Friday, October 16, 2009

A Friessmas To Remember!

Today I'm 37. (And yes, that was me above.)

This has been my very first "social media" birthday and it has been a fascinating one in that respect. I can't count the number of greetings I've received via Facebook and Twitter and it's hard to believe that I didn't use either a year ago. Now I'm on the brink -- 19 away as I type -- of 1,000 Twitter followers and this:

...has been going on all day. (Updated, per Corey Levitan, 5:48 pm PT). I woke up to the Smith-Friess tradition of playing "Once A Year Day" from the show Pajama Game and this is what our living room looked like this:

Friessmas morning 2009: on Twitpic

Needless to say, breakfast was Milky Ways and Snickers, hidden in those Pooh boxes.

What's interesting is that this past year has been a challenging one because the miserable economy has accelerated the death spiral of the Old Media. I've spent much of the past 12 months relying on old standby clients -- the New York Times, USA Today, Newsweek and others -- while watching them hemorrhage money, cut their freelance rates or budgets or destroy their content and brand altogether. It's only getting worse, regardless of whether the recession is ending.

This Friessmas, though, marks my first post for a major new client whose business model I believe strongly in. You'll be surprised who it is: AOL.

You can stop laughing now. Yes, AOL as an Internet service provider and email service is a joke, old school. I still use it just because I always have, but I laughed out loud the other day when I got this email...

...offering a solution for busy signals when users are online. How 1995, right?

Well, AOL knows that. But they still have about 5 million subscribers and is among the top 5 sources for news on the Internet. That's a tremendous driver that they need to capitalize upon before their base disappears since, as we know, nobody's signing u for new AOL accounts.

What AOL is doing is fascinating. They're becoming, essentially, the online version of Conde Nast. They've got sites on politics, pets, business, pop culture and other topics that, if you go there, you can actually not realize you're on an AOL site. The content is fresh and new and from some of the top journalists who have recently lost or left Old Media jobs. And because a link from AOL drives 200,000-500,000 hits elsewhere, other sites are eager to return the favor and keep that spigot open.

So, in that context, I've been brought on to a news division AOL will brand as Sphere and will provide a certain number of stories every month starting today with my piece on how Mom bloggers are really, REALLY, cashing in.

I'm their guy not just in Vegas but throughout the region for now, and this gives me a tremendous platform to cover stories I've had to leave on the table lately because the major media either didn't care enough to spend money on it or cared so much they handled it from elsewhere. (Hello, Sen. Ensign and CityCenter.)

It's a new beginning, then, which is fitting for the timing. And there are other ventures in the works. I was supposed to start a weekly celeb-interview segment for Las Vegas One last night but it got pushed back because I had to cover the Garth Brooks press conference for AFP. Portfolio Magazine is reconstituting online and wants several business stories from Vegas. And more.

Oh! And right now, my first Las Vegas Weekly cover story is all over town!

I caught up with seven of the student artists who in 1997 as 4th graders created the murals in the D Gate of various cities around the world. They range from a Harvard law student to a recovering drug addict and at now-22 they really reflect the diversity of their generation. I always wondered and thought their fates would make a good Strip Sense column. It ended up being a lot more than that.

And, of course, the Podcast-a-Palooza is tomorrow from 4-6 pm PT at the Palms. So the fun doesn't stop yet. Hope to see all of you there tomorrow, when we can take new goo-goo photos of me (and you!) with Holly Madison! If you can't, drop in via the livestream, which you can find at that link, too.

What a way to start a year! And here, for what it's worth, is what I look like at 37:

OH! And a hearty Happy Birthday as well to Angela Lansbury, Tim McCarver, John Mayer, Suzanne Somers, Kim Kardashian, LeAnn Tinch of the Venetian, Joe Brown of the Sun, Brandon Johnson, Dan Michalski and Meryl Moskowitz! Good tidings to you all!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Podcast-a-Palooza FOR YOUR LIFE!

OK, folks! As you can see above to your right, the Podcast-a-Palooza is approaching this SATURDAY at the Palms.

If you're unfamiliar, this is the second annual event during which Five Hundy, The Strip and the Vegas Gang perform 30ish-minute versions of their shows live in The Lounge (aka The Gossy Room) at the Palms. Admission is free and runs from 4-6 pm PT, will be LIVE-STREAMED online starting at 3:45 p.m. and will feature Queen of Vegas Holly Madison as our guest and MGM veep Gordon Absher chatting with the Vegas Gang. I suspect Five Hundy's guest will be Jack Daniels. Our emcee is Wings For Wheels and Popdose podcaster Dave Lifton and Scott Whitney of the Living In LV show will join the podcasters' roundtable and Q-and-A when it's all over.

