This Week’s Blogs: Letterman Finale Dominates

May 23, 2015
THIS WEEK IN MEDIAPOST TV BLOGGING HISTORY: From "Mad Men" to Letterman, it was a finale week to remember.

THIS WEEK IN MEDIAPOST TV BLOGGING HISTORY: From “Mad Men” to Letterman, it was a finale week to remember.

David Letterman’s farewell was such an important milestone this week that I got three TV blogs out of it. Plus, “Mad Men” said good-bye too, and one column — on Tuesday — was given over to the George Stephanopoulos mess at ABC. Read all five of my MediaPost TV blogs with these links:

Monday, May 18: ‘Mad Men’ Finale: For Don Draper, There’s No Place Like ‘Om’

Tuesday, May 19: Stephanopoulos Debacle Reveals Politicos And Journos Are Too Chummy

Wednesday, May 20: Deconstructing Dave: Letterman’s Late-Night Saga Ends Tonight

Thursday, May 21: Letterman’s Long Good-bye: In Final Show, Dave Did It His Way

Friday, May 22: With Dave Gone, His Time Slot Cools Off With Crime-Drama Repeats

— Adam Buckman

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The Greatest David Letterman Story Ever Told

May 18, 2015
David Letterman, seen last Friday night (May 15) on his CBS "Late Show." Photo: CBS

David Letterman, seen last Friday night (May 15, 2015) on his CBS “Late Show.” Photo: CBS

SUMMER 1995:



The memories come flooding back in this final week of David Letterman’s CBS “Late Show,” which has its final broadcast on Wednesday (May 20).

One such memory goes all the way back to 1995, the year Jay Leno overtook Letterman to seize the top spot in the late-night ratings — a position Leno held for the remainder of his run on NBC’s “Tonight Show.”

Here is the story, in full, of how a newspaper TV section covered this particular battle in the late-night wars in the summer of 1995.

The story is excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by yours truly, Adam Buckman. It follows a section about Jerry Seinfeld.

On Oct. 17, 1995, the New York TV section asked its readers: "What do you suggest Dave should do to reverse his show's ratings slide?"

On Oct. 17, 1995, the New York Post TV section asked its readers: “What do you suggest Dave should do to reverse his show’s ratings slide?” Read what happened next, below …


Part III

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

If the Post’s “Seinfeld” poll had anything to do with sapping Seinfeld’s confidence in himself and his show, then this whole “poll” episode emerges as another instance in which a public figure attached much too much importance to some silly feature in an impish tabloid.

Read “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman: Order your copy today — right HERE!

Or maybe I was always the one who habitually underestimated the significance of these things.  Not that I lacked pride in my work, but I always assumed that a newspaper, purchased for loose change and read cover to cover in the time it takes to travel a half-dozen stops on the subway, was ultimately forgotten within a few hours, if not minutes.

And yet, celebrities and their handlers felt differently.  Such was the case in 1995 when David Letterman’s executive producer arranged a summit meeting with the Post’s editors to discuss the TV section’s near-constant abuse of Dave.  One of the final straws for the producer, Robert Morton – known as Morty – was, yes, another ornery Flash-Fax Poll, this one published on Oct. 17, 1995.

It was a watershed year for Letterman and late-night television, for it was the year Jay Leno caught up to Letterman in the ratings and then surpassed him, reestablishing NBC’s “Tonight Show” as the time period’s dominant show for the next 14 seasons.

To put it mildly, we were rooting for Jay.  Why?  Well, I’d like to say it was because the struggles of an underdog always make for great newspaper stories, and it was no less true in 1995 as Leno doggedly pursued Letterman in the ratings.  But our decidedly negative focus on Letterman that year could more accurately be described as a vengeful response to the apparently low regard in which Letterman and his representatives held the New York Post’s TV section.

Their attitude was made crystal clear one week in May as Letterman prepared to take his show to London, England, for a week of special telecasts from the British capital.  The shows were due to start on Monday, May 15, and Letterman was suddenly all over the place conducting interviews with newspapers and magazines to promote the trip, including our principal competitors, the New York Daily News and The New York Times.  But Letterman and his press reps made no time for a phoner with the Post.  Indeed, we didn’t learn the normally press shy late-night host was agreeing to be interviewed that week until we read an interview in the Daily News.

The reasons for our exclusion have faded from memory if, in fact, I ever learned them.  Sometimes, the Post TV section was left off the list of media in line for celebrity interviews simply because, well, we were part of the Post.  And maybe Letterman’s people were miffed at some offense committed elsewhere in the paper that had nothing to do with us.  Maybe it was an item on the paper’s hard-hitting gossip page, Page Six, that had offended Letterman, as happened sometimes with celebrities sought by the TV section.  Or maybe the paper had been among those that had come down hard on Letterman after he hosted the Oscars in March and was lambasted by critics for his performance.

Whatever the reason, in the absence of a Letterman interview to publish that week, we were still faced with finding a way to climb aboard the Letterman bandwagon, since, interview or no interview, I felt an obligation to note the show’s trip to London somewhere in the TV section because this particular stunt happened to be unusual enough to qualify as big news.

With no interview, it seemed to me that there was only one other angle available to explore, and that was the state of Letterman’s ratings on the eve of this overseas trip undertaken smack in the middle of the May ratings sweep.  Fortunately, there was a legitimate ratings story brewing that spring.  Letterman had dominated late-night television ever since he launched his new “Late Show” on CBS in August 1993.  But by May 1995, Jay Leno, who had taken over for Johnny Carson on NBC’s “Tonight Show” on May 25, 1992, was gaining on Letterman.

That was the state of late-night when I weighed in on the closeness of the competition in a column published on Friday, May 12, 1995, when Letterman and his producers were already in London preparing for the following week.

I was editor of the TV section at the time and rarely wrote columns.  But I recall taking on this assignment myself in order to relieve any of the department’s staff writers from bearing the brunt of any complaints that might arise over the negative tone of the coverage I was planning.  Besides, I was enraged by Letterman and his people passing us over for an interview, as if the Post, with a circulation somewhere around 450,000 copies everyday, was not important enough to include among all the other papers which were lining up to help Letterman publicize his London telecasts.

Diving Dave -page-001 ASo I conspired to hit them right between the eyes with a column headlined “Diving Dave’s decline” in 90-point type and taking up nearly an entire page.   The column characterized Letterman as “cocky” and his style of comedy as “twisted” and “sick.”  A caption under a photo of Letterman hosting the Oscars called him a “late-night loser.”   And Leno, who nine times out of 10 had been customarily depicted in the pages of the Post’s TV section with that grotesque “spit-take” photo from the Associated Press, was newly elevated in status.  Gone was the spit-take picture; in its place was a photo of a confident Jay Leno at the wheel of one of his classic cars.  Leno was no longer a late-night loser; he was now, according to the column, “NBC’s brash, never-say-die challenger.”

“The cocky king of late-night is about to be toppled from his throne,” read the column’s lead sentence.  The piece then laid out the relevant ratings data, demonstrating how Letterman’s numbers had fallen during the past year while Leno’s had climbed, until by mid-May 1995, Leno was trailing Letterman by just one-tenth of a ratings point.

“If the trend continues,” the column boldly predicted, “Leno will surpass Letterman soon.”

However, even after painstakingly detailing the case for Leno’s probable ascension to the top of the late-night ratings, I still had about 10 column inches to fill.  So I hammered Letterman.  What did I have to lose?  We had no relationship with Letterman and his press office, anyway.  What difference did it make whether they were offended by a column in the Post?

So, I let fly.  “This year, Letterman has had one failure after another,” I opined.  “He and his producers chose Tom Snyder to host the show following Letterman’s ‘Late Show,’ billing Snyder as ‘the consummate broadcaster’ who would win his time period against NBC’s ‘Late Night with Conan O’Brien’ as decisively as Letterman used to beat Leno.

“But guess what,” I pointed out, “More than five months after his debut, Snyder has made no headway against O’Brien.”

“Then,” I continued, laying it on thick, “Letterman hosted the Oscars, where his twisted, sick humor was unanimously panned by critics.”

