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Z on TV
Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
Ray and Janay Rice meet NBC's 'Today' show mega-marketing machine

NBC needed to bag a headline-grabbing interview after rival ABC got Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson first this week, and it did just that with Matt Lauer talking to Ray and Janay Rice before anyone else on TV as the former Ravens running back was reinstated in the NFL Friday.

NBC released a short promo clip late Friday of the interview that's scheduled to air Monday and Tuesday morning on "Today." Short as it is, this is an intriguing bit of video in several ways.

First is the family imagery from the still photographs NBC has released of the interview: Ray and Janay, her with their child in her arms, and her parents all standing in the kitchen. The image says: This is a family together, a family restored.

It is also interesting as to how Janay and Ray invited the media -- in this case "Today" in the person of Lauer and camera crew -- into their home after she had so bitterly denounced the media when he was suspended indefinitely and dropped by the Ravens.

You have to be impressed...

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Incentives for film, TV productions may be in jeopardy again

Frank Underwood might be the most powerful leader in the world on "House of Cards," but his fate could be determined in coming days by a small group of Maryland politicians led by Gov.-elect Larry Hogan.

The dust has hardly settled from last year's bruising battle over the amount of tax incentives the state would give "House of Cards" to keep the Kevin Spacey drama filming here, and already the Netflix series is back in the cost-cutting cross hairs.

Two real-life political developments have the film and TV production community here deeply worried that Maryland and "House of Cards" could be parting ways for good after filming of Season 3 ends next month.

First is a Department of Legislative Services report that says the state is only getting a 10-cent return on every dollar given in tax credits to film and TV producers who make their movies and shows here.

There is a hearing Tuesday in Annapolis on the report, which recommends that the state stop funding the tax incentive program as of...

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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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