Tragedy In Local TV News Dominates Week

August 28, 2015
Sad week in TV: Read all five of my MediaPost blogs from the past week, right here (below).

Sad week in TV: Read all five of my MediaPost blogs from the past week, right here (below).

This week’s TV blogs gravitated from summer leisure — a mid-August tour of QVC’s mammoth studio complex in the southeast corner of Pennsylvania — to a summer tragedy: The on-air killing of two young local TV newspeople in Roanoke, Va., on Wednesday. This week of MediaPost TV blogs concluded with two columns on that subject — the first about the trust and affection TV stations and their newspeople engender in markets large and small across the Unites States, and the second about videotaped violence and how, thanks to the Internet, it’s here to stay.

Read these posts, plus one post on Stephen Colbert and another on yet another shakeup at “The View,” with these links:

Monday, Aug. 24: A Tour Of QVC: Inside TV’s Mecca Of Selling

Tuesday, Aug. 25: Oh No! Stephen Colbert Intends To Actually Interview People

Wednesday, Aug. 26: Table Gets Crowded As ‘The View’ Sets New Lineup Of Co-Hosts

Thursday, Aug. 27: In Places Like Roanoke, Local TV Newspeople Are Like Family

Friday, Aug. 28: Violence On Video: It is The World We Live In

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— Adam Buckman

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From Big Bird To ‘Perry Mason’: Last Week’s Blogs

August 24, 2015
From Big Bird to "Perry Mason": Last week's MediaPost TV blogs covered topics such as the HBO-"Sesame Street" deal, CNN's Morton Downey documentary, the threat of even more commercials on cable TV, the premiere of "Public Morals" on TNT, and a new look at "Perry Mason." Follow the links, below.

From Big Bird to “Perry Mason”: Last week’s MediaPost TV blogs covered topics such as the HBO-“Sesame Street” deal, CNN’s Morton Downey Jr. documentary, the threat of even more commercials on cable TV, the premiere of “Public Morals” on TNT, and a new look at “Perry Mason.” Follow the links, below.

Still in shock over HBO’s deal to grab “Sesame Street” from PBS, the week began with a follow-up on the big story from the week before. The week also saw a mini-revival of interest in Morton Downey Jr., thanks to a documentary on CNN. TNT premiered a new cop show set in the 1960s — “Public Morals” — and I ended the week with a reconsideration of a courtroom drama from the 1950s, the incomparable “Perry Mason.” Read all five of last week’s MediaPost TV blogs with these links: 

Monday, Aug. 17: Tyrion, Meet Big Bird: How The Media Told The HBO-‘Sesame Street’ Story

Tuesday, Aug. 18: Remembering Morton Downey Jr.: Documentary Revives The Man And His Era

Wednesday, Aug. 19: Dear Cable TV Networks, Please Don’t Add More Commercials

Thursday, Aug. 20: Costumes And Cars Are Not Enough To Make You Believe It’s The ’60s

Friday, Aug. 21: Television Noir And The Zen Of Perry Mason

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— Adam Buckman

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Wide World of TV: This Week’s MediaPost Blogs

August 14, 2015
From "Monday Night Football" in the 1970s to "Sesame Street" in the present day, here are this week's MediaPost TV blogs written by TV Howl's Adam Buckman. Follow the links, below.

From “Monday Night Football” in the 1970s to “Sesame Street” in the present day, here are this week’s MediaPost TV blogs written by TV Howl’s Adam Buckman. Follow the links, below.

This week’s TV blogs began and ended with columns about television institutions whose histories stretched back more than 40 years — to an era that was much different than today’s. The week’s blogs started with a look at the phenomenon of “Monday Night Football” in the early 1970s, following the death last Sunday of Frank Gifford. The week ended with a blog post about the stunning move of “Sesame Street” — a PBS staple since its inception in 1969 — to HBO, an unlikely, if not unimaginable, destination for this kiddie TV show.

In between: A review of a new docuseries on CNBC about sports agents (“The Agent”), a column cheering on a Florida news anchor who rebelled against reporting yet another story about the Kardashian family, and a post praising Jon Voight, who is giving TV’s best performance this summer in “Ray Donovan.”

Read all five of my MediaPost TV blogs from this week with the links, below.

Monday, Aug. 10: Gifford’s Death Revives Memories Of TV In A Much Different Era

Tuesday, Aug. 11: Esquire Sports Agent Series Sheds Light On Real-Life Jerry Maguires

Wednesday, Aug. 12: Hooray For Local TV News Anchor’s One-Man Kardashian Protest

Thursday, Aug. 13: ‘Ray Donovan’ Actor Is Giving TV’s Best Performance Right Now

Friday, Aug. 14: What? HBO Picked Up ‘Sesame Street’? How Is This Possible?

