Cumulus seeks to end contracts with Merlin Media, Bulls, White Sox

Chapter 11 forces company to dump pricey agreements.

At last, I can sum up the sorry state of Chicago sports AND Chicago radio all in one post.

In news breaking Friday and first reported by Robert Feder, Cumulus announced it was seeking to get out of money-losing contracts of the Chicago Bulls and Chicago White Sox in a filing with the bankruptcy court as the Atlanta-based company is in Chapter 11. This is part of a larger restructuring plan by Cumulus who also wants to nullify a deal to buy classic rock WLUP-FM (The Loop) and alternative rock WKQX-FM from Merlin Media, which it has been operating under a local marketing agreement since 2014.

Cumulus owns WLS-AM and FM, both formerly owned by ABC Radio until its sale in 2007.

This means…yes, Randy Michaels – who teamed up with financial investor GTCR (once run by now-Illinois governor Bruce Rauner) to form Merlin Media – could retake control of both stations. As those of you know, Michaels bought WLUP and WKQX in 2011 and flipped the latter station to an all-news format, with unsuccessful results.

Merlin also bought stations in New York and Philadelphia, only to sell them shortly thereafter.

It was revealed in a filing Cumulus was seeking to terminate several contracts. In addition to Chicago’s two sports teams, Cumulus is looking to withdraw agreements with the NFL’s Buffalo Bills and Seattle Seahawks, and a Westwood One/CNBC deal. Cumulus has claimed since the start of the LMA with Merlin, they lost more than $8 million – with the greater losses coming in 2017. Cumulus exercised an option to buy the stations last year, giving them four in the Chicago market, in addition to WLS-AM/FM. The FCC has yet to approve the deal.

In an interview with the Chicago Tribune, Michaels said he is ready to step in and re-take operations of the stations. It would be business as usual and the stations would continue to be based at the NBC Tower, where they relocated last year with Cumulus’ other two stations. A bankruptcy judge will decide on Cumulus’ petition on February 1.

Cumulus filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 29; Merlin Media opted to sell the stations last October. It is not known if Merlin plans to keep the stations or sell them to someone else if the Cumulus deal falls through.

As for the Bulls and White Sox, WLS’ decision to drop the two struggling teams are a huge blow. Both are owned by Jerry Reinsdorf, and are usually packaged together in any media deal. If the bankruptcy judge agrees to Cumulus’ requests, both teams could lose their radio homes on February 1, forcing the Bulls and the White Sox would to find new outlets quickly.

Many have criticized WLS-AM’s coverage of Reinsdorf’s teams, a deal struck in 2015 with a six-year deal. The teams were never a good fit for the station, which has shifted back to a conservative talk direction earlier in the year. The teams received little promotion or fanfare on the station.

Merlin Media could operates WLUP and WKQX again if a deal with Cumulus isn’t reached.

The impact could be more pressing for the Bulls, who could be off WLS on the first – right in the middle of the season. It’s a situation that would be unthinkable two decades ago as the Bulls were a dominant team in the NBA under Michael Jordan. Since he left, the team has been one of the least successful franchises in the league, with only a handful of playoff appearances. Despite a better-than-expected season, the Bulls have been criticized for their management decisions under John Paxson and Gar Forman.

Television ratings for the Bulls on NBC Sports Chicago have been flat from last year (2.0), but still trail the Chicago Blackhawks, who have their own ratings woes due to a lackluster season.

And speaking of Cumulus, their own decision-making process is just as bad as the Bulls. The company staged a phony morning show-host contest a few years ago only meant to install Mancow Muller. And recently, they re-hired Marv Nyren as vice president and market manager, split up their popular morning show at WKQX and reassigned someone to run the station’s social media accounts as their “digital content captain”.

And you wonder why Cumulus is in Chapter 11.

So in all, Chicago sports (Cubs excluded) and radio is general, are pretty much one in the same. You’d think they deserve one another but by this failed marriage, even pairing up the worst-run companies in America didn’t yield any successful results. Given it was Cumulus and Reinsdorf’s teams, no one should be surprised. With people like Paxson, Forman, and Nyren around, you can’t go broke.

But Cumulus somehow did.

Unusual radio homes

While the Cubs and Bears have always enjoyed coverage on 50,000-watt clear channel AM blowtorches, this wasn’t always the case for other Chicago sports teams. Case in point:

– After a 56-106 record in 1970 and very low attendance at Comiskey Park, WMAQ-AM dropped the Chicago White Sox and the team’s games shifted to WTAQ-AM (now WRDZ-FM), a 500-watt station in west suburban LaGrange during the 1971 and 1972 seasons. WTAQ carried Spanish-language White Sox games in the 1990s.

– Before Michael Jordan came to Chicago, the Bulls had trouble drawing fans to Chicago Stadium – and drawing radio listeners. During a time when the NBA was also struggling (playoff games were being shown on late-night tape delay during this era), WIND-AM dropped the team and Bulls games wound up on then-urban contemporary WVON-AM (1390) during the 1980-81 season – one where the Bulls actually made the playoffs. Now on 1690 AM, WVON once again could be a logical home, albeit temporary, if Reinsdorf decides to split the package up.

– Similar to the White Sox’s struggles in the late 1960s, the Blackhawks also had trouble attracting fans at one point. The team was so bad in the early 2000s, they were unable to strike a deal with a Chicago radio station and were forced to eschew a rights deal and bought time on WSCR-AM (The Score) to get their games on the air.

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The state of syndication in 2018

WGN’s new “Man Of The People” is a new local Saturday night effort in a time slot that otherwise would have been filled by a syndicator.

With NATPE arriving this week, it’s nothing but slim pickings as veteran shows continue to have shows locked up

Looking for something new in syndication for 2018? You might want to stop.

With buyers and sellers depending descending to Miami this week for the 56th National Association of Television Programming Executives gathering, the syndicated marketplace for new shows is lackluster in numbers once again, as established shows continue their stranglehold on key time periods while others are being snapped up by local news expansion, or other local efforts.

Case in point: this Saturday night, WGN-TV is debuting a new, local comedy show hosted by WGN morning show personality Pat Tomasulo called Man of the People at 10 p.m. and has a stable of other local programs (S.E.E. Chicago, Chicago’s Best, etc.), continuing a trend of local stations or groups producing their own shows. For example, ABC’s WLS-TV continues with talk show strip Windy City Live, despite so-so ratings. Windy was moved to 1 p.m. to replace the ill-fated FABLife after the series was canceled.

Another example: Tegna has three shows (Daily Blast Live, Sister Circle, and Sing Like A Star) airing across their group of 47 stations – produced in Denver, Atlanta, and New Orleans respectively –  in the heart of Middle America where they own stations, in hopes to appeal to those type of audiences instead of producing them in New York and Los Angeles, where two of those programs aren’t even on the air.

All of this is troubling for syndicators, who now have to fight for every available time period in a business  – which at one time had shows for every daypart, now deals predominantly in daytime (remember when there was a late-night and kids’ business?)

So far, only a handful of shows have been announced and even fewer have deals. On Monday, Tribune and Sinclair – both who have a pending merger – made a deal to bring Investigation Discovery series True Crime Stories to their stations in an off-network barter deal, bolstering the true-crime genre already filled with Crimewatch Daily, Corrupt Crimes, Forensic Files, and Dateline, which has been a surprise hit. It is not known where True Crime would end up on Tribune’s WGN-TV.

Fox has a deal for a new courtroom series Caught In Providence from Debmar-Mercury featuring 80-year old Providence Judge Frank Caprio. The show is likely to find a slot on WPWR.

There are several announced projects still looking for a home: Warner Bros. is  shopping an untitled improv project hosted by Dolton native Jane Lynch; CBS Television Distribution has a conflict-talk show resolution show  hosted by Vivica A. Fox called Face The Truth (wondering why they are bringing this out since stations have clearly retreated from such fare.); Sony has a Cops-like project, Police Patrol– the last time a new show in this genre available for syndication was Real Stories Of The Highway Patrol and LAPD: Life On The Beat in the mid-1990s.

The most interesting aspect of this is many syndicated shows are on the bubble – believe it or not, all five NBC Universal daytime talk shows are on the bubble: Harry, Steve (who moved from Chicago to Los Angeles last year), and all three conflict shows. Others on the bubble include Twentieth’s Top 30; Warner Bros.’ CrimeWatch; CBS Television Distribution’s The Doctors; and many others.

Many observers believe the pending Tribune-Sinclair deal is holding up the process: NBC’s long-running conflict shows air on Tribune stations. Sinclair reportedly is no longer interested in carrying these type of programs, featuring Maury Povich and Jerry Springer (he and Steve Wilkos air locally on WCIU instead) – both had their ratings heydays long ago. It’s unlikely all five would exit simultaneously, but don’t look for Harry to return.

