKRC since 2012.

Keep in mind this is just one market and does not represent a nationwide trend. But from this vantage point, the controversy did little to dent local news numbers.

Another anchor change is coming to ABC 7’s newscast: this time is 6 p.m. and 10 p.m. co-anchor Kathy Brock, who announced her retirement last week. Brock came to WLS-TV from Salt Lake City’s KUTV in 1990 and was the first anchor of the newly-launched Eyewitness News This Morning with current 6 and 10 Alan Krashesky way back in early 1991 at a time when most local morning news were only a half-hour in length.

“WLS represents the best of local television news.” Brock said in a statement. “I firmly believe there is no equal and recognize what a gift it has been to be part of this team. There is poetry for me in closing out this career sharing the 6 and 10 p.m. desk with my original partner, Alan Krashesky, who has also become a dear friend. The time just seems right for change; I want to explore other passions and see what life’s like off the night shift.”

“Kathy Brock has been an essential part of our news team for close to three decades”, said WLS-TV general manager John Idler. “Her intelligence, integrity and commitment to journalism are unrivaled. We will miss her leadership in the newsroom and wish her all the best.”

Among Brock’s achievements at ABC 7 include nearly a dozen Chicago and Regional Emmy awards, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the IRIS award from the National Association of Television Program Executives (NATPE).

This marks the latest ABC 7 news personality to retire recently – Brock’s former news partner Ron Magers retired in 2016. Despite the changes, WLS continues to dominate Chicago’s evening local news ratings in households and key demos.

For those who watch TV via your over-the-air antenna, a reminder: Fox-owned CW affiliate WPWR is moving to a new frequency at noon on June 11 and viewers must re-scan their sets in order to continue receiving the station. This is a result of the FCC auction held last year where WPWR agreed to give up its airspace and move to the frequency of sister station WFLD-TV.

“We’ve been a part of this community for sixteen years, and we know that our viewers rely on us for the very best in entertainment and local sports. That’s not going to change,” said WFLD/WPWR General Manager Dennis Welsh. “Our goal is to make this transition as easy as possible on our viewers to ensure they can keep watching the programs they love.”

Also on the move are digital networks Movies! (50.2), Buzzr (50.3), and Light TV (50.4).

Once owned by Fred Eischenyer’s Newsweb Corp., WPWR shifted from Channel 60 to Channel 50 in early 1987 during the analog era, separating from the old WBBS-TV (now WXFT.) Once one of Chicago’s leading independent stations, WPWR was sold by Newsweb to Fox in 2002 for $425 million. WPWR became a CW affiliate in 2016 after WGN-TV gave up the affiliation. WPWR has also been affiliated with UPN and My Network TV.

Due to “PSIP”, WPWR and its subchannels will continue to show up as 50 on your set.

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T Dog’s Think Tank: ABC did right thing by dumping “Roseanne”

Decision was made to protect their business interests after she became unhinged – but she never should have been rehired in the first place

As one who refused to join the chorus of praise regarding the Roseanne reboot – and this person has had his fill of “reboots” already, ABC indeed “did the right thing” by cancelling the show after the star of the show made several racist and anti-Semitic tweets.

But the praise for ABC stops here.

From my vantage point, rebooting Roseanne was a bad idea, given the headaches she caused the first time around for the network, and everyone else. For one, she was a pain to work with – just ask Matt Williams and Chuck Lorre.

After the original version of her sitcom ended, Barr got together with King World so she can become the next Oprah and launched her own daytime talk show in 1998 in two-year deals with stations. There was turmoil of course with ratings so bad, the NBC-owned stations who carried her show dropped it after one season. Undaunted, King World (who by this time was acquired by CBS) continued the show until the contracts ran out, even without clearances in top markets such as Chicago and New York.

