The end of an era, and beginning of this one (Part A of this one)

It was 20 years ago tonight. Not exactly. It was actually four days off, on Nov. 25, but what really matters is it was the night before Thanksgiving in 1998.

I had been producing the 11pm news at CBS affiliate WFSB-3 in Connecticut. It was my last newscast there, before moving to Philadelphia – and also the last weathercast for the legendary Hilton Kaderli, who retired that night.

In fact, Hilton and I just got off the phone. He and his family are doing great. He mentioned he had just been doing a bit of work in his study, and his wife is working on their Thanksgiving turkey as I publish this!

The reason for both of us leaving the same night was, back then, TV stations depended on Nielsen ratings. That company picked times around four months to measure viewership. Then, starting on a Thursday and ending on a Wednesday – every November, February, May and July – networks and stations would go all out to show you their best programming along with their sexiest, dirtiest, most dangerous and practically anything to get you to watch. No vacations were allowed, so the A-team would be on every newscast, every day and night.

In 1998 – for the first and last time, I believe – Nielsen ended the ratings period on the night before Thanksgiving rather than the week before, postponing or canceling news people’s vacation plans.

Thanksgiving
We were all turkeys in 1998!

Stations still use those times to have their on-air people announce retirements, reveal health issues, and more to get you to watch – even though Nielsen now realizes there are more than four months in a year, and doesn’t ask randomly selected viewers to fill out diaries about what they watch anymore. Old habits are hard to break.

The 11pm news was arguably most important (financially, why else?) because it followed the network’s huge primetime audience, and had 35 minutes to fill commercials, rather than the typical 30 for a half hour. Stations would then sell ads based on the ratings for at least the next few months, while also looking at year-to-year. People’s jobs depended on good ratings.

This was my first job outside of Florida, my first time in New England cold and my first time living away from home (except for college).

Downtown Hartford was basically a dead center of a doughnut, but not the night before Thanksgiving. (Why weren’t we live from outside?) The day before Thanksgiving was still busy with travel. (Yes, we had a live picture.)

Since then, the station moved from there, two towns south to Rocky Hill. (Yes, Weathersfield and Rocky Hill are towns, while Hartford is a city!)

These days, Al Terzi – the dean of Connecticut TV news, who actually spent some time in West Palm Beach – moderates a weekly political show on WTIC-Fox 61. Denise D’Ascenzo is still at it at Channel 3 after 32 years (and will always be my shiksa sister!), but gets to drive home at a decent hour. No more Nightbeat for her! We can all see and hear Joe Tessitore on ESPN’s Monday Night Football.

I thank Tom Lowell, Steve Sabato and Deborah Johnson for the opportunity. I followed Tom up from Miami.

Plus, my friend Megan Robinson who followed me up and started producing weekend mornings, before becoming an executive producer in Charlotte. We went to dinner every Sunday night in a different town so we could study the state we covered.

Reporters Dennis House (now anchoring and also blogging, so I get a weekly email to keep up with the area!), Jennifer Watson (in Atlanta), Melissa Francis (Fox Business) and Susan Raff (still there!) found news or followed up on developing stories, sometimes live so late and further away than they would’ve liked to have been.

In the beginning of my time at WFSB, someone you may have heard of – Gayle King – returned from home and her then-little ones to anchor after her 5:30 newscast because Denise was on maternity leave. (Now, that means her baby girl is old enough to drink!) Of course, Gayle went on to the syndicated Gayle King Show and now anchors CBS This Morning.

Assignment editor Andre Hepkins left WFSB and returned as a reporter. Now, he’s a big-time anchor in Baltimore. And Dana Luby kept getting promotion after promotion and recently went from long-time news director of the station to its general manager! Plus, Mike Guerrieri (Vice President of Creative Services at NBC’s Miami station) with the prime-time teases that kept so many viewers up longer than they would’ve liked.

Of course, I’ll never forget the late, great newscast director Jeff Bright. And I’ll never be able to mention everyone whose work went into making the newscast such a success, so please forgive me.

