Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Ad In

It was grotesquely inappropriate of Brian Williams to devote nearly four minutes of Monday's Nightly News broadcast to a "news story" about the 50th anniversary of Chicago's Second City Comedy Troupe. Certainly, this frothy, vacuous entertainment piece was meant to appeal to viewers who find actual news too heavy and confusing. But more importantly, this story was meant to be a three-minute-and-forty-five-second commercial for NBC shows. The story included an interview with Bonnie Hunt (who has a daytime show on NBC), a clip from Saturday Night Live and several shots of Steve Carell (who stars in The Office on NBC). But the bulk of the story was comprised of interviews with Tina Fey and clips from 30 Rock (including, of course, a clip featuring none other than Brian Williams). It's no secret that despite all the critical praise, 30 Rock is not doing too well in the ratings. So Brian, his producers and the NBC executives devised this Second City story as a way to give 30 Rock a little promotional boost. And not coincidentally, NBC is airing a four-hour 30 Rock marathon on New Year's Eve, so this strategically-placed Nightly News story is clearly intended to help the show's ratings that night.

Of course, promoting NBC shows is nothing new for Nightly News. The night before the Second City story aired, Nightly News ran a story about police codes. The story began and ended with clips from Adam-12 and CHiPS, shows that aired on NBC in the 60's, 70's and 80's. (The clips from those shows took up more than 30 seconds of the two-minute story.) Both shows are available on DVD, and it's obvious that the clips were included in the story in order to boost DVD sales for NBC Universal. (Here's a great idea: NBC Universal can offer the Adam-12 and CHiPS DVDs for half price to anyone who orders the Obama Inauguration DVD and the "Inside the Obama White House" DVD, which NBC has been hawking relentlessly during Nightly News.) On the Dec. 15 Nightly News, Brian spent 30 seconds talking about the Golden Globe nominations, before shamelessly announcing that, "The awards air live Jan. 17 here on NBC." And on Dec. 12, Nightly News aired a story about singers who have recently recorded Christmas albums. A third of that story was devoted to interviews and clips of Barry Manilow--who just happened to be appearing on The Jay Leno Show later that night. So that entire "news story" was contrived in order to promote Manilow's appearance on Jay's show. Well done, Brian. But I wouldn't want anyone to think that Nightly News spends its time just promoting NBC shows. Far from it. In fact, Nightly News also spends time promoting regular sponsors and giving them lots of free air time as part of "news stories".

For one thing, the entire Tiger Woods saga was an opportunity for Brian and his producers to pepper the screen with logos for Gillette, Nike and Tag Heuer watches. During a Dec. 10 Nightly News story about breast cancer, logos for the drugs Fosamax, Actonel and Boniva were prominently displayed. Any regular viewer knows that Boniva (made by GlaxoSmithKline) is a heavy advertiser on Nightly News (if Boniva doesn't ring a bell, think Sally Field). Including it in a story is just a little "thank you" from NBC to their pals at Glaxo. Logos for Walmart, Sears, Kohl's, Target, JC Penney, Kmart and other retailers are regularly displayed during Nightly News stories. On Dec. 26, a story about post-Christmas shopping took this even further. As Walmart, Kmart and Kohl's logos filled the screen, Sharon Epperson told us all about the great bargains we can find in these stores. Walmart is offering a $50 gift card with the purchase of an X-box 360! Kmart is featuring 50% off on kids' coats! Kohl's is giving a $10 coupon for every $50 spent! I'm surprised Epperson didn't offer to drive us to the stores. Brian Williams and his pal Steve Capus (president of NBC News) should be ashamed of themselves for using their broadcast to reward sponsors and promote NBC shows. It's really disgraceful what Nightly News has turned into.

Loving His Country Almost As Much As His Ratings

From Brian Williams's Dec. 28 Daily Nightly blog: "If this lone the new face of terrorism, then we have to meet the challenge the same way we won the Second World War or went to the moon....I fly a lot, as does my family, and I love my country. So you might say I have a vested interest in this one."

