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Uptown Hit May Transform Harlem; Managed Care Attempts to Save Face; Making a Run for the U.S. Open

Aired August 25, 2002 - 06:30   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, GUEST HOST: Ahead on BUSINESS UNUSUAL, the head of New York's Public Theater hopes for an uptown hit.
Managed care attempts to save face amid continued criticism.




ROMANS: And making a run for a spot at the U.S. Open. These stories and more are all ahead on BUSINESS UNUSUAL.

Hello and welcome to BUSINESS UNUSUAL. I'm Christine Romans, sitting in for Willow Bay. The legendary Apollo Theater has been at home in New York's Harlem for more than 70 years, famous for amateur night. It's where stars like James Brown and Billie Holiday has got their start.

George C. Wolfe's "Harlem Song" is a musical that's breathing new life into the Apollo Theater and helping to give the local economy something to sing about. BUSINESS UNUSUAL's Ali Velshi has the story.


ALI VELSHI, CNN FINANCIAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): This is Harlem today, signs of an economic, social and cultural revival are everywhere. Thanks in part to the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation, a federal initiative to boost private investments in poor communities. Harlem is now home to more than 5,500 businesses.

Since 1996, the Empowerment Zone has financed over $800 million in commercial projects, from retailers at Harlem USA shopping complex, to the 45,000-square foot supermarket going up here.

New York City's Department of Housing, Preservation and Development has invested $400 million and leveraged another $400 million in private money so that one-time squatter buildings now look like this, and residential property values have soared in the last five years, up anywhere from 75 percent to 300 percent.

New Orleans style townhouses on Aster Row (ph) used to sell for $400; now they're worth over $1 million. And studio apartments in this once notorious drug den now rent for $1,000 a month.

New Yorkers have began to sing Harlem's praises, and now a show at the legendary Apollo Theater will do the same.


VELSHI: A new musical about Harlem's history hopes to entertain, educate and contribute to the neighborhood's economic revitalization.

"Harlem Song" is the brainchild of Tony Award-winning director George C. Wolfe, who's also the producer of the New York Public Theater. He's dazzled audiences before with the electric "Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk," and just this year, he directed two of the most highly acclaimed shows on Broadway, "Top Dog Underdog" and "Elaine Stritch at Liberty."

Now he's taking his artistic genius uptown, creating a unique show that celebrates Harlem's complex history through music, dance, still photographs and testimonials.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was the Mecca. It was the capital of black America.

VELSHI: For Wolfe, it is a chance to show the resilience of the community's spirit.

GEORGE C. WOLFE, PRODUCER, NEW YORK'S PUBLIC THEATER: To me, the piece is ultimately about community. I think creating a piece which celebrates a community that has had all kinds of rhythms, ups and downs rhythms, but still has an incredible spirit and an astonishing legacy.

VELSHI: A legacy that Wolfe shows us with the eye of an historian and a bravado of a seasoned Broadway director.


VELSHI: The intellectuals of the 1920s Harlem Renaissance.


VELSHI: The music of Duke Ellington.


VELSHI: The thrill of the Cotton Club, juxtaposed with the crushing poverty of the Great Depression. The political anguish of the civil rights movement, and the rampant drug abuse of the 1980s.

JOHN SCHREIBER, PRESIDENT, THE JOHN SCHREIBER GROUP: George brings an extraordinary intelligence. He's a great lyricist. About a third of our music is new music that George wrote with Del Waters (ph). He brings a great love for this community, and the significance of this community to the whole world.

VELSHI: John Schreiber, one of the "Harlem Song's" producers, not only believes in Wolfe's artistic vision, he is convinced that the show can help boost the neighborhood's economy. While Harlem may be New York's third most popular tourist destination, many people never get off the bus. Schreiber says that's about to change.

SCHREIBER: "Harlem Song" gives the tourists an opportunity to get to know the community in a unique and really entertaining way, and we hope it's just the jumping off point for them to go to local retailers, to go to local restaurants, to visit other arts institutions in the community.

VELSHI: Schreiber and his team of nine producers have designed "Harlem Song" to be a permanent show at the Apollo, a must-see tourist stop, and their aggressive $500,000 marketing campaign reflects that.

