Television: November 2006

I think the removal of Lost from the schedule in the middle of November – smack dab during that evil construct known as sweeps month – was a bold move. Its replacement, Deja Vu, I mean Day Break which I won’t watch, seems to be doing OK , ratings-wise. Will this become a new model, especially for serialized shows?
Some people get SO bent out of shape when their show’s pre-empted or is in rerun or doesn’t start right away. Not I. I’m perfectly happy that Scrubs won’t start until this Thursday. It’ll still be 22 episodes – and three pregnancies.
I’m SO happy Dancing with the Stars is over. I don’t think my wife fully realized that I was upstairs working on my blog, when she (and often, Lydia) were watching it, for a reason. So, the answer to the question, “Do you want to see Emmitt Smith’s free-style dance? It’s REALLY good!” is NO, thank you. Now, it’s skating season, during which she tells me that I’ll really want to see some woman skater lifting her male partner over her head. That answer is also in the negative.
There’s a new show called My Boys, which starts tonight on TBS. I’m thinking of watching the pilot because I am interested in the notion of men and women as friends. Most of my friends are female, and have been since I was 10. But the real selling point is that Jim Gaffigan appears in it. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen his stand-up that people know rave about – he’s been on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman about a dozen times each – but I have liked him in series such as “The Ellen Show” and “Ed”.
I’ve been reading a lot about different forms of apologies. Lots of people do the “I’m sorry if I’ve offended you” in a way that it appears that it is YOUR fault for being offended. In that context, I thought Michael Richards’ apology for his racist rant was sincere, public (already removed by YouTube at CBS’s request, alas), and quick (although not quickly enough for this columnist). The Letterman show may not have been the best venue, though, since he was not actually present in the studio, so people thought it was supposed to be a humorous bit. So he goes on Jesse Jackson’s radio show,as he did a couple days ago, he goes on something else, etc. The added benefit is that, in time, and continued honest contrition, perhaps it’ll go the way of Hugh Grant’s indiscretion, forgiven if not forgotten.

The peculiar aspect of this story, which I read Saturday, is how Kenny Kramer, the inspiration for Cosmo Kramer, Richards’ character on Seinfeld, has gotten “15 to 20 interviews” about the incident. Kenny Kramer’s statement: “I know the public is smart enough to realize that Michael Richards’ personal actions in no way reflect on the character he portrayed on television or me, Kenny Kramer, the real person that the character was based on.” So he says. Surreal.
Conversely, FOX’s apology over the O.J. deal reeks of “see how sensitive we are in responding to your needs, public!” as opposed to “What WERE we thinking?”

Truth is, though, when the book/TV show package was first announced, it had no appreciable effect on me, other than, “Eh, FOX being tacky again.” I received unsolicited e-mails wanting me to tell NewsCorp and/or Simpson I wasn’t going to buy the book or watch the show. Well, I wasn’t going to watch the show, and I’m not going to buy the book – they exist, and I’ve read in the Wall Street Journal that some have sold on eBay for $100 or more, with someone offering to sell it for $1000 before it was taken down – but I wasn’t moved to sign online petitions. Now, after the cancellation, there’s the post-mortem. If you look at the Amazon discussion site about this book, you’d think it was 1995 all over again, with discussions of guilt/innocence and race, with a new twist: censorship.

Oh, see what IS on e-Bay.
I have officially ODed on Rachael Ray. Those of you not from around here (Albany, NY) may only know her from her various Food Network programs, her new Oprahfied syndicated show, and her appearances on other shows, not to mention magazine articles and now boxes of Nabisco crackers, fercrinoutloud. But folks from my area have already seen her for a couple years as the spokesperson for a local food chain (Price Chopper) and a furniture store. Still, I do feel sorry for the local gal makes good, as she now appears on the cover of the National Inquirer; her husband allegedly cheated on her.
Those Capital One ads are very deceptive. Over a year ago, the Minnesota Attorney General’s office filed legal action against the company. And a recent Business Week article really lays it out:
By offering multiple cards, the lender helps land some subprime borrowers in a deep hole and boosts its earnings with fee income.

