Sunday, December 28, 2014

TV: A tale of two Michaels

In recent years two Michaels have had a big impact on TV:  Michael J. Fox and Michael Gelter.  Sadly, the impact has been negative -- very, very negative.

Let's start with Michael J. Fox.  The Canadian actor overcame great odds -- including being height and talent challenged -- to shoot to fame in the ensemble sitcom Family Ties.  Then Robert Zemeckis decided he'd rather have an annoying Norman Fell type broadly overplay the role of Marty McFly in Back To The Future than an actual actor like Eric Stolz.

That allowed Fox to have a film career.  From 1985 through 1993 alone, he made thirteen films.  Only two of them were actual hits -- Back To The Future and Back To The Future II.  The rest of his filmography, those non-stop failures, left him running back to TV where he starred in Spin City for four seasons.

In 2001, he began doing voice work in films and guest spots on TV.  A disease helped spray paint over the the rumors of the past which included years of cocaine abuse in the 80s and the sex addictions and the diva behavior where he terrorized people on various set while whining repeatedly that Val Kilmer or Cher or Tom Hanks wasn't giving him his due.

In the days when the overgrown boy always seemed about to become a bankable star, every snub, real or imagined, at an industry function left his co-workers with hell to pay.

In the '00s, as a guest star, he made his demands upfront and generally avoided the tantrums.

Then he decided to return to series television and made everyone's life miserable.

The Michael J. Fox Show was an NBC bomb like no other.

Repeatedly unfunny and low rated, the show The Water Cooler Set insisted was a hit was actually a  body blow to NBC.

And it continues to damage TV.

Where, Ty says repeated e-mails have asked the last few months, is How I Met Your Dad?

March 31st, CBS' long running sitcom How I Met Your Mother aired its series finale.  The popular sitcom had last nine seasons and CBS was planning a sequel of sorts, How I Met Your Dad.

This sequel would have had Meg Ryan doing the voice overs and the new show being about a woman (an unseen Ryan) explaining to her children how she met their father.  That premise and Carter Bays and Craig Thomas acting as show runners (joined by Emily Spivey) would be the only common thread between the shows.

CBS liked the idea enough to order a pilot.  Then it was time for "notes" -- feedback and demands from the network.  The show runners had their own demand -- one they thought their track record with How I Met Your Mother justified -- they wanted CBS to commit to a full season pick up.

Though not unheard of, it often doesn't work out well.

In 1962, CBS gave Judy Garland a full season commitment for The Judy Garland Show and thought, wrongly, that if the series didn't come together, she'd be willing to bail.  At the half-way point, CBS wanted to pull the plug.  Judy believed (rightly) that the show had failed to come together because of CBS' nonsense (insisting Jerry Van Dyke be a regular and that his skits mock and ridicule Judy).  She felt the show needed to focus more on singing.  That's what the remainder of the series focused on (to much critical praise) but by the time the last episode aired, CBS cancelled the show (and announced it was Judy's decision not to continue when it was the network's decision).

As 'bad' as the ratings for the variety show were, Judy's show consistently came in second to NBC's Bonanza so the program wasn't a ratings disaster.  In the 80s, CBS gave a similar series commitment to Mary Tyler Moore for the sitcom Mary which Mary called an end to after 13 episodes and which is what the network always expects a star to do if the show isn't delivering.

Fox's show didn't deliver.

In fact, it was a bomb.

Because The Water Cooler Set is filled with whores who don't know funny, this was concealed for many weeks.  But the ratings were awful.  The show kicked off with the best buzz and nearly 8 million people turned in for the first broadcast -- an hour with two episodes of the show.  By the next week it was down to five million.  Then to three million.  Then . . .

Fox's show was airing after Sean Saves The World and, as we reported, Fox was allegedly expressing homophobic remarks and insisting Sean Hayes' show was destroying the audience that would otherwise tune in for Fox.  (Hayes is gay and his character in Sean Saves The World was gay.)

As Fox's bitching became louder, NBC flipped the two shows.

Not only did Fox's ratings fail to rise, not only did they dip, but they made clear what should have been obvious beforehand: People were turning in for Sean Hayes.

Sean Saves The World's ratings were consistently better than The Michael J. Fox Show, as we also documented while The Water Cooler Set played dumb.

The drain on NBC Thursday nights was Fox.

And NBC kept 'suggesting' it was time to pull the plug.

But Fox, who never really knew from funny, insisted the show would get better and was being fixed.

His idea of 'fixing' was to bring on guest stars.

He couldn't -- and wouldn't -- share the laughs with co-stars.

Sean Saves The World got the axe and Parenthood took a hit that it was never able to recover from.

All because Fox starred in an awful show and refused to say, "Let's stop production."

After the show failed to even deliver two million viewers with the January 16th episode, NBC decided that, despite announcing it would return to the schedule after the Winter Olympics, there was no way in hell that the Michael J. Fox would be allowed to destroy their schedule in the spring.

So there you have it.

He took out Sean Saves The World, helped destroy Parenthood's ratings (leading to its final season which concludes next month) and he's why CBS refused to give a full season to How I Met Your Dad.

Like Michael J. Fox, Michael Gelter overstayed his welcome.


The curse of Gelter's life.

He's an ombudsperson.

And one who plays fast and loose.

While working on research for another topic (the year-in-review at The Common Ills), some friends passed on some e-mails.

They'd misunderstood the research being done.  The year-in-review will open noting several things about Barack and his 2008 past. The plan is not, however, to rehash the Democratic Party primaries.

So when the e-mails were forwarded (by journalists and PBS friends), we were a little confused.

But mainly concerned.