I even complained about Letterman’s trip to England, implying that it was impractical, if not unpatriotic.  “Now,” I scoffed, “at a time when Letterman desperately needs to win new fans here at home, he’s going to England for a week of shows.”

One of the lessons I learned early on at the Post: If you are going to burn bridges or people, do it in style.  Use big headlines, choose large pictures, apply blunt verbiage.

The column evidently hit home because it wasn’t long on that Friday before I received a phone call from London.  It was Letterman’s publicist.  And she tore into me.   She took issue with every aspect of the column – from the name-calling (“late-night loser,” “cocky king”), for which I didn’t really blame her, to the litany of ratings data, which, truth be told, were unassailable, though she tried mightily to assail them.  I remember that I happened to have my tape recorder hooked up to my phone when she called and I recorded the entire diatribe.  Some time later, I taped over it, possibly because it was so vicious I wished never to hear it again.

It was one of those instances when I would begin to doubt my own judgment.  I wondered: Had I gone too far?  In analyzing the ratings data, had I treated the subject fairly in building a case for my prediction that Letterman was on track to fall behind Leno within a few months?  Couldn’t I have written that caption under Letterman’s photo without the three-word, bold-face starter in all caps: “LATE-NIGHT LOSER”?

I contemplated these questions all the way until Monday morning.  That’s when I picked up The New York Times and saw an interview with Letterman in a story that analyzed his ratings and pointed out, in a manner similar to the way I had on Friday, that Leno was breathing down Letterman’s neck.  I wondered if the Times reporter received an angry phone call from London, though I knew the likely answer to that was no.

It was always the same old story – other papers, such as the Times, handled their story subjects with kid gloves, while we at the Post handled them with boxing gloves.  So we got screamed at, while our competitors got the interviews we coveted.

For consolation at such times, I would conjure a lesson imparted by a former editor at an earlier job, in 1986, after I had just gotten off the phone with an irate spokeswoman from a New York radio station.  She was reacting to a story I wrote about the death of the station’s traffic reporter, who was killed when the station’s helicopter crashed into the Hudson River.  The spokeswoman was angered by the story’s suggestion that the station had possibly behaved negligently in leasing the helicopter from a company with a checkered safety record.  Naturally, she took issue with that suggestion and berated me for it.  Afterwards, this editor told me, “The louder they yell, the more accurate your story probably was.”  His aphorism has proven true virtually every time a story subject or his or her representative has called up to scream at me.

However, that is where the teachings of this particular editor began and ended.  He didn’t say anything about taking revenge or escalating the hostilities.  No, I came up with that strategy all on my own, for that was the summer we beat up David Letterman.

You could argue the story was legitimate, at least in its most basic form, which was the account of Letterman’s continuing slide in the ratings and Leno’s rise.  And Leno might have eventually passed Letterman under normal circumstances, but Leno was aided by happenstance in the form of a movie star suddenly derailed by scandal.  It was Hugh Grant, who was arrested in Hollywood on June 27 when vice cops nabbed him in his parked car while he availed himself of the services of a transvestite prostitute. He was previously scheduled to appear on Leno’s “Tonight Show” about two weeks later, on July 10, and he kept the date.  The show – in which Leno began his interview with the question, “What the hell were you thinking?” – became the most talked-about show in Leno’s entire tenure as “Tonight Show” host and it won for him the boost he needed to close the gap.  In August, he moved ahead of Letterman in the ratings and stayed there for good.

It’s doubtful our negative coverage of Letterman that summer helped move the ratings needle for Leno.  Despite the Post’s circulation and its ability, at least occasionally, to influence opinion, I always believed that the paper and, by extension, its back-of-the-paper television section, was no match for the TV networks, which all maintained well-populated p.r. departments whose job it was to offset any negative publicity that came their way.  Moreover, the audience for network television – numbering in the tens of millions – was far larger than the Post’s readership, and the networks had millions of promotional dollars at their disposal and their own airtime on which to spend it.

Still, the press clung to the ratings story that summer, but none more zealously than the Post.  Week after week, when the Nielsen ratings for the previous week were released – which traditionally happened every Thursday – we ballyhooed Leno’s rise and in the process seized every opportunity we could to kick Letterman to the curb.

We would gratuitously bombard him with headlines, captions and belittling phrases.  “JAY CLOBBERS DAVE” read one headline on an otherwise routine ratings story that ordinarily would not carry a headline weighing in at about 90 points and composed in all-caps.  “DAVE’S OUT AT HOME” was the headline on another story about how Leno was even beating Letterman in the ratings in New York, hometown of Letterman’s “Late Show,” on the local stations owned by the networks, WNBC and WCBS.  We labeled Letterman a “strikeout king” and took pains to proclaim, “David Letterman’s reign as New York’s late-night comedy king is over.”

In one story brilliantly contrived by one of our TV reporters, Josef Adalian, we took Letterman to task for smoking cigars on his show.  The story included statements from public health officials decrying Letterman’s smoking habit and admonishing him for setting a poor example for youth.

Jay rerun king  (1)-page-001 ABy September, we were even focusing on the ratings race during weeks when Leno and Letterman were on vacation and their shows were in reruns – something we never would have covered previously.  In one over-sized headline published on Sept. 1, we declared: “Jay’s the king of late-night reruns,” accompanied by a subhead: “Leno notches another win while Dave vacations,” implying that Letterman, who was taking a two-week vacation to Leno’s one week off, was loafing while his harder-working rival steadily built an ever-increasing lead.  “Letterman’s two-week vacation continues,” the story noted, “while Leno has been hard at work this week.”  By this time, Leno had beaten Letterman in four of the preceding seven weeks.  My prediction of May 12 had come true.  The story of Leno’s rise and diving Dave’s decline should have been coming to a close.  But I didn’t let up.

By Oct. 17, it was time for a “Flash-Fax Poll.”  This one was headlined: “Dave’s dilemma,” and featured a headshot of a grinning, confident Jay Leno on the left side and on the right, a headshot of Letterman grimacing.  “With David Letterman’s ratings declining, the Post wants to know how you feel about him,” said the poll’s text.  “What do you suggest Dave should do to reverse his show’s ratings slide?”  The poll attracted more than 200 responses and it undoubtedly played a role in what happened next, at least indirectly, as Letterman’s executive producer decided he had had enough of the Post TV section ragging on his show.

For Robert Morton, the straw that broke the camel’s back was not specifically the poll, or one of our overblown headlines, or our contrivances about Letterman’s personal habits such as cigar-smoking, though these were all contributing factors.  No, the final straw turned out to be a tiny photo caption.  In a short story about Leno, published around the same time as the fax poll, I wrote a caption under a benign headshot of Leno that took direct aim at Letterman, even though this was a rare story about Leno that had nothing at all to do with Letterman and the late-night ratings race.   The caption, wholly unrelated to the contents of the story, read: “JAY LENO: Kicking Letterman’s butt.”

Soon thereafter came a phone call from Morty, who was shrewd enough to recognize that the caption was irrelevant to the story in which it appeared and, it seemed to him, represented a gratuitous and unfair shot at Letterman.  He was right, of course, yet I doubt if I admitted it at the time.  To his credit, Morty didn’t yell or scream.  Instead, he invited me to negotiate a détente.  There was only one problem.  Morty wanted me to come to his office in the Ed Sullivan Theater building at Broadway and 53rd Street to talk about it.  Feeling contrary, I refused and told him, somewhat arrogantly in retrospect, that if he wanted to talk to me, I’m easy to find.  All he had to do was come down to the Post at 1211 Sixth Avenue and I would meet with him there.  I didn’t tell him this, but I felt that if I went to him, he would benefit from a kind of home-field advantage and I imagined that, in those surroundings, I would feel as if I was being put on the defensive.

A short while later, I received a call from Ken Chandler.  Morty had gone over my head.  He had called Chandler and told the editor of the Post of my refusal to meet with him and my counter-invitation to hold our peace talks at the Post.  Chandler went a step farther.  He arranged an appointment for Morty to come down, accompanied by the Letterman show’s outside public-relations representative, Ken Lerer, to meet with a group of Post editors, including me.  The meeting was held on Oct. 23.  That same day, before it was convened and the conference room was empty, I took the last shot in our war against David Letterman, though I never told a soul about this final act.

