Saturday, December 31, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

It's the last day of 2011 so let's wrap up with one final installation of "Saturday morning coffee," shall we?

- If you're looking for an entertaining alternative to a New Year's Eve party or New Year's Rockin' Eve with Dick Clark, check out Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol in the theaters. There's a reason it's the box office hit of the holiday season.

- Imitating Santa Claus does not pay. A Stockton, CA teen, George Herrera, tried to sneak back into his home, after breaking his parents' curfew, by climbing down the chimney. Herrera got stuck and firefighters had to be called to pull him to safety.

- Viggo Mortensen, star of such movies as the Lord of the Rings trilogy, offers us this week's quote of the week. Mortensen has no patience for actors who go through the motions once they've made it big and said this in a recent interview: "You're tired!? Come on! The crew isn't tired? The crew who got here two hours before you and who'll be here two hours after you leave, and who are being paid, in many cases, one thousandth of what you're being paid!? Life is too short to work with idiots."

- Of the 11 inductees to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame announced this month, only one is a woman--singer/songwriter Laura Nyro. Since its founding in 1983, only 40 of the 296 inductees have been women or included female members.

- On any given day, 58% of us go online for no other reason than to have fun or pass the time. (Source: Pew Research)

- Looking ahead, what should we expect from 2012? According to The Hollywood Reporter, here are five trends for 2012: 1. Facebook finally goes public. 2. Stars take more control, i.e., taking more control of user-generated content. 3. NBC's Olympics battle Twitter. (Can the network control the flow of information so that tweets don't pre-empt programming?) 4. Hollywood's box office slump faces a crucial test--was the box office lag of 2011 an aberration, or the sign of a trend? 5. James Murdoch feels the heat as the News Corp. scandal deepens.

Let me sign off by saying that, once again, it's been a kick writing for those of you who follow this space for my idle ramblings. Here's wishing you the absolute best in the New Year!

Friday, December 30, 2011

The hits, misses and "who cares" of 2011 - vol. 4

Here you go, readers--the final volume of the "hits, misses and 'who cares' of 2011."

Hit: The Good Wife (CBS) lost a step this season but is still the best written, best acted primetime drama on network television.

Miss: What is up with Target's insistence on using the wildly irritating actress, in pre-Christmas advertising, hyping their pre-Thanksgiving and Black Friday sales?

Who cares: Taylor Swift--I still Just-Don't-Get-It.

Hit: Steven Tyler and Jennifer Lopez joined holdover judge Randy Jackson on American Idol (FOX.) And, guess what--it worked! The chemistry of the trio was better than all but the earliest years of Idol.

Miss: AMC went to war with Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, in intense negotiations about the future of the show. While it appears that Weiner won several concessions from the network, the losers were viewers of this top-notch show which went dark throughout 2011. The next season of Mad Men will begin in March 2012.

Who cares: Conan O'Brien returned to nighttime television after a very public dispute with NBC. And, Coco's return has been met with a collective yawn by the vast audience of potential viewers, netting less-than-stellar ratings for Conan (TBS.)

Hit: Daniel Craig, star of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, publicly called out the Kardashians in British GQ for getting paid to behave "like f--king idiots on television."

Miss: Is there a Broadway show in recent memory which has been as troubled as Spider Man: Turn Off the Dark? This most expensive production in Broadway history had several false starts, including injuries to actors involved in stunts, before finally opening in June. Reviews for the show have been less than kind.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The hits, misses and "who cares" of 2011 - vol. 3

I know you're sitting there with your morning coffee, waiting anxiously for this third installment of the "hits, misses and 'who cares' of 2011." So, let's get after it, shall we?

Hit: In this age of the dressing down of America, it's nice to see shows like Mad Men and Pan Am succeed, given their 1960's fashion-forward look. Can we please bring that fashion sense back to today's work world?

Miss: Elizabeth Taylor as in "we will miss Ms. Taylor." Taylor was a movie star in every sense of the phrase--she achieved artistic success with her on-screen exploits and was tabloid fodder for her off-screen activities. Her beauty made her one of the most adored women in the world and her involvement in AIDs research raised millions.

Who cares: Maybe it's just me but does anyone really care about Paul McCartney anymore? Who McCartney has married this week is of no interest and his music is irrelevant.

Hit: HBO knocked it out of the park again with its original series, Game of Thrones. Other cable networks--notably AMC--are doing great work with their original series but HBO still sets the standard.

Miss: When I first saw Scotty McCreery two years ago on American Idol, I thought "nice, knock off voice of Josh Turner (country and western artist.)" Now, seeing McCreery appear on a variety of national television shows and on tour, my question is "really!?"

Hit: Is there a funnier actress in America than Melissa McCarthy? I first noticed McCarthy on Samantha Who?, the short-lived sitcom starring Christina Applegate. This year, McCarthy broke out with her performance in Bridesmaids coupled with her TV turn on Mike & Molly.

Miss: In 2011 we lost an iconic rock-and-roll presence in Clarence Clemons, longtime saxophonist and sidekick for Bruce Springsteen in the E Street Band.

Who cares: It was a bad year for Eddie Cibrian. First, he fails miserably at elevating The Playboy Club from the list of really bad television. And, he makes this list a second time due to his marriage to singer LeAnn Rimes. These two are a "celebrity" couple which just falls in the "who cares" category.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

What if "Fatal Attraction" had ended differently?

Who doesn't remember the chilling ending to Fatal Attraction, the 1987 thriller starring Michael Douglas and Glenn Close? That suspenseful ending wasn't the original conclusion to the movie, which grossed more than $300 million in box-office earnings, and it was through the involvement of Joseph Farrell that the planned ending was changed.

Farrell, a marketing executive at Paramount Pictures, died on December 7 and his passing brought back the story of the drama surrounding the end of Fatal Attraction.

The original planned ending had Close's character, the psychopathic stalker to Douglas' Dan Gallagher, commit ritualistic suicide as she listens to a recording of "Madame Butterfly." Farrell insisted on testing the movie with preview audiences--and those consumers openly rejected the ending as unsatisfying. Given the findings, Farrell insisted that director Adrian Lyne re-shoot the ending. And, we all now remember that captivating finish where Douglas seemingly kills Close's Alex Forrest in a struggle in the bathtub, only to have her re-emerge and then be shot by Douglas' wife, played by Anne Archer.

The movie was nominated for six Oscars but would not have gained this critical and consumer acclaim if not for the efforts of the late Farrell, the unknown and offscreen hero of Fatal Attraction.

The hits, misses and "who cares" of 2011 - vol. 2

Here you go, loyal readers--the second volume of this week's feature on the hits, misses and, of course, the "who cares" of this past year.

Hit: Modern Family (ABC.) This smart comedy is the best sitcom on network television and, unlike most shows, is picking up momentum in season three.

Miss: The Playboy Club (NBC.) Eddie Cibrian did his best poor man's Don Draper but where this show failed was with the implausible story line. Unlike Pan Am, this period piece failed.

Who cares: Charlie Sheen. Why even devote another line of copy to this "story?"

Hit: Justified (FX.) If you didn't watch season two of this FX drama, you missed terrific acting and writing plus the Emmy performance of Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett. Timothy Olyphant stars as Raylan Givens, a Federal Marshall who goes back home to Kentucky and the various crime activities which take place in Harlan County. The new season of Justified starts on January 17.

Miss: James Franco's host role on the Oscars was painful to watch. Anne Hathaway, as co-host, tried her best but Franco's performance as Oscar emcee was not only a puzzling pick but a sad reality--he was horrible.

Who cares: The X Factor (FOX.) This much-hyped reality show, the brainchild of Simon Cowell, was much adieu about little and failed to eclipse the standard of Cowell's former show, American Idol.

Hit: Finale, Friday Night Lights (NBC.) Few shows in recent TV history have combined the ensemble cast excellence, taut writing, and real life drama of Friday Night Lights. Unfortunately, the critically acclaimed FNL failed to build critical audience mass given little help from NBC in how the drama was yanked around on the network's schedule. The emotional final episode, while sad given the show's end, was poignant and fulfilling. "Clear eyes, full hearts...can't lose!"

Miss: Lights Out (FX.) You say you've never heard of this show? Don't fret--few did as it lasted only one season. The drama, starring Stacey Keach and Holt McCallany in the lead role as "Lights" Leary, was gripping in its account of a retired heavyweight champion who struggled with life outside the ring.

Who cares: It/they starts with a “K” and ends with an “N.” Can we all make a pact to not buy any of their products or watch any of their reality TV shows this year?

Hit: The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach. My favorite novel of 2011 follows the exploits of Henry Skrimshander, a baseball fielding savant, and his peeps at fictional Westish College.

Miss: Steve Jobs, as in "we will miss you, Steve Jobs." Jobs' impact on our lives has been well documented--it will be interesting to see how his legacy continues to play out at Apple.

Who cares: Justin Bieber has the hair and, apparently, the voice but watching him move from adolescence to adulthood is just plain creepy. Why do so many young stars find it necessary to leap from pre-teen to 30 in their behavior?

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The hits, misses and "who cares" of 2011

What were the hits and misses of this past year? And, of course, what were the "who cares?" Let me break it down for you with this first edition of "hits, misses and 'who cares'."

Hit: Homeland (Showtime.) This modern day espionage thriller may have been the hit of the television year. Homeland is a smart drama featuring Claire Danes in an Emmy-worthy role complemented by strong performances by Mandy Patinkin and Damian Lewis.

Miss: Charlie’s Angels (ABC.) Those of us who are old enough to remember the original show know that it was bad but the eye candy was first rate. This show was so bad that one couldn't even focus on the eye candy.

Who cares: Coke may have been guilty of a poor brand identity move by producing white Coke cans for its "regular" Coke brand. But, the outcry from devotees of “real” Coke who felt that the can color changed the taste was just plain silly.

Hit: The Royal wedding was "the" event of the year and made a pop culture star out of Pippa Middleton, sister of Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge. The lovely rear view of Middleton, broadcast to millions worldwide, immediately made her an internet sensation.

