Station Break

Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; 1:00 PM

Heard or seen something on the pop culture landscape that appalled/delighted/enlightened you? Of course you have. That's what Station Break with Paul Farhi is here for. Local stations, cable, radio shows, commercials, pop culture -- they're all fair game.

He was online Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 1 p.m. ET.

Farhi is a reporter in the Post's Style section, writing about media and popular culture. He's been watching TV and listening to the radio since "The Monkees" were in first run and Adam West was a star. Born in Brooklyn and raised in Los Angeles, Farhi had brief stints in the movie business (as an usher at the Picwood Theater), and in the auto industry (rental-car lot guy) before devoting himself fulltime to word processing. His car has 15 radio pre-sets and his cable system has 75 channels. He vows to use all of them for good instead of evil.

The transcript follows.


Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and welcome back...So, new TV season, anyone? I've sampled a few of the shows, and can't say I'm wildly enthusiastic about any of it. I caught "Studio 60" last night on NBC and have to say it was deeply, deeply underwhelming. I can't seem to work up a lot of enthusiasm for a bunch of talented, ambitious, successful TV people who want to be even more successful. Unlike "The West Wing," the stakes in "Studio 60" seem so very low (saving a so-so comedy show--big deal). I'll give it one more week (which is far more than NBC will give it, considering the hugely talented crew behind this show. Anyway, enough of my opinions. Let me know what YOU think of my opinions. Let's go to the phones...


Washington, D.C.: Comcast sent notices to customers a couple weeks ago indicating that it would have to raise its fee by $2 a month because carrying MASN would cost "hundreds of millions" of dollars. Has Comcast ever explained why carrying a new network would be so expensive?

Paul Farhi: This is just payback by Comcast for its long and bitter dispute with MASN/Angelos. Cable companies add networks all the time, and they NEVER single out a particular programmer as Comcast has done with MASN. Just ask Comcast how much ESPN jacks 'em each year--they won't tell you, but it's substantial. And $2 per month per subscriber is well over what MASN is charging Comcast.


Steeletown Va. (sic): Just want to say what a refreshing campaign ad series. Wish we had those in ole Virginny

Paul Farhi: Yeah, those ads are interesting. Here's a link to the story about 'em in today's Style section.

_______________________ Where's the Party?  Nowhere To Be Found In Steele Ads (Post, Sept. 19)


Bethesda, Md.: Can you believe that tub of lard had $3M in his case last night?

God I missed Deal No Deal .. Face it, the show has everything. Hot chicks! Glam dresses! Fast paced game of chance with big money give away. A bald who loves you baby funny guy as the host.

Paul Farhi: Frankly, I find the popularity of DOND mystifying. It's the dumbest game show ever, requiring zero skill. Just make a lucky guess of 12 and you win the money. Might as well spin a roulette wheel for all the talent this show requires. Further evidence of the dumbing down of America.


Alexandria, Va.: When are they going to stop with all these rediculus reality shows. They get worse each year.

Paul Farhi: Like Deal or No Deal?


Arlington, Va.: In your not so humble opinion, which rumor (and false report on numerous blogs) will come true first: Rove indicted or Air America filing for bankruptcy?

Paul Farhi: Air America IS shaky; Al Franken said he hasn't been paid lately. So, in my not so humble opinion, I'll go with the AA-to-bankruptcy thing before I go with Rove.


Reston, Va.: Any idea why Peggy Fox was picked to sit on the panel yesterday at the Allen/Webb debate? She seemed a bit out-classed and a little flustered after her is-your-mother-Jewish question directed at Allen.

Paul Farhi: That WAS an odd and inappropriate question, but it elicited an even odder answer (Allen accused her of "casting aspersions," as if asking about someone's heritage is an insult). I mean, it's kind of irrelevant what Allen's mother's heritage is/was, but he made it into a bigger story by being so peeved about it. I would have just said, "Let's move on."...As for Peggy Fox being on that panel, no idea (I know she covers northern Virginia for WUSA, so maybe that's a clue)...


Rockville, Md.: From his TV commercials, I can't tell if Michael Steele's running for the Senate, or has a talk show at 4 after Maury. And now we find he likes puppies. I don't know whether to be charmed or offended. (Probably offended.)

And Adrian Fenty's ad with the tag (paraphrase) "I've got to go, someone needs my help"? Did they cut the shot of him entering the phone booth and coming out in a Superman cape?

Paul Farhi: The Steele ads are very smart, I think. They make him seem friendly and smart and decent (all of which he is, I'm sure). In a year when Republicans aren't especially popular, and in a state in which Dems outnumber the Repubs by 55-to-30 percent, running on personality and personal integrity is a pretty smart strategy.