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— Adam Buckman

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GOP Debate, Stewart’s Farewell Dominated Week

August 7, 2015
Donald Trump and Jon Stewart were the dominant personalities on TV this week. Read what I wrote about Trump, the GOP debate, Stewart and "The Daily Show" below. Plus: Craig Robinson's new NBC sitcom, "Mr. Robinson."

Donald Trump and Jon Stewart were the dominant personalities on TV this week. Read what I wrote about Trump, the GOP debate, Stewart and “The Daily Show” below. Plus: Craig Robinson’s new NBC sitcom, “Mr. Robinson.”

A summer week in TV that would normally be sleepy was enlivened by a single night — Thursday — when 10 Republican presidential candidates faced off in a prime-time debate on Fox News Channel and Jon Stewart signed off as host of “The Daily Show” on Comedy Central after nearly 16 years. Oh, and NBC premiered a dreary sitcom on Wednesday. Read all about this show, the GOP debate and Stewart’s farewell, with these links: 

Monday: Aug. 3: NBC Sitcom ‘Mr. Robinson’ Proves August Is Still TV’s Deadest Month 

Tuesday, Aug. 4: Thursday Night Irony: Stewart Says Farewell As GOP Holds First Debate

Wednesday, Aug. 5: The Feuds! The Firings! Trump’s History Of Hilarity On TV

Thursday, Aug. 6: Stewart Faithful Prepare To Say Good-Bye To Their Ranting Hero

Friday, Aug. 7: GOP Debate Was Great TV; Stewart’s Farewell Was A Yawner

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— Adam Buckman

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Adam Buckman Interviewed on PBS’ ‘MetroFocus’

August 3, 2015

It’s NO waste of time to watch this …

Click on the pic to watch Rafael Pi Roman interview TV Howl’s Adam Buckman about his book “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television” on “MetroFocus,” seen Thursday nights on New York’s WNET/Ch. 13:

TV Howl’s Adam Buckman on “MetroFocus,” WNET/Ch. 13, New York.

TV Howl’s Adam Buckman on “MetroFocus,” WNET/Ch. 13, New York.

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

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— Adam Buckman

Contact Adam Buckman:

Read the Nation’s Best TV Blog: July 27-31

July 31, 2015
From Showtime's "Happyish" to Morton Downey Jr.: Presenting this week's TV blogs -- links below.

From Showtime’s “Happyish” to Morton Downey Jr.: Presenting this week’s TV blogs — links below.


This week’s output of TV blogs ran the gamut from the demise of Showtime’s “Happyish” to the revival of Morton Downey Jr. via a documentary coming to CNN next month.  In between, this week’s topics included Brian Williams and Jon Stewart, the Cosby mess, two new “handsome guy” sitcoms on Fox, and “The Carbonaro Effect” on TruTV.  Read all six with these links:

Monday, July 27: Loathsome Characters, Not Ad Biz Subject Matter, Doomed ‘Happyish’

Tuesday, July 28: ‘Newsmen’ Williams, Stewart Poised To Make Headlines In August

Wednesday, July 29: The Cosby Saga: No Requiem For This Heavyweight

Thursday, July 30: Fall Preview: Fox Tuesday Slate Is Good-Looking And Looking Good

Friday, July 31: ‘The Carbonaro Effect’: Nice Guy Finishes First

… All this and Morton Downey Jr. too — read this, only on Complicated man: Remembering Morton Downey

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— Adam Buckman

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Complicated man: Remembering Morton Downey

July 30, 2015
FORGET HIM NOT: Morton Downey Jr. played the role of the angry man on his 1980s talk show, but it was difficult to tell if the image he created was just an act or the real Mort. (Photo: CNN)

FORGET HIM NOT: Morton Downey Jr. played the role of the angry man on his 1980s talk show, but it was difficult to tell if the image he created was just an act or the real Mort. (Photo: CNN)


‘He was the most vexing TV personality I ever knew’ – book excerpt, below, from JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television by Adam Buckman


"Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie" comes to CNN Aug. 20

“Evocateur: The Morton Downey Jr. Movie” comes to CNN Aug. 20.

NEW YORK, July 30, 2015 — A documentary called “Evocateur” evokes memories of a brief time — a little less than two years in the 1980s, as a matter of fact — in which one man turned the TV business on its head and, as it turned out, a portion of the popular culture too.

He was Morton Downey Jr., who is the subject of the documentary subtitled “The Morton Downey Jr. Movie.”  It was completed in 2012 and makes its TV debut on CNN on Thursday, Aug. 20, at 9 p.m. Eastern.  The film was produced and directed by Seth Kramer, Danny Miller and Jeremy Newberger of Ironbound Films.

