television

Not Normal

The Emmy Awards ceremony is usually an evening of fun and frocks, during which some awards are also handed out. But this year’s ceremony in mid-September came under fire for starting things off with a comedy skit featuring former White House press secretary Sean Spicer. Some commentators argued that, in his former job, Spicer regularly defended his boss’ racist and xenophobic decisions, so they wanted to hear him apologize before they were willing to listen to him tell jokes. Others argued that it was just a comedy skit, and Spicer deserved a second chance – particularly since he was fired from the White House, rather than quitting – and that like any other disgraced public figure he should have the opportunity to rebuild his reputation.

My feelings lie toward more toward the “not ready for jokes yet” perspective. I’m a big fan of Stephen Colbert – and his principled and honest attitude toward his work – and I’m also a viewer of his show who really appreciates him calling out the ridiculousness of the actions of the Trump administration. So I was quite disappointed to learn that Colbert was apparently responsible for arranging Spicer’s Emmy appearance. There are likely larger issues of forgiveness and redemption going on in this situation that would take a very long time to pick apart here. But I’ll just say that, given Colbert’s insightful commentaries on the serious implications of Trump’s conduct, I would have thought that Colbert would have anticipated the potential for negative blowback from Spicer’s participation in the show.

What particularly troubles me about the decision to feature Spicer on the Emmys is how it demonstrates “normalization”. This is the phenomenon in which (more…)

A Sense of Place: Almost Live! and Seattle

Next weekend John Keister, from Seattle’s legendary Almost Live! TV show, is doing a live show titled “Living and Dying in Seattle”. When I first saw the title, I was horrified – I thought it meant Keister had a terminal illness. Thankfully, that’s not the case. He’s planning to retire from live shows, but, as he explains in this interview, he sees the city of Seattle changing from the Seattle he knows, and he wanted to do the show while the city “was still partly recognizable”.

Almost Live! was a late-night comedy show that (more…)

Mary Tyler Moore and Workplace Equality

When Mary Tyler Moore passed away this week at the age of 80, the world lost a very talented performer. But the world also lost a woman that made a difference for other women. In the 1970s, through her TV show The Mary Tyler Moore Show – which she co-created and co-produced, as well as starred in –  Moore helped to change attitudes about workplace equality.

Dan McGarry, who teaches human resource management at Seneca College in Ontario, sent me this post, which he also put on his course website. He wanted to tell his students how important Moore’s television show was in depicting the barriers that women faced at work.

Mary Tyler Moore’s name may mean very little or nothing to most of you, except that you heard that she passed away yesterday. However her television show, which used just her name, was a groundbreaker when it was first aired starting in 1970. Her character of Mary Richards was the first ‘career woman’ portrayed as the primary character in a TV show. 30-something, unmarried and unattached, she demonstrated something new in the mass media: a woman who could ‘make it on her own’. (more…)

Friday Follow-Ups

Updates on two posts from earlier this year:

  • And on a related note, two weeks earlier the CBC ombudsman issued a ruling that Lang violated the CBC’s conflict of interest policy, by not revealing personal connections to the Royal Bank of Canada before she interviewed the bank’s CEO. The text of that ruling is here.

Amanda Lang, the CBC, and Journalistic Standards

Amanda Lang, CBC News’ “senior business correspondent” and the host of the CBC-TV show The Exchange with Amanda Lang, has recently been the subject of some controversy. In the last few weeks of 2014, it was alleged that she violated CBC’s conflict of interest policies by accepting paid speaking engagements from companies that she then “favourably” covered on her TV show. Then in early January it was alleged that she had lobbied within CBC News to downplay a story about the Royal Bank of Canada (RBC) outsourcing jobs held by Canadian workers, when in the past she had given paid speeches at RBC-sponsored events. It also emerged that Lang was involved in a personal relationship with an RBC executive.

In a newspaper op-ed column, Lang denied the allegations of improper influence and defended her integrity – a response that was not well received. CBC subsequently banned its on-air staff from making paid appearances at non-CBC events, and, last week, announced that an “internal review” had found that Lang’s coverage did not violate CBC’s “journalistic standards”.

This series of events was deeply distressing to anyone who cares about the integrity of Canada’s publicly-funded national broadcaster – especially when the allegations involving Lang came directly after the allegations of workplace harassment by CBC radio host Jian Ghomeshi, followed by multiple criminal charges being laid against him. What was also distressing in Lang’s case was that both she and the CBC didn’t seem to understand that a perceived conflict of interest can be as damaging as an actual conflict of interest. Lang’s dismissing the allegations as “malevolent” and “utterly unwarranted” was ill-advised, and in my opinion only made the situation that much worse.

I’ll admit that I’m not familiar with much of Lang’s television work. But recently, while looking for something else entirely in the CBC’s online video archives, I came across a recent interview on her show that was so appalling (more…)

Human Resource Management and the CBC

One of the biggest stories in work & organizations in Canada right now is the ongoing workplace scandals at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. At first, attention was focused on the firing of former radio host Jian Ghomeshi.  In the first week of 2015, Ghomeshi was charged with three more counts of assault, and  two CBC executives were placed on indefinite “leaves of absence”. But now another controversy has arisen that involves a different CBC employee – senior business correspondent Amanda Lang. According to a report quoting another CBC reporter, Lang intervened in the CBC’s coverage of a news story involving a company that Lang was paid to give speeches to; she also had a personal relationship with an executive at that company.

Before last week, it might have been possible to attribute CBC management’s ineffective strategy of dealing with Ghomeshi – which seemed to be to ignore or downplay signs of trouble for as long as possible – to the challenges of an exceptional situation that even the most experienced executive would have trouble handling. But the news about Lang’s alleged behaviour – which the CBC again seemed to manage by denial and by downplaying dissent – raises the very serious possibility that CBC has a systemic and widespread problem with its workplace culture and its human resource management practices.

A reader of this blog contacted me to point out one part of the CBC story that has largely gone unnoticed. This part involves Todd Spencer, who is CBC’s “executive director, people and culture” and is one of the two executives currently on leave. (more…)

Investigative Journalism: The Media Can (and Should) Do More of It

Recently I wrote a post about new information on the anti-union financial disclosure bill being debated in Canada’s Parliament. This new information was collected by two University of Regina researchers, and was mostly collected from publicly available documents. I also recently watched this segment of the Last Week Tonight with John Oliver TV show – a segment that brilliantly dismantles the Miss America Pageant’s claim to be “the world’s largest provider of scholarships to women in the world” [sic]. The information for this segment was also collected from publicly available documents.

Now admittedly the Miss America Pageant’s misrepresenting its scholarship awards doesn’t have the same potential large-scale societal impact as federal legislation, but the reporting of both sets of information has something in common. They’re both good investigative journalism – and neither was done by journalists. (One commentator calls Oliver’s work “investigative comedy”.) So why are comedians and university professors doing the kind of investigative work that media organizations should be doing, but generally aren’t?

From my own experience, I can suggest a couple of reasons why investigative journalism is not (more…)

An Appreciation of “The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson”

As a Stephen Colbert fan, I was very happy to learn that Colbert will be the new host of The Late Show with David Letterman when Letterman retires in 2015. However, I was considerably less happy to learn that Craig Ferguson – who once was rumoured to be next in line for the hosting job on Letterman’s show – will be leaving The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in December of this year. (Apparently he has a new gig as a game show host starting this fall.)

I am a big fan of Ferguson and of The Late Late Show. And so is John Doyle, the TV critic for Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. Doyle wrote a column that pretty much nails all the reasons why Ferguson is such a great host(more…)