This meeting was to be held in a conference room I knew well.  It was where the editors of the Post met twice daily to discuss the day’s lineup of stories.   As a participant in those meetings, the characteristics of the room were well-known to me, particularly the operations of the room’s stock of rolling office chairs and the way you could adjust their heights by turning them upside down and spinning the wheel carriage – one direction to lower the seat and the other direction to raise it.  So, a short time before Morton and Lerer were to arrive for our summit meeting, I went to the conference room and turned over each of its chairs, raising every seat except one.  Later, when I escorted Morty into the room, where more than a half-dozen Post editors were also gathering, I led him straight to the lowest chair in the room, and that’s where he sat for the duration of the half-hour meeting, his seat about six or eight inches lower than everybody else’s.

Why did I do it?  If memory serves, I likely resented Morty going to my boss, the editor of the Post, to arrange this meeting after I refused Morty’s invitation to meet with him in his office, though, looking back, I can hardly blame Morty for doing so.  If that was the reason, basically to get even with him, then it would be more than fair to characterize this chair trick as immature and spiteful.  You might even say I acted like a jerk and you would be right.

The meeting turned the tide.  Morty’s short chair notwithstanding, the gathering was cordial.  Morty articulated his view, which he stated often in those days, that the reason for Letterman’s decline in the ratings had nothing to do with the quality of Letterman’s “Late Show.”  Instead, Morty averred, Letterman’s ratings problems were due to the low ratings of the shows that aired before his – CBS’s prime-time programs and the similarly low-rated 11 p.m. newscasts on most of the CBS affiliates.

His take on the situation, in which he blamed Letterman’s lead-ins for the “Late Show’s” low ratings, was debatable. But under the circumstances, I reasoned that this meeting was not the place to debate it.  When the meeting was over, we parted on friendly terms and, as a parting gift, I handed Morty a stack of 200 responses to our Letterman fax poll for him to peruse at his leisure if he so desired.  And he promised that the Post TV department’s access to his show would improve.  He even held out the possibility of an interview with Letterman in a few weeks, since the show was planning another out-of-town trip, this time to produce a week of shows originating from Los Angeles.

So, after all the months of conflict, our war with Letterman’s “Late Show,” a war that began all the way back in May, was over.  I even got to interview Letterman on the phone in early November about his L.A. trip and the interview was so low-key and benign (not to mention almost completely lacking in news value) that I almost forgot what in the world we had been fighting about.

Letterman 3For his part, Letterman repeated Morty’s mantra about the decline of CBS’s prime-time shows.  “Well, we’re getting clobbered,” Letterman admitted, “and we’re trying as hard as we can.  I just honestly don’t know if there’s much – beyond trying to make it a decent show every night – that we can do about this situation.  I mean, when we started [in 1993], CBS was, I think, usually No. 1 and now they’re usually No. 4.  So we’ve had a network crumble out from under us.”

I never spoke to Letterman again.  But I did briefly become the talk of the town when The New Yorker magazine got wind of the summit meeting we had held at the Post and turned it into a story for its Talk of the Town section.  “Severe consequences await those who cross the Post – just ask David Letterman,” read the story’s lead sentence, published on Nov. 11, 1995.  The piece then took a mere column and a half of New Yorker magazine space to chronicle our months-long battle with the Letterman show.  “Will we stop beating them over the head every week on the issue of ratings?” I’m quoted as asking, rhetorically, in the story’s final paragraph.  “Probably,” I evidently told the reporter, “because the story is getting old.  Now, if Dave comes back, we’ll run with that.  It would be another great story, and, frankly, that’s all I care about.”

Yeah, right.

THE TALK OF THE TOWN: The New Yorker, Nov. 13, 1995, "The Other Peace Talks."

THE TALK OF THE TOWN: The New Yorker, Nov. 13, 1995, “The Other Peace Talks.”

[Excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman. Copyright Adam Buckman 2014 All Rights Reserved.]

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All 27 of My 2015 TV Upfront Stories, Curated

May 17, 2015
27 Pictures, 27 Stories: All of my Media Post stories from the 2015 TV Upfronts in New York — links below.

27 Pictures, 27 Stories: All of my Media Post stories from the 2015 TV Upfronts in New York — links below.


It was an upfront season to remember — programming presentations all over New York City from TV networks and on-line content providers stretching from Feb. 26 (Nickelodeon) to May 14 (NBC Cable). Here, in one place: All of my 27 stories for on the 2015 Upfront/Newfront season:

Feb. 26: Nick Kicks Off Upfront Season With A Big Production Promise

March 4: At Upfront, Formerly All-Male Spike Pushes Female Audience Growth

March 11: Fun And Games: At Upfront, GSN Has Good Time Stressing Originals

March 31: NBC Cable Nets Prance Into Upfront Season With New Shows

April 1: Discovery’s Upfront Strategy: Global Reach, ‘Personal’ Presentations

April 3: CMT’s Upfront Message: We’re Country To The Core

April 7: USA Network’s Upfront Theme: Heroes And Donny Deutsch, Too

April 9: New Pop Network Identifies Target Viewer As ‘Modern Grownup’

April 22: At Uptown Upfront, MTV Screams For Advertiser Attention

April 23: Arts Channel Ovation Unveils Bold Program Slate For Upfront Season

April 24: BET Wows Audience With Persuasive Upfront Show

April 27: BuzzFeed NewFront Pitches Virtues Of Short-Form Video Sharing

April 28: At NewFront, Yahoo Pins Hopes On Network TV-Style Programs

April 29: ‘Seinfeld’ Deal Dominates Hulu Upfront

May 1: Outdoor Channel Upfront Pitches Vast Reach Of Networks, Sites

May 1: A&E Upfront Goes Epic With ‘War And Peace’ Miniseries, ‘Roots’ Reboot

May 4: ‘Traditional’ Upfront Season Gives Way To Anything-Goes ‘Content’ Bazaar

May 8: Why Doing Away With Upfronts Would Be A PR Disaster

May 8: Screenvision Predicts Growth Of In-Theater Ads, Launches Ad-Targeting Tool

May 11: NBC’s 3-Pronged Plan For Fall: Stars, Live Events, Complex Dramas

May 12: Fox Fall Plan Addresses Tuesday Comedy Woes

May 12: ESPN Creates Programming, Ad Sales Synergies With ‘GMA’ on ABC

May 12: Univision Upfront: Bill Clinton Touts Hispanic Viewing Power, Net Promotes Novelas, Soccer Package

May 13: At Upfront, Turner’s Reilly Vows TNT, TBS Makeovers

May 13: CNN Adds Non-News Programming To Strong News Lineup

May 15: NBC Cable Stresses Reach, Scale Of TV Portfolio

May 15: Juvenile Seat-Saving Must Cease, And Other Upfront Observations

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Last Week on MediaPost: My 5 Blogs 5/11-5/15

May 16, 2015
That was the week that was: From David Letterman to Ricky Martin -- links to all 5 of my MediaPost TV blogs, below.

That was the week that was: From David Letterman to Ricky Martin — links to all 5 of my MediaPost TV blogs, below.

From David Letterman and Queen Latifah to M. Night Shyamalan and “Mad Men,” here are all five of my TV blogs from last week:

Monday, May 11: How’s Dave Doing? We Asked His Friend, Tom Dreesen

Tuesday, May 12: HBO Movie About Singer Bessie Smith Is Off-Key

Wednesday, May 13: Small Town, Big Mystery: ‘Wayward Pines’ Is Top-Notch Miniseries

Thursday, May 14: Five Questions We’d Like Answered In The ‘Mad Men’ Finale

Friday, May 15: Juvenile Seat-Saving Must Cease, And Other Upfront Observations

— Adam Buckman

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Curated: My 9 Stories From the NAB in Las Vegas

May 16, 2015
Press pass: The press room at the 2015 NAB Convention last month in Las Vegas.

Press pass: The press room at the 2015 NAB Convention last month in Las Vegas.