The documentary tells the story of Downey’s meteoric rise and fall, framing his emergence as a lightning rod for controversy within the context of his times.  As the documentary notes, the combative, confrontational style he pioneered on his locally produced TV talk show has become de rigueur on TV today.  But back then, Downey was ahead of his time.

As a journalist on the TV beat both at the beginning of Downey’s TV career in 1987 and at the end of his life in 2001, I have my own stories to tell about a man who was unlike anyone else I ever encountered in the TV business.  Here is the story of Morton Downey Jr. and me, excerpted from my book, “JERK: How I Wasted My Life Watching Television”:


Part V

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Click on the pic to visit my Amazon book page.

Books, TV shows, public appearances, charitable works – these were the kinds of promotable projects for which celebrities or their representatives would get in touch with journalists to arrange interviews.

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

One celebrity topped them all, however, when he called me up to promote something no one else ever tried to get me to publicize: His death.

He was Morton Downey Jr., perhaps the most vexing personality I ever came across in the television business.  I first met him in fall 1987 or early 1988, when he was rocketing to fame as the loud-mouthed host of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” – the most talked-about TV show of its era.

Starting locally as a nightly show in New York City in fall 1987, it went national in May 1988, but then never found the wide audience its syndicators hoped it would.  Advertisers judged the show to be too vitriolic and controversial and they stayed away too.  As a result, “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” declined and fell as quickly as it ascended.  After just one year in national syndication, it was cancelled in early summer 1989.  Though the show lasted less than two years, it turned Downey – who was 54 when the show premiered – into the most notorious TV personality in America, however briefly.

May 9, 1988: "The Morton Downey Jr. Show" goes national. (Source: Author's collection)

May 1988: “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” goes national.

He accomplished this by positioning himself as an attack dog for the right – verbally assaulting (and occasionally physically assaulting) his more-liberal guests.  Wildly waving the cigarettes that he became famous for chain-smoking on the air, he would get close enough to his guests to blow smoke in their faces.  He railed against liberals and called them “pablum-pukers” – a label that became something of a catchphrase for him.  His show was incendiary and so was he.  And although he foreshadowed the contentious, partisan television talk-show hosts of today, back in ’87 he was the only one.

Downey had come from radio, where partisan, opinionated talk personalities were all the rage.  He migrated to television courtesy of WWOR/Ch. 9 in New York, an independent station that was desperate for ratings during prime-time hours because it was not then affiliated with any network.  So the station produced the Downey show in its own studios in Secaucus, N.J., and made headlines almost from the start.  In my first story on Downey in November 1987, one unnamed TV executive described the show as “a cross between Ted Koppel and professional wrestling.”  The show took viewer phone calls, and members of the studio audience were invited to stand at a podium at the foot of one of the aisles and participate also – when they weren’t leaping from their seats and screaming.  “The shouting contributes to the chaotic texture of the show,” I wrote.  “In fact, sometimes the program seems out of control,” I continued, demonstrating a talent for understatement.

Morton Downey Jr. on the set of his talk show.

Morton Downey Jr. on the set of his talk show.

By writing about it, I had also demonstrated my fascination with the show and with Downey himself, and it wasn’t long before I was invited to join him for lunch at 21 on West 52nd Street.  He couldn’t have been more charming, which was understandable because he was evidently intent on wooing a reporter to help support his show and promote it into national syndication.  He was entertaining, ebullient company – nothing like the persona he adopted for his TV show.  I formed the impression that the yelling and posturing he affected on TV was an act.  Maybe he really believed the things he said on the show or maybe he didn’t, but like so many other TV and radio personalities who feign anger and spew vitriol on TV and radio, he was not that same opinionated, high-decibel guy in person.  Whatever or whoever Morton Downey Jr. really was, that lunch was the beginning of a relationship – not quite a friendship, but something – that would last until his death in 2001, the very death he called me to promote.

From our table at 21, in this former speakeasy’s intimate wood-paneled dining room, Mort pointed to a banquette nearby where he said his mother was sitting when she went into labor on the night he was born in 1932.  Was the story true?  With Mort, you never could tell.  It was certainly possible that back on that December evening in ’32, his mother was gaily enjoying drinks, or at least supper, at 21.  She was a dancer and a movie actress named Barbara Bennett, and her two sisters – Mort’s aunts – were movie stars, Constance and Joan Bennett.  His father, Morton Downey, was a debonair singer and radio star of the 1930s.  Morton Downey Jr.’s career would be a lot less glamorous, but a lot more infamous.