We covered Bill Moyer's embarrassing interview with Jeremiah Wright in "TV: Mission Impossible" and when others called it out, we followed up with "TV: The Beauty & The Grump."

We noted Michael Gelter's criticism in that because a PBS friend e-mailed it to us and asked us if we could include it -- e-mailed what we quoted.

We had no idea what he wrote other than what we quoted.

Until last week --  when we read e-mails with Gelter talking about how he would need to tackle Wright but how it couldn't be a "win" for Hillary who was still in the primaries -- and still doing well -- and still a "threat" if you were a Barack supporter which, it turns out, as the e-mails made clear, Gelter was.

After reading the e-mails, we were interested in how exactly Gelter critiqued the interview with Wright while making it a "win" for Barack and not for Hillary?

So we pulled up the criticism.

And we saw how he did it.

And how he did it should have gotten him fired.

He's the ombudsperson for PBS, he's there to critique what PBS airs.

To make it a "win" for Barack, before he got to the interview that resulted in thousands of e-mails from PBS viewers, he decided to go elsewhere:

But before we get to those events, a slight detour on my behalf to a news event that wasn't covered by the NewsHour at the time, and also got no attention, or very little, at any of the TV networks except ABC. Indeed, it didn't even seem to get much coverage in the newspapers. So, maybe I'm being naïve here, but the event I'm referring to involved an interview with Sen. Hillary Clinton on the ABC program "Good Morning America" on April 22, the morning of the Pennsylvania primary.

He went on to weigh in on Hillary, after quoting from the interview, and basically to totally distract from the interview Bill did with Barack's pastor Jeremiah Wright.

(Barack's pastor?  Two weeks prior to Gelter's column, Barack had publicly rebuked Wright.)

There was no point in that distraction.

Good Morning America does not air on PBS.

It's beyond his scope.

What PBS does not air?

That's also beyond his scope.

His scope is not Keeping Up With The Kardashians, The Goldbergs, The Originals or any other programs not aired on PBS.

At any given time, The NewsHour misses various public pronouncements.  That's a given for it and any other news show.

If he wanted to examine how an issue -- not a remark -- was covered or not by The NewsHour over a period of months?

That could be an ombudsperson duty.

Even had we not seen the e-mail exchange last week, if we'd read that column in 2008, we would have called it out and noted Gelter was violating his role and position to pimp Barack and take down Hillary.

That PBS allowed that is appalling.

What's even more appalling is that Gelter's still there.

The ombudsperson, anywhere, is not a lifetime position.

It's supposed to be independent, it's supposed to provide a check.

Therefore the person in the role cannot become an institution and there must be a frequent turnover.

At NPR, their ombudsperson is Edward Schumacher-Matos.  He assumed the post in June 2011.  He replaced Alicia Shepard after she completed her three year term.  And before that, there was Jeffrey Dvorkin.

That's what's supposed to happen.

You can see the same thing at the New York Times which instituted a "public editor" with Daniel Okrent. Okrent served his term and moved on.

The reason this happens?

If you're a longterm employee, people doubt that you're giving honest criticism.

They instead fear you're censoring yourself to hold on to a job.

Michael Gelter was hired by PBS in 2005 to be their ombudsperson.

Nine years later, he's still in the same job.

Does that really look like he's independent?

More importantly, one of the PBS friends that passed on the 2008 e-mails last week?  The friend also pointed out this was not supposed to be "a Supreme Court lifetime appointment."

Geller signed a two-year contract and he was supposed to depart in 2007.

It's 2014.

Seven years after he was supposed to leave.

He needs to leave.

He's not just overstayed his welcome, his never-ending tenure raises ethical questions about the position itself.  No other outlet with a public editor or ombudsperson refuses to regularly bring in new blood.

You do that because the ombudsperson role is a subjective role.

They're having to judge what's going on -- that's subjective.

And not only do you need to change the person, you also need to factor issues of race, ethnicity and gender.  You need to bring a wide variety of people to serve in the role because we live in a diverse society.

Instead of diversity, for the last nine years PBS has offered Michael Gelter.

And they should have fired him in 2008.

Forget the e-mails that were turned over to us.

You just have to read the column to see that Gelter's not doing his job but instead campaigning for Barack Obama.

To slam Barack's pastor, he takes a detour to go after Hillary and what she said on ABC.

His job is not to write a column of musings.

His job is to oversee what PBS airs, specifically to be a viewers representative.

He is supposed to address the issues the viewers raise.

From his own column, no PBS viewer raised Hillary's Good Morning America interview.

That interview had nothing to do with Jeremiah Wright.

Jeremiah Wright was the issue PBS viewers were raising.

This had nothing to do with Wright:

First, a presidential candidate [Hillary] was stating, on the public record, that if she were president, the United States would "obliterate" Iran, a country of some 65 million people, if that country attacked Israel, not the United States, with nuclear weapons. Has that kind of direct, public threat been made before by any president or leading presidential candidate? Is the U.S. committed to a nuclear war involving third countries outside of specific defense alliances?

That had to with running interference (playing defense) for Team Barack.

Michael might want to check his contract (we have copies of all of his contracts with PBS).  He'll see that not only are his duties not defined as "campaigning for a political candidate," but they also repeatedly note his role is to handle issues viewers raise about fairness and about integrity on PBS news and public affairs programs (on air content and online content).

Repeating, Good Morning America isn't a PBS program.

He has betrayed PBS viewers, he has betrayed his position and he has sacrificed his own integrity.

The only thing left to do is to show Michael the door.

When NBC had their Michael problem, they were finally willing to cut him loose.  They only suffered their Michael for five months.  PBS has allowed their Michael to continue for nine years.  It's time to send him packing.

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