When Brad Kehn received his first credit card from Capital One Financial Corp. in 2004, it took him only three months to exceed its $300 credit limit and get socked with a $35 over-limit fee. But what surprised the Plankinton (S.D.) resident more was that Cap One then offered him another card even though he was over the limit — and another and another. By early 2006, he and his wife had six Cap One Visa and MasterCards. They were in over their heads.

The couple was late and over the limit on all six cards, despite occasionally borrowing from one to pay the other. Every month they chalked up $70 in late and over-limit fees on each card, for a total of $420, in addition to paying penalty interest rates. The couple fell further behind as their Cap One balances soared. Even so, they still received mail offers for more Cap One cards until they sought relief at a credit counseling agency this May…

Credit card experts and counselors who help overextended debtors say there’s nothing crazy about it. Cap One, they contend, is simply aiming to maximize fee income from debtors who may be less sophisticated and who may not have many options because of their credit history. By offering several cards with low limits, instead of one with a larger limit, the odds are increased that cardholders will exceed their limits, garnering over-limit fees. Juggling several cards also increases the chance consumers may be late on a payment, incurring an additional fee. And if cardholders fall behind, they pile up over-limit and late fees on several cards instead of just one. “How many more ways can I fool you?” says Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor who has written extensively on the card industry. “That is all this is about.”

Consumers may not be the only ones who are unaware of Cap One’s ways. Its practice of issuing multiple cards to some borrowers with low credit ratings doesn’t appear well-known in the investment community. And just how much Cap One relies on fee income, vs. interest, is a mystery, since, like most lenders, it doesn’t disclose that. All credit card companies have become more reliant on fee income in recent years, but in a report issued in 2002, William Ryan, an investment analyst at Portales Partners, warned that Cap One’s earnings could be “devastated” if regulators cracked down on multiple cards or fees…

In a written response to questions, Cap One acknowledges that it offers multiple cards. “Our goal is to offer products that meet our customers’ needs and appropriately reflect their ability to pay,” it says. The company also stated: “Within our current U.S. portfolio, the vast majority of Capital One customers have only one Capital One credit card with a very small percentage choosing to have three or more cards.” Spokeswoman Tatiana Stead declined to offer precise numbers or to say whether households with three or more cards were concentrated among “subprime” borrowers, who have low credit ratings.

The nation’s fifth-largest credit card issuer, with $49 billion in U.S. credit card receivables as of the end of June, McLean (Va.)-based Cap One is a major lender to the subprime market. According to Cap One’s regulatory filings, 30% of its credit card loans are subprime. Representatives of 32 credit counseling agencies contacted by BusinessWeek say that Cap One has long stood out for the number of cards it’s willing to give to subprime borrowers. “In the higher-risk market, no lender is more aggressive in offering multiple cards,” says Kathryn Crumpton, manager of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Greater Milwaukee. Other big card-industry players that do subprime lending include Bank of America, Chase, and Citigroup. Representatives for Chase and Citigroup say they do not offer multiple cards to subprime customers. (BofA did not respond to inquiries.)

Last year, West Virginia Attorney General Darrell V. McGraw Jr. filed an action in state court seeking documents from Cap One related to its issuance of multiple cards, as well as other credit practices. Other than that, however, Cap One’s practices do not appear to have drawn regulatory scrutiny. A spokesman for the Federal Reserve, Cap One’s primary federal overseer, declined to comment about Cap One, but said that in general the regulator doesn’t object to multiple cards. Still, Fed guidelines warn multiple-card lenders to analyze the credit risk tied to all the cards before offering additional ones…

Analysts, including Carl Neff, ratings director on card securitizations for Standard & Poor’s, say Cap One tells investors that it carefully controls risk by giving such borrowers only small lines of credit. Indeed, the largest percentage of Cap One’s 28 million credit-card accounts, 43%, have balances of $1,500 or less, according to its SEC filings…

So, several states are alleging, the notion that one won’t get hit by high fees by using Capital One is not supported by Cap One practices. “What’s in YOUR wallet?” Indeed.
From MSNBC: A seven-minute video about The Beatles’ LOVE album that I hope you can open; I could at work, but not at home. It features George Martin and his son, the two surviving Beatles, and the two Beatle widows.

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