Already off the bubble: Judge Mathis, whose host decided to stay with his long-running courtroom show after completing a run for the Detroit-area congressional seat vacated by Rep. John Conyers; CBS renewed Daily Mail TV for a second season; and Fox stations renewed The Real through 2020.

But the bubble burst for CW’s Robert Irvine show after two lackluster seasons. It is not known if the time slot, whose roots date back to the days of Kids WB (the predecessor of The CW) would be turned over to affiliates or filled with something else.

Unlike the 1980s and 1990s, many syndicators nowadays introduce shows to the market months after NATPE takes place. Daily Mail was introduced to the market last March, more than two months after NATPE concluded and CBS brought out off-network sitcom The Game just last summer. So this scenario could change quickly.

And speaking of off-net product, so far two shows have been sold for next fall: NBCU’s Chicago P.D. (to Fox stations) and Disney’s black-ish (to Tribune/Sinclair). But as of this writing, nothing else is in the pipeline as the off-net sitcom drought continues.

It would be some time however, before the industry gauges how the new mammoth  Tribune/Sinclair beast would affect the business – not to mention the Disney-21st Century Fox deal, where Twentieth Television would likely be swallowed into a bulked-up Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution. If you haven’t noticed, Twentieth – who tested a few shows on its Fox stations the last few summers – isn’t bringing anything to market this year.




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The Media Notepad: WRXQ radio personality fired from job after appearing on “The Profit”

Also: Telemundo expands local and national news; Funny You Should Ask renewed through 2021; Fox interested in Sinclair stations

You’d think an appearance on a national TV show would be a great thing for your local radio station, right? Well, in this case, it turned out to be a huge nightmare.

Alpha Media’s WRXQ-FM in southwest suburban Coal City fired evening personality ‘Crazy’ Ray Odom just hours before his appearance Tuesday night on CNBC’s The Profit where he said in a promo for the show: “On the radio, this is not me, I’m a sexist, egotistical, racist pig on the radio.”

Not exactly saleable material.

The reason Odom was on The Profit in the first place was because of his struggling outdoor business he co-owns in Morris, located sixty miles from Chicago. Hosted by Marcus Lemonis, the Camping World CEO works with such entities in return for a financial stake. In this case, Lemonis passed, and Odom’s comments may have played a role.

On Wednesday, Alpha Media market manager Brian Foster released a statement regarding the situation: “DJ Ray Odom, known as Crazy Ray on WRXQ, took part in a national television program. We do not condone the views he expressed in the program. The feelings portrayed are that of his own and not of Alpha Media or QRock. After an internal review, we have decided to cut ties.”

In addition, Odom’s business posted their own statement regarding his controversial comments, stating he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Odom denied he makes racist or sexist comments on the air or in private, saying he played “a racist persona on the radio”, pointing out the comments were taken out of context. The station fired him anyway, despite Odom not mentioning the radio station he works for on the air by name (still, his listeners would have recognized him and his voice.)

Which begs the question – why did he say this in the first place? Whatever it was, it was a bad idea and it cost him his radio career. Also, if his bosses knew he was playing such a character on the air, why did they let this continue?

WRXQ – known as QRock on 100.7 FM is an active rock station serving the southwest suburbs mainly in Will, Grundy, and Kankakee counties including Joliet, Kankakee, Braidwood, and Crest Hill.

More news is coming: Telemundo’s WSNS announced this week it was launching a new midday newscast at the Spanish-language station. Scheduled for 11 a.m. beginning January 22, the addition is part of an initiative from the NBC-owned broadcaster to increase its news output on its local stations and nationally. This comes as Telemundo is planning to launch a new national newscast (Noticias Telemundo Mediodia) at 12:30 p.m. ET (11:30 a.m. in Chicago) on the same day.

Mediodia would be the only midday national network newscast among Spanish and English broadcasters. CBS, NBC, and ABC do not program midday network newscasts.

The local effort meanwhile, is meant to be a companion to the national newscast. In addition to WSNS, new local midday newscasts are being launched at nine other NBC-owned Telemundo stations including those in New York, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston, and Brownsville-McAllen, Tex.

Viewers can also stream the network newscast on a variety of platforms, including on the web at and through the Noticias Telemundo app in addition to other social media platforms. Telemundo has invested heavily in news programming, hiring personnel and expanding into other dayparts. Recently, WSNS launched a new investigative unit in addition to its existing consumer investigative unit.

For those wondering what Noticias is, it means “news” in Spanish.

With the Justice Department forcing Sinclair to sell off ten stations to acquire Tribune Broadcasting, Fox has emerged as the most likely entity to buy them, according to published reports. Among the rumored sale include Tribune’s KCPQ in Seattle, a station Fox long coveted due to the NFC’s Seahawks in the market (Fox has the rights to almost all NFC games.) Fox owns stations in thirteen NFC markets.

Also likely to be sold is one of three stations in the St. Louis market – Sinclair already owns ABC affiliate KDNL and would be acquiring Tribune’s Fox affiliate KTVI and CW affiliate KPLR. Another market affected would be Salt Lake City, where Sinclair owns CBS affiliate KUTV and independent KJZZ while Tribune owns Fox affiliate KSTU. Oklahoma City is  another market where Tribune and Sinclair overlap.

Tribune’s duopoly in Denver (KWGN/KDVR) is also in play for Fox.

Fox used to own KTVI, KDVR, and KSTU, selling those stations and others to Local TV LLC in 2007. Tribune bought Local TV in 2013, which would lead to their undoing (the original Tribune Co. split a year later.)

If Fox buys those stations, they would not be part of the deal that is sending much of 21st Century Fox to The Walt Disney Company.

Now that’s showing faith in a program: Entertainment Studios announced Wednesday it has granted a two-year renewal for freshman game show Funny You Should Ask, hosted by former Chicago anchor Jon Kelley. The new deal takes the show through the 2020-21 television season.

In a recent ratings report, Funny earned a season-high 0.6 household rating, up 20 percent. The program is cleared in more than 90 percent of the country, including WCIU in Chicago, WLNY in New York City and KCAL and KDOC in Los Angeles. Among celebs who’ve appeared on the show include Byron Allen (who owns Entertainment Studios and is the show’s executive producer) Bill Bellamy, Jackee Harry, Howie Mandel, Caroline Rhea, and Tom Arnold, among others.

Funny airs weeknights at 11:30 a.m. and 3 a.m. on WCIU and various times during the day on Entertainment Studios’ cable network Comedy.TV

Speaking of celebrities on game shows, Buzzr recently picked up former syndicated first-run game show Celebrity Name Game from Debmar-Mercury for a Friday night time slot. The series was canceled in December 2016 after a three-season run. The diginet also picked up the most recent version of Supermarket Sweep, a game show whose origins were at ABC in 1965 and had revivals on Lifetime in the 1990s and PAX in the 2000s.

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Milt Rosenberg dies

The legendary WGN Radio host passes at 92

One of Chicago’s most recognizable and appreciated radio hosts has died.

Milt Rosenberg, who spent 39 years at Tribune’s WGN-AM passed away recently from complications of pneumonia.

Born as Milton J. Rosenberg in 1925 in New York City, attended Brooklyn College, University of Wisconsin and the University of Michigan, where he became an instructor in psychology. He later served as a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. Rosenberg also authored several articles in professional journals and political magazines.

Rosenberg joined WGN in 1973 as host of Extension 720, with topics ranging from political issues and the arts to entertainment to financial investment. Among the numerous guests who appeared on his show included David Brinkley, Jimmy Carter, Henry Kissinger, Jim Lerher, Bill Murray, Carl Sagan, Maragret Thatcher, and many others. His shows were praised for intelligent conversation – something lacking on talk radio today. During his time on the air, Rosenberg dominated the ratings in his late-night time slot. Rosenberg was certainly part of WGN Radio’s heyday, which included talent such as Wally Phillips, Roy Leonard, and Bob Collins.

In 2012, WGN announced Milt Rosenberg’s “retirement” after 39 years – in a move some speculated as a ruse to push him out the door. The move was unpopular with listeners.

Rosenberg’s WGN podcasts were among the most-downloaded and he started his own in 2013, titled The Milt Rosenberg Show. But as time went on, his podcasts became more and more infrequent. Rosenberg returned to the airwaves via WCGO-AM in Aurora in 2015, but lasted only seven months due to budget cuts.

This is what yours truly posted on Twitter this morning:

Milt Rosenberg is survived by wife Marjorie Anna King, son Matthew, and two  grandchildren.

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Media Notepad: Mancow drops lawsuit against Nyren

Also, The Real renewed through 2020; Anamainics returns; Fox at TCA

Our long national nightmare is over: the Mancow-Marv Nyren feud is buried – for now.

