Station Break: GM's Strange TV Ad, Digital TV Changeover, The Tony's, More

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Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 9, 2009; 1:00 PM

Washington Post staff writer Paul Farhi was online Tuesday, June 9, at 1 p.m. ET to talk about the latest news in the pop culture world of TV, radio, movies and trends.

Today: General Motors is heralding its "reinvention" with one of the strangest TV commercials in years. Then again, car ads these days are no longer about transportation; they're all about the environment. Is this any way to revive the auto industry? Plus: Finally, it's digital TV time. And the Tonys: Does anyone care?

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Paul Farhi: Greetings, all, and thanks for coming 'round...You don't see many car ads of any kind on TV these days, but GM's "Reinvention" ad (introduced last week) is surely one of the most...interesting car spots in many a year. Check out the video (we'll have a link up in a jiffy) and see what you think. Me, I think it's sad. Poor GM, once the mightiest company on the planet, whose ads were filled with pride and power ("Like a Rock!") and shiny new cars, is now reduced to simpering and whimpering about "reinvention." Yes, GM could stand plenty of reinvention, but this hodgepodge of images just serves to remind everyone what a bummer GM, and Detroit, is these days. The spot doesn't mention that GM's alleged reinvention comes courtesy of $50 billion in taxpayer funds, or that said taxpayers now own the majority of the company. Instead, we get generic, and sometimes odd, symbols of growth and rebirth--green plant shoots in time lapse, a butterfly, lightning. But what's all the sports stuff doing in there? Horseracing, Ben Rothlisberger throwing a pass, a sad hockey player, a baseball pile-up? Plus, the shot of people getting off a train--is that to suggest we don't need cars at all? And the copy: "There was a time when eight different brands made sense." Ah, when was that, GM? Last month?

Well, apparently, it's morning in Detroit. Yeah, I'm not sure I believe it, either.

Your thoughts? Let's go to the phones....

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washingtonpost.com: TV Ad: GM Reinvention

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GM Spot: I saw the spot on TV over the weekend, and it seemed like a really good V/O script (I mean, really good) in search of relevant images.

What was the hockey player doing on his knees? Why the Steelers? Huh? The visuals looked like a collection of more or less random shots from a clip library...but given the time available to get the spot on the air, that's probably exactly what they were.

The "rally cap" spot for GMC trucks was better a couple of months ago.

Paul Farhi: Plus, the crowd shot with the foam No. 1 fingers? What's up with that? We're No. 1? Maybe if your name is Toyota...

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Oakton, Va.: GM's ad struck me as more of the same: testosterone filled, chest puffing, and type-A charged.

Is this the right approach? Does this really sell cars in an era of the smarter consumer? In an era where the competition isn't just selling sensible and reliable anymore?

The "Buy American" approach never really worked, did it?

Paul Farhi: GM *does* have the heritage thing going for it. It's such an identifiably American company (even if it's basically a global company that happens to be headquartered in the U.S.). Plus, it has spent so many years and so many billions of dollars emphasizing its American roots ("See the U.S.A in your Chevrolet," "Hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet," etc) that they could easily justify an all-American pitch.

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Anonymous: It is pretty weird that struggling automakers have such an abundance of commercials on TV. Do you know anyone who is buying a new car? Isn't the Internet a cheaper way to advertise anyway?

Paul Farhi: Slightly different topic, but I've recently begun to wonder: If the internet is so all-fired efficient and great, why does traditional print and broadcast advertising exist at all? Answer: Because the internet is a pretty terrible ad medium.

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San Francisco, Calif.: The closing line in the GM line about "the only chapter we're focused on is chapter 1" made me LOL. I don't think that was the reaction they were after. And the "we're not going out of business; we're getting down to business" just makes you wonder why it took the destruction of the company to kick their butts into gear. This reminds me of the ads from energy companies like BP and Chevron trying to convince us they actually HELP the planet.

Paul Farhi: Well said, S.F.! And "we're not going out of business" made me think--oh, yeah, they're going out of business, aren't they?

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There was a time when eight different brands made sense." Ah, when was that, GM? Last month? : Maybe they're saying, "a long time ago eight different brands made sense, but we're just now catching on to that fact."