From the National Association of Broadcasters Convention in Las Vegas last month to the TV upfronts in New York (that actually began back on Feb. 26 with Nickelodeon and ended just last week, on May 14, with NBC Cable), it’s been a busy couple of months. Here are the nine stories I wrote — in three days, April 13-15 — at the Vegas NAB Show for

Monday, April 13:

NAB President Reaffirms TV’s Value, Lists Challenges

Tuesday, April 14:

CBS All-Access All-Consuming for Affiliates

CBS Affiliates Seem All Aboard For All-Access

ABC: We Will Work With Affiliates On Streaming

Top of Mind for Fox Affiliates: ‘Empire,’ TV Everywhere

TVB: 2016 Political Bonanza May Start in 4th Quarter

Wednesday, April 15:

Affiliates Get Summer Schooling from NBC

Fox Affiliates OK on Fall, Worried About Future

Broadcasting’s Inevitable March to TV Everywhere

— Adam Buckman

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In Case You Missed My MediaPost Blogs 5/4-5/8

May 16, 2015
Catch up with my MediaPost TV blogs from the first week in May, right here -- links below.

Catch up with my MediaPost TV blogs from the first week in May, right here — links below.

What a week it was: From the TV upfronts to Charles Manson, coming this summer on NBC. Read my MediaPost TV blogs from May 4 to May 8.

Monday, May 4: ‘Traditional’ Upfront Season Gives Way To Anything-Goes ‘Content’ Bazaar

Tuesday, May 5: Big Question For NBC’s ‘Manson’ Plan: Is It Good Enough To Binge-Watch?

Wednesday, May 6: Trans-Parent: Kardashians Want A Piece Of Jenner’s Transgender Story

Thursday, May 7: What The F—? ‘Porn’ Emerging As Hot New Word In TV Titles

Friday, May 8: Why Doing Away With Upfronts Would Be A PR Disaster

— Adam Buckman

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Read My Five MediaPost TV Blogs From 4/27-5/1

May 3, 2015
Bringing you the constant variety of television ... Bruce Jenner, "Full House," "Mr. Robot" on USA Network, Brian Williams, "Mad Men" vs. "Happyish: All in five days on

Bringing you the constant variety of television … Bruce Jenner, “Full House,” “Mr. Robot” on USA Network, Brian Williams, “Mad Men” vs. “Happyish”: All in just five days, only on

In case you missed ’em, here are all five of my TV blogs from last week:

Monday, April 27: What We Learned From The Bruce Jenner Interview

Tuesday, April 28: Suddenly, The World Can’t Get Enough Of ‘Full House’

Wednesday, April 29: USA Network Goes ‘Edgy’ With F-Word Ads For Upcoming Show

Thursday, April 30: NBC’s Brian Williams Mess Gets Even Messier

Friday, May 1: From ‘Mad Men’ To ‘Happyish,’ TV Portrays The Evolution Of Advertising

— Adam Buckman

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Last Week on MediaPost: My 5 Blogs 4/20-4/24

April 26, 2015
From Las Vegas and back: Last week's MediaPost TV blogs covered the annual NAB Convention, Bruce Jenner, a new show on Showtime, "Mad Men" and David Letterman.

From Las Vegas and back: Last week’s MediaPost TV blogs covered the annual NAB Convention, Bruce Jenner, a new show on Showtime, “Mad Men” and David Letterman.

Catch up with all five of my TV blogs from last week — starting with my recap of the annual National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas a week earlier, and winding up with a kiss good-bye to David Letterman. Read ’em all by clicking on these links:

Monday, April 20: At NAB Vegas Show, Questions and Observations About the Future of TV

Tuesday, April 21: Sawyer-Jenner Interview Is This Week’s Most Talked-About TV Show

Wednesday, April 22: At Halfway Point, ‘Mad Men’ Soap Opera Drifts To Its Conclusion

Thursday, April 23: In Showtime’s ‘Happyish,’ Unhappy Ad Man Is Sick Of Advertising

Friday, April 24: Kiss Him Good-bye: Now Dave’s Getting A Real Send-off

— Adam Buckman

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TV Howl’s Weekly MediaPost Roundup: 4/13-4/17

April 20, 2015
From 1949 to the present, my columns last week on MediaPost covered the TV industry from its origins to the present day.

From 1949 to the present, my columns last week on MediaPost covered the TV industry from its origins to the present day.

From “The Lone Ranger” to Halle Berry, catch up with all five of my MediaPost TV blogs from last week (April 13-17) with these links:

Monday, April 13: Make Room For Vintage TV: Old Shows Enjoying Unprecedented Revival

Tuesday, April 14: Is This The Most Trusted Man In TV News? In Our House He Is

Wednesday, April 15: Nature’ Takes You Where You Cannot Go: Inside ‘Animal Homes’

Thursday, April 16: Moone Boy’ Just Might Be The Best Sitcom In The Entire World

Friday, April 17: Networks Embrace Sci-Fi For Summer Series

Thank you for reading!

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman:

This Week on MediaPost: Five Blogs 4/6-4/10

April 10, 2015
The constant variety of television: This week's topics ranged from ad men ("Mad Men") to transgender women ("New Girls on the Block").

The constant variety of television: This week’s topics ranged from ad men (“Mad Men”) to transgender women (“New Girls on the Block”).

Catch up with all five of my MediaPost TV blogs from this past week (April 6-10) with these links:

Monday, April 6: ‘Mad Men’ Poses Existential Question: Is that All There Is? My ‘Mad Men’ recap

Tuesday, April 7: ‘Game’ On! Epic Battle of ‘Thrones’ Resumes Sunday on HBO

Wednesday, April 8: Addicted to ‘Nurse Jackie': Beloved Edie Falco Series Starts Final Season

Thursday, April 9: End of the News Anchor Era? Say It Ain’t So!

Friday, April 10: Transgender Show ‘New Girls’ Is a Walk on the Mild Side

Thank you for reading!

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman:

5 Easy Pieces: A Look Back at the Week That Was

April 3, 2015
The week in review (clockwise from upper left): "Weird Loners" on Fox, prance-dancers on Oxygen, Bieber roasted, "Wolf Hall" on PBS, Discovery struts its stuff.

The week in review: “Weird Loners” on Fox, prance-dancers on Oxygen, Bieber roasted, “Wolf Hall” on PBS, Discovery struts its stuff.

Catch up with all five of my MediaPost TV blogs from this past week (March 30-April 3) with these links:

Monday, March 30: Fox Looks To ‘Weird Loners’ To Lift Tuesday Comedy Ratings

Tuesday, March 31:  NBC Cable Nets Prance Into Upfront Season With New Shows

Wednesday, April 1: Discovery’s Upfront Strategy: Global Reach, ‘Personal’ Presentations

Thursday, April 2: Comedy Central Declares Social Media Triumph For Justin Bieber Roast

Friday, April 3: ‘Wolf’ At The Door: Henry VIII Miniseries Is Suspense-Filled ‘Masterpiece’

Thank you for reading!

– Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman:


Week in Review: MediaPost Rundown 3/23-3/27

March 27, 2015
From "Mad Men" (top left) to "My 600-lb Life" (bottom), that was the week that was.

From “Mad Men” (top left) to “My 600-lb Life” (bottom), that was the week that was.

Catch up with all of my MediaPost TV blogs from this past week (March 23-27) with these links:

Monday, March 23: First Impressions: Inside the Upcoming Season Premiere of ‘Mad Men’

Tuesday, March 24: James Corden: How’d He Do In His Debut on ‘The Late Late Show’ on CBS? 

Wednesday, March 25: Famous People in Peril! Bill O’Reilly Tells Letterman that ‘Destroying’ Celebrities Is Popular ‘Sport’ in the U.S.

Thursday, March 26: FX’s ‘Louie,’ ‘The Comedians’ Are TV’s New Gold Standard Of Comedy

Friday, March 27: From Morbid Obesity To A Bearded Lady: The Weird World Of TLC

Thank you for reading!

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman:

Week in Review: This Week’s MediaPost Rundown

March 20, 2015
ALL THIS MORE: Photos from this week's MediaPost columns -- links below.