And his career continued for a time after the cancellation of that first notorious talk show.  It was near the end of that show’s run in 1989 that Mort began forming the habit of calling me up.  In one such call, in June 1989, he phoned to deny that his show was on the verge of being cancelled, even though reports in the TV trade press were insisting that the show would soon be gone.  “My obituary has been written before,” he told me then.  “I’ve had seven lives, but I still have two more.”

Days later, the announcement came: “The Morton Downey Jr. Show” was dead.

But not Mort – at least not yet.

July 31, 1989: New projects in the works

July 31, 1989: New projects in the works

Just a few weeks later, he held a news conference to lay out his future plans, which included a sitcom pilot and a series of daily radio commentaries.  And thus began a nearly 12-year run of future-project announcements from Morton Downey Jr.

Not that some of them weren’t true – at least initially.  In the years following the end of “The Morton Downey Jr. Show,” Mort had two shows on CNBC, with the first one – titled “Showdown” – premiering in December 1989, just months after the syndicated show breathed its last.  “TV is a crazy business,” he told me when “Showdown” premiered.  “A few months ago, they said I was dead.  Well, I’ve been dead more times than W.C. Fields,” he said – a Fields reference I didn’t understand at the time, and still don’t.

The CNBC shows came and went.  Then came a series of local radio jobs – in Washington, Dallas and Cleveland.  They were short-lived.  And then it appeared that Mort himself would be short-lived too.  After years of chain-smoking, he had lung cancer.  He told me the news in another one of his surprise phone calls, which had continued in the years following his TV heyday.  The phone would ring and there would be Mort when I least expected him, calling from California where he now lived to tell me about new plans and projects – an upcoming guest shot on a talk show, a new radio gig, a TV talk show, a new Web site.  Whether his plans were real or imagined, I loved to hear him talk, though I rarely wrote the items he asked for.

Then came the call in July 1996 when Mort told me in a hoarse voice that he was about to enter a California hospital for surgery to remove part of a lung.  “Say a prayer,” Mort said solemnly.  “I’m scared stiff.”

July 12, 1996: "Prayers for Mort"

July 12, 1996: “Prayers for Mort”

From the way he described his illness and this operation, I wouldn’t have been too surprised to learn over the weekend that he had died on the operating table.  Whatever the outcome would be, I didn’t hesitate to write a story for him.  This kind of story was a tabloid staple – a story about a prominent personality on his or her deathbed, with a limited, but time-tested selection of possible headlines: “Prayers for Mort,” “Mort’s brave last days,” “Mort’s agony,” and the classic “Mort’s plea: Let me die!”

I went with “Prayers for Mort” for a five-inch story on Mort’s pre-surgery agony, and then followed up with an update the next day reporting that Mort survived the procedure and was listed in stable condition.  Apparently, even while recovering in intensive-care, Mort was thinking up new publicity schemes.  Just days after his surgery, he suddenly turned up on “Larry King Live” on CNN to announce that he was about to launch a new TV talk show.  He also volunteered to come to the assistance of troubled actor Robert Downey Jr., who had been arrested twice in recent weeks on drug-related charges, even though Mort was not related to the actor and it was doubtful they had ever met.

Mort’s proposal to counsel this actor with a similar name was absurd.  It was also irresistible, and I leapt at the opportunity to write a story about it, if only to compose a headline like the one the story wound up carrying: “Mort to troubled movie actor: ‘Let’s talk Downey to Downey!’ ”

July 19, 1996: "Let's talk Downey to Downey!" (Source: Author's collection)

July 19, 1996: “Let’s talk Downey to Downey!”

Morton Downey Jr. was nothing if not brash.  Here he was recovering from surgery in which a third of his right lung was removed and he was attempting to reap publicity from the notoriety of an actor who he didn’t even know, simply because the two of them had the same last name.  “If I can help him, I want to do that,” Mort told Larry King emphatically. “We Downeys have to stick together!”

Mort’s announcement that he was about to launch a new TV talk show was even more difficult to swallow than the idea that Robert Downey Jr. would welcome Mort’s intervention in his struggle against drug addiction.  Mort said he was offered this new show the night before his surgery.  “[The producers] called to say, ‘We’ve given you a two-year contract’,” Mort told King, “which said, ‘We believe you will be alive two years from now’.”

It was vintage Mort – claiming that some unnamed producers would agree to invest millions in a new talk show for a man who has lung cancer.  Under the circumstances, it is doubtful such a contract ever existed, though anything is possible.  As it happened, a new Morton Downey Jr. talk show never did materialize and his career as a talk show host – on TV or radio – was over.