The whole thing was odd. I didn't get what they were trying to say with the variety of images. Horseracing? How is that supposed to make me feel good about GM? It's just another industry that needs to reinvent itself.

Paul Farhi: Slate.com had a very good shot-by-shot semiotic analysis of the "Reinvention" ad. I didn't buy their take on what each image was supposed to stand for, but their explanation for the horse thing was that it represents brawn and power. Oh.

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Washington, D.C.: Presumably the GM ad was vetted by the government, yes? Or perhaps even instigated by?

Paul Farhi: I hope that's not true, and I don't think it is. You probably wouldn't want the government approving your ads. On the other hand, some government agencies have done very good advertising over the years. The military-recruitment campaigns have been superb for a long time...

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General Motors: GM's biggest problem isn't that they have too many makes or models or that they make vehicles that are too big or that they don't have a good hybrid or electric car. This may reflect on some poor judgment on management's part but it is not why they are bankrupt.

They wouldn't have any substantial problems if they only made cars that were RELIABLE. That is how the Japanese gained market share and how they continue to hold it.

(Regardless what Warren Brown thinks. I've never been happier about a Post buyout.)

Paul Farhi: How about the fact that we have no national health care system, unlike the Japanese and Europeans, which means that GM shouldered the costs of its workers and its retirees, which means that GM had to add about $1500 or so to the price of every vehicle to pay for it? Do we still think a national health care system *isn't* about industrial competitiveness?

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Enquiring minds: Paul --

Is there a list, yet, of who at The Post is taking the buyout? I am almost too scared to learn who may be leaving.

Paul Farhi: No list that I know of (although I know who's likely to take it). And, yes, I'm a little scared, too.

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What I don't like about the GM ad: I'm sick of people telling me what they're "going to do." Just do it. Trim the line down, if that's what they think needs to done, but don't put a bunch of reinvention stuff out there until there's some some reinvented stuff to show me. All I get from this ad is they still don't know what they're doing, so they're going to talk it up and pretend like they do.

It would be much more powerful for them to stay quiet for a little bit, get their plan down, and then show me the new line, and explain at that time how they are only doing X number of cars, and here they are.

Paul Farhi: Good point. What, ultimately, is the point of this? You're going to stay in business? Not exactly a bold claim, is it?

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Like a rock: Frankly, the ubiquity of those spots was one of the main reasons I haven't owned a GM since the 80s. For years, you couldn't watch a game without hearing Bob Seger (whom I used to like) during every, that's every break. When you turn the sound off at the beginning of the spot, the message isn't coming through.

Paul Farhi: GM loved that campaign, and it was very successful, based on the sales of Chevy trucks. But, yeah, it was always the same: Opening chords, shot of truck navigating rocky slope, short narration, then Seger: "Like a ro-oooock. Ooooh, like a rock...."

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Bethesda, Md.: "their explanation for the horse thing was that it represents brawn and power"

Horsepower, of course!

Paul Farhi: Um, yeah. Of course.

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The Airless Cubicle: Paul,

What was General Motors thinking? They should have either been brutally frank or optimistic, but not both. In trying to kill two birds with one stone, they've missed; both birds have flown, and the company is standing with a bruised foot from where the stone actually hit.

This is my proposed commercial:

(Video: a blank screen with accompanying GM logo fading from blue to black)

"We're bankrupt. We tried to follow a business model that worked in the past. The world changed faster than we could, and we're paying the price.

(The GM logo returns to GM Blue)

"Yet, in defeat, there are the seeds of victory, if we grasp them quickly enough. In tribulation, there is triumph if we persevere.

"We're simplifying to four lines of business. You'll be able to buy a vehicle you like, at a price you like, with the features you like in those lines of business. We hate to see the old nameplates go, but the new cars will be the best that GM has to offer.

"We're honoring our warranties. We're listening to our customers. We're working with our creditors and the government to get free of this mess.

"No one who works for GM 'now' is stupid. Our workers aren't stupid. Our engineers aren't stupid. Our sales staff aren't stupid. Maybe we needed a giant kick in the rear to jumpstart our brains, but the brains are engaged and we're gearing up our ability to innovate like the GM trucks you have come to love.

"All of the GM you loved will be back and better than ever."

Then cue an image of GM trucks rolling over little green econobox cars in a supermarket parking lot.

