Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 31, 2006 2:00 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, Oct. 31, 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 full time 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.
A transcript follows.
Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and welcome to our Halloween Spook-tacular chat. Granted, there's nothing particularly Halloween-ish about this chat, but I do like saying "Halloween Spook-tacular" for some reason (kinda has a Marty-and-Bobbie-Mohan-Culp quality to it, no?). All Halloween puns, for some reason, seem to be the cheesiest of holiday-related puns....Anyway, we got into this briefly last time, but let me try again (since I wrote a story about it last week): What we think of those Chevy Silverado ads using Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, dancing hippies, Richard Nixon, Muhammad Ali, Hurricane Katrina and 9-11? Catchy John Mellencamp song, but c'mon--why are they ripping off 9-11 to sell pickup trucks? Or maybe I just don't get it (would not be the first time)...Let's go to the phones...
Baltimore, Md.: Paul: Just in case other posters did not see it, thought I should share the comments of sports columnist Norman Chad, who is carried in the Monday Post. This was about things that annoyed him.
Rain delays on Fox. Because of bad weather in St. Louis for World Series Game 4, captive viewers had to take in 37 consecutive episodes of the unspeakable sitcom, "The War at Home." This flop-and-a-half makes "Yes, Dear" look like "The Honeymooners."
It was stupid to the point of being stupefying, horrific to the point of being horrifying. It didn't need a laugh track, it needed Last Rites. It was, in a word, unwatchable. Why did I keep watching? I'm a moron.
Paul Farhi: "War at Home" is just like "Married...with Children" but without the sparkling wit and nuanced acting. But, y'know, it's a Fox sitcom. Whadya expect?
washingtonpost.com: The Pickup Ad That's Carrying Lots of Baggage ( Post, Oct. 25 )
Greenbelt, Md.: There is talk that Dan Snyder is trying to increase the reach of his radio stations. Right now, when the sun goes down, his AM station has the wattage of a refrigerator bulb. Isn't 730 AM one of the so-called "protected" frequencies that has to cut power at dusk because of more powerful stations in the U.S. and Canada on that frequency? Or is he going to try to get the FCC to expand the range of his FMers?
Paul Farhi: He's apparently trying to boost his AM AND FM frequencies. This despite public denials that there's any problem with his current power levels. Um, there IS a problem; the stations are almost unhearable (is that a word?) in many parts of the area.... Snyder's a smart guy, and he probably knows a few people at the FCC. I wouldn't bet against him.
Silver Spring, Md.: Paul,
What is going over at Fox5? The quality of their production has gone down hill! I don't mean to be rude, but between Bob Sellers' odd personality, the fact that I can barely understand what Lark is saying sometimes with her over infectious voice and then the useless Holly Morris spots, the only reason I watch anymore is for the weather at that hour. Also, why do they feel the need to hawk "go to our Web site, MyFox.com , for a link to THEIR Web site.. " every two minutes?
Paul Farhi: Don't you love the contrast between the ultra-reserved Lark and the hyper-caffeinated Holly? Every time Lark sends it out to Holly in the field I just want to jump. Say this for her: She has "energy."
"War at Home": "is just like "Married ... with Children" but without the sparkling wit and nuanced acting. But, y'know, it's a Fox sitcom. Whadya expect?"
What's your point? So was "Married With Children!"
Paul Farhi: My point is, outside of "The Simpsons," Fox has never had great sitcoms.
Rockville, Md.: Paul: have you caught 'Dexter' on Showtime? It's a great show, but it doesn't seem to be generating much buzz and I'm wondering if you know how it's resonating with television views.
Paul Farhi: It's on Showtime. That means, ipso facto, that it's not "resonating" much at all. I don't quite understand why, but Showtime has never really been able to get close enough to HBO to even eat its dust.
Chevy Ad: I had always held John Mellencamp in high regard, because I liked not only his music but that he had a certain Pete Seger-like identification with the common folk. Ninety-eight percent of that went out the window when I saw that ad -- the very definition of a $hameless $ell out.
Paul Farhi: Understood. But check out the full lyrics to the song (I think Mellencamp has them posted on his web site somewhere on the Internet). It's very Springsteen-ish/Seeger-ish...As for selling out, yeah, well...
McLean, Va.: Fox had Arrested Development. Maybe not high in ratings, but a great sitcom nonetheless.
Paul Farhi: I am on record with this: Hated it.
World Series: Here's why the ratings were down: every half-inning, that terrible Mellencamp spot came on, and as we reached for the Mute button, we realized that there was probably something else available, probably with even less McCarver.