Miss: Grey’s Anatomy (ABC.) One, is there a more dislikable ensemble acting cast on television? And, two, the various story lines for this former ABC hit have not yet jumped the shark but are in pre-jump position.

Who cares: Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore split given rumors of his philandering and stories of her insecurities about her looks. Raise your hand if you were shocked by this news. Yep, that's what I thought...

Hit: Volkswagen’s “The Force” commercial first aired during Super Bowl week, as well as on the game broadcast, and became one of the most-watched YouTube commercials of the year.

Miss: Does anybody really understand why the erectile dysfunction spot for the Cialas brand ends with a couple lounging in separate bathtubs outside? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Who cares: The final season of Entourage whimpered through 10 or so shows before trying to neatly tie up all story lines in a convenient bow at the conclusion of this formerly fun series on HBO.

Tomorrow--Check this space out tomorrow for volume II of our "Hits, Misses and 'Who Cares' of 2011."

Monday, December 26, 2011

Social buzz for Holiday television

Can you imagine George Bailey's consternation--beyond the mere fact that he got to see what the world would be like without him--had he known that those who watched It's A Wonderful Life could utilize this thing called social media to comment as well?

Bluefin Labs has analyzed the social media buzz around holiday-themed television and found that Elf, the holiday comedy starring Will Ferrell, won the social media sweepstakes by a wide margin. But, that victory had to do with the number of times the movie aired--eight times on USA and twice on SyFy between December 1-18.

When Bluefin factored number of mentions compared against number of airings, the social media winner was Michael Buble's A Michael Buble Christmas, which aired just once on ABC. Buble benefited from fellow crooner Justin Bieber's Twitter following as Bieber's tweeting posse helped promote the show given the young star's appearance on Buble's special.

The other interesting phenomenon was that shows which aired later in the month, closer to Christmas, garnered more social media mentions thus indicating that the holiday spirit built over the course of the month. A Charlie Brown Christmas which aired on December 15 received three times as many mentions as the one airing December 5.

Here is the top ten list based upon mentions per airing:

1. A Michael Buble Christmas (NBC)
2. CMA Country Christmas (ABC)
3. A Very BET Christmas 2011 (BET)
4. A Charlie Brown Christmas (ABC)
5. It's A Wonderful Life (NBC)
6. Elf (USA/SyFy)
7. Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town (ABC)
8. Christmas in Washington 2011 (TNT)
9. Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (ABC Family)
10. The Polar Express (Disney)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas Eve!

Merry Christmas Eve, one and all! Let's take a cruise around to see what's going on in that world of last-minute shopping, shall we?

- Did you know that Dom Perignon was a 17th-century Benedictine monk? Nope, I didn't either, but I thought you might like that little fun fact given the bubbly which will be imbibed over the next week at various holiday gatherings and such.

- None other than TV and radio mogul Ryan Seacrest is a Christmas Eve baby. Seacrest turns 37 today.

- The wild, wild west isn't alive and well in Steamboat Springs, CO. Three people recently left a bar in that ski town, commandeered three horses, and then rode them into a Starbucks and a Safeway in search for some munchies. (Hmm, wonder what they were smoking along with their bar libations?) The night ended for the three amigos when local police tasered and arrested them.

- In case you had not heard, don't be licking the bowl today if you're baking any Christmas cookies. A recent study found that a 2009 E.coli outbreak, that sickened 80 people in 30 states, was caused by eating raw cookie dough.

- It's a cat's life: A former stray Italian cat recently inherited more than $15 million. Real estate investor Maria Assunta died last month and bequeathed her entire fortune to Tommasino, a stray cat Assunta had adopted. Assunta's former nurse is trustee for Tommasino's millions.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Say it ain't so, Smokestack!

It's a sad day in the barbecue community of Kansas City--Smokestack barbecue, on Wornall, has closed.

The original Smokestack, opened in 1957 by the Fiorella family, was located off of Highway 71. Jack Fiorella, a son of the owners, branched off in 1974 and opened Fiorella's Smokestack in Martin City. This location, and two others he would eventually open, became Fiorella's Jack Stack Barbecue.

Mary Fiorella, a daughter of the owners, also branched off and opened Smokestack BBQ at 8920 Wornall during the mid-1980s. Mary died a few years ago and her son had been managing the Wornall location since her death.

Smokestack closed a few days ago but there are plans in the works to sell a Smokestack line of barbecue products at select retail locations in Kansas City.

(Source: The Kansas City Star)

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Here you go: The top Christmas movies ever

Hello, dear readers, and Happy Holidays. You probably read the headline to this piece and thought "just what I need--another top ten list of Christmas movies." But, you see, this is my list so read up to find out which are "must see" movies this holiday season.

Holiday Inn (1942): This isn't technically a Christmas movie but it is the first time we hear Bing Crosby sing "White Christmas." For that alone, this one makes the list. (And, the dancing of Fred Astaire isn't bad either.)

A Christmas Carol (1984): I prefer this version with George C. Scott, one of the best American actors ever. Or, maybe I'm just intrigued at watching the guy who played General George S. Patton (Patton) and General Buck Turgidson (Dr. Strangelove) take a turn as Ebenezer Scrooge.

Christmas Eve on Sesame Street (1978): This makes the list because of how fun it was to watch with my daughter. Big Bird worries when Oscar tells him that Santa can't fit down the chimney. And, of course, the story is told with typical Sesame Street grace and care.

White Christmas (1954): It's not really the Christmas season until I see Crosby singing "White Christmas," with Rosemary Clooney, in those redder-than-red outfits at the end of this classic.

The Preacher's Wife (1996):
This is a remake of The Bishop's Wife (Cary Grant) but gets the nod due to Denzel Washington as an incredibly charming Dudley and a pre-meltdown Whitney Houston displaying her gospel singing chops.

Miracle on 34th Street (1947): A young Natalie Wood and Edmund Gwenn, as Santa Claus, star in this black-and-white classic. What I love is how the importance of magic and make-believe is central to this sentimental story.

Home Alone (1978): Yeah, it's goofy and unbelievable. But, c'mon, the "battle scene" in the house is great slapstick humor and Roberts Blossom, as Harley, turns from threatening neighbor to cuddly grandpa by the end of the flick.

It's A Wonderful Life (1946): Everyone's favorite never grows old--the story of George Bailey and what life would have been like had he not existed is timeless. The all-star cast includes James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore and Thomas Mitchell.

And, now, it's time for the final two. Let me first qualify by saying that one isn't technically a movie but it's multi-year run as America's favorite Christmas special qualifies it for status on this list.

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation (1989):
This is the best of the "vacation" movies featuring Clark Griswold and family and the highlights are many--Clark's attempt to create the best "exterior illumination" display ever, the escapades of Cousin Eddie, and the all-too-familiar tension created by invading in-laws during the holidays. This movie shines with the one-liners which have woven their way into our vernacular, particularly at this time of year.

A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965): Yes, I know--this is not a movie but a television special which has now aired for 46 years! Charlie Brown, upset at the commercialism he sees around him, seeks the true meaning of Christmas. Leave it to Linus, Charlie's deep, even-tempered friend, to calmly explain it, reciting those wonderful lines from the gospel of Luke. Ever the klutz, Charlie gang of companions rally around him and display the wonder of this special season.

There, quite the list, isn't it? Happy viewing!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Birthday, Keith!

Happy Birthday today to Keith Richards, one of rock-and-roll's bad boys, who turns 68. The Rolling Stones guitarist was recently voted the tenth best guitarist of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

Good morning, campers--happy Saturday morning to you! Are you plotting your attack today on the last full weekend of holiday shopping? Yeah, me neither...

Let's look at what's going on out there in the wild world of popular culture, consumer behavior and interesting "news."

- The final episode of Homeland airs on Showtime tomorrow night. The series is one of the best of the season, earning impressive ratings and critical acclaim. Claire Danes' performance as Carrie Mathison is Emmy-worthy stuff and Damian Lewis, as Sgt. Nicholas Brody, offers a simmering unease--is he really a terrorist or not? It will be interesting to see if Homeland delivers a knockout finale, or disappoints viewers, a la The Killing (AMC), which left its murder mystery unsolved in its final episode last spring.

- Attention, Baby Boomers, 2012 looks to be the music tour year for you. As previously reported, not only will acts like The Eagles and Bruce Springsteen tour next year, but look for The Rolling Stones to figure out what they plan to do to honor their 50th anniversary. Now, none other than The Beach Boys have announced that they will hit the road in support of a new studio album. The lineup will include original members Brian Wilson, Mike Love and Al Jardine, as well as early members Bruce Johnston and David Marks.

- Say it ain't so! Daniel Ruettiger, best known as Rudy from the 1993 inspirational movie by that name, is in trouble with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Ruettiger has been named as a key participant in a so-called pump-and-dump stock scheme that generated more than $11 million in supposedly illegal profits for Rudy Nutrition, a now defunct beverage company. The SEC contends that Ruettiger and 12 others made false and misleading statements about the company in news releases, SEC filings and promotional materials, in 2008, in a scheme to lure investors. Ruettiger agreed to pay over $380,000 to settle the SEC's charges without admitting or denying them. (Source: Wall Street Journal)

- A recent Pew poll indicates that fewer Americans are getting married. Social media reaction to the poll indicates that 38% are upset at the results, 36% theorize as to the cause, 22% remain optimistic about marriage, and 4% joke about the results. (Source: Netbase)

- The end-of-year "best" lists have begun as I've seen two different major media outlets publish their list of "best books of 2011." My top three would be The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach and Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, plus the book I'm currently engrossed in--11/22/63 by Stephen King.

Friday, December 16, 2011

The best Christmas music ever

Let me make an observation and offer up an opinion--the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas is the best Christmas music...ever.

I make that observation because I find that most everyone reacts positively when hearing one of Guaraldi's songs from that soundtrack. And, I think the positive reaction stems from the ability of the listener to immediately link the song with the right scene from the show, and the good feelings generated by that 1965 classic.

Maybe it's the visual of Charlie Brown's Christmas tree, and how that descriptor has become a part of our vernacular for trees which aren't quite to the lush standard that we aspire to; or maybe it's the visual of the children singing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," with comically open mouths, at the end of this Christmas show. Or, maybe it's simply because Guaraldi's music for this show is just good and right on for the context of Charles Schulz's classic.

