News They Can’t Use

Wondering when we’ll see more arts coverage on the ten o’clock news? About the time ESPN starts broadcasting from the CSO. With only 23 minutes of noncommercial time on a half-hour newscast, it’ll be tough to give the arts more time than they already have, executives from three local network affiliates told about 50 theater folk at the final panel of the League of Chicago Theatres’ annual Community Conference last weekend. How much time is that? It depends on who’s doing the counting, but on average it’s definitely less than a minute. I did my own survey Sunday night, after a weekend so slow the National Hardware Show seemed like breaking news, and found all three channels covering the 114-year-old woman, the shark-bit boy going home, and the state fair’s hog and husband calling contests. You could make a pretty good argument for hog calling as performance, but without it the total arts time on the three stations was about 10 seconds of movie chat. ABC general manager Emily Barr knew what she was talking about when she warned the conference, “It’s a mistake to focus only on the ten o’clock news. If you focus on that, you’ll find yourself frustrated.”

The panel consisted of CBS news director Craig Hume, NBC executive producer Christopher Myers, and Barr, with Sun-Times TV critic Phil Rosenthal as moderator. It was inspired by a Columbia University study that showed network newscast arts coverage in the 1990s averaged 30 seconds, was dominated by scandal, and was losing time to coverage of the Internet. In her introduction to the panel, LCT’s executive director Marj Halperin explained why theater people should care. “Theater reviews have been dwindling in both the Tribune and Sun-Times,” Halperin said. “No slight intended to our friends in print, but no panel was scheduled to address that situation because newspaper readership is way down and, among young people, almost extinct. If you want to create a buzz today, TV is where you need to be.”

So, in spite of the fact that television network news is a sinking ship–local and national broadcasts have lost a quarter and a half of their audience respectively in the 1990s–the theater folk sat up and listened while the panelists dispensed advice on how to capture their attention: hire a “really good” PR person, find an interesting hook (don’t just send a press release on your opening, that’s not news), and–oh yeah–get it in the newspaper. “All of us read the papers very closely every day,” said Hume. “That’s a good way to get your story in front of us.” Barr doesn’t expect any expansion of arts shows in the near future. “There’s no ad market for it,” she said. Even with a 6 rating, “190 North has been difficult to sell to advertisers.” Myers said Sweet Home Chicago “is a tough sell,” and Hume explained that Channel 2 “doesn’t feel the economics will support [additional arts programs] right now.” It might have been interesting to have local stations that do a better job in this area–Channel 11, or CLTV, which recycles print reviews from the Tribune–in the mix. As it was, the afternoon’s most successful line of inquiry came from longtime freelance theater writer Jonathan Abarbanel, who turned the question-and-answer session into an ambush audition for a spot as a television arts reporter. He drew an appreciative laugh from a crowd that knows something about grabbing center stage.

Must Be Kismet

Light Opera Works’ production of Kismet, opening this weekend, was two weeks into rehearsals when director David Perkovich abruptly left. LOW artistic director Lara Teeter says they were sorry to see him go: “David was into the production and conceptualizing it from the beginning,” but there were extenuating circumstances. “He and I were having a discussion about the possibility of his directing LOW’s next show [You Never Know, opening in October], but that’s not the reason he decided to leave Kismet,” Teeter says. “Something else came up in his personal life and his relationship with Light Opera Works was standing in the way of things he needed to take care of.” Perkovich had no comment. Teeter, who was choreographing the show, stepped in as director. “Fortunately, I already had Katrina Williams in place as cochoreographer,” he says. “We’ll be ready by Saturday night; it’ll be a glorious show.” Williams will also choreograph You Never Know; Mike Kotze will direct.

Bogged Down, Played Out

Trouble in the burbs: Bog Theatre artistic director Dan Tomko says the company’s just temporarily homeless after its move out of Prairie Lakes Community Center in Des Plaines August 1. “For us, it would have been better to leave clean, but it didn’t work out that way,” Tomko says. Bog owes the Des Plaines Park District $3,000 in rent, which Tomko says will be paid. “It’s always been a struggle; this will be the first year since ’94 that we don’t have a show up in the fall.” Meanwhile Bog continues to produce original plays at the Des Plaines Historical Society, and Tomko is still hoping to turn the Des Plaines movie theater into the company’s permanent home….Oak Park’s Village Players board treasurer Robert J. Robertson says the company’s artistic director Maura Manning just disappeared earlier this summer. “She left suddenly, without giving notice, and didn’t tell us where she was going,” Robertson says. Manning, reached at home, says a “new configuration on the board” and limits on her job made it impossible to stay. “I promised them I’d stay for a year and I stayed 14 months,” she says. “After a board meeting at the end of June, Robertson moved into the office and said he was in charge of everything. I wish them well, but for my sanity I could no longer continue.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steve Conway.