Too Much TV: Your TV Talking Points For Monday, March 20th, 2023
You can watch "Providence" on Start TV, but you can't stream it.
Here's everything you need to know about the world of television for Monday, March 20th, 2023.
IT WAS TWENTY YEARS AGO TODAY
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the start of the Iraq War and that made it a good time to revisit my first big TV industry scoop. About a month before the war began, MSNBC canceled the Donahue show. While the networks was publicly blaming disappointing ratings, I discovered the decision was in large part due to the results of a focus group that argued Phil Donahue was seen as being "anti-war." And that was an uncomfortable place to be in the spring of 2003:
Although Donahue didn't know it at the time, his fate was sealed a number of weeks ago after NBC News executives received the results of a study commissioned to provide guidance on the future of the news channel.
That report--shared with me by an NBC news insider--gives an excruciatingly painful assessment of the channel and its programming. Some of the recommendations, such as dropping the "America's News Channel," have already been implemented. But the harshest criticism was leveled at Donahue, whom the authors of the study described as "a tired, left-wing liberal out of touch with the current marketplace."
The study went on to claim that Donahue presented a "difficult public face for NBC in a time of war......He seems to delight in presenting guests who are anti-war, anti-Bush and skeptical of the administration's motives." The report went on to outline a possible nightmare scenario where the show becomes "a home for the liberal antiwar agenda at the same time that our competitors are waving the flag at every opportunity."
A source close to Donahue claims that while he wasn't aware of the specific study, the tone and outcome aren't surprising.
"It's not a coincidence that this decision comes the same week that MSNBC announces it has hired Dick Armey as a commentator and has both Jesse Ventura and Michael Savage joining the network as hosts. They're scared, and they decided to take the coward's road and slant towards the conservative crowd that watches Fox News."
The cancellation and the focus group results were the final moves in a pitched battle that had been taking place for months behind-the-scenes of the show:
By the time January began, the pressure from executives at NBC and GE had reportedly become so persistent that the normally private Donahue began making veiled references to the situation during his show.
"I believe that the drumbeat has been so powerful, so everywhere, that it has literally intimidated people who might want to dissent from the war," he said during a January 6th show called "Is There A Conservative Bias In The Media?" "They’re going to be called unpatriotic. I was called unpatriotic by a person in this very NBC-MSNBC family. This is very difficult out there. At a time when we need dissent the most, everybody is sitting back and afraid."
Whether it was fear or business that drove the move toward Donahue's cancellation, the process was moving along behind the scenes. One email from this period discusses the look of a postwar, post-Donahue, MSNBC. The executive noted that the war with Iraq would be a chance for the network to "reinvent itself" and take advantage of the "anticipated larger audience who will tune in during a time of war."
The email went on to note that the war coverage would give the network an opportunity to "cross-pollinate our programming," by fitting network personalities into the wall-to-wall war coverage. "It's unlikely that we can use Phil in this way, particularly given his public stance on the advisability of the war effort." The author went on to explain that the network needed additional voices who were comfortable and knowledgeable in "both an environment of war and of peace."
Go read the entire piece and I would encourage you to share it. It remains one of the proudest moments of my career, even though it's weird to be responsible for reporting events that are frequently mentioned in other reporting, but seldom credited to me.
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THE DAILY BEAST WHACKS DYLAN BYERS LIKE A PINATA
The Puck hired Dylan Byers both for his knowledge of the media business but also because he is seen as a well-connected journalist. But as the latest edition of The Daily Beast's Confider newsletter illustrates, sometimes being an insider can lead to some uncomfortable conflicts of interest.
In a piece about the behind-the-scenes wranglings at CNN over the agency representation of various on-air talent, the newsletter raises questions over the connection between UTA chief Jay Sures (who represents Don Lemon and other talent) and Byers', who he also represents:
In fact, Sures, who has no experience as a TV executive or a journalist, has told multiple people he should be running CNN and spent months promoting himself as a candidate through columns, including some written by Puck scribe Dylan Byers, another UTA client. Byers mentioned Sures in seven separate pieces while writing about the future leadership of CNN, while only declaring in three a conflict of interest. On Feb. 2, 2022, Byers reported: “While casting about for other hypothetical replacements, some in [Jeff] Zucker’s orbit floated the idea that Sures himself could be a candidate, given that he has closer relationships with CNN talent than anyone besides Zucker and [Allison] Gollust.” And then on Feb. 6: “But when it comes to having the love and loyalty of CNN insiders, Sures is unrivaled. Moreover, as I’ve been surveying CNN executives and on-air talent over the last 96 hours, more and more of them seem to be piqued by the idea of a Sures-led CNN. Like Zucker, he’s competitive and plays to win.” Byers later admitted that, despite his reporting, Warner Bros. Discovery chief David Zaslav never actually spoke with Sures about the job.
ODDS AND SODS
* A group of producers at BSTV Entertainment, the shingle behind Food Network projects like The Kitchen and Trisha’s Southern Kitchen, is attempting to unionize.
* Linda Martindale is getting ready for the new season of Riverdale with a look at what you might expect to see.
YOU CAN WATCH 'PROVIDENCE' ON DIGINET START TV. BUT YOU CAN'T STREAM IT
I've written a lot over the past few years about why so many TV shows aren't available for streaming. But despite all of my reporting, I am constantly surprised by the never-ending ways in which the process of clearing music can keep a show off of streaming platforms.
Weigel Broadcasting owns a number of digital TV networks, including the female-oriented Start TV. That network recently added the NBC series Providence, which I enjoyed immensely when it was on the air. And since the episode are airing at the very work-unfriendly time of 11:00 am CT, I decided I would set my DVR to record them. I knew that Hulu Live TV has recently added Start TV to its channel lineup, so that is where I headed first. Only to discover that I couldn't record the show:
I hadn't run across a disclaimer like this on any other show and I wondered if this was a Hulu issue or a Start TV restriction. So I checked out Philo TV, which had replaced the show with episodes of Ghost Whisperer.
So what is the problem? As is often the case in situations such as this, no one I spoke with today had a definitive answer for me. But based on my research, I think it's likely to be related to problems clearing the music for streaming.
The first problem is that the theme song for Providence in the U.S. and Canada was a Chantal Kreviazuk version of The Beatles song "In My Life." Which would obviously be nearly impossible to clear in 2023. Outside of North America, the theme song was "You Make Me Home," a song by Angelica Hayden. That version of the show was also used for a 12-episode DVD set of the show that was released in 2004.
I am presuming that the international version might be easier to stream, but for whatever reason, Start TV is using the American version with the Beatles track. That fact, combined with the other random needle drops of then-contemporary music in various episodes likely is the reason you can't stream the series.
It's a weird world.
WHAT'S NEW FOR MONDAY:
Gabby's Dollhouse (Netflix)
Grown Gospel (ALLBLK)
Independent Lens: Storming Caesars Palace (PBS)
Secrets Of Spain (Cooking)
The Larkins (Acorn TV)
TMZ Investigates: 9/11: The Fifth Plane (Fox)
Click Here to see the list of all of the upcoming premiere dates for the next few months.
SEE YOU TUESDAY!
If you have any feedback, send it along to Rick@AllYourScreens.com and follow me on Twitter @aysrick.