LA Times writer Whitney Friedlander was a Minnesotan for awhile, and after she interviewed me for an upcoming story, she asked me if I had ever heard of Spaghetti In A Bucket drive-through eatery in Plymouth. She was a fan as a kid, and I told her it was before my time. Any ideas gang?
While I was away, Paul Douglas was let go at WCCO. I read all the stuff on Lambert’s awesome new blog on our site, Jason DeRusha’s blog, and, of course, all the local stories online. I have some personal experience with this issue, and as a former local TV employee and current cable TV employee, I have a take on this to offer as well.
Everyone in this biz knows that the worm can turn at any minute, and any of the local anchors, weather folks, sports anchors, and other “job for life” types all know they can be out at any time. Don Shelby was quoted in Roxanne Battle’s MinnPost blog as telling her he was “shocked and never saw it coming.” I get what he meant, but he is feigning surprise.
Anytime there is an ownership, GM, or news director change or revenues fall, only the most entrenched employees, the most visible local symbols of the stations, have a shot at lasting. Everyone else endures the uncertain moments that precede the first confab with the new leadership or the next quarterly reports. Dave Dahl at 5, Sven at 11, and Ian at 9 are all simply the stewards of a grand tradition, the trusted, local weathercaster. We tune in to Belinda because she is a great talent, and we like her, we connect with her on a human level, not because she gets the snow totals any more accurate than the other guys. I think anyone in that job is safe, unless they make a big bucket of money and their stations ad sales are falling.
It’s simple. What keeps many of us in jobs is that if we work at one station, then we can’t work at another. Belinda, for example, is worth a fortune to 11 not only because the ad sales folks can sell around her on weekdays, weekends, daytime, nighttime, and with her special appearances but also because 9/5/4 would snap her up in a second and build plenty of equity around her if 11 let her go for some reason, which they won’t. Dahl is probably safe since 5 is family owned, and Sven or Ian are new and well-removed from Dahl’s salary range. Lambert is spot-on when he illuminates the move away from lifetime personality association on local news and a reliance on cheap marketing of “better, faster, news” with big sound effects and killer graphics.
The people scratching their heads on this one are those who are unaware that with 500 channels, online access points, editorial placement, and viral marketing campaigns, advertisers have more places to put their dough than ever before, and the broadcast networks are feeling the pinch the most. Consultants are telling GMs all the time to drop the high-priced talent unless they can quantifiably demonstrate that ad sales increase based on their show participation. Everyone will tell you that this is incorrect because they are news stations and don’t look at those numbers. They are lying. Anchors are a different story, but look at what 11 has done throughout the last year, bringing in cheaper younger talent to replace all the established superstar reporters. And Amy Hockert costs less contractually than Diana or Julie, and she is good at what she does. So do you tune in for Diana or Julie or for the Golden Glow brand that is KARE?
Now just to confuse you . . . On a personal-experience level, when I left FOX, they had offered me many incentives to stay. Weekend morning co-host stuff, etc., but the dollar offer was modest. Flattering but modest. They could only recoup so much in a competitive market. And the new news director was not drinking my Kool-Aid. No harm, no foul. They made the right decision, and so did I, but I guarantee you that the numbers on contracts will contract, not escalate, and we are seeing the same on national cable. Five years ago, I would have signed a larger deal for salary than I did last year with Travel Channel. These days in cable, you need to extend your brand many ways if you want to make a big score, but all in all, we still have the privilege of communicating in a medium that is exciting and offers great opportunities every day for us all. The milk and honey days are far behind us in commercial television, but look to your computer for the next wave of manna from heaven. Anyone can own a piece of the Web; it is the ultimate next frontier.
An update from our pals at the Como Zoo and Marjorie McNeely Conservatory ”The Amorphophallus titanum, also known as the Corpse Flower from the smell it omits during bloom, has begun to send out it's signature scent. Although not completely opened yet, the strong is very strong. Nicknamed BOB, this endangered, rare Sumatran flower started to show signs a growth in early March but is a bit unusual. Experts around the world have being weighing in on BOB's characteristics. The plant was one of the smallest known to bloom, as well as part of the spathe did not cover the entire spadix. As of 2007, only 122 plants have known to bloom worldwide.The Corpse Flower is on display in the Marjorie McNeely Conservatory to see and smell. Como Park Zoo and Conservatory has a Gardener Blog, along with a web-cam with the help of the City of Saint Paul's Media Services. To follow along the growth and watch the progress, visit the Como Zoo website."
You should go today and check it out; this is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.