Brian, please pass me the in-flight barf bag. After reading your blog, I think I'm going to be sick. Why don't you tell the truth? When terrorists strike, no matter how incompetent, the Nightly News ratings go up. And for you, that's the most important thing. If you continue to tell lies, your nose is going to grow back to its original, pre-surgical length.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Taking Flak

Here's an idea: Each night on the news, Brian Williams should wear the matching helmet-and-flak-jacket ensemble he wore when he was in Afghanistan recently for the Nielsen sweeps period. That way, he'll be appropriately dressed whenever he decides to devote a third of his broadcast to military stories, as he did on Wednesday. Another suggestion: Brian should affix his Military Challenge Coins to his flak jacket to make him appear more military-ish.

The Twelve Days Of Christmas (The Brian Williams Remix)

On the twelfth day of Christmas Brian gave his viewers

Twelve Springsteen updates
Eleven Bono interviews
Ten pipers piping Piper Palin stories
Nine Afghan orphans
Eight maids a-milking the Tiger Woods story
Seven swans a-swimming next to Michael Phelps

Six Susan Boyle songs
Five Olympic Rings (Be sure to tune in to the XXI Winter Olympics beginning Feb. 12
only on NBC!)

Four Walmart plugs
Three Military Challenge Coins
Two skateboarding bulldogs
And Petraeus on a pedestal

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Nose Notes

With the ascent of Diane Sawyer to the ABC World News anchor chair, it can now be said that for the first time ever, all three network news anchors have had nose jobs. Such historic times we live in!

My Invitation Must Have Gotten Lost In The Mail

Here are some excerpts from Brian Williams's Dec. 17 Daily Nightly blog (about the Nightly News holiday party):

"We took over control (for the night, and not by force) of a Midtown Manhattan tavern, where I plugged my iPod into the house sound system..."

Of course he did. Because Brian's musical tastes are so much cooler and more sophisticated than everyone else's. And it's pretty much a certainty that none of the Nightly News staffers would dare to complain about King Brian commandeering the sound system. Not if they value their jobs, anyway.

"I've said it before: On many days, I'm the least of the [Nightly News] effort..."

On many days? How about every day?

Presidential Advis-aeiou-r

Saturday's Nightly News featured two separate promo spots for the following day's edition of Meet The Press. The first promo (at the 13 minute mark of the broadcast) informed us that Sunday's MTP would be featuring "White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod". The second MTP promo (nine minutes later) described Axelrod as "White House Senior Advisor". I imagine that if there was a third MTP promo on Saturday's Nightly News, Axelrod would have been described as "White House Senior Advisur". And on Sunday's Nightly News, a clip from that morning's MTP listed Axelrod as "Senior White House Advisor". I guess the producers thought that sounded much better than "White House Senior Advisor".

On Saturday's second MTP promo, Howard Dean was identified as "Governor of Vermont", despite the fact that he hasn't held that office since 2003.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Is There A Doctorer In The House?

It's hard to believe that the Nightly News producers had the audacity to air their Dec. 3 story that was severely critical of French magazine editors who digitally alter photographs of models to make them appear younger and more attractive. At least eight times over the past 14 months, these same producers have digitally altered photos and video images in Nightly News stories to make the subjects appear older. The most recent occurrence was on the Dec. 13 broadcast, during a story about blues guitarist Honey Boy Edwards. Video that was supposed to represent 1930's Mississippi had obviously been doctored with specks of dirt, vertical lines, hairs and cigarette burns to make it appear older. And video of a freight train received the same treatment. The following Nightly News broadcasts also contained stories in which videos or photos were altered to make them look older:

>11/14/09--A story about Ohio special needs students who refurbish bicycles and donate them to needy members of the community contained three scenes that had been altered to appear older.
>8/18/09--A story about the H1N1 virus (which Nightly News is still calling Swine Flu) contained footage of a classroom that had been altered to make it appear older.
>6/10/09--A "What Works" segment about Donna Karan's "Urban Zen" charitable foundation contained footage of Karan and her husband that had been artificially doctored to make it look older.
>4/30/09--During a story about the H1N1 virus, footage of a hospital was altered to make it seem older.
>11/23/08--A story about old NYC subway cars that are recycled as underwater reefs contained footage of a subway car that was doctored to make it look older. The hilarious thing about this was that the subway car that was made to look older was actually new--the exterior of the subway car had a modern LED digital display and the people riding in the car were dressed in current fashions.
>10/25/08--During a story about layaway, videos of newspaper ads from the 1970's were doctored to make them appear much older.
>10/22/08--During a story about geothermal energy in Iceland, the camera panned across some still photos; the image was altered to make it seem older.

