Today is the first day of spring. A certain sign of this most welcome season change is the Georgia Marathon. It is Sunday in downtown Atlanta and once again CBS46 is a proud sponsor. This not only means we have been pimping it like mad for months, that our logo is proudly displayed on the runner’s shirts, and that we are hosting a health fair at the Georgia World Congress Center Friday and Saturday, but that I am participating in the race this year! Now hold on, I’m not running a marathon. Nor am I tackling the half-marathon. But rather me and my daughter are running the 5K. And by running I mean walking. I have never been much of a runner and I passed that skill right along to her. But we do enjoy walking, breathing in fresh air, feeling the spring sunshine on our faces, and being together, albeit this time with about 20,000 people. My teenager has volunteered to strap a Go Pro camera to her body for the race so we can show our viewers what it was like to be part of the event. I’m certain she will be interviewed after the race too so we can put together a story of the entire day. (I passed that trait onto her too!) Several of my collegues will be alongside us Sunday morning at 7:30 as we wind our way through the expanse of Centennial Olympic Park, the historic southern neighborhoods that surround the city, and the shadows of the skyscrapers of Midtown.
We have race shirts to wear that show a runner’s form comprised of all our names.
We have jerseys to wear to the health expo as we invite viewers to be on “Team 46.”
And we will have a large booth at the start line with water, fruit, and CBS46 swag. After an ice storm, snow storm, and epic traffic gridlock I for one am ready to usher in springtime as I cross the finish line Sunday with thousands of Atlantans, my friends, and my girl.
Lucy and our cocker spaniel Sadie at the Alpharetta Greenway
Can we please talk about how good cable television is? I realize this is not a new thought but as I sat speechless after the finale of yet another cable drama last night I was reminded why big name film stars take on TV projects, how cable networks have the money and talent to put great stories on air, and how nice it is to watch all of it from my couch. You could argue the series that started the cable news dominance was “The Sopranos” on HBO. I have watched only the first season and not because it isn’t interesting but because I have so many other shows to get to! “The Wire”, “House of Lies”, “Game of Thrones”, “True Blood”, “Breaking Bad”, “Mad Men”, “The Walking Dead”, “House of Cards”, “True Detective.” I have heard of but not watched all of these. Several I have devoured every season. The one that came to a gripping end last night was “True Detective” on HBO. Only eight episodes long and for only one season, it featured, in my opinion, career best performances from Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey. The story was horrifying, gritty, at times funny and even poignant. It ended perfectly, not “Hollywood” style, but like a good crime novel would, realistically. That is was based on a novel is likely why. That it was paid for by cable TV and not a major movie studio is probably another reason why. You aren’t trying to put butts in the seats. You’re offering entertainment to your subscribers. The finale was so good it actually crashed HBO’s online viewing feature HBO GO temporarily. I also recently binge watched the two episodes of the Netflix original series “House of Cards.” Again, the best performances I’ve ever seen from two extremely talented stars, Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright. If you don’t know, Netflix releases the entire season at once so those of us with no self control can indulge in the whole thing right away and then complain about having to wait a year for the next season. “Mad Men” is a Sunday night favorite in my house, as is “Game of Thrones” and “True Blood”, although the latter seems to be limping toward its series finale which I’m too invested in now to back out of. I’m also a fan of “The Newsroom”, “Orange is the New Black”, and “American Horror Story.” In the Fisher house there are 6 TV’s, 3 Apple tv devices, 4 blu-ray players, an XBOX 360, Wii console, 3 iPads, a laptop and desktop computer. There is no shortage of places to watch the unlimited amount of entertainment available right now. Award winning movies, great independent films, network television shows, all of it a click away and in most every room of our home and yet, we find ourselves turning to cable TV series more than anything else to escape for an hour or two.
If you watch nothing else this spring, see “True Detective” (HBO GO is back up and running!)
and “House of Cards”
Cable television at its best.
You know I love an awards show and last night was Hollywood’s biggest. Now, I’m right in the middle of a “House of Cards – Season 2″ binge so it was hard to tear myself away for 3 1/2 hours of rich people patting each other on the back but I forced myself. Thought Ellen did a decent enough job. I like comedy that’s a little edgier but that’s not Oscars’ style. Loved the selfie with all the stars and yes, I was one of the some two million people who retweeted it. “Stars: They’re Just Like Us!”
