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Fall Flops and a Rush to Judgment 

Responses to readers

The FCC has come and gone, and "I've got mail" from all over as I gorge on the teensy Halloween Snickers hoarded from the greedy little kids that came to call. One told me (with his mother standing on my porch), "I don't like any of your candy." That's the same mood I'm in, as I try valiantly to take on some of the recent questions from you, the beloved home reader.

You said the fall season sucked in one of your columns last month. You were right. Thanks for the compliment, though I didn't exactly say "sucked." I usually leave that sophisticated indictment to goateed beer-belly sorts that call sports radio talk shows. What I said was that "the disposable summer rerun season becomes a disposable fall, with little cutting through the clutter."

And darned if some Nielsen ratings number aren't backing that up. The New York Times has reported that ratings for the first three weeks of the fall season are "alarming," with hits like ER and Friends losing viewers, and new shows aren't doing much better. Even Fox's heavy pimping efforts during the baseball postseason didn't make a difference. Network bosses' big fear? If you're to believe those ratings sheets, men aged 18-24 are nowhere to be found on the viewing radar.

I hold out some hope with 24 returning this week, one of the coolest shows on TV, unless its plot device wears thin. But look at dreck like Joe Millionaire. An American cowboy hoodwinks some foreigners pledging oil money and undying love. Sounds familiar, somehow.

I have a great idea for a local documentary. How can I get it produced? I wish you a guarded "good luck." Pardon the cynicism, but reality tells us that while there's a viewership for documentary work like Ken Burns' work on PBS and programs on the History Channel, the local doc is almost extinct.

If you walk in the door of a PBS station from Charlotte to Anchorage, you'll find that even if they love your idea, funds are limited, and you'll be on your own to find the cash for paying for the film or video photographer, lighting and audio persons, any stock footage or photos that you need, and then editing, marketing, and distribution. Grant writing is one way to go, but it's a competition for that money.

Local producers scrap for grant money, and often pay for much of the expense from their own pockets, so don't ever think it's a moneymaking proposition. But if you're determined, do your homework before you take the plunge, and run the topic by lots of folks to see if you're the only one who would actually watch it. Also, go to www.pbs.org/producers where there's a good overview for independent producers.

With that said, local documentary maker Steve Crump won the prestigious Dick Schaap Excellence in Sports Journalism Award from Northeastern University last week for his terrific 2001 film Forgotten at the Finish Line. The documentary was a look at the important but little-publicized contributions made by African American jockeys to the horse racing industry (for instance, of the 15 jockeys in the first Kentucky Derby, 13 were African American). Forgotten was a local co-production with WTVI. Crump is currently working on a new documentary about the civil rights sit-in reunion in Charlotte, which will debut on WTVI in February 2004.

I know that since you write for Loafing, you must hate Rush Limbaugh. Surprised you haven't bashed him yet. Deadlines being what they are, and my news-Spider-sense telling me that Rush's other shoe was about to drop, there hasn't been too much to say, though I've been surprised so much has been said and written about his second public fiasco in two months.

I'll say what I've always maintained about the ESPN "resignation": ABC/Disney/EPSN got what it paid for -- controversy. I'd like the execs who hired him to consent to interviews about what they were looking for when they hired him. That's an actual story.

I'm just hacked that Rush Limbaugh is an entrenched part of the "mainstream media" he bashes all the time, and his profits are exceeded only by ego. And like Michael Savage before him (fired by MSNBC earlier this year), he operates within a toasty cocoon of listeners that share his views. When guys like him step outside that cocoon, their act doesn't always play to a bigger audience.

As for his admitted addiction to prescription painkillers, it shows that even those most arrogant among us are human, too. I just wonder if that admission would ever have taken place without the National Enquirer, of all things, uncovering the scoop. Never thought Rush and Courtney Love would have something in common, did you?

Stay tuned.

E-mail with questions, feedback, and story ideas at Shannon.Reichley@cln.com.

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