Mount Airy, Md.: CBS, for the last two Sundays, has broadcast the 1 p.m. NFL game in standard definition. Any idea why, in this day and age, they're showing any NFL game in standard definition? Thanks!

Paul Farhi: CBS (or maybe just its local affiliate, WUSA) has always been the murkiest of the local stations. NFL games on Channel 5/Fox and Channel 4/NBC tend to look way, way better than the games on Channel 9/CBS. I don't know what the problem is (and it could be my TV)...As for HD, it is more expensive to shoot in high-def. Maybe CBS is going the cheap route?


Reston, Va.: The fascination with DOND? How about that it's easy to put yourself into the contestant's shoes?

Yeah, the schlub on TV has no talent and is picking numbers. So what? He can get a ton o'cash for guessing suitcases...that's America. It's actually honest and refreshing as opposed to pseudo-scripted reality shows or one as ugly as where the host has no idea that because I'm yellow skinned that I don't have a lot in common with other yellow skinned folks.

Paul Farhi: Yes. That's America. God bless it.


Cubicle, Md.: Will there be a great new batch of people on SNL? I'm still pining over Martin Short, so I'm living in the past. Can we please have just one more episode with Ed Grimley? I even miss Rob Schneider as the copy room weirdo!

Paul Farhi: Wow. You are Old School. Circa 1992 or so, I'd say. As for SNL, yes, some changes are in the works. Lorne Michaels was told by NBC to either cut two episodes or cut some cast members, in order to save money. He chose the latter.


Bethesda, Md.: The Steele ads smart?! Oh, come on. Talk about the dumbing down of America. You'd think the Republicans could come up with something other than puppies to sell their candidates. Shades of the Checkers speech.

Paul Farhi: The puppies thing is tongue in cheek, of course (watch the ad on Steele's web site, if you haven't seen it). And when was the last time a political ad did anything tongue in cheek?


Springfield, Va.: I saw the new series Til Death and Happy Hour and thought both were pretty good even if Happy Hour is a Friends copycat....

Paul Farhi: Happy Hour will be the first new show of the fall season to be cancelled. You read it here first (okay, maybe not first, but you read it here, didn't you?).


Arlington, Va.: On the Peggy Fox question, supposedly the M-word that Allen had previously used was fairly common in Tunisia and, as Allen's mother was from there, he might have picked up that word from her and knew its meaning. Allen was pointedly trying to say his mother was French and Italian which might not be true. As someone who has the same background as Senator Allen's mother, I don't consider being of the Hebrew faith an aspersion.

Paul Farhi: Nor I.


Re: Comcast: I saw that charge too, but I have the limited service so it didn't affect me. I can watch enough crap shows on the local networks, I don't need to watch more. Besides, life without ESPN is truly more beneficial than I ever could have imagined (no Screamin' Steven A, not idiotic Woody Paige, Skip Bayless and no feeling bad because I'm white Scoop Jackson)

Paul Farhi: I wish there were some way to pick and choose the cable networks you want and to eliminate the rest. The cable industry has long profited from an almost communist model--you pay for my favorite and I'll pay for yours, even if I don't want yours. I'll take mine a la carte, please...


Re SNL: NBC could save a TON of money just by canceling the program and showing reruns. I think that would be best for everyone.

Paul Farhi: Plenty o' reruns of SNL around with NBC having to plug more in. Besides, I'd much rather have them try throwing new stuff against the wall. Some of it might even be good. And what else is on at 11:30 on Saturday night?


Alexandria, Va.: Regarding the lovely new $2 charge from Comcast...great that people can now watch the Nats...really happy for those who care about baseball and I understand its for the greater good and all. Just beyond furious with the $2 charge and knowing that nothing can be done about it, minus banging my head on a wall.

Paul Farhi: Well, this really goes on all the time--the cable company just doesn't tell you why. Cable rates have gone up, up, up for years and years, and it's often because the cable company is passing on higher programming costs to its customers (again, ESPN jacks up its price to cable operators every year). So, your bill gets higher every year, but they never explain which networks are gouging them. At least with the $2 charge we know who the gouger is (and who the gougee is).


Verrrrry Old School: Actually, Martin Short was on SNL in the 1984-85 season.

Paul Farhi: Yikes! That long ago? That's not just old school; it's geriatric intensive-care school.


Arlington, Va.: Hey, SNL can only get better now that Tina Fey is off the show.

Paul Farhi: I think it will be very different without her, yes. Whether that means "better," I couldn't say.