As first reported by Robert Feder Thursday, WLUP-FM’s Mancow Mueller dropped his “lawsuit” against Marv Nyren, who became his boss again after being named vice president and market manager of Cumulus last fall, who owns WLUP and three other stations in Chicago. Mueller sued Nyren in Cook County Court, claiming he suffered emotional anguish while working for Nyren in the mid-2000s when he was employed at then Emmis-owned WKQX-FM and Nyren was the boss there (ironically, WKQX is also now owned by Cumulus.)

The two met last month and apparently ironed out their differences, leading Mueller to drop his lawsuit against Nyren. Mueller filed a similar suit against Nyren in 2006, and was settled in 2011. This suit was meant to avoid repeating this whole mess the first time around, according to Muller’s attorney, which was the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard of. Is Muller’s attorney also a fortune teller?

To steal a phrase from John Kass: Radio. “The Chicago Way”.

Meanwhile, alternative rocker WKQX-FM announced Wednesday its decision to split up its morning team of Brian Phillips and Lou Lombardo. As reported by Robert Feder, Phillips continues on in the daypart, but now as a solo host. Meanwhile, Lombardo shifts to evenings replacing Josh Macroni, Lombardo also takes over Marconi’s role of “digital content captain”, meaning he runs the station’s websites and social media accounts.

Nyren yammered on about “maximizing skills at positions”, or something.

The phrase”digital content captain” sounds a bit ridicious, but I guess you can assume  they better have the “digital content life preservers” on standby because as a company, bankrupt Cumulus is a sinking ship.

Another day, another reboot: Hulu announced Thursday it put in a two-season order of the popular animated series Animaniacs, which ran on Fox and Kids WB in the 1990s. Two seasons have been ordered to start in 2020, plus all 99 existing episodes are being added to the service.

The deal also includes other ’90s Warner Bros. animated series including Tiny Toon Adventures and Animaniacs spin-off Pinky And The Brain, which had an all-too brief primetime run on The WB.

The series centers around Yakko, Wakko, and Dot  after being locked in the Warner Bros. water tower for decades – escape and create all kinds of wacky stuff on the Warner Bros. lot (imagine if the Animanics had to deal with Charlie Sheen from Two And A Half Men – it would be a laugh riot!)

Animaniacs premiered as part of Fox Kids’ lineup in 1993 when they had a deal to program their two-hour afternoon lineup, but shifted to Kids WB two years later as Warner Bros. shifted all of its animated product to the new network, part of The WB (which later folded into UPN to form The CW.) Warner Bros. generally reduced the number of new episodes over the years, ending in 1998.

The series has won eight daytime Emmy Awards and a Peabody.

The series is produced by Steven Speilberg’s production company, Amblin Television and is returning in his role as executive producer.

Also on the Warner beat: Warner Bros. Domestic Television Distribution announced a two-season renewal for daytime talk show strip The Real, thanks to the Fox Television Stations group, who renewed the show through 2020. Even though ratings for the show aren’t exactly stellar (0.8 Nielsen household average this current season), the series’ social media element has been successful, thanks to The Real going live – something the series didn’t do at first. During the 2016-17 season, The Real saw more than 12 million social media interactions.

The Real was tested by a few Fox-owned stations in 2013 and debuted in national syndication in 2014. The show is hosted by Adrienne Houghton, Loni Love, Jeannie Mai, and Tamera-Mowry Housley. A fifth host (Tamar Braxton) was dropped from the show a year ago.

I’m thinking an Anamainics – The Real crossover. It’s entirely possible, people!

Dana Walden (l.) and Gary Newman. (Variety/Shutterstock)

For the first time since the announcement of Disney buying most of 21st Century Fox, executives of the latter met with reporters Thursday on the first day of the TCA press tour, and of course, questions were asked about the future of the network. Executives Dana Walden and Gary Newman noted it would be business as usual, and shows such as The Simpsons and Family Guy won’t be “Disney-fied”. Both shows are renewed through 2019; the deal is expected to close twelve to eighteen months from now.

Meanwhile, they confirmed the new company featuring Fox, Fox News, the Fox-owned stations, and Fox Sports would be named “New Fox”, though this is likely a working title. Walden also downplayed the possibility of the new Fox consisting of 80 percent “live events and sports”, as Fox would be open to programming from Sony and Warner Bros.

In other TCA news involving Fox, both Walden and Newman dismissed speculation about the future of the recently returned X-Files, as reports have surfaced Gilligan Anderson would not be doing the show after this season, which could end the short-term series. “Some days you’d get a ‘Yes,’ some days you’d get a ‘No.’ I would not exclude the possibility that there would be more. But not only is there no plan, there hasn’t been a single conversation. It’s too early to even speculate”, Newman said. But ratings may determine X-Files’ fate: Wednesday night’s return drew a 1.4 rating in the adults 18-49 demo, below what Empire was previously doing in the time slot.

Further reading:

Brittney Payton joins Good Day Chicago

Greg Mathis may leave TV show to run for Congress (more on this in a future post)

The Four debuted Thursday on Fox

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No contest: ABC, WLS-TV dominate New Year’s Eve programming

NBC 5, other networks could not compete

Like the New England Patriots bumrushing over everyone in the NFL, the competition was no match for the Mouse House with Ryan Seacrest, Jenny McCarthy, Janet Davies, and Cheryl Scott.

ABC and its owned-and-operated station in Chicago on New Year’s Eve  on Sunday night performed a ratings clinic – a complete total domination of the competition.

As reported by Robert Feder Tuesday, WLS-TV’s (ABC 7) Countdown Chicago posted an eye-popping 16.8 household rating and 39 share, up 36 percent from 2016’s show, which aired on a Saturday night.

By comparison, NBC-owned WMAQ-TV’s (NBC 5) New Year’s Eve special could only draw a 5/8 – down 48 percent from last year, when the now-defunct Chi-Town Rising aired in the slot. NBC 5 decided to continue producing the show despite the absence of the event, co-hosted by WKSC-FM morning personality Christopher Frederick (Brotha Fred), Marley Kayden and  Kalee Dionne (on Twitter, I mistakenly thought Fred’s morning co-host Angi Taylor was also hosting.)

Every other station in town ran their regular Sunday night programming, with the execption of Fox-owned WFLD, airing Steve Harvey’s special on a delayed basis (more on that in a moment.)

On a national basis, ratings for ABC’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve saw a big ratings boost from last year as reported by Deadline and Variety – earning a 3.1/13 in adults 18-49 and 10.5 million viewers for the 8-10 p.m. ET portion, up 63 percent from last year. The tally rose to 15.7 million viewers and a 5.0/20 in the 18-49 demo, up 35 percent and 39 percent, respectively. The 11:30 p.m.-12:30 a.m. ET segment featuring Mariah Carey’s performance and the ball drop earned a whopping 8.2 rating in adults 18-49. The huge Rockin’ lead-in no doubt helped ABC 7 achieve ratings success for Countdown Chicago.

South Korean boy band BTS performs on “Rockin’ Eve”.

New Year’s Rockin Eve completely swamped Fox’s New Year’s Eve special, replacing Pitbull with Steve Harvey. However, ratings were up from last year in the 8-10 p.m. portion, drawing 8.5 million viewers and a 2.9 adult demo rating, up 85 percent and 71 percent, respectively from 2016. The late-night portion of the special was delayed locally for an hour due to WFLD’s Bears recap programming (really?), but it’s hard to imagine anyone in Chicago tuning in for Harvey regardless if it were live or not.

The other networks were in repeats, including NBC, who saw its Sunday night football game taken away at the last minute as the NFL decided not to schedule a game in primetime.

Since Guy Lombardo’s New Year’s Eve specials went away some time ago, television on the night has become more of the train-wreck variety (as early as 1979), and this year was no different as people on social media rightfully point out. Ryan Seacrest and Jenny McCarthy were right at home, with their annoying presence being felt and made the humanoids watching feel right at home. After last year’s disastrous performance, Carey performed admirably. But perhaps the most disgusting aspect of the evening when CNN’s Don Lemon taking a hit from a bong on live TV- why is this man still employed is anyone’s guess.

As for the pre-taped portions of New Year’s Rockin’ Eve, Fergie’s (Stacy Ferguson’s) presence as host was sorely missed as Ciara’s skills as presenter leaves little to be desired.

Locally, the train-wreck aspect was fully on display – especially on Countdown Chicago. Viewers were treated (or tricked) to a dance-off, a performance from The BoDeans (who did the theme from Party Of Five – wow, what a major name!) and way too many people with no rhythm dancing. When the clock struck midnight, NBC 5 showed fireworks from Navy Pier, while ABC 7 had people celebrating from ballrooms across the city.

