Tom, we hardly knew ye

Tom, we hardly knew ye

: Just saw what was practically an obituary for Tom Brokaw on Today as he leaves his anchor chair X-on-the-studio-floor this week.

The irony of this slatherfest is that network anchors try so hard to have very little personality. Oh, they have some personality, but only just enough to seem human, without quirks (besides his speech impediment) or passions or emotions or opinons. It’s engineered personality.

And now we are being asked to miss and practically mourn this anchor as if he were a dear personal friend, our news goombah.

But he wasn’t. He was a guy who read the news, a news cipher. And he was damned good at it. I regularly watched Brokaw, in part because I was raised in a Huntley-Brinkley home, in part because I watch NBC entertainment shows, and in part because I do like the job NBC News and Brokaw do. But he was no pal of mine. No offense, Tom, but I won’t miss you. I wish you well in your retirement; I hope you enjoy your wealth and relaxation. But I will feel no vacuum in my life.

And just wait until we see the video Taj Mahals that surely are being built already for Dan Rather (which, yes, will ignore Rathergate and other controversies). And he’s the guy with the very fake personality, what with all his downhomeisms studded in the news like raisins in muffins (I still wonder whether he doesn’t have secret downhomeism writers feeding him his hokum).

I’m not decrying personality on the news. To the contrary, I’ve been saying that the audience is responding to personality — witness Jon Stewart and Bill O’Reilly — and what we need is transparency about a news person’s perspective.

But what we do not need is fake personality.

So as we say goodbye to Dan and Tom, I hope what we’re really doing is signing off on the era of tapioca humanity in the news. The networks don’t know it yet, but that’s what’s really happening.

: And I know the seduction of creating a personality for the camera. Back when I was a TV critic, I appeared on TV often and made pilots of regular segments on TV about TV (which were never picked up; I was always told that the subject matter was too touchy to deal with in a competitive environment but it also could have been that I simply sucked). During those scripted shticks, I often found myself putting on the personality producers told me take on (yes, they really did tell me to smile with my voice).

Lately, thanks to this blog, I’ve been doing the TV thing again but because I’m not really selling anything (other than the cause of free speech or my ego), I’m not trying to slap on a personality like the makeup they slap on my face. I’m me. I’m excitable. I talk fast. I’m opinionated. I don’t know whether it’s good TV but I do know that it’s a lot more fun and less worrisome than trying to act like somebody. It’s liberating.

So I repeat my advice to CBS: You should replace Dan Rather with Jon Stewart. And if you don’t have the balls to do that — which you won’t — then, yes, you should follow the rumors and at least hire Tim Russert, who seems to have some real personality. Don’t hire another cipher, another everyman, another engineered personality. Hire a human.

: UPDATE: Says Terry Heaton, who knows TV news: “It’s a scary time for people in television news, because the blue smoke and mirrors has been revealed for what it is.”