The Television Critics Association Press Tour, Part II

July 16th, 2008

Backstage before our last press conference for Make ‘Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America (which premieres in January), we talked with Saturday Night Live writer Ann Beatts, writer and performer Richard Lewis and The Daily Show’s Senior Black Correspondent, Larry Wilmore.

Ann told us about last-second writing tips she received in an SNL show hosted by Billy Crystal (who we just announced to the critics is the host of Make ‘Em Laugh).

Richard talked about Curb Your Enthusiasm, both about the brilliant outlining of the series by Larry David and their chemistry when they ad-lib scenes.

I really enjoyed talking to Larry Wilmore from The Daily Show because we’ve both covered the news….though he reminded me that he covers the FAKE news. He said he has a real appreciation for how hard it is to do serious journalism.

left to right: Neal Shapiro, The Daily Show’s Larry Wilmore, Michael Kantor (Make ‘Em Laugh filmmaker), former SNL writer Ann Beatts, Stephen Segaller (Thirteen’s VP of National Production), Aaron Brown, comedian Richard Lewis, David Horn (Executive Producer of Make ‘Em Laugh)

And then, the three comedians walked out of the green room, onto the stage facing those serious journalists, and made them laugh.

The Television Critics Association Press Tour, Part I

July 15th, 2008

This past weekend, the TCA (television critics association) held their bi-annual press tour in Los Angeles.

Each network rolls out its new programs in an auditorium, while an army of television critics, seated at long tables, ask questions. Many of the features you will read regarding upcoming television programs over the next 6 months contain quotes given during this event.

We were rolling out several of the programs that we produce for PBS, including American Masters: You Must Remember This: The Warner Brothers story; Nature: Bald Eagle; Great Performances: Cyrano de Bergerac and our upcoming series Make Em Laugh: The Funny Business of America. We also had Aaron Brown, the new anchor of Wide Angle, at a reception for the critics.

On the plane trip from NY, I watched National Treasure, a Disney release starring Nicholas Cage and Jon Voight. Our first event was the announcement of our American Masters series You Must Remember This: The Warner Brothers story.
As we went backstage to get ready, Kellie Specter, our Director of Communications, said to me, “We have a last minute addition to our panel — Jon Voight!” He has been in many films for Warner Brothers, so he came to talk about his experience with the studio.

As we chatted backstage, Jon told me he loved making the National Treasure movies–another might be on the way–but he has a hard time saying which movie is his best. Unlike some actors who never watch their own work, the Oscar winner said when he comes across one of his movies, he might stop and watch a few minutes because some scenes still strike a chord with him.

Neal Shapiro and Jon Voight

He told us a great story about making Deliverance … seems Burt Reynolds was always a prankster and loved to tease his co-stars. They were filming the movie in the gorges and canyons of Georgia, and Jon said that between takes, most of the cast would just sit on the rocks and ignore the director’s chairs with each of the star’s names that were always lowered into whatever gorge they were filming in…all except Burt Reynolds.

Every day, Reynolds would sit in Jon Voight’s chair. This went on for two weeks and Jon knew that Burt was doing it deliberately. Finally, he could wait no longer and he had to ask:

“Burt, I notice you have been sitting in my chair — I don’t have a problem with it, but I’m wondering why.” “Well, you see, Jon,” Burt said, “when I sit in your chair….I can look at the chair with MY name on it!”

The rest of the panel for our American Masters series (which will premiere in September) spanned the decades of Warner Brothers history: Richard Shickel, the Time magazine critic and director of our film; Dick Donner, producer of Superman and others; Joan Leslie, actress who starred with James Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy and many others; Jon Voight; and Susan Lacy, the executive producer of American Masters. The critics loved it.

