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Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
Trevor Noah's tweets could be serious threat to future of Comedy Central

In a culture where we whip ourselves into instant media frenzies and then move on forgetting only days later what it was that so upset us, maybe Trevor Noah’s tweets won’t be such a big deal by the weekend.

But the offensive tweets that surfaced within a day of the 31-year-old South African comedian being named Monday as Jon Stewart’s replacement on "The Daily Show" make me think Comedy Central might have made a very bad choice in filling one of the most important chairs in popular culture.

And if that turns out to be true, the channel’s earnings are going to plummet. Before Stewart and the recently departed Stephen Colbert, Comedy Central felt like a tin-can cable channel to me. Those two are the Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig who built that franchise intro a TV powerhouse, and to replace one of them with a guy who makes these kind of jokes could be deadly.

I love stand-up comedy. I love the fearlessness of comedians like Mort Sahl, Richard Pryor and, yes, let me put Amy Schumer on that...

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Sarah Fleischer leaving airwaves at 98 Rock after 38 years

After 38 years on Baltimore radio, Sarah Fleischer announced her retirement today. Her last day on the air will be June 5.

The announcement was made on 98 Rock's "Morning Show with Justin, Scott & Spiegel," according to a press release from the station.

Here's the release: 

Sarah has been an on-air personality for all 38 years of 98 Rock’s existence – an anomaly in the ever fluctuating media world.  A 2002 inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the radio icon with the sultry voice and genuine enthusiasm for her job, has become an institution - dubbed Baltimore’s Queen of Rock.

A Baltimore native, Sarah graduated from The Broadcasting Institute of Maryland in 1976 and landed a job at WMAR-FM – a beautiful music station.  Rumors circulated that WIYY-FM was changing from an all-news to all-rock format. Sarah, a rocker at heart, placed a call to the Program Director at that time, and was hired as one of the first 98 Rock personalities.  The rest, as they say, is history.


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Cancer documentary featuring Hopkins takes risks, reaps rewards

"Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" is one of the biggest, boldest, bravest and, ultimately, most inspiring documentaries I have ever seen.

Set in large part at Baltimore's Johns Hopkins Hospital, the PBS film from producer Ken Burns and director Barak Goodman is big, at an estimated cost of $13 million, and bold in taking on nothing less than the history of cancer and research efforts to conquer the deadly disease from the Middle Ages on.

But what makes this production so daring, inspirational and worthy of six prime-time hours Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are the personal stories Goodman and his team found at Hopkins among the patients, family members, doctors, nurses and researchers with whom the film crews embedded. Great documentaries are usually the result of access gained, wise choices made and great risks taken, and "The Emperor of All Maladies" is steeped in all three, thanks in large part to the verite treatment of these personal sagas.

One story features 14-month-old...

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First look at a final struggle for the soul of 'Mad Men'

I can’t believe how cold the opening episode of the last season of “Mad Men” left me.

How did I once love this series so much and how could I now be so indifferent to its final stretch of seven episodes that begins April 5 on AMC?

Creator Matthew Weiner, who wrote the April 5 episode, sent along a letter with all the story lines he doesn’t want reviewers talking about. By the time you get to “Don’s romantic life,” there is not much left on the table for discussion.

If I even mention the title of the opening song, I’m giving away the year in which the episode is set, and that’s another thing Weiner says is a no-no.

That’s OK. I don’t want to be accused of spoiling any fan’s pleasure.

I fell out of love with this series when it stopped aspiring to be The Great American Novel and settled for being The Great American Glossy Magazine Cover – or maybe just a sexy and pretty catalog cover for men’s and women’s clothing.

In other words, “Mad Men” lost me when it became more artifice, staging...

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New Ken Burns documentary features Hopkins cancer care unit

A new Ken Burns-produced documentary on cancer premiering on PBS later this month features several patient stories and interviews conducted with clinicians and scientists at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Dr. Siddhartha Mukherjee, "Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies" will air nationwide on PBS stations on March 30, March 31 and April 1. The six-hour documentary, for which Burns was the executive producer and chief creative consultant, will air in three two-hour episodes at 9 p.m. each night.

The Cancer Center was one of two facilities where documentarians filmed clinicians and patients "in their daily journey with cancer," according to a news release on the project from the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center office of public affairs.

Dr. William Nelson, the center's director, was quoted in the news release as saying, "Because cancer is so feared and is now ranked by the World Health Organization as the deadliest of all diseases, we...

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Hits like 'Empire' signal major shift in look of network TV

Diversity sells.

That's the takeaway from the 2014-2015 network TV season. And as a result, primetime network television, the largest stage in American popular culture, is never going to be as white again.

From "Empire" on Fox to "How to Get Away with Murder" on ABC, the networks bet bigger than ever on series featuring nonwhite characters in leading or featured roles this year, and as the season enters its homestretch, they are reaping the rewards.

Working within a business model where as many as four out of five new series are regularly canceled, the networks are batting almost .500 in the number of rookie shows featuring characters of color that will likely be renewed.

CW has already announced a second season for the telenovela-cum-sitcom "Jane The Virgin," with Latina leading character Jane Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez). ABC has not made it official yet, but star Viola Davis and the producers of ABC's "How to get Away with Murder" have let fans know that the series from creator...

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