Wednesday, December 30, 2009

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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.

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