SCHREIBER: We're working with tour operators from all around the country and all around the world -- Japan, France, England, as well as domestic tour operators. We're working with church groups, synagogue groups, and student groups.

VELSHI: In addition to the extra business that "Harlem Song" could bring in a year with 300,000 tourists passing through the Apollo, Schreiber has made a commitment to invest directly in the community.

SCHREIBER: We're also working with the Harlem Cultural Collaborative, which is 11 arts organizations around the neighborhood, and $1 from every ticket that is sold goes to the collaborative, and we're trying to promote those institutions just as they're sending back promotion about "Harlem Song." So we're really trying hard to be a good neighbor.

VELSHI: For BUSINESS UNUSUAL, I'm Ali Velshi, CNN Financial News.


ROMANS: "Harlem Song" hopes to be a permanent fixture at the Apollo. So far, $800,000 in tickets have been sold. Sales for next season expected to be in the $8 million range. In addition, the Sony Corp and Bornado (ph) Realty Trust will sponsor school field trips to matinees of the show starting this September. Coming up after the break, fixing the fixer-upper business, one woman's mission, some extensive home renovations from hiring an architect to choosing a plumber, the ins and outs of home repair, when BUSINESS UNUSUAL returns.


ROMANS: Americans spend $217 billion on designing, decorating, expanding, rehabilitating and redefining their personal space each year. In New York City where space is at a premium, opinions are cheap but labor is not. Home remodeling can take owners on long, expensive journeys for which they are rarely prepared. Elizabeth Franklin, former investment banker, started calling around for good tradesmen and soon The Franklin Report was born. Rhonda Schaffler has the story. (BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

RHONDA SCHAFFLER, CNN FINANCIAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): In the (UNINTELLIGIBLE) hive of New York City's apartments, people are determined to make the most of their precious space. An army of artisans stands ready to strip, hammer, rebuild, and redefine, but New Yorkers of high art and high angst know that such work can be painful to endure.

MARIAN MCEVOY, HOME BEAUTIFUL EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: It's so depressing to come in and there's no walls and there's a toilet in the middle of the living room and some horrible buzz saw next to your closet. It can really make you crazy.

SCHAFFLER: Add to that the stories of jobs that take twice as long, that cost twice as much, or that don't get finished at all.

JIM HANLEY, PRESIDENT, TACONIC BUILDERS: There are a ton of horror stories and people, they're played at a much higher volume than the good stories so people are much more aware of them.

MCEVOY: He has such a distinctive taste.

SCHAFFLER: Enter Elizabeth Franklin, a former investment banker and amateur decorator.

ELIZABETH FRANKLIN, THE FRANKLIN REPORT: I personally have gone under the renovation process several times and there had never been any accountability for these people. When they come in, they tell you they'll return your phone calls. They never do.

SCHAFFLER: War torn, Elizabeth created The Franklin Report, a survey-based rating system for home service professionals, similar to the Zagat restaurant surveys, The Franklin Report researches and rates 27 categories of professionals on cost and quality, from architects, builders, and decorators, to plumbers, electricians, and painters. Franklin admits that her personal experiences led to the idea.

FRANKLIN: Personally I did have a situation where someone did come in, ask for $50,000 for extensive millwork in my dining room, and was incapable of understanding the physical dynamics of how to create these kitchen cupboards.

SCHAFFLER: Franklin's frustration turned to inspiration. She proceeded to call everyone on her Christmas list.

FRANKLIN: We came up with a list of about 100 people that we knew quite well that talked to us about the experiences that they had, and then those same architects and decorators and plumbers would give us to the people that they would recommend, and so it quickly became this giant information bank based on the personal experiences of the clients.

SCHAFFLER: Today, the New York book is in its second edition with over 1,000 listings. A Chicago book is already out and Los Angeles is in the works. JASON CARPENTER, ASSOCIATE EDITOR, FRANKLIN REPORT: We compiled these, you know, hundreds of them in every category, 27 categories, and so then we sift through and find what names sort of rise to the top, you know what names came up most often.

FRANKLIN: Everything is based on word of mouth and it's codified into this book and the Internet site as well, but it is neighbor to neighbor, friend to friend, architect to decorator, electrician to plumber. You know we use every source that we can find.

