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Z on TV
Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
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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Q&A with Mike Rowe

Mike Rowe has deep Baltimore roots that he says served him well during a decade as host of Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs." From spending a day on "Sesame Street" helping Oscar on his dirty jobs, to serving as pitchman for Ford F-150 trucks, the Towson University graduate has become a ubiquitous TV presence in his jeans, jersey, work boots and baseball cap.

Last month, the 52-year-old performer launched a new show, "Somebody's Gotta Do It," Wednesday nights on CNN. The series, which features people who are passionate about their jobs, opened strong, drawing about a million viewers, with half of them in the highly coveted 25-54 age range.

I've been seeing you in connection with Baltimore-related stuff this fall. There's a funny video you did at Camden Yards before one of the League Division Series games with Detroit, for example. Have you been back more?

I was born there, and I spent the first 25 years of my life there. And my parents are still there. And my old friends from high...

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New level of Fox News dominance demands analysis, not dismissal

Any day now, I am expecting to turn on the tube and see an ad that says, “More Americans get their TV news from Fox than anywhere else.”

Whether that pleases or horrifies you, it’s time to think seriously about what that says about Fox, CNN, MSNBC, the state of network news today and the role TV plays or doesn’t play in providing us with reliable, trustworthy information.

Much of the media establishment seems bent on ignoring the incredible ratings success of Fox News. Or, maybe it’s just that Fox has pounded CNN and MSNBC in the ratings for so long that another victory doesn’t seem like “news” – especially with MSNBC imploding and CNN committing to any genre but news in an effort to find new audiences.

But there are three ratings stories the last two weeks that taken together show Fox News rising to a new and remarkable level of dominance - and they have been underreported in the mainstream media.

First, Fox News beat not just CNN and MSNBC, but also ABC, NBC and CBS on Nov. 4, the...

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About to turn 3, 'Lilyhammer' might just be the future of TV

E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt is not one of the first people I ever thought of in connection with the future of TV.

But with the third season of his Netflix series, "Lilyhammer," about to drop Friday, I am here to tell you he has become indispensable to any discussion of where the medium is headed.

While Baltimore-made "House of Cards" is the series that generates most of our future-of-TV talk because of its digital and on-demand distribution model, "Lilyhammer" has all that and more. It preceded "House of Cards" as the first original series from Netflix to drop a full season all at once and be accessible 24/7 for streaming.

And I'll also tell you at least one way in which "Lilyhammer" is more intelligent, edgy and sociologically resonant than the Kevin Spacey political drama — in its ongoing critique of multiculturalism, the ideology that dominates American political life but is rarely explored in mainstream media.

Series creators Anne Bjornstad and Eilif Skodvin say they...

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