We were a #1 team. I should’ve made more of it. Come to think of it, I think I fought like hell with every one of the people mentioned at least once (except Gayle)! Every one of cared that much and made each other better.

I mentioned I ended up moving to Philadelphia. I stayed six years, returned to Miami for some time before getting back to Philadelphia (for Part B, as this post’s title suggests).

Click here for how The Hartford Courant reported that day.

Now, to the video!

1 of 3: Lots of touches I remember starting, the New England Patriots’ move to Hartford(!), Hilton’s memories, and perhaps a record number of municipalities mentioned in the first tease instead of the typical three

2 of 3: Michael J. Fox reveals he has Parkinson’s and Hilton’s final forecast

3 of 3: Sports, Hilton’s final good-bye and classic clips

(Why didn’t I get an on-air mention after 19-1/2 months?)

Bonuses:

Gayle King’s friend Oprah joins Hilton on weather in 1992

And click here to read and watch the most memorable moment in WFSB history (at least involving Hilton)!

Plus, thank you to Spencer Medbery for providing most of the clips!

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The FCC’s war on American children, adults

The Federal Communications Commission has a very important mission, but it’s not being fulfilled.girl watching tv

In fact, the opposite has been happening over the past few days and it’ll likely lead to less children’s programming – and less attention when you complain about your TV, phone company or internet service provider.

The FCC says its mission is to regulate

“interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories. An independent U.S. government agency overseen by Congress, the Commission is the federal agency responsible for implementing and enforcing America’s communications law and regulations.”

But the amount of regulation looks to be receding faster than cars in a race.

Do you have kids, or know anyone who puts their kids in front of the TV?

trump quotes

Axios reports the FCC is starting to loosen broadcasters’ requirements for children’s TV programming. You know, those stations that are licensed by the government to use the public airwaves for the public interest.

schoolhouse rockYou probably watched Saturday morning cartoons. They weren’t just fun but also carried a message or lesson. Even breaks in programming like ABC’s Schoolhouse Rock! were educational. I’d go as far as to credit NBC’s The More You Know.

Cartoons were on all three networks when there were only three commercial broadcast networks, plus Fox may have even gotten into the act before the end. The new kid on the block did carry weekday afternoon cartoons, early on, when it had weaker stations that didn’t carry news.

smurfs
Common Sense Media

News. That’s the magic word. It’s cheaper to produce and stations can pretty much put as many commercials in as they want.

NBC was first with Weekend Today. Then CBS and ABC came up with weekend editions of their weekday morning shows. (CBS did have Sunday Morning before the Saturday cartoon era ended.) And eventually, local stations followed. The news looked a lot like the previous night’s 11:00 news, just with different people!

It wasn’t like there was much going on most of the time.

OK, so I did produce newscasts with JFK Jr.’s deadly plane crash and Elián González’s capture from his Miami relatives’ closet on weekend mornings while at WCAU in Philadelphia. I had the morning off from KYW-TV when the Space Shuttle Columbia disintegrated over Texas while returning to Earth, killing all seven crew members.

But the new newscasts didn’t have to be good back then. It was the same when TV stations started putting local news on, weekday mornings. The TV station just had to let viewers know the world hadn’t ended, we weren’t at war and what the weather would be like.

Now, the FCC says the old rules aren’t needed because kids these days have apps and streaming services just for them! (Do they all have access? Really?)

Axios reports Nielsen data says the prime target of the rules — kids between 2 and 11 – are watching about 22 percent less regular TV between 2014 and 2017. Any wonder, when there’s nothing on for them? Put the youngsters in front of Fox News Channel and Days of Our Lives.

sesame street muppet wikia
http://muppet.wikia.com

Instead, they’re using “apps like YouTube Kids, 24/7 kid-friendly cable channels like Nickelodeon and Disney Junior, on-demand shows like Sesame Street on HBO, and over-the-top kids programming on Netflix.”

FCC commissioners who want to lessen the kid rules refer to them as among the many “outdated, unnecessary, or unduly burdensome” ones on the books, according to Deadline magazine.

They say TV broadcasters have too many rules to follow, while tech companies don’t have any, so this would just make things fairer. But I say that’s because tech companies don’t use the public’s airwaves!

