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We're Viacom-ing to Get You!

by The Cranky Media Guy

I guess the biggest story of the day is Viacom buying CBS for eleventy-seven trillion dollars (or something like that. Like most Americans, my grasp of numbers isn't too good). I know it's a big story because the local Fox 10 o'clock news show gave it a whole 15 seconds at 36 after the hour. I tuned over to NBC at 11 and they used it as their "kicker" at the end of the broadcast, an honor usually reserved for fireman-rescues-cat-stuck-in-tree stories. Jesus, this merger must be huge! If it were any bigger, they wouldn't have covered it at all.

I realize Janet Reno and her fine staff at the Justice Department are pretty busy trying to figure out how to explain why she didn't know the FBI was turning the Branch Davidian kids into charcoal briquettes to worry about little things like the legality of the largest media merger in history, but, geez, isn't there like a paralegal or a notary public or somebody who could take a look at this thing?

See, years ago, how this used to work was, the government said that you couldn't own all segments of a particular industry 'cause that would be too much control over prices and that was not good for the consumer. I know, it's funny to think that the government actually used to worry about stuff like that. They had the time back then because they weren't busy issuing ID badges to school kids, I guess. Ah, the innocent days when the government worried about quaint things like the effect of prices on citizens and you had to ask a kid to find out what his name was!

Back in the Stone Age (the 1950's), there was a guy named Alan B. Dumont who owned one of the early television networks (named, oddly enough, the Dumont Network). The Dumont Network's biggest show was The Honeymooners, starring Jackie Gleason. Their second-biggest show, I believe, was static. Mr. D. also happened to own a television manufacturing company. The government decided that that was too much control of one industry and made him sell off his TV stations. By today's standards, Alan B. Dumont was a slacker. Today, if you don't own 14 networks, the studios that make the shows that air on them and the catering company that feeds all the cast members, Wall Street types stick "Kick me" signs on your back and moon the Big Board when your stock symbol appears.

Ok, so what does Viacom/CBS own now? Uh, lemme think here for a minute. Paramount Studios and its theme parks, CBS, UPN, TNN, Mtv, VH1, Nickelodeon, Showtime (or the Movie Channel or one of those damn things. I forget.), some big-ass publishing company, Blockbuster Video and a couple of other nickel-and-dime billion dollar businesses. Is that all? Sheesh, I thought this was a big media merger. Oops, I forgot, they also own the Star Trek franchise (I understand they're working on a Star Fleet Retirement Home series to debut in 2001).

Of course, Mel Karmazan, the guy who's been running CBS for a while now and who is the new Number Two to Sumner Redstone's Captain Picard at Viacom, has owned Howard Stern's soul for a few years now. He has it mounted on the wall in his den, I'm told. I hear it's a little raggedy and kinda looks like a dog's chew toy. Wait, this just in: It's available to the highest bidder on eBay. Act fast.

Viacom doesn't own the Weather Channel (yet) but I understand they're working on a deal to acquire the "intellectual property rights" to weather itself. Saying, "Wow, hot one today, huh?" to a co-worker will cost you fifty cents (all major credit cards accepted). No use bitching, it's just part of the all-new, better-than-ever American economy.

This is pretty high-falutin' stuff we're talking about here. My head is starting to hurt again. Maybe I'll turn to the newspaper to distract myself. Hmm, what's this story here? It says that Americans are spending more time on the job than workers anywhere else in the industrialized world. We put in nearly 2,000 hours per year now, an increase of 4% since 1980.

By contrast, workers in Germany, Ireland, Spain, Australia, Canada and France are working fewer hours per year than they did a few years ago. Workers in Europe, even entry-level employees, tend to have more time off than we do, too. A European starting his first job out of college normally has four to six weeks of vacation per year. And what was I reading the other day about the average American worker's salary only increasing a few percent over the past several years while the average CEO's salary went up 442%? I think I need to step out onto the veranda to get some fresh air to help me think about all this.

Let me see... bigger companies because of mergers would mean fewer real options for the consumer, right? Increasing work hours would mean less time to spend with your family, right? Salaries that barely (or don't) keep pace with inflation combined with less competition in an given industry would mean that many people are essentially slaves to their jobs, right? Uh oh, the headaches are coming back.

Suddenly, I black out. (Don't ask how I'm typing. Just play along, okay?) I start to hallucinate. Off in the distance, I see shadowy figures. I move closer to get a better look. As I approach, I see two men in leather bondage outfits standing in front of another man on his knees. They're smacking him across the face and laughing at him derisively. "Take that, you pansy!" I hear one of them say to him. The other has a large dog-like creature on a leash, who is barking and snarling at the kneeler.

I'm now standing just a few feet behind the kneeling man who is sobbing uncontrollably. Suddenly, the whole scene become clear to me. The crying man is Alan B. Dumont and he's being bitch-slapped by Sumner Redstone and Mel Karmazan. The "dog" is actually Janet Reno. Upon command from Redstone, she lifts her leg and pees on Dumont.




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