Latest 'Pay To Be On 'Public' TV' Scam Involves Football Coach Jimmy Johnson

from the 'leading-edge' dept

A few years back, we wrote a series of articles about an operation called Vision Media TV (and a variety of other rapidly changing names, including WJMK, United Media, World Progress Report, and Great America HD, among many others). The basic “business” of this operation was to get a semi-famous TV personality to be the “host” of a TV show, then go around pitching gullible businesses that it was a legitimate TV show on “public broadcasting TV” or “national public television” and that they wanted to do a profile on that small business. The scam was you just had to pay a “small fee” (usually upwards of $20,000). Oh yeah, and the claims of being on TV were somewhat dubious as well. Among the “hosts” we had mentioned back then, there had been Joan Lunden, Walter Cronkite (!?!) and Hugh Downs — all three of whom backed away after they were called out for participating in a scam. You can see a legal filing from a few years ago that goes through this scam in rather great detail.

The scam continued to morph. A few years ago, under the name “In Focus,” it was “hosted” by Martin Sheen, until that got called out and was shut down. Then it was “Outlook with Ben Kingsley.” But the basics of the scam were the same. The semi-famous or famous “host” obviously just comes in for like a day of reading intros on a cheap TV set, and then they show a “profile” on the company who paid big bucks. The claims of being on “public TV” are massively exaggerated to downright bogus. The NY Times did a big expose on this scam back in 2008. NPR did a detailed takedown in 2010. PBS itself has put out a warning to people not to believe the claims from these ever-rotating operations about their shows being on “public television.” It notes that it has no association with any such show and PBS never solicits money from organizations to be on TV.

But it keeps morphing, as evidenced by the Martin Sheen and Ben Kingsley versions, both of which happened long after those stories.

The latest version uses the same basic playbook — and this time the “talent” is famed football coach Jimmy Johnson, and the show is called “Leading Edge with Jimmy Johnson.” The reason I know about this is because the somewhat clueless folks who work there decided to pitch Techdirt/Floor64 to be on the program (apparently unaware that we’d written about scammers like themselves before):

My name is Barbara Rock, I’m the assistant to Mr. Bill Thomas who is the Sr. Producer for Leading Edge on National Public Television. If you’re not familiar with the program, it’s an interstitial news break that airs prime time in the U.S. on National Public Television just after The Nightly Business Report.

The reason for my contact Mr. Thomas will be producing a few segments for our upcoming season highlighting innovative breakthroughs and solutions that are changing the way we live and work, and our research department has forwarded to Mr. Thomas a general profile on Floor64 as a possible invite to the program for this segment.

If you have a few minutes one day next week, Mr. Thomas would like to discuss this with you in more detail, to learn more about Floor64 and to see if the organization would be a good fit for this segment.

Note the careful word choice. “National Public Television,” not PBS (though, a neat attempt to confuse with National Public Radio). Also, whoever is behind “Leading Edge” also is doing some fairly dodgy SEO work. They’ve registered a ton of domain names like “” (and .org and .biz and many more) trying to imply an association with PBS that isn’t really there. According to the Washington Post article linked above, they did the same with the Martin Sheen show, with numerous sites using combinations of “Martin Sheen” and “PBS” in the URLs, but with small disclaimers elsewhere saying they’re not associated with PBS. That article also notes that the actual contract terms say that the videos “will be distributed” to “public Television stations in all 50 states,” with potential “estimated viewership and reach for one year [of] 60 million households.”

Yes, again, carefully ambiguous language. By saying “distributed” it just means they’ll send them out — not that anyone will air them.

I sought more information from “Barbara Rock” and she was rather straightforward in admitting that we would have to pay — though she insisted that it wasn’t a fee to be on the show, even though it clearly was:

For starters this is not a ?pay-for-play? where we would be asking Floor64 to buy airtime. As a matter fact Public TV does not sell commercials. An interstitial news break is the 5 min. between programs on Public Television. The only costs associated is a pre-production/underwriting fee of $18,900 plus travel. In addition to being featured on The Leading Edge program Floor64 would also receive a fully produced 5 min. corp. demo and a fully produced 1 min. commercial that would air primetime on CNBC 50 times in the markets of your choice. All production and distribution is included in the fee.

