TV News Finds a New Low -- Again
I know it's beyond passe to complain about the trivialization of TV news.
It does seem were headed for a new low, thanks to Les Moonves, ABC News, Ryan Seacrest and the mad scramble to find new (a.k.a. younger) news viewers.
For me, the dread started way back in August, when the New York Times Magazine published a profile of CBS TV president Les Moonves where the man at the helm of revamping the most legendary news broadcast in television talked about adding The Daily Show's Jon Stewart or women in lingerie to spice up the newscast.
As somebody who sparred with Les quite a bit in my TV critic days, I have loads of respect for the guy who turned the Murder She Wrote network into the CSI/Survivor network. But one thing Les -- a hard-driving, old school TV showman with an actor's charisma and ad salesman's morals -- doesn't do well is news programming (even if his trophy wife is Early Show newsreader Julie Chen).
Bet the house that whatever he comes up with to replace Dan Rather's CBS Evening News will only hasten the demise of the news division's credibility.
White House correspondent Terry Moran (center) has the most journalism chops, followed by Cynthia McFadden (right), who has done well covering legal issues but made her bones covering O.J. Simpson's overhyped trial. And then there's Martin Bashir, the guy behind the ultra-exploitive Living With Michael Jackson special, who embodies the kind of sleazily unethical, celebrity-driven journalism Nightline once seemed to stand against.
Other details of the revamp include broadcasting from a Times Square studio, featuring multiple stories in an hour, and rarely featuring the three new anchors together on any one broadcast. In other words, turning a special, in-depth news half-hour into a carbon copy of every other newsmagazine on television.
And now we have what may be the ultimate indignity: Ryan Seacrest on CNN?
Scheduled to sub for Larry King tonight (interviewing his bestest bud, Ashlee Simpson), Seacrest is reportedly being positioned as heir to the multiple bypassed, suspenders-wearing interviewer -- with lattitude to book his own guests and a personal connection with King that goes back a while.
Now, no one will confuse King with Edward R. Murrow (my fave King memory: watching the notoriously under-prepared interviewer confuse the names of everyone in the cast of Friends and ER, in separate interviews, when both shows were the two hottest programs on television).
(mug shot from 1971, when King was nabbed for stealing from a business partner)
But CNN seemed to get it right by positioning stellar interviewer Bob Costas as his substitute. At least, until they tried to make Costas cover the Natalee Holloway nonsense, and he walked.
Now, they've turned to a guy who couldn't keep his own syndicated interview show afloat longer than a few months, and whose interview chops consist mostly of sticking a mike in front of breathless American Idol contestants.
It's all about TV executives looking at a steadily aging news audience and wondering how to get more of those young eyeballs Madison Avenue loves so much.
This is CNN?