Real News and Bad Jokes
Committed to the First Amendment
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/11/2004 8:00:00 PM
A friend calls. He's a news guy, a scary smart guy. He's a funny guy with a shelf full of awards, a testament to a career of first-rate journalism. He asks: "Is ABC News on drugs? They want to do That Was the Week That Was on Primetime Live. They're going to conduct a nationwide search for a 'TW3' singer. The world has gone mad."
It's true. Shelley Ross, Primetime's new executive producer, touts plans to resurrect That Was the Week That Was as an end segment for the ABC newsmag. Based on a BBC satirical review of the same name, the show had a short run on NBC in the mid '60s and would end with TW3 "girl" Nancy Ames singing the theme song, with lyrics skewering the newsmakers of the day. Like Comedy Central's The Daily Show, everybody knew it was entertainment, not news.
Don't get the wrong idea. We love The Daily Show. More often than not, Jon Stewart and his off-kilter crew have a better insight on real news than Dateline, 20/20 and 48 Hours, where an endless stream of true crime stories and celebrity close-ups often seems to suffice. But Primetime's Ross and company not only don't have it in their DNA to pull off a 2004 version of TW3 in the lacerating way the best satire does, they're not even trying. When Ross told Gail Shister in the Philadelphia Inquirer that the TW3 segment would never strive to be as "sharp and biting" as The Daily Show, we knew this was an idea better left on the cocktail napkin it must have been scribbled on. Half-hearted satire inevitably comes across as half-witted. It's analogous to MSNBC's attempts with ersatz angry white men like Mike Savage and Jesse Ventura that just turned out sounding like Fox News Lite.
We know ABC News consistently produces some of the best journalism on television. Think Nightline, World News Tonight and a reinvigorated This Week. That's what stands out, along with CBS's 60 Minutes, PBS's Frontline and NBC's Meet the Press.
But they are the dwindling exceptions, easily outweighed by an endless stream of mindless infotainment that passes for news at a time the world is a frightful place. There's a war on terror, conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, genocide in the Sudan, and a long list of domestic problems—so NBC News put resources into a special hour farewell to Frasier. NBC's not alone. The CBS Early Show trots out Survivor losers, and Good Morning America and the Today show might as well sell concert tickets on Ticketmaster. Why should our blue-chip reporting pal be as shocked as Captain Renault in Casablanca that Primetime Live is looking to do a satire set to song under the guise of a news program?
We have another suggestion. How about borrowing another chapter from the medium's past and spend those precious network minutes reporting on things that actually matter? Primetime would never run out of material.
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