Monday, January 31, 2011

Academy Ball with Paul Simon and Renee Fleming

Philadelphia high society celebrated the 154th anniversary of the Academy of Music with a Philadelphia Orchestra concert and ball on Saturday, January 29. Renee Fleming, considered by many the world's greatest soprano, and singer Paul Simon starred in the program conducted by Jonathan Nott. The ball, chaired by Tastykake CEO Charles Pizzi, and Sandra Marshall, jointly benefits the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Academy of Music Restoration fund.
The almost sold out crowd of 2100 guests REM's Mike Mills, political luminaries Senator Casey, Congressman Meehan, and Mayor Nutter, old Philadelphia families like (Lenfests, Binswangers, and McNeils), and corporate executives from local companies. The Academy Ball is the longest running and most successful benefit of any American orchestra.
The women were resplendent in long couture gowns, sparkling jewels, and furs. The men wore the Academy Ball uniform of white tie tails.
Fleming, dazzling in a red gown with a silver shawl, showed her range by singing a varied repertoire including arias from “La Boehme,” "I Feel Pretty" from "West Side Story,” and Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah.” She said, "I am awed to be on a stage where so many great performers have sung."
Paul Simon sang old favorites such as "Still Crazy After All These Years' and "Cecilia.” He shared with the audience the melancholy “Love and Hard Times” that will not be released until the spring. The 150 member Philadelphia All City Choir, called "Philadelphia's art treasure by Simon, joined him on stage for a rendition of the gospel tinged, "Loves Me Like a Rock."
Simon introduced his first ever duet with Fleming by declaring “the beginning of the Simon and Fleming era.” After hearing their powerful rendition of “Sounds of Silence,” the audience can only hope so.
Joanna McNeil Lewis, president of the Academy of Music, urged the audience, "To support Philadelphia cultural treasures such as the Orchestra, Academy of Music, and Tastykakes or Philadelphia will lose its uniqueness." MSNBC anchor Tamron Hall, host of the evening, announced that the Academy of Music restoration had just won the prestigious American Institute of Architects 2011 Honor Award for Interior Architecture.
After the concert, patrons marched en masse up Broad Street to the Hyatt at the Bellevue for the ball. The menu was champagne emulsion with caviar, filet of beef, duo of lemon and white chocolate, and an open bar. Guests boogied to the music of eight different bands until 2 am.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Olbermann's Firing by Comcast

I have talked to executives at Comcast and friends of the Roberts family. While they would not go on the record, they did make these points. Comcast was definitely part of the equation in the firing of MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann, but it was more complicated than that.

Everyone was tired of Olbermann's tantrums. Jeff Zucker was gone so Olbermann did not have a rabbi or booster in the room.

Phil Griffin, the head of MSNBC, was worried about keeping his own job after the takeover. When Olbermann acted up for the hundredth time, Griffin did not hesitate in firing Olbermann. Griffin thought that his firing Olbermann would help him keep his job. He hoped that they would be grateful that he eliminated a problem for Comcast.

Griffin definitely boosted his chances of keeping his job by the efficient way he handled Olbermann's termination. While the Comcast executives did not care for Olbermann, they hated even more the possibility of a repeat of the Conan saga. During the Late Night wars, they were vexed but powerless to do anything. They just shook their head and said, "What a mess."

By the firing, Comcast wanted to send a message that no prima donnas would not be tolerated at NBC and MSNBC. In some ways, this was a repeat of the sacking of Pat Croce as head of the 76ers during a winning streak.

Brian Roberts overlooked Olbermann's political donations that broke NBC rules, but he could not forgive the theatrics around the event. He was livid at Olbermann's attempt to blackmail him by threatening to appear on rival networks' shows such as "Good Morning America" to discuss the donations.

It might have helped to soothe things over if Olbermann had made a courtesy trip to Philadelphia like David Gregory and many others did to kiss the pope's ie Brian Roberts ring, but he could not be bothered.

Olbermann was riled up because Comcast had made it clear that MSNBC would no longer lean as liberal in the future. He would no longer be allowed to anchor election night coverage. Comcast insists that this was a business decision not a political one. My source said, "There are just not as many as left wing listeners as right wing."

Although I think changing the political branding of MSNBC is misguided, I do not think the decision is political based. Comcast executives say that the decision is more headline based. Comcast likes to fly under the radar. They did not like the complaints about MSNBC bias.

Unlike Roger Ailes, the head of Fox News, Burke and Roberts are not former political operatives so they do not relish the political debate. While Steve Burke is an avid Republican supporter and fundraiser, he is not dogmatic. The traditionally conservative Roberts family tend to be pragmatic and are definitely liberals on social issues. They have donated to both Democrats and Republicans.They hired David Cohen, Democratic Mayor Rendell's chief of staff, as an executive vice president.

