He Sleeps with the Fishes

Who can forget the sinister finale to The Godfather?

Michael Corleone has taken over as the don and ordered the murder of his traitorous brother-in-law, Carlo. Michael is in his office when his sister bursts in, hysterically screaming that Michael killed her husband.

She's hustled away; Michael's wife asks him if it's true. "Don't ask me about my business, Kay," he coolly replies. She asks again; he pounds the desk and shouts, "Don't ask me about my business!" She asks again. He forcibly calms himself, ominously lifts his index finger and says "this one time" he will allow her to ask him about his affairs.

He then bald-facedly lies to her. She goes to get them both a drink, only to look back and see a capo kissing Michael's ring as the office door closes on her.

We got a Godfather flashback February 8 when the fax machine brought forth a letter from Jack Loftis, associate publisher and editor of the Houston Chronicle. Loftis wrote that columnist Jeff Millar had told him "that your publication has been making inquiries about his decision to take early retirement."

He continued in his best Michael Corleone manner. "The Chronicle does not usually comment on personnel matters, but I will make an exception in this case." (We don't know if he was ominously lifting his index finger as he dictated this, but let's assume.)

And then, incredibly breaking the omerta code that has enforced silence on generations of Chron employees, Loftis -- "this one time," you could almost hear him say -- offered his thoughts.

"Jeff Millar has given us 36 years of excellent and dedicated work as a journalist and leaves this newspaper with our utmost respect and friendship," he wrote.

Oh.

We'll get that drink now, Mr. Loftis.

Actually, we're pretty sure Loftis feels that way -- he and Millar go way back -- but for someone who has been a famous face at the paper so long, Millar got a decidedly low-key sendoff from the Chron, as far as readers know. The one published sentence on the subject came February 6 at the end of the introduction of the paper's new syndicated columnist: "[Ana] Veciana-Suarez's column replaces the Outlook column written by Jeff Millar, who is retiring from the Chronicle."

As Vito Corleone told Sonny: "Never tell anybody outside the family what you're thinking."

Where Local News Comes First

It's yet another sweeps period for television news, where they angle desperately to get the highest ratings possible. Channel 13, for instance, did an investigative report on what the original Who Wants to Be a Millionaire show looks like in England.

Channel 2, on the other hand, is concentrating more on the home folk. If you believe some cynics, it's a very specific group of home folk on which they're concentrating.

The station is doing a series of feel-good features on localities around town, based on their zip code. One night they may do a feature on 77008; perhaps, on another night, 77055.

Maybe the station picks the featured zip codes by random and then heads out to dig up a great story in whatever area is picked. Or maybe there's more method involved.

According to someone familiar with the TV news business, stations can get a list of how many Nielsen meters are in a given zip code in their market. (The meters are used to measure ratings.) "That information [is] used to help ensure an appropriate sample of the market was being monitored," the source says.

A spokesman for Nielsen confirms, to a point. "Of course we know [the] zip codes of the homes where our set-tuning meters are located," says spokesman Vincent Nasso. "And I'm sure we would share this information with clients who are concerned with having a representative sample in their market."

He wouldn't say whether KPRC had requested such information, and he wouldn't share it with a reporter who was curious as to whether the zip codes profiled by Channel 2 somehow matched up with the zip codes that were home to the most Nielsen families.

KPRC news director Nancy Shafran did not return a phone call seeking comment.

Backstage Dramas

The Ensemble Theatre had a lovely affair February 9, an event with the unwieldy title of "Heart of the Theater" Appreciation Reception. Included on the program: a ceremony giving an award to the Chronicle's Everett Evans for being "Critic of the Year."

Anonymous grumbling ensued. "He had the ethical ignorance to accept the shameless attempt to buy more favorable or abundant coverage," one theater buff e-mailed.

"He had the gall to accept it," says another. "Does this mean the Ensemble will get the cover of Preview [the Chron's Thursday entertainment tabloid]? Or simply a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card when they produce a clunker?"

We don't know. Evans, who has been extremely gentle in reviews of Ensemble plays that have generated pans by other critics, refused to comment.

One of the e-mailers said, by the way, that the Houston Press is not free of ethical conflicts when it comes to the fine arts, noting that freelancer Cynthia Greenwood has "very favorably" reviewed the last two Houston Grand Opera productions after writing (and getting paid for) a piece for HGO's quarterly magazine, Opera Cues.

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