"Because you WANT us to, don't you?"

(Conclude with kick-tail rock music)

"GM. Coming back. Badder than ever."

Paul Farhi: Awesome, Airless! GM's ad agency owes you a finder's fee.

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Reston, Va.: What percentage of users get their TV over the air? How about analog cable (vs. digital cable)?

I have a friend who gets his TV on analog cable. He gets extended basic and has old analog recorders (third party PVRs) that can decode the signal fine. His cable provider is going to switch to digital (Montgomery County, Md.) this summer. This has lead to some confusion about digital switchover since there are two switches are happening coincidentally.

Is there large problem looming that we are unaware of? There has been plenty of notice of the over the air switch, how about the other switch.

Paul Farhi: I find the figures about this a bit dodgy (as the Brits say) because most households have multiple sets, hooked up (or not) in various ways. But: About 15-20 percent of households don't get cable or satellite, according to Nielsen...As for cable companies switching to all digital, I'm not aware that there's been a problem. What IS the problem (if any)?

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Alexandria, Va.: Of course it's not an ad for cars. GM has to reassure two groups of people: First, GM owners (and future owners), to tell them that it's still a good idea to buy a GM car because we'll stand behind it and we're not going to leave everyone in the lurch. Second, the American people in general, who now own several bajillion shares of the company and don't want people to think "GM" = "scoundrels who took our money and aren't coming back, yes I'm looking at you, AIG." It's an ad for the company in general, not its products per se.

Paul Farhi: I don't feel particularly reassured. Shutting up (and cashing the bailout check) is starting to seem more and more attractive.

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Horsepower, of course! : Hmmm. Okay. I get it. Still, not that many people are into horseracing these days. All the sports images stood out to me, and I kept wondering, why are they talking about sports? Show me some cars! I'll tell them what they need -- a mom mobile. All I want is a small station wagon, and nobody makes them anymore. You have to go too small and get a hatchback, or get a "cross-over" which is only slightly smaller than an SUV.

Paul Farhi: This jogs my memory about something. Why does GM get so much grief about making SUVs? EVERYONE made/makes SUVs, including Mercedes and BMW. It was the kind of car that people, perhaps unfortunately, wanted. As Bob Lutz, the vice chairman of GM points out, SUVs were doing fine, until those four months last year when gas was over $4 a gallon.

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Clifton, Va.: Chevy's Silverado pick up is the number 2 selling vehicle behind the Ford 150. Both out sell cars by a considerable margin.

Folks in major metro areas and DC don't understand the vehicle buying habits of flyover country. Ford and Chevy still sell over 600,000 pick ups a year. Throw in Dodge and you are over 700,000 units. Toyota and Nissan can't compete they tried and lost their shirts.

Not everyone can get buy with a Prius or other small car. Folks who can afford only one vehicle need the pick up etc.

Paul Farhi: Yep. SUVs AND trucks.

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That $1,500 Straw Horse: Warren, I mean Paul, here's the thing about that retiree subsidy:

Besides the fact that GM signed the contract, making that cost a choice, the $1,500 equates to only $15 a month over the reasonable 8-year lifespan of the car. Not enough to make a difference, if you're considering a car.

The problem is that GM turned out a crappy product for too long. Whether or not they've turned the corner on reliability, most of us can't afford to make a bad choice. So we go with what we know, whether positive or negative.

Paul Farhi: I don't want to defend GM's quality ratings (you can check those as easily as I can) but $1,500 isn't a meaningful number when buying a car? It is to me and a few other million people...

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Anonymous: "As for cable companies switching to all digital, I'm not aware that there's been a problem. What IS the problem (if any)?"

Technically, none. Those of us who have some old TVs plugged into the wall will be fine, at least for a few years. (The only real "problem" is that Comcast keeps moving basic cable channels to the "digital tier" requiring a cable box!)

Paul Farhi: This is true. I don't quite understand the tech specs on this, but Comcast will say that they HAVE to move some channels to digital, to make "room" for more HD channels (HD channels being very band-width intensive). Perhaps they're doing what they have to do, but it comes off as anti-consumer. It looks like a sneaky price increase...

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Germantown, Md.: previous chatter: "What I don't like about the GM ad: I'm sick of people telling me what they're "going to do." Just do it."

