Neal Zoren’s Broadcast Media column

Neal Zoren in Monica’s kitchen at “The Friends Experience” in February 2023. He’s marking his 40th year as a Daily Times columnist. (COURTESY OF NEAL ZOREN)

This column is a special one for me.

It marks my 40th anniversary writing for the Delaware County Times, now extended to its related newspapers across the region.

I’ve been writing about television since 1977, but I could not have conceived of a run of 40 years and counting at one paper.

Before the Daily Times, I wrote about TV for the Philadelphia Journal and The Courier-Post in New Jersey.

Television is a totally different animal from the medium I encountered when I turned that first column over to Stu Rose and Trisha Cofiell for editing.

Stu, Trisha, Lynn Keyser and Linda DeMeglio welcomed me in a way that has continued since — although I am often nostalgic about those four.

In August 1983, television was a three-channel world with a PBS offshoot and a handful of independent stations in most markets.

I watched television burgeon. I remember looking at ratings with Wally Kennedy and Marilyn Phister at Channel 6 leading to a conversation about how much viewership for standard television was being lost to cable and video games.

Neal Zoren

And this was before streaming! It was even before Comcast consumed all competitors to create its cable juggernaut.

More than the growth of television from a world of ABC, NBC, and CBS — not even a Fox worth noting — what I miss from the first two decades of my Daily Times tenure is the heady competition between Philadelphia’s three stations with Fox (Channel 29) gaining steam when it began its homegrown 10 p.m. newscast in 1986.

Not only did the local stations seem more intense, camaraderie among people involved in broadcasting, even from competing stations, seemed greater.

I remember being in constant contact with Channels 3, 6, 10, 12, 17, 29, 48 and 57.

I knew most of the personnel and made frequent visits to the stations. People in news and programming were sharp and looked forward to getting stories even before newspapers reported them.

Today, I have to look up names and hope I can speak to someone. Outreach to me, once daily, would now be a surprise.

Channel 6’s Bernie Prazenica and Channel 29’s Dennis Bianchi might be the only general managers I would recognize on the street.

In the heyday of Philly TV, I had lunch every quarter with each GM.

The choices for current viewers are astounding.

Television is a staple of modern life, even more than it was in 1983.

The difference is with a limit to how many programs could air, the experience was more generally shared.

Also, shows like “All in the Family,” “Maude” or “The Jeffersons,” the last two being offshoots of the first, could probably not air as new in today’s prickly times.

Memories are many and fond. Thank you, Philadelphia TV, the Delaware County Daily Times, its readers, and the TV viewers for them.

Slim streaming pickings

Signs of the writers’ and actors’ strikes that have effectively shut down television and movie production since the spring are markedly visible when one looks at the TV premiere schedule for the next three months.

I scour that schedule constantly to stay on top of show debuts and creating my own roster of programs to sample.

Doing some prep for a segment on Dom Giordano’s WPHT (1210 AM) noon-to-3 p.m. radio show, I was dismayed to see that nothing arriving on television made me do more than shrug until I saw three shows that don’t stream until November!

Those show are an episodic rendition of Anthony Doerr’s novel, “All the Light We Can See,” coming Nov. 2, and “Fingernails” and “Quiz Lady”” starting Nov. 3.

“Fingernails” got my attention because it stars Riz Ahmed and Jessie Buckley, two young favorites.

“Quiz Lady” is a comedy about a family that regards a quiz show as the best way to get a needed windfall and stars Sandra Oh, Awkwafina, Holland Taylor and Jason Schwartzman.

Young Simba roars

Between guest appearances on popular series such as “Law and Order” and roles in commercials, the cast of “The Lion King” at the Academy of Music on Philadelphia’s Kimmel Cultural Campus has faces that might more recognizable than their names.

The stick-out of the cast, the best of the dozen or so I’ve seen including the opening night troupe of 1997, whose performance I attended, is one who may not yet have had the time to be discovered by TV producers.

He will be. Jackson Hayes matches energy that is consistent with his single-digit years on Earth with stage presence and line delivery that seems beyond his years.

Jackson Hayes

Hayes has a knack for putting the right emphasis on each line, earning appropriate laughs, eliciting warranted pathos and making this
touring production of “The Lion King” especially engaging.

Hayes can also fly up an aisle, as he proves when his character, Young Simba, runs away from the guilt his uncle Scar instills, following his father, Mustafa’s, death in a wildebeest stampede.

No spoiler alert. It’s “The Lion King!” Surely most people reading this have seen some version of it.

It so happens that Hayes is local. He hails from Middletown, Delaware.

His bio says he enjoys playing with his brothers, Jared and Jordan. When he’s not touring the U.S. in a hit show, that is.

Jackson has performed with the Choir School of Delaware. My hope is that means we in the Delaware Valley will have chances to see him again before Broadway or TV snatches him up.

