Friday, March 30, 2007

At least Moran's got better hair

When Ted Koppel left "Nightline," he gave the audience a quick quiz, listing three different names and asking the viewer to identify them. Supposedly it was the same quiz he gave to the show's interns; as it turns out, he had named the three predecessors to Peter Jennings, Tom Brokaw, and Dan Rather. I'd repeat those names here, but I can't because I don't remember them, which pretty much emphasizes Koppel's point. "You've always been very nice to me," Koppel said. "So give this new 'Nightline' anchor team a fair break. If you don't, I promise you the network will just put another comedy show in this time slot. And then, you'll be sorry."

Granted, some argued that 24-hour news channels like CNN should have made "Nightline" obsolete, but I don't think that was ever the case. I don't think you can compare a well-produced 30-minute program on "Nightline" with cable news, not when most long-form cable news programs consist of live, talking head discussions (or rabid, inchoate debates, depending on which program you're talking about).

In the years since his departure, Koppel's presence has been missed, but for reasons he did not discuss. It's not the new faces that disappoint, it's the format. When Koppel ran the show, it was essentially a daily news documentary on one interesting story; sometimes, it would take multiple nights to cover every detail. Now, each show covers three short stories in newsmagazine fashion.

There's no reason a half-hour program of short stories can't be compelling and informative, but compared to the old show, not only has coverage been diluted, the stories themselves don't carry the same impact. The lead stories usually just scratch the surface, and the "Sign of the Times" stories often consist of something so cloying and frivolous, it's cringe-inducing: a story on baby spas, bilingual babies, pampering puppies, and possibly the most common topic, the public's fascination with celebrities (apparently, we haven't milked that one for all its worth).

So what I'd like to know is: how is this better than "another comedy show"? Does a light story on "couch surfing" (reserving couch space instead of hotel rooms) outstrip a typical broadcast of "The Daily Show"? Or even a decent installment of "Weekend Update" (even if SNL is in the pits right now)?


At Friday, March 30, 2007, Blogger KY said...

This might bleed into what we were talking about in class - the status of news reporting now versus a decade ago, or even less, and the fine line between news and entertainment. Primetime news is dropping the ball, according to many individuals knowledgable about good broadcast news, but to the general public, what's to say that they prefer at least some level of pure entertainment in their news programs. What's the difference between a comedy show and today's primetime news? Perhaps not much, but maybe that's what people what, so let's give it to them, right?

At Friday, March 30, 2007, Blogger HAW said...

I just started watching Nightline recently, so although I can't compare it to the show in years past, I disagree that it's too light and fluffy. It may not always be groundbreaking journalism but it usually puts together some pretty good stuff. The best thing about it--- it's interesting and it keeps your attention. Every night when it comes on, I have full intention of switching the channel to David Letterman, but I get hooked on Nightline. I keep saying, "I'll just watch a few more minutes then change the channel." That never happens because they tease (usually in a clever manner) something that really catches my attention, and I find myself watching the whole show. It moves really quickly and I think that's why it works. Okay so it may not be "high brow" enough for some but, hey, maybe society is changing. Maybe everyone is a little more laid back and I think I'm okay with that.

At Saturday, March 31, 2007, Blogger J? said...

I would have to agree with the most of this post. Sorry for the unintentional rhyme. Nightline and its hard hitting reporting giving way to light stories is sad. But I am very sick of people like Ted Koppel. Old style journalists who think their ideals are what everyone else needs to conform to. Ted Koppel has this insufferable arrogance that he knows what people "need" to be informed about. In today's world, we can get news from so many different sources and people are going to consume the type of news they want. If Nightline was coming every evening with stories on the war and the failings of the Bush administration we would tune out. If nobody is watching, then who cares what is on the air?


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