What has inspired your recent Facebook posts about TV and the FCC?
The industry has changed a lot. I have never wanted to be in the business of selling someone else’s product. When people used to talk to me, My God, isn’t it wonderful that NBC is in first place and blah blah blah blah, I would say, Yeah, that’s nice, but I didn’t put them in first place, they put themselves in first place. That’s nice and I appreciate it, but that is not where I want to be eventually.
I want to produce my own news and information. I think that’s valuable to the public. All of us grew up in Nevada, and it seems to me that it is not a very good use of their talents or time if what we are doing is piping through somebody else’s product.
What changes are you planning to make?
Well, let me go back over what we have done. We used to have Access Hollywood at 6:30, when [pundit Jon] Ralston was with Channel 8. I talked with him over a long period of time about coming to work for us. So we got rid of Access Hollywood and put Ralston in. Then, our next move was to get rid of Judge Judy, which for a lawyer like me is not very pleasant to watch. So that expanded our news from a half-hour at noon to an hour at noon. Then we started news earlier in the morning. We started at 4:30 a.m.; we now start it at 4. We have developed a new program called The Agenda, which is a liberal against a conservative discussing the issues. I don’t want to be an MSNBC and I don’t want to be a Fox. I especially don’t want to be a Fox, but I believe in both sides or all the sides, if there are 20 sides being discussed, and so The Agenda was started and it runs from 12:30 to 1. Eventually I hope that program will develop so we can go to an hour with it.
So, Sept. 16 of this year, Wheel and Jeopardy will go off of our station in Vegas and at 7 o’clock we will run a new hour of news. We have also got a tentative deal with some people with the afternoon show, so on Aug. 19 we will start a 3 o’clock news, where we have had Dr. Phil, and will move him up an hour. Next September we will lose Dr. Phil and we will then have a 2 o’clock news. That’s where we are.
Do you see that in the future your stations will be entirely local content?
What we want to do is to talk about everything not only that is local, but to talk about the things that affect local issues — Medicare, all those issues that are being fought out in the Congress. So we are going to report issues that affect local people, whether they are national, international, what the balance of trade is … everything that I think is relevant to Nevada.
One of the challenges companies face in Nevada is finding educated people who can talk about these issues intelligently, and, combine that with TV salaries, do you think it will be difficult to draw the kind of knowledge base you need?
I haven’t found the salaries so low. We haven’t had any problem attracting people. Let me give you an example of one: Marissa Mike. She got a degree in economics from Harvard. If you go through our list of people you will find that they are all from top-rated schools. So we haven’t found that to be difficult.
You are going to have a big mix of national people we will talk to all the time. I took the bar exam with Harry Reid in 1963. He and I and Dick Bryan took it together. I grew up with Dick Bryan, went to high school together, practiced law at the same time Harry practiced law. So we have a lot of national contacts we will use.
You also said that you can broadcast nearly anything you wish. Do you think the FCC should be more or less stringent in its regulations?
Have you ever read the First Amendment? Well, that is the answer to your question. The FCC needs to leave content alone, and they do a pretty good job of that.
Do you believe that media is more biased today than it has been in the past?
There is not a soul that has ever been born that doesn’t have biases and prejudices. The issue is whether they will reveal how they feel about things. So the media is no more biased than it was, people have been born pretty much the same way for the past 100 years.
The thing that I don’t like, I don’t like Fox saying that they are not biased, because that is an out-and-out lie and a misrepresentation. I would never tell you or get on the air and say I am the answer to all problems. I tell people, I am a flaming liberal. The thing that you want to do is make sure every side gets their say on the air, and that is what we are trying to do.
What is going to happen to TV?
As long as local TV responds to local issues, it will continue to survive. And I hope that I am right, but maybe I am delusional — but I think local TV has got to understand that local TV can not compete with national TV and shouldn’t. Wheel and Jeopardy, they don’t need a local station for that. They can pipe it through a cable company.
The question, then, is what does local TV do that no one else can do, and that is respond to the words “local TV” and involve themselves in local issues. We in the media business in Nevada need to respond and investigate things.
Let me add this, too. We are going to get away from the 30-second soundbite. We are going to try over time not only what is going on, but why it is going on. We have become a society that has become more complicated but doesn’t recognize it.
Have you read Amusing Ourselves to Death?
It’s about how media have made it more difficult to understand concepts in anything longer than a 30-second soundbite. Do you recognize that you are fighting an uphill battle?
Of course. My partner used to say if it were easy everyone would be doing it. It is not easy. But there really aren’t any choices. You can’t say, Life is too tough, I am going to go blow my brains out. You have to fight the uphill battle all the time, and that is what we intend to do.
If people buy it, that is fine; if they don’t, so be it. But I don’t think the proof is in how many viewers you have. The Nielsen ratings became something that we should have never allowed to happen because it made us broadcast to the lowest common denominator. We don’t want to do that. I am not stuck with the ratings. My ratings may drop. News may not be as productive people-wise as Wheel and Jeopardy, but so be it. I am going to produce a product and I am going to be proud of it.
What problems in TV is the public not aware of that it should payattention to?
I think people have got to start understanding that life is very, very complicated and that it can’t be solved with a 30-second soundbite. And it is our job to educate. Not to deal in giving final decisions on things. We want to give them all sides on every issue.
I am pleased that at 75 I am about to engage in a new venture. A lot of the big companies that are not much risk-takers are saying, Well, we will watch you, Jim, to see if it works. A lot say it won’t, a lot say it will. Time will tell.
What do you like to watch?
I watch an awful lot of MSNBC, an awful lot. I watch some Fox, quite frankly just so I can get a feel for what the hell they are doing. I look over at the Hannitys of the world, and the Rush Limbaughs, and not only are they intellectual midgets, they are vicious, bigoted people who play to that, and I don’t like that. But I watch them time to time, just to see what they are doing. I am a news junkie.
Edited and condensed for space reasons.