The next day, we gathered for another event, a press conference for Great Performances: Cyrano de Bergerac (which premieres in early January). I went backstage with Aaron Brown and we met with Kevin Kline, who plays the title role.

left to right: Neal Shapiro, Aaron Brown, Kevin Kline, Stephen Segaller (Thirteen’s VP of National Production), Paula Kerger (President and CEO of PBS), David Horn (Executive Producer of Great Performances)

From his movie roles, you might think Kevin Kline is funny, charming, gracious and intelligent. But when you talk to him one on one, you find out that he is …. funny, charming, gracious and intelligent.

We talked a bit about his many movie roles. I asked if he knew as he was making a movie if it was going to work or not, if the chemistry was there, and he said…Not really! He is much too gracious to name any names (though I really wanted to know) but he said he did one movie which turned out quite well but while he was making it, he was sure he had no chemistry with of his co-stars.

He certainly has chemistry with Jennifer Garner and Daniel Sunjata, his co-stars in Cyrano. He told reporters he first had some concerns about Garner, whose TV work as the star of Alias was well known, but not her theater background and training. He said his concerns disappeared because from her first read-through, she was great.

Kevin is gracious and generous in one way that many viewers may not recognize: to do plays like this, he makes far less than he could from a big movie role. He does it because he loves the theater and he loves public television’s ability to bring these plays to a much larger audience. We love being associated with him.

Weekly Press Digest, July 9-13

July 14th, 2008

Selected press items:

“The big ending comes on Aug. 7 at Madison Square Garden as a benefit for PBS and public television in New York,” reports Roger Friedman of Fox News. “The B-52s will open the show at 8 p.m. But then, at 9 p.m., The Police — Sting, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — will play their last-ever show together anywhere.”

Wide Angle’s season launch with new host Aaron Brown continues to generate digital reams of press, including prominent mentions in United Feature Syndicate‘s daily TV roundup, USA Today, L.A. Times, Denver Post, Newsday, CanWest News Service, Hartford Courant, Ft. Worth Star-Telegram, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Wonkette, New York Times, and more.

The War of the World earned reviews and mentions in the Jerusalem Post, Detroit Free Press, Newsday, LA Times, United Media Service, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, among others.

The Associated Press calls Thirteen/WNET’s The Waterfalls – Making Public Art a “Special TV Event.” and Newsday touts the Waterfalls preview at SundayArts online.

CINE Golden Eagle Awards were won by Wide Angle: The Dying Fields, Exposé: America’s Investigative Reports, In a Small Town (Part 1 & Part 2), Nature: Crash – A Tale of Two Species, Nature: Parrots in the Land of Oz, Nature: Silence of the Bees, Nature: The Cheetah Orphans, Secrets of the Dead: Irish Escape, Secrets of the Dead: Herculaneum Uncovered, American Masters: Atlantic Records: The House That Ahmet Built, American Masters: David Hockney: The Colors of Music, American Masters: Les Paul: Chasing Sound, American Masters: Pete Seeger: The Power of Song, Curious: Mind/Brain/Machine, and Curious: Survival. (Links to all these shows, including, in many cases, full online streaming video, here.)

Weekly Press Digest, June 27 – July 8

July 8th, 2008

Selected press items:

The New York Observer interviews Aaron Brown, the new host of Thirteen/WNET’s Wide Angle series. And USA Weekend writes: “Former CNN news anchor Aaron Brown returns to TV tonight on PBS’ Wide Angle. I know this is happy news for many of you news junkies out there…”

The New York Times calls The War of the World with Niall Ferguson ‘a brash, copious, assured investigation of 20th-century global violence,’ adding “Mr. Ferguson’s feisty pedantry is purely the provenance of PBS and a reminder of why the network ought not vanish.”

“Almost from the day he arrived in February 2007 as president and designated heir to CEO Bill Baker, Shapiro began to question long-held assumptions about production, promotion, scheduling and fundraising. He even dared to challenge the PBS penchant for narrating documentaries at the pace of a Gregorian chant,” writes TV Newsday in an extensive feature interview with Neal Shapiro.

Thirteen/WNET’s documentary, The Waterfalls – Making Public Art, has received press in The New York Times, The Daily News and The Star Ledger.

