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Trump on the attack against 'SNL' again

The chief critic-elect of "Saturday Night Live," Donald Trump, is bashing the show and impersonator Alec Baldwin again — this time prodded into action Wednesday by NBC's own Matt Lauer.

The president-elect called the late-night institution unfunny and Baldwin's portrayal of him mean-spirited, suggesting "Saturday Night Live" wasn't long for the world. Trump — who appeared as guest host on "SNL" in November 2015 — has grumbled in tweets about the show three times since October, most recently last weekend after Baldwin and Kate McKinnon appeared in a skit about his Twitter habit.

Trump's frequent tweeting was raised by Lauer in a telephone interview on the "Today" show following Time magazine's selection of the president-elect as its Person of the Year.

"Can we agree, President-elect Trump, that it would be better for you to simply stop watching 'SNL' as opposed to watching and then complaining about it?" Lauer said.

His question was no ad-lib, since NBC quickly aired clips of the Baldwin-McKinnon sketch as Trump replied.

"I hosted 'SNL' when it was a good show but it's not a good show anymore," said Trump, who also took a turn as guest host in 2004. "First of all, nothing to do with me, there's nothing funny about it. The skits are terrible. I like Alec, but his imitation of me is really mean-spirited and not very good ... It's very biased and I don't like it."

And yet, Lauer noted, he still watches.

"You look at the way the show is going now and the kind of work they're doing, who knows how long the show is going to be on? It's a terrible show," Trump said.

Fact check: "Saturday Night Live" is in its 42nd season and enjoying its best ratings since 1992, the Nielsen company said. Viewership is up 33 percent over 2015.

The attention paid by Trump certainly hasn't hurt, said NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt.

"I love the fact that SNL has this position of being able to have a lot of impact on current events and that the world turned to the show in record numbers this past fall to see how they were going to comment on what was going on and bring comedy to that," Greenblatt said.

The show's founding executive producer, Lorne Michaels, would not comment on Trump's statement, a spokeswoman said. Michaels, awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama two weeks ago, hasn't reacted publicly to the criticism by the soon-to-be leader of the free world.

Baldwin, whose portrayal in a skit that satirized Trump's tweets was dubbed "sad" by Trump in last weekend's late-night tweet, responded via Twitter: "Release your tax returns and I'll stop. Ha."

"There are certain things that come with the presidency — the football with the (nuclear) codes, Air Force One and being parodied on 'Saturday Night Live,'" said James Andrew Miller, co-author of "Live From New York: The Complete, Uncensored History of 'Saturday Night Live.'" "He should just relax and get used to it."

The unprecedented high-level attention is nothing but good for the show, Miller said. It reminds Trump's Twitter followers who might not be regular viewers that "SNL" is still around and relevant, he said. A rebellious reputation also can't hurt a show that's been alive for longer than most of its viewers, many of whom would find Trump criticism to be a thumbs-up.

Miller said he didn't believe that the knowledge that Trump is keeping his eye on them would make the show and its writers self-conscious.

"Lorne has a laser focus on the fact that there should be no other agenda but to be funny," he said. "I don't think they're going to ... try to do any political messaging in response to what (Trump) is doing."

Trump, of course, has a long history with NBC. His host appearance last fall was not welcomed by several cast members or Trump's Republican primary opponents, who lobbied for equal time.

The president-elect's also owed much of his public profile to his years as host of NBC's "The Apprentice." In fact, Trump made his announcement that he would not run for president in 2012 at a presentation NBC was giving to advertisers about its fall schedule. The network cut ties with Trump shortly after he announced he was running for president in June 2016.

Reputed mobster pleads guilty in plot to kill crime rival

A Nevada man who authorities say is a member of the New Jersey crime family believed to be the model for HBO's "The Sopranos" has admitted plotting the death of an organized crime rival.

Federal prosecutors say Charles Stango pleaded guilty Wednesday in Newark court to using a telephone to plan the murder. He faces up to 10 years in prison when he's sentenced March 28.

The 72-year-old Henderson man also pleaded guilty to violating the terms of his parole stemming from a New York racketeering case.

Stango was arrested in April 2015 along with other alleged members of the DeCavalcante crime family. Prosecutors say the family engaged in numerous offenses, including murder, extortion and fraud.

Six of Stango's co-defendants, including his son, have pleaded guilty to various charges.

2 burned in gas blast at company that makes rowing machines

A gas explosion at a Rhode Island company that makes indoor rowing machines has left two people with burns.

Police say they were called to WaterRower in Warren late Wednesday morning for a gas explosion in the building.

