By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
ON ANY GIVEN DAY, the major TV networks rarely demonstrate good judgment, much less morality, when it comes to accepting a litany of nauseating advertisements. Hemorrhoid creams. Vaginal ointments. Erectile dysfunction. Army recruiting ads that portray war as a gee-whiz video game. KFC’s claim that fried chicken is the new health food. And, lest we forget, Bud Light’s farting horse during the Super Bowl.
But ads for the October 5 release of the new Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD?
Now that makes Big Media gag.
L.A. Weekly has learned that CBS, NBC and ABC all refused Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD advertising during any of the networks’ news programming. Executives at Sony Pictures, the distributor of the movie for the home-entertainment market, were stunned. And even more shocked when the three networks explained why.
“They said explicitly they were reluctant because of the closeness of the release to the election. All three networks said no,” one Sony insider explains. “It was certainly a judgment that Sony disagrees with and is in the process of protesting.”
And protest Sony did. (Michael Lynton, the onetime Pearson publishing executive who is now chairman and CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment, has privately told people he hasn’t seen anything like this since his Penguin Group published Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses.) What especially galled the Sony suits was this: The networks had no problem having the DVD ads appear on their entertainment shows so long as the guidelines for R-rated content like Fahrenheit 9/11 were followed. However, Sony executives told L.A. Weekly they wanted only to market the movie’s DVD on CBS’s, NBC’s and ABC’s news shows. “But all three networks said no to straight news,” one Sony exec explained. “Then, suddenly, the networks were extending the definition of news programming to include the news magazines and the morning news shows and restricting access to those as well. That becomes very problematic to any advertiser trying to reach an adult audience.”
Finally, this week, Sony’s protests started having an effect. “We’re now getting movement,” a Sony suit told L.A. Weekly Monday night. Sony corporate senior vice president Susan Tick claimed Tuesday that the initial ban on the morning news shows was lifted, and time on an NBC Dateline had been made available. But she also confirmed that the early-evening news shows are still verboten, and ABC still remains adamant that the DVD can’t be advertised on its PrimeTime Live. Meanwhile, the DVD ads’ status on the other network news shows is murky at best. (Sony execs emphasize that Fox was not part of this cabal — apparently because no Fahrenheit 9/11 DVD ads were planned there.)
Just when we think Big Media’s handling of this election can’t get any worse, something like this comes along and we realize the situation is totally whack.
For all the hundreds of thousands of words broadcast and written about so-called Rathergate, the news of Sonygate hasn’t received any attention at all. Yet here is more bile rising in our throats as Big Media does yet another favor for Dubya. At the very least the networks managed to delay Fahrenheit 9/11’s DVD ads for several weeks by claiming they had to consult their attorneys to make sure the ads didn’t fall under the Federal Election Commission rules governing electioneering communications — a bunch of laughable hooey, especially considering the armadas of attorneys already on network payrolls keeping the Election Commission at bay. And speaking of lawyers, how interesting that Big Media spent so much time spanking — or, worse, ignoring — Kitty Kelley’s newly released The Family that dares to criticize the Bushies. When, by contrast, the networks fell all over themselves basically promoting the bejesus out of that swift-boat book of half-truths and full lies, Unfit for Command. As if, in some parallel universe, the lawyers for Kelley’s publisher, Doubleday/Random House, are inferior to those of the Swifties’ Regnery Publishing.
WHERE IS THE LEVEL playing field? Gone, thanks to the shenanigans of Big Media. Nor is it an exaggeration to state that the networks increasingly look like they’re doing everything possible to help George W. win re-election. At least that wily old codger Sumner Redstone had the balls to come out this weekend and say what everyone already knows is true: “There has been comment upon my contribution to Democrats like Senator Kerry. Senator Kerry is a good man. I’ve known him for many years. But it happens that I vote for Viacom. Viacom is my life, and I do believe that a Republican administration is better for media companies than a Democratic one.”
Like, duh! Who else but Dubya and his FCC frown posse, led by Michael Powell, is never going to meet one media merger after another they didn’t like? And in return for all that conglomeration and consolidation, all Big Broadcasters have to do is fork over minor fines whenever they deflower the virgin ears and eyes of the public.
And with more money to spend on political ads this election year (hell, everyelection year), the Republicans are helping Big Media climb out of their recession-caused red ink. As Broadcasting & Cable reported this month, ad spending in markets across the country is “flat to down” this year. But thanks to all those GOP attack ads against Kerry and his own spots to defend against them, ad spending, especially in the battleground states, is “through the roof,” up 14 percent to 15 percent.