Whatever the reason, Guaraldi's music engenders nostalgia, hope, wonder and a smile. It's withstood the test of these 46 years and always seems to hit just the right chord, each year, as we seek to keep the true meaning of Christmas in Christmas.

A Charlie Brown Christmas track listing:
1. O Tannenbaum
2. What Child Is This?
3. My Little Drum
4. Linus and Lucy
5. Christmas Time Is Here (Instrumental)
6. Christmas Time Is Here (Vocal)
7. Skating
8. Hark! The Herald Angels Sing
9. Christmas Is Coming
10. Fur Elise
11. The Christmas Song

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The good, the bad...and the indifferent

- Good: Peter Larson, a Plymouth, MN teenager, has been sleeping in a sleeping bag in a box since age six in order to raise money to help the homeless. Larson has spent almost 300 nights sleeping outdoors in temperatures as low as 20 below zero. He's hoping to raise $100,000 this year after raising $400,000 via his previous efforts--he gets donors to pledge based upon the number of nights spent outdoors.

- Bad: Kim Kardashian is on "lockdown," according to Kardashian's mother, Kris Jenner, has reportedly quarantined Kim from the press given the fallout from the failed nuptials with Kris Humphries. Does it strike you as odd that Jenner is giving her daughter crisis management advice?

- Indifferent: A British study found out that men now spend 81 minutes a day on personal grooming, i.e., shaving, moisturizing, washing and picking out clothes. Women, in contrast, spend 75 minutes per day on personal grooming.

- Good: In the "you can't make this 'stuff' up" department, it was revealed that Medicare has spent $240 million over the past decade on penis pumps for recipients over 65 who suffer from erectile dysfunction.

- Bad: A suburban New York elementary school teacher is facing disciplinary action because she told her second grade class that there is no Santa Claus. The fateful news to the youngsters came after they identified the North Pole as the "place where Santa Claus lives."

- Indifferent: Scarlett Johanson and Blake Lively are feuding over Ryan Reynolds, according to Johansson is supposedly upset because her ex-husband is dating Lively, the former girlfriend of Leonardo DiCaprio.

- Good: Thank you, Target, for jettisoning the irritating female in your earlier holiday advertising and replacing that campaign with the current, far more appealing work.

- Bad: Is there any jewelry advertising, during this holiday season, that stands out? The "Every Kiss Begins with Kay" campaign has long worn out its welcome and the Jared work is, well, bad.

- Indifferent: Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt installed a special lighting system in their French chateau. The lights are designed to help them ward off the effects of jet lag given their many worldwide travels. The expensive lighting system is usually found only in private aircraft and first class airline sections.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Love-hate relationship with snow

We're experiencing our first snowfall of the season here in K.C.-town and it's thus time to list out all of the reasons why snow is cool, and not so much.

Why I love snow:

- The beauty of soft snowfall when the ground is covered and not yet bruised by feet and tire tracks.

- The reminder of the excitement of snow from when one was a child.

- Is there anything better, on a snowy day, than building a fire and hunkering down inside?

Why I hate snow:

- Those SUV drivers--and you know who you are--who decide that snowfall means "look at me go fast! Whee...!!!"

Monday, November 28, 2011

America's hottest brands

Advertising Age has published a list of America's hottest brands based upon "strong sales, savvy marketing and overall buzz."

Here's the list:

- Uniqlo: This retailer opened two mammoth stores in New York, blanketed the city with differentiated advertising and coaxed shoppers in with impactful pricing.

- Sharpie: Who knew that this brand would become one known for its creativity?

- Skillet Street Food Spices: Spreadable bacon--what a concept!

- Poise: This brand tapped into a consumer insight that "light bladder leakage" is more common than women thought.

- JackThreads: Exclusive fashion-line collaborations.

- Crossfit: This fitness brand is exploding in popularity.

- Arizona Tea: Arizona Tea is challenging Lipton for control of the $5.3 billion ready-to-drink iced tea category.

- Chegg: A textbook rental company fahioned after Netflix.

- Finish: Used positive reviews of its product to become a force in the dish detergent category.

- Dove: This brand is the poster child for good consumer packaged goods marketing.

- Kia Soul: Who doesn't love the Soul's campaign featuring hamsters!?

- My Little Pony: Kids' cable network, The Hub, re-imagined this 1980's cult hit.

- Chevy Cruze: GM's hottest selling car brand.

- Goldfish: This 50-year old brand is now the second best selling cracker.

- DC Comics: Licensing, merchandising and movies--they are doing it all.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The lunacy of Black Friday

Last year, the Kansas City Star had 59 flyers (a k a free-standing inserts) in its Thanksgiving edition. Today, the Star had 65, not counting the numerous print ads in the run-of-press portion of the paper, all extolling this or that Black Friday deal.

"We open the doors at 10PM tonight!" "Big savings--only from 4-5AM." "Doorbuster sale starting at 5AM."

Really, really...!?

I'm going to go all Andy Rooney (rest in peace) curmudgeonly on you for a bit now. So, those of you who plan to stay out all night to hit the sales may want to stop reading.

Back in the day, there was no Black Friday, there was the "day after Thanksgiving." On the day after Thanksgiving, we would shop but we'd also go to a movie, go out to lunch or dinner together, and perhaps nab a bit (or two or three) of leftover turkey and pumpkin pie. Retailers didn't promote sales as much as they promoted the first official day of the holiday shopping season.

Thanksgiving Day was reserved for family--no stores were open and no one gave a thought to missing out on the possibilities.

Let's see a show of hands--how many of you have worked retail on the day after Thanksgiving? If you have, you know it's a grueling, demanding day. Now, for a moment, consider those who are at home now, readying for their Thanksgiving meal but also pondering leaving home at 9:00 p.m. or 3:00 a.m., or whatever time it may be, working retail so those of you who feel so led can get out "early" and hit the various sales and deals which are being so heavily promoted this week.

It's a sad commentary on a day which originally was put into place to celebrate the harvest of the year.

Happy Thanksgiving, Kansas City!

I started this blog in February 2009 and for my Thanksgiving posts the past two years I’ve written a serious piece about all of the true reasons I have for being thankful on this, my favorite holiday of the year.

As I drove on the streets of my town, Kansas City, yesterday, I realized that I had special reasons to give thanks again this year—very much focused, though, on this amazing city where I and my family reside. So, with no further adieu, here are the reasons I’m thankful for Kansas City:

- I’m thankful for the people of this expansive geographic metropolitan area—from the tony suburbs to the rural communities and in between. I am thankful for the sincerity of feelings, the kindness which represents our community, and the passion for our state—whether Kansas or Missouri.

- I’m thankful for the prettiest shopping district in the country, the Country Club Plaza, and how no other place else feels so special during the holidays.

- I’m thankful for local icons like George Brett, Tom Watson and Len Dawson. I’m thankful for those who represent Kansas City in the entertainment business—Eric Stonestreet, Jason Sudeikis, Paul Rudd and others.

- I’m thankful for Grandstand Burgers, Rudy’s Tacqueria, Grinder’s, Stroud’s, LC’s, the original Peanut on Main, and Jess & Jim’s.

- I’m thankful for barbecue of all types, sauces, and venues—for Oklahoma Joes, Gates, Arthur Bryants, LC’s, Danny Edwards, B.B.'s Lawnside Barbecue, Jack’s Stack and Rosedale.

- I’m thankful for prime cuts of good ol’ red meat—for The Capital Grille, Ruth’s Chris, Plaza III and JJ’s.

- I’m thankful that our multi-purpose sports complex is updated and still a terrific place to watch baseball or football. I’m thankful for the Sprint Center and Kansas Speedway. And, I’m thankful for the vision of the local ownership of Sporting KC and for the best soccer venue in the United States.

- I’m thankful for Ward Parkway, the Paseo and all the other boulevards in our fair city. I’m thankful the J.C. Nichols fountain and all of the various waterways and water features in our cowtown, which boasts “more fountains than Rome” and “more boulevards than Paris.”

- I’m thankful for local leaders who give of their time, money and management skills to make Kansas City a case study in philanthropic leadership.

- I’m thankful for the companies that call K.C. “home.” And, I’m thankful for the local leaders who have recruited those companies here and work to keep them here.

- I’m thankful for this thing called “Kansas City Pride”—for a town, which engenders loyalty and a desire to make our community a great place to live and work.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Mid-week musings

It's the day before Thanksgiving so let's catch up, shall we, on the comings-and-goings in the world of pop culture, advertising and that big ol' world out there.

- I'm really surprised at Target's holiday advertising. The use of the irritating female in their pre-Black Friday television advertising is a radical departure from their differentiated, smart work which is their normal modus operandi.

- And, on the topic of irritating, what is with the casting of the female in the McDonald's McRib commercial? Her "I married a 14 year old" line, delivered in little girl voice, is like nails on a chalkboard (for those of you old enough to remember a chalkboard.)

- Did anyone out there really think that someone other than J.R. Martinez would win the mirror ball trophy on Dancing With the Stars? Well done, J.R.

- Happy Birthday, Robin Roberts of ABC's Good Morning America!

- This is a true feel good story: Brian McGuinn of Florida realized that he had accidentally thrown his wife, Anne's, engagement ring in the trash last month. Vowing to do whatever necessary to retrieve the ring, McGuinn contacted the local sanitation company, suited up in a hazmat outfit, and waded into tons of rotting food and other trash to find the $10,000 piece of jewelry. After 30 minutes of work, McGuinn found the ring, had it professionally cleaned, and presented it to his wife.

- Researchers in Italy found that drinking one to two pints of beer per day has the same cardiovascular benefits as red wine, which can lower the risk of heart disease by 31 percent.

- Great concert: Chris Isaak at the Uptown Theater, Kansas City, MO, last Friday night.

- And, finally, Americans filled 254 million prescriptions last year for pain-killing drugs like OxyContin and Percocet. That's enough to medicate every American adult around the clock for a month! (Source: Fortune)

Monday, November 21, 2011

2012 - The year of classic rock anniversaries?