Thing is, I didn't know until today what VegasTripping's Chuck Monster (a Vegas Gang member) posted the other day. Planet Hollywood is really getting into it with some pretty nifty giveaways!

According to Chuck, here are some of the prizes we'll be drawing to give away:

* A small group of winners to take a guided tour of the still-under-construction PH Towers, a fascinating sneak peek two months before it opens!

* Six (6) pairs of tickets to see Peepshow.

* A two-night stay at Planet Hollywood, with two (2) tickets to see either Peepshow or America's Got Talent Live and a meal for two at the Spice Market Buffet. Specifics TBA on that one.

* Some other gift bags, too, with books, music and other swag.

So! Not only do you get to hang out and observe three of your favorite Vegas shows live for free but you could win, win, win!

Top Chef's Odd Cirque Diss

See this?

It's the graphic Top Chef uses every time they go to commercial this Vegas-set season. Notice how the Zumanity sign is so prominent that, proportionally, it's larger than several major resorts and it's pretty much the only thing that's readable? (This is a screenshot from the online show; on TV it seems even bigger and much clearer.)

That made me rather curious. Was there some relationship between Cirque's risque show at New York-New York and the blockbuster TV food competition? Bravo's reality shows are well-known for not being shy about such things.

Very oddly, no. Not really. Erin Burcham, the publicist for Zumanity, tells me she, too, was surprised -- pleasantly, of course -- that the sign is getting such prominence because not only was there no behind-the-scenes product-placement arrangement but there's actually no Cirque-related challenge in the entire Las Vegas season of Top Chef.

WTF? How do you do a 16-week season of a TV show set in Vegas, trapeze all over the city and not ever directly involve the biggest entertainment influence in the city? Could they go to Orlando and avoid Disney World?

Turns out, there was a plan for a Zumanity challenge, but it was called off a day or so before it would happen. It involved making dishes from foods considered to be aphrodesiacs -- chocolate, oysters, etc -- and having some of the Zumanity cast members help judge. Burcham isn't sure why it was canceled except that she did hear that Top Chef did a challenge involving Cirque in a past season. I looked it up, and there were Ka performers were involved in the Season One finale (which took place at the MGM Grand) in 2006.

That's a long, long time ago. Cirque folks apparently submitted lots of suggested challenges for this season of Top Chef, but none were accepted except the Zumanity one. Then it was axed.

Burcham was diplomatic because, of course, she's thrilled her show is getting this enormous amount of free publicity every week which is, arguably, better than an appearance in an episode. And the finale has yet to be shot, so it's possible there could be some Cirque involvement.

Still, it seems so strange that something so identifiably Las Vegas -- and not in a crass way that Elvis impersonators are -- would be left out, don't you think?

The Show is UP: CSI's Marg and Zuiker

OK...we're back. Here are interviews with Marg Helgenberger and Anthony Zuiker of the TV show CSI as well as some very fun banter and the return of Miles! Next weekend, we'll be doing the Podcast-a-Palooza, so catch it live via the stream or we'll post the podcast as next week's show. See the fun graphic to the right for more details. As always, you can subscribe to the podcast (it's free!) via iTunes or Zune and get the show automatically or click on the date below to make it play for you. You can also right-click to download it to your computer to hear whenever you wish. Enjoy. -sf

Oct. 13: The CSI Interview Experience

It’s the biggest TV show ever set in Las Vegas, but can CSI: Crime Scene Investigation succeed as a permanent Vegas attraction? The folks at MGM Grand decided to find out. On the occasion of the opening of the interactive solve-it-yourself CSI: The Experience, Steve sat down with both Vegas-raised creator Anthony Zuiker and the show’s longtime star, Marg Helgenberger.

In Banter: Debate over the notion of a Top Chef restaurant, A Bronx Tale is excellent, Wynn's new flight deal, post-MJ career notes, weird lights on the Cosmo and more.


CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigation homepage
The CSI: The Experience attraction at MGM Grand
VegasHappensHere.Com on the CSI: The Experience attraction's slow start
Steve's Las Vegas Weekly column on Vegas' Top Chef flub
The Las Vegas Sun on the Wynn Las Vegas' new private jet deal offer
Get tickets to "A Bronx Tale"
See Steve's photo of the weird lights on the Cosmopolitan
VegasHappensHere.Com about the Top Chef Sandy Valley switcheroo