Found Jared Leto’s speech to be wonderfully heartfelt and Lupita N’yongo’s to be an extension of the sweet young woman she appears to be. Although I do always find it amusing that stars think somehow their stardom is enough to inspire the troubled people or parts of our world to rise above said troubles. As if celebrity is the unviersal answer. Yep, it was too long. Please Oscar producers on behalf of tired movie lovers everywhere, kill the montages. The show doesn’t have to have a theme. Last night’s was heroes and villians or something like that. Handing out awards is theme enough. Probably didn’t need Bette singing after the dead actors montage and while I do love Pink, you coulda cut the “Wizard of Oz” tribute song. The pizza bit was too long, they need to space out the big awards better, and I can’t even with Travolta butchering Idina Menzel’s name. Embarrassing to say the least. But I did think the Academy got it right with the acting awards. Matthew McConaughey is having an incredible career resurgence. “Dallas Buyers Club” is very good, as was “Mud” and you need to be watching “True Detective” with him and Woody Harrelson on HBO. Leto was excellent in “Dallas”, too. Cate Blanchett can do no wrong in my book. I believe she is one of the finest actresses working today. And while I have not yet worked up the courage to watch “12 Years a Slave”, I am quite taken with its award winning star, Lupita, if for no other reason than she is such a gorgeous fashionista. “Gravity” deserved every technical award and then some (in fact, I think it may have won all of them!) and as infectious as “Happy” by Pharrell Williams is, “Let it Go” is a beautiful song and my daughter and her friends know every single word. The fashion didn’t disappoint either. Lupita was stunning in ice blue and that headband is a perfect punctuation.
I think this is the best Sandra Bullock has ever looked on a red carpet with soft curls instead of her pin straight hair and a beautifully draped blue gown.
But it is Miss Charlize that will win my vote again this year. (She snagged it last year in a white Dior). This black Dior, those diamonds, that face, the attitude. Flawless, girl.
Now back to “House of Cards!”
I will fully admit my station has an identity crisis. And has since I walked in the door in March, 2003. It will find it’s footing for two, maybe three years, and then it will trip over itself. The problem lies not with its people or the talent of them. It lies not with the managers, each has worked to provide an identity, only to have it changed by the next one. Change, as you’ve heard me talk about many times here, is as much a part of broadcasting as working microphones. But too much change in too short a time span can make for confusing viewing. When I was a kid, there were 3 stations. You knew what your TV news options were and they had a STRONG brand, look, mission statement. As I aged and cable entered our lives we were for the first time presented with choices. Choice, in some instances, will make an existing brand stronger. In others however, it creates the need to reinvent to grab the viewer’s attention. The CBS station I have spent half of my career at now is the Madonna of stations. Reinvention is our brand. Each incarnation of the brand has been good. Some better than others but most were solid. Their lack of success was not for a lack of quality, but committment. In the constantly changing landscape of television news, you cannot expect something to gain traction in a few years. People have countless things vying for their attention every time they turn on the set. Hundreds upon hundreds of channels, a barrage of images, a myriad of noises, so much to process. It’s any wonder anything can cut through it. A brand must be a brand for a looooong time for most people to even begin to recognize it, let alone indentify with it. This brings me to our latest and in my opinion best brand yet. After being Clear News, Atlanta’s News Channel, CBS 46, & CBS Atlanta, we are returning to our roots and becoming once again CBS46 on Tuesday. We have a beautiful new set with a breathtaking view of Atlanta behind the news desk displayed on what has to be one of the largest monitors on air at any local TV station. There is a really cool weather center that’s not only fully functional for forecasting and making graphics but fun for the meteorologists to use. There is a kitchen area, interview set, morning set, and several in studio locations boasting large monitors and tables. It is the nicest studio I’ve not only ever worked in but ever seen. Our focus as a station is on money – protecting, saving, helping spend wisely – so our viewers can grow to trust us in this uncertain economy. Our mission is “Working for a Better Atlanta.” We have streamlined our image, hired energetic new talent and re-positioned our exisiting newsroom leaders. We have fine tuned our purpose to focus on what’s happening right now. May sound like a ‘no duh, isn’t that what news is’ but you’d be surprised how easy it is to drift from that simple philosophy. Having seen and survived 11 years of changes here, I was skeptical of this latest round, frankly, I didn’t know if I had another one in me and I allowed the failure of the previous tries to creep into my conciousness. But here we are. Weeks after cramming into a tiny, hot temporary studio (which was something to behold after 24 hours of solid weather coverage), night after night of skipping dinner to rehearse in our new digs, emails, meetings, hours of lighting and image consulting, and its time to do what we’ve always done in the reliable way we’ve always done it, just with this new look. I like what I see. I hope you will too.