The big news coming out of the music business today is Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band's plans for a new album and tour in 2012. As a stand-alone announcement, that's big news, but couple that with rumors of a Rolling Stones 50th anniversary tour as well as announced plans for The Eagles and their 40th anniversary tour and 2012 shapes up to be the year of classic rock.

The Stones have been coy with the possibilities for 2012. Reports have Keith Richards, Ron Wood and Charlie Watts practicing together in England while Mick Jagger has been tight-lipped about any anniversary plans.

As for The Eagles, the country rock stars last toured in support of their Long Road Out of Eden album, in 2008-2009.

The Springsteen tour will be the first for the band without Clarence Clemons. No tour dates have yet been set but the band plans to first play in Europe and then in the U.S.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Throwin' it around...

Greetings from Gotham! Let's look at what's going on in the world of pop culture, shall we?

- Matthew Weiner, creator of Mad Men, revealed today that he knows how he plans to end his successful drama series and what will become of lead character Don Draper (Jon Hamm.) Weiner plans to end the show in present time after the final season. Mad Men returns for Season Five next March and will have two more seasons after that.

- Justin Timberlake wrote an emotional thank you to his date and her fellow troops after attending the Marine Corps Birthday Ball this past Saturday. Timberlake escorted Cpl. Kelsey DeSantis after she extended an invitation to him in a YouTube video which quickly went viral. Wrote the singer, on his blog: "I knew I would have an evening that I wouldn't forget...What I didn't know was how moved I would be by the whole experience."

- Spotted on the streets of New York today was Jann Wenner, publisher of Rolling Stone magazine. Wenner co-founded Rolling Stone in 1967 and now also owns Men's Journal and Us Weekly.

- How cool is it to see One World Trade Center rising up over the skyline in downtown Manhattan?

- Kris Humphries--the former Mr. Kim Kardashian--is back. Humphries is in New York today meeting with Chris del Gatto, CEO of jewelry company CIRCA. Humphries apparently will be announcing a business partnership with CIRCA sometime later this week. Do I hear a "who cares!?"

- A barber in Canton, OH is trying to help out during these rough economic times. Gregory Burnett, the haircutter, has signs up in the window of his shop which read "Times are hard" and "Pay what you can for a cut." Haircuts that normally go for $12 are now going for as low as $5.

- And finally, billionaire Warren Buffett, historically averse to tech stocks, has placed a $10.7 billion bet on IBM. The stock purchase makes IBM the second biggest holding for Buffett, trailing only Coca-Cola.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Monkey see, monkey do?

American shoppers have been urged, in recent years, to get out and start their post-Thanksgiving shopping early--as early as 4:00 a.m. for some retail outlets.

This year, the start time has moved up even further as Best Buy just announced that they will join in with Target, Macy's, and Kohl's, to name a few, who will open their doors at midnight after Thanksgiving.

Brian Dunn, the CEO for Best Buy, had this particularly sad quote about the announcement, "It will change some Thanksgiving plans for our employees. It certainly changes mine."

The move follows what has happened recently in the retail sector--once one major retailer makes a move of this type, the others feel bound to follow. The only major retailer who has not announced plans to open at midnight is Wal-Mart. Keep in mind, though, that Wal-Mart has many stores which are already open 24 hours a day and had others open at midnight last year to sell toys.

While some shoppers welcome the earlier time, citing the ease of staying up versus getting up early, the move signals yet another cultural shift in the difficulty of Americans to shut down, even for one day, and spend time with family. Old fashioned? You bet. True? C' know you agree.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Picky eaters spell trouble for some restaurant chains

Chipotle and Subway are winning; Quizno's and Friendly's are not. These are the headlines from the latest round of data from the NPD Group on the success of mid-size restaurant chains among 18-24 year olds, and as reported today in the Wall Street Journal.

Friendly Ice Cream recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as did Real Mex Restaurants, the owner of Chevy's and other sit-down Mexican food chains. And, Quizno's, citing heavy competition from Subway, hired restructuring advisers earlier this year.

The chains with the most marketing clout, coupled with their ability to react to rising costs, are beating the smaller chains or those who fail to attrack the choosier (read "pickier") eaters.

Among the coveted 18-24 year old crowd--the key audience for these chains--restaurant visits are down dramatically. In the year ended May 2011, 18-24 year olds visited restaurants 192 times each, on average, down from 245 times five years ago.

The weak job market is a factor as this demographic group has been hard-hit by unemployment. And, the taste buds of this crowd is changing too with a greater focus on the need for fresh and healthy ingredients, coupled with the obvious desire for high value.

What once was the most reliable visitor to these less expensive chain restarants is now more picky--not only with the food they eat but because of less money in their pockets.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Sunday morning coffee

- YouTube is launching new video channels which will feature content producers like Shaquille O'Neal, Madonna and Modern Family's Sofia Vergara. More than 100 new channels will be launched with most of the celebrities/content producers using their own production companies.

- Among the thousands of apps in the Android catalog is one called "I'm Getting Arrested." The app lets users press a single on-screen icon to notify family and friends that they're being hauled off to the pokey.

- In the category of "you can't make this 'stuff' up," a champion goat at the Colorado State Fair lost his title after failing a drug test. The goat had been crowned Grand Champion for his size--83 pounds--and general condition. Yet, subsequent urine tests showed the presence of ractopamine, a banned additive used in hogs. The owner suggested that the goat had been "sabotaged."

- Speaking of urine (sorry--I couldn't resist), officials at Evergreen Park High School in Illinois put into place a policy that only allows students to leave class three times per semester to go to the bathroom. Those who have to "go" more often will have to make up class time after school.

- From Time magazine: 54% of Americans have a positive view of the Occupy Wall Street movement while 23% have a negative view. Conversely, only 27% have a positive view of the Tea Party while 65% say that the movement has had a negative impact on politics.

- Looking for a good thriller to watch on a lazy Sunday afternoon? You may want to tune in TCM at 2:00 p.m. ET for Alfred Hitchcock's classic Dial M for Murder. The movie stars Ray Milland and an always beautiful Grace Kelly.

-And finally, for all of you out there wondering just how long to keep that pillow and running shoes, I pass along the following from Men's Health on when to replace certain household and personal items: Pillow - one year; Toothbrush - three months; Running Shoes - seven months; Razor Blades - two to four weeks; Smoke Alarms - eight to 10 years; Bedsheets - wash every one to two weeks; Vitamins - three years; Passwords - every 30 to 90 days.

Monday, October 24, 2011

The cost of television advertising

The NFL is vying with music as the programming which gets the most eyeballs on network programming.

In information reported on today by AdvertisingAge, NBC's Sunday Night Football is challenging FOX's American Idol for supremacy as the costliest prime-time show on this year's schedule.

The average 30-second spot on Idol costs $468,100-$502,900, according to AdAge's survey, while the average 30-second spot on Sunday Night Football is $512,367. Keep in mind that Idol's costs go up as the show reaches its finale--some spots in that program fetch as high as a $640,000 price tag.

These results emphasize one other viewing phenomenon--the shows most in demand are those that viewers tend to watch live versus after the fact via DVR or video-on-demand.

Here are some other prices for 30-second commercials in current and former premium programs:

- Grey's Anatomy, ABC = $203,078, down from an average price of $419,000 in 2007-2008.

- Desperate Housewives, ABC = $149,556 versus an average price of $394,000 in 2006.

- X Factor, FOX = $320,000 average price on Wednesday nights and $283,034 on Thursday nights.

- Glee, FOX = $267,141

- Two and a Half Men, CBS = $252,418

- Modern Family, ABC = $249,388

Monday, October 17, 2011

You just can't make this "stuff" up

- Those loonies over at Westboro Baptist Church, Topeka, KS, recently said that Steve Jobs was going to hell and called for a protest of his funeral. Interestingly, the church tweeted for the protest and had a "via Twitter for iPhone" at the bottom of that message. When asked for an explanation, a church spokesperson said "God created the iPhone," not Steve Jobs. So, I'm guessing we should now ask God why Apple didn't release an iPhone 5?

- A woman is suing Texas police, claiming that after her arrest she was forced to listen to Rush Limbaugh. The woman--an African-American--says that she was unjustly arrested and then handcuffed and placed in the police car. It was there that she had to listen to the conservative radio host "make derogatory comments about black people."

- Continuing in the litigation category, a Michigan woman is suing the distributors of Drive, claiming that the movie contains less driving than the trailer would suggest.

- Columbia University researchers found that single women consider overweight men more attractive if they are wealthy. (Can I get a "duh!") For each 10% increase in body mass, a single man must a 2% raise in salary to stay in the same "dating pool."

- A 27-year old woman recently completed a full marathon...while 39 weeks pregnant! She then gave birth to a healthy baby girl only a few hours after completing the run.

- And finally, down Alabama way, a company is turning the ashes of deceased folks into ammunition. The reason? The company is marketing the ammo as a "final tribute" to honor those who have passed. The firm packs the deceased's ashes into shotgun shells or rifle cartridges, which can then be shot into the air or at targets. Said the company's owner, "We know how strange it sounds to people who aren't comfortable around guns. But, for those who are, it's not weird at all."

Friday, October 14, 2011

Design Stars

Who are the American companies that "get it"--who understand the value of design as a valuable competitive advantage?

According to Fast Company magazine, the following companies top the list.

Icons of design:

- Herman Miller (office furniture)
- Apple ("Style, specs and sophistication...")
- Burton (snowboards)
- Viking (cooking appliances)
- Oxo (kitchen tools)
- JetBlue (airline)
- Nike ("...bringing art and fashion to sport")
- Kohler (fixtures)
- Target ("Where designers go to sell...")
- Starbucks (coffee culture)


- The Container Store ("unexpectedly attractive products")
- McDonald's ("systems-design upgrade")
- Black and Decker (tools)
- WalMart ("greening the supply chain")
- Crown (forklifts)
- Whirlpool ("can appliances by sexy?")
- Johnson & Johnson ("functional, sustainable design")
- Interface (carpet maker)
- GE
- 3M


- Gilt Groupe (fashion website)
- Flipboard (real-time virtual magazines)
- Jawbone (headsets and speakers)
- Method (cleaning products)
- Fitbit (health data monitoring)
- Tesla (sleek electric sports cars)
- Fuego (outdoor grill company)
- InCase ("the most stylish maker of Apple accessories")
- Twitter (easy-to-use interface)
- LiveScribe (smartpen)

Any others that are out there which didn't make this list? For me, Beats by Dre would be on this list as well as Hitpad, yet another stylish iPad app.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

It's tough working in broadcast TV

Perhaps we should place "Network programming manager" on the list of tougheset jobs in the U.S. If recent data is any indication, it's becoming harder and harder for the television networks to break through with programming which reaches a critical mass and effectively competes with other media outlets.