Paul Farhi: Less McCarver. What a great band name!...Me, I always liked McCarver. You know, kids, I saw him play for the Cards way back when...
Washington, D.C.: Have you heard that radio ad for the Government MasterCard, that has the guy getting grilled at a press conference? It's been running for a while (on WTOP and WTWP of course), but I noticed in the last couple days that they've edited the name "Mr. Sweeney" out of it.
Paul Farhi: Dunno it. But doesn't "Government MasterCard" have kind of an ominous ring to it?
Adams Morgan - Mellancamp commercial: So because of Vietnam, Civil Rights, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina I should want to buy a Chevy? This commercial bothers me on so many levels, but mostly because it is ALWAYS ON.
Paul Farhi: Oh, yeah. That, too!
George Mason University: Hi Paul,
ESPN Radio had the rights to post season baseball, yet in the D.C. area it was 980 a.m. (a FOX Sports Radio affiliate) that was airing the games and not Triple X ESPN. What's the story behind that?
Paul Farhi: I'm stumped. Could it be that Triple X didn't want to interpret football talk with baseball? Or maybe WTEM (980) retained rights to JUST baseball from ESPN? Or all of the above. Or none.
Baltimore, Md.: The big news this week is the move of Kirk and Mark -- Kirk McEwen and Mark Ondayko -- from Heart's 98 Rock's wildly successful morning show over to CBS' WHFS, to start a new morning show there early in 2007. Kirk and Mark, along with the legendary Bob Lopez and, for the past year, Josh Spiegel, formed the KMS Morning Show for 10 years, and, to many people, it was simply the best morning radio show in both the D.C. and Baltimore areas. Some questions on the move: Why leave a secure post at a huge, popular, powerful station and a humongous fan base that stretches from Northern Virginia to Western Maryland to southern Pennsylvania to the D.C. and Baltimore markets to parts of the Eastern Shore for a less popular, less listened-to, less powerful very average station owned by CBS, which hasn't been too supportive of radio in recent years? The move doesn't seem to make sense. The morning show was still as strong today as it was 10 years ago. And here's a fact: The fan base at 98 Rock will NOT switch over to WHFS. And the station does NOT have the reach of 98 Rock. The move appears to be a bad one all around!
Paul Farhi: (Assume you mean Hearst, not Heart). Yes, this is all a bit mystifying. But let's take a wild stab at it: Money? Is WHFS (CBS-owned) shelling out the big dollars to try to build the station from virtual nothing-ness? Will CBS syndicate K&M nationally? Could be....And RIP Bob Lopez, a great broadcaster and a very fine human being.
I love Showtime, but: here's the problem -- they charge the cable operators as much per subscriber (probably around $5/month by now) as HBO, but they don't cross-promote themselves in the mass media. I only heard about "Huff," one of the best shows ever, because I read a TV trade magazine.
Paul Farhi: Yes. HBO seems to get (and pay for) scads of publicity, but Showtime not so much. HBO has a brand "identity" that is totally lacking with Showtime. I mean, I can tell you what HBO is "about" (great dramas like "Sopranos" and "The Wire," movies, comedy specials, etc.), but I couldn't tell you what Showtime "is."
Laurel. Md.: Paul Farhi: My point is, outside of "The Simpsons," Fox has never had great sitcoms.
They've had other good ANIMATED sitcoms: Family Guy, King of the Hill, Futurama
Don't know why their humans are so unfunny.
Paul Farhi: Ah. Yes. As Fred Durst once said, we are in agreeance.
Rockville, Md.: Paul, what did you think of the "24" trailer that FOX aired recently?
Paul Farhi: Looks dumb. The terrorists will stop terrorizing American cities if only CTU (or the government or someone) turns over Jack to them? What kind of terrorists are these? The show is gonna have some 'splainin' to do to make that one work for me.
Fox5 Virginia: I can barely handle the "Cackling Cow" traffic reporter on Fox 5, whom needs to be let go. I don't care what kinda of crush she has on Tony Perkins (Bring Tom Slater Back ASAP!) just tell me about the traffic. Oh and now she has a traffic map like the weather people have a weather map. Yikes!
Paul Farhi: Somewhat apropos this, I saw a promo the other day for a "hosted" show on the Weather Channel (attractive young woman and nice-looking guy with daily program). What the heck is that? Is it "The Today Show" for weather junkies? "Oprah" for the meteorologically inclined? "Jerry Springer" for storm junkies?