Tongue in Cheek Political Ad?: W saying he deserves a second term.

Paul Farhi: Hey, hey...we don't do political commentary here on the Break. Call Chris Matthews, for crying out loud.


Re: A la carte.: Does anyone really watch more than a dozen channels? Too bad we can't all like the same dozen.

Paul Farhi: Well, that's America, where you're free to choose from among 125 different breakfast cereals and 297 different cars. But cable changes the rules. Cable says, you may not like what other people watch, but you still have to pay for it. Seems un-American.


Rich in Pa.: Paul, I haven't seen the Michael Steele ads, but its folksiness sounds somewhat like what (unknown Democrat) Mitch Daniels did in running for governor of (Republican) Indiana. Even my sister was talking about "My Man Mitch". He won

Paul Farhi: This is not a politically partisan comment, so don't take it as such. But: I like Steele's approach because it's different and interesting and generates conversation every time his commercials are on. More than you can say about most political ads.


NFL on HD: You need some massive cameras, and better cable runs. If a particular stadium has old infrastructure, that might be a reason that a network doesn't try to shoot in HDTV there.

Paul Farhi: Could be. CBS covers AFC games. Don't know if AFC has older stadiums, though.


First show to be cancelled: I bet it will be the horrid "Men in Trees" with the incredibly irritating Anne Heche. She can do only one thing on that show - act (maybe she isn't acting) flustered and clumsy. I caught the first episode and wasn't able to stomach the second.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, that's a close second choice for early cancellation for me. I like Heche--she's usually pretty memorable in whatever she does--but that show is a sorry re-tread of "Northern Exposure."


Not Without My Baby: I wonder how much we pay for Lifetime - The Women In Peril network (our slogan, Men Are All Scum!)? That's some money I'd love to get back in my pocket...

Paul Farhi: Well, I'm not a Lifetime fan either, but I guess it cancels out Spike.


Ron in Reston: Paul--

I've been an advocate of the "pick your stations" cable plan for years but the monopolistic cable companies will never allow it. Besides my local networks, I regularly watch maybe 25-30 other channels. It would be even fewer, but I have a four-year-old daughter, so Disney, Noggin and Nick Jr. are pretty necessary....and they don't lower my IQ as much as FoxNews or MSNBC, etc. which I would drop in a heartbeat. All the news I need I get from "The Daily Show".

Paul Farhi: I once heard a prominent cable exec say that people only watch about seven channels regularly, so your 25-30 is a lot. And I'm starting to get worried about "The Daily Show" because I now watch it so religiously that I've all but given up on the 11 p.m. local news.


Austin, Texas: TV has too many cop shows. TV has too many lawyers shows. Where are the private eye shows? Bring back Jim Rockford!

Paul Farhi: Call me Old School (again) or worse, but I'm a Rockford Files fan. Never watched it in first run, but dip into reruns from time to time and enjoy it. Garner is a very winning actor, and the polyester double-knit look of the show is so '70s groove-ilicious.


Alexandria, Va.: I expected to find Studio 60 underwhelming, given all the hype, but was surprised to find it quite entertaining and compelling. On the other hand, The Class was very underwhelming -- it may be a worthy attempt to break out of the traditional sitcom mold, but there was no focus and I didn't care for most of the characters.

Paul Farhi: Yes, there's a "raised expectations" problem with "Studio 60." Since I expected so much, its above-averageness feels like a big disappointment. On the other hand, if I hadn't anticipated it as much as I did, I never would have watched it in the first place. Hype cuts both ways, I guess (c.f., "Snakes on a Plane").


First show cancelled: Why can't they cancel 'The War at Home?' Are that many people really turned into that show? Honestly, it doesn't get much worse on network TV than this show (with apologies to According to Jim)

Paul Farhi: Why aren't there any decent sitcoms on TV?* "War at Home" is bottom of the barrel, but it doesn't go all that much higher from there. "Two and Half Men"? Feh...

*Subject of numerous Ph.D-like theses since the end of "Seinfeld."


Re: Cable prices: Paul,

Do you think there's a point where cable customers will

revolt and drop their cable plans because of the cost or

has everyone become to accustomed to having all of their


I had cable when I had roommates and the bill was split

among three people. I haven't had it since living alone

because I can't justify the expense. I was frustrated with

reception over the weekend and checked out the prices--

$50/month just for basic service and the list of channels

didn't even include all the channels I expected to see


Paul Farhi: No. People will give up their cable subscriptions when they pry the wire from their cold dead hands. Satellite is the same way. People love TV--the more the better--and are willing to pay amazing amounts of money for it. Always have, frankly...


