Tuesday, April 13, 2010

At The Movies With Brian Williams

Over the past month or so, the Nightly News producers have been aggressively padding their broadcasts with clips from movies and TV shows (even more so than usual). Here are just a few recent examples:

*April 11--A story about the Los Angeles budget crisis included a clip of Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" monologue. A story about Tiger Woods used a clip from the previous night's "Saturday Night Live". And an obituary for Dixie Carter featured a clip from "Designing Women".
*April 8--A story about a smoking ban on U.S. Navy submarines included a clip from the movie "Crimson Tide".
*April 7--A story about an airline charging a fee for carry-on luggage used clips from "Meet the Parents" and "Home Alone".
*April 5--A story about Butler University playing in the NCAA finals featured a clip from "Hoosiers".
*April 4--A story about a toddler who fell into New York's East River included a clip from "Manhattan".
*April 2--A story about the Republican National Committee used clips from Jay Leno's monologue. A story about the iPad used clips from David Letterman, Stephen Colbert and the TV show "Modern Family". An obituary for John Forsythe included clips from "Charlie's Angels", "Dynasty" and "Bachelor Father".
*March 31--A story about the death of Jaime Escalante featured clips from "Stand and Deliver".
*March 29--A story about the death of Ford Mustang designer Donald Frey used a clip from the Steve McQueen movie "Bullitt".
*March 24--An obituary for Robert Culp included clips from "I Spy".
*March 18--An obituary for Fess Parker featured clips from his TV portrayals of Davy Crockett and Daniel Boone.
*March 13--A story about WW II hero John Basilone included clips from HBO's "The Pacific".
*March 11--An obituary for Merlin Olsen used clips from "Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy".

And since the beginning of the year, Nightly News has also featured clips from "The Hurt Locker", "White Squall", "Dear John", "Avatar" (on at least five different broadcasts), "Up in the Air", "Transformers", "Iron Man", "Sex and the City 2", "The Hangover" and one of the "Harry Potter" movies. (I'm surprised that Nightly News's ongoing coverage of the Vatican scandal hasn't included clips from "A Man For All Seasons" and "The Tudors".) And I lost count of how many Leno and Conan clips Nightly News ran in the weeks and months leading up to Conan's last "Tonight Show" appearance. It's obvious why Nightly News runs so many clips of Jay, Conan, "Saturday Night Live" and Tina Fey. Brian Williams and NBC News President Steve Capus have decreed that one of the Nightly News commandments is "Thou shalt relentlessly promote other NBC shows". They did it when Conan was preparing to take over "The Tonight Show" from Jay, and they did it when Jay was preparing to take the show back from Conan. Promote, promote, promote. Night after night after night. Shoehorning clips of Leno or SNL into news stories is just shameless self-promotion. Never mind that those clips have no relevance to the stories. Promote first and ask questions later. In February, Nightly News featured 160 minutes of Olympic-related stories. That's the equivalent of seven entire broadcasts (when you factor out the commercials). And it's certainly no coincidence that on Nightly News, the majority of TV actor obituaries are for actors who starred in NBC shows. Pernell Roberts ("Bonanza"--NBC), Merlin Olsen ("Little House on the Prairie" and "Father Murphy"--both on NBC), Fess Parker ("Daniel Boone"--NBC), Robert Culp ("I Spy"--NBC). At Nightly News, obituaries are just a way to promote DVD sales for NBC Universal TV shows. Using actors' deaths to sell DVD's--that's pretty shameless.

And as far as all those movie clips are concerned--well, that's just a way to maintain and increase viewer interest (which translates to higher Nielsen ratings and ultimately higher ad revenue). Why just show a news story when you can show a news story that features Gene Hackman, Catherine O'Hara, Ben Stiller, Woody Allen, Edward James Olmos, Steve McQueen, George Clooney or an avatar of Zoe Saldana. When a company wants to increase sales for one of its products, they get a celebrity spokesperson to appear in their ads. When news producers want to increase viewership for one of their broadcasts, they get a bunch of celebrity spokespersons to appear on their shows. The NBC research department has obviously determined that soft news and tear-jerker stories about cute animals, sick children, orphans, the weather, military families, popular culture and people who are "Making A Difference" attract more viewers than hard news stories about the economy, politics and suicide bombings. People like seeing Hollywood stars on the news. It makes them feel comfortable and relaxed. Susan Boyle, the Salahis, Tiger Woods, the balloon boy--more comfort news. Clearly, the Nightly News producers are trying to make their broadcast more and more like the shows that follow it--"Extra" and "Access Hollywood". And there's no doubt that they are succeeding. In the not-too-distant future, these shows will probably merge into one mega-spectacular production called something like "The Extra Nightly Access Hollywood News Hour". You heard it here first.

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