Arlington, Va.: You hated Arrested Development -- I hate you now, but still love your chats. FOX5 is a disgrace -- Gurvir whatshername is horrible. Lark is okay, in pieces. Holly Morris is a clown, a buffoon, a female version of George Michael. At least Holly isn't on Rachel Ray's show.
Paul Farhi: Don't be a chatta hata!
College Park, Md.: Actually, Fox has indeed broadcast SEVERAL good sitcoms, several of them much better than the competitions' crappy shows:
1. "That '70s Show." A great show.
2. "Malcolm in the Middle." A great show -- until the last season.
3. "Family Guy." It's okay, but it does take some chances.
4. "Futurama." See No. 3.
5. "Get A Life." Actually, one of the most original sitcoms in the past 20 years. Really.
6. And we can't remember if the Andy Richter sitcom was on Fox, but if it was, that's another good sitcom.
So, yes, actually, Fox has a very good track record with sitcoms.
Paul Farhi: 1. Nope.
3. Yes, it does takes some chances, but is mostly sophomoric.
4. Now we're getting somewhere.
5. Was that the Chris Elliott show? Very odd. Occasionally watchable. Ran out of steam quickly.
6. See No. 4.
Conclusion: That doesn't add up to a "great" track record.
Mellencamp and Chevy: Me again. I agree that Mellencamp's lyrics have always evoked the same themes as Springsteen and Seger, but never before has he attached them to an endorsement -- particularly one that is offensive to the memory of 9/11 and Katrina victims. A sad end to a great career.
Paul Farhi: Yeah. I might excuse this by saying he's just trying to sell some records, but that's a cop out. Springsteen or Seeger (or Woody Guthrie) would never allow this kind of crass exploitation.
Re: 730 AM Power Increase: I thought I heard that part of the plan was to move the 730 AM towers to Ashburn, Va. Perhaps Messr. Snyder will set up a higher power directional signal from Ashburn to the east, covering the D.C. metro area while avoiding sending transmission to Canada.
Paul Farhi: I'm no engineer (and I don't play one on TV) but some of what you say seems to make sense. Snyder owns 150-some acres at Redskins Park in Loudon County. If the zoning gods would allow it, he could fit a mighty big antenna on that acreage...
Re: Kirk and Mark: They didn't leave 98 Rock willingly. They got into a contract dispute concerning their scheduled apperance at a Maryland Championship Wrestling event and apparently it was determined that the station didn't want them back, so they're moving to HFS come Feb. 1st. As a result, the Junkies will be booted from HFS. From what I understand, the Junkies were ragging on CBS about it yesterday.
Mickey and Amelia took over the morning run. Bahh, I liked them on the afternoon run a lot more.
Paul Farhi: Again, I know nothing (jeez, I sound like Sgt. Schulz today) but I have to guess that the wrestling thing was more an effect of the bad blood between K&M and management than a cause. Seems like the kind of minor dispute that gets blown into a bigger one because of all the underlying ill will (those of you who have been married or have ever had a relationship with another human being will understand what I mean).
Odenton, Md.: I hear the Junkies are going off the air in Baltimore come February. What are the chances they are done in D.C. in the near future as well? I am hearing Opie and Anthony could take over.
Paul Farhi: Opie & Anthony are carried live (i.e., in morning drive) by something like a dozen CBS-owned stations, so I would not discount this as a possibility. On the other hand, the Junkies have done very well in the morning slot for WJFK, so there's nothing broke there.
Re: Mellencamp: He is one of the reasons I hesitate to say I am from Indiana.
Paul Farhi: What are the other reasons?
Re: Chatta Hata: Oh good lord Paul! I said I hated you, not the chat -- love the chat. But you definitely sunk in my ratings by hating Arrested Development -- sorry.
So, what did you make of the Oprah giveaway -- is she just a publicity wh_ _ _ or what?
Paul Farhi: Hey, hey, we don't use those kinds of dashes on this chat! The Oprah giveaway is so...Oprah. She gets to be Mother Teresa by telling OTHER people to give money to charity. And the money comes not from her very substantial pockets but from a sponsor. That's what I call a win-win...for Oprah.
More on Fox5: I agree with the other posters wholeheartedly -- I watch in the mornings only to get traffic and weather, but I really wish Lark would TALK MORE SLOWLY. I can barely understand her. And I'm just counting the days until Tony Perkins' wife comes to the studio and punches out the traffic chick for shamelessly flirting with her husband on-camera. Sheesh.
Paul Farhi: Hahahaha. Wait. Don't give Fox any sweeps month ideas!
Mac vs. PC commercials: Are we sick of them yet or are they still funny? I kind of like them, but the ironic thing is, they certainly haven't achieved their goal, which is to make me want a Mac. They're just kind of (kind of) fun to watch.
