Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Shameless Than Shameless

The English language needs a new word to describe the shameless depths to which Nightly News so frequently plummets. Because for NBC, "shameless" just isn't shameless enough. On Friday, May 15, Nightly News did a "news story" about Farrah Fawcett's battle with cancer. Although this story did not have any actual news value, it was, by NBC's standards, the perfect story for Nightly News. First and foremost, it was about a celebrity. And celebrity stories attract viewers, which is NBC's top priority--far more important than presenting actual news. (Nightly News is apparently trying very hard to become indistinguishable from the shows that follow it: Extra and Access Hollywood.) After all, what will earn higher ratings--a story about Farrah Fawcett or a story about the fighting in Sri Lanka? And second--the Nightly News Fawcett segment was an excerpt from a two-hour special about Fawcett that would be airing on NBC later that night. Obviously, the Nightly News producers have no qualms about using valuable time on their news broadcast to promote their entertainment shows. Clearly, the second commandment of NBC News (right after "Thou shalt make tons of money") is "Thou shalt relentlessly self-promote". The Fawcett story was nothing more than a two-and-a-half minute commercial for the upcoming two-hour special. And, of course, there's an additional benefit to airing the story. It's a great way to eat up a few minutes of Nightly News without doing all that time-consuming and costly reporting. After all, the Fawcett story is already completed. It takes just a fraction of the time and money for a production team to edit a few clips from a 2-hour special than it does to report and produce an entire news story from scratch. A few snips here, a voice-over there and bang--instant story. I just felt bad for poor Lester Holt who had to abase himself by announcing, "The entire documentary 'Farrah's Story' airs tonight at nine on this NBC station." And just in case we missed it, NBC also aired a segment of the Fawcett story on that Sunday's Dateline.

But wait, there's more. Following the Farrah Fawcett segment, there was a two-minute-and-fifteen second story about the Preakness Stakes--a race that just coincidentally was going to be broadcast the following day on NBC. And in between these two "news stories", there was a 20-second story about Michael Phelps swimming in his first competitive meet since Beijing. Obviously, this was NBC's first promotional spot for the 2012 Olympics. So Nightly News used five consecutive minutes of their broadcast solely to promote upcoming NBC shows. That's almost 25% of the entire broadcast! I really hope that Mr. Roget comes up with that new word soon, because when we take into account the way Nightly News shamelessly promotes other NBC shows (and also uses valuable news time to shill for their sponsors like United Airlines, Cheerios and McDonald's coffee), shameless doesn't even begin to describe Nightly News. I can only imagine how much time Nightly News is going to devote to Jay Leno as his 10 PM show nears its debut date. Perhaps Jay will fill in for Brian Williams one night. Would anybody even notice?

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