BC Beat

WGBH Winces at 'Frontline' Voice's Pitch

Frontline narrator Will Lyman often lends his smooth baritone to other programs besides the PBS documentary series he's narrated since 1982. But Frontline's producers at WGBH Boston say he should not have lent his unmistakable voice to an advocacy video on Internet regulatory policy.

In the video, Lyman warns of a coming data deluge on behalf of the Internet Innovation Alliance, a group that includes AT&T and Nortel. The alliance argues that only a hands-off regulatory policy and investment in broadband infrastructure can avert such a flood—familiar arguments made by opponents of mandatory network-neutrality legislation.

After seeing the five-minute spot on The Nation magazine's Website, net-neutrality advocate Jeff Chester of the Center for Digital Democracy alerted PBS ombudsman Michael Getler.

"Frontline, of course, holds a special place in television news in the U.S.," Chester wrote. "Corporate or other sponsors who are promoting one agenda or another should not be permitted to use news-connected personnel to provide legitimacy for their efforts." Getler agreed.

Frontline producers, it turns out, also agree. Senior publicist Diane Buxton told B&C that, while Lyman is a freelancer who does voice work for several ad campaigns, his agreement with Frontline prevents him from voicing public affairs documentaries or political advertising.

"Mr. Lyman agrees that this was a mistake and wasn't aware that it was an advocacy piece until it was brought to his attention," said Buxton. "We all agree that the recognizable voice of Frontline should not be affiliated with any kind of advocacy or political effort, and we have taken steps to ensure that this will not happen in the future."

Amanda Who?

How fleeting is Internet fame? A year ago, you couldn't click a link without turning up news about Amanda Congdon, the photogenic Web phenom who broke out as the loopy newsreader for Rocketboom.

But last month, ABC News declined to renew Congdon's video-blogging contract. And now it doesn't look good for her HBO development deal announced last November.

"I don't even know really exactly what's it's going to be," Congdon reported in a vlog post back then. "I know it's going to be comedy, and I know it's going to be cross-platform...We're really in the beginning stages right now of what the show will look like."

Apparently, there it remains, given that no program announcements have surfaced since then—and such deals typically expire after a year.

HBO, under new management since the deal was struck, declined comment. Congdon's agent at Endeavor had not yet responded to our inquiries at press time.

But you can still find Congdon vlogging away at starring.amandacongdon.com. Her latest post has her in man-on-the-street mode, trying to buttonhole passersby for a chat. Alas, no takers.

Product Displacement

NBC's supernatural drama Heroes may be pioneering a new form of product integration. Call it product displacement.

After Claire the cheerleader (yes, she was saved) received a Nissan Rogue as a gift in the season opener, the car went missing in last week's episode—leading some to wonder if the show's long-standing deal with Nissan had gone with it (nope—the Rogue reportedly will return).

More curious, however, is the plotline involving Peter Petrelli (Milo Ventimiglia) and a missing shipment of iPods. Considering NBC Universal's decision last month to pull its programs off Apple's iTunes over pricing issues, this struck us as more like product diss-ment. (Indeed, Heroes was among the most popular downloads at iTunes.)

Pure coincidence, says a Universal Media Studios representative. The episode was shot last June.

Unlike the Rogue, however, we won't find out what happened to the iPods in future episodes. Says the studio rep: "They just kind of dropped that."

With John Eggerton and Anne Becker

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