The current broadcast season has already seen the cancellation of a heavily promoted show like The Playboy Club. And, other shows are in line to follow.

Overall, network viewership among adults younger than 50 is down 4.1% from a year ago. Conversely, viewership on advertising-supported cable channels, among this same viewing audience, is up 4% year over year.

The coming weeks are the time when networks analyze the viewership data of the new shows which have premiered and decide whether to pull the plug or keep the show for a second season. If the initial data is any indication, look for some pretty significant cancellations.

(Sources: Nielsen, Wall Street Journal)

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Pop Thermometer

What's hot and what's not? What's trending in the world of social media and online chatter? Take a look at some of the interesting findings from Advertising Age.

Celebrity designers: Trending - Jennifer Lopez for Kohl's; Trailing - Sofia Vergara for Kmart; Tired - Kardashian sisters for Sears.

TV genre: Trending - Retro; Trailing - Song and dance realilty; Tired - Procedurals (take that, CSI.)

Marketable quarterback: Trending - Aaron Rodgers; Trailing - Peyton Manning; Tired - Tim Tebow.

Dessert-flavored vodka: Trending - Whipped cream; Trailing - Chocolate; Tired - Vanilla.

Must-Have photo app: Trending - PopBooth; Trailing - Instagram; Tired - Hipstamatic.

Video delivery: Trending - Vudu; Trailing - Netflix; Tired - Blockbuster.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Secular Prophet

The Wall Street Journal has an op-ed piece, in today's edition, on Steve Jobs titled "The Secular Prophet." It's required reading for all those intrigued by the magic of Jobs' impact on consumer behavior and our society:

In the piece, the writer, Andy Crouch, picked up the following excerpt from Jobs' acclaimed commencement piece at Stanford in 2005. This is what Jobs had to say about death, knowing of his initial cancer diagnosis in 2003:

"No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don't want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It's life's change agent; it clears out the old to make way for the new. Right now, the new is you. But someday, not too long from now, you will gradually become the old and be cleared away. Sorry to be so dramatic, but it's quite true. Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma, which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice, heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become."

As Crouch went on to write, Jobs' was not the first to articulate this vision of a meaningful life. What Jobs did was to give us hope in the cold comfort of technology and, in the process, kept hope alive. Need proof? Look no further than the outpouring of affection (see all of the public sentiments voiced on Facebook) for a man that few knew personally, but all knew through the impact that he'd had on their lives.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Throwin' it around in the middle of the week

- It's a sad day given today's announcement of the passing of Steve Jobs. Name another person, in the world, who has changed consumer behavior like Jobs. His impact cut across personal computing, music, video and mobile communications.

- I watched the premiere episode of Homeland last Sunday evening on Showtime and I am hooked. The espionage thriller stars Damian Winters (Band of Brothers) and Claire Danes.

- Thank goodness these fish don't live in New York: A recent study found that ornamental fish kept in tanks are more apt to bite, murder and cannibalize each other far more often than those in the wild. The reason? Apparently they don't like living in cramped, confined spaces.

- In the category of "you just can't make this 'stuff' up" is news about Jane Fonda's dog, Tulea. Fonda's pet has achieved the unofficial mantel of "most spoiled dog in Hollywood." The owner always warms the dog's blanket in a dryer "to make sure Tulea feels extra snug when she's relaxing on her cushion." When the dog gets her weekly massage, Fonda has two tables set up so that she can get her own rubdown along her canine. (Like I said "you just can't make this 'stuff' up.")

- Stat of the day: The iPod currently accounts for only eight percent of Apple's revenues. In 2006, the music player's sales accounted for 56% of revenues.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Sunday morning coffee

- Why do we have driveways at our homes but you never ever really "drive" on that patch of concrete or asphalt?

- In the "you can't make this stuff up" category, Ronald Wade applied for a job as a jailer in Warren County, MS. During his background check, the police found that Warren was wanted for DUI manslaughter in Florida. He was subsequently arrested and jailed--in the jail where he wanted to work.

- The American Royal Barbecue was not the place for the non-meat eating faint-of-heart. Many cows' and pigs' lives were taken in the feeding of the masses on Friday and Saturday here in the ol' cowtown. Good times...

- The latest market data shows that people 24 years and under now send an average of 110 texts per day. Let's face it--we're becoming a society who doesn't talk to one another any more.

- In Florida, a vice cop creatively bypassed a law which says undercover police cannot expose themselves to prostitutes during sting operations. The creative cop displayed a "rubber replica of a penis." The hooker was impressed enough to offer her services, thus ending in her arrest. (Is this where we insert the legal language "don't try this at home?")

- It's been a bad few weeks for New York Yankee love connections. First, Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly break up and now we learn that Alex Rodriguez and Cameron Diaz have called it quits--again.

- Did you know that the average SAT score for reading, for the graduating class of 2011, was 497--the lowest mark since 1972?

- Quick, name the most popular national political figure in the U.S. Yes, I know that's almost an oxymoron but who do you think would be chosen as the most popular? In a Bloomberg poll, Hillary Clinton had the highest percentage of "very favorable" or "mostly favorable" marks.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Winners and losers: Fall television premieres

Comedy has made a comeback, if network television ratings are any indication. In the recent fall television premiere ratings contest, nine of the top 10 rated shows, among the highly coveted young adult segment, are sitcoms.

The winners: Two and a Half Men, Modern Family, Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother, The Simpsons, The Middle, 2 Broke Girls.

The losers: X Factor (a disappointment given a premiere which netted about half the audience of American Idol), Terra Nova (just nine million viewers), Playboy Club, Free Agents.

Too soon to tell: Revenge, Pan Am.

Past hits with disappointing numbers thus far: The Good Wife, Grey's Anatomy, Desperate Housewives.

(Source: USA Today)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

- Week one of the fall television premieres is almost complete and no show, which I watched, truly stood out. Modern Family's first episode was a miss as they made little use of the obvious material available to them in the dude ranch setting. The follow-up show, to fill out the hour, was much closer to the mark. As for Glee, the first show was okay, establishing some of the new story lines for this season. The much anticipated Playboy Club started out with an implausible storyline and main character Eddie Cibrian doing his best poor man's Don Draper (Mad Men) imitation. (Cibrian even tried to affect Draper's speech cadence.) A Gifted Man, debuting last night, showed promise. Still on the DVR are Charlie's Angels and Grey's Anatomy and still to come, on Sunday night, are the opening episodes of The Good Wife, Pan Am and season two of Boardwalk Empire on HBO.

- In the reality show genre, The X Factor opened with a whimper. The show has little positive word-of-mouth and will have a hard time matching the "appeal equity" of American Idol.

- This falls in the "that's a special date on the calendar" category. A couple in Cincinnati was married on September 9--a date which happened to be the 50th wedding anniversary of the bride's grandparents, the 75th anniversary of her late great-grandparents, and the 100th anniversary of her late great-great-grandparents.

- Catalina Robayo, the Miss Universe contestant from Colombia, received a unique warning during the recent competition. Robayo was, shall we say, going commando and was warned by judges to stop wearing tiny skirts with nothing underneath. The judges were fearful of what audiences and photographers were "viewing."

- In the crassly commercial product placement category, Tony Bennett and Carrie Underwood appeared together on last night's premiere episode of Blue Bloods, the police drama starring Tom Selleck. Bennett and Underwood were woven into the storyline, singing together, and just happened to be singing a tune from Bennett's new album, Duets. A special commercial then followed, promoting the album which is being sold exclusively at Target.

- I'm having a hard time dealing with the break-up of Derek Jeter and Minka Kelly. Just sayin'...

- Stat of the day: 46% of Americans don't care about the gender of their boss. Of those who do, 32% say they prefer a male boss to 22% who prefer a female boss.

- And finally, a perhaps sad sign-of-the-times is the fact that lottery sales across the U.S. have increased. In 17 states, record numbers of tickets have been sold in the past fiscal year.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

My report from the couch: The Emmys

Looks great: Sofia Vergara, Rob Lowe, Timothy Olyphant, Kate Winslet, Mark Wahlberg, Minka Kelly.

Looks questionable: Laura Linney, Steve Buscemi, Juliana Margulies, Diana Agron and Amy Poehler. And, Ashton Kutcher--cut the hair, dude.

What were they thinking!?: Gwyneth Paltrow--bare midriff? C'mon! Plus, the hair looks like a photo out of a 1970's high school yearbook. Katie Holmes...really!? And, Julie Bowen, did you really think that gown front looked attractive? (As my wife said, "Put on a bra and eat something!")

Red, red, red: Red gowns were sported by Kate Winslett, Sofia Vergara (okay, alright--it was "coral"), Lea Michele and Nancy O'Dell, among others.

Where did you find these people?: The FOX red-carpet interviewers, with the exception of Nancy O'Dell, were horrid. And, what was up with the female talent's Princess Lea hairdo?

Really!?: Verizon's product placement in the opening number by Jane Lynch.

Emcee: In the most thankless job in television, Lynch assumed emcee honors for the Emmys. And, she did a passable, while not great, job.

SO deserving: Margo Martindale won Best Supporting Actress in a Drama for Justified. It's about time that stellar show (on FX) got recognized. Mad Men won--again--in a year when they were truly deserving given how season four got back on track after a meandering season three. And, FINALLY--Kyle Chandler wins Best Actor-Drama for Friday Night Lights. Too little, too late, however, for that fine show...