ALL THIS AND MORE: Photos from this week’s MediaPost columns — links below.

In case you missed this week’s output of columns on, here they are — just click on the headlines below:

This weeks’ topics:

Monday, March 16: Obama on ‘Kimmel': Entertainer In Chief Was A Regular Riot

Tuesday, March 17: ‘One Big Happy’ Review: ‘Happy’ Daze: New NBC Sitcom Is One Big Mess

Wednesday, March 18: ‘7 Little Johnstons': Reality Show About Seven Dwarfs Proves Anything Is Possible On TV

Thursday, March 19: David Letterman’s Farewell Is Fast Approaching, But Where’s The Excitement?

Friday, March 20: Changes Mulled At MSNBC As Audience Yawns, Then Disappears

Thank you for reading!

— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman:

From ‘beautiful downtown Encino': Gary Owens

February 14, 2015
Gary Owens 1934-2015 (Author's personal collection)

Gary Owens 1934-2015 (Author’s collection)


NEW YORK, Feb. 14, 2015 — He signed his first note to me “Best Krelbs, Gary Owens.”

In later years, he introduced me to the Maytag repairman, sent me a vintage copy of Laugh-In magazine from his own personal stockpile, and invited me to Los Angeles to be his guest at one of the monthly get-togethers of Yarmy’s Army.

And yet, the fact was, I barely knew him.

But corresponding with the press, even a reporter located 3,000 miles away in New York, was how a certain generation of TV and radio personalities conducted their own publicity.  And so, I would receive these handwritten notes and occasional phone calls from Gary Owens in which he would update me on his career.

He would call and announce in his distinctive voice that it was Gary Owens calling from “beautiful downtown Encino.”  And he’d tell me what he was up to, including the latest news about Yarmy’s Army.

This was a loosely structured club whose members were mainly comedians and character actors whose faces, but not necessarily their names, were familiar to anyone who regularly watched the TV situation-comedies of the 1960s and 1970s.

It was named for an actor named Dick Yarmy, brother of Don Adams (born Donald Yarmy), who was stricken with cancer.  To cheer him up, his friends rallied to entertain him.  After he died, they continued to meet once a month, calling themselves Yarmy’s Army.  Gary Owens was proud to belong to this group, and he mentioned them often.

Today, many of those club members who I may have met if I had accepted his invitation (proffered sometime in the 1990s) are now gone, some long-gone.  And now, Gary’s gone too.  He died Thursday at age 80.

And now, I’m writing one of these remembrance blogs — again.  It’s not that I go around looking for opportunities to eulogize the dead. But due to what you might call “lifespan arithmetic,” a handful of personalities I first met when I was in my 20s and 30s are now in their 80s and now, well, you do the math.

The truth is, I formed relationships with very few such people over the years.  It is a very finite list.  But it just so happens, though, that Gary Owens was one of them (as was Joe Franklin, who died a few weeks ago and who I wrote about HERE).

I first made contact with Gary Owens in March 1983 because I had just read in the Washington Post that Owens, then a radio personality in Los Angeles, was spearheading a campaign to honor the Three Stooges with a star on Hollywood’s Walk of Fame.

The Three Stooges and Gary Owens: For me, this was a winning combination.

So, I decided to try and get him on the phone — probably the first time in my career that I attempted to reach some public personality on the phone in my capacity as a journalist covering the broadcasting business.  To be specific, I was covering radio as the editor of a small biweekly newsletter called RadioNews, based in Bethesda, Md.

To my amazement, Gary Owens — who I knew best as the comical announcer on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” — came to the phone after I called his L.A. station and simply asked to speak with him. He then told me of his campaign to honor the Stooges with a bronze sidewalk star (a “campaign” that became successful just a few months later) and explained that he’d known the Stooges personally (at least some of them).

If memory serves, he was particularly fond of Larry Fine (who died in 1975) — telling me how he’d often run into Larry shopping for groceries at a supermarket in Hollywood (I believe it was a Safeway) and my imagination blazed with a mental image of the “beautiful downtown Burbank” announcer from “Laugh-In” chatting amiably with wild-haired Larry Fine of the Three Stooges somewhere in a supermarket produce department.

Gary’s note with his nonsensical “Best Krelbs” sign-off accompanied a clipping from the Los Angeles Times reporting on the success of his Three Stooges campaign.  “Thanks for the help,” he wrote, which was very gracious of him to do since I had written just one tiny story on this subject for RadioNews, a newsletter whose circulation was a paltry 800 subscribers scattered around the country, which meant my tiny story had no bearing on the success or failure of his Three Stooges campaign.

"Best Krelbs, Gary Owens" -- July 7, 1983.

“Best Krelbs, Gary Owens” — July 7, 1983.

I came face to face with Gary Owens only once, at one of the broadcasting-industry conventions I used to cover in the 1980s. This one was the National Association of Broadcasters’ Radio ’87 Convention in Anaheim, Calif., and I ran into Gary in a hotel suite in the company of two of his friends — Jesse White, the actor best known as the original Maytag repairman and Jack Riley, a character actor best known for playing a neurotic patient of Dr. Bob Hartley on the old “Bob Newhart Show.”

(I wrote about this encounter, from which my memories of the Maytag repairman are most prominent, in my book “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” excerpted below.)

Laugh-In magazine, November 1968 (Author's collection)

Laugh-In magazine, November 1968 (Author’s collection)

Gary’s notes to me, handwritten (actually, printed — he didn’t use cursive) on simple stationery, were cheerful missives.  “Well, finally, one of the vintage Laugh-in magazines!  Sorry it took so long!” he wrote in a note in January 1997 that came with this magazine that he had apparently promised me but I had completely forgotten about (nor ever really expected to receive).

“Hell has certainly broke loose weather-wise,” he continued, commenting on some severe winter weather that had apparently hit New York.  “In L.A., the kids build smog-men in the yard & put a carrot in for a nose,” he joked.

For some reason, he then segued into a story about Elvis Presley because Elvis’s long-time manager, Col. Tom Parker, had recently died.  “Sorry about Col. Tom Parker,” he wrote.  “First time I met him I was a kid in radio in New Orleans and was chatting with Elvis — suddenly about 20 girls stormed the mezzanine of the St. Charles Hotel and ripped Presley’s clothes & mine! (all set up by the Colonel!) Best — GO.”

I possess five notes from Gary Owens, a photo of Gary and me at the 1987 radio convention, the copy of Laugh-In magazine he gave me, and an autographed picture (the one above).

“Thought I’d drop you a line to let you know what’s happening,” he wrote to me in January 1999.

“After guesting on a recent ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch,’ I’ve been doing a lot of on-camera goodies.  Just finished taping a comedy commercial for Roseanne’s talk show.  I’ll be playing myself on February 21st on Fox on ‘That ’70s Show.’  Also guesting on TBS — ‘Friday Night at the Drive-In,’ ‘Politically Incorrect’ on ABC-TV and ‘The American Comedy Awards’ on Fox.”

He ended this letter: “My national radio show continues strong – getting great ratings on WLUX in Nassau-Suffolk [Long Island] (we’re now in more than 150 cities.)

“Best wishes [not Best Krelbs],

Gary Owens”

And the same to you, Gary.


Book excerpt, from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” by Adam Buckman (all rights reserved)



Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

The whole point of the television business, then as now, was to make money from advertising.  The programs, whether good or bad, were produced solely to create an environment for the commercials.

And the star of one of the most famous series of commercials in the history of television gave me a lesson in another part of show business – the money part.  He was a blustery character actor named Jesse White, who worked steadily in movies and TV shows from the 1940s to the 1990s, but became best known as the Maytag repairman, a role he played in TV commercials for 22 years.

I met him in September 1987 in Anaheim, Calif., in the company of a Los Angeles radio personality with whom I was faintly acquainted, Gary Owens, who years before had become famous as the “beautiful downtown Burbank” announcer on “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In.”   I ran into both of them in a hotel suite adjacent to the Anaheim Convention Center, where the National Association of Broadcasters’ annual radio convention was being held.

