Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Opinion in TV News

On his radio show today, Rush Limbaugh said that he was approached by a cable tv news exec asking for advice on what he would do to "fix a cable network." He didn't mention which network, but that is interesting to see he was being solicited. In talking with people who work at CNN and MSNBC, I can say that this is a subject that they've spent hours wondering about.

Everyone knows that FNC well because it fulfilled an unmet need, but it also gets eyeballs is because its hosts project an aura of likeability (even O'Reilly in his own way) but they also don't take prisoners which makes them more entertaining, which is, after all, the main reason why people watch TV in the first place.

Related to this is an op-ed in today's NYT from my old favorite Don Hewitt, formerly of CBS, in which he says that broadcast news needs to have more labeled opinion pieces in it. He's right on the money. No one wants to watch slightly toned-down opinion pieces that talk down to them and imply that opposing policy X is the equivalent of eating your veggies. It's crap and no one under 40 wants to watch it, especially since most people think TV on-air people are airheads.

Of course, any such effort in order to be successful needs to be both interesting and have opposing points of view. In the past, CBS tried boring balance (Remember those Clinton v. Dole segments on "60?" Neither do I.), and bombasticism (Bill Moyers). Neither went very well with the viewers. What such segments would entail would be to get people like Mark Steyn or James Wolcott to come on in solo commentaries without the dog-and-pony show "debates."