He still surfaced on other people’s talk shows, though.  In January 2000, he showed up again on “Larry King Live,” looking very ill and reporting that his weight had plummeted recently to 112 pounds, though it was then back up to 148 pounds because he was eating a quart of ice cream a day.  And he continued to call me to update me on his latest health crises and hospital stays, and also to report on the usual raft of new projects in the works, the majority of which were pure blarney, though sometimes he would surprise me by actually telling me something that was true.  I didn’t believe it when he claimed in a phone call some time in 2000 that Fox was developing a made-for-TV movie about his life.  To my amazement, this claim turned out to be true, as I learned later when a Fox executive confirmed it for me.  (Unfortunately, as happens with so many of these projects, the movie was never produced.)

But by January 2001, Mort was running out of projects to promote, and he was running out of time.  He was succumbing to cancer and he had only one thing left he felt he could publicize, and that was his impending demise.  He called me to mention it on Jan. 5, 2001 – a Friday.

Not surprisingly, he sounded terrible.  His voice was hoarse and raspy.  He’d just spent five weeks in the hospital – Cedars Sinai – and the doctors had sent him home, but not before informing him his condition was “irreversible.”

“How grateful I am for the things you did for me while we were here,” he said from his home in Northridge.  “And, uh, I just [wanted to] let you know that I had one hell of a great time and I loved you for all you’ve done.”

I wasn’t sure what to say.  I had never before received a phone call from a dying man.  Nor did I ever think I had done so much for Morton Downey Jr. that I would be deserving of his thanks when the end was near.  Well, that was at least one purpose of this phone call – to thank me and tell me he loved me.

He had at least two other things on his mind too – one was his death, of course, and the other was Robert Downey Jr. – again.  It turned out the two topics were intertwined.  “I gotta get Robert Downey Jr. to make a couple of comments, and that’s where you could help too,” Mort said, speaking haltingly in order to catch his breath and clear his throat.

“A couple of comments about what, particularly?” I asked skeptically.

“I’m thinking in terms of Robert should say, you know, ‘There’s one other Downey in this whole thing.  His name’s Morton Downey Jr. and I’m sayin’ a prayer for him, you know, I’m sure he said them for me’.”

“It’s an interesting idea.  How does he feel about you?” I asked, playing along even though I knew there would be no way in hell I could contact Robert Downey Jr. and ask him to issue some sort of statement about Morton Downey Jr.

“I think he likes me because when he was on trial, and no one would show up, I’d show up out there.”

“And yet, you’re not related,” I pointed out.

“No, no relation at all,” Mort said breezily.

“You just sort of feel a kinship in a weird way,” I said.

“People think he’s my kid,” insisted Mort, who suddenly began a bout of deep, racking coughs that sounded as if he would pass away right then and there.

“I’m a little taken aback,” I said to him.  “I hope this is just good-bye … for now.”

“Yeah, I hope just for now,” Mort said, apparently shaken and weakened by this coughing fit.  “And if it isn’t, my dear friend, you know that I do love you.”

He then blurted out, “In true reality, I never hated anyone!”  He then began sobbing and was unable to continue talking.  We both hung up and I sat there wondering if that was the last time I would ever get a call from Morton Downey Jr.

It was not.

A few minutes later, the phone rang.  It was Mort again and he had apparently regained his composure.  In a stronger voice than he possessed a few minutes previously, he laid out the primary reason why he called me that day.  “What I’m doing now, to be honest, is just ridiculously stupid, but I gotta do it,” he said apologetically.  “I’m actually promoting my death – you know, right up to the end – to make sure that everything goes well for my family.  I have spent over $300,000 outside of my insurance for private nurses and everything else. …  And if I could get you to lead the way for me, I know there’s people out there that, you know, who would hold a dinner or do something that would make it look like I wasn’t broke and everything else.”

As he struggled to tell me what he wanted, I gradually came to understand that Mort wanted me to somehow write a story about his circumstances that would not leave the impression he was broke (which he insisted he wasn’t), but would nevertheless motivate some well-connected reader – perhaps someone also in the entertainment field – to organize some sort of benefit event for him, presumably before he died.

“If I could get someone to say something … ,” he said, meaning a journalist such as myself who would write something about his situation, or some celebrity, such as Robert Downey Jr., for example, to “say something.”

“Not begging for money,” Mort cautioned.  “I don’t wanna do that.   That’s the worst thing in the world.  Nobody likes a loser.”

I asked him, “Is this about keeping your name alive so that there’s potential for making money off of your name after you’re no longer here?”

“Probably that’s it,” he replied.  “Probably someone who can say he knew the guy [and] the guy was not a pig.”

