Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Very, Very Special Nightly News Broadcast

Monday's Nightly News broadcast was special. How do we know that? Because Brian Williams told us so. He began the report by saying, "Tonight, special coverage of the blizzard of 2010...." By "special", I guess Brian meant overlong and unnecessary. Of course, Brian did find it necessary to report on the blizzard from outside the studio. Why? Because he obviously thought that stunt would help his ratings. In Brian's world, everything is about the ratings. There was absolutely no journalistic reason for him to be outside. The story could have been reported exactly the same way from inside the studio. But there he was standing in front of a giant snowdrift. Or was that his giant ego? It was hard to tell--they look similar. The first thing Brian did was to direct our attention to the "world-famous 30 Rock Christmas tree". World-famous? I wonder what people in Belgium or Kenya or Turkmenistan would think about that. I hope they don't feel inadequate for not knowing about America's most famous landmark. Two minutes into the broadcast, a Nightly News graphic informed us that 6,000 airline flights were "Canceled." Five minutes later, additional graphics inform us that flights from Delta, US Airways and American Airlines had been "Cancelled". So within five minutes, Nightly News managed to spell the same word two different ways. This is incredible. Not to mention appalling. Is anyone at Nightly News paying attention?

But enough small talk. Next, it was time for Brian to talk about something really important. For the next two minutes, Brian and Michelle Kosinski talked about the cancellation of Sunday's Eagles-Vikings game. Why would they spend that much time on something so unimportant? Because the game was supposed to air on NBC. And--more importantly--because the game was rescheduled for Tuesday night. On NBC. So Brian had to make sure to plug the game. For two minutes. Never mind that Lester Holt had already told us earlier that the game was rescheduled for Tuesday. That obviously wasn't adequate. Brian needed to make the point himself. Here's how he started the segment: "We mentioned this other casualty of this storm and if you're an NFL fan like our household, it was a big deal...." Casualty? Does Brian understand that people may have actually lost their lives in this blizzard? Those are the casualties. Not a football game. He and Kosinski tried to manufacture some sort of controversy over the game's cancellation. I don't think anyone really bought that. Does anyone actually believe that Brian would spend more than ten seconds talking about a football game's cancellation if it was airing on another network? Of course not. Brian's #1 rule is : promote, promote, promote. The FCC should require Nightly News to put the word "PROMOTION" on the screen in big flashing red letters whenever Brian is using Nightly News airtime to promote an NBC show.

Altogether, Brian spent thirteen minutes reporting on the blizzard. Half of that would have sufficed. And after the first commercial break, Brian spent twenty seconds narrating footage that showed him walking back into the studio from the snowdrift. Brian considers footage of himself entering the NBC Studios to be news. That is beyond belief. Except for people familiar with Brian and his massive ego. In that case, it's to be expected. We then saw yet another story about holiday shopping followed by more commercials. After the break, there was a 25-second story about the Obama family in Hawaii and a 47-second story about a conversation that Pres. Obama had with Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie. About Michael Vick. Of the Eagles. The same team whose game was cancelled and who will be playing on Tuesday. On NBC. So this was just another shameless 45-second promotion for Tuesday's Eagles-Vikings game. Again, there is not a chance in hell that Brian would have mentioned the Obama-Lurie conversation if it was not useful in promoting Tuesday's football game. On NBC.

The broadcast's final segment had to be seen to be believed. It was a bloated, sappy tribute to (as Brian tells us) "the staggering toll of notable names who departed from all of our lives this past year." This was so ridiculous for so many reasons. First of all, each one of these people already had an obituary on Nightly News during the past year. There was absolutely no reason to repeat their obits. Second, it's obvious from this segment that Brian fantasizes about hosting the Oscars. This is his version of the Oscars' annual tribute to actors who passed away during the previous year. And it's notable that this segment spent roughly twice as much time on entertainers and sports figures as it did on political, journalism and literary figures. That makes sense, since Nightly News makes a point of spending way too much time "reporting" stories about singers, actors and sports figures. Of course, that's the way Brian wants it. He chooses which stories and obituaries to report, so the broadcast's emphasis on entertainment is simply a reflection of his own personal tastes. Everyone knows that Brian spends most of his broadcast reporting on things he likes, rather than reporting on things that are newsworthy.

So let's recap. Thirteen minutes on the blizzard (including the time spent promoting the football game). About 3:30 on the shopping story, the Obama family story and the Michael Vick story. And 4:50 on the tribute to dead people. Not a shred of actual news on the entire broadcast. Yes, Monday's Nightly News was certainly one for the ages. NBC should submit it to the Peabody Awards evaluation committee.

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