Friday, November 12, 2010

The Strip & Petcast Are Live on Sat

It's that time of week again!

We're doing two new episodes of The Petcast from Noon to 1 p.m. PT and then an hour of The Strip from 1-2 p.m. PT.

For The Petcast, guest host Amy and I will chat in the first half-hour with Mary O'Connor-Shaver of the Coalition to Ban Ohio Dog Auctions. Then we'll hear from Barbara Schmitz, who spearheaded the successful movement to pass Prop B in Missouri, which radically alters the laws regarding dog breeding in that state.

Then, on The Strip, our guests are Jabbawockeez founder Phil Tayag and Mystere clown Brian Dewhurst.

As always, you can listen live at via LVRocks.Com and join the chat with fellow listeners. Or wait and grab the podcast version via iTunes or Zune or listen via that nifty "Listen Now" player on TheStripPodcast.Com or ThePetcast.Com. Your call.

Chip to Donny & Marie Osmond: Thanks & Sorry!

In an epic Friday for news dumps, producer Chip Lightman has settled his lawsuit confidentially and in a "mutual satisfactory manner" with Donny and Marie. There's no word on what the payoff settlement entailed, but there was this from Chip:

“I am pleased we were able to resolve this matter and am sorry that, in the heat of battle, comments may have been made that were hurtful to the Osmonds. Both Donny and Marie are talented, hardworking artists and I wish them continuing success in their careers.”

May have? MAY HAVE? How about:

9. During its production, Lightman has gone to great lengths to protect the privacy, confidentiality and reputation of both Donny and Marie in order to further the marketability and popularity of the Donny & Marie Show. As a result, the Donny & Marie Show has since revived the careers of Donny and Marie and taken them to levels they never could have experienced without Lightman's hard work, determination, and confidence.

10. Contrary to the wholesome, all-American, good-natured image that he presents to the public, Defendant Donny's conduct, at least as it relates to Lightman and [Chip Lightman Entertainment], has been anything but. He has conducted himself in a manner that is underhanded, devious, fraudulent and greedy. The clear goal of his actions has been to line his own pockets with ill-gotten gains to fund his lavish lifestyle of exotic cars, luxury hotel suites, and private jets – all off the backs and hard work of those who worked tirelessly to support his career, including Lightman and CLE.

11. Despite Marie’s seemingly innocent nature, she too is liable for the fraud perpetrated by Donny through her acquiescence, awareness, and utter failure to disclose to CLE the steps taken by Donny to deceive CLE and circumvent their contractual obligations.

You mean like that passage, which is from the lawsuit he filed last month over breach of contract? Or the Tweets, now deleted, in which Chip threatened Donny that he'd be writing a tell-all book?

Donny Osmond took, frankly, a little too high a road with this statement:

“My sister and I want to thank Chip Lightman for great contributions he made in launching our show at the Flamingo. We look forward to the opportunity to work with him again in the future.”

Man, that's awfully forgiving. Or, as Sarah Palin said when her daughter got back together with Levi last summer, it shows a belief in "redemption and forgiveness to a degree most of us struggle to put in practice in our daily lives."

The Bristol-Levi thing didn't work out, either. I suggest Chip not wait by the phone for Donny's call.

The R-J's "Successes" Enumerated

I'm in the midst of a debate with a journalist friend who finds it ridiculous that the mighty Stephens clan would bother sucking up to the most powerful senator in America after the largest newspaper they own went on a years-long jeremiad to get him fired. What a crazy idea, huh?

Well, I've listed the other possibilities. But click on this to read it more easily:

That's a scan of a full-page ad the R-J has been running for a few weeks. If these things were true, then the Frederick-Mitchell tenure at the newspaper would not possibly be viewed as anything other than an unmitigated success. It claims the ReviewJournal.Com enjoys the biggest monthly uniques and pageviews, that the paper is read by 720,000 different people a week, that their total monthly online and print audience is more than 3.25 million people. There's been very robust increased web traffic, according to this, to several different R-J-related web properties.

They use the phrase "No one else comes close" after every claim. ("No one can do more" was already taken.)