I assured him that I did not think he was a pig, and I was sure no one else did either.  I told him I’d give the idea some thought, but I knew there was nothing I could or would do to organize some sort of dinner in his honor, much less one that was supposed to raise money for him while not letting on that he needed any.  That was an impossible task.

Mort was tiring and the conversation soon ended.  “I’m having a little difficult time breathing.  Call me at any time,” he said, though I didn’t happen to have his phone number.

“Have a good weekend,” I said to him – my lame attempt to remain upbeat, even though he sounded so sick that I doubted he would survive until Monday.

We said good-bye, and I pondered what he’d said – all this talk about promoting his own death, holding some sort of testimonial dinner, getting Robert Downey Jr. to make some kind of public statement.  When I stopped to think about it, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense, and I concluded that Mort was just disoriented from medication, constant pain, and the overwhelming fatigue that must accumulate when one wages a nearly five-year battle against lung cancer.  What did he really want that day?  With death staring him in the face, it dawned on me that Morton Downey Jr. just wanted to be remembered.

He didn’t die that weekend, but it was the last time I heard from him.  He lasted another 10 weekends, dying on Monday, March 12.  Two days later, I wrote a tribute column detailing our final phone call and attempting to fulfill what I felt was his last request to me.  “I plan on remembering him,” I wrote, “and I’ll miss his phone calls.”

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

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From ‘Sharknado’ to Trump: This Week’s TV Blogs

July 24, 2015
This week's MediaPost TV blogs covered "The Jim Gaffigan Show," "Sharknado 3," MTV's "White People," Caitlyn Jenner's new show "I Am Cait" and the always fascinating Donald Trump. Links below.

This week’s MediaPost TV blogs covered “The Jim Gaffigan Show,” “Sharknado 3,” MTV’s “White People,” Caitlyn Jenner’s new show “I Am Cait” and the always fascinating Donald Trump. Links below.

Not bad for a week in midsummer: This week’s TV blog topics ran the gamut from “Sharknado” to Donald Trump. In between: A look at Jim Gaffigan’s new TV Land sitcom, an assessment of Caitlyn Jenner’s new transgender reality series on E!, and a much-deserved dismissal of MTV’s dreary (and lame-brained) “documentary” on race, “White People.” Read all five of my MediaPost TV blogs from the past week, with these links:

Monday, July 20: Father Doesn’t Know Best: Gaffigan’s A Befuddled Dad In TV Land Sitcom

Tuesday, July 21: Not Again! Plumbing The Many Mysteries Of ‘Sharknado 3’

Wednesday, July 22: MTV Race Doc Called ‘White People’ Accomplishes Nothing

Thursday, July 23: Here Comes ‘Cait’: Kardashians Upstaged By Jenner Juggernaut

Friday, July 24: Even Without An Actual Show, Trump’s Still A Reality TV Star

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— Adam Buckman

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Wide World of Television: From Caitlyn to ‘Daisy’

July 17, 2015
Caitlyn Jenner earned two blog posts (out of a possible five) this week. Read 'em both, and the other three, all available via the links, below.

Caitlyn Jenner earned two blog posts (out of a possible five) this week. Read ’em both, and the other three, all available via the links, below.

This week, the MediaPost TV blog ranged from Denis Leary’s new rock ‘n’ roll comedy on FX — “Sex&Drugs&Rock&Roll” (I didn’t like it so much) — to “Driving Miss Daisy,” starring Angela Lansbury and James Earl Jones (I liked this very much). In between, two posts this week attempted to gauge the impact of Caitlyn Jenner on the rest of us, and one post reviewed “Tut,” the Spike miniseries that starts Sunday.

They were all part of the wide world of TV this week. Read all five of my MediaPost blogs from the past week, with these links:

Monday, July 13: Shock Volume Doesn’t Quite Reach 11 in Leary Rock-Star Comedy

Tuesday, July 14: From ‘I Am Jazz’ To ‘I Am Cait,’ It’s A Trans-Formative Time For TV

Wednesday, July 15: Walk Like An Egyptian: Spike’s ‘Tut’ Struts His Stuff

Thursday, July 16: Media Cheers Caitlyn, But Will Ad Biz Embrace Transgender Trend?

Friday, July 17: Don’t Miss ‘Daisy’: Sit Back And Leave The ‘Driving’ To PBS

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— Adam Buckman

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‘2000s’ Newsmakers Convene for NatGeo Panel

July 13, 2015

Five newsmakers from the tumultuous decade of the 2000s came together on stage last week to talk about their stories and promote the new documentary in which they all appear — “The 2000s: A New Reality.”

The four-hour, two part doc premiered Sunday, July 12, on National Geographic Channel.  Part Two airs Monday night (July 13.