Altering magazine photos to make models appear younger is despicable. And altering news video images to make subjects appear older is equally despicable. Furthermore, it raises some serious ethical questions about Nightly News. In what other circumstances are the producers doctoring images? Are they digitally adding or removing people from videos or photos? Are Nightly News correspondents really where they claim to be? During election night 2008, Brian Williams bragged about NBC's great new technology. He told us that by standing in front of a green screen, a correspondent could be made to appear as if he or she was anywhere in the world. So has Richard Engel really been reporting from Afghanistan, or has he been standing in front of a green screen somewhere in the bowels of 30 Rock? Is Chuck Todd really standing in front of the White House? Is Kelly O'Donnell really reporting from the Capitol? Who knows? If the producers would try to deceive the viewers by altering footage to make it appear older, there's no reason to believe they wouldn't also try to deceive the viewers in other ways. Doctoring footage may be acceptable on Dateline or Today, but it's not acceptable on Nightly News. Nightly News has a higher standard to adhere to, and it's time the producers understood this. The producers owe the viewers an apology for altering Nightly News video images, and they owe us a pledge that they will never again engage in this deception. And by the way, it might also be nice if they stopped criticizing others for offenses that they themselves commit. That's called hypocrisy.

A Tale Of Two Anchors

From Brian Williams's Dec. 18 Daily Nightly blog: "I talked to Charlie Gibson this afternoon, and there's a letter waiting for him at his home with some personal thoughts and good wishes. He is leaving the anchor chair tonight, leaving ABC after more than three decades with the same company. He's a friend and a good guy and has been a world-class competitor every night. These three network evening newscasts are at their best when we're all good, every night. And Charlie has helped to keep us that way. I wish him happy trails, and only the best."

Brian's insincere faux-homage to Gibson is a joke. The only aspect of this situation that Brian cares about is how he and his producers can capitalize on Gibson's departure (and Diane Sawyer's arrival) to improve the Nightly News ratings. No doubt Brian and his producers have been feverishly huddling with the NBC News research department to figure out how to capitalize on the changeover. It's really a shame that Gibson is retiring. He is, perhaps, the last of the hardy journalist-anchors who once dominated evening newscasts. With his departure, all three evening network newscasts will be anchored by talking-head newsreaders.

The contrast between Charlie Gibson and Brian Williams is stark. Gibson was the consummate anchor. Night after night, Gibson sat in his chair and told us what was going on across the country and around the world. It was never about him, it was always about reporting the news. Until his final week, I never even knew if Gibson was married or if he had children, because he never mentioned them on the air. And that was appropriate. With Brian, the news is always about him and his family. News stories will include information about his wife's favorite charities or when his kids go off to college (or when they come home for break). There are the almost-nightly Springsteen updates. Brian has made a point of trying to impress viewers by boasting that he is a Supreme Court buff, a presidential history buff, an aviation buff, an American car buff, a military buff, a space travel buff--if he were any more buff-y, he could be a vampire slayer. Gibson never told us what his hobbies were, because it wasn't important to the broadcast. (In fact, it can be detrimental to the supposed neutrality of the anchor.) He simply reported the news. Brian is a carnival barker. He constantly peppers his broadcasts with what he thinks are interesting facts (to show us how much he knows) or amusing comments (to show us how funny he is). Gibson was informative. Brian is condescending and pandering.

Perhaps the most glaring difference between the two is apparent when they are not anchoring. When Gibson had the evening off, the ABC News announcer would introduce that night's anchor by saying, "Reporting tonight...." When Brian has the evening off, he has instructed the NBC News announcer to introduce that night's anchor with, "Substituting tonight...." Substituting, not reporting. Gibson understands that the news, not the anchor, is the star. He knows that anyone can sit in that chair and report the news. But Brian truly believes he is the star. He imagines himself irreplaceable. He has to let us know that anyone else who sits in his chair is just a substitute.