I was always flying out to cover trade shows in those years.  There were at least a half-dozen a year, maybe more.  The TV and radio industries loved to organize themselves into groups and hold conventions, mainly in warm climates – Anaheim and Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, New Orleans, Atlanta, San Antonio, Atlantic City.  There was even one meeting in Toledo, Ohio – a midsummer convention of an association representing TV stations from smaller cities.  All attendees, including journalists, were treated to a Toledo Mud Hens game and dinner at Tony Packo’s, a hot-dog and sausage joint made famous by a fictional character who hailed from Toledo, the cross-dressing Corporal Klinger played by Jamie Farr (also a Toledo native) on the TV show “M*A*S*H.”

I loved covering the trade shows.  You were expected to produce a couple of stories for the following week’s edition of Electronic Media, but I spent most of my time checking out the exhibition booths and hanging around the hotel bars.  On the exhibition floor, you’d get to see the new models of TV cameras put on display by the big electronics companies – the portable, shoulder-mounted video cameras used in newsgathering and the big stationary cameras used in television studios.  You’d also get to play around with them if you could effectively convince the salespeople manning the booths that you were interested in writing a story about their products (though I never actually did).  Among the innovations on display at every TV trade show in those years: High-definition TV, a good 10-15 years before the technology would be widely available to broadcasters or consumers.

In the bars, you’d prospect for stories by chatting up the convention attendees.  Among other things, I discovered that nearly everyone in the radio business has a radio voice, having invariably done on-air work earlier in their careers before moving up the ladder to station management.  You’d meet some executive then in his 50s or 60s who ran a station or group of stations and then learn some time later that once upon a time this guy had been a disc jockey known as Wild Willie, King of the Kilocycles.

In the evenings, I’d make the rounds of the hotel suites reserved by the big radio and TV companies in search of free food and drink.  These “hospitality suites” were set up to fete the many station managers, air personalities and journalists who’d come to the conventions from all over the country.

Gary Owens then had a syndicated radio show or two and he was stationed for the evening at the 1987 NAB radio convention – “NAB Radio ’87” – in his syndicator’s hospitality suite, where I found him with Jesse White and another friend who’d tagged along with them, Jack Riley, a dour comic actor who was best known for playing an irascible neurotic named Mr. Carlin on the old “Bob Newhart Show.”  I found myself in conversation with Jesse White, then 70, who told me some things about his career, focusing mainly on what apparently had been a career highlight – his supporting role in the 1950 film “Harvey,” starring Jimmy Stewart.

The conversation eventually turned to his long association with Maytag (a relationship which was then nearing its end).  In light of all the movies and TV shows in which he had acted (including the 1951 film version of “Death of a Salesman,” starring Fredric March), I asked him why he stayed in the Maytag repairman role for so many years.  He answered my question by suddenly pulling a rolled-up wad of one-, five-, 10- and 20-dollar bills out of his pocket.  He thrust out his hand in triumph, and in his palm lay a wad of money that was so thick he couldn’t close his fingers around it.  “This is why!” he said, grinning demonically.

# # #

Contact Adam Buckman:

Now at The nation’s best TV blog

February 4, 2015
BY ADAM BUCKMAN: All this and more -- only at

BY ADAM BUCKMAN: All this and more — only at

Looking for more to read?

Thank you for visiting, but if you are wondering why the output here has been sporadic, wonder no more: I am writing everyday for Television News Daily / as the site’s daily TV columnist.

Click HERE for immediate access to my MediaPost archives — just shy of 100 TV columns produced daily since last September on every TV-related subject under the sun, including the six shown in the pictures above and much, much more.

As always, I am grateful for your readership.

— Adam Buckman

“Always on, just like television.”

# # #

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The Oracle of 42nd Street

January 26, 2015
Joe Franklin and me, April 1989, New York.

Joe Franklin and me, April 1989, New York.

JOE FRANKLIN 1926-2015


Joe Franklin is gone, and so is his world.

I knew Joe for 25 years — meeting him for the first time in April 1989, when I spent two raucous days interviewing him and soaking up the carnival atmosphere of his office at 42nd Street and Broadway.

A year ago, he interviewed me for his Bloomberg Radio series, which he was still doing up until his death this past Saturday at age 88.

I appeared on Joe’s TV show on June 11, 1993, during his final week on the air — my first and only appearance on “The Joe Franklin Show.” My fellow guests were jazz critic Chip Deffaa (a New York Post colleague) and a doo-wop singing group — Kenny Vance and the Planotones.  They sang an a cappella version of “Life Is But a Dream” that was one of the most sublime performances of any kind that I have ever witnessed.

Whenever I was in the vicinity of Joe’s most recent office at 43rd Street and 8th Avenue (which wasn’t often), I used to love to stop in and see him, for he was almost always there.  For some reason, I found his presence there reassuring — a great constant in a changing world.

I last spoke to Joe about four weeks ago.  He called to finalize an arrangement for another interview, which now won’t be happening.  And he won’t be in his office either.

In my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” I wrote about my first encounter with Joe Franklin and his world back in 1989.  Here it is, from Chapter Two (following a section about Walter Cronkite):

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

If I learned about broadcasting from watching Walter Cronkite, then Joe Franklin taught me about show business.

But it wasn’t the show business of dollars and cents.  It was the show business of aspiration, of ordinary people with high hopes and dubious talents, the people Joe called his wannabes and never-weres.

These were the people who crammed into a tiny office he occupied at 42nd Street and Broadway, in a red brick office building a century old, with great arched windows overlooking Times Square and corridors that echoed with the opening and closing of oak doors made heavy with brass hardware and frosted glass.  From behind the doors and down the scuffed marble hallways came the far-off tinkling of pianos and the sounds of voices raised in song.  This building, now long demolished, was the domain of music teachers, vocal coaches and talent agents – a real-life version of A.J. Liebling’s “Jollity Building” and Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose.”

And in 1989, this magical place was still there.  And Joe Franklin, a roly-poly little man with a perpetual grin, held court in an office busy with the comings-and-goings of his wannabes and never-weres.  Franklin, then 60 years-old (or so he insisted), had been the host of one TV talk show or another in New York City since this form of television show had been invented.

He even claimed to have invented it in 1951, though this claim, like so much of what Joe told me over the two days I spent in his office interviewing him in April 1989, could likely never be confirmed (or if it could be confirmed, I lacked the resources, ingenuity or energy required to confirm it).

Joe’s story never wavered.  A native of the Bronx, he drifted into the radio business at a young age, working first as a teen-aged go-fer for an AM station, WNEW, and then, eventually, becoming a writer for various radio personalities and their shows.  He claimed he was only 15 when he began writing intros to Kate Smith records for a show called “Kate Smith Sings” and also for an Eddie Cantor show on NBC called “Ask Eddie Cantor” – “sponsored by Phillip Morris,” he noted.

“I would make up the questions that people allegedly had written to [Cantor] that were mostly answerable by old records,” Joe said, but it was the phrase “sponsored by” that really captured my imagination, for here was a guy who’d been around so long that his brain still classified long-forgotten radio shows by the companies that sponsored them, reflecting a process for buying broadcast commercial time – “sponsorship” – that had largely been abandoned in the radio and TV businesses by the late 1950s.

In 1951, Joe claimed, the managers of a fledgling New York television station – WJZ-TV (now WABC) – were trying to figure out how to fill the daytime hours where they had no programs.  So they asked Joe, who was by then a radio personality, to come up with something, and he suggested a show in which he and a guest would sit in chairs and have a conversation.

Joe merrily told me this story, though heaven knows if it was true: “They said, ‘Joe, if we give you an hour a day, what would you do?’  So I said, ‘How about if I do a show of people talking nose to nose, eyeball to eyeball?’  They said, ‘Joe, you can’t give them talk.  The word is television, you have to give them vision’.”

Nearly 40 years later, Franklin was still on TV, though in 1989, he was on WWOR/Ch. 9.  By then, “The Joe Franklin Show” had been a middle-of-the-night staple of New York City life for so long that no one bothered anymore to try and refute Joe’s claims that he was the longest-running talk-show host in the history of television or that he had interviewed more than 150,000 people in his career.