Perhaps the claims in the ad are suspect -- I understand that part of the R-J's readership spike comes from links from the Drudge Report, which means a huge portion of the audience of is of absolutely no interest to local advertisers anyway -- or there are other things going on here.

More On The Review-Journal's Housecleaning

I'm hearing burblings that Sherman Frederick and Thomas Mitchell will be spinning that Reid victory was not the coup de grace that ended their regime. I'm fairly confident -- and have sources that have provided some proof -- that it played a pretty big part, but the trouble with any spin whatsoever is that the other alternatives at least as equally if not more professionally bad.

You see, Sherm may be leaving because of his health issues, but that doesn't explain Mitchell's reassignment or the sacking of the GM, Allan Fleming. That's a wholesale housecleaning and it was prompted by something. So, if they weren't sacrificed on that altar, what other choices are there?

* Revenues aren't satisfactory.
* Circulation isn't satisfactory.
* The news product isn't satisfactory.
* The Internet presence isn't satisfactory.
* The image of the company isn't satisfactory.

Pick one, boys!

I find it very doubtful the Righthaven lawsuits issue played into this. Mitchell had nothing to do with that, but he did certainly participate in the Reid-bashing and could be seen as having caused many of the above-listed possibilities. Steve Stern of Stern & Co., which is the subject of one of the Righthaven lawsuits, has a different take, but I think he's engaging in some wishful thinking.

There's just a lot that's weird about all of this, most notably the fairly shoddy way Frederick, Mitchell and Fleming are treated in the R-J story that announces the changes. It opens:

The Las Vegas Review-Journal today named a new publisher to replace longtime publisher Sherman Frederick.

Huh. We didn't even know he needed replacing! The guy's been publisher for, well, we don't really know from the story. He's also a major public figure. If this was a mutually happy parting, the lead would have cast Frederick as the main character. You know, like:

Stephens Media CEO and Review-Journal publisher Sherman Frederick retired today, leaving behind a tenure [insert most important legacy, if any, here.]

The fact that Mitchell's reassignment was held to the last paragraph is just amazing and really, really insulting to him. His own newspaper now thinks of his tenure as an afterthought. And, again, there's no standard-issue biographical information on his tenure, not a thumbnail of his career or a quote about his accomplishments or even his age.

And Fleming? Not even worth a digital inch. After all this time. Awkward!

Oh, by the way, it's been pointed out to me that the comments section for the R-J story has been closed and comments already left -- some mourned Sherm and Mitch's removals -- were removed. So they don't even want the public to be able to express their support for the men who led this enterprise for all those years. That's just cold.

Review-Journal Publisher, Editor AND GM Are Out

News just broke that R-J publisher Sherm Frederick is stepping down as publisher of the newspaper and as CEO of Stephens Media and Thomas Mitchell is out as editor. And yet, there's even more to it than that.

Not in their story? Allan B. Fleming, the Review-Journal's general manager, is also out. And Mitchell is getting a new gig created for him, some sort of senior editorial page editor role.

The article published by the R-J announcing this posits that Sherm is leaving for health reasons, and he certainly has had a rough year with surgeries for prostate and heart ailments this summer.

But the real explanation of what's happening here? Harry Reid won.

An extremely knowledgable source at the paper called this move a "shakeout" and a "head slap" from the top, meaning the owners back in Arkansas. He reminded me that the Stephens family are big Washington D.C. players, with banking interests and other issues to deal with in Congress. They may have supported Republican candidates, but the over-the-top efforts by Sherm Frederick and Thomas Mitchell to support Sharron Angle and unrelentingly beat up on the Senate Majority Leader was exceptional. It was nasty and personal and harmed the reporters' ability to have their work taken credibly, but even more importantly, if the Stephens clan wanted to make nice with Harry Reid, the only way to do it was to get rid of Frederick and Mitchell.

It's entertaining that the newspaper tried to soft-pedal this news, leaving out the Fleming angle and reducing to the very last paragraph the fact that Mitchell was also departing from his role. Those are the clues that this is a much bigger change than just an ailing publisher choosing to reduce his stress load.