The New York Post’s Page Six includes a photo of actress Gretchen Mol at Monday’s New York and Toyota Celebrate Nature event at the Central Park Zoo.

This week’s Reel13 shorts winner, filmmaker Pedro Carvajal, is featured in The Jersey Journal.

The Irish Echo highlighted The Police: Synchronicity Concert and where to get tickets for The Police’s last concert at Madison Square Garden.

The New York Times highlighted Made in Spain on WLIW21.


July 3rd, 2008

Since I’ve been here at Thirteen, the idea of getting back to nature has taken on a whole new meaning. Monday night this week, it meant hanging out at the Central Park Zoo with our NATURE series producers and funders, and chatting with actress Gretchen Mol next to the sea lions. The event, a celebration of our upcoming NATURE: American Eagle film (airs November 2008), was hosted by Toyota and Thirteen/WNET New York and generously sponsored by the Condé Nast Media Group.

Neal Shapiro and Gretchen Mol

Over cocktails, a group of a hundred patrons and special guests mingled and took in the oasis that is the Zoo, a real jewel within this bustling big city of ours. We gathered for a few photos with our VIPS, including Neil Retting (filmmaker of American Eagle); Fred Kaufman (Executive Producer of Nature); Stephen Segaller (Thirteen’s V.P. of National Production); Shigeru Hayakawa (President & Chief Operating Officer, Toyota Motors North America); Dian D. Ogilvie (Senior V.P. & Secretary, Toyota); Steven Sturm (Group V.P. of Americas Strategic Research & Planning and Corporate Communications, Toyota) and Thomas Hartman (V.P. Corporate Sales, Condé Nast Media Group).

Talked a bit about parenthood and animals with Gretchen, a new mom and an avid NATURE viewer (she told me she finds the series relaxing), then headed to the ceremony. The crowd was wowed at the amazing film footage screened and the behind-the-scenes stories Neal Rettig shared, and we presented our friends at Toyota with a commemorative photo from the film, signed by the filmmaker. Not even a passing shower dampened the festivities, which included a live performance by One eskimO, the band that does the music in NATURE’s Toyota funding spot.

Neal Shapiro, Shigeru Hayakawa and Fred Kaufman
(both photos: Marion Curtis)

My kind of NATURE experience!

Weekly Press Digest

June 27th, 2008

Selected press items featuring WNET, its programs, projects and services from the period Friday, June 20 through Thursday, June 26.

  • “What a difference a new Congress makes,” observes B&C. “A House Appropriations Subcommittee has not only continued to grant the Corporation for Public Broadcasting advance funding, it has agreed to a $430 million appropriation for FY 2011 that is $10 million more than 2010.”
  • A special section in TV Week dedicated to this year’s Peabody Award winners offers a look at Nature’s Silence of the Bees (watch online!).
  • Playbill highlights SundayArts‘ Il Trittico, Ballet Biarritz and more.
  • Reel13’s presentation of Go for Broke gets a plug in Newsday and a blogger solicits votes for a Reel13 short.
  • Critic Aaron Barnhart raves about P.O.V. in the Kansas City Star.
  • The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer will once more be true to its name,” reports B&C. “Jim Lehrer will return to the show Thursday for the first time in two months. Lehrer exited the show in late April to undergo heart-valve surgery.”
  • PBS.org now claims a larger share of Web-site traffic than any of the commercial broadcast-network sites,” reports B&C.
  • Volunteer Recognition Day

    June 26th, 2008

    Inside Thirteen Blogger: Gloria Deucher, Director, Volunteer Services

    Yesterday we celebrated a very special event here at Thirteen. It was Volunteer Recognition Day! Although National Volunteer Week is observed in late April, at Thirteen we traditionally celebrate in June, at the end of the fiscal year. It just seems like a good time to take stock and recognize the accomplishment of our volunteers who contribute an extraordinary amount of time and effort to the mission and goals of the station.