The chatter has forgotten that GM is now an agency of the federal government, where people make their reputation based on what they SAY they are going to do. Whether they actually do it is irrelevant.

- One who knows

Paul Farhi: It's the American Way! We like the future much more than the present or the past.

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washingtonpost.com: GM Is Trying To Brainwash You (Slate/Big Money)

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Digital cable: Not a real problem for third party DVRs, but you have to run the digital box through them, and use what's called an IR Blaster (a $7 wire from the DVR to the face of the digital box) to have the DVR change the channel on the digital box.

Paul Farhi: Just reading that sentence gives me a headache...

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Health Insurance Retort: Of course that's part of the equation, but Ford is surviving because they bought into (awfully late) the need to produce more reliable cars.

I would still be driving Fords if I hadn't had to go through the Pinto period.

Paul Farhi: Well, the "Pinto period" was a few decades ago. Unless (heaven forbid) your gas tank exploded, it's probably time to move on.

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They wouldn't have any substantial problems if they only made cars that were RELIABLE.: Agreed. Any look at the Consumers Reports ratings for cars shows that American made do well in crashes, but that's the only strong point. Japanese cars don't need to be fixed as often.

So GM had to add $1,500 to the price of each car? But it always seems to me when I go car shopping that I could save a lot of money if I bought American. I'm willing to spend more on the Japanese car because I'm not going to have it in the shop as much later.

Paul Farhi: Okay, but what if you took away that additional $1,500? The cost advantage over the Japanese and Euro makes would be substantial. Of course, you CAN'T take away that $1,500. That's the problem for the domestic companies.

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Harrisburg, Pa.: Your cousin-brother over at Slate took the wood to this commercial, too. It has the feel of, "Poor us...please buy our cars...we'll be your best friend...John Mellencamp is starving." This from the same automaker that thought it was an awesome idea to use Rosa Parks and MLK to (sorta) pitch trucks.

Paul Farhi: Aye. This ad has the same feel as those montage-y Mellencamp/Rosa Park/MLK commercials. At least this one doesn't equate a four-cylinder engine with the civil rights movement.

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San Francisco again: I get that some people need pickup trucks. But for every well-worn, equipment-laden truck I see, I see 3 others that are in pristine condition, buffed to a high sheen, tricked out with extras and sporting decorative decals/stickers.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, but who are we to talk, we SUV-owners-with-no-passengers-going-to-the-Wal-Mart drivers.

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Fairfax, Va.: Paul Farhi: "How about the fact that we have no national health care system, unlike the Japanese and Europeans, which means that GM shouldered the costs of its workers and its retirees, which means that GM had to add about $1,500 or so to the price of every vehicle to pay for it?"

Health care isn't free under either system. If GM weren't providing its workers with health care coverage, it would have to pay them a higher salary to cover their cost of getting health care elsewhere. Even if that cost is a tax under a public health care system.

Unless you're just suggesting that auto employees should take a big hit in their compensation.

Paul Farhi: I'm just saying that a global company like GM would be more competitive without those healthcare costs. I doubt anyone at GM, or the UAW, would argue with that.

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D.C.: Tony Kornheiser on radio, any buzz?

Paul Farhi: Zero.

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Comcast will say that they HAVE to move some channels to digital, to make "room" for more HD channels (HD channels being very band-width intensive). Perhaps they're doing what they have to do, but it comes off as anti-consumer. It looks like a sneaky price increase...: Yep, it's the best of both worlds: Comcast can increase their most profitable offerings, and put the screws to the less affluent customers.

Paul Farhi: The very definition of a win-win situation, cable-wise...

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Washington, D.C.: GM and the quality question: The quality has undoubtedly improved, but the problem is GM (and American automakers in general) made absolutely dreadful cars in the 1970s, when many baby boomers were buying their first vehicles. The Chevrolet Vega, Ford Pinto, Ford Maverick, Chevy Citation, etc., etc. (The Dodge Dart/Plymouth Valiant I except from this, because it's Slant 6 engine wouldn't die if you threw a grenade at it.) The upshot is that boomers turned to Toyota and Honda to get something cheap and reliable and they maintained loyalty to the brands even affluence grew. (Which is why brands like Acura, Infiniti and Lexus were created.) The boomers kids grew up riding in those imports and were themselves predisposed to buy Corollas, Civics, Tercels etc., as their own entry level vehicles. Lose two generations of buyers and you're in trouble.

