July 23, 2008

A Top 10 List of Issues Raised By TV Critics

By Alan Pergament

If you put 200 of the nation's television critics in the same room with media executives and stars, you're bound to have some issues raised. And there was the usual share during the Television Critics Association tour that ended Tuesday.

Here is your local critic's list of the Top 10 issues -- some heavy, some light and some unintentionally funny -- from the tour, along with some answers or opinions.

Call it a new version of the old ABC program, "Issues and Answers."

1. Issue: Is it too hard for late-night hosts and comedians to make fun of presumed Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama, and does that give him an advantage over Sen. John McCain?

Answer: I think Seth Meyers, the head writer of "Saturday Night Live" and co-host of "Weekend Update," said it best during a party discussion. "Maybe it's better for this country that somebody might run for president where it's not obvious what's funny about them," said Meyers.

2. Issue: A critic wondered if former White House adviser Karl Rove loses his credibility as a Fox News analyst because he has declined to testify under oath to Congress.

Answer: Even if you're not a fan of Rove or the Bush White House, you can't accuse him of hiding the fact he is pro-Republican and will do anything he can to get McCain elected president. The problem occurs when viewers don't know the political leanings of analysts, not when their leanings are as well known as Rove's are.

3. Issue: Should Fox be embarrassed by the reality show, "Moment of Truth," which threatens to ruin relationships?

Answer: Kevin Reilly, the Fox Entertainment president, defended the show by essentially saying its part of the Fox DNA. True. And I suspect that any relationships that are ruined by the show probably were shaky to begin with. But the truth is Fox should be ashamed of itself.

4. Issue: Will "Friday Night Lights" lose more of its NBC audience because original episodes will air on satellite provider DirecTV months before they air on the broadcast network?

Answer: "Friday Night Lights" can't lose much of an audience since it has a small one on NBC. If it took a deal with the satellite provider to give it a third season, that's fine with me.

5. Issue: Did Olympic skating champion Kristi Yamaguchi have such an advantage on last season's "Dancing with the Stars" that it hurt the ABC show's ratings?

Answer: Stephen McPherson, ABC's entertainment president, conceded that Yamaguchi was so good that it ruined "the mystery" of the show. However, Mark Ballas, Yamaguchi's professional dance partner, told me at a party that she actually wasn't initially as natural a dancer or performer as viewers thought. He added she didn't get the credit she deserved for improving.

6. Issue: Will Katie Couric stay or go as anchor of the CBS Evening News after the election?

Answer: Couric and her boss, CBS News President Sean McManus, said the suggestions otherwise have died down, the newscast is solid and she's here to stay. Of course, they had to tell TV critics that. And CBS kept basketball analyst Billy Packer's departure a secret for a year or so. Couric probably needs to get a larger percentage of the male voters that Sen. Hillary Clinton couldn't get in the presidential race to finish her contract.

7. Should Conan Replace Jay? NBC's executives said the succession plan put in place years ago to have Conan O'Brien replace Jay Leno on "The Tonight Show" is proceeding on schedule for June 2009.

Answer: It's either that or pay Conan $40 million for not following through with the plan. It looks like NBC is going to go ahead and disprove the theory that it pays to plan ahead.

8. Issue: Should PBS allow nudity for the sake of art in a Shakespeare play?

Answer: PBS president Paula Kerger stunned critics here by saying she wouldn't say until January whether it plans to show the nude scene in the Ian McKellen production of "King Lear." But under the present FCC climate, carrying the nude scene would be act of madness on the part of PBS that would even surpass Lear's descent into madness.

9. Issue: Should Keith Olbermann anchor MSNBC's political coverage on debate and election nights?

Answer: Chris Wallace of Fox News raised the issue, essentially saying that Olbermann's constant bashing of President Bush and all things Republican on his popular MSNBC program disqualifies him as an objective anchor and journalist.

Steve Capus, the president of NBC News, said viewers understood the differences in Olbermann's roles and it wasn't an issue a few years ago. Sorry, Wallace has a point. No one explained a few years ago because hardly anyone watched MSNBC then. Olbermann shouldn't be anchoring political coverage.

10. Issue: Is Barack Obama's trip to the Middle East getting too much coverage from the networks and their anchors and does that validate the Republican claim that the media is still in his pocket?

Answer: CBS' Bob Schieffer and Katie Couric were among several members of the network news departments who came here and said Obama's trip is a huge story that deserves covering. That's undeniable. If Obama stumbles in any network interview or any other way, the Republicans will stop complaining.

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Originally published by NEWS TV CRITIC.

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