Two of the announced changes, though, look like Titanic deck chair shuffling. The company's chief operating officer Michael Ferguson ascends CEO of Stephens Media and advertising director Bob Brown will be publisher of the R-J. Brown has no significant journalism experience, and what this paper needs is someone in control of the purse who understands why they need more reporters and more resources. I fear an ad guy won't have that sensibility.

Still, there is one huge reason to be encouraged: They're going out looking for a replacement for Mitchell as editor. That means that for the first time in a couple of decades, that newsroom's leadership will have some serious new energy and ideas.

The stagnation has been crippling. If Stephens is courageous, they will bring in someone young and sharp from the outside who understands (or at least doesn't openly despise) the Internet, who can give that rudderless features section a solid redo, who can advocate for more resources so reporters can spend more time digging into important stories.

Plenty of questions left:

* Will Sherm, who will retain his Sunday column, keep up the feud with the Greenspuns and the Sun, or is there a chance for a little class and maturity to break out in Vegas newspaperland?

* Will the dramatic efforts to sue to protect copyrights continue via Righthaven?

* What becomes of "Director of Visuals" Al Gibes, City Editor Mary Hynes, Features Editor Frank Fertado and Managing Editor Charlie Zobell, all of whom have been in their posts for unusually long stints?

* If Mitchell had been outright fired, would he have filed for welfare unemployment benefits?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

The show is UP: Frank Sinatra Jr.

Here we go again. You can click on the date below to get it to play or right-click on it to download it to listen at your leisure. Or, of course, subscribe for free in iTunes or Zune. -sf

Nov. 8: The Agony of Frank Sinatra Jr.

Frank Sinatra Jr. has the voice, the stage presence and the look. So why is he not successful? Or, rather, why does HE say he’s not successful? In this conversation with Steve, the son of the legendary Chairman of the Board is stunningly candid about the disappointments in his life, including the fact that he never really felt close to his father and doesn’t know whether his dad was proud of him. Plus, find out what famous actor’s home he and his friends never visited on Halloween, learn how he felt about playing such off-Strip sites as Boulder Station and the Suncoast, and hear some intimate details about his 1963 kidnapping. Also, how did that unusual appearance on the pilot of the Vegas-set CBS show “The Defenders” come about?

Links to stuff discussed:

See Frank Sinatra Jr. at The Orleans from Nov. 19-21
Frank Sinatra Jr.'s The Defenders cameo
A good piece on the kidnapping of Frank Jr.

Rita Rudner Off To Venetian

Norm Clarke broke the news today that Rita Rudner, the longest-running Vegas stand-up comic headliner ever, is leaving Harrah's after 2010 to go to the Venetian for a six-month deal before, sooner or later, moving on to L.A. So I guess this is what she was hinting at two weeks ago in this exchange that Miles and I had with her and her husband, Martin Bergman, at the Vegas Podcast-a-Palooza:

Before we let you go, your contract is through 2012, is that right?

Rita: Yeeeeaaaaahhhh....

Steve: Well, Harrah's has been rolling out these longer contracts lately. They signed pretty much everybody else to these deals into the next millennium, so I would assume you guys are ready. Or are you guys going to leave sooner?

Rita: You know, we don't know.

Martin: We've got an 8 year old. We're not sure that we want her to be a 10 year old in Las Vegas. And we also have a place in California. So we really don't know.

Rita: But my daughter and I did get stuck in a traffic jam behind the 'Hot Babes' truck the other day.

Miles: So it might be time to go.

Rita: It might be time. She said, 'Mommy, what are those women doing?' and I told her the truth. I said, 'Those are the ladies who didn't study in school.'

One More Wynn Thing: Garth. $253. Really?

It's entirely possible Steve Wynn could kill the goose that lays his only genuine entertainment golden egg since, well, since he hired Danny Gans at the Mirage.

I don't know how I forgot this item in the earlier post of Wynnderfulness, but as you probably saw on my Twitter or Norm's column or David McKee's blog or in skywriting over Talladega, Wynn is jacking up the Garth Brooks tickets by $110 to $253, including taxes and pencil-sharpening fees and whatever else.