Paul Farhi: This describes my buying habits, in a nutshell, with a slight digression to the early Saturns, which I still think is a great car.

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San Francisco again: I get that some people need pickup trucks. But for every well-worn, equipment-laden truck I see, I see 3 others that are in pristine condition, buffed to a high sheen, tricked out with extras and sporting decorative decals/stickers.: Dude, you're in San Francisco.

You're only going to see those trucks on Saturday night, when their owners are all polished up and heading to that bar Eddie Murphy tore up in "48 Hours."

Paul Farhi: Are you insinuating that people don't bail hay and haul steers in their pick-ups in San Francisco?

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$4.50/gallon gas: None of the images in GMs ad gave me much comfort given the future at the U.S. gas pump. There is a such a thing as willful ignorance, right?

Paul Farhi: Well, about a quarter of that ad shows fuel-cell and hybrid vehicles. But, yeah, I'm kinda worried about that. The Chevy Volt is going to cost $40 grand? Oy....

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Digital Transition -- Scan and Rescan: We've been ready with converter box since March 2008 (no cable or satellite by choice).

Overall pleased with the reception (except during thunderstorms). But we could never get WETA. WHUT non-digital had a weak signal but digital came in strong, but the station doesn't carry the same PBS programming.

Then I saw a crawl on Channel 9 a week ago that said they were moving to a different signal so be sure to rescan. What is this rescan Mr. WUSA suggests I perform? Well, I found it in the remote menu set up and lo and behold, I now get all four WETA digital channels!

So to rabbit-ear users (and there are indeed more than of us than you think and we're not seniors or disadvantaged), find the re-scan option on your box and use it after the switch. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Paul Farhi: Unless you're outside the range of the digital stations, the re-scan should enable you to pull in all of the over-the-air digital channels. I counted the other day: There are 12 full-power TV stations in the D.C. area (I'm not counting low-power or outlying stations like Hagerstown or Frederick). These 12 stations are putting out 26 digital stations, in total. And frankly, I'm not really impressed. The new stations include three local weather stations (WJLA, WUSA and WRC). WJLA has a re-run channel, featuring old episodes of "The A-Team." The PBS affiliates are doing better, with separate channels for children. But it's really kind of disappointing. All this hassle? For new local weather channels?

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Rockville, Md.: Radio: Is there anything on the Internet better than Pandora Radio (except washpost.com)?

The Tonys: Anytime you see a singer get conked by a piece of the set in the opening number, hey, that's great TV.

Paul Farhi: The Tonys did relatively well in the ratings, as my colleague, Ms. de Moraes, pointed out this morning. But it's not exactly a blockbuster show. I mean, I love Broadway, and I watched (part of) the Tonys. But 7.5 million or so viewers is kinda so-so, compared to the biggest series and specials.

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Harrisburg again: If you are looking for an upside to the 60 percent solution, remember this: We're entrusting a Big Three automaker to the same people who make Amtrak such a paradigm of efficiency and service. Yay.

Paul Farhi: Oh, get off the government's back. Do we really think Tim Geithner is going to be designing the next Corvette or half-ton? The company, for all intents and purposes, will be run by GM people, not the Feds. I'm not sure that's a good thing or a bad thing, but it is a true thing.

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Anytown, USA: Paul -- you are now my favorite WaPo chatter and have surpassed both Weingarten and Hax! I love that you brought up the GM ad (my thought -- couldn't they wait to advertise at least until they stop laying off people?) and as a bonus mentioned the GM legacy costs. My financial genius father was wondering out loud last week why that doesn't get more mention in the press. Not only does Japan cover healthcare but at least some R&D costs too, which also feed into the legacy costs if I am understanding correctly. I think a lot of people do care and make decisions based on a $1500 upfront difference in price. Keep up the good work and don't ever reinvent yourself!

Paul Farhi: Aw, shucks. (And, mom, I strictly forbade you to participate in these chats!)...

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washingtonpost.com: Digital TV: Navigating the DTV Transition

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WJLA has a re-run channel, featuring old episodes of "The A-Team.": Just what we need, more channels dedicated to reruns.

