Surefire Plan

Recent history is replete with wildly over-optimistic statements. There was Saddam Hussein promising "the mother of all battles." There was Jose Lima saying his pitching would only get better this year.

Now there's a new addition to the pantheon. Straight from the cover of Inside Houston magazine's June issue. Bannered across the top: "Last Free Issue -- Subscribe Today."

The deathwatch can now formally begin.

In case you haven't bothered to pick it up lately -- and there's no compelling reason why you should -- Inside Houston is a glossy mag, heavy on the plastic-surgeon advertisements, that bills itself as "The Established City Magazine" offering "in-depth feature articles on topics important only to Houstonians."

The reality is somewhat different -- the feature articles miss far more often than they hit -- but the magazine does offer a home for columns by former KPRC-AM host Roger Gray and, perhaps more inexplicably, former Houston Post honcho Lynn Ashby.

Two years ago the magazine earned a special place in local journalism legend when it sent out marketing letters outlining its hard-hitting journalistic style: Buy $2,700 worth of advertising each month, and in addition to the ad, Inside Houston would do a profile article on you or your company with a full-color photo.

Still, the glossy is the only real magazine of its type left in Houston. And it's in trouble.

Editor-in-chief Regina Throop has left. A funny column by Gary Michaels has been axed, as have the movie reviews by Joe Leydon. The magazine has vacated its offices at Richmond and Fountainview, even though the prominent sign on the building remains. Staffers now work out of the office in far north Houston that is home to its owner, Quality Publishing, which also puts out the Houston Home Buyer's Guide and magazines devoted to phone cards and hepatitis (that would be two different magazines, of course).

"I was told the movie column wasn't generating any advertising so it would be dropped, but that I could still do features," Leydon says. "I look forward to a long relationship with them," he adds, and you can all but hear him feverishly knocking wood and squeezing a rabbit's foot.

Laurette Veres, publisher of Inside Houston and CEO of Quality Publishing, didn't return a phone call that sought to answer the question asked by just about everybody who has heard of the decision: How the fuck do you expect this to work?

Houston's landscape is littered with the remains of glossy city magazines that couldn't cut it: Houston City and its successor Houston Life are only the most recent victims. Such magazines have tried to succeed by piggybacking on other media outlets -- either being distributed as part of the Post, for instance, or being tied to the local programming guide of PBS outlet KUHT.

None of it has worked, and there's little reason to think Inside Houston will survive on paid subscriptions alone.

That's not to say they're not optimistic. "Starting next month, you won't find Inside Houston on the shelves with the other FREE publications," a house ad in the current issue states. "Now, you'll find us on the newsstands next to your favorite national magazines including Talk, Maxim, In Style, GQ, Vogue and Cosmopolitan."

We're guessing it will be easy enough to find Inside Houston on those shelves, since the copies are likely to stay there for a long, long time. But you've got to admire such unbridled gutsiness.

After all, look how well it worked for Saddam. And Jose.

Waiting for Eric

It's been five months since longtime film critic Jeff Millar left the Houston Chronicle, and no replacement has shown up yet. And therein lies a tale.

Not long after Millar announced his exit, the Chron decided to hire Eric Harrison, an entertainment reporter and second-string movie reviewer for the Los Angeles Times. While Harrison isn't exactly well known in LA, getting someone from the august Times was apparently seen as a coup by the Chron. And a quick look at the Lexis/Nexis database shows Harrison has done some good work out in Hollywood.

But months have gone by since word got out about Harrison and… there's been no Harrison. Chronicle writers such as Bruce Westbrook and Louis B. Parks have been reviewing movies. Much to the annoyance of the art-house theaters in town, the paper has been using wire-service reviews for some of the non-mainstream films.

"Because they're so understaffed right now, they'll use a wire-service review, and when some serious moviegoers see a wire-service review it puts kind of a second-class feeling on the film," says one art-house executive. "The feeling is, 'If the Chronicle can't be bothered to review it, why should I go?' "

Why hasn't Harrison shown up? He has been waiting to strike it (semi-) rich. The Times has been bought by the company that publishes the Chicago Tribune, much to the delight of Times stockholders -- including newsroom employees.

"My options vested on the day the sale closed, and we couldn't pinpoint that date," Harrison says. "They finally closed a couple of weeks ago, and I start in Houston July 10."

At least he'll be able to pay his air-conditioning bill.

News You Can Use

Two nuggets from a long, long report in the Chron June 22 announcing that "the new beverage of the moment is bottled water" (what moment is that? 1989?):

First nugget: "For value, tap water remains the best option."

Second nugget: "A partially drunk bottle left out on a hot day remains safe to finish -- provided you don't mind drinking warm water," according to one expert.

Up next: Water can be used with soap for cleaning purposes.

Synergy Watch

We didn't see it ourselves, but we are told by two usually reliable witnesses that KPRC-TV's 10 p.m. newscast the night of the Gary Graham execution was immediately preceded by an ad for The Green Mile, the Tom Hanks movie about executing a black guy.

Kind of a new spin on the station's usual practice of Special Reports on the topics of NBC miniseries, we guess.


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