Thursday, December 18, 2014

KCRW's THE SPIN-OFF: December Edition (Cosby, Sony and More! Listen Now)

Buzzfeed's Kate Aurthur joins me and Joe Adalian for this month's edition of the monthly KCRW podcast "The Spin-Off." It's a lively talk. Kate was at the forefront of covering the Bill Cosby scandal, so we spend a great deal of time taking stock of what happened, and what's next. Here's a synopsis of this month's show:
The downfall of Bill Cosby following multiple allegations of sexual assault has been one of the biggest news stories of the year, and not just in television. This is an ongoing story, but we take stock of where we are now and what it means for how we view an icon who had been one of the most beloved comedians in television history.

Then, we reflect on the current state of TV news. There have been a lot of changes and anchor shake-ups this year, but how many people have been paying attention? And what's the role of TV news in an increasingly mobile and digitized news environment?

Finally, as 2014 comes to a close and we get all nostalgic thinking back on shows of this past year and years gone by, we look at the way television today tackles social issues. It may seem like network TV is more hands-off when it comes to taking a stand on hot-button issues, but perhaps the overall TV landscape is just approaching these issues in a different way.

Listen by clicking below!

The Spin-Off

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

MIKE ON KCRW: Talking Golden Globe Noms, the Sony Hack and the End of "The Newsroom"

Another busy week at KCRW. On this Monday's edition of The Business, Kim Masters and I bantered about several topics including:
- Golden Globe nominations announced. No major surprises this year, but a major snub for Angelina Jolie and her movie Unbroken. - The hack attack at Sony continues to wreak havoc at the studio, as more and more personal details and emails between top executives are leaked to the public.

Listen by clicking below:


On last Thursday's Hollywood Breakdown, Kim Masters and I talked all about the Golden Globes but ended it with a bit more about the Sony hacking scandal:
The Golden Globes have been known for some eyebrow-raising nominations in the past, but this year their nominations on the film side at least, seem more predictable. Birdman had the most nominations, with Boyhood and Selma also snagging several nominations. Angelina Jolie's name was notably absent from the list. The TV nominations favored new shows like Jane the Virgin and The Affair over old Emmy favorites like Modern Family and Big Bang Theory. And the hack at Sony continues to cause monumental damage, as more and more leaked emails are appearing in public.

Listen below:


On Monday's Press Play with Madeleine Brand, LA Review of Books' Sarah Mesle and I discussed several topics, including the end of "The Newsroom" and my recent TV Guide Magazine piece about whether TV is still willing to tackle hot button issues:
Aaron Sorkin didn’t mince words in a New York Times op-ed today, saying journalists who publish leaked emails from the Sony hack are “morally treasonous and spectacularly dishonorable.” The topic would’ve made great fodder for Sorkin’s series The Newsroom, if the series hadn’t aired its final episode last night. We discuss that and more in our weekly TV roundup.

Listen below:


Monday, December 15, 2014

What Ever Happened to the Newsweek Internship Class of 1994? It Turns Out, Quite A Lot.


It's now been 20 years since the summer I spent as an intern at Newsweek, as good a time as ever to reflect back on that experience. I recently dug up a copy I had saved of "N/w," the in-house Newsweek newsletter, which included a feature on the Newsweek Internship Class of 1994. I gotta say, whoever chose the Newsweek interns had a good eye. This group went on to some pretty amazing things: A neuroscientist-turned-movie producer, a successful TV writer, a BBC host, an investment firm president and a national political reporter/author, among others.

I was one of the younger interns, returning to Northwestern after that summer, so Newsweek ultimately didn't play much of a role in my career path covering the TV and entertainment industry. But I remained a Newsweek subscriber for years, keeping an eye on bylines and the masthead as a number of my fellow interns stuck around (such as Trent Gegax, Matt Bai, Yahlin Chang and Michelle Chan). In a few cases, there have been some coincidental intersections: Both Bai and I appeared on separate episodes of SundanceTV's "The Writers Room" TV series, and I interviewed Bai on the set. Also, although I've never run into Chang in Hollywood, I've known plenty of her colleagues and even her agent. And I just recently discovered that a producer I've known for years, Michael Davies, happens to be married to one of my fellow Newsweek interns, Claude. Small world.