Paul Farhi: Ain't digital TV (the over-the-air kind, at least) grand? Has it really been worth all the associated hassles?

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Washington, D.C.: I am so confused about this digital transition. I thought I was good because I have cable on all my TVs some with a box some without. I had been hearing I'd be good either way but I read in the Post that I'll need a box from the cable company or a converter for my TV's. Aaaargh...I think I'll just throw all of my TV's out the freaking window and then it won't matter if I receive a digital signal.

Paul Farhi: It IS confusing, isn't it? But stand pat for now. You should be fine for several more months, and maybe a lot longer.

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Broadway. The Tonys.: Yawn. They had to bring in Poison to liven it up? Seems like an odd choice.

Paul Farhi: I found it odder that "Rock of Ages" was up for a best musical award. Can any show that features Styx, REO Speedwagon, White Snake and Poison really be any good?

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D.C.: Paul: The ratings were not great...is it really worth televising the Tony Awards? I mean, they are celebrating Broadway shows that most people can't really afford to watch, and these shows are only playing in NYC anyway? Why would anyone outside of the I-95 northeastern corridor care about the Tonys? Broadway is for the rich and the New Yorkified.

Paul Farhi: Except when the shows a) go on national tour, which they always do; b) get performed by every high school, college and community theater group in your hometown, which they inevitably will and c) become part of the American "songbook," which some of them inevitably will. What part of "West Side Story" don't you like?

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The Japanese car companies: don't allow their execs to make 500 percent more than the lowest paid worker. They have more reasonable salaries. So maybe that's something GM could look into doing.

Paul Farhi: Only 500 percent? And for this they get to die at their desks from over-work? Yeah, executive compensation has been out of control in this country for years and years. But I would say a) it's a free market; and b) this is problem No. 2,302 on our list of Things We Need to Fix in This Country Right Now.

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Digital Transition again: I'm just happy to have clear reception for sports, 60 Minutes, and Lost.

The weather channels? Re-run station? Seen 'em, no intention of watching 'em

Paul Farhi: I guess. But for what has been spent on this digital transition, by the private sector and the government, we probably could have bought everyone a year's worth of cable or satellite.

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Arlington, Va.: A 77 Honda Accord would rust out its front fenders before the 3-year warranty ran out. Their CVCC engine in the Civic required rebuilding at 60000. Toyotas Camry and Corolla had engines that were as bad back then and brakes that made the Flintstone mobile look like a NASCAR stocker brake wise

Paul Farhi: My first car was a Toyota Corolla. I loved it. It lasted forever. My next car was Honda Accord. I loved it. It lasted forever. My next car was....Well, you get the idea.

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Rock of Ages: Oh, I guess Poison makes sense, then. I didn't know about this musical. But I just looked it up and former American Idol Constantine Maroulis is starring in it.

No Def Leppard?

Paul Farhi: He's not only in it, he was nominated for a Tony in it! I haven't seen the show, but it all just seems wrong. All of it.

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Alexandria, Va.: San Francisco again: I get that some people need pickup trucks. But for every well-worn, equipment-laden truck I see, I see 3 others that are in pristine condition, buffed to a high sheen, tricked out with extras and sporting decorative decals/stickers.

Paul Farhi: Yeah, but who are we to talk, we SUV-owners-with-no-passengers-going-to-the-Wal-Mart drivers.

-----

Some of us drive well-polished Honda Fits, and have every right to talk. Most people don't NEED a big vehicle; they choose to have a big vehicle for a variety of options. I grew up in Nebraska -- most small town residents don't even need a big truck. My grandfather sold tractor parts for decades, and got by just fine with a 2WD half size Toyota pickup.

Paul Farhi: You remind me of the great episode of "South Park" when they took down the Prius. It doesn't emit smog, the boys said, it emits smug....

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But I would say a) it's a free market; and b) this is problem No. 2,302 on our list of Things We Need to Fix in This Country Right Now. : The there shouldn't have been a bailout. If companies like GM are going to pay their top execs these kinds of salaries for shoddy work, then let the market prevail and they can fail.

Paul Farhi: Every time I hear someone advocating letting GM fail, I get a lump in the pit of my stomach. There are a few states--Michigan, Indiana, Ohio, etc.--that would fail with it.