Under Gibson, ABC's World News was known as the serious evening newscast. Brian has transformed NBC's Nightly News into the light and fluffy broadcast. On any given night, more than half of Brian's broadcast is devoted to non-news items like cuddly animals, cute (or sick) kids, military families or people who feed the homeless. I can only hope that Diane Sawyer continues in Gibson's tradition and doesn't turn World News into another Nightly News.

Roger That

Roger O'Neil's flag-waving, eagle-soaring, ultra-patriotic "news stories" sound as if they were written by someone at Fox News. Or perhaps the Military Channel. That was true of his Sept. 4 story about golf tournaments that benefit people who lost a family member in the military, and it was true of his Friday "Making A Difference" story about Wreaths Across America. Here's how O'Neil began his story: "With respect and reverence, the graves of heroes bathed in the warm embrace of Christmas wreaths." Give me a break. And here's how he ended his story: "The wreaths will adorn the graves through Christmas, each to honor those who served, each to serve as a reminder that freedom is not free. In life they honored their country, today we honor them with gestures fitting for American heroes." Puh-leeze. Just a little bit over the top, I would say. As O'Neil finished his story, I expected flags to unfurl and fireworks to go off behind him as "God Bless America" played in the background. How about if O'Neil just reports the story, and leaves the hyper-patriotism to Glenn Beck?

Kevin Tibbles's Nose For News

Can someone please buy Nightly News correspondent Kevin Tibbles a dictionary? During Wednesday's urgent breaking news story about the deaf and blind dachshund, Tibbles said, "Like his red-nosed namesake, this pooch also uses his probiscis (sic) to guide the way." The word Tibbles was looking for was "proboscis". I think that Tibbles is smarter than a fifth grader, but only by a nose.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Orangutans, Tigers and Bears--Oh My!

I would like to thank the Nightly News producers for Sunday's story about Nonja the orangutan who takes photos of her fellow orangs in a Vienna zoo. Naturally, this story also included video of Tai Shan the panda, Knut the polar bear and the elephant who paints self-portraits. I think the producers should submit this story to the Peabody Awards evaluation committee in the category of breaking news coverage. No wait--on second thought, I think they should submit Thursday's story about spiral lights and UFO's. Better yet, they should submit Thursday's story about Christmas albums. A third of that story was devoted to interviews and clips of Barry Manilow--who just happened to be appearing on The Jay Leno Show later that night. So that entire "news story" was constructed for the sole purpose of promoting Jay's show. Excellent! And in the Peabody category of ongoing coverage, I would suggest submitting Nightly News's continuing coverage of the Tiger Woods saga. Friday's Tiger installment featured commentary from Jeremy Blacklow from Nightly News already features regular reports from Access Hollywood's Maria Menounos, so Blacklow will fit right in with the Nightly News team.

It's a shame that the Nielsen Media editors did not learn any tricks from the Nightly News producers. On Friday, Brian Williams informed us that Nielsen will be closing two of its magazines, Editor & Publisher and Kirkus Reviews, presumably because of inadequate ad revenue resulting from low circulation. When the Nightly News producers anticipate that one of their broadcasts will have lower-than-desired ratings, they submit it to Nielsen's television ratings service intentionally misspelled as "Nitely News". That way, the low-rated (misspelled) show is counted separately from the rest of the week's higher-rated (correctly spelled) "Nightly News" shows and doesn't bring down the weekly Nightly News rating. So if the Nightly News producers can manipulate their show's ratings, couldn't the Nielsen people figure out a way to manipulate the circulation figures for their magazines in order to keep ad rates high?