Bai spent five years at Newsweek (after briefly covering cops and courts at the Boston Globe). "I had the chance to go everywhere in America and cover just about everything in the society, from marijuana legalization and the gun industry to governors and mayors and a presidential campaign," he emailed me. "I interviewed President Clinton in the Oval Office. And that experience informs everything I write, and has ever since I left Newsweek. You can't write with authority about politics if you don't understand, in a firsthand way, the debates that underlie it and the regional differences that complicate it. So Newsweek was in many ways my education as an observer of the American scene." After Newsweek, Bai went on to cover politics and several presidential campaigns at the New York Times Magazine, while also writing books. His latest, All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid, was published this fall.

Chan also remembers that summer fondly: "Was New York City bathed in a pale pink hue that summer -- or was it my rose-tinted specs? I still remember vividly going around the table on our first day sharing with each other our hopes/dreams for the summer, and beyond! I can recall my buzzing excitement walking into the Newsweek building every morning; my wide-eyed starry-eyed awe of colleagues (including the other interns!); the late-Friday night deadlines (OJ Simpson dominated our summer, didn't he?); the fizz of a first byline, and the realisation that I had found what I wanted to do in life." She also spent several years at Newsweek, moving to the magazine's office in Beijing, then to Taipei, and later in London. Now she's focused on travel journalism, appeared in segments for the BBC and writing for the Telegraph newspaper.

The summer of 1994 was truly the waning days of The Way Things Used To Be. We were perhaps too young to realize it at the time, but it's obvious (in hindsight, of course) that the signs were all there. At the time, Newsweek had just moved into new offices but still boasted the perks of being the behemoth it once was: A bustling cafeteria; a swanky "Top of the Week" dining and events space; car service for employees working past a certain hour; and an allowance for Friday night meals (necessary since editors – dubbed "Wallendas" – wouldn't look at copy until late on Friday). The book might even be torn up late that night, causing a mad scramble on Saturday. It was newsmagazine as you'd imagine it.

But the Internet revolution was right around the corner. In the summer of 1994, there was an internal e-mail system at Newsweek, but you couldn't communicate with the outside world (not that much of the outside world was wired for it anyway). And no web access at your desk. (All of that would become industry standard within the next three years.)

Says Chan: "Say it out loud: 'weekly news magazines.' It's a contradiction given how we consume the news today. Changes were made too late. We lost the readers. The vision was muddled. Advertisers became more creative in finding new ways of getting their message out. The sums didn't add up. It's all about the numbers, not the words (a subsidy/philanthropist can postpone the inevitable for only a snatch of time)."

Meanwhile, the modern tabloidization of news took another giant leap during the summer of 1994, thanks to O.J. Simpson. I still remember standing in my boss' office (I worked in the Business section) as several of us watched the White Bronco chase on her small office TV. It was like nothing we'd ever seen. Over the next month, if my memory is correct, O.J. would wind up on the cover virtually every week. At Newsweek, we got to be a bit smug as crosstown rivals Time drew fire for a cover of Simpson's mugshot that was darkened to make him look more sinister. (Newsweek's similar cover wasn't tampered, making the contrast great.) Newsweek still trafficked in serious news – I was there on a Saturday when North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung died, and Newsweek actually tore up the entire magazine to put it on the cover! But O.J. accelerated the celebrity-focused news cycle we're now all accustomed to, one that barely took a break in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.

Summer 1994 was also the end of gritty, pre-Giuliani New York as we knew it. I remember walking around the boarded-up 42nd street theaters in Times Square, taking in the haiku on marquees and wondering whether the streets there would ever be revitalized. Ha.


Thanks to some Internet sleuthing and emailing, here's a roundup (in order of how everyone is seated in the 1994 photo above) of where everyone is today:

Matt Bai

Matt Bai is the National Political Columnist for Yahoo News (before that, he was at the New York Times Magazine). His latest book, All the Truth Is Out, is out now.


Ari Handel, per Wikipedia, "is an American neuroscientist, film producer, and writer. He is known for co-writing the films Noah and The Fountain with his Harvard Dunster House suitemate Darren Aronofsky and for helping to produce these films along with two other Darren Aronofsky films, The Wrestler and Black Swan. He started co-writing the film Noah around 2003. He was born in Z├╝rich, Switzerland, while his father was studying abroad, but he only lived there for about a year. Handel also did an internship for Nova at WGBH, the Boston PBS station. He has a PhD in neurobiology from New York University. Torn between science writing and science education, he eventually became a film writer in an attempt to become a better communicator of science, although he soon learned that film-making is largely an illusion."