What are those rules and how burdensome are they?

Axios says,

“In 1990, Congress passed the Children’s Television Act, which requires broadcasters to air three hours of educational programming per week (with limited advertising) in order to maintain their license. Children’s programming must also meet certain ‘Kid Vid’ requirements with respect to educational purpose, length and the time of day it is aired.”

My heart goes out to them.

Pee-Wee's Playhouse peewee wikia
peewwee.wikia.com

Nobody is saying the three hours of educational programming per week has to be original. The networks, or syndication companies, or companies that own more than 100 TV stations can come up with it!

Captain Kangaroo Bob Keeshan 1977 wikipediaOn the other hand, back in the day, it seemed every TV station had its own locally-produced children’s programming with live studio audiences, and I’m not referring to Captain Kangaroo which aired on CBS. Of course, back then, they also took news seriously, too!

Coming up next (using a TV phrase), it’s up to us – the public – to comment on the proposal. Then, the FCC will vote on final changes, later this year. If they succeed, Deadline says

“broadcasters could be able to satisfy government requirements that they produce appropriate children’s far by ‘relying in part on special sponsorship efforts and/or special non-broadcast efforts.’”

fcc commissioners 2018Speaking of the public telling the FCC what we think, that federal agency will probably soon start forcing us to pay $225 to file – and for them to review – a formal complaint against a telecom company! That means broadband, TV, and phone companies.

Yes, it’s hard to believe. No, I’m not making this up. This is America, 2018.

Thursday, according to Ars Technica, the FCC voted 3-1 to stop reviewing informal consumer complaints.

The fifth seat – to be held by a Democrat – has not been filled since Mignon Clyburn resigned last month. (As if that vote would’ve changed things!)

You’d still have to pay the $225 even if your internet service provider, which you pay every month, doesn’t respond to your informal complaint.

What would cause the FCC to make this move? I was wondering the same thing.

Turns out, Ars Technica reports the biggest change will be “the text of the FCC’s rule about informal complaints.”

In other words, this is how things have been!

“Nothing is substantively changing in the way that the FCC handles informal complaints,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said. “We’re simply codifying the practices that have been in place since 1986.”

That’s when Ronald Reagan was president.

But the commission’s only Democrat, Jessica Rosenworcel, remembered things differently.

Ars Technica reports she said the FCC has reviewed informal complaints in the past.

“This is bonkers,” she said at Thursday’s meeting. “No one should be asked to pay $225 for this agency to do its job. No one should see this agency close its doors to everyday consumers looking for assistance in a marketplace that can be bewildering to navigate. There are so many people who think Washington is not listening to them and that the rules at agencies like this one are rigged against them – and today’s decision only proves that point.”

Rosenworcel said the FCC gets 25,000 to 30,000 informal complaints a month.

“After they are filed, the agency studies the complaint, determines what happened, and then works with providers to fix consumer problems,” Rosenworcel said. “For decades, this has been the longstanding practice of this agency. But for reasons I do not understand, today’s order cuts the FCC out of the process. Instead of working to fix problems, the agency reduces itself to merely a conduit for the exchange of letters between consumers and their carriers. Then, following the exchange of letters, consumers who remain unsatisfied will be asked to pay a $225 fee to file a formal complaint just to have the FCC take an interest.”

On top of the formal complaint process being expensive, it’s also complicated.

“Parties filing formal complaints usually are represented by lawyers or experts in communications law and the FCC’s procedural rules,”

the FCC says.

If the change becomes final, two references to the commission’s review and “disposition” of each informal complaint will be removed from the FCC complaints rule.

Then, even if you get no response, you’ll have to file a formal complaint – and pay.

FCC headquarters, Ser Amantio di Nicolao-Wikipedia
FCC headquarters, Ser Amantio di Nicolao-Wikipedia

This comes as part of a larger rulemaking aimed at ‘streamlining’ the formal complaint process.

According to FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr, “Today’s decision is another win for good government.”

I wonder what we did to deserve that!

Click here for my post containing Schoolhouse Rock! clips.

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