And now after 20 years, Barr is suddenly back in the public eye thanks to this “reboot wave” as the broadcast networks look for anything – anything! – to stem declining ratings as viewers continue to leave linear television for alternatives such as Netflix and Amazon. They must’ve been desperate because someone at ABC obviously didn’t look at her Twitter account – filled with baseless conspiracy theories and racist jokes. On the day her show was canceled, she “quit” Twitter – but returned later in the day ripping into her now- former castmates and once again retweeting false conspiracies, including one who suggested former First Lady Michelle Obama had a hand in the program’s cancellation.

And then there’s the infamous photo in a Hitler costume.

So the question is, why did ABC decided to return to business with this heifer?

Simple. Media executives seem to think this “shock jock” mentality still sells, as if it were 1994. There was Disney-ABC President Ben Sherwood at the upfronts, celebrating Barr as she came out to media buyers as most didn’t seem to give a fuck if she was there or not. She was branded about as a hero and acted like she “saved” the network, something Regis Philbin did some twenty years ago with more class. It was irksome.

“Roseanne” wound up the season as the top-rated show on TV in 2018.

Ask those of us who follow Chicago media as radio hosts Mancow Muller and former Rep. Joe Walsh and executives like Marv Nyren and Randy Michaels get second chances, and screw up again and again because their jobs were never in jeopardy (although Mancow lost his as WLUP went belly up.) Meanwhile, diversity is an afterthought in Chicago where people of color make up nearly 40 percent of the DMA (designated market area) – but far less in management and in other media roles.

And don’t forget the national media scene. Where else a simpleton like Jeff Zucker – who screwed up NBC – is now running CNN? Meanwhile, Bill Maher says the n-word on his HBO show and gets a pass because he’s “liberal” – on a network where they let now-retired boxing commentator Larry Merchant disparage minority fighters for years without repercussion.

With all of this said, I’ve never been a fan of Roseanne Barr, or any iteration of her shows as I never watched a single minute of her old sitcom. And when I watched the premiere of her reboot, I wasn’t impressed as the dialogue seemed forced and awkward, and was simply not funny. And taking a swipe at other shows’ diversity on the same network was misplaced humor at its worst – particularly at a time when racial disparity in network television and media in general is under tight scrutiny – an issue I’ve written about on this blog for years. And the strange thing about this is ABC has championed diversity more so than the other broadcast networks.

And yet, they bring back a 65-year old classless hag as the face of the network.

Of course, the humanoids got a kick out of it – more than 25 million viewers tuned in to Roseanne’s return on March 27, but ratings slipped a bit each week. And even a few critics compared this season’s finale to the show’s infamous ninth season, easily considered the worst of the franchise.

Certainly, the racist comments Barr made put ABC – and their owned stations and affiliates in a tough position and they did what they had to do, unprecedented as it was. I’ll bet you a steak dinner at the local Porterhouse that WLS-TV management went into static shock after Barr made those comments and envisioned the organizers behind The Black Women’s Expo and The Bud Billiken Parade ending their sponsorships and walking across the street to a competitor. Local stations spent years building up relationships with their communities – only to be shattered by some ignorant “TV star” in a tweet. ABC had no choice but to cancel the show, not only to protect their reputation, but those of its business partners, i.e. affiliates and owned stations.

Yes, we know Barr is a Trump supporter, but that’s besides the point. Giving someone a platform to make false, lawsuit-worthy comments and being an overall asshole on social media isn’t exactly a great business plan in the long-term. The mantra in the media business is these mistakes are made over and over again and nobody learns anything from the experience.

And that’s the sad part.

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“Roseanne” canceled by ABC after star sends racist, anti-Semitic tweets

Decision stuns industry – but it had to be done

In a stunning and unprecedented move , ABC pulled the plug on the revival of the 1988-97 sitcom Roseanne – because of tweets sent by the namesake’s star, making racist and anti-Semitic statements. The series was to return this fall for its eleventh season.

