Saturday, January 29, 2005

Bad ideas... or am I just cranky?

• I know copycat trends are an inherent part of pop culture. But I can still roll my eyes when I see them coming. Whenever something's a success, others try to shoulder themselves in the door while it's still open. Good business? Maybe. But wouldn't you rather be the one who established the trend? According to yesterday's USA Today, publishers are trying to capitalize on the success of The Daily Show's "America: The Book" by releasing their own political and social satires. May we just assume that most of these will be bad imitations? As much as I enjoy Bill Maher and Air America Radio, will either of these efforts be the right book at the right time, as "America: The Book" was? Will they be as cleverly funny?

• In a commentary for MarketWatch, Jon Friedman has some suggestions for changes CBS can make in its evening newscast. As I've said before, I think this is something worth keeping an eye on; shaking up the status quo can be an exciting thing to watch. Friedman has some interesting ideas, but this made me cringe: "CBS' next move should be fairly simple, really. It should take a hard look at what's hot today in popular culture, such as Jon Stewart, blogs, MTV and ESPN's "SportsCenter."

Well, two out of four isn't bad, I guess. MTV and "SportsCenter"? When's the last time you watched MTV? (Okay, maybe you watch "The Real World.") And with all of it's goofy gimmicks - "Hot Seat," "Fact or Fiction," "Top 10 Lists" - "SportsCenter" is almost unwatchable for anyone who just wants to know who won last night's game. Friedman's point is that CBS needs to entertain its viewers. I agree. But man, don't pander.

Friedman also suggests that CBS "could show only a few stories per night and present the news in an in-depth way, rather than simply broadcasting the tried-and-true format of headline/footage/interview/correspondents' air time." I thought a news show already did this; it's called "The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" on PBS. But okay, he's talking about pulling in younger viewers. PBS? You got me there.

He also says, "CBS must also make sure the program is interactive and includes the viewers. This would introduce a new element into the nightly news, so the viewers don't have the impression that CBS is talking at them, instead of speaking with them, in a sort of a dialogue." I think Friedman's right, but I wish he'd have suggested how CBS do this. Watching an anchor read viewer e-mails isn't necessarily good TV. And online polls have been done to death (Hello, "SportsCenter"). Do you ask viewers want kinds of stories they want to see on the next night's or next week's news? Hmm...

Friedman's best idea, I think, is having an "irreverent" editorial, a la The Daily Show or The Onion, at the end of each broadcast. It'd be nice to have that kind of perspective each night; it's why The Daily Show feels like such a relief at the end of each day. But that's a line you'd have to toe carefully, depending on the day's news.

Okay, I've lost all of you, haven't I? Enjoy your weekends.