Warren Fire Chief Alexander Galinelli says two men were hospitalized for burns. He says the injuries didn't appear life-threatening. He says three other workers were also taken to the hospital because they were shaken up.

Galinelli says a gas pocket built up inside an oven used to bake paint onto the rowing machines. An investigation is underway.

A rowing machine made by the company has been featured in the Netflix series "House of Cards" and is frequently used by lead character Frank Underwood, played by Kevin Spacey.

Study: 2016 campaign coverage was overwhelmingly negative

A Harvard University study released Wednesday concludes that media coverage of the 2016 presidential election was topped only by the 2000 Bush-Gore campaign for its overwhelming negativity.

Strip away "horse race" stories about who was leading or trailing in the polls, and coverage of issues relating to Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's fitness for office was an identical 87 percent negative for each candidate, said the report by Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy.

"The real bias of the press is not that it's liberal. Its bias is a decided preference for the negative," said the report, written by Harvard political science professor Thomas Patterson.

The report looked at coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN and Fox News Channel nightly newscasts, along with The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal. The media analysis firm Media Tenor judged the tone of stories. For instance, a story about the FBI reopening an investigation into Clinton's emails was judged a negative for her, and a USA Today story about lawsuits against Trump and his business was a negative for him.

With all stories included, Patterson said 71 percent of the overall coverage for Trump and Clinton was negative, 29 percent positive. The 2000 race was 75-to-25 percent negative. From his announcement, Trump received far more attention than any rival. This fall, Trump had more opportunities in the media to define his opponent than Clinton had with him, the report said.

Patterson said there was more coverage about Clinton's emails than any policy issues put forth by either candidate.

During the nomination fight, Trump crowded out his opponents in the media. Evidence that his campaign was catching on led to more positive coverage. "My sense is that a lot of the early coverage was so 'isn't this fun' that I think he got some insulation from being outrageous," Patterson said.

He suggested the negative tone may be why the intense campaign interest as measured in television ratings didn't fully translate into voter turnout. Turnout statistics from November's election are still being tabulated, but there were an unusually large number of voters who either abstained from the presidential selection or entered write-in candidates, said Michael McDonald, who runs the U.S. Elections Project, which collects data on voter turnout across the country.

Negative campaigns run by each candidate affected the coverage, Patterson said. But the political scientist believes that negativity is essentially baked into campaign coverage — reporters get more attention and professional accolades for critical pieces.

Earlier studies show a startling change: during the Kennedy-Nixon campaign in 1960, more than three-quarters of the coverage was judged positive, the Harvard report said.

David Bohrman, a former CNN Washington bureau chief who helped with NBC's political coverage this year, said academics shouldn't be too quick to dismiss how negative the candidates were. "The reality is, these campaigns were brutal," he said.

Bohrman said he believes smart, interesting work is rewarded — not negative reporting.

"I don't think the goal of anyone reporting is to be negative," he said. "I think reporters genuinely want to figure out who these people are who want to be president of the United States."

The biggest issue for mainstream news organizations coming out of campaign 2016 is their relevancy given the hunger of many consumers to seek out news sources — including fake news sites — that reflect their opinion.

"The traditional gatekeepers were out there saying 'this is true and this is not,'" Bohrman said. "But they were lost in the noise of 4,200 other sources of information."



A show, a trial and now the rerun in 'Cops' murder-for-hire

Dalia Dippolito either wanted a hit man to kill her newlywed husband, or she's the victim of police trying to become famous on the "Cops" television show.

Prosecutor Craig Williams told jurors in a straightforward, 10-minute opening statement on Wednesday that her own words will show she was serious about having Michael Dippolito killed.

She gave $1,000 to an informant to pay for a gun, and then told a detective posing as a hit-man that she wanted her husband dead, Williams said. A police video shows her offering the apparent hit-man $7,000, and then raising the stakes to $10,000 if he timed the killing after her husband's bank visit.

"What is great about this case is that it is 100 percent based on Ms. Dippolito's words, actions and intent," Williams said as the retrial began.

Williams laid out a simple timeline for the jurors, listing events from the alleged death plot's inception to her meeting with the fake hit man to her leaving home the morning her husband was to be killed in a staged robbery. Just follow the evidence, he told the four-woman, two-man jury.

Defense attorney Brian Claypool presented an entirely different picture in his opening, declaring that the wrongdoing was committed by the Boynton Beach Police Department, which he says went "rogue" and built the case in hopes of finding fame on "Cops."

Claypool said detectives never believed she was a threat to her husband, but knew the case would make fantastic television.

It all began when the informant, Mohammed Shihadeh, told detectives about Dippolito's alleged plan just before the show's production crew was to arrive in town.