Olbermann, like many other broadcasters, was told to tone down the rhetoric. He resisted and resented their interference. Even though Olbermann does not advocate violence in any way, Comcast had even less interest in bombastic speech of any kind after the Gifford's assassination. The decision to let Olbermann go was already in the works but the tragedy just reinforced that it was the right one.

Personal prejudices entered the picture. Ralph Roberts, the founder of Comcast and the current CEO's father, hated "The Worst Person in the world" segment as many people did.

Olbermann should be back on the air in September. He probably will not be able to tell us what really happened because he signed a confidentiality agreement.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Comcast Speaks about the Olympics

NBC started airing the Olympics when Richard Nixon was President. The broadcasting tradition of a generation will mostly like end after the Comcast takeover of NBC is completed.
With NBC losing a reported $223 million on the 2010 Vancouver games and standing to lose even more on the 2012 London games, bidding for the broadcasting rights to the Olympic Games at the current prices that the Olympic Committee is asking may no longer make economic sense. While Comcast CEO Brian Roberts medaled in squash at the Maccabiah Games, that will probably not be a compelling enough reason for Comcast to take the financial losses. By all accounts, the Roberts family bought NBC to make money not for the prestige.
David L. Cohen, the Executive Vice President of Comcast, said, "We have to finish the acquisition and then look at the books." When pressed, he added, "I know that there is no way that we are going to pay $2.5 billion for the rights like the Olympic Committee currently wants." Cohen doubted that the NBC would prevail in the auction next spring of the broadcasting rights for the games in 2014 and 2016.
Comcast CEO Brian Roberts was one of twenty CEOs that recently met with Obama during the CEO summit in December at Blair House. Cohen discussed that visit, "Published reports are accurate."
Accounts of the meeting said that Roberts voiced his support directly to the President for the then pending net neutrality proposal at the FCC because of the importance of regulatory certainty for Comcast." John Doerr, the venture capitalist behind Google and Amazon, voiced similar sentiment at the summit.

Rendell's Beach Boy's concert

Last night, I was rocking at the Beach Boys concert that outgoing Governor Rendell sponsored at the Electric Factory to thank all the people that have supported him through out the years. What a great concert!!!
There were campaign workers, volunteers, and staffers at the event from all over Pennsylvania- Philadelphia, Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Lebanon County, and Moosic. Rendell said, "Anyone that had ever worked, volunteered, or donated more than $5 to my campaign was invited." To go along with the Beach Boy theme, the invitations had a beach chair, ball, and umbrella on them.
When the Beach Boys started playing, the pin stripe crowd of bankers and lawyers immediately started dancing. Among those getting down were the Governor, Jesse Rendell, David Cohen, Mayor Nutter, former State Treasurer Robin Weissman, her husband Ken Jarin from the law firm Ballard Spahr, and Duane Morris attorney Alan Kessler. Weissman does a mean funky chicken. Rendell boogied sans jacket, but surrounded by pretty women. Nutter bopped to the music.
The band, which included Mike Love and Bruce Johnston from the original Beach Boys, played all the old favorites such as “Help me, Rhonda and “I Get Around” for almost two hours. The actor John Stamos, currently appearing in the hit television show “Glee,” joined the band on the guitar and drums. For this night only, the Beach Boys sang, “I wish they could all be Pennsylvania Girls.”
Bruce Johnston spoke about meeting then Mayor Rendell when the Beach Boys played a Fourth of July concert on the Parkway. He said, “We were impressed with him then. We are honored to continue to be friends.”
Midway through their performance, Governor Rendell came on stage. He thanked the Beach Boys profusely for tonight and other night 9 years ago. He recalled, “When I was running in the primary for governor, the Beach Boys gave a free concert for the workers in my campaign right here at the Electric Factory a week before the primary. I was down in the polls, but the workers came way from that concert so energized that I won by 12 points.”
He expressed his biggest gratitude for the assembled crowd. “Every politician requires a team. I could not have done it with out you.”
Always the politician, the Governor had to recount his accomplishments. He said, “Pennsylvania is one of only two states that provide health insurance for all their children. 300,000 more seniors have prescription drug coverage than when I took office. Pennsylvania is leading the country in eighth grade reading levels. The EPA rates us the greenest state in the nation.”
The refreshments were a caloric combination of Krispy Kremes and soft pretzels.
Mayor Nutter led the call for an encore. The band obliged with Governor Rendell joining them for the last song, “Fun, Fun, Fun,” with the band.
In case you are wondering, the Governor's favorite Beach Boy hits include "Kokomo" and "Fun, Fun, Fun.”