Chicago Tribune columnist Eric Zorn also reviewed the festivities Tuesday in his column, and his reaction was more along the lines of “yes, we can do a worst job than the network guys.”

Despite the usual bashing from on Twitter, viewers still tuned in for the festivities, as both Rockin’ Eve and Countdown Chicago were the most-watched non-sports programs this week in Chicago. It demonstrates the power of television and how the medium still plays an important role in our lives – regardless of how good or bad it is.

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2017: How did we do?

Back a year ago, yours truly did a look ahead into 2017. So how did everything turn out? I have the answers right here!

1. The FCC under a Trump administration. With a 3-2 FCC majority, issues the FCC championed under Tom Wheeler: net neutrality, preserving the cross-ownership rule, and other issues are going to get a hard look at – and likely change.

And oh boy, did they ever. Ajit Pai took over the agency and basically gutted net neutrality, the media ownership rules, and made other changes.

2. Can Chicago bounce back from dreadful 2016? The only positive story Chicago produced in 2016 was the Chicago Cubs historic World Series victory – and even that was overshadowed by the emphasis on Chicago violence, on a record pace of its own. Unfortunately, 2017 isn’t off to a great start, either with a 60 Minutes piece on the subject and the racially-motivated beating of a disabled teen.

Even though the homicide and crime rate declined, President Trump continued to attack the city while Mayor Emanuel continued to crave the national spotlight by bashing him (“a city he’ll never sleep in”) on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert. And this does not make “Mr. 16 shots and a cover up” a hero as the LaQuan McDonald case – which still hasn’t gone to trial – has all but been forgotten.

So in other words…no.

3. Can the Cubs repeat as World Series Champions? A World Series- winning – and contending Cubs team is good news for its local television and radio partners as fans hope there is another parade down Michigan Avenue in 2017.

The Cubs had a slow start, but bounced back and won the NL Central. But they were eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the NLCS.

4. How high can the number of scripted series go? With the number at 455, expect it to hit 500 as the glut of scripted programming continues to splinter audiences.

And it did.

5. Radio stations to watch. How will the retirement of Terry Boers impact WSCR-AM? Can US 99 bounce back from a bad 2016? Keep an eye an on WLS-AM to see if changes (Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano) impact the station, and of course, WGN-AM.

Sirrott and Muciano were fired by WLS-AM as the station decided to return toward a conservative talk direction. WSCR’s ratings weren’t impacted while US 99 retook the lead over rival Big 95.5 in the country music race. And outside of new ownership in 2018, it has been a quiet year at WGN-AM. 

6. Can cable news keep the momentum? With the elections over, it’ll be tough for the three major cable news networks to match their record-setting ratings. But if Trump continues to make news – and he will – even lower numbers would be a big accomplishment.

With Trump continuing to run his mouth, of course cable news ratings were stable as Fox News (pro-Trump) and MSNBC (anti-Trump) remained strong.

7. Megyn Kelly’s move to NBC. Her shift from Fox News Channel to NBC could be be bumpy. Will her fans follow over?

Judging by the ratings and reviews…no.

8. MST3K returns. The highly-anticipated revival of the cult classic is due to drop on Netflix sometime this year. Can Crow and Tom Servo riff and wisecrack their way to a new generation of fans?

Reaction to the new MST3K has been very positive I’m happy to say.

9. NBC’s new Boston station. The industry will be looking to the ninth-largest market in the country to see if their fourth affiliation switch in history pays off for NBC as they shifted to the new WBTS on January 1 as a new O&O. Meanwhile, former NBC affiliate WHDH joined the growing ranks of independents – a list that also includes WGN-TV, which did so in September.

As expected, Ratings for the new WBTS has been dreadful as Boston’s new NBC station ranked behind every competitor in the market outside of primetime.

10. The AT&T/TimeWarner merger. In the first test for the incoming Trump administration, they will have to look what could be the biggest media merger in recent memory. Anti-trust regulators and Congress will also get a look.

In order for the deal to go through, the Justice Department told them they needed to sell off either CNN or DirecTV – and some speculated President Trump was behind the order, given his hatred for CNN. AT&T decided to challenge the decision in court, even as AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson remained on friendly terms with Trump.

11. T Dog Media website to get major revamp. About time, isn’t it? The site hasn’t changed in nearly six years, so an overhaul is expected to take place someplace this year. Look for improved links to more social media sites I’m on, expanded use of video, and yes – advertising (the time has come, my friends – the ad-free days are coming to an end. I’ve got to make money off this somehow.)

The only thing yours truly was able to do was change the hosting service as I ran into a busier schedule than expected. Can’t say at this point if there would be any change to the site in 2018. But at least T Dog Media finally got on Instagram.

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2017 in review: Hold our beers

We needed a lot of these to get through 2017.

This Bud’s for you – 2017 a carbon city of 2016

2016: The worst year ever.

2017: Hold my beer.

Yes, you saw this type of “hold my beer” exchanges this year as 2017 turned out to be lousy as advertised. For one thing, American Idol is coming back thanks to ABC. This and host Ryan Seacrest appearing on TV on a daily basis again is enough to make you down several cases of Schlitz Malt Liquor.

And in the media world, there were deals that shook up the landscape and then some. The biggest deal of the year – and probably ever – came just two weeks ago when 21st Century Fox agreed to be purchased by The Walt Disney Company, leaving only behind Fox, Fox News, Fox O&Os, and Fox Sports. Other media marriages included Scripps and Discovery; Meredith and Time Inc., and of course, Sinclair’s $4 billion purchase of Chicago-based Tribune Broadcasting, owners of WGN-TV and WGN-AM.

Chicago radio saw some changes, too. The biggest change came in November when fresh off the biggest radio deal in history when Entercom closed on its purchase of CBS Radio, the company’s WJMK-FM kept the Classic moniker but flipped from Hits to Hip-Hop/R&B. Meanwhile, Kathy Hart walked off the job as co-host of WTMX’s Eric and Kathy Show and never returned as ratings were not affected.

The Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment scandal turned the media world upside down this year rocking every nook and cranny of the business, from Hollywood to the national anchor desks in New York. Among those calling it quits or were fired include Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Andrew Kreisberg, Garrison Kellior, and countless others.

Meanwhile, Chicago TV saw a lot of retirements in 2017 – thankfully, none of them connected to sexual harassment charges as Mark Suppelsa, Steve Baskerville, Jim Ramsey, Frank Mathie, Robert Jordan, Joel Weisman, Charles Thomas, and Jerry Taft all called it a career. And speaking of goodbyes, we said good riddance to 2 Broke Girls and Celebrity Name Game. Also gone is some local radio and media site with a dark blue background I can’t remember the name of.

Channels departed too – notably WYCC, becoming the first local TV station to completely sign off since 1975 as they sold their spectrum in the incentive auction (and bungled it up.) In San Diego, XETV lost its CW affiliation and ended its run as an English-language station after 64 years, ceding its signal to Spanish-language Mexican network Canal 5. Also axed were little-watched cable channels Cloo and Chiller and streaming service Comic-Con HQ.

The biggest hit of 2017? New episodes of an old show from 15 years ago. (“Will & Grace”)

Network television continued its downward spiral in 2017 as the major broadcasters delved into reboots with either new casts (SWAT) or their original ones (Will & Grace.) And while the world was talking about Stranger Things, the once-funny Big Bang Theory came up with the lamest season-ending cliffhanger of all time when Sheldon proposed to Amy. Was there any doubt she would say yes? In daytime, Ryan Seacrest joined Kelly Ripa in May and Megyn Kelly arrived in September in a race to see who can annoy more viewers in the 9 a.m. time period. On the flipside, the still-potent Survivor proved even in its 17th year, the show can provide jaw-dropping moments and dramas This Is Us and The Good Doctor proves broadcast television still can draw an audience when the right formula comes along.

The NFL continued its downward descent with anthem protests and other problems taking their toll on the sport. Not helping of course, is the continued ineptitude of the Bears, but did spark a ratings increase locally thanks to the arrival of rookie QB Mitch Trubisky. Meanwhile, the NBA’s ratings surged despite the lack of competitiveness from teams in the top markets (namely the Bulls) and the World Series did just fine with a Dodgers-Astros matchup.

As the rest of us suffered through 2017, it was a great year for those who hated regulation as net neutrality went away, the lifeline program nearly eliminated, and the UHF discount restored in a scam perpetrated by Republican members of the FCC led by Chairman Ajit Pai, who did a poor imitation of a Soul Train line in a video explaining net neutrality.