Again, note the careful choice of words. You’re not “buying airtime” — just “pre-production, underwriting.” Real TV programs don’t do that. She also followed up on the claim about PBS/public television saying:

Our program airs across the country on Public Television, some of which are PBS affiliated, however our segments run on all Public TV stations not just the ones that are PBS affiliated. Our presenting station is KRCB in San Francisco.

So she claims they run on “all Public TV stations” which is clearly a bogus claim. Furthermore, if you click on that KRCB link, the URL suggests it was once about “Leading Edge” but now takes you to a “page not found” link, so if KRCB ever did show Leading Edge, that appeared to have gone away. I asked Barbara about this missing link, and she apparently decided I was asking too many questions, refusing any further responses. I also reached out multiple times to KRCB’s senior executives, Nancy Dobbs and Larry Stratton, both of whom refused to respond to email and phone requests for comments. I’m not sure why, but that certainly seems fairly sketchy.

However, before Barbara stopped responding to me, she did offer two examples of companies that had participated in the Leading Edge series as enticements as to why I might be interested: GigaOm and DocuSign. Now, I know folks at GigaOm, and they’re not ones to be taken in by a scam like this. But, indeed, there they are, featured on the Leading Edge site.

I reached out to people from GigaOm, and was told it was a video that was recorded years ago, and not for “Leading Edge.” However, their response does suggest that, perhaps, GigaOm got taken in by a different version of the scam a few years back. They told me that “the video was produced and licensed to Public Television for limited distribution through May 2013.” However, GigaOm “did not have any knowledge it was being used by Leading Edge nor did we authorize or condone its use for this purpose.” The company further said that it is looking further into the matter and may “take legal action to prevent it from being used by Leading Edge in the future.”

No matter what, this seems like another version of the same old scam, tricking businesses into paying big bucks for questionable claims of being on “public television” on a show hosted by some celebrity. Indeed, if you do a search, you can find a bunch of businesses in press releases about how “Leading Edge with Jimmy Johnson” will “host an upcoming segment” on whatever it is that business is doing. Hopefully, with a bit more attention, Jimmy Johnson will back away from this, the same way Walter Cronkite, Hugh Downs, Joan Lunden, Martin Sheen and Ben Kingsley did in the past. But, of course, it seems likely the deal will just morph and be back with another semi-famous “host” soon after.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,
Companies: docusign, gigaom, great america hd, in focus, krcb, leading edge, outlook, pbs, vision media tv, wjmk, world progress report

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Comments on “Latest 'Pay To Be On 'Public' TV' Scam Involves Football Coach Jimmy Johnson”

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Anonymous Coward says:

There’s always someone with a scheme on how to get you to pay them, not necessarily for a product but the idea of a product. Lately on the local radio is one, where you can make all sorts of income “flipping” houses. It uses a semi-recognizable celebrity. They need you to go to a meeting to get you to work for them.

Here’s the thing. You personally are not going to be able to sell someone else’s property. It takes someone with a license in real estate to do that. This tells you, you aren’t going to be making that money. Someone with the license is.

The connotation of “flipping” tells you they are after someone else to finance them. You’re the go between and unlikely to make any money but more likely to spend a lot of time of your own not to mention out of pocket expenses such as fuel and vehicle maintenance. It’s billed as someone else paying for it. Who else is there but the owner/potential buyer. So they are looking to jack the prices for their profit while screwing the local yokels.

It sounds just like another version of this scam.

Anonymous Coward says:

probably legal "on paper"

It’s not technically a scam, because the companies are actually paying for (and getting) a video production, with the hope that it might be successfully pitched far and wide (which of course never seems to happen)

It’s not unlike the gaggle of companies that prey on aspiring artists and entertainers, selling them “professionally produced” photo or video sessions that they claim will get distributed to the bigwigs in Hollywood (which if true, would likely just go straight to the trash unseen).

But carefully read the contract they make everyone sign, and it becomes obvious that the whole scheme is little more than hot air, as they don’t actually promise anything.

While it would seem that only the truly gullible and naive would ever fall for such a pitch, desperate people do desperate things — and rarely bother to read the fine print of contracts.

Peter Leppik says:

Everything old is new again

Yup, I’ve been cold-called 1-2 times a year for at least the last ten years by some variant of this scheme.

As far as I can tell they just buy lists of small/medium business owners and CEOs and call them with the same pitch.