In retrospect, the latter claim was easily refutable.  All you really had to do was a little simple arithmetic and you’d come up with a figure far lower, though still in the tens of thousands.  Moreover, it became crystal clear from the two days I spent in the presence of Joe Franklin that it was doubtful that he or anyone else had been conscientious enough to keep a running tally of his guests over the years.

In fact, no one seemed to keep a tally of anything associated with Joe Franklin, who would answer questions by producing staggering figures off the top of his head – data that was impossible for a single journalist to confirm, and Joe likely knew it.

His office was famous for its Collyer brothers-like clutter.  A small space, it was piled floor to ceiling with newspapers and magazines, movie posters and film cans, lobby cards, sheet music, books and records – 78s and 33s.  You’d look around and ask, Hey, Joe, how many records would you say you have in this office?  And he wouldn’t have an answer to such a specific question, so he’d come up with some other response you couldn’t prove.

About “half a million” stored all over town, he’d answer, along with 10,000 old movies and 200,000 copies of the Memphis newspapers from the day Elvis Presley died, and heaven knew what else.  “I have warehouses all over the city – six or seven,” he’d say, describing plans for books, videocassettes of the old films and reissues of the old records – a veritable empire of nostalgia that he seemed to hope would give him a way of thinning out his massive collections and earn him millions in the process, though it was doubtful any of these plans would ever come to fruition.

Amid piles so precarious they seemed in danger of toppling and crushing him to death, Joe sat in one of the few spaces available for sitting, taking phone calls from a black dial phone that rang constantly, and hosting a continual parade of colorful, threadbare visitors.  On the two days I spent there, these included an elderly man who said he was a marriage broker, and a tall, white-haired man wearing a tweed jacket who walked in carrying an old, weather-beaten tennis racket under one arm and, without saying hello, launched into a sonorous impersonation of Franklin Roosevelt.  This man, introduced to me only as “Ellsworth,” said he had inherited millions of dollars from a long-dead aunt, and then pridefully informed me that the racket he was holding once belonged to Rudy Vallee, with whom Ellsworth played tennis.  “This was Rudy’s personal tennis racket!” Ellsworth bellowed.  “I’ve got four of his rackets – I love ’em!”

Another man – short, wiry and gray-haired – who said he lived in a walkup apartment in one of the blocks in the West 40s just east of Times Square, pulled an old frosted light bulb out of his pocket and claimed to own hundreds more that he had collected from a Times Square dumpster.  They were lightbulbs from the original “zipper,” he said – the famed, lighted sign that once encircled One Times Square, the building at the foot of Times Square at 42nd Street (from which the ball drops on New Year’s Eve), around which the day’s news headlines once blazed and moved 24 hours a day.  He said he salvaged the bulbs from a dumpster late one night in the wee hours of the morning after the old zipper had been dismantled and its pieces discarded in preparation for its replacement by a more modern version.  Now, this man wanted to sell each bulb as a souvenir and had come to Joe Franklin’s office to seek advice, encouragement or a chance at publicity.

It’s entirely likely that he received advice and maybe even encouragement from Joe, but he probably received no publicity.  Many came and many called, but few were chosen to actually appear on “The Joe Franklin Show.”  The phone would ring and an assistant would answer and tell Joe who’s calling and Joe would invariably say something like, “Tell him I’ll give him good news in about a half an hour.”  Or Joe would answer the phone himself, speak a few words into the receiver and say, “Call back about 5 o’clock,” or, “I’m going to call you back in one hour – very important!” or, “Call me in 15 minutes, very important – I’ll have good news for you.”

I asked Joe if he ever remembered to call any of them back or ever had the good news he promised them.  Without hesitating, he answered candidly, “No, I tell everybody the same thing.

“We get maybe a thousand calls a week from people who want to be on TV, and I just don’t know how to say no [but] I don’t put them on [the show],” he said.  He then tried to explain to me that the callers needed to be told no for their own good, even though it seemed more for Joe’s good than theirs.

“Can I tell you something?” Joe asked me.  “Most of them have a need to be turned down, they have a need to be rejected.  If I put them on – like I’ll say, ‘What’s your qualification?  What’s your background?’  Do they want to talk about finance or romance or sex or therapy or nutrition?  I say, ‘What’s your qualification?’  They have none [and] if I would put them on, they wouldn’t respect me.  They’d say to themselves, ‘If Joe put me on his show, then he’s hit the pits, he’s hit the rockbottom!’  They have a need to be rejected, most of them.”

Searching in vain, in this pile or that, for a clipping or magazine cover he insisted on showing me, his patter continued.  “I was honored by the Meditation Society – millions of adherents!” he reported with a laugh, finding some long lost citation and briefly waving it in the air.

He talked of the talk show hosts who have come and gone since his career began (“400,” he estimated, another piece of data that suddenly arrived out of thin air) and the opportunities that come his way everyday.  “I can be on radio seven days a week, four hours a day,” he claimed.  “I have at any time six radio stations pursuing me …”

He tossed around the names of celebrities with the same abandon.  He met George M. Cohan and Jack Benny, he said, but gave no details.  He listed a handful of notables he interviewed years earlier on shows whose tapes were lost long ago – Elvis Presley, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, John Wayne, Ronald Reagan.

“I had Charlie Chaplin once on my radio show and I asked him, ‘Mr. Chaplin, what about all these people who sit frame-by-frame analyzing your movies and they find all the Freudian implications, all the shadings, like every time [the little tramp character] kicks the fat man’s behind, he’s supposed to be knocking the establishment and they go on and on … ?’  You know what?  He swore to me that he had nothing in mind when he made those movies except to make people laugh.”

The stories bubbled out of him, including one yarn about a trip he made to NBC Studios in Burbank, Calif., to appear on Tom Snyder’s “Tomorrow” show.  Joe said the appearance was set up to help promote a book Joe had written (he claims to have written dozens of books, a claim that is, for the most part, true).  According to Joe, he wound up on the Snyder show after Johnny Carson turned him down.

So, on the way to Snyder’s studio, Joe Franklin bumps into Johnny Carson in a hallway, or so said Joe.  “I wrote a book and they sent the book to Johnny Carson and [the publishing company publicist] got the memo: Johnny passed,” Joe said.  “So they sent it to Tom Snyder.  So I go out there – they sent me the airfare and everything – I go out to the studio in Burbank, and who do I meet in the hallway?  Johnny Carson.  He says, ‘Joe, what the hell are you doing here?’  I said, ‘I’m going on “The Tomorrow show”.’  ‘ “Tomorrow Show”?  Why not my show?’  ‘Johnny, we sent you the book, we got the word that you passed!’  He started screaming!  He never saw the book!  His face, his composure …  he started to shriek.  I ran away!”

Joe then told a tale of Tom Snyder, apparently the only memory of Snyder that Joe brought home to New York that was worth remembering.  “I’ll never forget what he said once during the intermission,” Joe said of Snyder.  “He yells out to the audience, you know, while they’re playing the commercial, he says, ‘What does a guy with a 14-inch cock have for breakfast?  Well, this morning I had Wheaties, two bananas … !’ ”  And Joe laughed and laughed at the memory of it all.

Joe Franklin seemed to have perfected the art of feigning a very convincing modesty while at the same time ceaselessly promoting himself and his place in broadcasting history, a lofty position he defined without hesitation or noticeable guile.  He’d suddenly adopt a serious expression on his face and say things like, “My program is the reason for living for many, many people,” or, “You want to know what they tell kids in TV school?  What their homework is if they wanna be a talk-show host?  Watch Joe Franklin, study his technique.  I am sort of the role model for talk-show hosts around the country.”

David Letterman was one of them, Joe said, crediting himself with talk-show innovations large and small.  “Whatever is Letterman-esque now was originally Franklin-esque,” he said.  “I used to do a thing called ‘Mayhem in the A.M.’ where I would have a spoon player or sword swallower or a dancing dentist or somebody who whistles with his mouth closed, and all kinds of oddball things, which is exactly what David does now.”

