VH1, O'Reilly Lock Horns on 'Bars'

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VH1's new documentary series Music Behind Bars
is catching a fair share of attention — at least on Fox News Channel's The O'Reilly Factor.

A number of Factor
segments over the last two weeks have centered on Behind Bars, whose opening episode Oct. 18 chronicled Dark Mischief, a rock band formed by inmates at Graterford Penitentiary in Pennsylvania. Four days before Behind Bars's premiere, Factor
host Bill O'Reilly interviewed the mother of Mary Orlando, one of two teenagers killed seven years ago by Dark Mischief band member Christopher Bissey.

Then, during the opening "Talking Points" commentary segment on the next two programs, O'Reilly urged viewers to contact VH1 and request the program be cancelled, on grounds that it glorifies violent criminals. He directed viewers to aim their reactions at VH1 executive vice president and general manager Christina Norman and Viacom Inc. chairman Sumner Redstone. In one commentary, O'Reilly said that Norman "should be ashamed and hand in her resignation immediately."

Separately, Pennsylvania Gov. Mark Schweiker called for VH1 to cancel the series, adding that he would take steps to make sure "in all of our prisons, [there are] no more music programs or opportunities of this kind again for murderers."

Despite those requests and e-mails flooding VH1's servers, the premiere went on as scheduled.

Parties at VH1 declined to be interviewed, while Fox News representatives said Factor
participants were unavailable.

For all of the Factor
heat, the opening episode produced mixed ratings results. VH1 registered a 0.3 rating and 217,000 households for the episode, a 30 percent gain from the time slot last year, according to Nielsen Media Research data. But VH1 programs running in that period the previous month averaged a 0.4 household rating, and also posted better results among the adult 18-to-34 and 18-to-49 demos.

Advertisers aware?

Whether the show's Nielsen numbers will climb remains to be seen, but O'Reilly kept fanning the flames last week, when he named the advertisers with spots on the Behind Bars
opener.

During an on-air interview with Donny Deutsch on Oct. 22, the CEO of ad agency Deutsch Inc. said VH1 called one of his clients, Expedia.com, for a show buy — and ran its spots, even though the client turned down the offer.

"I guarantee you every one of those companies will be calling Viacom and saying, 'Hey, how the heck did this happen? What are you going to do about this?' " Deutsch said.

Expedia, as well as Lens-crafters, another Behind Bars
advertiser, released statements on their own, stating that they were unaware their spots ran on the show until after it aired. According to O'Reilly, Lenscrafters has suspended its VH1 ad schedule.

Relative to the advertising placements, VH1 released the following statement: "We're making every effort to ensure that our advertisers are comfortable with their position with this show."

A Fox News Channel spokeswoman noted that Norman and other VH1 officers declined invitations to appear on Factor
several times to make their case for Behind Bars. Previously, a VH1 spokesperson said such invitations had not been extended by O'Reilly's program.

In a terse statement released before the premiere, VH1 maintained the series' intention is to be "a thoughtful documentary meant to enlighten the viewer as to the harshness of life behind bars and to the power of music."

Meantime, Behind Bars
producer Arnold Shapiro, whose credits include Scared Straight, Rescue 911
and Big Brother, has been defending his series on various TV and radio appearances. Shapiro questioned whether O'Reilly had viewed the show before analyzing it. Fox News representatives maintained he did.

"There is no way O'Reilly could have seen it and then said it glorifies inmates, unless he's an idiot — and some people believe he is," Shapiro said. "Anybody who knows me and my work knows I am anti-prison. And anyone who sees this show can only conclude that being in prison is atrocious and not a place where anyone would want to be. There is no idolizing or glorification here."

VH1 will present six more Behind Bars
segments, looking at other prison musicians and the rehabilitative impact such initiatives can have on inmates, through early December.

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