As soon as someone tells me they’re calling from a TV studio, I have learned to just automatically say that we never do paid placement. They usually hang up at that point.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Everything old is new again

When I have the time and am feeling playful, I use a technique that I learned many years ago: the DOT technique. DOT stands for “Dwell On Trivia”. The idea involves picking some little irrelevant point and dwelling on it intensely, redirecting the conversation back to it as needed, and basically talking about it to the exclusion of everything else until the other party gets tired and ends the conversation.

It can be quite fun!

nasch (profile) says:

CNBC ad?

(wrong button…)

The only costs associated is a pre-production/underwriting fee of $18,900 plus travel… a fully produced 1 min. commercial that would air primetime on CNBC 50 times in the markets of your choice.

I’m not in the business but that sounds cheap – $378 per run. Which makes me think there really is no CNBC ad, which would make this fraudulent. Or maybe “CNBC” is not Cable National Broadcast Corporation, but a rinky dink public access channel somewhere.

David Thiel says:

A very old story

I’ve been working in public TV for the better part of three decades, and this scheme has been going on a long, long time. Public TV programmers are well aware of these people, and we do what we can to warn organizations against taking the bait. I got a call about “Leading Edge” from an area museum just last week.

While the resulting videos are eventually offered up to stations, I’m not aware of any who use them.

No legitimate public TV organization in the US will ask an organization to pay for the privilege of being profiled within a program. (Note that I’m not talking about underwriting messages, but actual editorial content.)

One tip-off that these folks don’t even understand the medium they’re trying to sell is that they cite an interstitial break on public TV as being five minutes. A typical PTV break is just over three minutes; “The Nightly Business Report” mentioned above runs a consistent 26:46.

Lisa Berry Blackstock (profile) says:

Has SOUL SHERPA (R) Patient Advocacy Been Scammed?

I was interviewed in May 2014 and ultimately “selected” to participate as a content expert in patient healthcare advocacy for LEADING EDGE. My corporate profile and television were produced smoothly and I was treated very well by the staff. My 50 commercials are scheduled to air beginning tomorrow Nov. 16th, and my segment made available to public television stations nationally on Nov. 24th. After reading this article, I have reason to wonder. While my website traffic has tripled due to my posting the profile and commercial on my website and YouTube channel, I feel compelled to notify a contact I have in the NFL. My goal is to form a foundation, so I believed a senior producer, who told me LEADING EDGE would like to help make this happen.

Lisa Berry Blackstock (profile) says:

Re: Re: Has SOUL SHERPA (R) Patient Advocacy Been Scammed?

Not a single one. I was promised a report by the production staff showing in what markets my commercial aired and the number of viewing households. It never came. While the video produced for me has been helpful, the media access and introduction by Jimmy Johnson turned out to be a joke.

Scam Preventor says:

Champions of Industry - Jimmy Johnson Scam

Like they say… If it sounds to good to be true… then it probably is… and it is…

Looks as though they are targeting Kickstarter and other crowd funding sites looking for people or small companies who are willing to do whatever they can to get publicity for their products or services. We were contacted as Champions of Industry almost verbatim to the article however, the guy on the phone did not speak fluent enough to be a TV producer in my opinion. Their Google street view location also appears to be a rent an office suite or desk type of place. Not a TV studio as one would think.

I have not used my real name or URL here because now it is my turn to scam them… I plan on playing there game and wasting as much of their time and money as they intended for me. I will sign their contracts with fake names and arrange times for taping and make sure they know the check is in the mail. lol…

Thank you Tech Dirt for this article as it saved us a lot of wasted time and money however, a trip to Florida would of been nice especially with all the snow here in November… lol…

TechLawOne (profile) says:

"Champions of Industry"

This outfit appears to have a long and storied history with multiple incarnations! Pat Summerall was doing these spots as “Champions of Industry” back in the late 90s. The outfit also had (and possibly still has) a sideline in granting spurious “awards” to small towns, which were also accompanied by promotional videos that “winners” could use to market themselves. These people have chutzpah, at least! They recently tried to peddle their wares to my company, and thanks to the helpful links in this article, we were able to put a stop to them right away. They’re the Armando Montelongo of TV advertising.

