Ed Martin: “Friday Night Lights” Speaks to the Realities of Hard Economic Times

Much like the working-class citizens of Dillon, the small Texas town in which it is set, Friday Night Lights hasn't had it easy during its three years on television. It has never commanded high ratings, it has never enjoyed the support of Emmy voters and it would not have survived beyond its sophomore season without the combined support of two television companies, NBC Universal and DirecTV, which share telecast rights. (Lights made its Season 4 premiere last week on DirecTV and will run on NBC sometime next year.)

Critics love Lights, and it has a devoted (if small) fan base, but beyond that life has been unaccountably hard for this outstanding show. So what's been the problem? I think it has something to do with timing. Lights debuted back in 2006, when unprecedented greed was consuming much of the country, including the working class. McMansions were viewed as starter homes. Shopping became a hobby. Money was the new religion, and nobody wanted to be reminded of those unfortunate souls who weren't rolling in it or (foolishly) living as if they were. That is, ordinary folks like the residents of Dillon who live in small homes, drive old cars, struggle to pay their bills and embrace simple pleasures, like parades, picnics and Friday night high school football.

Television reflected all of this economic madness, and with very few exceptions most characters in most series (including so-called working class people) were shown to be living in spectacular houses or apartments way beyond the average person's real life means, except during a catastrophic era of easy credit. Friday Night Lights dared to remind us that not everyone was living so large. I think the show's poor ratings reflected a lack of interest by credit-empowered viewers, while its lack of industry support come Emmy time probably had something to do with the fact that so many people who have succeeded in the entertainment industry would rather not be reminded that not everybody lives as well as they do. (For more on this, see the end of this column.)

But the time has never been better for a drama about people who know how to manage economic adversity. The residents of Dillon may not always rise above hard times but they aren't beaten down by them, either, perhaps because people don't always miss what they never had. The town finances in Dillon have been an issue throughout the life of the show, especially as they concern school funding, but this season they inform every moment of the storytelling. Coach Eric Taylor (Kyle Chandler) has fallen victim to the ruthless efforts of wealthy businessman Joe McCoy (D.W. Moffett) to exert his influence over Dillon High School and make his son J.D. (Jeremy Sumpter) the star quarterback of the Dillon Panthers. Ousted in a cruel power-play, Taylor is now charged with putting together a football team over at East Dillon High, a school on the poorer side of town that, when first glimpsed at the end of last season, was so run down it appeared to have been abandoned years ago. Meantime, his loving wife Tami (the ever-exquisite Connie Britton) is still the principal at Dillon High, where she has to contend with the people who engineered her husband's undeserved departure. She's also dealing with the predictably ferocious fallout from a re-districting plan that has sent some Dillon High kids over to East Dillon.

As financially challenged as Dillon High has been during the last few years, the sorry conditions at East Dillon make it look like one of those country club high schools found in towns like Westport, CT. The dilapidated facilities at East Dillon hold little promise, and many of its directionless students do little to inspire hope. Taylor in the season premiere took his best shot at cobbling together and disciplining his new team, the East Dillon Lions, but the challenge proved insurmountable, prompting him to lose his cool in a way we had never before seen. Taylor's always been such a quietly forceful guy that it was genuinely unsettling to watch him explode in the Lions' locker room, sending many of his new players stomping back to their comfort zones, uncomfortable though they may be.

Many of the popular young characters on this show have moved away, including Tyra, Lyla, Jason and Smash. The Taylors' daughter Julie (Aimee Teagarden) and the always dependable Landry (Jesse Plemons) are still around, as is Matt Saracen (the awesome Zach Gilford), though he's scheduled to be written out at midseason. The only one who seems to be in town to stay is former Dillon Panther Tim Riggins (the underappreciated Taylor Kitsch), who dares to decide that college isn't for him and happily drops out and returns home, eager to work at his brother's garage. It would seem to be a dead-ended existence but, significantly, Tim is cool with it, and why shouldn't he be? College isn't for everyone, and not everyone is anxious to leave everyone they love and everything they know once they finish high school. Tim's story provides a welcome change of pace.

I would have preferred another season with this group intact, because they are some of the most interesting young people ever to populate a television drama. But I won't object too loudly, because that's how things work in real life, and it will be interesting to watch the remaining characters (especially the Taylors) interact with new kids at each school.

