It was like any other afternoon. Perky news-division reps chatting you up; slick Tinseltown suits brushing you off. Then came the call.
From Richard "Dick" Reingold, the Big Guy at WUSA, the CBS station in the Washington market. Dick's not a happy guy. Says in the local May sweeps that his 11 p.m. news beat WJLA's 11 p.m. news, Monday through Friday, by 1,000 homes, and that it's a big win for the station vs. last May. Only problem is, we reported they tied.
Reingold says he's got Nielsen numbers to prove it. We've got Nielsen numbers, too, we shoot back; we don't just make this stuff up. He's not amused. A real no-nonsense guy, that Reingold. We tell him we'll look into the matter.
Quicker than you can say "Nielsen needs competition," a Nielsen suit rings up. They got a call from Reingold, too, he says.
When Reingold's not happy, Nielsen's not happy. Says Nielsen's official story is that WUSA beat WJLA by 1,000 in its 11 p.m. newscast, Monday through Friday, in the May sweeps. That's the way it's going in the record books, he says. Others, the suit warns, might say different.
What gives, we ask. Our Nielsen numbers showed a tie, we tell him, and last we checked, a tie's a tie. Nielsen is making us look bad, we tell him. We don't like to look bad, we tell him.
"Different software can come up with different numbers," the suit replies, ominously.
"Bottom line?" we ask. As if we didn't know.
"You weren't wrong; you weren't right," he replies.
In what could be a Hollywood first, a couple of hot writer-directors have been censored by a TV network and they're not unhappy about it.
MTV says it'll cut an off-color joke made by "Something About Mary" filmmaker Bobby Farrelly during last weekend's MTV Movie Awards ceremony, scheduled for telecast on Thursday.
The ceremony was held Saturday in Santa Monica. Picking up the best-movie trophy for the wildly popular gross-out flick with his brother Peter, Bobby Farrelly said that with Hollywood in the spotlight these days, "next time some high school kid breaks up with his girlfriend" and "wipes out half his classmates, maybe he'll think of us." The reference was to the Columbine High School shooting that left 15 dead; according to several news reports, the remark rendered the audience speechless.
MTV routinely censors some of the acceptance comments, but it's generally been to take out four-letter words. Peter Farrelly told a Los Angeles Times reporter at the ceremony that if people found the comment offensive, he hoped MTV would take it out.
By yesterday, the Farrellys had figured out that people were offended and they issued the following statement:
"In accepting the MTV Movie Award on Saturday, we attempted to state our opinion that Hollywood is getting too much blame for all of our society's senseless violence, particularly in our nation's schools. Unfortunately, our remarks were misunderstood by many people. We do not think violence is funny and we deeply apologize to those people who thought we were making a joke of the recent high school shooting tragedy."
ABC News will now state clearly when it buys material from non-news sources after taking heat for airing a video bought from a boy it interviewed in connection with the Colorado high school massacre.
The other broadcast networks are not jumping on this bandwagon. But then, they say, they would never buy material from someone they interviewed on air, and certainly not to the tune of $16,000, which is what ABC reportedly coughed up for a home video, a high school yearbook and a customized video game--all of which were shown on "Good Morning America" during the May sweeps race and billed as a "GMA Exclusive."
The material, which was shown on May 24, was accompanied by an interview with Nathan Dykeman, from whom the goods were bought.
In the video, Dykeman is shown driving to school with Dylan Klebold, one of the Columbine High School killers, who makes a reference to shooting torpedoes toward the school; later Klebold is seen pouring lighter fluid on the school football field. The yearbook contained murder threats from Klebold and the other gunman, Eric Harris. The video game was customized by Harris to include images of violent death.
ABC said during the broadcast that it had "obtained" rights to the material. Now, instead of "obtained" it'll use the word "bought." Why? Because the network fears viewers might not know that "obtained" is TV news-speak for "bought."
"This is an extension of a policy that's already been in place," ABC News spokeswoman Eileen Murphy said. "The only thing that's changing is the kind of language we use. When we make a determination that a viewer's impressions could be impacted by the way we obtained the footage, we have always sought to tell them that we purchased the material but used 'obtained' or 'acquired rights to.' [Now] we'll use words like 'bought,' 'purchased' or 'paid for.' "
While all the network news divisions regularly pay non-news sources for material--think home video footage of a tornado, etc.--paying for material to someone who is interviewed on-air raised eyebrows. ABC News maintains that Dykeman was brought on the program only to explain the material, Murphy said, pointing out that ABC News had interviewed him on other occasions, before the money transaction.
Also setting tongues wagging in newsland was the $16,000 price tag. The general rule of thumb for something like tornado footage is $1,000 per minute, one source said.