Overrated: Don't get me wrong, I love Modern Family. But, Julie Bowen and Ty Burrell were not the most deserving nominees from that comedy.

Disappointment: Elisabeth Moss was outstanding during this past season of Mad Men, opening up a new side of Peggy Olson each week during season four. Julianna Margulies is really good in The Good Wife but Moss was the most deserving in the Best Actress-Drama category.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Emmys: Who should win

There are few, if any, awards show where the most deserving nominees wins. So, with that in mind, let's talk about who should win on Sunday night when the Emmy trophies are handed out in Hollywood.

Best Actor in a Drama: Sentiment is with Kyle Chandler for Friday Night Lights and that fine show's final season, Steve Buscemi proved that he could move from a supporting role to leading man with his turn on Boardwalk Empire, and many pundits are selecting Hugh Laurie for House. My pick is Timothy Olyphant for Justified, an underrated drama on FX which shines due to Olyphant's portrayal of a Federal Marshal in Harlan County, KY.

Best Actress in a Drama: Mireille Enos from The Killing is the leader in the clubhouse for this award and, like Chandler, Connie Britton deserves strong consideration for Friday Night Lights. But, if Elizabeth Moss does not win for her stellar season on Mad Men, it'll be one of the biggest mistakes ever by Emmy voters.

Best Actor in a Comedy: Steve Carrell has never won an Emmy for The Office--that will change on Sunday night.

Best Actress in a Comedy: Tina Fey is the darling of Emmy voters but Amy Poehler deserves to win in this category for her work on Parks and Recreation.

Best Comedy: Modern Family and Glee get all the publicity in this category given their popular appeal. But, don't be surprised to see Parks and Recreation win, if voters truly vote on which comedy deserves the trophy based on original writing and first-rate acting.

Best Drama: This category is loaded--Boardwalk Empire and Game of Thrones from HBO, Mad Men, Dexter, Friday Night Lights and The Good Wife. While I expect one of the HBO shows to win, the most deserving show here is The Good Wife. Yeah, I know, it's not a cable program but, guess what--that's all the more reason why this show shined. The CBS drama had twice the number of episodes than did Boardwalk Empire and it provides quality adult drama with much tougher restraints than those of cable networks.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

9/11/11 tribute advertising

In an interesting bit of online debating, published a story this morning which included comments from several "in the business" who took to task those companies who aired commercials themed to the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, e.g., State Farm, Budweiser and Verizon.

In case you missed it, here is Budweiser's spot--a replay of the spot which aired ten years ago around the time of the tragic attack on the U.S.

This afternoon, published a story which summarized consumer attitudes about the advertising. And, perhaps not surprisingly, the consumers felt much more positive about the effort, and the work, than did those who commented from within the advertising sector.

Ace Metrix, which polled 500 adults, found that "by and large, they (those surveyed) rated the ads very favorably."

The favorite spot was Budweiser's tribute spot, above, which also included a call-to-action for viewers to donate to the 9/11 memorial. The famous Clydesdales beat out State Farm's spot, directed by Spike Lee, and a series of Chevy ads which aired during the Discover Channel's "Rising Rebuilding Ground Zero" program.

Not only did Budweiser's spot win among those brands who tied in to the 10-year anniversary of 9/11, but it also tallied one of the highest beer ad scores for this quarter--a 665 on the Ace Metrix scale versus the category average of 478.

Perhaps we marketers should continue to remember who really counts in this debate--the consumers.

You just can't make this stuff up

- Beth Krohn caught quite a surprise on her summer vacation on Lake Ida in Alexandria, MN. Krohn hooked something heavy and discovered, once she got it near the boat, that she didn't have a lunker on her line but an artificial leg. She was successful at finally finding the owner, Pam Riley, who had lost the leg while swimming in the lake three years ago. Krohn and Riley met in a Wal-Mart parking lot in order to return the prosthetic appendage.

- An Illinois appeals court recently dismissed a lawsuit by two grown children who had sued their mother for "bad mothering." The two claimed that she failed to buy them enough toys and sent a birthday card that the son didn't like.

- If you thought the Kardashian-Humphries nuptials were excessive, listen to this--billionaire heiress Petra Ecclestone wore a $130,000 Vera Wang wedding gown and hired Eric Clapton and the Black Eyed Peas to entertain at her recent wedding reception.

- A flight from Moscow to London returned to the airport shortly after takeoff due to a female passenger who rose from her seat and performed, ahem, erotic dances in the aisle. Russian officials who detained the woman said that she "was in a state of insobriety." No kidding...

- More than 450,000 people have joined a Facebook group called "I Hate Reading." A rival group called "I Love Reading" was formed but their efforts have garnered fewer than 45,000 members.

- And, locally, a Kansas City, KS man was charged with running down a police officer who was directing traffic Sunday after the Chiefs game at Arrowhead Stadium. The perp faces felony counts of assault of a police officer while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident. The officer was not seriously hurt and police were able to detain the car and driver about four blocks away. There was no word whether the Chiefs' poor play caused the club to be named in the suit as reason for the intoxication and reckless driving.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Ten years after

I sit this morning, watching on television as the remembrance activities for 9/11 take place in New York and elsewhere. A tear rolls down my cheek as I remember that fateful day of ten years ago.

I think of a friend who was supposed to be on the flight which ended up crashing in Shanksville, PA, thankfully canceling his trip late the night before. I remember the business associate who came into my office that Tuesday morning and said "turn on your television--they said on radio that a plane just crashed into the World Trade Center." I remember my office flooding with people, coming in to watch as the events unfolded that morning. And, I remember my anxious call and conversation with my daughter who we'd just dropped off at college, 600 miles away from home.

I, like millions of Americans, walked out of my home that September morning only to have my life forever changed by the events in New York, Washington, D.C. and somewhere over Pennsylvania on United flight 93.

I remember.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Hits and misses

Miss: Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz was fired over the phone yesterday by the company's Chairman of the Board.

Hit: San Francisco City Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation requiring that nudists in the city put something under their "bottoms" if they take a seat in public and that they "cover up" when in a restaurant. (No, I'm not making this up.)

Miss: It's apparently quite easy for a business to be reported as closed in Google Places, the company's online version of the local Yellow Pages. In recent months, dozens of thriving businesses across the U.S. have been reported as closed--sometimes just for a matter of hours but at other times for weeks.

Hit: The Super Bowl remains a hot forum for brands willing to dish out big bucks for massive, one-time exposure. According to NBC, the broadcast network for this season's big game, only five 30-second ad slots remain. The cost? A record $3.5 million each...

Miss: Emmanuelle Chriqui is the actress who plays Sloan McQuewick on HBO's Entourage. The daughter of Moroccan immigrants, Chriqui had this to say about last year's Vanity Fair cover which featured only white actresses, which she says symbolizes her struggle to get quality acting roles: "They were all white girls--and I mean white. It's frustrating. I'm a little too exotic, or I just don't match the family. I'm constantly up against it." Have the publishers of VF seen this woman!?

Hit: Jennifer Lopez will return as a judge on American Idol.

Miss: Robin Roberts, who I respect greatly, is interviewing the Kardashian sisters on Good Morning America today. Puh-lease...

Hit: It ended up being a big summer at the theater box office. From May 1 through August 18, box office revenues are up 5% over summer 2010 and attendance is up 3%.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Things that can get you fired

It's not often that I venture into the self-help space with this blog but I was intrigued by an article I read recently on The Wall Street Journal's online site titled "Ten things that can get you fired."

Much of what they suggested was spot-on but there were a few points on which I disagreed or felt even more strongly about than the WSJ writer.

Here is the list and my accompanying comments:

1. Get conveniently sick. This may seem like a no-brainer but it's always amazing how many workers take a sick day, when they're not really sick, then do it again, and again...and again. If the sick days happen to occur consistently on a Monday, then you're really exposed. The right approach? Only take a sick day when you're really sick.

2. Lie on your job application. One may think that companies don't really check out job applications and resume information, but they do. Don't lie.

3. Be disgusting.
The WSJ writer suggested that improper hygiene could put one in harm's way, i.e., the "firing" line. While I agree that disgusting body odor and personal care habits are, well, disgusting, it's hard to suggest that they are grounds for firing. The key point here is to never underestimate the impact of how you look, how you groom, and how you dress. As the saying goes, better to over-do in those departments than to cut corners.

4. Stay anonymous. I once had a colleague who suggested "blend in--be nice." While the latter is important, the "blend in" part makes you no different than all the others who are trying to fly under the radar.

5. Never compromise. Standing up for what you believe is one thing. Knowing the importance of picking your battles is another. Be careful about never compromising.

6. Be ungrateful. The impact of saying "thank you" and showing gratitude for a promotion, that special assignment, or recognition from your boss is very, very important.

7. Don't respect the chain of command. Reporting structures aren't put into place to be bureaucratic--they are there to increase efficiency. Sure, layered organizations can become unwieldy and slow but always respect that you should first go to your direct-line supervisor with any issue--not a level or two above that manager.

8. Spend time with the complainers, non-performers and gossips. This is a trap easy to fall into so, take the advice you would give your children--don't hang with the wrong crowd. These folks may be nice people but they are easily labeled for what they are and who needs guilt by association?

9. Never take responsibility when things go wrong. You are more apt to be rewarded by saying "I screwed up" versus doing everything possible to shirk responsibility for the mistake. Most managers want any errors to be errors of commission, thus acknowledging that mistakes do happen.

10. Take credit for other peoples' work. No one likes the co-worker who consistently takes credit for something they didn't do, or were involved with peripherally. Don't be that guy--your manager will soon figure it out.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From the wacky world of marketing

- A friend, who knows my fascination with the convenience store chain Kum & Go, and their brand name, sent me a photo of a woman actually wearing a Kum & Go t-shirt. Now, I'm no expert on female fashion but the thought of a woman wearing a shirt with those words makes me wonder the impression she's trying to leave with those who see her.

- The Center for Science in the Public Interest (really--who knew there was such a group) has started a campaign, "Life's Sweeter with Fewer Sugary Drinks." One, that campaign title doesn't just roll off of the tongue and, two, the group has no money for a campaign. They do have a I have to believe that site traffic will be off the charts, don't you?

