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Z on TV
Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
Viewers tune out MSNBC, tune in Fox and CNN on Ferguson

Fox and CNN were the channels most Americans turned to Monday night for coverage of Ferguson.

But the most striking story of the ratings was how few viewers went to MSNBC, where show host Al Sharpton has involved himself in the story as an activist.

Fox had the largest audience through the evening, but CNN drew the best demographics.

At 9 p.m. when the verdict was announced, Fox had 7.26 million viewers overall, while CNN had 6.26 million. MSNBC, which had Rachel Maddow as host at the time, had 2.2. million viewers.

But CNN drew 3.16 million viewers 25 to 54 years of age, while Fox had 2.19 million. MSNBC had 742,000 viewers in the age group.

For all of prime time (8 to 11 p.m.), Fox had 5.56 million viewers, while CNN had 5.08 million viewers.

MSNBC, meanwhile, had only 1.6 million. That defines also-ran status for the highly politicized channel.

In the 25 to 54 year old age group, for all of prime time, CNN led with 2.6 million, followed by Fox 1.7 million. MSNBC had 544,000 viewers...

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Cable news captures remarkable moments of split-screen history in Ferguson Monday

Viewers watching cable TV coverage out of Ferguson Monday night witnessed a remarkable split-screen moment. 

Just as President Obama was shown live from the White House saying that throwing bottles and smashing windows were not the way citizens should respond to a grand jury decision not to indict the white police officer who fatally shot a black teen in August, viewers saw bottles, tear gas and flash bangs starting to fly through the streets of Ferguson. Cameras zeroed in on protesters smashing windows on a police car as they rocked it back and forth.

As Obama left the podium and disappeared from his half of the screen, the Ferguson half of the screen showed the police car on fire, law enforcement officers advancing on protesters and the sky lit by plumes of smoke and flames.

The images and the violence worsened during the night with store windows smashed, buildings looted and businesses set on fire with flames shooting high into the air. Gunshots were heard repeatedly on the audio....

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Bill Cosby's bad bet that old media gatekeepers could still keep secrets for him

The discussion on "Media Buzz" today was about Bill Cosby and the way one of the greatest careers in TV history was coming undone in the face of allegations of sexual assault and rape from 16 women.

Here's a link to the video, with me stating without reservation that Cosby's legacy has already been greatly damaged. (I hate not being able to post the video itself on my blog, but this platform is having technical difficulties.)

I am also including the AP interview (video above) with Cosby, even though everyone has probably seen it by now.

The reason for including it is to ask you to watch it through a very specific lens. Watch it as a snapshot of someone who does not know the media world has changed and thinks his powerful publicist can make a phone call to a gatekeeper (in this case, Associated Press) and keep a story away from the public.

There still are gatekeepers. Indeed, AP behaved like one from the old days sitting on the interview for almost two weeks.

But gatekeepers can no...

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PR can't overcome truth of 'Serial,' 'Wire'

Listening last week to "Serial," the hit podcast about a 1999 teen murder in Baltimore, I couldn't help thinking about all the folks from the mayor on down who believe they can change the city's media image with some positive public relations.

And I couldn't help thinking how daunting — maybe impossible — a task they face.

It seems like I have been writing about the media image of Baltimore all year in these pages. If it isn't Baltimore and murder, it's Baltimore and drugs. And if it isn't drugs, it's reports like the one in April about the Black Guerrilla Family gang taking control of the state prison here. Cable TV news loved that one.

In May, I wrote about Stephen Colbert calling Baltimore an "uninhabitable wasteland" on Comedy Central.

In June, it was Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake relaunching her $1.56 million-a-year public-access cable channel with less coverage of public meetings and more HGTV-style programs aimed at "telling a positive story about many of the great things that...

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Producer Sarah Koenig on Baltimore-set 'Serial,' a global podcast hit

Sarah Koenig, a former Sun reporter, is host and executive producer of “Serial,” a podcast from the producers of public radio’s “This American Life.” The weekly, non-fiction account of a Baltimore murder involving students at Woodlawn High School is the media hit of the fall. At the center of 'Serial' are Hae Min Lee, who went missing in 1999 and whose body was found a few weeks later in Leakin Park, and her former boyfriend Adnan Syed, who was convicted of murder, sentenced to life plus 30 years in prison.

It has been downloaded and streamed more than  5 million times, according to Apple. And that’s only one way to access it. Beyond the U.S., “Serial” is at the top of the download charts in countries ranging from Germany to India. The Sun talked to Keonig today as a new episode became available to listeners.

So where are you in the “Serial”  narrative? How many more episodes?

We’re planning 12. We just released the ninth this morning, so we’re thinking about three more. But we’re...

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Once idealized as TV dad, Bill Cosby becoming pariah to industry

Just as TV once helped create the image of Bill Cosby as the idealized father, Cliff Huxtable in the "The Cosby Show," so is it now helping in the undoing of that image, with Netflix shelving a Cosby standup comedy special that had been scheduled for Nov. 28 and NBC cancelling a deal it had with the 77-year-old comedian to develop a sitcom.

The proposed NBC family sitcom was supposed to feature Cosby in the role of a patriarch.

And now comes TMZ late Wednesday reporting that TV Land has eliminated Cosby from its website, shutting down all links to his TV shows. (Read that here.) This could be worst news of all for Cosby in this very bad week as it suggests he is already starting to be erased from TV history.

The actions by NBC, Netflix and TV Land come in the wake of multiple allegations by women that Cosby raped them in the 1970s and '80s.

Cosby, who had previously settled one such claim, denies the allegations, but his denial through a spokesman that he "is not going to dignify" the...

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