The Insider

Face on the Cutting Room Floor
It's been a few decades since Bob Lanier looked as good as he does on the cover of BodySmart magazine, but that hasn't kept the Chronicle from backing out of a signed agreement to distribute 67,000 copies of the debut issue of the health-and-fitness publication. The cover of the Cooper Communications-produced mag depicts Lanier as he might appear if he underwent a $31,000 face-lift and lost his jowls. Inside, the feature story on fighting those dread wrinkles and other facial defects includes new and improved visages for Governor George Bush and Senator Phil Gramm, who is given an extended chin to counter that rodent overbite.

The Chronicle initially contracted with BodySmart publisher Pat Cooper to distribute the publication to selected high-income areas via Chronicle Express, which at the time held a contract with a group of magazines for home delivery. After that arrangement was dissolved, Chronicle sales exec Tim Wheeler notified Cooper that BodySmart could be delivered inside the paper if it included the tag "supplement to the Chronicle" on its cover. Cooper ordered the tag added to the cover design, and the magazine went to press. But the new plan developed its own wrinkles after Chronicle execs ogled the mayor's tightened-up mug.

According to Cooper, Wheeler complained that since the mayor had not had a face-lift, it would be inappropriate for the paper to distribute the doctored photo. Cooper says Wheeler told him that objections to the de-jowled Lanier portrait came from the editorial side of the paper.

Cooper then offered to get Lanier's approval for the cover, and even met with a mayoral assistant to plead his case. He got a polite hearing and left copies of the magazine for the mayor's perusal. We asked Lanier mouthpiece Sarah Turner whether the mayor would be insulted by the suggestion he needs a face-lift. "I'm not sure how widely he reads the supplements," offered Turner. "We have absolutely nothing to do with those supplements."

At last word, Chronicle sales manager Lynn Cook had offered a compromise to Cooper, whereby the original magazines would be destroyed and the paper would reprint BodySmart without the supplement tag while reimbursing Cooper for 84 percent of the printing bill, plus $5,000 for lost advertising. The paper would still refuse to distribute it. Cooper calls the offer unacceptable and is considering legal action. As usual, the Chron, this time in the person of Cook, did not return our phone inquiry.

BodySmart president Juin Cooper, Pat's wife, accuses the Chronicle of trying to impose its editorial sensibilities on her magazine. "They want us to be as bland as they are, and we absolutely refuse to be like that," she vows. "There is hardly anything to read in there, and this is too cozy a town. It needs shaking up."

More for Les
The channel serfs who already pay substantial (and ever-rising) monthly fees to Warner Cable must ante up between $35 and $40 extra to catch games three and four of the Rockets-Lakers series this week, even though those sold-out home games are being carried elsewhere on the Warner system by the TNT network. While the pay-per-view imposition is solely the choice of Rockets owner Les Alexander (as it was last year), we stand in awe of the rhetorical Dream-shake Warner pulls off in trying to explain the arrangement. "The Rockets have chosen Warner Cable as their partner to distribute these exciting games," the cable company breathlessly announced in a "media alert" issued last week. "[Pay-per-view] is not out of the ordinary with the general trend in the NBA."

Actually, it is. Only five of the 16 teams in the first-round playoffs are going the PPV route this year -- down by one from last season. (Interestingly, all five are Western Conference teams: Houston, Phoenix, San Antonio, Seattle and Portland.)

Warner then goes on to suggest that NBA regulations leave it no choice but to black out the TNT broadcast of the two playoff games within a 35-mile radius of Houston. "TNT must be blacked out to comply with NBA regulation [sic] which states that systems within the 35-mile blackout area of Houston must block out TNT for this game," Warner tautologically explains. Of course, the cable company doesn't say that the 35-mile rule, originally implemented to ensure sell-outs at the gate, was extended by the league to cover owners who opt for PPV, such as Les Alexander.

Prime Location
If you've driven or jogged through Memorial Park lately, you've probably noticed the Becks Prime signs affixed to both sides of that larger sign for the park's recently made-over and reopened golf course, where Becks has the food concession. Do those small triangular signs, we naturally wondered, herald a rash of future commercial signage in the city's parks?

Susan Christian, the parks department publicist, assured us there was nothing unique about the setup and promised to get back to us with answers to our questions, but apparently she forgot or found something better to do. Becks co-owner Winn Campbell did respond promptly to our inquiry, although he sounded a tad defensive about the whole thing. After pointing out that the upscale fast-food chain has a reputation for environmental sensitivity through its preservation of that magnificent live oak at its Augusta location, Campbell explained that the signs are necessary to draw customers beyond the concession's captive clientele of golfers, joggers and softballers. "Certainly, we don't want to commercialize the park," said Campbell, who noted that Becks' contract with the parks board gives it the right to locate a couple of other signs in Memorial. "But people have to at least know you're there."

With Hermann Park undergoing a face-lift, perhaps we can soon look forward to signs promoting the Vinson & Elkins mini-train, the Nissan Japanese rock garden, the Sanus municipal golf course and, of course, the Elyse Lanier for Mayor Garden Center.

Victor Unscripted
When unconventional Democratic Senate candidate Victor Morales takes to the hustings this summer and fall, the Texas Democratic Party intends to treat him like a rock promoter might treat an iconoclastic band: he'll make the music, they'll just produce the show. State Democratic Chairman Bill White, a Houston lawyer, pronounces himself no great fan of political consultants "who script their candidates." After discussions with Morales, White figures the best thing the Democrats can do for their unlikely candidate is make sure he has dates, venues and crowds across the state to spread his anti-Phil Gramm message, and then wait to see if it catches on. Morales will also be given technical assistance in filling out those oh-so-complicated federal campaign finance disclosures that he can't seem to get filed on time.

Next week: The Insider's tips on what to do if you're attacked by a dog. In the meantime, call 624-1483 or 624-1496 (fax).


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