- Those fun folks at ABC are using the following approach in promoting the upcoming season of Dancing With the Stars. Their pitch seems to be "look at all the provocative, crazy characters we have on this season's show!" The question is, "will America tune in to watch the opinionated Nancy Grace, goofball David Arquette, talk show host Ricki Lake, celebrity brother Rob Kardashian, gender switching Chaz Bono and former NBA provocateur Ron Artest (who is working to change his name to Metta World Peace?)" Given that DWTS' target demo skews older, I think this lineup is a big risk.

- Here's a tasty quote from musician and noted womanizer, John Mayer, "Anybody who tells you to have a fallback plan are people who have had a fallback plan, didn't follow their dreams, and don't want you to either." Interesting insight from the guy who once called Jessica Simpson, "sexual napalm."

- And, finally, the marketing gimmick of the week goes to Beyonce. The multi-talented singer and actress performed on the MTV Video Music Awards, then revealed that she is pregnant. Since that announcement, sales for Beyonce's latest album, 4, have risen appreciably. The album had been underperforming, compared to prior releases, prior to the appearance.

Friday, August 26, 2011


- Those of you who are fans of Good Morning America and their Friday concert series may not have noticed the guitarist sporting the long, frizzy hair to the left of Stevie Nicks. Waddy Wachtel has worked with Nicks and fellow Fleetwood Mac bandmate Lindsey Buckingham, and is a noted session guitarist. Wachtel has backed a who's who of rock-and-roll artists including Jackson Browne, Don Henley, Warren Zevon and Linda Ronstadt.

- Speaking of Nicks, the rock diva still has "it." What a unique voice...

- TV recommendation: If you haven't watched Picker Sisters on Lifetime, you need to check it out. It does American Pickers one better by turning the procured junk into furniture and other household items.

- App recommendation: Check out EW's Must List, an iPad app which provides not only hot topics from those who bring you Entertainment Weekly, but also recommendations on books, movies and more.

- In the category of "you'd think people would learn" comes the following. Seasons 52, a new restaurant coming to the Country Club Plaza in Kansas City, MO, is tearing down its modern facade after negative consumer reaction, primarily via social media, which included boycott threats. Consumers in Kansas City are passionate about the look and feel of the Plaza and its Spanish-style architecture and have united to stop not only this inconsistent design but other recent threats to the Plaza vibe.

- Charlie Sheen has purchased a home in his neighborhood for former wife Denise Richards. He apparently is also looking to purchase a third home in the same area for Brooke Mueller, another former wife. The supposed rationale is to have his children close by. We can only stand back and watch this train wreck play out.

- Keith Richards memoir, Life, has now sold over a million copies. The book is one of the best-selling rock memoirs ever and has been positively reviewed since its release last year. If you are a Rolling Stones/Richards fan, it's a must read.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Steve Jobs

Every media outlet in the country is reporting today on yesterday's announcement from Apple that Steve Jobs is resigning as the company's CEO.

The best line I've read comes, not surprisingly, from Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal. Mossberg has long been an Apple fan and wrote this about Jobs' impact:

CEOs resign every day, so why is this one so meaningful?

Most people are lucky if they can change the world in one important way, but Mr. Jobs, in multiple stages of his business career, changed global technology and media in multiple ways on multiple occasions. And that changed the way people live.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Saturday morning coffee

- As if print media wasn't in enough trouble we now hear this from Hilton Hotels. A California man is suing the hotel chain over USA Today. It seems that the hotel charged the guest 75 cents for the copy of USA Today left outside his hotel door. The guest accuses Hilton of contributing to an "offensive waste of precious resources" and "deforestation" by distributing unwanted newspapers.

- In the category of "not the brightest bulb in the closet," Victor Burgos, a fugitive in New York, taunted police on his Facebook page, posting "catch me if you can." Law enforcement officials tracked Burgos to an apartment in Brooklyn, where they found him sitting at his computer with his Facebook page open. Maybe Victor should check those privacy settings.

- According to the London Daily Mail, the average British tourist gains eight pounds during a two-week trip to the U.S., a byproduct of big meal portions and all-you-can-eat buffets. Did the newspaper ask tourists to weigh in both coming and going?

- The cast of Modern Family wrapped up shooting of episode one this week at Lost Creek Ranch in Moose, WY. The cast and crew followed our stay there with a week spent readying the story line of a family trip to a dude ranch. Should be fun--the opening episode of this season will air in mid-September.

- It didn't take George Clooney long to rebound from his breakup with Italian model Elisabetta Canalis. The 50 year-old actor is now squiring WWE wrestler Stacy Keibler--yes, the same Stacy Keibler who appeared on the second season of Dancing With the Stars.

- Happy Birthday to Robert Plant. The former lead singer of Led Zeppelin and most recently recognized for his duo work with Allison Krauss, turns 63 today.

- And finally, Katy Perry now has five songs from one album, "Billboard," which have cracked Billboard's Top 100 chart. The only other artist to do that is Michael Jackson with his album "Bad."

Friday, August 19, 2011


- Happy Birthday to one of my favorite country singers--Lee Ann Womack turns 45 today.

- The average Facebook user is connected to 60 pages, groups and events.

- Our quote of the day comes from the great Mark Twain, who once said, "The difference between the almost right word and the right word is the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning."

- Sign of the apocalypse: Security for the Kim Kardashian-Kris Humphries nuptials this weekend are incredibly tight because the Kardashians "don't want the footage to leak out before their special airs on TV." (Source: TMZ)

- And, in case you missed it, Ms. Kardashian was the celebrity judge on last night's Project Runway.

- Kansas City peeps: As reported here a couple of weeks ago, Oklahoma Joe's is, indeed, planning to open a new restaurant at 119th and Roe in the space vacated by TGIFriday's. The barbecue dudes at Okie Joe's are in final negotiations for the space and could be open by late winter.

- Danica Patrick--she of the commercials--will soon announce that she'll race a full-time schedule in NASCAR in 2012. Patrick plans to drive the entire Nationwide Series schedule and select NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.

- Finally, Burt Reynolds is facing foreclosure on his Jupiter, FL home. The suit, filed by Merrill Lynch Credit Corp., claims that Reynolds hasn't made a mortgage payment since September 1, 2010.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Reflections on the Great American Roadtrip

The Great American Roadtrip is over--2,661 total miles, seven states visited, and a host of memories.

Hitting the open road was enlightening. The trip opened my eyes to the wonders of the great West and, in particular, the state of Wyoming--a state of 580,000 people and stunning geological and wildlife eye candy. Seeing wonders like The Badlands and the Grand Tetons even verged on being a religious experience, it was that impactful.

- There is a freedom to traveling by car which I had forgotten--no security lines to pass through, no limitation on the number of bags, no rental car counters to navigate, and no time schedules to meet. It was exhilarating to simply get in the car and go.

- It was amazing to me how many people reacted with "You drove here!?" when asked how we arrived in Jackson, WY. Yes, we drove, and along the way discovered the joy of seeing all there is to see.

- Hundreds of bugs gave up their lives to make our roadtrip a success. We squashed many a buggy creature on our way through Missouri-Nebraska-Iowa-South Dakota-Wyoming-Colorado-Kansas.

- There still are small towns with places to eat which simply are marked with a sign which says "Cafe."

- That bike rally event in Sturgis, SD is quite the deal. And, I saw plenty of biker chicks who scared me.

- I felt like I was in the middle of a Western for most of our trip. We passed through territory where films like Dances With Wolves and Shane were filmed.

- You can't do Yellowstone National Park in a day. The park is the size of Rhode Island and Delaware combined, and there is simply too much to see in an area with a 45 MPH speed limit.

- Finally, if you ever are concerned about the lack of wide open space, simply head west to South Dakota, Wyoming, eastern Colorado and western Kansas. It's there, and it's refreshing to see.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

M,N & Q: On vacation

You'll have to excuse me, loyal readers, but I'm having such a good time on vacation that I won't be posting anything here until the week of August 15. Please check back in then.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Day Three: The great American roadtrip

On day three, we set out from Sheridan, WY for Yellowstone National Park. Little did we know that the drive from Sheridan to Cody would be the highlight of our trip thus far.

- The ascent into Bighorn National Forest, between Sheridan and Cody, offered the most stunning, panoramic vista I've ever seen. My photos don't do the magnitude of the sight justice.

- The Cody High School teams are nicknamed the Broncs and Fillies.

- I'm glad that I got to experience Yellowstone National Park. However, for those contemplating a trip, make sure you allow adequate time as the park is huge and the speed limit only as high as 45 given the winding roads.

- Yes, wildlife are prevalent in the park--we spotted a small cub making its way down to a lake, and also got to witness a buffalo making what would become a buffalo chip.

- Old Faithful blows every 90 minutes or so. We were about three minutes late but got to witness the tail end of the show. Again, word to the wise--this national treasure was surrounded by people waiting for the eruption. If you're expecting an intimate encounter with Old Faithful, think again as this is the most popular attraction in Yellowstone.

- The Grand Tetons are unlike any mountain range I've seen in the U.S. Jagged, spectacular peaks.

- The Million Dollar Cowboy Bar in Jackson Hole had about a million bikers in it last night.

- Hotel recommendation: The Wyoming Inn, Jackson Hole.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Day two: The great American roadtrip

- Is there a worse business name in America than Kum & Go? Seriously, if so, what is it?

- As we've traveled through town after town, it's interesting to see the small town stadiums which, just a few weeks from now, will be filled with those watching the "boys of fall"--Vikings, Cowboys, Cardinals and Bulldogs, to name a few.

- There are literally thousands of bikers in the Black Hills area of South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcyle Rally. This year's events include midget bowling, the Miss Buffalo Chip beauty pageant and hula girls in bikinis, plus concert acts like Toby Keith, Edgar Winter, Lynryd Skynryd, Def Leppard and Poison. Obviously, rally organizers understand their target audience.

- The Crazy Horse Memorial will be spectacular when it's finished. The issue is that the project, started in 1948, currently only has a head which is discernible. Korczak Ziolkowski's tribute to Native Americans receives no federal funding and is fully reliant upon private support.