"They wanted to script a good TV show," Claypool said. They thought, "Holy mackerel, we are striking gold!"

"They never carried out a credible investigation in this case. The evidence will show this (perfunctory) investigation had zero — zero — integrity. None," he said.

Claypool said everything the officers did was made for "Cops," which eventually aired the case in a special episode. He urged the jury to view the case through the same lens. For example, detectives violated department rules by threatening Shihadeh with arrest if he didn't stick with the investigation — all to preserve the case for TV, he said.

This is Dippolito's second trial — her 2011 conviction and 20-year sentence were thrown out on appeal, for issues having to do with jury selection.

Prosecutors have alleged that Dippolito wanted her husband's $250,000 in savings and their $225,000 town house. If convicted of solicitation to commit first-degree murder, she could be sentenced up to 20 years.

Dippolito has testified previously that she, her husband and Shihadeh were working on their own ill-conceived video project, which they planned to post online in hopes of landing them a reality TV show. She said she too wanted out, but that Shihadeh threatened her and her family if she didn't meet the supposed hit man.

Claypool has said she may not testify this time, but jurors will see plenty of her — not only in the courtroom, but on TV.

Prosecutors showed jurors an undercover video, recorded inside Shihadeh's car, showing Dippolito asking him to find her a hit man. Shihadeh expresses concern that if her husband is killed, she'll be the suspect. She said she would cover her tracks.

"Nobody's going to be able to point a finger at me," she said.

Shihadeh and Michael Dippolito, who says he met his ex-wife when he hired her for sex, have denied there was a video project. Shihadeh also denied threatening her, but says Boynton Beach police did threaten him with arrest if he didn't stick with their investigation. The police have denied that.

The trial is expected to last about a week.


Follow Terry Spencer on Twitter at His work can be found at .

Trump tweets on interview when Person of the Year is named

President-elect Donald Trump is tweeting that he will be interviewed Wednesday morning on NBC amid speculation that he'll be named Time magazine's person of the year.

He tweeted moments before the expected announcement on NBC that "I will be interviewed on the @TODAYshow at 7:30. Enjoy!"

Trump is a finalist for the magazine's prestigious title after his unexpected victory over Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Nov. 8 presidential election.

Biden not planning on 2020 bid, but will 'never say never'

Vice President Joe Biden is continuing his coy approach to a possible 2020 presidential bid. For now, it's no.

The Democrat told Stephen Colbert on CBS' "Late Show" Tuesday, "I don't plan on running again, but to say you know what's going to happen in four years is just not rational." He added, "I can't see the circumstance in which I'd run, but what I've learned a long, long time ago, Stephen, is to never say never."

The comments came a day after Biden said, with a slight smile to a reporter, "I'm going to run in 2020."

Biden told Colbert his decision not to run in 2016 was right for his family, even though he was "best prepared at this moment to lead the country."

Nielsen's top programs for Nov. 28-Dec. 4

Prime-time viewership numbers compiled by Nielsen for Nov. 28-Dec. 4. Listings include the week's ranking and viewership.

1. NFL Football: Dallas at Minnesota, NBC, 21.76 million.

2. NFL Football: Carolina at Seattle, NBC, 17.75 million.

3. "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.54 million.

4. "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 13.65 million.

5. NFL Football: Green Bay at Philadelphia, ESPN, 13.06 million.

6. "Thursday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 12.23 million.

7. "The OT," Fox, 12.18 million.

8. "60 Minutes," CBS, 11.85 million.

9. Movie: "Christmas of Many Colors," NBC, 11.58 million.

10. "The Voice" (Tuesday), NBC, 10.64 million viewers.

11. "This is Us," NBC, 10.53 million viewers.

12. "Christmas in Rockefeller Center," NBC, 10.5 million.

13. "The Walking Dead," AMC, 10.48 million.

14. "Football Night in America, NBC, 9.88 million.

15. "The Voice" (Monday), NBC, 9.81 million.

16. "Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer," CBS, 9.39 million.

17. "NCIS," CBS, 9.27 million.

18. College Football: Wisconsin vs. Penn State, Fox, 9.19 million.

19. "Pro Football Pre-Game," NBC, 9.1 million.

20. "Survivor," CBS, 8.86 million.


ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co.; CBS is a division of CBS Corp.; Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox; NBC is owned by NBC Universal.

Parton, Christmas tree lighting, Cowboys give NBC big week

With the help of Dolly Parton, an iconic Christmas tree lighting, "The Voice" and the Dallas Cowboys, NBC enjoyed one of its best weeks in television ratings in years.

