Listen to me on KTRS/St. Louis every Friday, 3-6pm CT

Friday, June 23, 2017

KTRS Friday


I'll be back on my 3-6pm CT show on KTRS today.

In the first hour, I'll talk with Finn Murphy about his book, "The Long Haul: A Trucker's Tales Of Life On The Road."

In the second hour, Max and I will review "Transformers: The Last Knight," plus other movie/showbiz news.

In the third hour, you'll have a chance to test your trivia knowledge on my Harris Challenge, and I'll have a new batch of Knuckleheads In The News®.

You can listen over the air, via the station's free app, or at ktrs.com.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

How Does USA Today Stay In Business?


While staying in a hotel earlier this week, I picked up a free copy of USA Today in the lobby. Browsing through it, I couldn't help but wonder how this newspaper stays in business.

When USA Today launched in 1982, it was a big deal. Here was a truly national daily newspaper, full of color and eye-popping graphics, with tiny stories and factoids that instantly made it every radio personality's must-read prep sheet. But over the years, and certainly with the advent of the world wide web, USA Today became less and less important. Oh, sure, it's still available in thousands of hotels worldwide -- where it's free, so no revenue flows back to Gannett, its publisher, for those copies -- but I can't imagine anyone plunking down the cover price of $2/issue to pick one up at a newsstand, not to mention $225/year for home delivery. Not in an era when you can get all of its content for free (no firewall) on its website.

Sure, with all those free copies distributed in every state, USAT can boast about its reach and readership to potential advertisers, but there are a lot fewer of the latter today. The whole paper, still broken up into four sections, is only 28 pages long. Of those, there were only a total of 3 pages of ads on Monday -- including one full page, several mini-ads in its "Marketplace" listings, a one-third page legal notice, and a small sponsorship of its national weather map.

By the way, in the digital age, why are newspapers still printing weather maps and forecasts? Is there anyone who uses USA Today as a resource for that information, which is much more easily accessible on any smartphone? Just because it looked amazing in 1982 doesn't mean you still have to do it in 2017. Along the same lines, why are any newspapers still printing charts full of closing stock prices? That is literally yesterday's data, no longer relevant as soon as the market opens today -- and also available instantly, with more news about each company, on any digital device.

The entire newspaper business has been in upheaval for more than a decade, as readers found information available for free online instead, which led to advertisers jumping off the sinking ship of print. But while paper subscriptions continue to drop, some -- including the NY Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post -- have been smart about increasing their digital sides, where more people are paying for full access.

USA Today has made efforts along those lines, but I don't know how successful they've been. All I know is that the paper-and-ink edition of The Nation's Newspaper seems much less pertinent than ever.

Previously on Harris Online...

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Kelly File

Despite a lot of hype, Megyn Kelly's interview with Alex Jones drew only 3.5 million viewers Sunday night. That's less than a rerun of "America's Funniest Home Videos," which I didn't even know was still on the air (how many videos can there be of a father being hit in the balls by a plastic bat swung by his 4-year-old son?). That episode of Kelly's show is the lowest-rated of the three that she's done thus far, so the execs at NBC can't be happy.

They're learning an important lesson they should already have known -- there's a difference between a TV star and a cable news star. Kelly was successful at Fox News Channel because the standard for success (and truth, and sexual harassment) is much lower there than it is in the big-time TV universe. It's like when Katie Couric was hired away from NBC's "Today" show to anchor the "CBS Evening News." The latter hoped that all her viewers from the former would follow her, but they didn't because the two dayparts demand different skills and exist in separate and non-parallel universes. When it turned out that she wasn't the draw they expected her to be, Couric was yanked by CBS and replaced by Scott Pelley -- who has now been similarly dragged from the anchor chair after five years of so-so ratings and will be replaced by, oh, who knows.

Meanwhile, Kelly's former channel-mate Bill O'Reilly is making noise about how he's going to return to the public eye -- via a streaming show on his website. That's yet another universe, one with a much smaller potential audience. Of course, O'Reilly is full of so much hubris that he's sure the millions of fans that tuned in to his FNC show will now find him on the internet. Yeah, good luck with that, Bill. I think you're going to be sorely disappointed. Just ask Glenn Beck, who discovered his influence had essentially disappeared when he ran off to the online-only world to not make his fortune.

