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Panel: Internet to be Downfall of TV?

Finally, the television industry has a poster boy representing all of its myriad problems: a monkey drinking its own urine.

That was the image broadcast in front of attendees at last week's annual State of the Industry Newsmaker Luncheon sponsored by the Hollywood Radio & Television Society at the Regent Beverly Wilshire. The monkey clip, drawn from viral-video Web site, came courtesy of the afternoon's master of ceremonies, producer Gavin Polone.

Besides the perverse frisson one gets from exhibiting a monkey urinating in a hotel ballroom, Polone had a point to make. That multisecond had generated nearly 5 million, um, streams on the Internet to date. If this was what represented the changing face of mass media, can the TV networks adapt?

It's a worthwhile question, which is all the more surprising that it was asked. These schmoozefests usually function as a forum for nothing but mutual self-congratulation, where actual issues are rarely discussed in depth.

Which is why HRTS' decision to invite Polone back for the second consecutive year as moderator was delightfully masochistic. Watching one of the TV poobahs turn on his own kind is not unlike, well, watching a primate spraying urine in its own face (how long before NBC signs that monkey to a holding deal?).

Polone doesn't so much moderate a panel discussion as he does monopolize it to present his own dystopian views and challenge the views of the panelists who dared to show up. Anyone expecting to sip the usual industry Kool-Aid quickly finds Polone spiked it with sodium pentothol.

Last year, Polone opened the luncheon with the proclamation, "The television business is going to hell." It got worse from there. Watching Polone grill squirming execs was akin to watching an episode of "Punk'd" -- the panelists seemed to be ambushed by the aggressive questioning.

One year later, it was abundantly evident that producing "Emily's Reasons Why Not" has not instilled in Polone a newfound sense of humility.

As Polone sees it, the TV industry's rush to put programming on new platforms, including the Internet, iPods and mobile phones, is akin to arming the enemy. Yahoo! or Apple are going to be the networks of the future, building their base with licensed programming today in order to crush their competitors tomorrow with shows they'll produce themselves.

But the beauty of the Gavin Polone Show is that he produces his own vignettes to underscore his points. To back his thesis, he queued up a video clip of network logos being incinerated by lasers fired by an iPod.

HRTS tried to counter Polone, stacking the panel with people who wouldn't wither in his presence -- though, tellingly, no one represented the broadcasters this year. Sitting in was MediaCom CEO Jon Mandel, whose own chronic dyspepsia makes Polone seem like Larry King.

And then there was Sony Pictures Television president Steve Mosko, the one person Polone can't attack because he holds the purse for Polone's pod deal. Instead, Polone sarcastically gushed about Mosko's good looks -- but not before inquiring about renewal for said pod deal.

"Scrubs" executive producer Bill Lawrence wasn't as lucky. Surveying the assemblage of muckety-mucks onstage, he wondered aloud, "I'm trying to figure out why I'm here."

"Aaron Sorkin said no," Polone shot back.

And so goes the Gavin Polone Show, continuously veering between the good-natured ribbing of a roast and the painful probing of an intervention. The addiction in question would be an industry hooked on its own hype, and Polone is a welcome one-man antidote.


Andrew Wallenstein writes for The Hollywood Reporter.

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