Atlanta seen in one of the many smaller monitors in studio
Super monitor behind anchor desk
Our new live trucks
It’s saying something that the most extensive winter weather coverage I’ve ever done has been during my years living in a southern state. Here in Atlanta we are on the tail end of our second winter storm in two weeks. The first, you’ll remember, involved an eight hour commute into work, two hours of sleep on the floor of my cubcicle, and national attention for having made a list of the worst traffic jams in world history. This one, 20 hours of continuous coverage, two nights in a downtown hotel that may have been new during the Olympics in ’96, and more processed food eaten while anchoring than can possibly be healthy. Throw in an ice storm in 2011, historic flooding after days of rain in 2009, and a tornado that struck downtown Atlanta in 2008 and well, you may understand why when our meteorologists say “this storm will be catastropic” you pay attention. It was not a catastrophe. It was a massive and unfortunately deadly storm. As I type this, hundreds of thousands remain without power, the temperatures are dropping, freezing slush and melted snow on our roads, and Atlantans are suffering from winter fatigue. I feel you. As I was leaving my home Tuesday morning (because I’ll be damned if I was going to get caught in traffic for half a day again!) my daughter was bemoaning the fact that I would be away for a few days covering the storm. Her father, who has weathered all of these events right along with me, said ‘This is when your mom is needed most. This is her job to keep people safe and informed.’ And our viewers agree, for the most part. There are always a few who have heard and seen enough and want their soap opera back on or those who cuss me out because they don’t think school should be cancelled or businesses closed and my favorite complaint this go ’round which was a man who didn’t like my professional, sensible navy blue Ralph Lauren dress I wore yesterday because I “wasn’t dressed appropriately for the weather.” I gently reminded him I was working indoors and thanked him for watching. The point is you cannot possibly please everyone. But I can, and must, inform them. This one was big. It had snow, then freezing rain, then snow, then high winds. The Governor and Mayor of Atlanta reacted swiftly and efficiently this time. Schools were closed, roads were sanded, warnings were issued. The good people of this city stayed home, turned on their sets, and asked me to reassure them. I did my best. Although there is one request I can’t fulfill – “Stephany, we love your station and what you’re doing to help us through this. Can you start spring already?”
No, but I can promise you we’ll get there together.
View from my hotel of a deserted downtown connector in Atlanta
On set with Tracye during our coverage
Our chief meteorologist shows what’s coming
Ready for the long haul
Progress on day 3
Imagine 5 million or so people deciding to get in their cars and head home at exactly the same time. Now add an inch or two of wet snow and temperatures in the teens. It happened today in Atlanta. I left my home 30 miles north of the city at Noon to get into the station and begin our winter weather coverage. I arrived at 8 at night. I have lived in this notoriously lousy traffic city for 11 years now and this is the worst traffic I have ever seen. The definition of gridlock. I ran the full gamut of emotions behind the wheel from panic over being late to work to what in this car can I pee in? As I sit here at my desk after being awake for nearly 24 hours I am astounded that some drivers who were with me on the icy interstates are STILL THERE. Among them, buses of children released from the schools when the flakes starting falling. Elementary school kids on a bus with no food, water, toilet, or cell phone with which to call mom and dad for 12 or more hours. I fielded more than a few calls from terrified parents. School districts in Metro Atlanta should not have had classes today. The city of Atlanta, the entire state of Georgia really, should not have been caught off guard again. We have been talking about this storm since Sunday night. And since I’ve lived in the state we have seen several snow and ice events so I think it’s time we stop acting like Georgia doesn’t get this type of weather. Bottom line, we do. Invest in proper road equipment, have a solid plan, and stop throwing your hands up and blaming local weather people when the city grinds to a halt. With all the technology we have at our disposal, with all the different ways to communicate with each other, with the tax money we all pay, it is inexcusable that the city in which we live can’t adequately anticipate a major weather event and help it’s people through it.