President Trump continued his assault on Chicago throughout the year as his feud with city officials – namely Mayor Rahm Emanuel – showed no signs of abating. And the nation’s third-largest market continued to see residents head for the exits as revenues continue to fall for local media outlets. Worse, Chicago continues to receive worldwide negative press for its homicide and crime rate, despite a drop from 2016’s levels. Not helping matters was the viral video beating of a disabled teen on Facebook just days into the New Year, with the hate crime fueling more right-wing angst towards Chicago. Add the Cubs failing to repeat as World Series Champions and all other sports teams underperforming, 2017 was another forgettable year for the Windy City.

But all was not lost – Chicago’s TV and movie production continues to bloom, despite the departure of talk show host Steve Harvey, who had an odd policy about approaching him in the workplace.

And speaking of Trump,  made social media unbearable as he was mentioned in my Twitter feed every five minutes on average.

“Last Week Tonight” is the top show of 2017 – by far.

Best Shows of 2017

Remember “The Excellent 10” and “The Toilet 10” lists in the early years of the blog? Sure you do… I’ve become disenchanted with lists (that’s why they’ve been cut to five each), so no more pictures of toilets or trophies.

Now, I know a lot of these shows you won’t find on a whole lot of Top 10 best of lists – probably because those shows I haven’t gotten around to watching yet. So…

1. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver (HBO)

2. Young Sheldon (CBS)

3. Bob’s Burgers (Fox)

4. Riverdale (CW)

5. Shameless (Showtime)

Unfortunately, last year’s winner Jessica Jones is ineligible because there were no new episodes available to air this year, and yours truly did not get around to watching Luke Cage or Defenders. But here are shows on my wish list for 2018: Stranger Things, Master Of None, and Fuller House (just to see how bad it is.) But with Peak TV and all the sports I watch, It is hard to find time to watch these shows. Surprised a lot of critics didn’t have Young Sheldon on their best lists. Really? Maybe The Big Bang Theory connection is the reason why.

And an honorable mention goes to CBC’s Interrupt This Program, for a segment on Chicago’s violence epidemic without divulging into racial stereotypes – something American media needs to learn from (particularly Megan Kelly’s show, which featured such a piece in its premiere episode.)

Worst shows of 2017

Yes, I know most critics don’t even do these type of lists anymore – I guess the less said, the better. And besides, the year’s worst can be found in my annual Turkey Awards list every November. Thus:

1. Inhumans (ABC)

2. Me, Myself, and I (CBS)

3. APB (Fox)

4. Law and Order: True Crime: The Melendez Brothers (NBC)

5. Tie: Megyn Kelly Today (NBC)/Live With Kelly and Ryan (syndicated)

The Orville should have made this list, but I kept it off (despite the review of the pilot I wrote about) because I think the series is probably better than the critics are leading us on to believe. And yeah, Star Trek: Discovery was a disappointment. And Dirty Dancing led yours truly to declare the TV movie dead.

In the next few days, look for what to expect in 2018 and an update on 2017s predictions. Happy New Year from T Dog Media!

Follow T Dog Media on Twitter @tdogmedia.

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Fox stations buy “Chicago P.D.” for weekday run

Also: NCIS: New Orleans sold to TNT

The first of Dick Wolf’s three Chicago procedural dramas is heading to broadcast syndication.

NBCUniversal Domestic Television Distribution announced Monday it struck a deal to sell reruns of Chicago P.D. as a weekday strip to Fox-owned stations in eleven markets, for a September 2018 start.

The deal includes Chicago’s Fox-owned CW affiliate WPWR-TV, where the series is likely to end up. Other Fox markets getting the show include New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Dallas, Houston, and Washington D.C., among others. Terms were not disclosed, but the off-network series is expected to have a 50/50 barter split.

“We are thrilled to bring another Dick Wolf hit to the broadcast marketplace,” said Sean O’Boyle, executive vice-president of syndication sales. “Chicago P.D. is a premiere procedural and is a unique opportunity for local broadcasters, as it is the only off-net scripted hour available to play as a Monday-Friday strip. This series will strengthen our partner stations’ programming schedules the same way the Law & Order franchise has done over the years.”

Chicago P.D. was also sold earlier this year for a off-network cable run to Oxygen.

As yours truly documented on this blog over a decade ago when NBCU’s Law and Order: Criminal Intent became the first off-network drama to be sold in broadcast off-network syndication as a strip in a long time, the genre as a weekday strip is very rare as time periods in the last three decades have been occupied by talk, game, and courtroom shows.

Sold to the Fox O&Os in late 2006, Criminal Intent ran in off-network broadcast syndication from 2007-09 and again from 2011-17, establishing a strong ratings track record with several stations stripping the show in primetime (including WCIU’s The U Too in the final two years of its broadcast syndication run.) The series, starring Vincent D’Onofrio (now Wilson Fisk in Netflix’s Daredevil) and Kathryn Erbe, recently returned to MyNetworkTV to air Thursday evenings.

As yours truly wrote on Saturday, Chicago P.D. films at Cinespace Studios in Chicago’s Douglas Park neighborhood along with two other Dick Wolf “Chicago” shows: Chicago Fire and Chicago Med. The trio of shows were instrumental in increasing film and television production in and around the Chicago area. Premiering on January 8, 2014, Chicago P.D. is now in its fifth season and currently airing on NBC Wednesday nights, where it has been since its inception. P.D. generally averages eight to nine million viewers a week.

In other off-network drama news, TNT announced its acquisition to off-network rights of NCIS: New Orleans from CBS. Starring Scott Bakula, the procedural began running on TNT earlier this month. Unlike Chicago P.D. however, rights to NCIS:New Orleans are exclusive to TNT and will not run in broadcast syndication. Terms were not disclosed.

(An earlier version of this post stated “Criminal Intent” was being stripped on Ion, but as of Monday was removed from the weeknight schedule. )

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The Media Notepad: Chicago TV production on the rise

The Cinespace Film Studios on the West Side, helping fuel Chicago’s film and TV production boom.

Plus: WGN Radio’s Todd Manley promoted; Anthony Adams’ prime-time show get cut; WTTW strikes deal with WYCC; Classic sitcoms shift;

While “President” Trump continues to bash Chicago on a regular basis for (and outright lying) about the city’s homicide and crime rate, his blabber hasn’t discouraged businesses from investing here – particularly the film and television production industries.

A feature in this past week’s Broadcasting & Cable trade magazine features Chicago and the emerging television production scene. The publication noted several TV shows current being shot here, including Empire (Fox), Easy (Netflix) , Dick Wolf’s trio of Chicago shows (NBC), and The AV Club (Fusion). and upcoming shows Electric Dreams (Amazon) and The Chi (Showtime) from natives Lena Waithe and Common.

Thank the 30 percent state film tax credit, according to the Chicago Film Office. And the Illinois Film Office notes television and film production $499 million in 2016, up 51 percent from 2015, resulting in 13,388 non-extra job hires.

And you can also credit the opening of huge studio Cinespace near Douglas Park, home to thirty stages and eight television shows including Empire and Chicago Fire. And soon, you may be able to go on a tour of the facility, once a backlot being planned is approved by the city.

The boom in production offsets the loss of other major productions in Chicago over the years – notably the closure of Harpo Studios (once home to The Oprah Winfrey Show) and Steve Harvey’s daytime show to Los Angeles over the summer. Chicago also lost two other shows to cancellation this year: Fox’s APB and NBC’s Chicago Justice.

However, not all has gone smoothly. A Chicago Tribune report last October highlighted the complaints residents have made to their aldermen regarding film and TV productions disrupting their daily routines. Still, the burgeoning film and TV production is giving Chicago a strong image which otherwise wouldn’t exist as conservatives and right-wing talk show hosts continue to unfairly attack Chicago.  The increased production also give a boost to the city’s bottom line and in the civic pride department.

If you are a Broadcasting & Cable subscriber, you can read the full article here.

On Wednesday, WGN-AM announced a pair of promotions: Todd Manley becomes station manager, promoted from his previous position as vice-president of content and marketing. In his new role, Manley assumes day-to-day operations of the station and reports to Paul Rennie, who becomes president and general manager – adding to those same roles he has for WGN-TV and CLTV. He will report to Larry Wert, who is at least for the moment is Tribune Broadcasting president.

WGN and the rest of Tribune Broadcasting is in the process of being sold to Sinclair Broadcasting, in a deal expected to close early in the new year. The future of the station beyond that is still uncertain. WGN is also on the move next year as it relocates to Illinois Center, leaving Tribune Tower after 94 years, followed by former sister property the Chicago Tribune.

Tribune isn’t the first media company to combine management roles for its radio and TV stations; Atlanta-based Cox recently made a similar move in several markets where they own radio and TV stations, including Orlando and Jacksonville.