The tweet Roseanne Barr wrote Tuesday morning was about Valerie Jarrett, a former President Obama senior adviser who spent time in Chicago, working in the city’s transportation, planning, and housing departments under Mayor Richard M. Daley. On Twitter, Barr falsely claimed she was Musilm and then compared her to an ape (“vj” refers to Ms. Jarrett):








Earlier, she responded to a Chelsea Clinton tweet and called billionaire George Soros a Nazi:









Barr deleted the tweets and apologized.

By late morning, the wheels were in motion. Wanda Sykes, who was a consulting producer on the show, announced shortly thereafter she was leaving:

On social media, there were calls for ABC to cancel the show – and apparently, they listened to screenwriter Craig Mazin:

ABC Entertainment President Channing Dungey – the first African-American woman to be appointed as president of any broadcast network, released a statement via Walt Disney Chairman Bob Iger:







Looking at this from a historic perspective, this marks the first time a TV series has been abruptly canceled on top in the ratings: first in adults 18-49 (6.4) and first among total viewers, with 22.2 million – all live-plus-seven day numbers. Second, it marks the first time any TV series was canceled because of an offensive tweet. The nine-episode run was also a big revenue generator, drawing $36.7 million in ad sales.

More reaction came from co-star and executive producer Sara Gilbert, who played Roseanne’s daughter on the show:

And Barr was called out by legendary actress Rita Moreno:

ABC really had no choice in the matter: if they didn’t fire Barr, the network would have risked alienating advertisers and viewers – especially those of color. And the effect would trickle down from the network level to the local one. In Chicago for example, ABC-owned WLS-TV sponsors the annual Black Women’s Expo and carries the Bud Billiken Parade. Any continuing link to Barr would have put those strong relationships with the African-American community at risk – a lesson learned after the Harry Porterfield debacle at CBS-owned WBBM-TV in 1985, resulting in a boycott costing the station ratings and revenue as black viewers tuned out.

And news flash: Barr’s boss was an African-American woman.

Predictably, ABC is dropping all repeats of Roseanne immediately, including Tuesday night’s episode. Reruns of the original series have been pulled from Viacom’s cable networks, including CMT, TV Land, and Paramount Network, and from digital broadcast network Laff, seen locally over WGBO-DT (Ch. 66.3). Streaming service Hulu also dropped the show.

In Canada, CTV owner Bell Media has removed the series from all of its platforms.

Barr was also dropped by her rep agency, ICM.

While all of this is indeed shocking, we all knew it would be a matter of time before something like this would happen. Back in 2013, Barr sent a racially insensitive tweet about another Obama advisor, Susan Rice. Barr was also a staunch supporter of President Trump, as her real-life persona was woven into the show.

A few weeks ago, an episode mocked other ABC sitcoms featuring diverse casts such as blackish and Fresh Off The Boat, angering fans of those respective shows and others. And unfortunately, there seems to be a growing trend of allowing such behavior in the industry, as Bill Maher and former politician Joe Walsh have said the “n-word” on the air and kept their gigs.

But while HBO and Salem Communications would condone their behavior, ABC was having none of it. After all, they have licenses to protect – not to mention parent company Disney is currently in the process of buying certain 21st Century Fox assets while fending off a fierce bid from Comcast and there was too much at stake to have a distraction like Roseanne. While ABC got a instant financial pop in the short-term, at the end of the day being associated Roseanne Barr and her racist, anti-Semitic tweets and the accompanying headaches weren’t worth it in the long run.

As for the company behind her show, Carsey-Werner Entertainment – one of the last independent shops in Hollywood – is also now home to two of the most tarnished names in Hollywood: Bill Cosby and Roseanne Barr, making the bulk of their once-hot product worthless. My guess is, the rest of their library product will be looking for a new studio home as like Cosby’s and Barr’s careers, the Carsey-Werner name will soon be a memory.

Editor’s Note: An earlier draft incorrectly stated Wanda Sykes’ job title on Roseanne. – T.H.

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