For a renewed appreciation of the assurance with which Friday Night Lights remains grounded in everyday life, look no further than ABC's increasingly otherworldly Brothers & Sisters, which is so out of touch with reality it seems to have been beamed to earth from another galaxy. Why would its producers choose to tell a story about a wealthy woman contending with life-threatening cancer at a time when the maddening economics of health care are top of mind for so many financially drained Americans? Granted, there is much drama to be had in Kitty Walker's brave struggle with advanced lymphoma, but it's hard to relate to a character who can access the best medical care on two coasts without a glance toward her savings account while people are dying from cancer and other diseases simply because they cannot afford medical insurance or have been unforgivably screwed over by the insurance plans they have already purchased. Plus, Kitty luxuriates in a Pasadena mansion and enjoys catered rooftop dinners and private fireworks displays over the city of Los Angeles between chemo treatments!

Even when it's threatened, life is pretty damn grand up on Planet Walker. Still, I think I'd rather hang with the real people down in Dillon.

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2008-05-15-jmresize.jpg This post originally appeared at JackMyers.com.

Tillman-McChrystal Controversy? Jon Stewart Had It First

Screen shot 2009-11-02 at 4.59.59 PMThe big story to come out of Meet The Press this week has been author Jon Krakauer’s assertion that General Stanley McChrystal, commander of the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, was implicated in the cover-up about the death of Pat Tillman, the football-star-turned-Army Ranger who was killed in Afghanistan in 2004, ostensibly in an enemy attack but later revealed to have been killed by friendly fire. The Tillman story is tragic enough without the added layer of deception: The Bush Administration knew he’d been killed by friendly fire, yet lionized him as a hero falling to the enemy in a PR blitz. The subsequent discovery of that cover-up was a terrible black eye for the last administration — and, it seems, continues to have echoes in this one.

Krakauer’s book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman, quotes Aeschylus on the first page: “In war, truth is the first casualty.” This is what he alleges about the Tillman case — and he includes General McChrystal squarely in that assessment. But though that allegation only made big news this weekend on Meet The Press, Krakauer was equally emphatic a month ago on The Daily Show.

“That’s what McChrystal needs to understand – this isn’t gonna go away. he should come clean and tell what really happened.”

“Twelve hours later the coverup begins,” said Krakauer on September 30th, telling the story of Tillman’s death, and putting it into context: Abu Graib is just breaking, the battle of Falluja just happened, Bush is up for re-election in six months — “they need something to divert the country’s attention.” Said Krakauer to Jon Stewart: “That was a very conscious choice…the emails prove it…they are immediately talking about how to exploit this for political gain.”

What happened next is well-known: The military awarded the Silver Star to Tillman, in a citation that mentioned “devastating enemy fire” and which McChrystal as the presiding officer signed off on. The next day he sent a memo to top generals raising the possibility of friendly fire and urging them to downplay the “enemy fire” element. McChyrstal has said he did not intend to exploit Tillman’s death and “certainly regrets” how it unfolded.

Krakauer doesn’t agree, and said on the Daily Show: “Now this is awkward, because McChrystal is highly regarded. But he nevertheless was an instrumental – probably the point man – for this cover up.” Krakauer spoke of the tenacity of the Tillman family in getting to the truth: “That’s what McChrystal needs to understand – this isn’t gonna go away. he should come clean and tell what really happened.”

Krakauer was on over a month ago. It’s surprising that this one flew under the radar, given how many sharp-eyed journalists, bloggers and media-watchers tune into the Daily Show, and regularly report on the news it makes. But it can and does happen, and happened here. What this says about Krakauer, McChrystal and his book is no different than what was picked up from Meet The Press. But what this says about so-called ‘fake’ news is, keep your eye on it. People with important things to say make a point of trying to say them on the Daily Show. So don’t fall alseep before the interview.

Full Krakauer interview below; read an excerpt from Where Men Win Glory here.