On hand were: Donato Dalrymple, the south Florida resident who gained fame as the man who plucked the young Cuban refugee, 6 year-old Elian Gonzalez, from the waters near Miami in 2000; Andy Grignon, part of the development team at Apple who created the iPhone; John Keller, ex-U.S. marine who saved lives during hurricane Katrina in New Orleans; Richard Hatch, famed winner of the first season of “Survivor” on CBS in summer 2000; and Sherron Watkins, brave whistleblower who told the world about the Enron mess.

Also on the panel: Jane Root, executive producer of “The 2000s,” and me, Adam Buckman, who moderated this incredible, wide-ranging discussion held July 8 at the Paley Center for Media in New York.

Watch the whole thing, above.

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— Adam Buckman

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TV Blog Digest: All Five Of This Week’s Posts

July 10, 2015
From ancient times to the recent past: Read this week's TV blogs, below.

From ancient times to the recent past: Read this week’s TV blogs, below.

From the ancient world of the Bible to the first decade of the 21st century, this week’s MediaPost TV blogs ran the gamut from TV’s biblical epics on NBC and ABC to National Geographic Channel’s latest “decade” documentary, “The 2000s.” In between: the return of “Ray Donovan” on Showtime, a look at the continuing woes of “The View” and Hillary Clinton’s interview on CNN. Read all five of this week’s MediaPost TV blogs with these links:  

Monday, July 6: Bible Gets Thumped As Networks Slam Brakes On Ol’ Time Religion

Tuesday, July 7: His Name Is Ray, But He’s No Ray Of Sunshine

Wednesday, July 8: ‘The View’ From Here: ABC Show Has Fallen Off The Pop-Culture Radar

Thursday, July 9: Let’s Get Serious: CNN Played Softball With Hillary Clinton

Friday, July 10: What Were We Thinking? NatGeo Sorts Out ‘The 2000s’

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— Adam Buckman

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Four-day Week, Four MediaPost Blogs: 6/29-7/2

July 3, 2015
Read all four of my MediaPost TV blogs from this week -- two on Trump and one each on "Zoo" on CBS and "Poldark" on PBS.

Read all four of my MediaPost TV blogs from this week — two on Trump and one each on “Zoo” and “Poldark.”

Out of four MediaPost TV blogs this week, two were devoted to Donald Trump and his woes after he blasted Mexican immigrants. Read them both with the links below — plus CBS’s “Zoo” and PBS’s “Poldark.” Happy Fourth of July, everybody!

Monday, June 29: Easy Solution To NBC’s Trump Problem: Sever Ties With Him

Tuesday, June 30: When Animals Attack: Beasts Go Wild In CBS’ ‘Zoo’ Story

Wednesday, July 1: No Golf For You! The Case For President Trump

Thursday, July 2: ‘Poldark’ And Handsome: New Hero Settles In On PBS

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— Adam Buckman

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This Week In TV: My MediaPost Blogs 6/22-6/26

June 26, 2015
My MediaPost TV blogs for the week of 6/22-6/26:    Top: The NBA vs. Neil Patrick Harris, "Mr. Robot" vs. "Dexter"; middle: "Humans" on AMC, Ben Affleck on PBS; bottom: Glen Campbell on CNN.

My MediaPost TV blogs for the week of 6/22-6/26: Top: The NBA vs. Neil Patrick Harris, “Mr. Robot” vs. “Dexter”; middle: “Humans” on AMC, Ben Affleck on PBS; bottom: Glen Campbell on CNN.

Not a bad haul for a slow TV week in June: This week’s columns included a look at live-event programming following the NBA Finals on ABC; a comparison of USA Network’s new “Mr. Robot” to Showtime’s “Dexter,” a review of AMC’s unsettling new sci-fi series “Humans,” an analysis of the Ben Affleck dust-up at PBS, and a column on the Glen Campbell Alzheimer’s documentary airing on CNN.  Read them all, right here:

Monday, June 22: Networks In The Hunt For DVR-Proof Non-Sports Programming

Tuesday, June 23: Who Is ‘Mr. Robot’? Lo And Behold, He’s Cyber-Dexter!

Wednesday, June 24: Fear Of A Tech Planet: Robotic ‘Humans’ On AMC

Thursday, June 25: Affleck’s Roots Didn’t Fit PBS Show’s Heroic Narrative

Friday, June 26: Forget Him Not: Glen Campbell’s Alzheimer’s Journey On CNN

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— Adam Buckman

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Read This Week’s MediaPost TV Blogs 6/15-6/19

June 19, 2015
TGIF: Thank God It's Five -- my five TV blogs for MediaPost this week, that is. Spend part of your Friday afternoon reading all five. Just follow the links, below.

