So, Danny Goldberg is killing Morning Sedition.
Sedition, if you haven't heard of it, is Air America Radio's morning-drive program, hosted by comedian Marc Maron and co-host Mark Riley. As its first producer, I helped create and launch the show in April 2004 and produced it for its first year. If you've seen the HBO documentary, Left of the Dial, you know that this was an extremely trying process.
When Goldberg started as Air America Radio CEO this year, he made it clear almost immediately that he didn't like (or get, depending on your view) Sedition and that he wanted, at the very least, to make substantive changes. Landing in Goldberg's crosshairs strained the previously volatile, but also rewarding, relationship between myself and Maron and, especially after the network asked me to help Rachel Maddow create and launch her new 5 a.m. show, I ended up reducing my involvement in Sedition, handing over most of the responsibility to the hyper-capable Brendan McDonald and focusing my efforts more on the long-term planning required for the summer's slate of live remote broadcasts.
Eventually, it became clear to me that this set-up wasn't infinitely tenable. I told the network I wanted to stay on in some other capacity. My superiors there felt the same way and sought other ways to utilize me. Goldberg, however, had no interest in keeping me, so I was laid off in September.
All of which is not the point of my story, but a good-faith effort to disclose that, yes, I have a number of axes that could use grinding if I were so inclined.
I don't feel so inclined (okay, I do, but not so much any more and, in any case, I'm trying not to indulge). Maron is pretty damn close to a national treasure. His level of emotional intelligence is off the charts and he applies it to issues of politics and society in ways that make his work the comedic equivalent of "Freakonomics" or "Tipping Point," his synthesis of insights (his own and others) into how people work individually and societally is just about that revolutionary.
And it's piss-your-pants funny. The New Haven Advocate came pretty close, I think, to nailing what made Sedition good and valuable to AAR, and in general. When Goldberg arrived at Air America, everyone -- including him -- acknowledged that Morning Sedition had been neglected by the network.
Al Franken and, to a lesser extent, Randi Rhodes, had received most of the promotional push (including the scant paid advertising AAR purchased as well as the free media). Sedition had a couple strikes against it -- it started off with a mismatched team and only really took off once one of the three initial hosts left the program. Also, Maron had never done radio before and Riley had only done local radio. Maron was the lead host and needed a few months to find his groove -- which he did in preternaturally quick time.
The biggest strike against us, though, was that we were operating in the most competitive daypart -- morning drive. And no one knew we existed. Despite that, however, and despite Goldberg's public rationales, Sedition usually did relatively okay in the ratings. When it stumbled, there was usually some clear reason for it or it was part of a larger pattern (affecting AAR or talk-radio overall). So, we needed to let people know our show existed. And this wasn't another case of a show feeling neglected and making excuses; all the executives agreed, and said, in essence, that it wasn't possible to put a show on in the nation's number-one market, in the most competitive daypart and expect it to succeed without spending a single dollar to let people know it existed. To his credit, Goldberg brought in people to remedy that. Unfortunately, for reasons beyond my ken, the additional staff didn't yield any additional attention for or promotion of the show. We were, in fact, told to wait. First a new logo had to be developed. Then an overall network-marketing plan would have to be developed. Only then, finally, would the network be able to market Morning Sedition properly. If that was true, why cancel the show before allowing the still-unseen marketing to debut? If it wasn't true, why should we believe what we're being told now?
Goldberg's claim that he's dividing the morning-drive slot into two shows of radically different sensibilities rather than retain a sharp, critically acclaimed comedian at a time when fans of Howard Stern (some of whom had already discovered us and joined the ranks of our listeners) would be looking at alternatives, in order to boost ratings, is both laughable and transparently false. The reality is he dislikes Air America's comedic elements. Rather than more of Sedition's comedy, Goldberg wanted the show to interview former NYC mayoral candidate Mark Green.
After I was gone, Green started showing up on Sedition with such frequency that it led the consistently-favorable magazine TimeOut NY to make its first negative comments about the show, with a dig about Green's frequency as a guest.
I'm glad that my friend Rachel is going to get more exposure. She's enough of a star that it's probably only a matter of time until Air America somehow fumbles and lets her slip away. But it's a huge disappointment that Goldberg is rejecting the advice of virtually everyone who's weighed in on this issue in order to kill a show that's been provocative, unique, smart, brave, personal, vulnerable, honest and as funny as gallows humor can be.
I hope Goldberg isn't full of shit when he says they're trying to find a way to keep Maron on the air at Air America. I'd be interested to see how Maron evolved as a solo act on the air. And Maron's is a perspective (that should be plural, actually) you just don't get from any of the other lefty-ish, progressive hosts. No slur against them, they all say important things and expose important truths, but Maron does more than that, he does so with a singular voice.
And silencing that voice just because he doesn't hear it would make Goldberg just as bad as the people he claims to oppose.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
So, Danny Goldberg is killing Morning Sedition.