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The Tony Awards: Geez, doesn't Kornheiser get enough attention already?

Paul Farhi: Hahaha!

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Silver Spring, Md.: Are the GEICO caveman ads building to something? The last two I've seen had the guy ripping his shirt off running through town after seeing the "so easy" slogan on the TV store screens, and meeting his buddies at the bowling alley, where they see, and react strongly to, the "so easy" slogan on the pinsetter. The same Three Doors Down song plays in both.

Something gonna happen?

Paul Farhi: I'm not familiar with the current caveman ads, but I'll get on the Google and look 'em up. Seems to me, though, that that whole campaign has gone downhill. There were several inspired moments in that series--the therapist ad being the best, followed by the caveman at the airport--but almost all of the iterations over the past few years have been underwhelming.

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SATURNS!: I, too, love early Saturns. My daughter now has our 94 Saturn wagon -- she is aiming at 150,000 miles (it has nearly 140,000) -- however, it has started its inevitable decline, and I am sad it may not make it.

Paul Farhi: Saturn is/was a great lost opportunity for GM. Why, oh why, did they have to co-opt it back into the GM fold? They just made it worse. If GM had left it alone, there's no telling how good it could have been.

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Re-run station?: Maybe eventually we will have so many re-run stations, they can each be dedicated to single shows. A Lost station, a Battlestar Galactica station...

Paul Farhi: I'm sure someone has already thought of this. Just play all the episodes of a single series on a continuous loop...

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Alexandria, Va.: Paul Farhi: You remind me of the great episode of "South Park" when they took down the Prius. It doesn't emit smog, the boys said, it emits smug....

Maybe true. But Prius sales took off in recent years because of that 'smug' factor. So what that the people who buy them do so because they are pompus -sses; the end result is still increased fuel economy across the national fleet. The end result (more environmentally friendly vehicles on the road) is what matters to me; I don't really care what the individual purchaser's motives are.

Paul Farhi: You should watch the "South Park" episode.

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Gummintr, UN: Go ahead and disparage Amtrak. They own and maintain their own track, facilities and traffic control. What would be the cost of an airline ticket if each airline had to pay for construction and maintenance of airports(runways and terminals) and traffic control. What if they had to pay for that highway in the sky. Now, which is the more economical transport? As for government and GM, I would submit: where would the country be without Conrail? Every railroad in the country benefitted from Conrail and the legislation creating true competition between rail, water and truck transportation.

Paul Farhi: I'm no expert on Conrail or Amtrak, but I sure wish we had a great passenger rail system in America, as they do in Europe. I guess we have more and better roads here, so the car is king, and lots of open spaces to travel across, but anyone who travels on European railroads just loves it.

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D.C. (again): Yes, the plays will go on tour and be performed by high schools, etc., but will the same actors who won those awards Sunday night be in those shows? If so, then I will buy in to the Tonys. And yes, I like West Side Story, but I bet seeing in on Broadway is much better than watching my local community college perform it.

Paul Farhi: Well, sure. But shouldn't we have the Yankees AND little-league baseball? Clearly, buying a ticket to a Broadway show isn't cheap, but that's not exactly an argument for doing away with Broadway musicals. What am I missing here?

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My early 1980s Honda Civic: lasted for about 150,000 miles. It never needed work, ever. I loved that car. It was not pretty, though, towards the end. I could see the road through a hole in the floor.

Paul Farhi: You could have done that thing Fred Flintstone does with his car at the end of every episode!

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Arlington, Va.: Don't forget that GM also exploited 9/11 in the same commercial!

Paul Farhi: Oh, yes! Forgot that. Eternal shame on GM for that.

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Why does GM get so much grief about making SUVs? : They're not getting so much grief about "making SUVs"...

They're getting grief about making SUVs at the expense of making Cars people would want to buy.

They basically pushed All-In with the SUVs, and when gas went through the roof and the economy down the tubes, they were left without 'any' regular cars to fall back on. My family has an SUV, it's great. We don't need another. GM offers/offered me 28 different SUVs from 8 different lines and exactly ZERO cars I'm interested in buying.

That was their big mistake.

Paul Farhi: Fair point. SUVs were popular AND high profit for the auto companies. Until they weren't. "Going all in" was not a good marketing/product strategy by GM.

