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Spring Cleaning

By P.F. Wilson · May 11th, 2000 · Channel Surfing
There are a lot of topics worthy of a column. And there are topics that should be written about, but don't justify a 700-word dissertation. I suppose this is how Larry King approaches things. Another way to look at it is a sort of spring cleaning here at Channel Surfing.

A good subject for this time of year is radio. Winter numbers are in, and program directors all over America are poring over the books. I always think of Andy Travis looking at the numbers while the rest of the WKRP staff sweated out the findings.

It's fascinating how, in some markets, talk radio does very well. The big AM talk stations run in first or second place here and in Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Denver and St. Louis. Then there are cities like Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles and Las Vegas where the talk station can't get arrested, although Cleveland's big talker, WTAM, has the benefit of a very successful baseball team to carry it from April until mid-October.

One notable local casualty was Imus In The Morning on WUBE's "Bob 2" (good grief). It's sort of surprising that this didn't happen sooner, although they probably had a five-year deal. The show was poorly promoted, and the affiliate here never capitalized on Imus' national publicity. Compounding the problem was a dearth of local advertising, and the fact that the show cost the station quite a bit.

You see, Rush Limbaugh appears on 10 times as many stations, but his show is free. If you want to bring the firepower of the I-Man, Howard Stern or even Bob & Tom, you're going to have shell out a few bucks. Imus' program can still be seen in its entirety in a simulcast on MSNBC. Unfortunately my car doesn't get cable.

What a marvelous time for a segue! Time Warner came to blows with Disney over fees being charged to carry ABC programming on Time Warner's cable systems. For a day-and-a-half viewers in seven cities could not watch ABC on their cable systems. ABC had pulled the plug, but Time Warner got the black eye.

It makes sense. You're paying the cable company the extra freight to bring in the broadcast channels with crystal clear reception. To the subscriber, it looks like Time Warner were the schmucks, even though Disney flicked the switch to the off position. The FCC reluctantly stepped in, scolded both sides, and wagged its finger to get them to settle quickly. But this spat with Disney and its effect on millions of consumers, isn't going to help Time Warner, already under Federal scrutiny regarding its pending merger with America Online.

The big story around this month's sweeps period is the fate of Friends. The six actors are demanding $1 million per episode in exchange for doing two more seasons of the show. Are they worth it? The show right now is painfully unfunny. However, it's still the number one sitcom on TV. Though ratings have slipped, NBC is still making a lot of money from the show.

The studio that makes the program isn't doing badly either. Warner Brothers not only makes money selling Friends to NBC, but also an insane amount of cash on reruns. The longer the show runs on the network, the greater its syndication life.

If you're trying to figure out who needs whom, consider this: NBC is so desperate for programming, they have been running repeats of Friends and Frasier, in tandem with first-run episodes, during sweeps! Incredible.

When you add up the columns, it falls in the cast's favor. The show can't be shopped to another network by contract, so if the negotiations break down, it's gone. Certainly none of these people needs to work ever again after six monstrously successful seasons. And considering the movies they've made, let's hope that's the case.

Maybe that's a little unfair. Jennifer Aniston has actually chosen some good B-movie scripts, and Lisa Kudrow is a fine comic actress. Matthew Perry needs to get away from Chandler. The rest of the gang should be thankful for solidarity.



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