Friday morning headlines

Imus behind the scenes: WSJ does a nifty chronicle of the backstage moments leading to yesterday's Imus firing. In patching together the puzzle parts, it's noteworthy that the ruckus only began to build a couple of days after he uttered those dreaded words (remember there was little print coverage the first day or two). It was the liberal watchdog group Media Matters for America that first clipped the infamous moment on Wednesday April 4 and posted a blog post. By Friday, the uproar reached the point where Imus felt the need to apologize. But Procter & Gamble was already starting to quietly pull ads on Friday. And instead of quieting the storm, the Friday apology was being played up in the papers. On Tuesday, NBC News President Steve Capus met for two hours with African-American employees in the news division in what was an often emotional session (weatherman Al Roker has been heavily involved). At that point, Capus and other NBC honchos realized this thing was out of control. And what about CBS? From the WSJ:

Mr. Imus's problems were compounded by a power vacuum at CBS Radio, which produced his show. Two weeks earlier, CEO Joel Hollander, a longtime supporter of Mr. Imus and his various charities, had resigned. The company had been underperforming lately and was still reeling from the loss of shock-jock Howard Stern to satellite radio. Mr. Hollander's successor, Mr. Mason, wasn't due to start until April 16. He consulted with CBS executives by phone and email from his home outside Washington, D.C. Mr. Imus's show is on just one CBS station -- WFAN -- but the media giant also earns revenue from syndicating the show to radio stations around the country. CBS owns 18% of the show's syndicator, Westwood One Inc. Local stations that carry Imus say they sensed the situation was drifting. "Nobody had a firm hand on it," says Gabe Hobbs, head of talk programming at Clear Channel Communications Inc., which airs the Imus show on a handful of stations, including in Washington, D.C., and Providence, R.I. Some station managers say Westwood's affiliate-relations staff stayed in touch with them throughout the week.

Home prices rise: You read right. The median price of an L.A. County home in March was $540,000, a 6.3 percent increase from a year earlier. At the same time, sales were down 22.7 percent. It's additional evidence that homeowners are staying put - or keeping their asking prices high. Meanwhile, Dataquick, which provided all the housing data, reports that adjustable-rate mortgages had fallen sharply - fallout from the subprime problems. "The perception out there is that we're at the edge of a volcano and about to fall in, but the numbers don't indicate that's happening," DataQuick analyst John Karevoll told the LAT. By the way, L.A. had the strongest numbers of any region in Socal. By contrast, San Diego home prices fell almost 5 percent.

The $125 million house: Well, that's at least the asking price for a 45,000 square-foot estate, known as Fleur de Lys. It's modeled on Versailles and other French palaces, and the price tag ties for second place among available U.S. properties (Saudi Prince Bandar bin Sultan's ranch in Aspen lists for $135 million.) The owner, according to the WSJ, is Suzanne Saperstein, the recently divorced wife of Texan David I. Saperstein. Along with all the usual excess - Italian marble walls, French limestone floors, gold-embossed leather wall coverings and gold-leaf crowned moldings - there's a ballroom with ceiling frescoes and a library with a first-edition book collection (guess Mrs. Saperstein isn't much of a reader). In case you're wondering, Saperstein founded Metro Networks, the nation's largest provider of traffic reports, which he sold to Westwood One in 1999 for $900 million. Now, if you're looking for something a little more modest, there's Snoop Dogg's 6,500-square-foot Mediterranean-style home in Claremont. It's going for $2 million; Snoop Dogg bought the property in 1994 for $660,000.

Gas consumption down: This is certainly the morning for contrarian news. Californians bought a little less gasoline last year than the year before, the first time consumption has actually been down since 1992 (a recession year). What's strange about the state data is that gas consumption nationwide rose more than 1 percent in 2006. And U.S. gasoline demand for April averaged 327.8 million gallons a day, a record high compared with the same month in previous years. The implication, of course, is that $3-a-gallon gas (closer to $4 at times last year) was finally having some impact on driving habits. To some extent, that's borne out by a slight increase in public transit usage. LAT

Latest pump prices: The bleeding appears to have stopped, according to the Auto Club's latest survey. The average price of self-serve regular gasoline in the Los Angeles-Long Beach area is $3.261, which is one-tenth of one cent higher than last week, 20 cents higher than last month, and 37 cents higher than last year. A drop in wholesale prices appears to be having some effect.

Cruise complications: Tom Cruise's $500 million film-financing package has run into a snag because Merrill Lynch, which is leading the money group, is having trouble finding a partner for the equity portion of the deal, estimated at around $100 million. Merrill may end up financing that portion as well, reports the NY Post. The equity component is always the riskiest part of film financing because investors only get paid after other debt obligations are relieved. You might recall that Cruise and partner Paula Wagner are trying to revive the UA label, which is under the MGM umbrella.

NBC in prime time celler: It's shaping up to be the worst ever primetime ratings season. Among the coveted 18-to-49 year demo, NBC ranks a distant No. 4 with a 3.1 rating. Fox is in first place with a 3.9 rating (the "American Idol" factor), followed by CBS with 3.7 and ABC with 3.4. Primetime isn't nearly as critical a financial component as it used to be (remember NBC has cable and lots of other revenue streams), but it's still the contest everyone wants to win. NY Post

More by Mark Lacter:
American-US Air settlement with DOJ includes small tweak at LAX
Socal housing market going nowhere fast
Amazon keeps pushing for faster L.A. delivery
Another rugged quarter for Tribune Co. papers
How does Stanford compete with the big boys?
Those awful infographics that promise to explain and only distort
Best to low-ball today's employment report
Further fallout from airport shootings
Crazy opening for Twitter*
Should Twitter be valued at $18 billion?
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Mark Lacter
Mark Lacter created the LA Biz Observed blog in 2006. He posted until the day before his death on Nov. 13, 2013.
Mark Lacter, business writer and editor was 59
The multi-talented Mark Lacter
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