That's well and good, given the manic demand. And it is a wonderful show. In fact, as the ads in every Wynncore room quotes me from my Las Vegas Weekly column as having said, it's the best thing I've seen on Las Vegas stage, ever.

But Brooks had made such a big deal out of being affordable for his fans, and there is no way he can stake that claim anymore. Not to mention, on Twitter, Facebook and elsewhere, he's taking a shellacking for this. The idea that $500 for a couple for a show is affordable to anyone but the wealthiest or most dedicated among us in this economy is pretty ridiculous.

And here's the thing: It didn't need to be this way. For some reason, Wynn and Brooks seem insistent on sticking with the one-price-fits-all scheme. When the tickets were (arguably) undervalued at $143, that made a little bit of sense. But now, if I'm paying $253, I want to be down in front, not in the last row of the balcony. Why don't they do what every theater has done forever and have more affordable seats farther away? In fact, make the gulf bigger -- make it $300 for the first 10 rows, then lower and lower as the mom jeans and baseball cap on stage gets more and more distant from the viewer.

Differential ticket pricing is how everyone gets to see the show, Mr. Gaines. Wynn's already got the super-duper anti-ticket-scalping practice in place, right? Or do they? I mean, if I'm paying $253 a seat, are they really going to get all badass on me about buying it for my grandma or reselling it if I get sick or whatever else?

If I remember correctly, Wynn said that Garth could get out of his contract whenever he wants to. If this extravagant price sours Brooks fans as much as it seems in the blogosphere so far, he may decide that the Garth Brooks brand is being damaged and pull out. I wonder who keeps the plane.

This week's LVW: Cut the wrap, Aria

Thanks much to Chuck at VegasTripping.Com for generously allowing the Weekly to use this illustration of the potential defacing of Aria's west side. Here's hoping we can shame them into averting this short-sighted idea. Here's this week's column. -sf

Cut the wrap, Aria!
Ads seriously undercut design

MGM Resorts brass made many pre-opening claims about CityCenter that were, in retrospect, ridiculous. CEO Jim Murren predicted the super-expensive mall would become a communal gathering place for locals who otherwise avoid the Strip, that there was something akin to Central Park somewhere in that 67-acre, concrete-steel-glass landscape, that opening the complex would single-handedly increase Vegas visitation this year by 7 percent.

But one of Murren’s assertions rang true: They had built a collection of ambitious structures designed by the world’s great architects, proving a commitment to high-brow culture that would make a serious statement about Vegas’ maturation. These were special buildings, to be treated with great respect and honor, their exterior magnificence CityCenter’s calling card to prove the sea change promised to those who ventured inside.

Yet, now comes word that Murren’s crown jewel, the glittery and gorgeous Aria, could succumb to the modern Strip’s worst aesthetic trend, The Wrap.

Please, Mr. Murren. Anything but that. I beg of you. Don’t do it.

Read the rest at LasVegasWeekly.Com

Wynn, Wynn and More Wynn

I've been a quiet little blogger the past few days, but what better way to get back into the action than to take note of the fact that there's just been an explosion of Wynn-related fodder in the past week. Some of it and some thoughts on it:

* Steve Wynn, Eponymous. I've got a piece up on Portfolio.Com today that is another entry in their series on business people whose name is their brand.

* Steve Wynn, Vegan. John Katsilometes flexes his outstanding writing muscle and observatory skills in his Las Vegas Weekly cover on Mr. Wynn's newfound vegan zealotry. Given how many of the interviews with Wynn that I've aired involve him eating something, John's opening passage is particularly ingenious. I'd feel jealous of Kats for this scoop except that he was precisely the right reporter to do it, having spent the summer being vegan himself. Also, for the second consecutive week, the Weekly's cover was nothing short of brilliant. On a related note, Robin Leach had a follow-up scoop in getting Wynn to say he's changing his will to emphasize his animal-rights interests.