It looks like WYCC is going to be saved in some form: PBS station WTTW announced last week it was purchasing the license of its now-dark former rival, putting the stations under one roof. According to the Chicago Tribune, WTTW is paying $100,000 to the FCC to acquire WYCC’s license. The move means WTTW is likely to launch a fifth digital subchannel, consisting of MHZ Worldview programming, previously airing on one of WYCC’s subchannels (and the main programming channel after WYCC dropped its PBS affiliation) before the station shutdown on November 27.

In addition, WTTW is establishing an internship program for City College of Chicago students. WYCC was operated by the City Colleges.

The channel-sharing and license transfer application have to be approved by the FCC seperately. There is no word on when WTTW plans to sign on their fifth digital subchannel. WYCC sold in the spectrum auction for $16 million, far less than other Chicago TV stations who participated.

After one episode, ABC has dumped The Great American Baking Show after just one airing  due to sexual harassment allegations made toward one of the show’s judges, Anthony Iuzzini.

“In light of allegations that recently came to our attention, ABC has ended its relationship with Johnny Iuzzini and will not be airing the remainder of ‘The Great American Baking Show’ episodes,” an ABC spokesperson said in a statement. “ABC takes matters such as those described in the allegations very seriously and has come to the conclusion that they violate our standards of conduct. This season’s winner will be announced at a later date.

The harassment in question came when four former employees who worked with Iuzzini came forward as they claimed he sexually harassed and abused them. Four more ex-employees came forward earlier this week, prompting ABC to pull the plug.

In its third season and scheduled to run for three weeks, the show didn’t exactly attract an audience – the series’ lone airing earned an 0.8 rating in the adult 18-49 demo, and just 3.85 million viewers.  It is not known if Baking would return in the future, or the winner of this year’s edition would ever be revealed.

The decision to cancel the show is bad news for former Chicago Bears player Anthony “Spice” Adams, who co-hosted the show with Ayesha Curry. But you can still see him every week on Inside The Bears, airing weekends on both WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV.

If you’re a fan of classic 1970’s sitcoms on digital subchannels, you might want to make note of this: Sony-owned GetTV is acquiring several Norman Lear sitcoms. According to Sitcoms Online, All in the Family, Sanford and Son, and Good Times are moving to the digital subchannel network beginning January 2, with mini-marathons for each one on New Year’s Day.

In a separate transaction, Diff’rent Strokes moves to MeTV beginning January 1.

All four shows previously aired on Tribune’s Antenna TV and like the rest of the company, is being sold to Sinclair. All four shows are syndicated by Sony Pictures Television, and provides a peek into the future of the studio library at Antenna. Other Sony sitcoms Antenna has aired include One Day At At Time and Maude. It would be interesting to see where these shows end up once the rights expire – if they haven’t done so already. In recent years, both Antenna and Get have been broadening their programming schedules to draw more viewers – in Get’s case, moving away from old movies and acquiring more recent programming from the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s – notably Designing Women, 7th Heaven, and Ghost Whisperer.

And it’s no coincidence Sony owns GetTV and the shows they’re acquiring.

For more, follow T Dog Media on Twitter @tdogmedia and like the T Dog Media Facebook page by clicking here. 

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FCC sinks net neutrality

FCC reverses 2015 vote; leaves uncertain future for Net

Never in the years I’ll followed the media business I’ve seen so much hatred for the FCC – even during the Nipplegate controversy and when former chairman Kevin Martin was running the agency.

But what we saw Thursday may have Trumped everything.

In yet another bitterly partisan divided vote in an agency rivaling the Illinois legislature for being the most dysfunctional and ineffective, the Federal Communications Commission decided 3-2 to eliminate the net neutrality rules, passed in 2015 when the FCC had a 3-2 Democratic majority.

But the Democrats didn’t have the numbers this time, as FCC Chairman Ajit Pai and his fellow Republican commissioners (Michael O’Rielly and Brendan Carr) passed to eliminate the rules, over the objections of Democratic commissioners Jessica Rosenworcel and Mignon Clayburn.

The move means Internet service providers Comcast, Verizon, AT&T, Charter, and others can charge for “fast lanes” so sites and TV shows could load faster, and could charge consumers to use or view websites – the net neutrality rules prohibit such actions. In addition, it takes away the Title II reclassification and eliminates rules against throttling, blocking, and paid prioritization. The ISPs believe the rules were an overreach and stymied innovation and investment (which they could have done anyway – they simply choose not to.)

With the rules gone, the impact on e-commerce could be staggering. Small businesses are worried they could be impacted by being squeezed out by larger companies who could pay for better privileges. Net neutrality provided an even playing field. The absence could also impact the way listeners could download or listen to their music and how viewers would stream TV.

Of note, tech giants Facebook, Twitter, and Netflix all opposed the axing of the rules. But Pai didn’t seem to have any sympathy, even going far as saying social media is a bigger threat to democracy than the absence of net neutrality. Others opposing the change included the Writer’s Guild of America and other Hollywood unions.

Also, Pai went on record dismissing the nearly two million commentators opposing the action saying their voices didn’t matter, meaning he already made up his mind well before the vote – one many groups were trying to postpone. The New York State Attorney General was trying to get the vote delayed because he found proof some of the comments – all for killing net neutrality – were fake.

The fight is far from over. In addition to pro-net neutrality groups, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan and sixteen other state AGs plan to take legal action against the FCC over the demise of the rules. Ultimately, this will likely reach the U.S. Supreme Court before this is all over.

Reaction to the elimination of the rules was swift – and maddening. Many lashed out at the FCC – especially those in the music industry, including this tweet from a DJ:

Put another way, Internet providers could provide better service based on where you live, impacting users in poor and minority neighborhoods. Already, AT&T has been accused of redlining in poor neighborhoods of Cleveland such as Hough and Glenville. And in much of Detroit – where the poverty rate is 35 percent – is undereserved by the giant ISPs, residents have taken upon themselves to provide their own Internet service.

This isn’t a surprise, given Pai significantly reduced the lifeline program – and nearly eliminated it. Many residents in violence-plagued neighborhoods throughout Chicago depended on the program, mostly in predominantly African-American and Latino neighborhoods. But Pai could give less than two shits about people of color – even though he’s one himself. I guess he’s been getting advice from Sage Steele, Clarence Thomas, Stacey Dash, and Kenya Moore on how to run the FCC.

And believe it or not, he’s released a music video (see above) – yes, a music video  (yeah I know it really isn’t one but should be), explaining why eliminating the net neutrality rules is a good thing and all of us are “stupid.” So while our livelihoods are being impacted by the elimination of net neutrality, Pai is doing his best Steppin’ Fetchit imitation.

These actions tell you (and the uncool video above) why people hate government officials so much, from the soda tax Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle tried to levy on us to former Chicago Public School head Forrest Claypool lying about a lot of stuff – and still supported by Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I didn’t know ripping an imbecile like President Trump  can get you paraded around like a hero – so I guess the “16 shots and a cover up” and the existence of LaQuan McDonald is all a myth despite the obvious video evidence.

We put these people in office to run our government – not become ruthless dictators who run our lives. Rome is burning while your FCC Chairman thinks he’s Robin Thicke in a Blurred Lines video and Rahm parties with Stephen Colbert.

Hopefully one day these buffoons will get what’s coming to them – and hopefully Pai and his buddy Trump will be the first in line.

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It’s official: Disney buys most of 21st Century Fox’s assets

“The Simpsons” called this years ago.

Blockbuster deal includes 20th Century Fox film studio and programming library, cable and sports networks, and more

In a history-making deal, The Walt Disney Company agreed to acquire much of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. The deal was speculated about for the last few weeks on this blog and elsewhere, as 21st Century Fox owner Rupert Murdoch was looking to cash out.

Other companies – Comcast, Verizon, and Sony – dropped out of the bidding, leaving Disney as the sole suitor.

The deal comes as studios are trying to combat streaming giants Netflix and Amazon, who’ve gained plenty of traction with original programming – drawing viewers away from the major broadcast networks, local television stations, and cable networks. The move brings down the curtain on the 20th Century Fox film studio bought in 1985 by Murdoch, who also acquired the Metromedia station group in 1986 to form the basis of the Fox Broadcast Network. The film studio was founded in 1915 by William Fox (as Fox Film), and began television production in 1949.

Robert Iger remains as CEO of Disney; his contract was recently extended to 2021.

Since yours truly already covered much of what would happen if a deal this big would come to fruition (click here and here to read recent articles I wrote), here’s a quick rundown of the assets sold…and what wasn’t:

Disney gets:

– The 20th Century Fox film studio and TV production operations. The deal includes Fox Searchlight, Fox 21, Fox 2000, FX Productions, Twentieth Television, etc. Rights to Modern Family, American Horror Story, Bob’s Burgers, and others now belong to Disney.

