I gave up television for Lent, and I gather from reading the papers that I was just in time. Some perfectly horrid items concerning the airwaves — or at least that segment of them oxymoronically known as “broadcast journalism” — have popped up in recent days.
Numero Uno, for PBS viewers, is that Ken Bode — the low-key moderator of the quintessentially low-key program “Washington Week in Review” — has been canned in a particularly graceless manner. The suits told him that the show needed more “edge,” “attitude” and “opinion.”
Right. Just what we need: one more public affairs program featuring knee-jerk opinionmeisters screaming at one another.
“Week in Review” is mostly noted for having distinguished reporters sit around and analyze the news they cover. It definitely lacks “edge.” Week after week, nothing but Bosnia and health care and Supreme Court decisions, and no one ever yells or interrupts anyone else.
PBS is now backing away from the stink it created by canning Bode — issuing reassuring noises about how “Week in Review” never, ever will be McLaughlinized. They just want it to be a little — just a very little — more like … well, McLaughlin.
And speaking of El Gasbagissimo, MSNBC has decided that once a week is not enough — they will put McLaughlin on for half an hour every night.
Attention, programmers! Here’s a nifty idea. Let’s skip the gradual descent of television news into Jerry Springer-dom and cut to the chase. We all know what the real pattern for more and more news programming is, so let’s go for it, root hog or die. Professional wrestling (and isn’t that a great oxymoron?) is our goal and role model.
So, dress John McLaughlin in purple tights with a pink feather boa and have him jump up and down on Eleanor Clift, who’ll be wearing a Batgirl outfit. Morbid Morton Kondracke can toss Pit Bull Pat Buchanan across the set while Puny Paula Zahn gets Terrifying Tom Brokaw in a hideous headlock and forces him to squeal “CBS is best, CBS is best!”
We get Hollywood Hogan and Junkyard Dog to settle the Balkan problem: One enters the ring wearing a robe with Serbia on it, while the other wears Kosovo, and they duke it out. The winner then mud-wrestles Savage Sammy Donaldson for Bosnia.
George “The Body” Will coat-hangers Belligerent Bill Safire. Gorgeous George Stephanopoulos body-slams Hefty Geraldo Rivera, while Tiny Timmy Russert pulls the scorpion death drop on Chris “Macho Man” Matthews. Big Bad Bill Buckley gets Timber Wolf Blitzer in a figure-four leg hold, while Walter Cronkite, reffing the match, tries to pry them apart.
And — this is the key part — they all keep talking the whole time; no one is ever silent. Then — cage matches!
Everyone will have edge and attitude, and it will blow “Washington Week in Review” right off the air.
For years now, I have argued with editors and colleagues that real news is not boring. It doesn’t have to be written in a boring way, as in, “House Bill 327 was passed out of subcommittee by a unanimous vote on Tuesday.”
I’ve always believed in peppy news writing. “If the senator’s IQ slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day” is my idea of objective reportage. So, imagine how pleased I am that the rest of the profession is finally catching on; there are hitherto undreamed-of frontiers of infotainment.
After viewers tire of the professional wrestling format, we set the news to music — we can rock it, we can rap it, we can rave it, we can jazz it up, we can set it to old Hank Williams tunes. Death Metal News, The Blues News, The All-Polka News Hour.
Then, we can turn the news into a musical; 1776 was a big hit on Broadway, why not 1999? Pretty girls in the chorus, lots of high-stepping dance numbers — we’ll finally get people with real talent in the news biz.
After the audience gets bored with the musical approach, we’ll have to go for the ultimate crowd-pleaser and ratings-grabber, the one we used so successfully all last year. Yes, friends, what this country needs is not sex in the news, but sexy news.
I think we should start with anchors in scanty costumes and work up to “The All-Nude News.” Kinky sex acts while reporting congressional votes, perhaps a striptease while reporting from the Pentagon — there are many ways to make the news more interesting, and I believe that television will find them all.
And then, after people get sick of the sex format, we can try something totally different like — “Washington Week in Review.”
Molly Ivins is a former Observer editor and a columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Her latest book is You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You. You may write to her via e-mail at [email protected]