    Thirteen staff member Cora Myers and
    volunteer Betty Lou Necarsulmer

    Our President and CEO Neal Shapiro primed the pump by sending out an all-station email reminding employees to pick up a ‘V for volunteer’ ribbon at the reception desk on their way in to work. It was great to see most people wearing the blue V-shaped ribbon. Employees realize that even if they don’t work directly with volunteers, their life here is enhanced by the volunteers’ presence. Neal noted that although it’s important to set aside a day to formally recognize our volunteers, a simple “Thank you” at any time during the year is an important investment in our volunteer program.Today we got to see how that investment pays off.

    At the luncheon in their honor, Neal pointed out that our volunteers racked up an impressive score card this year. Almost 120 individuals in departments throughout the company and an equal number of corporate volunteers contributed over 17,000 hours of service. They staffed the reception desk, helped with huge mailings, staffed the Member & Viewer Relations information line, answered those ringing pledge phones, gave tours and helped at community events such as World Science Day and the Teaching and Learning Celebration.

    Gloria Deucher (L) and Thirteen President & CEO Neal Shapiro present Elizabeth Nathan with her certificate for ten years of service.

    We paid special tribute to volunteers who celebrated significant milestones – 10, 15, 20 and – believe it or not- 30 years of service to the station. Really- how many of us can say we’ve been dedicated to a cause or stuck with a commitment for 30 years? But these people are not just dedicated to the mission of public television. There’s something more that keeps them coming back week after week, year after year. That “something” is the lasting bonds they have forged with their fellow volunteers and the staff at Thirteen. That camaraderie, team spirit and sense of accomplishment were very apparent in the room today. On days like today, we all know why we’re here.

    All photos: Joe Sinnott

    Interested in volunteering at Thirteen? Call 212-568-1313 for more information.

    Gone, But Not Forgotten

    June 25th, 2008

    Inside Thirteen blogger: Nan ‘otek’ Rubin, Project Director, Preserving Digital Public Television

    Recently, a huge fire ravaged several back lots of the Universal Studios, and you might have watched a blazing roof collapse into billows of thick, black smoke as reporters told us a New York city street scene and other bits of Hollywood scenery were gone.

    For the moving-image archivist community, it was far more alarming. The building that collapsed housed the Universal film library, and it was 40,000 plastic video and film boxes reduced to ashes that released all that toxic smoke.

    Universal sent out word that “…the fire destroyed nearly 100% of the archive prints kept on the lot. Nothing irreplaceable was lost, but many of these films will never be seen publicly again.” Even though these were only copies, they were shown at public programs and screenings, and now all of us have lost access to thousands of iconic films that have lived in popular memory for generations (except on Reel 13!).

    Like me, you may have also gotten important formative images from television. Added to movies, my early view of the world was indelibly shaped by Ernie Kovacs, CBS Reports with Edward R. Murrow and Great American Dream Machine, all in black and white.

    Now is this kind of history being saved?

    It’s easy to assume that, if you went looking for an old TV show, it would be right there on a shelf, waiting to be viewed. But it takes money and planning to create a media archive, a long-term investment that has to be maintained and supported over time.

    Losing the Universal vault was just another reminder of how important it is to preserve what you have. The video Archive was established 10 years ago, and though many programs were thrown out, taped over, lost from age, or never recorded in the first place, this collection has close to 35,000 videotapes, including many early programs and historical broadcasts. As Thirteen continues to produce, we’re adding outstanding new programs each year.

    But even though these shows exist, it may be very difficult to view them. Most older programs are on videotape formats that we can’t play back without specialized expertise and equipment. At the same time, new programs are increasingly taking the form of video files, which themselves may not be viewable in a few years without planning their playback now.

    Safely storing Thirteen’s programs is crucial, but that’s not enough to keep them viewable. Over time, we also need the extra commitment of restoring them. Then not only will we be saving our television history, but also guaranteeing that copies will continue to live and be seen well into the future.