Kathy (user link) says:

And there's a new one

Apparently there’s a new one. My friend was approached by “In America” with James Earl Jones. Now this appears to be a legit show and hosted by an incredible star, but if you want to be included it’s going to cost you $24,000. If the show takes off and you get a lot of airtime, it may pay off, but how things have changed. It used to be you’d get paid for providing the valuable content to their show so that they could make millions off of paid advertising. Now they’re just running a bunch of info commericals to anyone willing to pay. Nice gig, Mr. Jones.

Ed Nachel says:

Latest Enterprises TV Scam

I recently was approached by these people who are now touting Kevin Harrington as the host. I was scheduled to be interviewed by them yesterday, Oct. 29th and after reading your report and finding out they wanted my company to pay a $19,200 promo fee, I realized this was the same thing with different wrappings. I called them on this and there was dead silence on the phone. They then issued a cancellation of the appointment through Outlook (they had scheduled the interview through Outlook as well).

Just wanted everyone to know they are still pulling this scam… wary of any production or offers coming out of Florida…..seems to be a good state to do these kinds of things. Possibly because seniors seem to me easily hoodwinked….don’t know why.

Wary One says:

Don't call me; I'll call you

I’ve also gotten several calls and emails recently from the Kevin Harrington group. The caller is Mike Leonetti of and Smart Living or Smart Solutions at 813-964-3607. He mentions that Kevin is “excited” about my product and wants to possibly include it in a show. The voicemails always include the term to call him at “the studio,” which I believe is intentionally said to make it sound more impressive and legitimate.

This is a sales call in disguise. I’ve had many of them over the years by various businesses (including the one backed by Corbin Bernsen), and they all seem to originate from Florida AND frequently have generic-sounding business names that can disappear in a sea of Google search pages. I’ve responded to them in the past but never spent much time before my BS-o-Meter would go off.

Despite my high skepticism, I actually considered one of these groups a few years ago because their package was more realistic, meaning, they weren’t implying get-rich-quick results due to a well-known television personality. I spent many hours contemplating investing in their “production services” — even to the point of sending them several samples of my product — but eventually decided they were shady. Their lovely demeanors turned ugly when I told them the deal was off because I found their whole arrangement suspicious. The current group contacting me is probably another iteration of the former. As others have mentioned, many of these businesses are the same moving target when they get sued, close the business, and resume practices under another name.

For cold-calling salespeople, my answer is always NO. If I want a service, I will seek it. Even if they’re calling on behalf of a semi-famous tv personality.

Thank you for articles like this and the commenters on them. When I searched Kevin Harrington, positive-leaning links filled the first pages of search. I had to dig down to find articles like this one. I hope others being contacted by any of these groups will find this and consider whether their “investment” is worth it.

nasch (profile) says:


As far as I can tell by looking at the websites of most of these companies, they provide services rendered,so what’s the problem???

Also, this is how people are fooled by a scam. The web site says it’s legit so it must be right??!!?? No, the web site is not going to tell you “by the way we don’t actually get your program on PBS”. Of course everything looks above board if you only look at the scammer’s web site.

Anonymous Coward says:


FYI-by the way,I have tried calling your company on several occasions in the past 72 hrs,because I wanted to discuss your perception vs. my company’s experience and all I get is vm saying “you are too busy to take my call and leave a vm”…your company/website/blog or whatever you choose to call it sounds like a scam to me

Phil (profile) says:


In order to succeed in business, you need to develop a brand and while this is what they claim they can help you with, they themselves always keep reinventing their operating companies so as to keep a clean BBB rating, name of show, and spokespersons. There is not one good reason why a show would not want to create a consistent brand unless there was a reason to stay one step ahead of unhappy clients from keeping their complaints from reaching prospective new companies.

Elena says:

Got the call too

Just got a call too, they have a great process, they flatter you first, ask you to take 10 to 15 minutes to talk about your passion, flatter you again, say they have 12 other candidates waiting, that there is a selection process, that the total price is $250,000 and it will take a whole day to record 6 hours, and that you have to pay $18,900 plus expenses. From my experience in the media, if it is truthfully media and educational, you should not pay to be in it, it should be the other way around. If you pay for it, it has another name, you are buying the potential for airtime.

Alex says:

These guys have moved their operations offshore now too. Was contacted last week by Debbie, Jesse Gordon’s assistant who set up a conference call. Call lasted 40 minutes and he ”green ligted” me and used industry terms. Claimed to be from Voices in America hosted by James Earl Jones. Requested $23,500 payment upfront for TV costs.
Smells of scam, not sure how these people live with their lives.

