Committed to the First Amendment

So Much for Localism

The FCC's phased-in scheme for reclaiming some of broadcasters' ENG spectrum for mobile services could prove a nightmare for stations outside the top 30 markets. In a bone to mobile companies with still-shaky business plans, the commission says it will give those companies 10 years to negotiate payments with stations outside the top 30 markets. In the top 30 markets, broadcasters must be paid upfront, and mobile companies have only a year to start using the new spectrum. That disparity will force stations outside the top 30 either to absorb the expense of buying new gear without the guarantee they will ever be able to collect the money they are entitled to or to stick with their old gear and face interference from adjacent larger markets that have made the switch.

The decision to hammer smaller-market stations is hard to square with the FCC's avowed concern for the state of local news and public affairs. Broadcasters have time and again shown themselves willing to drive those ENG trucks into harm's way to report fires, hurricanes, hail, high winds and whatever else threatens their communities. The FCC, and Congress, would certainly have it no other way. This decision could impede that newsgathering effort for the stations least in a position to deal with the additional logistics and/or expense.

The Powell commission's eagerness to open up spectrum to new uses is understandable, but giving mobile services a decade to dawdle does not advance that goal. Making it harder for broadcast journalists to do their jobs is hardly in the public's interest.

Norton as Art

The awkward grace of Michael Richards' Kramer, the lovable lug-ableness of Brad Garrett's Robert Barone, the essence of Barney Rubble. All owe a debt to Art Carney's Ed Norton, TV's first big second banana. Carney's death last week at age 85 reminded us of how little we saw of him on TV after his brilliant turn as the slow-but-sweet sewer worker to Jackie Gleason's loudmouth bus driver in CBS's classic Honeymooners. Yet Carney's comic timing, physical expressiveness and skillful character creation combined to create one of a handful of performances that define the Golden Age of TV comedy. Norton was the perfect foil for Gleason's all-bluster and -fluster Ralph Kramden. Gleason may have been The Great One, but, in The Honeymooners, he was The Great Half of one of the best comedy teams ever.

TV at its worst is a British show in which contestants try to give themselves various diseases (we're not making this up). When faced with that reality, it is nice to know there are the 39 episodes of the original Honeymooners
as an antidote and a brief reminder of TV at its best. How sweet it was.