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February 12th, 2006:

“You still like me! You really still like me!”

How bad are things for Tom DeLay when stories with headlines like GOP voters still like DeLay get published? Last I checked, it wasn’t supposed to be news when an incumbent officeholder could claim to have support from his fellow partymates. Quite the reverse, in fact.

The one thing I want to point out here is the continually evolving story line from Fort Bend GOP Chair Eric Thode as to why DeLay’s performance sucked rocks in 2004:

DeLay began showing signs of weakness at the polls in the 2004 election, when defectors voted for Republican President Bush but skipped him on the ballot.

“Disaffected Republicans wanted to send DeLay a message. But they didn’t want to see him defeated,” said Fort Bend County Republican Chair Eric Thode. “The message was, ‘We’d like to see you a little more.’ ”

DeLay took note, and he has shown up and stumped more often.

First of all, as I’ve said before, DeLay started showing weakness in 2002, when he underperformed all but three other GOP candidates in CD22. No one paid attention at the time because his margin of victory was still solid, but it’s there for all to see: DeLay was one of the worst votegetters in his own district.

Second, Thode wants you to believe – and sadly, there’s nothing in this story to tell you otherwise – that DeLay’s lost support manifested itself in undervotes; that is, a bunch of people just did not vote in the Congressional race in CD22 last time. But that’s baloney. Look, we know that DeLay got 9000 fewer votes than the next-to-last GOP performer in CD22. If it were a simple matter of undervotes in his race, then you’d expect that his Democratic challenger, Richard Morrison, would have gotten about as many votes as John Kerry, or about as many votes as the other statewide Democrats on the ballot. Here are the actual totals:

Candidate Votes ============================ Richard Morrison 112,034 JR Molina 100,132 John Kerry 98,180 Bob Scarborough 97,456 David Van Os 96,459

Not only did Morrison get the most votes among Democrats, he did so even though there were two other candidates on the ballot that combined for 4% of the total. Morrison’s strength carried down to the county level, too. There were about 275,000 votes cast in the Presidential election in CD22. In the Congressional race, it was 272,620, and that’s more than each of the other three statewide races by at least 10,000. People didn’t skip this race. They made a point of voting in it.

So there was a message delivered by Thode’s “disaffected” Republicans in CD22, but that message wasn’t “We’d like to see you a little more.” That message, delivered by the thousands of people who voted for other Republicans and for Richard Morrison, was “We’d like to see you lose.”

Reviving the Muppets

Via Mark Evanier, an article on Disney’s attempts to revive the Muppets franchise.

As with many Hollywood comebacks, the saga of how Kermit is trying to leap back on top is a story of changing tastes and the eternal quest for green.

The executive in charge of the Muppets says the studio envisions Kermit and Miss Piggy as “evergreen” characters, akin to Mickey Mouse and Winnie the Pooh. Every division at the company is contributing ideas to the renewal project. Among the proposals under consideration: a mock reality TV series and a Broadway musical à la “The Lion King.”

Kermit “has been resting on his reputation from the TV show of the late ’70s,” said Disney Executive Vice President Russell Hampton, referring to “The Muppet Show,” which had an extraordinarily successful syndicated run from 1976 to 1981.

[…]

Kermit’s fate shows how relatively quickly even a world-famous brand can ebb without constant upkeep. Since Henson’s unexpected death at age 53, corporate control of Kermit and Miss Piggy has changed hands three times. Even today, Disney doesn’t own the rights to all the characters that sprang from Henson’s shop; Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Elmo and other icons of the preschool set belong to the nonprofit Sesame Workshop, producer of PBS’ “Sesame Street.”

Perhaps more important, the decline of the Muppets offers an instructive lesson in the vagaries of the market for family entertainment. Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and others are vying for children’s attention, constantly churning out a panoply of new characters for every age range and taste. While the latest generation of kids tuned in to Dora the Explorer and SpongeBob SquarePants, the Muppets fossilized, as much a cultural artifact as mood rings or vinyl records.

“There was a certain creative malaise, post-Jim Henson,” said Martin Brochstein, editorial director of EPM Communications, which publishes newsletters on product licensing and other marketing issues.

First of all, I agree with Evanier in that the least likely way to succeed with this project is having “every division at the company contributing ideas” to it. Find a visionary, give him or her a budget and a talented staff to work with, and get out of the way.

Second, while the Muppets are unquestionably family entertainment, I think a key to any revival will be to realize that many of the parents of the children they’ll be targeting were fans of the old Muppet Show – I sure was. Capture the spirit of that show, and you’ll have all those parents wanting to tune in with their kids. Get it right and I guarantee the parents at least will find it preferable to Dora and Spongebob.

Finally, I dispute the idea that Mickey Mouse is an “evergreen” character. Much more than the Muppets, Mickey is a victim of criminal neglect by Disney. But that’s a different rant.

More support for a la carte cable pricing

A la carte pricing for cable channels, which I’ve blogged about before, just got another push.

Most cable TV subscribers would save money if allowed to pay for only the channels they want, a Federal Communications Commission study said Thursday, reversing the agency’s earlier finding that consumers wouldn’t benefit.

The analysis by FCC staff provides new support for consumer groups and conservatives pushing for a pick-and-choose pricing system to replace the bundled services offered by the cable industry. Cable companies fear that would diminish their wide distribution.

The study gives added ammunition to lawmakers and regulators who see “a la carte” as a way to clean up raunchy television by giving parents more control over the channels their children watch.

“I am pleased that the commission has concluded that ‘a la carte’ offering could reduce consumers’ cable bills by as much as 13 percent,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who plans to introduce a bill next week to create and promote use of “a la carte.”

Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, said if a la carte won’t cost consumers more, “I will support an effort to take such an approach, subject to discussions with providers on the downside of such a process.”

This is just a guess on my part, but I suspect that the pricing models that cable companies will present for a la carte will only make it a really good deal for people who want a small number of channels. Above a certain number, you’ll be better off with a standard basic tier package. There’s no real incentive for them to do otherwise, especially now that much of their marketing is geared towards getting you to buy a cable/Internet/phone sevice package.

I also think that most people will wind up preferring the simplicity of a bundled service. As I said before, it’s not like there are no options to keep the kiddies from tuning into whatever shows or channels you find objectionable. If all you really object to is MTV, for example, what’s going to be easier – enabling the parental lock for that channel, or ordering every other channel but MTV? Even just calling the cable company to say “Switch me from your basic package to an a la carte plan that includes all the channels I currently get except for MTV” will take more time and effort and will probably cost more money, too. Who wants that? I guess it’s somewhat a question of how easy the cable companies make it to pick and choose the channels you want. What do you think the odds of that will be?

I could be wrong. Maybe this idea will put downward pressure on cable prices. Maybe the concept will bring enough new business to the AOLTimeWarners of the world to make it worth their while to come up with a really attractive price structure for a la carte usage. I doubt it, but I guess we’ll see.