Hey, who knows?  TV through the years has rarely been uniquely innovative, except perhaps in the beginning, though most of the earliest experiments in television programming had their antecedents in radio and live theater.  The next big thing has always been based somewhat on the big thing or things that came before.  Maybe Joe Franklin was the first talk-show host to welcome a dancing dentist or a closed-mouth whistler, or maybe he wasn’t.  Who’s to say?  The actual truth of Joe’s claims didn’t matter.  What mattered was that he was still around to utter them, and he was still important enough to gather people around him who were willing to listen to him and believe him – in his case, a never-ending parade of threadbare wannabes and never-weres, and a young reporter who absorbed the show business tales of Joe Franklin faster than a dry sponge soaks up water.

But the most interesting thing he said to me, the thing that underlay everything else – all the patter, all the name-dropping, all the insincerity, all the casual boasting and cheerful promises of good news that he never intended to fulfill – was something he said when we talked about Billy Crystal, who had famously impersonated Joe on “Saturday Night Live” five years earlier.  “You’ve seen Billy Crystal doing me, right?” Joe asked me.  “Billy Crystal knows he’s doing a spoof of a spoof because I’m putting everybody on.  My whole life is a satire.”

Putting everybody on.  Joe Franklin had just dug straight to the core of what show business is:  An industry in which everyone, in one way or another, is putting everyone else on.  Outrageous claims, baseless boasts, the bald-faced taking of credit for innovations large and small – in many ways, this was the essence of the television business as I came to know it as a journalist.  Joe’s inadvertent definition of show business reminded me of a story a friend of mine once told me, a friend who at a very young age, in his early 20s, worked as an assistant to a Hollywood producer named Edgar Scherick.  This friend had typed up a letter on the producer’s letterhead and prepared it for the producer’s signature in the space following the word “Sincerely.”  When Scherick saw the word, he had my friend retype the letter and use a different sign-off.  Why?  Because, Scherick said, “ ‘Sincerely’ doesn’t sound sincere.”  It was another great metaphor for show business – a world where sincerity is insincere and everybody knows it.

[Excerpted from “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman. Copyright Adam Buckman 2014 All Rights Reserved.]

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My year in review: Up and out of the demo at 55

December 26, 2014
Nam June Paik, "Li Tai Po" (1987) -- Robot sculpture made of television sets. Asia Society, New York, fall 2014.

Nam June Paik, “Li Tai Po” (1987) — Robot sculpture made of television sets. Asia Society, New York, fall 2014.


NEW YORK, 12/26/14 — And now, the annual tradition that has become a yearly custom: My own personal year-in-review, 2014.

It was a year of living differently.  With no regular location for three-quarters of the year (other than this sporadic personal blog site) for the publication of my TV reportage and commentaries due to the dissolution in December 2013 of the now-sorely missed Xfinity TV Blog, I turned to free-lance writing and wound up published in a number of new places. took a column previewing the new half-season of “Mad Men” last spring.  Newsmax magazine published a feature story I wrote about the new wave in nostalgic TV networks (MeTV, Antenna TV and Cozi).

I did 12 stories for, and it felt good to be back writing for the new on-line version of the old television trade press where I got my start 30 years ago.  When writing these TVNewsCheck stories, on arcane TV-industry topics such as network-affiliate relations and audience measurement (better known as the Nielsen ratings), I was reminded of how much more difficult these stories are, compared to writing reviews of TV shows.

I had three stories accepted for publication in the largest-circulating magazine in the United States, AARP The Magazine (circ.: 22,274,096) — one story about the TV networks specializing in vintage TV shows (see Newsmax, above), one about TV spinoffs, and one about the generational shift in late-night TV stemming from Jay Leno leaving “The Tonight Show” last February and David Letterman preparing to retire next year.

AARP.  Can you believe it?  Well, we do get older every year.  And this year, I reached a particular milestone, and so did everybody else born in 1959 — we became 55, which moved us up and out of the demo.  I am referring to the 25-54 age group — one of the two most important demographic segments targeted by television networks and their advertisers (the other is 18-49s).

It’s not that the networks no longer count us (to them, eyeballs are eyeballs, whether they’re 25 or 85), but we don’t count for much where their bread and butter is concerned.

For me personally, aging out of the demo made me pause, however briefly, to wonder how I can continue covering an industry whose efforts (such as in the producing of programs) are so resolutely focused on younger people.  It quickly dawned on me that becoming 55 does not render me ineligible or unqualified to have an opinion on TV shows, no matter who they’re aimed at.

And so, I go on.  Shortly after turning 55 last September, I was offered an opportunity to once again write a daily TV column.  This morning (Dec. 26), I filed my 72nd column for the good people at

The year was not a fruitful one for celebrity interviews, though I was interviewed a handful of times — twice on TV, on Fox News Channel (“Cavuto,” Oct. 20, and “MediaBuzz,” Feb. 9 — thank you, Neil Cavuto and Howard Kurtz); 15 times on the radio, on WABC, WOR and WBBR in New York, WATR in Waterbury, Conn., KGO in San Francisco, Sirius XM in New York (thank you, Michael Smerconish); and on three podcasts — with the legendary Simon Applebaum of Brooklyn, N.Y. (“Tomorrow Will Be Televised”), the great Rick Morris of Cleveland (“The FDH Lounge”), and Kim Ward (“Chattin’ In Manhattan”).  My thanks to all of you.

Last winter, I finished writing my book titled “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television,” about what it’s been like to cover the TV business for 30 years.   After failing for several years to interest publishers and literary agents in this book, I self-published it on Amazon this year, thanks in part to an offer from Jon Weiman to design a cover for it.  Jon is a designer of book covers who grew up next door to me.

He designed a great cover and I believe I wrote a great book. However, I sold so few of them that I have cause to wonder why on earth I wrote the damn thing in the first place.

Perhaps some sort of answer to that question will come to me in 2015.

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Ebola news coverage is hot topic on ‘Cavuto’

October 22, 2014

TVHowl’s Adam Buckman appeared Monday (10/20/14) with Neil Cavuto on Fox Business News to assess the news media’s coverage of the Ebola outbreak.  Click on the pic to watch the segment:


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Visit my Amazon page today and read my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television”!

Still howlin’ and blogging daily on

October 15, 2014


All this and more: Please click on the pictures to visit my growing archive of daily blog posts on / Television News Daily, including recent columns on these topics, and more!

All this and more: Please click on any of the pictures above to visit my growing archive of daily blog posts on / Television News Daily, including recent columns on these topics, and more!

Looking for something new to read on  Then my apologies if it seems as if my creative output here has stalled, but that’s only because I am now writing the daily TV blog for Television News Daily /

All are invited to visit my growing archive of columns, covering all the topics pictured above — “The Walking Dead,” “Homeland,” “Ray Donovan,” “Gotham,” Joan Rivers, “Project Runway” and much more.

Visit my archive right HERE!

As always, thank you for visiting

— Adam Buckman

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Visit my Amazon page today and read my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television”!

Now available in paperback, my book ‘JERK’

October 1, 2014
Click on the pic to order “JERK” today!

Click on the pic to order “JERK” today!

It’s here!

Welcome to “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” by Adam Buckman, a journalist’s memoir of a 30-year career (so far) spent covering the television business.

Order “JERK” on Amazon here:

Why “JERK”? Because “The Idiot” was already taken. Plus, a disgruntled reader once scrawled the word “Jerk” over the photo that accompanied my newspaper column and then mailed it to me, so I figured, yeah, that’s as good a title as any.

Read the book and you will understand why “JERK” is a more or less suitable title for this thing. Or maybe you won’t. Whether you get it or not, “JERK” is supposed to be a personal history of the TV business from the mid-1980s to the present, the era in which I covered it as a journalist. Whether it succeeds as “personal” history or any other kind of history, I leave that to others to determine.

This memoir drops a lot of famous names — Howard Stern, Jerry Seinfeld, David Letterman, Jay Leno and a bunch of others — in order to get more people to read it. At the same time, though, I’m proud to say that I didn’t have to contrive any of these name-dropping yarns either; every word of them is true.

“JERK” is also a brutally honest critic’s critique of his own work and behavior — something most critics would never attempt.

Read “JERK” today!

– Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman:


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