Right now on Channel 4 in London, I’m watching the British version of Wife Swap. This afternoon, I saw no end of British versions of American home show. Of course, there’s Pop Idol and the nanny shows and even Deal or No Deal (why would the world create two of those?) as well as other examples. I think we’re losing our leadership in creating tacky reality shows. And I’m not sure what I should think of that.
Posts about tv
VH1′s Best Week Every has a new blog: very punchy; each post should be accompanied by the snare drum, e.g., “Angelina and Brad will name their baby “Africa” because Angelina loves Africa. Thankfully, the child wasn’t born seven years ago when Angelina would have probably named it ‘Lesbians.’ “
Comment is Free at the Guardian asked me explain this Katie Couric fussmuss to folks on that side of the world.
On Reliable Sources this morning, I had a moment with Erik Sorenson, former executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather and a former MSNBC exec. Howard Kurtz asked about new Today show cohost Meredith Viera having opinions:
KURTZ: Erik Sorenson, Meredith Vieira marched in the anti-war demonstration a couple years ago, and she said on “The View” that the war was built on lies. Does that create a credibility problem for her when she’s interviewing guest on “The Today Show” about Iraq?
SORENSON: I think it’s going to be a challenge. She she talked about it herself. She used, you know, a funnier analogy [this followed a clip of Viera saying she'd spent recent years on The View talking orgasms], but she has been out there with her opinions. And that’s not going to be considered appropriate on “The Today Show”. And she will have to modify that and modulate that voice.
KURTZ: Vieira told me she was not ashamed of what she had said, but that the job of a journalist is to put your biases aside, when you’re in a news role, which she will be….
KURTZ: Jeff Jarvis, you were shaking your head a moment ago.
JARVIS: I disagree with Erik about her having opinions. I think that’s exactly the wrong thing to do, to say, “OK, tamp down those opinions and don’t have them any more, Meredith.”
The truth is we all have opinions. The problem in big news is, we kind of lie by omission. Our agendas are all hidden. Dan Rather would have been better off if he said, “You know what? I don’t like George Bush, but now judge me on what I report.”
Meredith Vieira should go ahead and say, “Yes, I was against the war, but now judge the substance and the fairness and the interviews and the work I do.”
It is time for to us get over this idea that we’re objective and don’t have opinions.
SORENSON: Jeff, you’d have a field day if she did that, wouldn’t you? …
JARVIS: No, I would have a field day of complimenting her on finally having an honest voice on TV and not acting like we’re plastic people with no opinions. You know I would have a field day praising her for finally having the courage to break the old, dull ways of TV news.
More on the transcript.
I can’t help shaking my head at the hiring of Katie Couric to anchor the CBS Evening News. All the talk about getting rid of the oracular voice of news is meaningless. They simply replaced the goofy if stern-faced oracle with the perky and still-cute oracle. And the truth is, it’s not about the voice at all. It’s about the name. It’s about celebrity. This is halfway to hiring George Clooney to read the news (‘I may not be a journalist, but I played one in a theater near you’). They can’t even argue that this is the first woman to anchor the news solo because, thanks to tragedy, that’s what you have on ABC right now.
Mind you, I have no great beef with Couric. I think she and Today got flufflier and fluffier (so much so that my wife switched us, unilaterally, to ABC for news). I think that CBS is merely challenged in the personnel department. They lose Howard Stern and then hire David Lee Roth — which any sane person could have told them wouldn’t work — and now they have him reading the news every day (hey, why not save about $50 million and just have him read the telepromoter every night?). They get rid of Dan Rather and then don’t whom to hire and then hire the biggest name they could grab. If I were Les Moonves, I wouldn’t quit my day job and go into human resources.
What’s saddest about this is that it reveals no vision for the news. The ballsy news exec would have said it was time to break away from the pack and invent the news show for the news age: to perform the equivalent task to what Alan Rusbridger et al are trying to do at The Guardian, moving past paper. TV News needs to move past TV. Toward the end of his tenure, I got to know former CBS News President Andrew Heyward and I saw in him a glimmer of the courage needed to reject the old and create the new. I have no idea what he would have done with the CBS Evening News but I’d have been curious to see how he tried to eliminate the oracle and find a new, human voice for news.
Ah, you’ll say, but isn’t that what they did by hiring Couric? They hired a human voice. Well, yes, she’s more human than Rather. But she’s still a voice manufactured by the TV machine. We don’t really know her any more than we know any other product of that machine. She’s there simply because she’s a celebrity, a news star. And what that tells me is that they still think the news is defined by the person who reads it. They think that’s what matters more to us than the news itself. They think they can keep this old form of lite news — give us 22 minutes and we won’t give you much — and make it liter and it will survive. What they should have done, instead, was blow up the old assumptions. But they didn’t. They just spent a lot of money on them.
: Just phoned into NPR’s On Topic about this very topic with Howard Rosenberg, ex-LA Times and now j-school prof; Jane Clayson, ex CBS morning host; Michael Wolfe of Vanity Fair; and David Blum of the NY Sun. The podcast will be up later.
: LATER: Judging from the comments, I clearly left out an important factor: People like Katie Couric. They really like her.
And I do mean that’s an important factor. Earlier anchors were not likeable and were not meant to be. They were supposed to be trusted, right?
Likeability is a new attribute of journalism.
: LATER YET: Give the new CBS News credit: Its blog quotes even criticism of the Katie crowning.
We had Weekend Good Morning, America on (because my wife is boycotting NBC News until Katie Couric leaves) and it was an incredible attempt at old-fartism. They interviewed the organizer of a rave party that turned tragic and, after saying that there were virtually no drugs there, they show a scene from a generic rave party and list all the drugs that are usually there. It made no sense. They then tease a story about the “new trend” in high-school kids having fight parties. Yes, that’s sweeping the nation along with raves and meth and mary jane. Most shocking, they pitch a story about the amazing trend in single women buying houses on their own even before they’ve found “Mr. Right.” Who turned the Wayback Machine to 1967? And they say you need professionals to turn out this claptrap? Yes, you’d have to pay me to do this.
Alex Albrecht, costar of Diggnation, has just premiered his new cooking show for geeks with the greatest title alive: Ctrl+Alt+Chicken (download it there or watch it, free, via iTunes).
It’s a hoot and a half. He and his girlfriend (I think), Heather Stewart, try to make chicken cordon bleu but fail spectacularly. It ends up burned on the outside and perilously raw on the inside. But it’s still fun watching them and, if you care, you do get the recipe. The show goes just a touch over the top when actors must act in a sketch moment near the start. It’s best when they’re just having fun in the kitchen and, in the great tradition of the Galloping Gourmet before he found the wagon, they’re getting sloshed on wine. The couple thing works. So does the honesty. As they’re melting fat and more fat in a pot and they get rather disgusted at this, Alex says in a cooking show, “This is why people don’t cook. Becuase you look at it while it’s cooking and you don’t want to eat it.” Heather says, “It takes forever and my pizza would have already been here.” They’re planning an episode when they just eat the cold pizza. Now that is cooking for geeks.
Note well that this isn’t just people sitting and talking to the camera. They’re actually doing something. They’re entertaining. They made a show. And they showed the world. They did it without studios or executives or networks. Welcome to the future of TV. I like it.