* Steve Wynn, Action Hero. There's a riveting video interview with Wynn with Prannoy Roy from the Indian TV station, NDTV. It's weird because the interviewer is a thorough suck-up who doesn't challenge a thing and is given to such pronouncements as "You singlehandedly changed Las Vegas!" But the exchange turns from banal to absolutely fascinating when Wynn gives the gritty details about his experience when his daughter, Kevyn, was kidnapped in 1993. That stuff starts at about 24:30 if you want to skip Wynn try to sell himself to the Indian government for potential casino opportunities as well as his now-standard anti-Obama dissertation. He goes on for about 15 minutes, and it is classic Steve Wynn storytelling at his best, most emotional.

* Steve Wynn, Harrah's Poacher. Of the oddest bit of news that has emerged from the Wynn world lately, it's that Elaine Wynn's nephew, Wynn Las Vegas president Andrew Pascal, is leaving the company. Odder still is that he's being replaced by Marilyn Winn Spiegel, longtime Harrah's executive most recently regional president of three Vegas properties. Both pieces of these developments are peculiar. Pascal had seemed likely to become Wynn's heir; could it be that the Wynn divorce is, in fact, creating awkwardness between her family and him? Or maybe he's gotten a signal that he won't be the heir apparent and wants to make a name for himself in some other way? The filing indicated that Pascal had no conflicts or disputes about the company's approach or mangement, so what gives then?

Meanwhile, though, with all those folks in house looking for a chance to shine -- Tim Poster, remember him? -- Wynn hires away a veteran of the company that does things exactly the opposite of how he does them. It would be like Prada hiring the head of J.C. Penney's, no?

Seriously, I have never in my entire history of talking to Steve Wynn ever heard him say a complimentary thing about the modern Harrah's operation. And on last week's earnings conference call he even went out of his way to dis Harrah's chief Gary Loveman over the all-too-familiar design to your left. Here's the passage:

And I was walking out of the Borgata [in Atlantic City], which I want to look at and there next-door was Harrah's, with a curved tower and asymmetrical roof, a very poor, homely copy of the Wynn Las Vegas. And I called up Gary Loveman, and I said, "Hey man, have you no shame?" I mean, and in the building was in the wrong proportion. In order to do what we do with our building, it has to be horizontal in its proportion or doesn't look right. And this one was verticals, which just looked like sort of a tall rectangle with point on one end. And he said, he gave me an answer, he said, "Well, duplication is a serious form of flattery." I found that relatively unsatisfactory answer. I think maybe someone should try to do their own thing instead of doing bad copies of other people's things. But we do give the boys a chance to louse up what they think we're doing.

Ouch. I realize Winn Spiegel had nothing to do with that design, but it's also not as though she has been running Caesars Palace, which is the closest thing Harrah's has to a Wynn. Huh.

Oh, there's also some news on Wynn and the whole drama with his dealers and tip-sharing. For some reason, this story has never really intrigued me that much, but if you care, check out Liz Benston's account.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

From Politics To Poker

OK, I'm ALMOST there.

I think I may have finally stopped writing about the 2010 midterms with this Politics Daily piece that expands on my earlier blog post in crowning the mainstream media a big winner this year. It includes some insight from Sunbelt chief Bob Stoldal and Tony Hopfinger, the Alaska reporter handcuffed by GOP candidate Joe Miller's goons. Favorite line: "But it went further than that, with Angle providing so much footage of herself running from cameras that she may be ready for this weekend's New York City Marathon ... ."

And then it was on to poker. Early this morning, the World Series of Poker Final Table was reduced from nine to two, and these two guys will square off at 8 p.m. PT at the Rio. I've been covering for Agence France-Presse and for AOL News, and you can see how subtly differently the approaches are based on the audience. If you're really, really into this, totally check out Howard Stutz's and Oskar Garcia's coverage of same.

If you're not hip to the rah-rah poker stuff, check out my current Las Vegas Weekly column about the fact that the Cosmopolitan won't have a poker room and what that portends for The Game. And apologies to East Coast Gambler, who had known and blogged about the Cosmo's no-poker deal back in August.

I had planned to do some other blog posts today about stuff in the papers and such, but I've gotta be up ridiculously early tomorrow to appear on radio shows around the country discussing my Daily Beast and Politics Daily coverage of the Harry Reid-Sharron Angle race. So after that, I'll post this week's episode of "The Strip" and catch up on some other stuff.