Yahlin Chang spent several years in the Arts and Entertainment section of Newsweek, before moving to a successful TV writing career (Betrayal, Pan Am, Dirty Sexy Money, ER, Ed, Deadline, Strong Medicine)
ADD: Yahlin emailed me today to note that she was so inspired by her tenure at Newsweek that she has even written about it. "Newsweek was amazing," she emails. "A gathering of some of the most dynamic, knowledgeable, intelligent people I've ever met and all in one building -- It was a great privilege to be a part of it.  Being a Newsweeker was certainly the formative experience of my career, and also gave me a great amount of legitimacy as I waded into Hollywood." She's now working on "Shades of Blue," a new show for NBC from executive producer Jennifer Lopez.


Annette Zablotsky is a Certified Yoga Teacher and Pilates Instructor in Washington, D.C., as well as a Certified Personal Trainer and Corrective Exercise Specialist through the National Academy of Sports Medicine.


Melissa Kay Cohen is "a Board Certified and Licensed Art Therapist working at a city hospital and in private practice in New York City. Prior I was a full-time freelance photojournalist. I currently specialize in working with people who suffer from various traumas, depression, anxiety, addictions, recovery, need a life transition, assist in increasing self-esteem, body image issues, family and personal relationships, professional transitions and assist with personal growth through life coaching with the use of photography and the creative arts."


Laurance N'Kaoua is a staff reporter for Les Echos in France and also a published author.

Laura Ballman Patten "is an accomplished international affairs expert. She leverages a unique background in foreign policy, global security, communications, and the arts. Ms. Patten holds academic degrees from Columbia University and the University of Minnesota. She speaks native English, proficient French, and basic Italian." Before that, she worked both as staff and freelance reporter, in the US, France, Ivory Coast, Senegal, and Ukraine, working for the AP, CNN, The Economist, CBS Radio, UPI and Newsweek.


Shana Harris is now studying at The Lorge School in New York. Before that, she spent ten years as a director at Prep for Prep and was a research editor at Boston Magazine. 


Michelle Jana Chan is "the BBC’s ‘Global Guide’, presenting a regular 5-minute travel segment airing on BBC2, BBC 24 and BBC World News. I also produce/present packages from the field for ‘The Travel Show’ (on the same channels). My most recent feature was a half-hour special on the Peking to Paris vintage car rally. I was also competing and placed third.

"For The Telegraph newspaper, I write a regular adventure-focused ‘Action Packed’ feature reviewing gear and kit. I am also the Travel section’s China expert although my beat is broad. Recent stories have included Sudan’s archeology, astronomy in the Atacama desert, and Art Basel in Hong Kong. I also contribute to Conde Nast Traveller, Tatler and Ultra travel magazines. I am a speaker and panellist on adventure, women travellers and video journalism."


Claude Kaplan Davies is a Licensed Real Estate Salesperson for Fox Residential Group in New York. From her bio:
Before joining Fox, Claude worked as a producer and development executive of documentary film and television. First at various networks like A&E and Oxygen, then working alongside Academy Award winning filmmaker, Barbara Kopple, and finally heading up a documentary film division at her husband Michael Davies' company, Embassy Row, Claude helped develop and produce TV specials, series, and theatrically released documentary features like "Shut up & Sing" about the Dixie Chicks and "The Tillman Story" about the life and death of Pat Tillman. 


Trent Gegax is president of The Gramercy Fund. But he also spent several years at Newsweek after his internship. From his bio:

"Trent has held operational roles inside Gramercy portfolio companies and served on numerous boards. His due-diligence skills were honed as a correspondent for Newsweek where assignments included George W. Bush's 2000 presidential campaign, the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq, and Hurricane Katrina. Trent assisted Al Gore with hisNew York Times best seller, "The Assault on Reason" (Penguin, 2007), and he contributes to InfoWorld. Trent lives in New York City."


I wasn't able to find Tedra Williams online, although I believe this is probably her. Ditto Andrew Cohen, although I can assure you he did not go on to become Bravo's "Watch What Happens Live" host. (Although that would be a weird coincidence, since Claude Kaplan Davies' husband produces that show. But different guy.)

Oh yeah, and then there's me, Michael Schneider. I'm now the executive editor of TV Guide Magazine; you can read my stories here. Here's how I was blurbed in the Newsweek internal newsletter in 1994:

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