Paul Farhi: Something about those ads puts me off. The Mac guy seems--I dunno--kinda smarmy in his I'm-so-much-cooler-than-the-fat-guy way. I sorta feel bad for the fat guy. The look-ism of the ad bothers me, too. The fat guy (PC) is uncool because why? Because he's a) fat; b) wears a suit and tie; and c) isn't as "cute" as the Mac guy. Maybe it's just me...
20009: I feel bad for the poster from Indiana -- it must be rough to feel shame of one's home state because of a native son. Me, I'm from West Virginia, birthplace of Don Knotts -- I walk tall and proud!
Paul Farhi: Plus, you can claim Jerry West, Mary Lou Retton and Sam Snead. Oh, you must be very proud...
Anonymous: I wish Oprah would give me $1,000 so I can see what it's like to be philanthropic. I'm guessing it's like giving a hobo 4000 quarters.
Paul Farhi: Well, nothing wrong with giving away a grand to a good cause....And do people still use the term "hobo" anymore? Personal historical aside: I was a hobo for Halloween once.
DC 20002: I read a blog by your colleague Marc Fisher last week about why the World Series on Fox is unwatchable. I gave up after the first game and listened to the rest on XM because I got tired of seeing shots of people in the crowd doing what I wanted to do -- watch the game! Does Fox cater to ADD viewers who can't pay attention to the action on the field? Remember, there are no crowd shots on radio.
washingtonpost.com: Why Baseball Is Losing a Generation: Fox ( Raw Fisher, Oct. 26 )
Paul Farhi: I noticed that during the playoffs and the Series, Fox kept showing people who appeared to be praying. Wonder if this was a subtle political message to fundamentalist voters. I'm just sayin'...
Re: Indiana: Well, there is the Brickyard 400/Indy 500 -- I'm not a hick; Corn and soybeans -- I'm not a farmer; Dan Quayle -- need more?
Paul Farhi: Well, John Wooden and Larry Bird are from Indiana. And David Letterman, too. That's a pretty good start...
Washington, D.C.: How do you think Katie Couric's gonna do on election night?
Paul Farhi: That ought to be very interesting. Very interesting. I personally will miss Dan Rather's Rather-isms ("This race is getting closer than a..." FILL IN EXTENDED METAPHOR HERE). I've never cared for Katie's extended metaphor work.
Cleveland Park, Washington, D.C.: You wrote: "Personal historical aside: I was a hobo for Halloween once."
Everyone's been a hobo for Halloween once, Paul.
Paul Farhi: But I was a really GOOD hobo! I had a plastic cigar and a drawn-on beard and patched clothing and...What's that?...EVERYBODY who was a hobo did that, too?...Um...Well, my mom liked it, so there.
West Virginia Natives: And Soupy Sales, don't forget Soupy Sales, for the love of Pete!
Paul Farhi: If you insist...
46220: I'm proud of my Indiana address ... who else can have so much fun with their state nickname? There's actually a liquor store called "Hoosier Buddy." Tho no DNA testing site called "Hoosier Daddy" ...
Paul Farhi: I guess I'm supposed to know this by now, but what IS a Hoosier? Is it like a Buckeye?
RE: Letterman: On last night's show Letterman interviewed Tiki Barber about his pending retirement from football. Tiki said he wanted to go out while he could still play; Dave said he understood the sentiment, since he (Dave) had been on cruise control for the last 10 years. The audience laughed -- too bad it's a true statement.
Paul Farhi: Saw that. It was a good line, and Letterman has been doing variations of it forever. I hope you stayed up late enough to catch Borat playing some kind of weird percussion instrument with Beck. A great moment...
Atlanta, Ga.: I think hobos, strictly speaking, are the ones who ride the rails. (And they probably wouldn't want to carry $1000 in quarters with them as they hop into box cars, but gift horses and all that.)
Paul Farhi: Yes. But no one calls those guys hobos anymore. They've got more socially sympathetic names now.
Ratherisms: I'll miss them too:
Paul Farhi: Love it! Thanks.
I grew up in Indiana too: Hey, we've also got Michael Jackson and Bobby Knight!
Oh, yeah. Never mind.
Paul Farhi: Hahaha. You take the good with the bad. Or the bad with the bad. Or just the bad with "Bad."
Fairfax, Va.: RE: How Katie Couric will do on election night.
I don't expect any attempts at "Rather-isms," but I fully expect her report to be all about how the election results affect HER.