- The carving of Mt. Rushmore occurred from 1927-1941, using 400 workers and costing $989,992.32.

- It's hard to picture the climactic scene in North by Northwest, which took place at the top of Rushmore, when looking at the memorial in real life. It's easy to see Dances With Wolves, filmed around Rapid City and the Black Hills, as one travels west on I-90.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Day one: The great American roadtrip

700 miles, road construction scattered throughout four states, dodging the floodwaters of the Missouri River, and driving in-and-out of Harley riders on their way to Sturgis--day one of the great American roadtrip vacation is in the books.

- The first road construction was encountered 17 miles from home. It became a pattern as I'm still daydreaming about orange cones and barrels.

- Spending time on Highway 59 through Iowa was nostalgic as that was the route my family took "back in the day" on our summer vacations to Minnesota. My reaction now is "wow--we really did that!?" The two lane highway was filled with truckers, forced to this route given flooding on I-29.

- Weirdest vehicle of the day: A van with Texas plates and a Philadelphia Eagles spare tire cover.

- North of Tarkio, MO is a wind farm with dozens of structures--modern-day windmills.

- The flooding on I-29 is the real deal. A McDonald's on I-29, just north of Omaha, had thousands of sandbags around the structure, still braced for the raging waters.

- Hundreds of signs along I-90 in South Dakota advertise all of the virtues of Wall Drug. Save your time--the tourist trap serves overpriced, low quality food, and the 40,000 square feet of the store is filled with every manner of kitschy tourist crap available.

- The Badlands are stunning!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

We're hittin' the road!

Some of my fondest childhood memories were our family vacations. Dad would pack up the car the night before and we'd head off to the same spot every year--a lake in northern Minnesota. Our General Motors product would be stuffed with fishing gear, clothes, towels, linens and food and we'd travel north, on two-lane highways, taking in the Iowa and Minnesota countryside while passing through small towns--Shenandoah, Clarinda, Harlan, Montevideo, Menagha and on to our destination. Perhaps a night would be passed in a motel and usually lunch was consumed at a joint marked "Cafe."

That great American roadtrip will be re-created tomorrow as my wife and I head off to Jackson Hole by way of the Badlands in South Dakota, and Devil's Tower and Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. And, Musings, Notes & Quotes will be along for the ride.

Check back in with us here as I document observations about the new millenium's version of a road trip versus what I experienced in the 1960's and 1970's. It'll be fun...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dive alert: Grandstand Burgers

You can add a new name to the list of best burgers in Kansas City--Grandstand Burgers in Merriam, KS. Grandstand is another one of the mom-and-pop eating establishments along Merriam Lane and its little more than a hole in the wall or, in this case, a very small building.

The menu is simple, straightforward and tasty--hamburgers, cheeseburgers, chicken sandwiches, fish sandwich, french fries, tater tots, malts/shakes, and Coke products. Standard dress on the burgers is mayo, mustard, ketchup, pickle, onions and tomato. The mayo-mustard-ketchup blends together into a nice sauce and the cheese on my burger was melted just right.

The single burger is plenty--I made the mistake of going double-cheeseburger and couldn't finish it. I had the tots and my wife had the fries--both were crispy and done to perfection.

When you come, don't expect an inside seat--by my count, there were two at the counter. There are three picnic tables outside or you can retire to the comfort of your car to consume your meal.

Check it out--Grandstand Burgers, 4942 Merriam Drive, 913-362-0111.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to enter a room

How do you enter a room? Yeah, yeah, I know--you open the door and walk in.

No, what I'm referencing here is the attitude one presents when entering a meeting room and the impression you provide before a meeting even begins.

Entrepreneur magazine tackled that very topic in an effort to give those of us in the business world a tip or two on how to enter, and command, a room.

Tip #1: When introduced to someone, say their name back to them and, most importantly, remember their name. Saying their name back to them, 20 or 30 minutes into the meeting, suggests respect.

Tip #2: Don't give out business cards before the meeting begins--you're not a card dealer.

Tip #3: Look everyone in the eye for a slight beat longer than is comfortable.

Tip #4: Don't carry yourself in a way that can be described as "jaunty" (their word--not mine. And, rather than explain it here, go ahead and look it up.)

Tip #5: If there are less than six people in the room, shake everyone's hand. If there are more than six, shake a few hands and nod to the rest--otherwise, the hand-shaking gets out of hand.

Tip #6: Avoid the phrase "let's do this!"

Tip #7: No fist bumps. (See #5.)

Tip #8: Don't talk about anything that isn't pleasant. For example, don't complain of the (a) heat, (b) cold, (c) that you have a cold or (d) the traffic.

The article concludes, "You're amiable and confident and pleased with the way things are going. You're ready to talk and to listen. You haven't given them any reason why they couldn't see themselves giving you a lot of money or offering you a contract or partnering with you in some way. You're someone they could see themselves doing business with, is what we're trying to say. All that, and you haven't even sat down yet."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Odds 'n' ends

- Women are better investors than men because they don't take as many risks with their money, according to a new study by Barclays Wealth and Ledbury Research. Women in the survey tended to buy stocks and hold them, trading less and thus more likely to earn more.

- If I would have told you a couple of years ago that a show called Pawn Stars would be one of the most successful on cable television, you would have laughed, right?

- Please don't tell our cat but being obese apparently has its advantages. Eddie, a 15-pound cat in Manhattan, was resting on a terrace recently when a red-tailed hawk swooped down and carried him off. Alas, the hawk wasn't able to hold on to chubby Eddie for long and dropped him in a garden behind a nearby building. Eddie fell five stories but escaped with minor scrapes and bruises. Eddie's owner had this to say, "The moral of the story is that your flaws can be an asset."

- A South Carolina couple claims that they see the face of Jesus on--get this--a Wal-Mart receipt. After returning from church recently, the couple noticed that the receipt had become discolored and looked to bear the image of a bearded man's face. Jacob Simmons, the holder of the receipt, said, "The more you look at it, the more it looked like Jesus." Everyday low prices, indeed!

- This week's TIME magazine writes about how men and women share work at home. While most believe that women carry the load at home with tasks like food preparation, child care and housework, TIME's research found that men and women with full-time jobs have almost equal total workloads, with or without kids under 18.

- Captain America is definitely a three star-out-of-four movie. If you go, be sure and stay through the credits in order to see a special trailer previewing The Avengers, due in theaters next summer.

- The Harry Potter movie franchise has earned $6.37 billion at the box office over the past decade. What's amazing is that exceeds the annual GDPs of more than 50 countries.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Rant alert: Air travel

Those who are frequent readers of Musings, Notes & Quotes know that I have a low patience level for the current state of air travel in the U.S. After a full week of travel and another trip to come this week, let me expand upon my travel beefs:

- To the family of five: Do your homework and figure out that you can check in online at Southwest Airlines' website. And, also understand that those in the coveted A1-A15 slots in line paid a small premium for their tickets and also checked in prior to heading to the airport--thus they are not going to jump up to willingly give up aisle seats so that you and your three darling children can sit across the width of the airplane. (Footnote: My traveling companion, stuck next to said three "darlings," had this to say after exiting the plane last week--"I have changed my point-of-view about waterboarding." Word.)

- To the guy with the oversize duffel: The airline may not have been doing their job by allowing you to carry on this small body bag but all of the rest of us cowboyed-up and paid attention to directions. You should too--check the damn bag!

- To "chatty Kathy" sitting next to me: If my headphones are on and my face is buried in my iPad or Wall Street Journal, that is code for "please, I'm not being rude but I'd prefer you talk to the dude next to you who has no paperback, no newspaper and no apparent need for entertainment on the four-hour flight to San Francisco."

- To the guy who seemed to think that nudging me in the security line would actually make my briefcase and other items get through the x-ray machine more quickly--back off, bucko.

- To Southwest Airlines: I just want you to know how much I appreciate the lack of multiple direct flights to my intended destinations, thus setting up the dreaded "ladies and gentlemen, this is a totally full flight..." announcement on the airplane's intercom.

- And, finally, to those who think the current Kansas City International Airport is a fine facility: Really!? Have you spent any time in KCI recently in the overcrowded Southwest terminal or had your flight delayed with the only food options a Quizno's sub or pre-packaged salad which was likely made last week?

Whining? Yes, probably so. But, thanks for listening--I feel better. Now, off to KCI...

Thursday, July 21, 2011

John Mosca

Every so often, an obituary just happens to catch my eye. Yesterday was one of those moments as I perused The New York Times and other newspapers on the packed Southwest flight from Kansas City to Oakland.

In the obituary section of the Times was a reasonably sized obit for John Mosca. What was so special about Mosca? Mosca, 86, died in his Louisiana home last week, a victim of prostate cancer. What struck me was that his story was one which we now seem to read on a daily basis as we continue to lose members of "the greatest generation."

Mosca's story started in suburban Chicago where he was born and ultimately began working in his parent's restaurant. When World War II broke out, Mosca--as did so many in his generation--enlisted and served in the infantry. He was injured by shrapnel in Italy, earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, and came home where he immediately went to work again in the restaurant, now located in Louisiana after his family's move there. The rest, as they say, is history.

The Mosca family restaurant, west of New Orleans, became a destination for those seeking Louisiana seafood coupled with the family's Italian roots. A specialty of the house was the blue crab claws drenched in garlicky Italian dressing. Word spread of the tasty cuisine which ultimately included a broader menu and another specialty--baked gulf oysters in bread crumbs with chicken, a dish called chicken a la grande.

None other than New Yorker food critic Calvin Trillin (who once proclaimed Arthur Bryant's of Kansas City as "the greatest restaurant in the world") journeyed to Mosca's, and wrote a glowing article about the restaurant, and the owner, last November.

Mosca's survived not only time and changes in diners' tastes but also weather--the restaurant was so damaged by Hurricane Katrina that it took 10 months to re-build and re-open. Air conditioning was ultimately added to the building but a few things stayed constant--a cash only policy, the menu, the jukebox, and Mr. Mosca's constant presence.

Today, we salute another of the greatest generation who has passed--John Mosca, 86, of Hanrahan, Louisiana.