Alex Foss says:

Nothing wrong with paying for Advertising

As long as these companies are contractually fulfilling their obligations, I do not see what the issue is.

It appears some of these companies might clearly be unethical in their practices, however there are several others that after researching them, provide a high quality product and have great reviews.

From my experience with a well know PR firm in Chicago, nothing is free. Yes, we found our clients ‘free’ editorial media opportunities but they were paying us to do so for them. Additionally, if they wanted the rights to use the ‘free’ media we found them, they had to pay the production company a licensing fee for it depending on where and how it was to be used.

We used to outsource corporate video production which ranged anywhere from 15-20k for a 10-minute video which was strictly for internal or trade show use (non-broadcast). These ‘pay to play’ companies are in essence offering a lot more for the same or not that much more money.

Again, as long as both parties know the terms and are in contractual agreement, what is the harm?


nasch (profile) says:

Re: Nothing wrong with paying for Advertising

As long as these companies are contractually fulfilling their obligations, I do not see what the issue is.

It’s probably a case of the letter of the contract being fulfilled, while in the approach and negotiations, they are using deceptive tactics. I think this can still be fraud – you can’t lie about a deal, hope the other person doesn’t read the contract carefully, and then nail them after they’ve signed it.

Dave jones says:

Re: Re: Nothing wrong with paying for Advertising

And if a company doesn’t fulfill the contract,you have a point.but you can’t broadbrush stroke it and make a blanket statement…for example did you know that companies that appear on ABC’s “Shark Tank”have to give a small percentage of their company up even to be on the show whether selected or not???

Anonymous Coward says:

Now it’s ‘Success Files with Rob Lowe’ I can be a part of the show if I payed $23,500 plus a $3,500 travel fee. I spoke with so called ‘Sr Producer Anne K and her so called VP of programming Tony Harris. After digging further online I found this and other articles describing this scam for a company that reels in millions annually preying on hard working businesses.

Anonymous Coward says:

ROB LOWE should be ashamed of being a part of this. My wife loves him and I will be contacting his agents to find out how he could sleep at night knowing he is the new face for a company that is a part of the ‘American Greed’- If I want to advertise I will find an outlet of my own. When I received the voice mail from Anne I knew it to be a hoax, so i played along wasting her time. I have to admit, these people are polished and well versed.. but the devil can be very persuasive. I’ve contacted my local “Public Television Network” and they told me these people have been doing this for a VERY long time, which leads me to wonder how they could do it? Simple.. Change the company name, get a new has been of a host and cut them a check that is probably pennies compared to what they will end up making on their next run. Real Television Producers will not reach out to a small business about some story they are working on. Sounds persuasive, but far from the truth.

JG says:

Liars and scammers

Lynn, yes I just spoke to Richard and clearly explained to him there was a $40,000 licensing fee should he wish to purchase the rights to the footage. As I told you last week, that is your decision, it does not impact whether or not we work together as we make money on selling commercials and raw footage to stock video sites. This is not a pay to play scenario and we do not operate that way. If you wished to purchase the licensing rights it would be after the show airs. I am more than happy to discuss again with you so there are no misunderstandings. Additionally, like I offered before, you can have a copy of the licensing agreement to clearly see that it is an optional purchase. Best, JG.

Anonymous Coward says:

FYI this scheme is in full swing again using Laurence Fishburne hosting a show called Information Matrix. The text soliciting companies is almost identical to what was shared above. The executive producer is Tony Hall. They are shooting out of Boca Raton, FL, under the business name Education Alliance LLC.

Phil (profile) says:

We received a solicitation and my partner responded to the email with interest. After the pitch, we shortly received an email of the agreement requesting $27k inclusive of the travel costs paid in 3 installments. I then started the google rabbit hole when I specifically googled one of the previous companies showcased on their website and it showed up as Information Matrix instead of Behind the Scenes. That then led me to various scam related articles including this one. They go to great lengths to fill up the searches with their PR announcements, etc so the cursory searches turn up nothing. Years after this article is written, they are doing the exact same thing with minor changes to their actors and documentation but at the end of the day, they are still scamming. We told them were weren’t interested after doing some research and to not solicit us again. Other names that seem connected are Bill Hough (search name and Boca Raton) and possibly James Batmasian who is the largest commercial property owner in Boca Raton.

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