– Fox Sports’ regional sports channels, including Yes, Fox Sports North, Fox Sports Wisconsin, and Fox Sports Midwest (all likely to rebranded with the ESPN name)

– Fox cable networks, including FX, FXX, National Geographic, and Nat Geo Wild

– Brings Marvel properties X-Men, Fantastic Four, Deadpool, and Legion into the Disney fold (Marvel was bought by Disney in 2009)

– Unites all Star Wars properties under one roof

– Fox’s share in Hulu, which pushes Disney’s stake to 60 percent

– 50 percent Endemol Shine NorthAmerica

– More than 100,000 hours of content from the Twentieth Television and 20th Century Fox TV and film library, including the Batman 1966 TV show and other classics, including M*A*S*H, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, How I Met Your Mother, The Simpsons, Futurama, and American Dad. Films include Planet Of The Apes, Cleopatra, Bachelor Party,

– A bunch of International channels, including Fox’s stake in Sky and StarIndia

What Fox gets to keep:

– Fox’s owned-and-operated stations, including Chicago’s WFLD-TV and WPWR-TV

– Fox News and Fox Business

– Fox Sports

– FS1 and FS2

– Fox Broadcasting

– Big Ten Network

Fox will take these properties and spin them off into a new holding company headed by Murdoch.

Robert Iger (l.) and Rupert Murdoch.

Robert Iger on Thursday’s news: “The acquisition of this stellar collection of businesses from 21st Century Fox reflects the increasing consumer demand for a rich diversity of entertainment experiences that are more compelling, accessible and convenient than ever before. We’re honored and grateful that Rupert Murdoch has entrusted us with the future of businesses he spent a lifetime building, and we’re excited about this extraordinary opportunity to significantly increase our portfolio of well-loved franchises and branded content to greatly enhance our growing direct-to-consumer offerings. The deal will also substantially expand our international reach, allowing us to offer world-class storytelling and innovative distribution platforms to more consumers in key markets around the world.”

Murdoch on the merger: “We are extremely proud of all that we have built at 21st Century Fox, and I firmly believe that this combination with Disney will unlock even more value for shareholders as the new Disney continues to set the pace in what is an exciting and dynamic industry. Furthermore, I’m convinced that this combination, under Bob Iger’s leadership, will be one of the greatest companies in the world. I’m grateful and encouraged that Bob has agreed to stay on, and is committed to succeeding with a combined team that is second to none.”

Murdoch said he may be looking to buy more stations as the FCC recently relaxed media rules, including the elimination of the cross-ownership rule, which would allow him to re-combine the “new” Fox with News Corp., as both split in 2013. Sinclair is in the process of buying Tribune Co., and would be the biggest owner of Fox affiliates. But with the loss of the studio and the television production arm, Fox would now have to buy from outside suppliers.

One such project for syndication cleared on the Fox O&Os was announced earlier this week – a new courtroom strip called Caught In Providence – is produced by Delmar-Mercury, not Twentieth Television.


As predicted earlier, the Writer’s Guild of America (West) is not happy about the deal in a press release: “In the relentless drive to eliminate competition, big business has an insatiable appetite for consolidation. Disney and Fox have spent decades profiting from the oligopolistic control that the six major media conglomerates have exercised over the entertainment industry, often at the expense of the creators who power their television and film operations. Now, this proposed merger of direct competitors will make matters even worse by substantially increasing the market power of a combined Disney-Fox corporation.”

Look for other unions, such as SAG-AFTRA to join in opposition as well. In other words, enjoy the labor peace while you can.

The Justice Department is expected to review the deal and there are questions whether or not this deal would pass regulatory muster. The transaction gives Disney a 39 percent share of the movie business – quite a huge number. Already, The Justice Department is forcing AT&T to sell CNN/Turner Networks or DirecTV as conditions to pass regulatory muster.

And of course, there will be layoffs. ESPN already went through two rounds of layoffs this year.

This cover is from the February 12, 1990 issue of Electronic Media when Disney and Fox were bitter foes in a kids’ programming fight.


Unclear is what role Fox Television Group chairman Dana Walden and Gary Newman would play in the new company, in addition to other Fox executives (such as Peter Rice) in big roles. Also unclear is whether current 20th Century Fox’s television production arm would fold into ABC Studios, the name of Disney’s network operations. Also unclear is the fate of several future theatrical projects at Fox, including a Bob’s Burgers movie scheduled to be released in 2020.

Many showrunners’ futures are also up in the air – notably Seth MacFarlane, Kurt Sutter, and others. Earlier this year, ABC Studios lost Shonda Rhimes to a new deal at Netflix.

For Disney, the deal gives them tremendous clout in the media industry – particularly as they are gearing up to launch two over-the-top services in 2019: a general entertainment service and ESPN Plus. In terms of traditional broadcasting, they’ll have eight owned-and-operated stations, including Chicago ratings powerhouse WLS-TV and sports radio ESPN 1000 (WMVP-AM).

Across town, Fox is preparing for a slimmed-down operation. The network as we know it now would likely be unrecognizable years from now, with no in-studio fare to draw off of. Ironically, it was the success of Fox in the first place that led to the demise of the financial interest and syndication rules, which prohibited networks owning studios and vice versa. Now 20th Century Fox is being sold to another conglomerate, and would be operating without one in the post fin-syn era where you need a studio to be hooked up with. I’m certain this isn’t the future Walt Disney envisioned.

Or did he?

21st Century Fox Press Release (on formation of “new’ Fox)

21st Century Fox Press Release (Disney’s purchase)

Disney Press Release

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WLS-AM drops Bob and Marianne for Chris Plante

Chris Plante

Dropping homegrown talent for syndicated fare; enables Rush Limbaugh to be live again in Chicago

As first reported by Robert Feder Wednesday, longtime Chicago media personalities Bob Sirott and Marianne Murciano were shown the door (again), this time at Cumulus Media’s WLS-AM as the station canceled their 10 to noon morning show after only one year.

WLS had high hopes for the duo when the hiring was announced in December 2016, after a short stint at WGN-AM. But ratings were poor and weren’t a good fit between Big John Howell and Ramblin’ Ray Stevens morning show and Rush Limbaugh’s syndicated show.

Replacing them is a syndicated show hosted by Chris Plante. A Chicago native, Plante covered the military and Pentagon beat for CNN. He joined WMAL-AM in Washington, D.C. with a conservative/libertarian leaning talk show, and in 2016 became syndicated through Cumulus’ syndication arm, Westwood One.

“I look forward to being the Washington embed, giving a first-hand description of what’s happening in Washington and what it can mean to my hometown of Chicago, where I grew up listening to WLS!”, Plante said in a press release announcing the move.

As a result of the change effective January 1, Rush Limbaugh, syndicated by rival iHeartMedia’s Premiere Radio Networks, returns to a live 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. broadcast, as Sirrott and Muricano’s hiring pushed into a time-delayed noon- 3 p.m. time slot. Steve Dahl’s show moves up an hour, from 2 to 6 p.m., and Big John/Ramblin’ Ray shifts from 5:30 a.m. to 9.

Operations manager and program director Peter Bolger said the changes were made because listeners preferred to hear Limbaugh live and not on a delayed basis.

The move marks the first change under new boss Marv Nyren, who was named Cumulus vice president and market manger last month. It appears the station is shifting back toward conservative talk after drifting toward a more general-format genre the last few years (similar in style to WGN), but results have been disappointing as Jonathan Brandmeier and now Sirott/Muricano have each struck out, with neither of them known for political talk. With the departure of the husband-and-wife team, Cumulus can take two salaries off the books as the Atlanta-based company recently filed for Chapter 11.

In addition to the above, WLS runs conservative talker Mark Levin in the evening when there isn’t a White Sox or Bulls game.

While the press release notes the station is happy to include Dahl in the lineup, he isn’t known as a big political talk personality. It would be interesting to see how Dahl meshes in with the rest of WLS-AM’s decidedly more right-leaning direction.


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Disney and Fox – the deal no one thought would ever be made

Disney and Fox wheeling and dealing with one another? Laughable, even a year ago. Now, its one step away from reality.

In 1990, The Walt Disney Company and the Fox Broadcasting Network battled one another over early fringe afternoon time slots over kids animation: The Disney Afternoon (consisting of DuckTales, Chip n’ Dale Rescue Rangers, Tale Spin, etc.) was expanding to two hours and Fox was mounting its own effort through Fox Kids. Disney sued Fox, fearing it would be forced to break up the block on 64 Fox affiliates as a result. A lot was at stake: at the time kids animation was a very profitable business at the time and fueled young viewership into prime access and primetime on many independent and Fox stations.

