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Ed Driscoll

Network Evening News Ends with a Whimper

April 26th, 2011 - 4:44 pm

At Commentary, Peter Wehner bids Katie Couric adieu:

It’s official: Katie Couric is stepping down as anchor of the CBS Evening News.

A generation ago, this would have been a huge event; today, it’s essentially a yawn. I follow politics far more closely than most Americans – and I don’t think I’ve ever watched Ms. Couric anchor the CBS Evening News. Not even once. And aside from Couric’s interview with Sarah Palin in 2008, I can’t think of a segment that was on the program that ever created a ripple, or even generated a comment. It isn’t that her show was bad (I have no way of knowing); it’s that it was irrelevant.

One other thing: Ms. Couric made her announcement official in an exclusive interview with… People magazine.

Which highlights how news and celebrity worship has blurred into something beyond traditional satire. Speaking of which, since many viewers consider faux-journalist Jon Stewart to be “America’s Most Trusted Newsman,” as a 2009 HuffPo headline blared, why shouldn’t traditional TV journalists start working the other side of the street? While Walter Cronkite of CBS once appeared on his network’s Mary Tyler Moore show as a friend of fictional TV producer Lou Grant, that was an aberration, not a career goal. But these days, this Newsbusters headline isn’t all that surprising: “New York Mag Gushes: ‘Isn’t It Time We Took the Comedy of Brian Williams Seriously?’”

According to New York magazine, Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is a “versatile” humorist who now has a “second career” making people laugh. In a gushing, 3600 word piece, writer John Swansburg went so far as to fawn, “He’s a confident, kempt success in a profession dominated by neurotics and Apatovian man-children. Isn’t it time we took the comedy of Brian Williams seriously?”

For proof of the anchor’s hilarity, Swansburg quoted NBC employees Tina Fey, Seth Meyers and Jimmy Fallon to attest to NBC employee Williams’ comic talents. The New York journalist lamented that “Williams has yet to really receive his due as a comedian.”

Oh you mean besides his comedic stylings each night at 6:30 PM.

How badly have the once-mighty fallen in the days of the Internet and hundreds of cable and satellite channels? As Jazz Show writes at Hot Air, guess whom the Guardian of England identifies as the “Top US News Anchor:”

In what should have been a throw-away puff piece in the Guardian, Hadley Freeman inadvertently stirs up a pair of minor tempests for teapots. (And for once it’s a story from across the pond that has nothing to do with the royal wedding.) The first issue pops up in the article tag line as well as the lede graph.

Rachel Maddow: ‘I’m definitely not an autocutie’

The top US news anchor on why she prefers jokes to anger and why she is proud to be gay

It’s 10.05pm on a rainy Tuesday night in the MSNBC studio in the now famous New York address, 30 Rock, and Rachel Maddow – one of the highest profile news anchors in America and certainly one of the most popular with liberal viewers – has just finished another edition of her nightly eponymous prime-time show.

Really? That comment raised more than a few eyebrows on this side of the Atlantic to be sure. Not to take anything away from Maddow or her fans, but if I recall correctly, she wasn’t even the highest rated anchor at MSNBC until Olberman left. That’s not to say that she and her network haven’t been doing fairly well in the ratings war. But as of the latest count, MSNBC came in second over the whole day to Fox, 1.002 million to 426K, a better than 2:1 margin. In her own time slot, Maddow comes on a bit stronger, placing second with 959K to Hannity’s 1.4 million. And those numbers don’t even fold in the network news offerings.

And as a reminder, even the anemically-rated Katie Couric received approximately five million nightly viewers last summer.  And that was bad enough for the Daily Beast to claim, “One person described the atmosphere inside the network as ‘sepulchral.’”

But then, as their geriatric-themed sponsors tacitly highlight, the Big Three networks are maintaining their evening news broadcasts as a service to those few remaining, often sclerotic viewers too terrified of the Internet to log on. That’s a far cry from the MSM’s monopolistic glory days, as Hollywood screenwriter turned center-right pundit Burt Prelutsky wrote back in 2005:

You can go back to Chet Huntley, David Brinkley, John Chancellor and Walter Cronkite. We treated them all with a deference that was totally out of proportion to the work they did. Essentially, the job description requires that they read the captions to the news footage we’re watching and to introduce the on-site reporters. Do you really think that constitutes the mental equivalent of heavy lifting? For doing what your uncle Sid could do — and with a lot more pazazz — they’re paid enormous amounts of money. On top of all the dough, they are constantly the honorees at testimonial dinners, but that’s fine, so long as I don’t have to attend. But the trouble is, they’re regarded as important people by way too many of us, and that’s not good. Why? Because it makes us all look like a bunch of saps — what H.L. Mencken called the boobus americanus and what P.T. Barnum simply labeled suckers.

Because these anchors get to spend their entire careers talking about important events and important people, they naturally come to regard themselves as important. Self-delusion is a form of insanity and we should not encourage it by fawning over them.

When they finally sign off for the last time, you notice that the testimonials inevitably mention how many political conventions they covered, how many space missions, how many inaugurations, assassinations, uprisings and wars, as if they had had a hand in any of these earth-shaking events. It wasn’t their hands that were involved, it was their behinds, as they sat year after year at those desks, declaiming in those store-bought voices what we were seeing with our own eyes — all thanks to the journalistic peons who actually went places and did things and took risks so that we could sit home and watch it

Now, I’m not saying we should kill the messengers. I’m just suggesting it’s time we stopped canonizing them.

The Guardian aside, I think we’ve reached that point, particularly since a lot of potential viewers will be responding the name of Katie’s likely successor with a resounding, “Huh?” (See also: Larry King’s successor on CNN, the paternal equivalent of Rula Lenska.)

Of course, if CBS really wanted to shake things up, there is one name they could hire to replace Katie

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