Not as easy as ABC.

Friday, November 6th, 1998

No, the audio engineer on ABC Nightline’s election night wasn’t drunk, and the technical trouble during Monday Night Football or Live with Regis and Kathie Lee last week wasn’t in your set. The folks from ABC just let some overwhelmed guy from sales sit at an enormous audio board and send deafening feedback into the earpieces of Rahm Emanuel, Orrin Hatch, and Ted Koppel.

After a one day strike on the first day of November sweeps by NABET—the union representing some 2,200 ABC technicians— Disney/ABC decided to lock out the NABET technicians who would normally be getting the job done. Why? Because they want their union to, among other things, give them 72 hours notice—14 days notice before broadcasts with live remotes—before staging any other strikes. In the meantime, what we get from ABC is technically wobbly coverage, guest cancellations (Vice President Gore, Adam Sandler, Whoopi Goldberg, Tony Bennett, and others refused to cross the picket lines), and situations where a technically hobbled ABC can’t cover the news others can.

The one-day strike was actually called over a new health care plan ABC wanted the union—which has been operating without a contract since March 1997—to accept. NABET has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board calling the lockout illegal. Legal or not, ABC must be confident enough to try and push this under these conditions during a ratings period.

The reality is that management at Disney/ABC (and at the other media empires) as well as NABET and other have some adapting to do in the face of new technology, new definitions of news, and the changing face of employment, where more and more work will be farmed out to "independent contractors" who aren’t paid benefits.

* * * * *

ABC’s promofolk seem to be trying one intriguing science experiment during sweeps. During the unwatchable "Mission Impossible" movie last Thursday, the bright-yellow-and-black net ran sixty-second promos that, in todays accelerated age, felt like small programs in and of themselves. (Sixty seconds, for those of you too caffeinated to do the math, is one minute.) In one, Barbara Walters took her time and told us about several upcoming 20/20 segments (explaining to us patiently that 20/20 was on Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, but not Thursday), and in another, we were treated to an extended summary of how NYPD Blue will attempt to grab us by our lapels (followed by some extended heartsleeve-tugging) with the drawn-out departure of Jimmy Smits as detective Bobby Simone.

A promo that long very much has the feel of a theatrical trailer, and is about as far from the ‘blipverts’ we’ve been assaulted by as you can get.

* * * * *

And in a final word in an all-ABC column, I’m compelled to call your attention to Politically Incorrect, snapped up from Comedy Central by ABC a while back. Bill Maher’s little salon of counterchat, which exists to juxtapose wrestlers with politicians retains its edge in an era where, well, wrestlers have become politicians. Highly recommended.