Running the studios at the time were Barry Diller of Fox and Michael Eisner of Disney – two former co-workers at ABC and Paramount turned cutthroat competitors who were engaged in a heated rivalry.

Flash forward to today – the media landscape has changed drastically. The kids syndication business has long been dead as profits dried up and the next generation of kids viewers went elsewhere, if they even watch TV at all. Cable TV expansion and streaming options have decimated the broadcasting industry. And companies – many of them long-time enemies – are now pairing up to survive.

Which brings us to The Walt Disney Company and 21st Century Fox. The two longtime rivals are now in talks for a possible transaction involving the latter’s movie studio, television production operations, and huge library. On Friday, several trades reported both companies were working on “the fine print” amid reports talks started up again and were progressing.

A deal could be announced as soon as Thursday. So here’s a detailed breakdown in what could happen, and the effect the outcome could have on the entertainment industry.

Theatricals. Perhaps the group who would be (and only be) excited about this sale would be comic book fans, especially X-Men fanatics, who would see the movie franchise reunite with Marvel. Fox obtained the movie rights to X-Men and Fantastic Four through Marvel, before the latter was acquired by Disney in 2009.

As for the rest of the movie business, a combined Disney/Fox would wind up owning 39 percent of the marketplace – with brands Pixar, Marvel, Lucasfilm, Blue Sky (Ice Age), and others.  Fox’s Avatar would get some mileage from Disney as it uses the property to launch new exhibits at its theme parks.

And of course, Disney now has the Star Wars franchise, once a Fox property. A sale would reunite the entire film library, as Fox soon would have rights to only one Star Wars movie – A New Hope, the first Star Wars movie released in 1977.

Recently, 20th Century Fox announced plans for a Bob’s Burgers movie, based on the hit animated TV show for 2020, and a second Simpsons movie is also a possibility. No telling how the sale would effect these projects.

Management. There is really too much to analyze here, given we see network execs come and go all the time. Fox’s Dana Walden and Gary Newman have run Fox for the last four years and 21st Century Fox’s TV operations for more than fifteen years. Walden and Newman have been known for making many head-scratching moves (letting American Idol go to ABC, for one) and where would they fit in the Disney chain is anyone’s guess – or if they would be employed by Disney at all.

Retro battlelines: Both Disney and Fox were once involved in a fight over kids’ afternoon time slots. This cover is from the February 12, 1990 issue of Electronic Media.

First- run syndication. This is the most difficult to analyze. There is no word on how a Fox-Disney deal would impact their respective syndication outfits – Twentieth Television and Disney-ABC Domestic Television Distribution, once known as Buena Vista Television. The former launched Page Six TV and Top 30 this fall and also has Dish Nation and Divorce Court and numerous off-network sitcoms and dramas. Disney has a smaller portfolio, with Live with Kelly and Ryan, Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, Right This Minute, and the limited-market Pickler and Ben as their only first-run shows. Off-network is scarce, with black-ish coming next fall and currently has weekend hours Castle and Scandal.

Fox Television Stations – which is not part of the deal and consists of 28 stations in 17 markets (including WFLD and CW affiliate WPWR) have been testing shows during the summer to see if future projects have any potential. One project (iWitness) was launched by Debmar-Mercury, so we may see more coming from non-Fox syndicators. On the other hand, if Fox develops programming from within its station group (like they did with Minnesota-based talker The Jason Show), they may have to contact an outside syndicator to handle sales since Twentieth could no longer be available.

Ironically, Twentieth’s first-run shows doesn’t take up too much real estate on Fox-owned stations to begin with. Much of Fox’s non-prime schedule is filled with product from other syndicators – for example, Warner Bros.’ TMZ, TMZ Live, The Real, and Big Bang Theory reruns fill up hours of slots on both WFLD and WPWR.

No changes are expected for MyNetworkTV, also not part of the deal.

Primetime. Fox of course, was the first network to skim past the now-defunct fin-syn rules by programming fifteen primetime hours or less so it wouldn’t have to divest its lucrative studio. With the production arm separating, Fox would lose the advantage of having a studio to mooch off of. With that said, primetime – at least in the future – could look radically different than we see it now.

It remains to be seen if the deal would impact current shows on Fox’s lineup, notably long-running hits The Simpsons and Family Guy. Starting the same year Fox and Disney sued each other over afternoon time periods, Simpsons could be too expensive for the new Fox as they would have to pay a license fee since it would no longer be an in-house production, forcing the long-running cartoon to end unless it relocates to ABC. The Simpsons are renewed at Fox through 2019.

Also remaining to be seen if Fox renews its affiliation agreement with Sinclair Broadcasting, or opt to go with Ion Media stations instead. A slimmed-down Fox could alter negotiations.

Cable. Fox owns FX and FXX, home to some of television’s most-acclaimed series: Fargo, You’re The Worst, Married, and others. These shows feature a lot of adult content and fits the brand well.

On the other side of the spectrum, Disney’s cable networks (aside from ESPN) target younger audiences: Disney XD is a magnet kids; The Disney Channel for teenagers (mostly female); and Freeform (formerly ABC Family), whose target audience is women 18-34. In 2002, Disney acquired the old Fox Family Channel and relaunched it as ABC Family.

As reported here last week, Fox is considering selling Fox Sports’ regional sports networks to Disney, which may give them an opportunity to reach local sports fans.

“The Simpsons” called this years ago.

Library content. If Disney buys 21st, the Mouse House would have over 10,000 hours of programming – much of it from Twentieth’s library including the 1966-68 ABC series Batman, itself in a rights issues struggle over the years (Warner Bros. and DC Comics owns almost everything else associated with the Caped Crusader.) Other series Twentieth has include Land of the Giants, M*A*S*H, How I Met Your Mother, L.A. Law, and King of the Hill, among others.

Disney would contribute a much smaller portfolio as the company historically shied away from TV production – the only show it produced for network TV before 1984 was a weekly anthology hour known under numerous names (Disneyland, Wonderful World of Disney, etc.) Disney formed Touchtone Television the same year and hit the jackpot in 1985 with The Golden Girls. Its success spurred Touchtone (now ABC Studios) to launch numerous hit sitcoms and dramas, such as Empty Nest, Home Improvement, Boy Meets World, Desperate Housewives, Lost, Criminal Minds (with CBS), and Marvel’s Agents of Shield.

The library would be perfect for Disney’s new over-the-top service, scheduled to launch in 2019. Many of these shows are currently unavailable for streaming and some (such as L.A. Law) haven’t been seen anywhere in years. Bring these shows to the streaming service would be great for classic TV fans, provided rights issues get worked out.

Both studios have massive film libraries, but it is unclear how much a role they would play in Disney’s new streaming service. Disney has historically been protective of its classic movies; much of its home video releases in the 1980s and 1990s were on sale for “a limited time”, annoying and anti-consumer as it was.

Streaming. Disney would become majority owner of Hulu should they buy Fox with a 60 percent stake. Would they sell it to Comcast (another minority owner) to focus on their own OTT service? Only time will tell.

Labor. Now comes the bad news. With a bigger company comes bigger labor problems. And many back-office positions – in administration, marketing, sales, etc. are likely to be eliminated due to duplication. And the sale would concern Hollywood unions – notably the Writer’s Guild of America, who nearly went on strike this year. The current pact expires in 2020, and if you thought negotiations were tough the last time around, you haven’t seen nothing yet.

Local TV. Homer Simpson doing the weather on ABC 7? Louise Belcher crashing the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival? Don’t look for it. Typically, local news stations avoid synergy with entertainment product not matching its target audience , usually the 125-54 demo. Mickey Mouse and Minnie are family-friendly characters kids associate with – for all intent in purposes, there is nothing family-friendly (in the traditional sense) about Fox’s animated shows so forget about Bart Simpson “Doing the Bartman” at the Lights Festival (and besides, “Bartman” has a different meaning in Chicago if you ask any Cubs fan.)

Of course, there are a lot of hoops to go through before this becomes a reality. Even though the FCC isn’t likely to be involved (as Fox’s owned stations aren’t part), the Justice Department would be – and it has already blocked the AT&T-TimeWarner deal on anti-trust grounds requiring them to sell either DirecTV or CNN. Would 21st Century Fox and Disney have a similar problem? With Disney’s ABC News already in President Trump’s doghouse (as with CNN), there is no guarantee a deal would go through.

In case you’re wondering about how the Disney/Fox lawsuit panned out, it was settled a few years later, as Disney’s programming moved to other independent stations and later to the former UPN (under different branding) in 1999. Around the same time, Fox affiliates wanted out of the afternoon kids business as it was no longer profitable, so Fox dropped the daily block in 2001 as Fox Kids was sold to….The Walt Disney Company.

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