SCHAFFLER: As a rule The Franklin Report does not include any artisan or company with consistently bad reviews but that doesn't mean all reports are glowing.

FRANKLIN: Nobody is perfect and so that even the best service providers do have that little sticking point that every, you know, human being does have, and we do mention that in the book.

CARPENTER: Some of them will say, his work is great but he's really rigid. You know if you don't do it his way, you know, forget about it.

HANLEY: It's become a coffee table book for those who build, those who renovate.

JIM JOSEPH, HOTTENROTH & JOSEPH ARCHITECTS: Everyone checks up on us in The Franklin Report and it's great. It's amazing in two years it's become a major resource.

SCHAFFLER: As The Franklin Report gets around, it has become a benchmark for insiders, the report you simply must be in.

MATTHEW PATRICK SMITH, DECORATOR: Well if you're not in there, I mean you raise the question why not? Did you just show up in town? I mean how come they don't know about you?

MCEVOY: I think The Franklin Report will have an impact. I don't think it can break the career of a decorator or contractor. I don't think it can wipe them off the map. I think it can help people. That's what I think it can do, can put them on the map.

SCHAFFLER: Despite growing notoriety, The Franklin Report is still struggling toward a break-even point but the founder says they're right on schedule.

FRANKLIN: The book has sold three to four times as many copies as we ever expected and that was really meant to be our lost leader. It was meant just to throw it out there, to establish the brand name.

SCHAFFLER: Now that the brand is out there, Franklin is adding new products to enhance revenue. On, professionals can purchase a portfolio page with pictures. Also Franklin JobWorks an online classified listing for job seekers is ready to launch, and other products will be launched later this year.

FRANKLIN: We feel that when we launch them over the course of this year, it will bring us over to the positive side of the income statement.

SCHAFFLER: The company may be small but the idea is big. The Franklin Report and Web site has the attention of the industry and, for now, it's giving consumers a fighting chance. For BUSINESS UNUSUAL, Rhonda Schaffler, CNN Financial News, New York.


ROMANS: And still to come, health care and Hollywood, an unlikely duo that's teaming up and taking on the big screen. We'll find out why HMOs are hitting the Hollywood hills when BUSINESS UNUSUAL returns.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The individuals, writers, directors, musicians, actors, what have you and we're going to do the same for the AHP.

J.J. RAMBURG, CNN FINANCIAL NEWS CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Thought the pair may seem like strange bedfellows, the president of the AAHP says it's a logical and necessary union.

KAREN IGNAGMI, PRES., AMERICAN ASSOC. OF HEALTH PLANS: We don't believe we can ignore Hollywood because so many people are watching entertainment television, forming impressions based on what they see, and because 100 percent of the portrayals according to an important study recently of our members is negative.

RAMBURG: That study from the Kaiser Family Foundation comes in the wake of television's medical drama boom of the 1990s and last year's release of "John Q" on the big screen. The movie tells the story of a man who holds an emergency room hostage when his son is denied a lifesaving surgery. It presents a less than rosy view of the managed health care system.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There are no provisions in your policy for a procedure of this magnitude.


RAMBURG: Screenwriter James Kearns is skeptical about the AAHP and William Morris joining forces.

JAMES KEARNS, SCREENWRITER, JOHN Q: They're trying to overhaul their image. I wish they'd overhaul some of their policies. It seems to me that should have come first.

IGNAGMI: We're going to Hollywood with the idea that there's value here, that we've contributed something that the research is showing we brought better care to a number of people around the country who have chronic conditions. We want to tell that story.

RAMBURG (on camera): But the question is will Hollywood want to tell that story? With another round of medical dramas about to hit the air this fall are producers and directors willing to hear a different perspective?

MARC PLATT, EXEC. PRODUCER, MDS: It is an opportunity that we would welcome much the same way that we have medical advisers on our show to make sure that the medical terminology, procedures, the atmosphere is accurate. We would want to make sure that our portrayal of the managed health care system presents all sides of what is a very complicated culture.

RAMBURG (voice over): Marc Platt is the Executive Producer of the upcoming ABC series "MDs." His show tackles HMOs head on.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She needs a biopsy.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I know that but her HMO won't authorize a biopsy.