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Cablevision’s Profits Triple, Revenues Rise


The third quarter is usually Cablevision’s weakest, but the company’s numbers actually turned out pretty strong and even beat analysts’ estimates. The Bethpage, Long Island, cable operator, which says it will have spin off its Madison Square Garden operations by year-end, saw net income triple to $98.4 million. The MSG entertainment unit, which houses the arena of the same name and several other NYC-area venues, as well as cable networks MSG and Fuse, the New York Knicks and Rangers, swung to a $12.3 million profit. In its primary New York market, Cablevision (NYSE: CVC) is fending off a strong challenge from Verizon (NYSE: VZ) FiOS.

Earlier, the AP cited Collins Stewart analyst Thomas Eagan’s forecast that Cablevision would lose 20,000 basic subscribers, but add 12,000 digital cable customers and 12,000 high-speed internet clients. Revenues at Cablevision’s daily newspaper Newsday were up a respectable 8.7 percent to $79.9 million. In light of its recent decision to limit most of Newsday.com’s content to print and cable subscribers, it will be interesting to see how advertising holds up in Q4.

Earnings release | Webcast (10:00 AM)

3Q 2009 3Q 2008 Estimate
EPS $0.34 $0.11 $0.26
Net Income $98.5M $31.4B
Revenue $1.84B $1.74B $1.82B

The Newsday segment consists of the newspaper of the same name, as well as free metro daily amNewYork, and weekly shopper Star Community Publishing. Despite the revenue growth, the unit’s AOCF was $5.6 million, down 34 percent, and posted an operating loss of $800,000 in Q3 versus income of $4.2 million in Q308.

Cable TV net revenues were up 4.5 percent to $1.303 billion. AOCF rose 12.5 percent to $550.9 million and operating income gained 24.5 percent to $350.2 million. Still, Cablevision lost more basic video customers than expected, as the segment was down 46,200 or 1.5 percent from last year. That was balanced out by digital video customers’ 73,800 or 2.6 percent, increase from September 2008. The number of high-speed data customers was up by 95,000 (3.9 percent) year-over-year. more to come


WaPo Vet Involved In Newsroom Punch-Up Surprised By Attention

Yesterday, we got news of a newsroom dust-up at the Washington Post, where Henry Allen, veteran features editor, criticized a "charticle" for its lack of quality and for his trouble got called a "cocksucker" by his colleague, Manuel Roig-Franzia, who had worked on said "charticle." Allen clocked Roig-Franzia, because what sort of world do you live in where you say that to a 68-year-old ex-Marine and not expect to get decked?

Allen, for his part, was apparently a little surprised by the way the story took off, telling Politico's Michael Calderone, "Back when I got into journalism, the idea that a fistfight in a newsroom would turn into a news story was unthinkable."

Times have changed, though! The sort of passion and experience that Henry Allen brings to the newsroom is getting downsized and bought out and banished -- in favor of dudes who assign charticles! So one can't help but see this punch-up as a microcosm of the ongoing softening of journalism as a whole. Allen's punch should be seen as a larger, more symbolic gesture. Maybe it's a surprising news story, but it tugs at something that's deeply felt.

Which doesn't mean the takeaway should be: "More journalists should punch each other, daily." Rather, I'd endorse the lesson that Spencer Ackerman distills from this story.

Now, I don't mean to act like some tough guy, and I get that continued gawking at Allen, especially with the glee that I evince, is part of the problem that Allen diagnoses. No argument there. But we in journalism have lost a passion and a no-bitch-ass-ness attitude that Allen possesses, and I think is more blessing than curse to the trade. And this is a trade -- not a profession. It's a mission, not a career.

I'm not saying that we should go around acting like pugilists. That's just its own brand of preening, soft pretension, as the farcical life of Norman Mailer demonstrated. But I am saying that we need to return to the crusading, no-nonsense, fact-never-fiction, unafraid-to-give-offense first principles that ultimately protects democracy. Verbal pugilism, not literal pugilism. Get back to rapping; we're T-Paining too much.

All this made me think about last week, when Representative Alan Grayson caught all that flack for referring to some lobbyist as a "K Street whore." This sort of proves the extreme limitations of maintaining a certain amount of that substance called "electability": you tell the truth a little too hard, and suddenly you're facing into a gale force gust swept up by the windmilling effect of everyone clutching their pearls at once.