    Congratulations Graduates! at Thirteen

    June 23rd, 2008

    Inside Thirteen blogger: Josh Kail, Associate Publicist at Thirteen

    Graduating students who participated in the GED Connection and GED en Español programs produced by Thirteen/WNET

    This past Tuesday I had the opportunity to see the unique impact Thirteen/WNET has on the community beyond the glow of the television set. Over 100 men and women, surrounded by their friends and family, were awarded their General Educational Development (GED) diploma in our main studio. These graduates came from all around the city, where for the past year, with the help of their dedicated teachers, they studied, learned and ultimately passed the GED exam.

    The atmosphere in the halls at Thirteen was noticeably different, the busy hustle of business replaced by the excitement and pride of the day. Each of these students had their own stories and reasons as to what brought them to this point in their lives, but this one event was the culmination of their unified goal. The pride in that collective success could be felt by everyone.

    I am proud that Thirteen had an active part in the success of some of these students. By broadcasting GED Connection and GED en Español, adult students whose busy schedules do not allow for them to participate in traditional classes are able to record these programs to help them prepare for the exam. This, coupled with the availability of tutors and teachers, gave a helping hand in their success.

    Although the graduation has passed and the graduates have moved on to their next goal, Thirteen’s commitment to education continues. This year was just one in nearly twenty of GED programming and graduations, and thankfully, it is not the last. A new year of educational programming for students of all ages is close to starting, and the same opportunities provided for the 2008 graduating class are open to the future 2009 graduating class. Go here for more information about Thirteen’s adult education projects, or see the Adult Education section at EdOnline.

    More graduating students — all photos: Joe Sinnott

    A Review of This Week’s Press

    June 20th, 2008

    Inside Thirteen Blogger: Hugh Siegel, Communications

  • The Police: Public Television Rocks! special on Thirteen and WLIW21 earned notable local press, including a highlight in the New York Times. “The 90-minute amalgam of concert footage and interviews essentially kicks off the general public sale for their August finale, while pumping public TV at the same time. Sounds like giving Sting that lute special really paid off,” quips <a href=”http://www.newsday.com/services/newspaper/printedition/saturday/act2/ny-b5726468jun14,0,2292659.column”
  • Thirteen/WNET will take viewers behind the scenes of the New York City Waterfalls, visit current public art installations around New York, and look back at past public art in the city in The Waterfalls — Making Public Art, notes the Brooklyn Eagle.
  • “For the fifth consecutive year, a GfK Roper Public Affairs & Media poll shows Americans consider PBS the nation’s most trusted institution among nationally known organizations and an excellent value for taxpayer dollars, second only to the defense of our nation,” according to a PBS press release.
  • “. . . as we know from all those pledge drives, without PBS, Thirteen and programs like Great Performances, we’d be culturally poorer,” says Remote Access. “So enjoy Bohème, and if you miss it tonight, catch the rebroadcast at noon Sunday as part of SundayArts Showcase.” Playbill’s weekly coverage of SundayArts looks at La Bohème, Charles Strouse Birthday Tribute and more.
  • Two public television stalwarts are in the “highbrow/brilliant” quadrant of New York Magazine’s “Approval Matrix” this week – Bill Moyers, who was seen in a smash viral video on the Web, and This Old House, which is finally crossing the Hudson.
  • Catholic News Service reviews The War of the World, calling it “a provocative revisionist interpretation of the major conflicts of the 20th century, humanity’s bloodiest epoch,” and “a briskly paced and informative look at the violent lessons of the last century.”
  • The New York Times highlights The Human Face on WLIW21
  • Aaron Brown and Wide Angle are noted on this blog and this one.
  • “Tigress Productions has completed filming on a new high-definition natural-history documentary for BBC Two and U.S. broadcaster WNET that follows the personal story of a mountain gorilla called Titus,” World Screen reports. “Commissioned by Tim Martin at the BBC and Fred Kaufman at WNET, Titus: The Gorilla King is . . . scheduled to launch on BBC Two later this year in the Natural World series.”
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