Jewish World Review March 8, 2002 / 24 Adar, 5762

Greg Crosby

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Anchors away -- AS if the war on terrorism wasn't enough, we now have "the battle of the network news stars" spilling out throughout the media and all over the place. First came the news that ABC was attempting to woo David Letterman away from CBS and had offered him the time slot currently occupied by "Nightline" and "Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher." That got everyone at ABC news really nervous.

It also got "Nightline's" long-time anchorman, Ted Koppel really mad, so he wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times criticizing the ABC executives who claimed his show was no longer relevant. Then Barbara Walters chimed in, saying on her show, "The View," that it wasn't right for ABC to treat Ted as "dispensable and irrelevant." I guess Barbara wants to keep that job-description to herself exclusively.

Next, USA Today reported that anchors Cokie Roberts and Sam Donaldson of ABC's Sunday morning news show, "This Week" were going to be dumped and replaced by the younger and much more in-your-face team of George Stephanopoulos and Claire Shipman. ABC brass denied it of course, but the following day, Cokie Roberts announced that she would definitely be leaving the show next fall. That got everyone at ABC news really, really nervous.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that CBS offered Letterman an annual salary of $31.5 million plus performance bonuses to stay put and ignore ABC's $31 million offer. Evidently, ABC also offered to pick up the annual production cost of Letterman's show (around $40 million) if he would agree to make the move.

And just to be on the safe side, CBS started talking to Howard Stern as a possible replacement for Letterman if he decides to split. That would be like hiring Andrea Yates to take care of your kids after Mary Poppins quits.

Although some critics explain the ABC actions as a shift away from news in favor of entertainment, I really don't see it that way. It's all about demographics. Whether it's news, or variety, or talk, or the mating habits of the African tsetse fly, the networks don't care what they broadcast as long as they can capture the younger viewers that advertisers crave -- period. And, for better or worse, the news shows just don't attract those young viewers -- at least not the way they're currently presented.

But who's to say that with a bit of tweaking, some renovating, a little modernizing, the television news programs couldn't attract that all important demographic? Sure, with some creative thinking, the networks might very well be able to make news appeal to the youth of America. But it's got to be hip. It's got to be edgy. It's got to be hot. It's got to be obnoxious. It's got to be ... VULGAR. That's it!

Just think, for starters there could be the "ABC World NEWZ Tonight with P. Diddy." "The NBC Nightly Nudes." And "CBS Nooz with Dan Rapper." All the shows would feature news clips with music tracks. Videos with quick cuts in sync to today's hottest tunes. You've heard of MTV? Well, this is NTV, dude. And don't forget to jazz up the lighting, too. Strobes flashing in time to the constant pounding back-beat. And no matter what story you do, make sure you do it REALLY LOUD AND DISTORTED.

In the beginning, TV news anchors looked like newspaper reporters. After awhile, the networks figured out that people would rather watch people who looked like movie actors. Well, now it's time to change the look again. If you want young people to tune in, hire news anchors who look like ugly rock musicians -- or convicts -- it doesn't really matter, they look about the same. Lots of rings and studs and stuff stuck into their face, tattoos, some kind of bizarro hairdo, black leather jackets, baggy clothes, you get the idea. And when they talk, make sure they talk really fast and incoherently. It's important that nobody can understand a word they say -- except for the four-letter words, of course.

Some of the other tried and true news/magazine shows can be salvaged too, with a few slight alterations. Change "20/20" to "20 Something/20 Something." "60 Minutes" needs to become "60 Seconds" in keeping with today's shorter attention spans. The Sunday news shows definitely have a place on the schedule, but that place shouldn't be Sunday. If you move the Sunday morning news shows to Saturday nights and substitute stand-up comedy and music for news, those programs will get a much bigger audience share and a younger demographic.

But suppose television really started eliminating news altogether. What then? What would America do without Tom and Dan and Peter? Would more Americans start reading newspapers again? Probably not. But, you know what -- it just might be worth a try.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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