Well, I've been paying attention to the way the health care sector has been lobbying away the potential good of health care reform, and I'll tell it to you straight: Those people are, in fact, whores. And there's no force on earth that will compel me to apologize for saying so. But you'll note that no one in the world even bothered to examine if there was anything important at the root of Grayson's reaction/remark. That's too bad, because that's where the health care reform story is, that's where the environmental legislation story is, and that's where the Wall Street regulation/derivatives reform/consumer protection/are-we-going-to-let-the-world-get-refracked again story is and shall be.

But the journalists we got are mainly delicate simps who fetishize wealth and turn the news cycle into one long paean to their popped garters whenever anyone says something mean about power. Their light's gone out, their fight's gone out, and when you see a flash of it, it makes you wonder where it went.

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Today’s Election Doesn’t Matter – Tea Partiers Ready For “Judgment Day” Next Year

judgment_11-3Tea Party Express organizer Mark Williams joined Anderson Cooper and Roland Martin on CNN last night to discuss the races today, and mainly what’s happening in New York’s 23rd congressional district.

And while there was a debate for the majority of the segment, Williams essentially described his organization and others are already looking toward “Judgment Day” – next year.

Williams said at the end of the segment, “You are seeing the beginnings. New Jersey, Virginia and the 23rd District of New York are going to be the first three victories in the countdown to Judgment Day, November 2, 2010.”

This is an actual movement, with a website up, and partnerships from FreedomWorks and others. You can even buy “Judgment Day” memorabilia.

According to TVEyes.com, “Judgment Day” has been mentioned on every cable news network within the last two months, in relation mainly to the Tea Party Express, which is the key driver of the term. In fact, it was mentioned in this context last night on MSNBC as well – by Rachel Maddow:

If the language that the RNC is using in that radio ad sounds familiar to you, it may be because you’ve seen it on the side of a Tea Party Express bus rolling through your town. The paint job on the “Judgment Day” bus for the Tea Party Express includes calls to end the bailouts, reduce the size of government, stop the out of control spending, enough is enough. The national Republican party and the Tea Party movement are starting to become one in the same.

With so few meaningful races this year, it makes sense to look toward 2010. But what happens if these first three victories don’t go the tea partiers way? They’ve likely wrapped up the Virginia governor race, but conservatives could conceivably lose in New Jersey and in New York’s 23rd district. But with the language being used, this year doesn’t mean much. It’s all about “Judgment Day” – and that’s not until 364 days from now.

Here’s the Cooper segment last night:

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Eric Boehlert: The Myth of Fox News’ Ratings Spike

Fact: The breathless claim that Fox News' ratings recently spiked thanks to the White House's public critique is bogus hype -- hype that Fox News and the Beltway press have relentlessly pushed.

It's just not true.

No matter how many times reporters and pundits made the claim, a detailed analysis of Nielsen ratings numbers clearly indicates that in the two weeks after the White House in mid-October sparked a media controversy by claiming Rupert Murdoch's channel was not a legitimate news organization, Fox News' ratings did not soar or go "through the roof." In fact, not only did Fox News' overall ratings not soar, they experienced no significant increase at all. Instead, in the two weeks following the initial verbal jousts with the White House, Fox News' total day ratings virtually flatlined.

Another example of the Beltway press not letting the facts get in the way of a good story? It sure looks that way. In this case, we saw nearly universal agreement among media elites that the White House decision to publicly call out Fox News was monumentally dumb, thin-skinned, short-sighted, and uncivil. (Paging the etiquette police!)

Another example of the Beltway press not letting the facts get in the way of a good story? It sure looks that way. In this case, we saw nearly universal agreement among media elites that the White House decision to publicly call out Fox News was monumentally dumb, thin-skinned, short-sighted, and uncivil. (Paging the etiquette police!)

Everyone said so. Therefore pundits were certain that Fox News' ratings were way up and that Obama and his aides had made a huge tactical blunder. The ratings angle simply provided statistical ammunition for what the Beltway press corps already knew to be the truth: Fact-checking Fox News, in the immortal words of The Washington Post's CW-loving Sally Quinn, was "absolutely crazy."

Except it turns out none of that was true. There was no viewer stampede toward Fox News.

Fead the full Media Matters column here.