Aside from times when NBC had the Olympics or Super Bowl, the week ending Sunday was the network's most-watched in 19 years, said Bob Greenblatt, NBC chairman.

The Parton movie, "Christmas of Many Colors," finished among the Nielsen company's top 10 programs last week. The network also had strong weeks for "The Voice" and the growing freshman drama, "This is Us."

NBC hopes its success continues this week with the high-profile musical "Hairspray Live!" airing Wednesday.

"We always plan for these December bumps (in the ratings) because we have so many specials," Greenblatt said. "They just give us a little lift that we've come to expect. Thankfully, it's the case this year."

With the Cowboys playing on NBC Thursday night, that NFL game accomplished the unusual feat of getting a higher rating than NBC's Sunday night game.

NBC averaged 10.6 million viewers for the week. CBS was second with 6.7 million viewers, Fox had 5.8 million, ABC had 5 million, the CW had 2.1 million, Univision had 1.8 million, Telemundo had 1.7 million and ION Television had 1.4 million.

The election's over, but Fox News Channel was still the most popular cable network last week, averaging 2.59 million viewers in prime time. ESPN had 2.57 million, Hallmark had 2.25 million, AMC had 1.57 million and ABC Family had 1.53 million.

"NBC Nightly News'" won the evening news race, averaging 9.3 million viewers to 9.1 million for "ABC World News Tonight." The "CBS Evening News" had 7.6 million.

For the week of Nov. 28-Dec. 4, the top 10 shows, their networks and viewerships: NFL Football: Dallas at Minnesota, NBC, 21.76 million; NFL Football: Carolina at Seattle, NBC, 17.75 million; "The Big Bang Theory," CBS, 14.54 million; "Sunday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 13.65 million; NFL Football: Green Bay at Philadelphia, ESPN, 13.06 million; "Thursday Night NFL Pre-Kick," NBC, 12.23 million; "The OT," Fox, 12.18 million; "60 Minutes," CBS, 11.85 million; Movie: "Christmas of Many Colors," NBC, 11.58 million; "The Voice" (Tuesday), NBC, 10.64 million viewers.


This story has been corrected to show that for the week ending Sunday, "NBC Nightly News'" averaged 9.3 million viewers, "ABC World News Tonight" had 9.1 million and the "CBS Evening News" had 7.6 million. The story originally reported the season-to-date numbers.


ABC is owned by The Walt Disney Co. CBS is owned by CBS Corp. CW is a joint venture of Warner Bros. Entertainment and CBS Corp. Fox is owned by 21st Century Fox. NBC and Telemundo are owned by Comcast Corp. ION Television is owned by ION Media Networks.



NBC to air some live commercials during 'Hairspray'

It's not just the musical "Hairspray" that will air live on NBC Wednesday night. So will a handful of the show's commercials.

NBC hopes some innovative approaches will keep viewers interested and point the way toward more creativity among advertisers at a time viewers are accustomed to fast-forwarding through commercials. The live musical, which is quickly becoming a December tradition for NBC, is "the biggest test kitchen that we could possibly have," said Linda Yaccarino, chairwoman of advertising sales and client partnerships at the network, on Tuesday.

The live commercials hearken back to the early days of television.

On Wednesday, Toyota will air a live commercial that's styled after the 1960s setting of the musical, featuring the 2017 Corolla alongside a 50-year-old model of the car.

During another break, Reddi wip will be featured in a musical commercial choreographed by the "Hairspray Live!" team and featuring crew and cast members. NBC says it is inspired by the whipped cream brand's history of being delivered to the door by milkmen years ago.

Similarly, actor Derek Hough, who plays Corny Collins in "Hairspray Live!," will stay in character following a musical number to extol the virtues of Oreo cookies.

In a couple of other commercial breaks, NBC will show live backstage scenes from the musical on a split screen with ads.

Ads are necessary for the TV industry to do business, said NBC Entertainment Chairman Bob Greenblatt. But the more the network can do to combat the letdown feeling that viewers often have during commercial breaks, the better for all involved, he said.

"The more you can make the audience feel that the ads are part of the zeitgeist of the show, the less they feel like, 'oh, it's a pharmaceutical ad in the middle of this joyous musical,'" Greenblatt said.

The Super Bowl every year is considered a creative showcase for advertisers, and Greenblatt said he'd like to provide more opportunities to do that other times during the year.

"I want to make the whole experience for viewers as good as it possibly can be," he said.

Yaccarino said there was more demand from advertisers for such experimentation in "Hairspray Live!" than NBC had the capacity to do at this point. NBC would not discuss what advertisers are charged for the special commercials compared to more typical ads.



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