Hang Onto Your Ego

Brian's ego is unbelievable. Night after night, the news is all about Brian Williams. This past week, we were treated to not one, but two stories (Sunday and Monday) about this year's Kennedy Center honors. Why? Because Bruce Springsteen was one of the honorees and Brian attended the ceremony. It was only because of Brian's fanaticism for Springsteen that he put this story on the air. Do you think Nightly News would have given this story the time of day if the honorees were "only" Dave Brubeck, Mel Brooks, Robert De Niro and Grace Bumbry? Of course not. And that's shameful. On Wednesday, for the second time in less than a week, Nightly News ran a story about a Medal of Honor winner who was told to take down his American flag by the local homeowners' association. Again, this story was given air time only because of Brian's infatuation with Medal of Honor winners. And after Thursday's report about the snowstorm in upstate New York (imagine that--snow in upstate New York in December! They should have slapped a "breaking news" tag on that one), Brian felt compelled for some reason to comment on the sirens that were heard in the background during the story: "From the sound of things behind you there it sounds like the East Aurora Volunteer Fire Department now has to go out and fight a fire in this weather..." Huh? That non sequitur had absolutely nothing to do with the story--it was just Brian showing off his obsession with firefighters. And during the intro to Friday's story about the Robin Hood Foundation, Brian just had to inform us that, "Those of us who are members of the board pay the cost to run the organization so that every last penny they raise goes to those who really need it." I sure hope he didn't hurt his shoulder patting himself on the back. And during the report, poor Rehema Ellis was forced to say, "Generous board members [meaning Brian, of course] pay all administrative costs." Wow--Brian Williams supports the Robin Hood Foundation, the Horizons program, the Afghan orphans...and he's so modest about it, too. Obviously, a network news anchor who earns an 8-figure salary is supposed to be supporting charities. Unfortunately, Brian's need to boast about his philanthropic endeavors is egotistic and inappropriate. I never hear Jim Lehrer bragging about his charitable contributions. Maybe Nightly News should start running a crawl across the bottom of the screen listing all the charities Brian supports. The first thing they teach in undergrad broadcast journalism 101 is that a news broadcast should always be about the news, never about the anchor. Oh yeah--I forgot. Brian never went to college.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Born To Run On And On And On...

I am bitterly disappointed in Nightly News. On Monday morning, Bruce Springsteen walked into a Starbucks and ordered a venti decaf vanilla soy extra-hot no-foam latte and Nightly News didn't do a story on it. That is outrageous! I have always assumed that NBC stood for "Non-stop Bruce Coverage", but now I'm not so sure. I may have to start watching ABC ("Always Bruce Coverage") or CBS ("Continuous Bruce Stories") to get all my Springsteen news. I thought that Brian Williams was born to run stories on Springsteen. So why has Brian been avoiding the Boss lately? Maybe if Bruce was awarded the Medal of Honor, Brian would start paying a little attention to him.

Nightly News With 31-Across

Congratulations to Brian Williams. He was the answer to clue 31-across in Monday's New York Times crossword puzzle (the clue was "News anchor Williams"). Interestingly, one of the other answers that intersected Brian's name in the puzzle was "robot". But that's probably just a coincidence. Probably.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Brian vs. Katie vs. Frankenstein

Although Brian Williams did not anchor Nightly News on Thanksgiving night, he gave an interview to an NBC producer in which he shared his thoughts about the publicity-desperate Salahis who scammed their way into the White House state dinner (which Brian attended). During his interview Brian said, "As far as I'm concerned, security couldn't have been tighter." But Brian's statement was directly contradicted by Katie Couric on the following night's CBS Evening News. Couric (who also attended the state dinner) said, "Well I was struck because when I go to the White House to do an interview, the security is much more elaborate to get a temporary press pass--and here [at the state dinner] it just seemed much more relaxed." So who should we believe--Brian or Katie? I'll leave it to the viewers to make up their own minds. Although it should be noted that ever since Brian hosted his fawning and obsequious "Inside the Obama White House" special earlier this year, he has been widely regarded as an apologist for the current administration and someone who is simply incapable of criticizing the President or even the White House staff. Furthermore, Brian's gung-ho rah-rah enthusiasm for the Secret Service is well known and thus raises questions about his ability to be objective on the matter. I don't think Brian would admit lax security at the White House even if he was waterboarded by a couple of Secret Service agents.

