The Media Notepad: “Survivor” ejects contestant for sexual harassment

Also: Tribune Publishing’s union employees petition Alden Group; Sinclair backs away from political commentary; Steve Harvey resumes his talk show via Facebook 

(Updated December 16 to add more information.)

In yet another shocking twist at the end of Wednesday night’s Survivor, controversial contestant Dan Spilo was removed from the game after he was accused again of sexual harassment, this time allegedly grabbing the leg of a female crew member after an immunity challenge. He becomes the first contestant in Survivor history to be ejected for misconduct and is not participating in any further aspects of the game, including a presence in the jury.

(It turns out Spilo wasn’t the first player to be ejected from the game as Brandon Hantz was removed from the game several years ago over an incident.)

Spilo was warned by producers after he was accused of inappropriate touching of two female contestants (both were voted out of the game while Spilo stayed.)

Given the on-camera evidence, you have to wonder why Survivor didn’t remove him from the game sooner. It’s a question Jeff Probst didn’t answer in his weekly fake news column for an entertainment magazine, where he didn’t say much. Spilo also declined comment.

Once again, social media and other critics erupted in a firestorm, slamming the show and the producers for Spilo not being removed sooner.

As a result, the three-hour Survivor extravaganza is now going to taped hours ahead of time due to “security concerns”. That’s right, the only event that will be LIVE Wednesday evening is ABC’s Live In Front Of A Studio Audience special featuring classic episode remakes of All In The Family and Good Times, which now has the live-as-it-happens field all to itself.

After Probst made his announcement, the show cut to a male contestant: “Losing the wrong person at the wrong time can blow up your chances at a million. … This game doesn’t stop for anybody”, reminding us it’s still about the sanctity of THE ALMIGHTY GAME and nothing else. What an edit!

I’ve said a lot about about this controversy last month, and you can read it here. But after numerous gaffes over the years, I personally think it’s time for Jeff Probst to be relieved of his duties as host and showrunner and have new ViacomCBS bosses Shari Redstone and Bob Bakish do some housecleaning, and put Mark Burnett and MGM on some kind of notice.

But as we all know, this shit will happen again because in the media business…no one is ever held accountable for their actions as Probst and his producers will probably get a raise after all this. Removing Spilo comes too little and too late.

In can what can be described as a journalistic crisis at Tribune Publishing, members of the unions representing the papers owned by the company signed a petition against the 32 percent share Alden Global Capital acquired in the company from precious shareholder Michael Ferro.

Alden has been known to gut newsrooms to save money as the private equity investor has slashed jobs at the Denver Post, St. Paul Pioneer Press, and other newspapers, making it harder to the papers to cover their communities.

Tribune owns the Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun, and the Orlando Sentinel, among others. The petition was signed by 400 union employees at Tribune. Chicago Tribune columnist Mary Schmich also weighed in, urging a civic-minded billionaire to step up and purchase the Tribune, something the union echoed in its petition.

Alden could gain two board seats at Tribune Publishing if the investment goes through. Moreover, Alden could buy additional shares of the company if Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong decides to sell his 24 percent stake in Tribune after July 1 of next year. Alden cannot buy more than 32 percent of those shares until then.

Spokespeople for Alden refused to comment.

Any move to cut resources to cover the Chicago area would be a complete total disaster as already, Chicago newsrooms barely cover underserved areas of the South Side and south suburbs – home to most of the area’s African-American and Hispanic population (despite the presence of **ahem** “The Daily Southtown”, a once-useful independent newspaper ruined by the Sun-Times and later by the Tribune.) The local media continues to treat areas south of Cermak Road as an afterthought unless the crime blotter is involved. For example, a Sun-Times article Tuesday used the stereotypical words of “poor” and “minority” to describe racial tensions in the south suburbs, pretending the black middle class there doesn’t exist.

If Alden succeeds in buying more than 51 percent of Tribune Publishing, the already slipshod journalism we see in the Chicago area will get much, much worse.

In a long over due move, Sinclair Broadcasting announced Friday it was dropping political commentary from its local newscasts, featuring conservative commentator Boris Epshteyn and his liberal counterpart, Ameshia Cross.

Epshteyn is being moved to a sales position within Sinclair.

“We have to shine a light on our value proposition every quarter hour, in every newscast,” Sinclair said in a statement to employees. “Therefore, we will be expanding our local investigative journalism footprint in our daily newscasts. We are excited to dedicate more time in our newscasts to report on critical and relevant issues.”

Sinclair owns several stations in downstate Illinois including Champaign, Springfield, and Peoria.

The “must-run” commentaries – particularly featuring Epshteyn have come under fire, notably when it came to immigration with one segment using the word “invasion” to describe the number of Mexican immigrants coming into the United States. Sinclair has also come under fire for forcing its anchors to read a script decrying “fake news” and aligning with the Trump administration. A plan to buy Tribune Broadcasting (owners of WGN-TV and AM) failed after the FCC raised numerous questions about the deal.

Sinclair is now turning its attention to investigative reporting using their flagship Baltimore Fox affiliate WBFF as a model – the station’s Project Baltimore won numerous awards for looking into grade-fixing in Baltimore schools. However, Sinclair plans to continue mandating “must-run segments” through its newscasts, not to mention airing conservative-leaning shows hosted by Armstrong Williams, Sheryl Atkisson, and Eric Bolling.

The company is diversifying its portfolio, being one of the principals in launching the Cubs’ new Marquee Sports Network, and is part-owner of the Yankees’ YES Network. Sinclair, along with Entertainment Studios, also purchased 21 Fox RSNs from The Walt Disney Co. earlier this year.

Look who’s back in the talk show business…it’s none other than Steve Harvey, who announced this week he is moving his talk show Steve to the Facebook Watch platform.

Retitled Steve on Watch, the new show launches January 6 basically featuring the same format as his formerly syndicated daytime talk show: interviews with celebrities, giving advice to everyday people, and discussing “issues affecting his audience.”  Between Dec. 6 and Dec. 9, numerous segments were taped at the new Tyler Perry Studios in Atlanta and plan to stream “multiple episodes per week”. The first batch plans to run for 10 consecutive weeks.

“Reaching my audience anywhere and everywhere they are has always been the goal,” Harvey said in a statement via Variety. “Facebook Watch viewers are the most energetic, engaged community, and so are my amazing fans. Getting all those people to directly engage on a platform like this is the perfect evolution of the show.”

The show is produced by Endeavor Content (formerly IMG.) The company is one of three talent agencies currently embroiled in a dispute with the Writer’s Guild of America over packaging fees. Steve ran for two seasons in syndication cleared on the NBC-owned stations in key afternoon time slots (including Chicago’s WMAQ), but lost those to Kelly Clarkson after distributor NBCUniversal opted not to renew the show, despite placing in the top ratings-tier of syndicated talk shows.

The gamble paid off for NBCUniversal, as Clarkson’s show became a ratings smash and recently renewed for a second season. Steve Harvey previously hosted a Chicago-based talk show from 2012-17, shot at the NBC Tower.


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