Back to Megyn Kelly. Those NBC execs who signed her to a multi-year, multi-million dollar contract -- but can't love her Sunday night ratings -- must be wringing their hands over the new daytime show she'll debut this fall, taking over one of the later hours of "The Today Show." Though no announcement has been made of exactly what that show will be (news-intensive, celebrity-guest-driven, or yet another Oprah imitation?), the network has to be a little worried that Kelly will follow the daytime disaster route already forged by other TV stars who tried to spread their wings but couldn't overcome the gravity of the Nielsen ratings. Besides Couric (who failed in that daypart, too), the list includes Anderson Cooper, Jane Pauley, Meredith Viera, Jeff Probst, Queen Latifah, Wayne Brady, and Megan Mullaly.

Whether this Megyn can find success at NBC is still an unknown. But she's not off to a very good start.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Best Thing I've Read Today

Katrina Vanden Heuvel on the media's malpractice on Trump:

One of the great ironies of the political moment is that President Trump’s sworn enemy has become, if not exactly an ally, an enabler of his agenda. For all of Trump’s griping about “fake news,” the mainstream media’s prevailing focus on palace intrigue and White House scandals has come at the expense of substantive policy coverage, allowing Trump and the Republican Party to advance harmful, hugely unpopular policies without the scrutiny they deserve.
She goes on to list several policy issues that aren't getting the attention they should, including climate change denial, unravelling Wall Street reforms, and health care:
Recent polls have identified health care as Americans’ No. 1 concern, but it has not been treated that way in the media. Since the House’s initial failure to pass a bill this spring, coverage of the issue has dwindled, with the exception of a brief spike when Republicans hastily pushed through a bill in May. Now, as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) secretly maneuvers to gut the Affordable Care Act — without holding hearings or releasing any legislative details to the public — many in the mainstream media have responded with a collective yawn. Even as reports of McConnell’s machinations emerged last week, The Post, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times each determined, for two consecutive days, that the rising likelihood of a bill passing did not warrant a front-page story.

At the same time, the wall-to-wall coverage of Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s bumbling testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee was just the latest example of the media’s myopic obsession with all things Russia. While the investigations into Trump’s campaign and the president’s possible obstruction of justice are clearly newsworthy, they have denied oxygen to other issues that have a far greater impact on Americans’ daily lives.
Read Vanden Heuvel's full piece here.

Broadway Weekend


I spent the weekend celebrating my mother's 93rd birthday with her, and my wife and daughter in New York City. While there, we took in three Broadway shows of different genres: a feel-good musical about 9/11, a farce where everything goes wrong, and a Noel Coward play starring Kevin Kline.

The best of the three was "Come From Away," which was nominated for (but didn't win) the Tony for Best Musical. It's about the little Canadian town of Gander, Newfoundland, where the population nearly doubled for a few days because of the 9/11/01 attacks. That day, when US airspace was closed, 38 planes were diverted to the Gander airport, where the locals opened their homes, schools, and businesses to help out the 7,000 stranded passengers and crew. The musical uses some of the real names and stories of those who were there.

"Come From Away" has a cast of 12 who play both the Gander locals and the plane people, telling their stories and experiences in song -- a score that's performed live by a band of six terrific musicians who are off to the sides of the stage. As the actors (many of whom have been with the show since its first run in La Jolla in 2015) switch between dozens of roles, the chemistry never suffers, and the characters come to life: the town mayor, an American Airlines pilot, a teacher, a gay couple, a cop, an SPCA worker, a Muslim man who is eyed warily, and many others.

The music is vibrant, the tales are gripping, the performances are so good that we joined the rest of the audience in leaping to our feet for the curtain calls (including a several-minute-long jam session by the band, which takes center stage for the finale). "Come From Away," which Ben Brantley called a "portrait of heroic hospitality," is the best musical I've seen since "Fun Home." This is a show that will not only have a long run on Broadway, but will no doubt be performed by road companies, regional theaters, and even high school/college drama departments for a long time to come.

Our second show was "The Play That Goes Wrong," an out-and-out farce. The show's basic conceit is that an amateur theater company is putting on a classic British mystery, "The Murder At Haversham Manor." In the tradition of such shows as "What The Butler Saw" and "Noises Off," "The Play That Goes Wrong" thrives on what my wife describes as The Three S's That Make A Farce Work -- slapstick, spit-takes, and slamming. Over the course of the play, the set falls apart, props are misplaced, actors forget their lines, the tech crew misses cues, and the corpse crawls off the stage only to return later.

