T Dog’s Think Tank: Rodents in the Mouse House

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Disney’s “Live” blunder the latest in management woes

To understand the brouhaha over Kelly Ripa, Michael Strahan, and ABC executives’ handling of this Live crisis, you have to go back 20 years.

In 1995, the financial interest and syndication rules – or fin-syn as it was called – expired after 25 years, once again letting the major broadcast networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC, back into the syndication business. In 1970, the FCC came up with the rules to bar the three networks from syndicating their own shows and profiting off them – 90 percent of the network programming on television at the time were controlled by the Big Three.

In 1996 – a year after the rules expired, The Walt Disney Co. bought Capital Cities Communications, who owned ABC, ESPN, and other properties.

Live distributor Buena Vista Television and ABC-owned WABC-TV, who produced the show – then known as Live With Regis & Kathie Lee – suddenly became corporate cousins. And it wasn’t long before ABC brass took over the distributor, changing the name to Disney-ABC Domestic Television. Soon, network executives were running the syndication company – something they absolutely knew nothing about. If you followed the business like I have over the years, Disney executives mishandling a crisis isn’t new.

In 2008, Disney fired At The Movies co-host Richard Roeper and failed to reach a contract renewal with Roger Ebert, who was sidelined with illness for two years prior (Ebert died in 2013.) Ebert, along with the late Gene Siskel, have hosted their movie-review show for Buena Vista since 1986. At an attempt to revamp the show with a more “Hollywood” focus, Disney replaced Ebert and Roeper with two “Bens”: Ben Mankiewicz and Ben Lyons. The move dismayed fans and ratings dropped, and the next season, brought back Ebert fill-in host Michael Phillips and hired A.O. Scott to take their place. Continued low ratings and a changing weekend programming marketplace sacked At The Movies in 2010.

And of course, who could forget all the money Disney-ABC threw at Katie Couric to host a syndicated talk show strip. In a rather unusual move, ABC gave back the 3 p.m. (ET) slot time slot to the affiliates so they can run Katie, with the thinking the network would make more money if it were syndicated rather than cleared on the network.

Ratings were disappointing, and Katie was mercifully canceled after two years. To make room for Katie, ABC shook up its daytime lineup and canceled long-running soap operas All My Children and One Life To Live, angering its long-time fans.

Recently, Disney-ABC launched daytime talkshow The FABLife, with Tyra Banks as host and executive producer. But Banks quit the critically-panned show two months into its run and FABLife was canceled after four months.

And so it comes as no surprise Disney execs would try to screw up the success of their only successful first-run syndicated strip they have on the air, Live With Kelly and Michael. Ratings for Good Morning America were slipping against NBC’s Today, so they decided to make Strahan’s part-time gig at ABC permanent, with Live as the sacrificial lamb. And this shows you how little respect first-run syndication gets – despite Live’s successful 28-year track record.

Certainly, if Live is a priority for Disney as their executives told Ripa it was, then they’re not showing it.

So what does this mean? Yet another on-air search for Kelly Ripa’s co-host. And really, you can’t blame Ripa for being upset. You’ve heard of The Chicago Way, right? Welcome to The Disney Way.

And the ineptitude is not limited to the Mouse House. Since the rules expired, NBC merged with Universal, and later being bought by Comcast. After being spun-off some 28 years earlier by CBS, a much bulked-up Viacom bought the Tiffany network in 1999 (though both split in December 2005.) The expiration of the rules set the stage for media consolidation in the industry from syndicators to studios to station groups amid increasing choices for viewers. In the process, people with passion for television were replaced with clueless dipshit bean counters who are among the dumbest people on the planet.

As a result, we’ve seen more and more odious managerial decisions. And by trying to pull one over Kelly Ripa, do you think these execs care about the viewers – older female viewers, especially?

And yet, Ripa outsmarted them by taking a week off and laying low. Can we get her to run for mayor of Chicago in 2019? If she can deal successfully with these guys, just think what she can do with Illinois politicians, who are cut from the same cloth.

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