Babes in Newsland
There's something seriously wrong with the morning nudes
By Brian Lowry -- Broadcasting & Cable, 5/2/2004 8:00:00 PM
Variety media columnist and critic Brian Lowry adds his voice to B&C's op-ed page starting this week, joining a rotating roster that includes TV Guide senior critic Matt Roush and Pulitzer Prize-winning former Los Angeles Times critic Howard Rosenberg. Last September, Lowry rejoined Variety after spending seven years at the Times.
It's sweeps time again, which means wanton sexuality, exposed flesh, and cheap titillation are sure to invade local newscasts.
And that's just the female anchors and reporters.
Granted, as Ted Koppel observed in a recent speech, "youth and good looks" have never been a negative in television. Lately, however, there's been renewed discussion regarding news personnel's increased willingness to show off assets that have nothing to do with reading off a TelePrompTer.
This is certainly true in Los Angeles, where Sharon Tay, a morning anchor at Tribune-owned KTLA, recently posed provocatively in a men's magazine. Lauren Sanchez of KCOP likewise appeared in an Hispanic men's magazine.
Just a week ago, meanwhile, the New York Daily News revealed that Jill Nicolini, a traffic reporter at WPIX New York, once revealed more than alternate routes to work in Playboy. Like Tay, Nicolini has her own Web site, offering slightly more in-depth (un)coverage.
Similarly, local on-air talent like Sanchez, KCAL's Mia Lee, and various entertainment/traffic/weather reporters have begun tarting up their wardrobes faster than you can say "Jillian Barberie." In fact, about the only thing that separates KCOP's rollicking news-lite-cast from a frat party is the absence of a keg.
L.A. possesses a well-deserved reputation for shallowness, but this is hardly a mere product of proximity to Hollywood. When the Daily News ran a "sexiest newscasters" poll last summer, the paper generated a vast response—mostly of the men-in-prison variety—and found no shortage of nominees.
Actually, the Tay brouhaha would have passed with little notice had it not prompted KTLA's stately longtime anchor, Hal Fishman, to gallantly rise to her defense.
"Women," Fishman stated in an on-air commentary, "have come so far in TV news that they are not judged by the blouse they wear. If I want to go to a woman who is a top surgeon in her field, it doesn't make any difference to me if she posed provocatively or dresses with cleavage revealed. All I care about is her credentials to perform the surgery."
Let's set aside the question of provocatively dressed surgeons, since Aaron Spelling isn't currently producing a medical show. What this says to me is that male broadcast journalists—having long operated under a double standard—are ready to emulate female colleagues and provide newscasts with more visual flair.
By my reckoning, that means Fishman should say farewell to that stodgy jacket and tie he has worn all these years and show up for work in a tight-fitting tank top. Maybe WNBC New York's Chuck Scarborough should try hot pants.
Of course, there's plenty of broadcasting tradition that places greater emphasis on women's looks than on men's. Katie Couric's hair, after all, tends to get a lot more attention than Tom Brokaw's does.
Nevertheless, in sexualizing on-air talent to new extremes, TV news is trying to have it both ways. Sure, you can be light, breezy, and fun—the morning-news formula—but don't expect to be able to swivel on a dime and report serious matters.
Such concerns don't apply just to sexuality, by the way, but also to the general trend toward goofiness. Consider AM newsradio outlet KNX Los Angeles, which installed a wacky sports guy, Randy Kerdoon, who plays silly sound effects and yuks it up with the anchors. Hey, he's toiling in the news playground, so why not, right?
Well, two weeks ago, Kerdoon had to report that former NFL player Pat Tillman, 27, who gave up a seven-figure salary to serve in the military, had died in Afghanistan. Suddenly, sports didn't seem so funny, and the clownish bells and whistles fell silent.
This is hardly meant to sound prudish, and I have no intention of suggesting that looking good means someone can't function professionally (except for maybe Ben Affleck). Still, there's a difference between appearing attractive and fostering the impression you have just stumbled in from a night of clubbing, which can be especially disconcerting on an early-morning newscast.
Credibility isn't donned as easily as clothes, but it can be shed with alarming speed, which is why female anchors aren't doing themselves any long-term favors. Because, whatever male bosses and colleagues might say, you don't see them walking in your shoes, or, if they are, they're keeping them carefully hidden behind the desk.
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