In his Thanksgiving night interview Brian also said, "If this turns out to be somebody's fifteen minutes--the equivalent of state dinner balloon boy and girl--I think that'll be tragic and almost pathetic...." Is he kidding us? The Salahis aren't getting their fifteen minutes of fame because they crashed the White House dinner. They're getting their fifteen minutes of fame because Brian Williams and his cohorts at MSNBC and the other networks won't stop talking about how the Salahis crashed the White House dinner. Brian Williams complaining about the Salahis' fifteen minutes of fame is like Dr. Frankenstein complaining that the monster he created is running amok and wreaking havoc in the village. In the past week, Nightly News has broadcast a virtual non-stop loop of Salahi videos and photos. The videos have also appeared ad nauseam on every MSNBC talk show. On Tuesday, the Salahis were given a prime spot on The Today Show despite the fact that they had absolutely nothing to say. And Brian Williams has the nerve to complain about them getting their fifteen minutes of fame? That is the height of hypocrisy. Brian Williams is part of the problem, not part of the solution. He gave them their fifteen minutes (and a few extra minutes for good measure). His network and his broadcast (of which he is the managing editor) aggressively promotes and fosters people like the Salahis and the Heenes. And let's not forget that NBC and Bravo (owned by NBC Universal) helped create and nurture the grotesque culture of reality shows that currently pervade American television. If not for the networks that gave rise to the reality show feeding frenzy, people like the Salahis and the Heenes would probably be channeling their energy towards auditioning for community theater or putting on puppet shows for the neighborhood kids. Clearly, NBC has an interest in promoting the Salahis, since they may appear on an NBC Universal show. But even if the Salahis aren't selected for Bravo's "The Real Housewives of D.C.", they've already been given more airtime (or at least more valuable airtime) on NBC than they would have received on Bravo, a third-tier cable channel. And we can, at least in part, thank Brian Williams for that.

Postscript: It seems that Michaele Salahi posed for a picture with every celebrity at the state dinner--except for Brian Williams (Mrs. Salahi's picture with Katie Couric has been widely circulated). So while the Salahis' judgment about how to become famous may be horribly skewed, their judgment about which evening news anchor makes a more valuable photo op appears to be quite sound.

Congratulations, Buddy!

Congratulations to Brian Williams on his fifth anniversary as anchor of NBC Nightly News. In that short period of time, Brian has managed to transform Nightly News from a serious and respected news broadcast to a quasi-reality show that devotes more than half its time to stories about cuddly animals, celebrities, weather, movies, terminally ill children (and the people who care for them), medal of honor winners and anything else that is of interest to Brian. Not to mention all the "news stories" about sponsors' products and other NBC Universal TV shows. Nightly News has become the ninth half-hour of Today. And then there are the "Making A Difference" segments. I would estimate that over the past five years, Nightly News has devoted over 2,000 minutes to these segments. That's about 35 hours worth of news time. And not one of those stories has ever contained any actual news. So keep up the good work, Brian. I can only imagine what Nightly News will look like in another five years. By that time, it will probably have merged with Access Hollywood and Extra (the shows that follow it in much of the country) to offer one big 90-minute celebrity-fest--anchored, of course, by Maria Menounos.

Now that Comcast is finalizing their purchase of NBC Universal, let's hope that NBC's new owners are serious about returning the NBC News division to its once-prominent place of respectability. In order to do that, Comcast will have to make some serious personnel changes, specifically with regard to the president of NBC News, the executive producer of Nightly News and the weekday anchor of Nightly News. But please--don't replace Brian with Maria Menounos. That was just a joke.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Bottom Of The Ninths

On Sunday's Nightly News story about President Obama's impending decision on whether to add troops in Afghanistan, Mike Viqueira told us that the President has held nine meetings with top advisors over the last three months to decide on a strategy. As Viqueira said this, the screen split into nine boxes, each purporting to show a photo from a different strategy meeting. But on closer examination, each of the nine photos was identical. If the Nightly News producers had photos from each of the nine meetings, why didn't they show them? And if they didn't have those photos, why did they try to trick the viewers into thinking they did?