TGIF: Thank God It’s Five — my five TV blogs for MediaPost this past week.  Spend part of your Friday afternoon reading all five.  Just follow the links, below.

The busiest man in TV this week may have been Matt Lauer. At the very least, he drew enough attention with two high-profile interviews to appear twice in this week’s rundown of my five MediaPost TV blogs — Tuesday’s blog about Lauer’s interview with race masquerader Rachel Dolezal and Friday’s blog on Lauer’s interview with Brian Williams. Also this week: “Seinfeld,” Donald Trump and Jeb Bush. Read all five of my MediaPost TV blogs for the week with the links below:

Monday, June 15: ‘Seinfeld’ Repeats On Hulu: Much Ado About ‘Nothing’

Tuesday, June 16: Politics Of ‘Self-Identification’ Takes Center Stage In Lauer-Dolezal Interview

Wednesday, June 17: Stars For A Day: Trump, Jeb Bush Take Over TV For Most Of Tuesday

Thursday, June 18: NBC’s Decision On Williams: Send Him Down To MSNBC

Friday, June 19: Williams’ Interview Was Painful To Watch, And Also Unnecessary

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— Adam Buckman

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MediaPost TV Blog Week-in-Review: June 8-12

June 12, 2015
Read all five of this week's MediaPost TV blogs -- below!

Read all five of this week’s MediaPost TV blogs — below!

This week’s MediaPost TV blogs reviewed a new comedy (“Odd Mom Out” on Bravo), interpreted Jerry Seinfeld’s comments about political correctness on campus, opined on the “decade docuseries” trend on TV, praised Turner Classic Movies for its summer film noir festival, and took a look at the post-Letterman era in late-night TV. Read ’em all, right here:

Monday, June 8: Bravo’s New Upper East Side ‘Mom’ Is Not A ‘Real’ Housewife

Tuesday, June 9: What Seinfeld Really Said About Comedic Free Speech On Campus

Wednesday, June 10: CNN Singles Out ‘The Seventies’ For Another Decade Documentary

Thursday, June 11: Film Noir Festival Proves Once Again How Much We Need TCM

Friday, June 12: Post-Dave Ratings Indicate Two Jimmies Have Not Inherited His Audience

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— Adam Buckman

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From ‘Caitlyn’ to ‘Colbert’: This Week’s TV Blogs

June 5, 2015
This week's MediaPost blogs covered the premiere of "UnREAL" on Lifetime, Caitlyn "Bruce" Jenner, Brian Williams, the upcoming USA Network series "Mr. Robot" and Stephen Colbert.

This week’s MediaPost blogs covered the premiere of “UnREAL” on Lifetime, Caitlyn “Bruce” Jenner, Brian Williams, the upcoming USA Network series “Mr. Robot” and Stephen Colbert.

Bringing you the constant variety of television: This week’s MediaPost blogs included columns on two, new original dramas — “UnREAL” on Lifetime and the cyber-thriller “Mr. Robot” on USA Network — plus the latest in the Brian Williams drama at NBC News, and the start of the Stephen Colbert era on CBS. And, of course, there was Bruce — oops! Caitlyn — Jenner …

Catch up with all five of this week’s TV blogs with these links:

Monday, June 1: Lifetime’s TV Satire ‘UnREAL’ Is The Real Deal

Tuesday, June 2: The Making of Caitlyn Jenner: A Media Campaign Like No Other

Wednesday, June 3: NBC News In A Twist As Williams Saga Continues

Thursday, June 4: USA Says ‘Mr. Robot’ Premieres Later This Month, But It’s Already On

Friday, June 5: Who Is He Now? Colbert Struggles To Find Himself In CBS Debut

— Adam Buckman

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Four-Day Week in Review: 4 MediaPost TV Blogs

May 29, 2015
Four days, four columns: Catch up on all four of my MediaPost TV blogs from this week (excluding Memorial Day). Links below ...

Four days, four columns: Catch up on all four of my MediaPost TV blogs from this week (excluding Memorial Day). Links below …

The work week was only four days long, but this week’s columns managed to encompass everything from the upsetting “19 Kids and Counting” scandal to the annual Book Expo in New York. In case you missed them, read my four TV blogs from the past week, right here:

Tuesday, March 26: ’19 Kids’ And ‘Honey Boo Boo’ Stories Are Not Typical Of Reality TV

Wednesday, March 27: NBC’s ‘Aquarius’: Yo, Dude, It’s Charlie Manson

Thursday, March 28: Summer TV Might Not Be ‘Smarter,’ But It Is Different

Friday, March 29: Informal Consensus Reveals Best TV Shows For Promoting Books

— Adam Buckman

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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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