Paul Farhi: I think that would be Oprah's job. With lovely parting gifts, of course...
Glen Burnie, Md.: According to Radio and Records, the Baltimore Sun, the Baltimore Business Journal and other trade publications: Kirk McEwen and Mark Ondayko resigned from 98 Rock because the station could not meet their new contract demands, and they wanted to explore the possibilities of hosting a show that has syndication across the country. They want to move it up a few notches. 98 Rock, like many stations, wants to keep their morning and afternoon shows local, which makes sense considering the power that 98 Rock yields. However, the wrestling promotion is NOT the reason that Kirk and Mark left the station, and it had nothing to do in the negotiations. Kirk and Mark couldn't appear at it once they resigned because of legal issues in their 98 Rock contracts!
Paul Farhi: Excellent media triangulation, Glen Burnie! Thanks.
Greenbelt Gal: So, are the broadcast networks actually going to cover Election Night next Tuesday, or are they just going to say, "Ratings, yeah, baby!" and abdicate their civic responsibility to the cable news networks?
Paul Farhi: They will cover it, but I wonder if they will cover it less than they have in preceding cycles and punt the rest to cable. That's what's happened to network coverage of the political conventions--less and less each time. Although, of course, you can justify the latter. The conventions are shameless propaganda fests, and the elections are actual news events.
Beltsville, Md.: I can't believe the Post is making you do these chats ... I hope they pay you "hazard pay" for immersing yourself in such low-brow fare. Anyway, is the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown on tonight?
Paul Farhi: Ha! And you missed it--it was on on Friday.
Hoosier: Believe it or not, it's from the original French settlers' greeting: "Who's there?"
At least that's what they told us in grade school.
Katie on Election Night: "These numbers are softer than the focus on my lens."
Paul Farhi: The French said that? So, if things had broken another way, and another French phrase had been adopted, Hoosiers might be known as "Bonjours," or possibly "Zut alors!"?
Televisi ON: I love the Gieco commercials. All three are great AD campaigns. But the Nenderthals are the best!
Paul Farhi: Those have picked up momentum in my mind (I've slowly come around). The latest one--with the caveman noticing the billboard as he passes by it in the airport--is genius. His expression of disgust is perfect.
Re: Mac vs. PC: I actually think the PC guy steals the show in those commercials. I know he's the brunt of the jokes, but he's funny in the process. And in the end, since I'm not buying a Mac any time soon, that's enough for me.
Paul Farhi: Yes, a backfire there. I like the PC guy more, simply because I hate the way he's being sold out.
Mellencamp's Sellout: Seems to me that the reason this sellout is more egregious than, say Seger's (Bob, not Pete) "Like a Rock" that we heard in so many, many Chevy spots, is that Mellencamp takes himself so deadly seriously. He actually thinks people listen to his songs for the lyrics, so he's been on an anti-Bush crusade for quite a while, embracing this Seegeresque (Pete, not Bob) persona.
Rule #1 of celebrity endorsements: make sure the endorser isn't polarizing.
Speaking of which, have you seen those Dennis Hopper spots for some investment company? He's so smug, patronizing, and butt-kissing (not easy to do at the same time) that if I could stay with it long enough to know who he's endorsing, I'd tell them that I'll never do business with them.
Paul Farhi: Yeah, those Hopper ads, like Hopper, are strange, simply because Hopper is such an odd bird (says here they're for a company called Ameriprise Financial. Okay). I mean, do I want to take financial advice from the guy who was in "Blue Velvet"? What next, Christopher Walken recommends surgeons?
Sell Out: In fact, Chevy went hard at Springsteen back in the mid 80's to use "Born In The USA" for their ads (UGH!) but he correctly refused them. They then went out and got "Like A Rock" from Bob Seger, which they ran into the ground. Anyone who works in the Springsteen/(Pete) Seeger lyrical realm should not be selling their music for commercials. I am very disappointed in Mellencamp.
Paul Farhi: I've never heard the full version of "Like a Rock" (wasn't even sure there was one). I always thought it was just a jingle with four words ("Ooooooooh....like a rock!").
What Showtime "is": Interesting and offbeat series and morning porn, thanks to the West Coast feed. If you can't stay up late for Skinemax, get up early for Showtime.
Hey, maybe I should be their ad agency!
Paul Farhi: Oy. Great programming strategy!
Paul Farhi: And on that pleasant note, folks, I bid you adieu (or as the French in Indiana say, "Adios"). Let's check in on this whole mess again in two weeks, a week after democracy speaks again. This was major fun, as always. Until then, bon jour and regards to all...
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.