Adams-Morgan, Washington, D.C.: So when does Howard Stern come back to free radio?

Paul Farhi: That's not going to happen any time soon. Don't believe the buzz.


Winchester, Va.: I think CBS also picks its HDTV games based on distribution, with the better technology used on games going to more of the country. Not that much interest in the Ravens outside of B-more, hon.

Paul Farhi: I think you're right. If you're getting the regional game, instead of the national one, you may have to settle for standard-def....


Baltimore, Md.: Re the new shows: In this time of endless premiers, the best thing to watch on TV is actually some reruns from long, long ago. Turner Classic Movies is showing interviews Dick Cavett conducted over 30 years ago and bracketing those interviews with films by the interviewees. Last week it was Woody Allen from 1971 (hilarious!). This week, it will be...Robert Mitchum.

Paul Farhi: I will never hesitate to plug TCM. Love that channel (and everyone will be required to get it/pay for it under the Farhi Cable Plan). And, yes, the Cavett interviews are really interesting. Great sideburns!


No Deal: Paul, I'm glad to see I'm not the only one completely confused by the popularity of Deal or No Deal. My wife and I have stopped to watch for about 1-2 minutes at a time while surfing and we keep thinking we must be missing something. It can't be that you just pick briefcases with ABSOLUTELY no skill involved at all. Yet, that appears to be it. It's like a lottery drawing spread out over time. Wheeeeee! Wow! uh, zzzzzzzzzzzzz...

Paul Farhi: On the other hand, I do like the models...


Houston, Texas: As simplistic as it seems, there IS some strategy to Deal or No Deal. At least, after a bunch of suitcases are open. We're not dealing with quantum physics here, of course, but the ability to calculate odds is somewhat relevant....

Paul Farhi: Yes, a bit o' strategizing is necessary to maximize the payoff/minimize being punked. But that doesn't get me past the simplistic pick-a-card-any-card nature of the show.


Springfield, ??: I know it isn't as good as it was at it's peak, but it's still pretty amazing that The Simpsons is so good after so many years. Not many sitcoms last this long.

Paul Farhi: Ah. The Simpsons. Of course. That one goes in the Hall of Fame. Its number is permanently retired.


Washington, D.C.: Your Steele story is interesting today, but it's not exactly unusual for candidates not to mention their party affiliations. Democrats haven't admitted they are Democrats in the Deep South for about 20 years. In Vermont, they probably blare it from the mountain tops.

Paul Farhi: That's true. Party affiliation is a big deal in the primaries (when partisans, obviously, are voting), but less so in the general. But in Steele's case, it's not just that he doesn't talk about it in his TV spots. The word "Republican" has been erased from ALL his campaign material. Try finding it on his web site. And his official bio even erases his years as state party chairman. What's that all about?


Rockville, Md.: Well, that $2 also apparently paid for CN8 "The Comcast Network", since that station showed up the same time MASN did.

Anyway, us "regular" cable consumers have been getting shafted by Comcast moving channels to digital cable only for a while now. I can't wait for Verizon's FIOS to show up in my neighborhood.

Paul Farhi: I am intrigued by Verizon/Fios, too. I think it will make the market much more competitive, and not just in TV service but in Internet and phone as well.


Limited basic Cable...: Is only 15 bucks a month. Just sayin'

Paul Farhi: Yeah. That's not so much. But it IS sorta like driving a Yugo.


RE: Dick Cavett: Umm, won't it be hard for Dick to interview Robert Mitchum, him being dead and all??

Paul Farhi: These are reruns from back in the day. Early '70s stuff.


Cleveland, Ohio: Reception Problems: I learned a year ago from a WP chat that the cable company has to have a tier that would give you access to the broadcast channels, and it's really cheap. Mine is $9 a month!

Paul Farhi: Yep. Again, basic cable. And, yes, it's required by law.


Springfield, Va.: help please -

My satellite radio unit is acting up - it only works sporadically. I have been addicted to Sirius for almost four years and I was at a complete loss yesterday afternoon for what radio stations played music. I tried 107.3, 100.3 and 101.1 and made it from Arlington to Springfield without hearing a single song. Okay, I am exaggerating a bit but they sure do talk alot and the commercials are really jarring.

Sirius worked again this morning but it's unpredictable. Until I can get a new car, any suggestions for radio stations?

Paul Farhi: I imagine that once you go commercial-free via satellite, listening to plain old terrestrial radio is next to impossible. Conventional radio has become work--you just have to keep punching the buttons to find anything. But it's there (eventually)--rock, country, rap, soft rock, oldies, a little classical, news and talk, etc.


