Off Beat

As the Sidewalk Crumbles

When an Internet site dies, do its toenails keep growing? That question came to mind last week when Off Beat logged on to see if we could catch the last breaths of Twin Cities Sidewalk, roughly three months after it was announced that Ticketmaster's CitySearch.com had purchased the national network from Microsoft (see "Paved With Good Intentions," September 29). Our curiosity was piqued after sources in New York regaled us with tales of the Sidewalk offices in that city falling victim to rampant looting during the final days, as management types signed off on vastly inflated overtime pay for their perma-temps (do-it-yourself severance!) and handed out car-service vouchers so staffers toting home desk lamps, drafting tables, and software wouldn't strain their backs. Locally, the Sidewalk offices shut down Tuesday, October 19--and when Off Beat says "shut down," we know of what we speak: We pressed our nose against their Warehouse District door to find that while the lights were on and a couple of machines were humming, nobody was home. A temporary sign on the door indicated the place had been taken over by CitySearch. Local insiders who stuck it out for Microsoft's generous severance package say Sidewalk's bitter end here was nothing like New York's: They marked their last day sans looting, with a tame toast at Urban Wildlife, then moved on to the new jobs they'd lined up during their three months of lame-ducking it. At press time, meanwhile, the old Web site (www.twincities.sidewalk.com) continues to emanate a business-as-usual air--hyperlinks still hyperconnecting, Top 10 lists still glibly ranking, "Warehouse District cam" still refreshing, ads still flashing. Just for the heck of it, Off Beat called a couple of those advertisers. Was Lexus of Maplewood aware Sidewalk was paved over? Nope. Ditto Park Jeep and Twin Cities Harley. (The person we spoke with at the latter sounded particularly peeved, noting that they'd recently renewed their contract.) "In the coming couple of weeks, we'll change the branding slightly and, in a sense, be running it off of our platform," says Tom McInerney, chief financial officer of Ticketmaster Online-CitySearch. "We are continuing to operate out of what was formerly the Sidewalk space--or I guess still is the Sidewalk space--and we have no plans to change that." McInerney adds that as part of the deal with Microsoft, CitySearch will retain most local advertisers who are arts- and entertainment-oriented, while the rest may land on the buyer's guide Microsoft kept for its MSN portal. "The advertisers either have been notified or shortly will be," he assures.

 

Shit Happens--Just Not Here

On October 14 the St. Paul Pioneer Press ran this squib: "Another barrier related to the so-called 'Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on TV' will fall in tonight's episode of Chicago Hope, when a character says the phrase, 'S--- happens.'" Two days later the Star Tribune contributed this: "Another barrier related to the so-called 'Seven Dirty Words You Can't Say on TV' fell in Thursday's episode of Chicago Hope, when a character says the phrase, '[Stuff] happens.'" Upon reading these two items--not to mention a third, in which Strib columnist Jim Lileks noted that "Last week the 'S' word made its prime-time debut on network TV, on Chicago Hope....Exact quote of the show: '---- happens'"; and a fourth, a Strib reprint of a Boston Globe story that read, "Thursday on CBS' Chicago Hope, the doctor character portrayed by Mark Harmon broke another language barrier when he announced, 'S--- happens'"--two facts became apparent: One paper checks the wire services with more alacrity than the other, and no one can figure out how best not to say shit. (Quick Quiz: Can you name the Seven Words?) A third fact came to light last Monday, during the hour of Minnesota Public Radio's Midmorning that host Katherine Lanpher devoted to the issue of profanity on the airwaves. Midway through the segment, as Lanpher was musing about the topic with a deep-thinker guest, a listener from Plymouth called in to ask what all the fuss was about, given that WCCO-TV (Channel 4), which airs Chicago Hope locally, had censored the epithet from its broadcast. "With the job I have, I don't get to watch TV," Lanpher tells Off Beat. (Alarmingly, the same seems true of the TV folks at the Strib.) As for 'CCO, programming director Jeanine Socha says that after the station was alerted by CBS that the episode would contain the excretory reference, the decision was made to, er, eliminate it. "We didn't feel that it was central to the story line," says Socha, adding, "In this market Chicago Hope runs in the eight o'clock time period. I think we made the appropriate decision." The network itself can provide no statistics as to how many affiliates nationwide let the shit hit the fans. (Answer to quiz: The words, from a George Carlin monologue that gave rise to a landmark Federal Communications Commission ruling in the Seventies, are shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and...drumroll, please...tits. The ruling has since been modified; now the FCC decides what's indecent on a case-by-case basis.)

 

At Off Beat our motto is "Staying informed so you don't have to." Call (612) 372-3788 or send an e-mail to offbeat@citypages.com with any poop that's fit to print.

 
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