Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Fifth Hour Of Today

It's hard to imagine that Brian Williams can look at himself in the mirror without feeling a deep sense of shame over what Nightly News has become on his watch. Once upon a time, Nightly News was a serious news broadcast. But that was years ago. Now, it's a lifestyle/celebrity/entertainment/nature show that also features some news. In other words, Nightly News has become the fifth hour of The Today Show.

This week, Nightly News is featuring "Making A Difference" segments about celebrities. Clearly, the celebrity angle is much more important than the "Making A Difference" angle. This month is a sweeps period (when TV shows' ratings are used to set ad rates for the coming quarter). So shows go all out to feature dramatic season (or series) finales, gargantuan stunts and plenty of celebrity guests so they can achieve high ratings and charge high rates to advertisers. And although a news broadcast isn't supposed to engage in tawdry ratings stunts, Nightly News is jumping right in. All this week on Nightly News, it's celebrities galore. Sally Field, Will Ferrell, Eva Longoria, Ben Affleck and Usher will all be profiled as part of "Making A Difference". The last time Nightly News did a week of celebrity "Making A Difference" segments was last Nov. 9 through Nov. 13. That week was--not surprisingly--also part of a sweeps period. If anyone believes that's a coincidence, there's a bridge over the East River I'd like to sell you. It's appalling that Nightly News is using celebrities to boost ratings during a sweeps period, instead of devoting that time to actual news. For Brian Williams and his producers, it's obvious that high ratings are far more important than reporting news. And that's really a shame.

When Brian introduced Monday's segment with Sally Field, the first thing he mentioned was her Boniva ads. This is hardly surprising. Boniva is a heavy advertiser on Nightly News, and Brian was giving them some free advertising. But on the shameless scale, this pales in comparison to Friday, when Brian showed a preview of his interview with Field. In that clip, he spent 90 seconds talking with Field solely about her Boniva ads (including 15 seconds worth of actual clips from the ad). But wait--it gets better. Although Brian mentioned Field's early TV work in Gidget, The Flying Nun and Sybil, he NEVER ONCE mentioned (either on Friday or Monday) that Field stars in "Brothers & Sisters" because that show airs on ABC. He refused to mention it! So it's okay for Brian to use Field to boost his own ratings during a sweeps period, but he won't mention "Brothers and Sisters" for fear that he might give the competition an unintentional boost during a sweeps period. That is truly unbelievable.

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