"The Play That Goes Wrong" was written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer, and Henry Shields of Mischief Theatre Company, a group that reminds me of The Reduced Shakespeare Company, in that they have also written and performed similarly farcical prodcutions (e.g. "Peter Pan Goes Wrong," "The Nativity Goes Wrong," and "The Comedy About A Bank Robbery"). A show like this demands perfect timing, both verbal and physical, which the cast pulls off brilliantly. It helps that most of them have been with the production since it first appeared in London in 2014.

Finally, we saw Kevin Kline in his Tony-winning performance in "Present Laughter," a 1939 Noel Coward play (in which Coward originally played the lead). It is a drawing-room comedy, also British, but without any slapstick or spit-takes. This time, the comedy comes from the spoken word and the interaction between stage star Garry Essendine (Kline), his domestic staff, his long-suffering secretary, his business partners, his ex-wife, and his young ingenue lover.

Kline is onstage for the vast majority of the play, and gives a riveting performance in which every line reading and movement is just right for the character. He's so confident up there that he doesn't even mind turning his back on the audience a few times to allow the focus of attention to drift to his co-stars. Among them, the always-solid Kate Burton is best as his ex-wife. Interestingly, she played the ingenue in a 1982 production of the show, but now is the separated-but-not-completely Mrs. Essendine. Meanwhile, the young woman cast as the ingenue this time (Tedra Millan in her Broadway debut) looks strikingly similar to a young Phoebe Cates, who grew up to become Mrs. Kevin Kline. That brings a tinge of oddness to their scenes together.

So, three shows, three successes, and a great family celebration with Mom -- that's a pretty good weekend.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Movie Review: 47 Meters Down


In "47 Meters Down," Mandy Moore and Claire Holt play sisters on vacation at a resort in Mexico. They meet a couple of cute locals who convince them to go on an adventure (too bad they didn't see "Snatched," a cautionary tale about that). They agree to get on a boat captained by Matthew Modine, who will take them out into the part of the ocean that great white sharks call home. There, they'll get into a shark cage wearing scuba gear and be lowered into the water for an up-close-and-personal view of the sharks and other fish in their native habitat.

The two guys go first, and come up reporting on the amazing sights they've seen. Then Claire (who's been on several dives and is comfortable underwater) and Mandy (who has never been in scuba gear and is scared out of her mind) get in the cage, which is lowered five meters under the water. Sure enough, the sharks come by because the boat crew has been chumming the water, and the women get a good look at the beasts. But then, something goes wrong with the winch holding up the cage, which drops all the way to the ocean floor, 47 meters down.

That's the setup for the suspense that's supposed to come from whether the two sisters will be able to be rescued, or rescue themselves, before the air in their tanks runs out. Unfortunately, with everything that follows taking place down there, we're left in a murky underwater scenario with serious lighting issues (I can't even find a still photo from the production that's bright enough to put at the top of this page!). There might have been a lot of tension if we could see the sharks in the distance coming for them, but we only get to see the animals when they're right on top of our heroines. While that does create a couple of jump scares, it's not enough to sustain the tension for the final hour.

Then there's the problem of the ending. Writer/director Johannes Roberts must have felt his story wasn't grabbing the audience enough, because he threw in a dumb twist in the last 5 minutes that was completely unnecessary. The audience that I saw the movie with actually laughed when it was over. It wasn't giggling as a release a bunch of built-up tension -- it was laughing at how stupid the end of the movie was.

Last year, I gave an 8 out of 10 to "The Shallows," a movie in which surfer Blake Lively has to avoid being eaten by a great white shark, which was one of my Best Of 2016. Its story was much more compelling and the suspense seemed a lot more real compared to "47 Meters Down" which, despite running a mere 89 minutes, isn't in the same league.

By the way, the original distributor of "47 Meters Down" must have known it was a dud, because it was destined to skip theaters and go right to video last August before another studio bought the rights and held it for a year before its theatrical release this summer. The delay didn't make it any better.

I give "47 Meters Down" a 4.7 out of 10, which seems appropriate for its title.