Spare Me the Shop Talk, Please


Right before the Memorial Day weekend, Turner Broadcasting System Inc. chairman Jamie Kellner petulantly expressed his frustration — in a page one story in The New York Times
— that viewers weren't holding up their end of the deal by zapping through commercials.

The agreement is that the price of "free" television is sitting through the commercials. That Kellner quote, to my surprise, became the catalyst for a full-blown round of cable bashing by guests at a party we hosted, who thought his words were the height of supreme arrogance.

I don't know about you, but I hate to talk shop when I'm off duty — especially with people who are not in the business. And trust me, it's no fun being at a party when people know you cover cable TV.

I have often found myself in the unenviable position of being a lightning rod. People gravitate toward me in an effort to get any particular cable beef they might have off their chests. And they have many.

It's excruciatingly numbing to be baited and cajoled into either defending or abashing an industry that I live and breathe. I usually just nod off into space.

These folks had never heard of Kellner and they didn't know that one of his very own cable networks, TNT, is probably the biggest offender in terms of the length and frequency of its commercial pods. Nor did I tell them. Why provoke World War III?

Frankly, I would have rather talked about the Federal Bureau of Investigation's inability to connect the dots over the evidence leading up to the Sept. 11 attack on the World Trade Center.

Or I would have liked a lively conversation about where in the hell is Tom Ridge, who heads up the Office of Homeland Security? I haven't seen his name in the paper for weeks, as India and Pakistan now point nuclear bombs at each other.

But that was not to be. For cousin Cathy, God love her, introduced me to some new people there as the editor of a cable publication. Forget about how beautiful the weather on Cape Cod was that splendid weekend. Forget about Lucy, our now six-month-old yellow Lab who was underfoot — and how she might one day become a good canine citizen now that she was almost through the teething stage.

Am I whining? Yes, and shamelessly so. But it could have been worse. Mercifully, the Adelphia Communications Corp. mess was on no one's radar screen that evening. Guess this crowd didn't care or know about the Rigases or Coudersport, Pa.

So given my most recent brush with cable bashing, here's my advice for the season of graduations, weddings and Fourth of July parties which looms ahead: When confronted with a pesky question about cable that you don't want to entertain, quickly offer your interogator a gooey appetizer instead.

Or when asked, "Isn't DSL really better than a cable modem?" ignore the query and deftly ask back, "Don't you find the artichoke hearts much more interesting than the Jalapeño spread?"

Or better yet, just turn the tables. If there's an accountant in the crowd — and odds are there will be — innocently go on the offense yourself. "Now just what is it you said you are doing to ensure that you're not going to become the next Arthur Andersen or Deloitte & Touche?" you might want to ask.

But tread carefully with the accountants. You could meander into a night-long conversation about the Rigas debacle.