Washington, D.C.: I wouldn't be so excited about "a la carte" cable service if you like stations like TCM, Bravo, A&E, etc. They will have to charge an arm and a leg to stay afloat in a pay for what you want system.

Paul Farhi: Granted. And don't put it past the cable industry to figure out a pricing scheme that generates the exact same (or more) revenue per subscriber under an a la carte system as the current communist system.


I hate Steele...: ...but I love the ad. Reminds me of the early Russ Feingold ads from when I lived in Wisconsin and he was running for Senate the first time. He gave a tour of his modest house. Opened the closet: "No skeletons here!"

Paul Farhi: Ha! Fab...


Silver Spring, Md.: I'm waiting to see someone go on DOND and pick the suitcases in numerical order. Maybe then people will realize how dumb the show is.

Paul Farhi: That "strategy" would probably work just as well as the random guesswork the contestants are using now.


Re: Mitch Daniels: This is just a correction as a former resident of Indiana and with family members still living in the Hoosier state it should be noted that Mitch Daniels is a Republican and not a Democrat.

Paul Farhi: Thanks. We're all about the accuracy.


Maryland: So, um, no mention of the station break dancers in today's intro? Were you forced to let them go to save SNL?

Paul Farhi: Yes. They do extensive charity and guest-appearance work. They'll be at Six Flags all next week.


Takoma Park, Md.: You ever notice that you get more comments than questions on this chat? I wonder what that means.

Paul Farhi: "I wonder what that means." Can you put that in the form of a question?


the simpsons: In it prime it was great, but it is terrible now. The show has become a parody of itself and is dreadfully unfunny.

Paul Farhi: Haven't watched new episodes in some time. I never feel the need. It's like a utility--it's always there, and feels like it always will be.


Burke, Va.: I think you were too easy in your comment on George Allen. It is not "casting aspersions" to ask about religious background, it is "casting aspersions" to accuse him of being Jewish. Oh the horror. I am not one who sees anti-Semitism around every corner, but I can't imagine his response being similar to a question about his mother being Methodist.

Paul Farhi: Yes. Exactly. That's right. I should have said it the way you just did.


Not in Maryland: What's with the Michael Steele commercials that diss the "the

Washington crowd" and complain that "Washington can't fix

all our problems." Um, uh, aren't those commercials being

broadcast in, well, Washington? And aren't a lot of Steele's

potential constituents "the Washington crowd"? That kind of

Washington-bashing may work in the red states, but it

seems really silly in a campaign that covers Washington!

Paul Farhi: Ha! You think "the Washington crowd" refers to "Republicans"? They kind of run Washington these days, after all. Naw, probably not..


20009: Paul, my good man, you seem to be wearing your cranky pants today. Is there ANYTHING on the tube or radio you like right now?

Paul Farhi: Oh, sorry about that. Yes, much. TCM and the Daily Show, certainly. Colbert. Lots of other stuff, too. I'm just down on "Studio 60" and "Deal or No Deal." That's not really so much to be cranky about, is it?


Silver Spring, Md.: The new Gap ad with Audrey Hepburn really, really, really bothers me - I have to turn the channel as soon as it comes on. Who do we tell that the ad gets under our skin?? Shall I e-mail Gap Co.?

Loved her just as she was - the new ads make her seem silly. ugh.

Paul Farhi: Saw that ad the other day. Love, love, love it! I think it's bold and funny and fresh and great. But I say that never having been a member of the Audrey Hepburn Cult Club.


Re: Not in Maryland: Doofus - the Washington crowd is the folks on the Hill, not those of us sweating it out in agency after agency and defense contractor after defense contractor. Last I checked, Steele's trying to get into the Senate. Duh!

Paul Farhi: Oh. Okay. So the President, the Supreme Court, the military, all the domestic agencies and all the lobbyists and special interest groups are NOT "the Washington crowd." Just 100 Senators. I see...


College Park, Md.: You're right to be down on DOND. And here I thought I was the only person in America who despised the show. And isn't it an hour long? Game shows should be 1/2 hour max. Same with reality "results shows"

Paul Farhi: True. There isn't a pure game show (as opposed to a "reality" game show, a la "Survivor") that needs to be an hour long. A half hour is plenty.


Paul Farhi: Folks, this thing we do just gets better. Tons of comments I couldn't get to today, and for that I apologize. But we have another chance--two weeks from today. Let's do it again then. And I won't even insist that you put it in the form of a question. Until then...regards to all...Paul.


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