One more “Lion King” note: Tony Freeman, who has given some sterling performances in Philadelphia over the years, is understudying three major roles.

If Tony hasn’t been in town lately, it’s because he’s been on Broadway or on tour with “The Lion King” for most of this century.

Also, “The Lion King” kindles memories of Ben Lipitz, another who graced Philly stages, but passed away earlier this year.


Nick Cordileone is Timon and Ben Lipitz portrays Pumbaa in ‘The Lion King” in 2015 at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia.

A “Lion King” veteran, Walnut Street Theatre board member, and someone with whom I enjoyed several conversations over several decades, Ben was missed but thought of constantly.

‘Great performances’

On Friday at 9 p.m., PBS’s “Great Performances,” seen on Channel 12, features a concert by the Vienna Philharmonic conducted by Philadelphia Orchestra music director Yannick Nézet-Séguin.

On the program are pieces by Ravel, Gounod, Bizet, Berlioz, Boulanger, Johann Strauss Jr., and my particular favorite, Camille Saint-Saëns.

The word on ‘Barbie’

“Barbie,” which has set box office records since coming to theaters last month will be available via
television on Sept. 5.
The Greta Gerwig movie starring Margot Robbie, Ryan Gosling, and America Ferrara cannot be screened for free. There will be a fee, possibly a hefty one because home viewers will have to buy the film at this time rather than having the option to rent it.

“Barbie” has become a sensation.

With more than $1 billion and counting in admission sales, it has become a fan favorite. Several people have returned for second and third viewings.

I am not a fan. While I admire the vivid color in the movie, one with bright pinks and dreamy blues that mirror the palette Mattel has created for Barbie’s world, and admire an occasional sight gag, such as Gosling’s Ken flexing a muscle to show Ken’s idea of male dominance, Gerwig’s approach to making the film more than a romp through Toyland is too political and heavy-handed for me.

It reminds me of a Stephen Colbert monologue, perhaps funny in spots, but self-conscious, overlarded, and so pandering it lacks the genuine humor that derives from keen satire or wit.

Gerwig’s jumping off point is that of Miss American denigrators.

Barbie dolls are defined by their owners, little girls — no little boys? What Greta, you weren’t inclusive? Shame. Shame — who play with the dolls and develop attitudes toward them.

Generic Barbie, represented by Robbie, has an owner who worries that Barbie’s prettiness and figure set an ideal that most women can’t duplicate, therefore creating shame among the female popular.

It’s a point of view. A smarmy one that is probably exaggerated by the partisan, populist thought behind it, but nonetheless a point of view.

The story becomes more complicated when it reveals the 12-year-old who has this attitude is superseded in influence by the actual owner of Generic Barbie, the original owner, her mother, played by America Ferrara, who deserves more kudos than she’s receiving.

The mother’s vision is Barbie should experience and even live in the real world. And that’s the wish that is fulfilled.

The concept can lead in interesting directors, but Gerwig has her own plan.

“Barbie” has been a big success at the box office and it will becoming to the small screen for purchase on Sept. 5. (VALERIE MACON/AFP via Getty Images)

As Barbie enters the real world devised by Gerwig, she realizes it is controlled by men. All of the alleged jokes and several side comments tell you that.

Rather than show women or men is any level of genuine perspective, Gerwig opts for a patriarchy vs. feminist struggle as if no other alternative exists.

She politicizes her movie, making the politics the point.

Neither men nor women are depicted in any form of range of variety. They are either the Barbie who has discovered Gerwig’s intended truth about gender gaps of the narcissistically macho Ken.

Either men or women have to rule a community. You can guess correctly which side Gerwig chooses. What she doesn’t choose is a happy medium or even a glimpse of possible harmony.

That’s what ruins the film.

The pandering witlessness and expectance of acceptance that Gerwig’s point of view is any more than a socially blathered prevailing point of view turns the film into a cheerless rant instead of an intelligent, balanced expression of gender issues, which like all social issues, have improved markedly since awareness was drawn to them the final third of the 20th century.

There are bright moments.

Both Ferrara and Rhea Perlman, who plays Barbie’s inventor, Ruth, deliver cogent speeches that suggest a fair perspective Gerwig usually eschews.

A song written for Ken, and performed excellently by Gosling, is also quite amusing and hits points cleverly instead of bashing heads with them.

Kate McKinnon, as Weird Barbie, one drawn on, mistreated, and mangled by her owner, is her usual brilliant.

In general, “Barbie” is a failure. It maintains old saws and changing status quo instead of venturing to a more reasonable new ground.

I can understand eagerness to see a movie that been so successful and controversial.

The Sept. 5 TV date might be tempting, but I’d wait until the price goes down to rental before partaking.

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