RAMBURG: Platt believes that whether plot lines change or not perceptions of managed care will hinge on the kind of treatment patients receive in the real world.

PLATT: At the end of the day those experiences are going to dictate the public's feelings toward managed health care, and I'm not certain that any kind of publicity campaign or efforts to the like will be able to change that experience.

RAMBURG: And while screenwriter Kearns is willing to hear the AAHP out, he says it's going to take more than just a few meetings in Hollywood to change the way the public sees HMOs.

KEARNS: My guess is it won't be all that successful until some substantive changes have been made by the HMOs and the AAHP with regard to policy.

RAMBURG: For BUSINESS UNUSUAL, I'm J.J. Ramburg, CNN Financial News, Los Angeles.


ROMANS: It's still early in the game for William Morris, and while the agency says it hasn't had formal meetings with producers or writers yet, initial contact has been positive. Up next, who might have the fastest moves at the U.S. Open? We'll give you a preview when BUSINESS UNUSUAL continues.


ROMANS: Coming up next week on BUSINESS UNUSUAL, if you're an expert with wine, you're a connoisseur. If cigars are your passion, you're an aficionado. But if you're a chocoholic, then you're just typical, right? Not necessarily, we've got the story of one chocolate lover who's helping change the taste of chocolate while still pleasing the palate. That's next time on BUSINESS UNUSUAL.

And finally, every summer hundreds of youngsters invade Flushing Meadows, New York to strut their stuff on the tennis courts but they're not competing in the U.S. Open, at least not yet. We went on the job with Tina Taps who selects the few and the proud who work the high profile matches.


TINA TAPS, BALL PERSON DIRECTOR, U.S. OPEN: All right, I want to welcome everybody to the gorgeous USTA National Tennis Center, home of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships.

ROMANS (voice-over): Tina Taps' business is turning mere tennis enthusiasts into a crucial part of the U.S. Open.

TAPS: All right, we're going to start to rock and throw.

ROMANS: But like the youngsters trying to make the cut, getting to this level isn't easy.

TAPS: All right, that's how we start our matches at the U.S. Open. That's called the ball person burst. I've been in charge of the ball person since 1990 but this will be my 22nd U.S. Open. I worked through the ranks of becoming someone who is in charge of a major area of the tournament. So yes, it took many years to get to this point.

ROMANS: From registration to orientation to evaluation, Tina Taps calls the shots.

TAPS: We keep anywhere from about 225 to 275 depending on the year. The next addition is really someone who has to be very quick, very agile, has to have great hands because they've got to get that ball off the court as quickly as possible, so they've got to be our little speedy people. The back court position, however, is a person who pretty much controls what's happening on the court. They follow the scoring, the changeovers, and also have to have a really terrific throwing arm with great accuracy.


CRAMER: The next time you see that lineswoman ask her how those ball boys get those jobs. I would love to be able to do that.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cramer, I think perhaps you've overlooked one of the key aspects of this activity. It's ball boys, not ball men. There are no ball men.


GARY SMITH, SENIOR BALL PERSON: In the summer of 1980, I tried out and a few weeks later I was notified that I had made it and I've been coming back ever since.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The tryout lasts three and a half to four hours. Are you up for it?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Oh, I'll be up for it punk.


ROMANS: Like the Seinfeld's character Cramer, Smith defies his age to break the ball boy, ball man, barrier.

SMITH: I still try to perform like it's my first match out there and have that fear so I do a good job out there.

ROMANS: Although 14 is the minimum age to try out, there is no maximum set by the USTA, but Taps warns that if you think a match is grueling for the pros at least they get the occasional break.

TAPS: Did you ever notice during a match the only people that don't get to sit down are the ball kids? They're working all the way through, even on the changeovers. These kids are getting umbrellas. They're getting the beverages. They're taking care of the umpires. They're taking care of everybody so they just keep working.


ROMANS: If you missed the tryout this time around, there's always next year. Look for upcoming information at And that's BUSINESS UNUSUAL. If you have any questions or comments about the show, you can e-mail us. Our address is I'm Christine Romans, thanks for joining us. Goodbye from New York.


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