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What am I missing here? : I don't think he's saying don't have the plays. I think he's just saying, do we need to have the Tonys on television.

Paul Farhi: Oh...I guess 7.5 million people like seeing 'em on TV. That's not nothing...

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Washington, D.C.: Paul, I'm a data guy and I just can't find statistics on new car sales by model to verify what Clifton says about trucks. The Commerce Department reports aggregates by type, not models. They show that in 2007 trucks outsold passenger cars 7.3 million to 6.3 million. The one thing about models I did find, which was new sales in August 08, showed Silverado at about 55,000 units and Accord and Camry at about 44,000; again, the truck has the edge but that's not a devastating advantage.

Paul Farhi: But it does show that there's a very big market in pick ups. Has been for a very long time. The companies report these numbers, and for many years, GM stayed ahead of Toyota on the basis of its huge advantage in truck sales.

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Saturn is/was a great lost opportunity for GM. Why, oh why, did they have to co-opt it back into the GM fold? They just made it worse. If GM had left it alone, there's no telling how good it could have been. : Aaaand there you have it. When bringing a brand into a major company effectively ruins the brand, that says a lot about the major company.

Paul Farhi: Yes, it does not say good things about GM. And Saturn was founded explicitly as the kind of anti-GM division. Remember "A New Kind of Car, A New Kind of Company"? Great ads (by the inimitable S.F. ad man Hal Riney) backed by a fine product.

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Silver Spring, Md.: "They own and maintain their own track, facilities and traffic control."

No, CSX owns a lot of that.

Paul Farhi: Okay. Thanks.

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Ford and reliability: Forget the Pinto. I had an '89 Escort. If you looked at the reliability scores in Consumer Reports, that model received all black circles (very bad) for every single year it was tracked. And my many experiences of being stranded at the side of a road or in a parking lot, and paying hundreds of dollars for bizarre and unpredictable repairs confirmed it. Apparently Mazda started making the Escort shortly after that (and the circles turned red) but I fled to Honda and never came back.

Paul Farhi: As the old store owners would tell you, it's really hard to gain a customer's loyalty, and really easy to lose it. And it's deadly to a company when they do lose it, as your story illustrates.

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Lexus is the one who should be ashamed: of making an SUV. Do all the attorneys I work with really need a tricked-out SUV to drive back and forth alone to work in the city every day? And how about the woman right of college who is driving the Hummer? It's her only car. And she lives in the city. That is insane.

Paul Farhi: I totally understand the marketing imperative, though. That's where the market was going, that's where the profits were (and maybe still are). Hence, Lexus, Acura, Mercedes, BMW, etc. had to have SUVs.

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Baltimore, Md.: Yes, other companies make SUVs, but GM made the Hummer, which came to be viewed as the Death Star of American vehicles. (Incidentally, Ford made one almost as brutal, the Excursion, and quit making it because it was so ludicrous.

And having spent time in Utah, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico, I would agree with Clifton that lots of trucks are sold in flyover country. But a lot of the people who buy them out there aren't ranching or drilling oil wells, they are buying them because of culturally accepted norms that say "real men" own trucks as opposed to, say, Camrys.

Paul Farhi: Some comedian (Carlin?) used to have a bit about the silliness of car machismo. He talked about a guy pulling up to a light next to a woman in another car. The guy glances over at the woman and revs his engine. Because...why? Is he thinking the woman is thinking, "If he can do THAT with his foot, imagine what he can do in bed!"

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I've owned 3 Honda Civics, a Nissan Sentra: a Ford F150 and a Saturn. The Sentra was the absolute worst. The Ford was fun to drive, but not practical for me. The Hondas were good, but the car I liked the best was the Saturn. It was so comfortable.

Paul Farhi: Saturn owners, at least the early ones like me, were so loyal to the car that they formed rather large Saturn clubs and made an annual pilgrimage down to the plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. I doubt that happens with the Nissan Sentra.

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Paul Farhi: And on that note, I have to stop the chat and go to the bank and cash my kickback check from Saturn for "P.R. services rendered." But, really, I mean it. Or meant it. Let's do this again next week, folks. I'm sure there are other industries that could use our wise counsel. Until then, drive safely. And, as always, regards to all....Paul.

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