Wow. It’s t-minus 33 days and counting to the Katie Couric News Show on CBS and it looks as if the producers will turn television news on its head after all! They're promising something "unlike anything that currently exists on a network evening news broadcast!"
It was announced today: "Free Speech": a segment of opinion and commentary from a wide range of Americans...
”‘Free Speech' will be unlike anything that currently exists on a network evening news broadcast,” said Rome Hartman, Executive Producer, CBS Evening News. “We are not looking to pit one side against another or to broadcast shouting matches -- there's already more than enough of that on television. And it won't be a collection of the 'usual suspects' or 'talking heads;' in fact, we intend it to be just the opposite of that.”
Free Speech will feature a wide and diverse group of voices commenting on an array of subjects. One night, the segment may feature a well known national figure speaking out on a current issue in the news, while the next night, someone may offer a humorous take on a trend in the culture, or it might be Bob Schieffer's unique take on Washington or the world….
Of course, they add: “At the outset, it will be from people we seek out. We DO hope to eventually find a way for people to pitch us…”, but-- whoa!
Hold on a second. Commentaries? People looking into the camera reading prepared essays off the TelePrompter? Including people who are not trained in the use of TelePrompter as Katie is? Old glad-to-be-anywhere Bob Schieffer offering a homespun take on the Beltway crowd? Jon Stewart reading a piece written by one of his Harvard-reared staff?
In the words of Ed Murrow, we can “see it now”:
“I’m Al Gore. Here’s what I think of global warming…’
“I’m Larry David’s wife on alternative energy…”
“I’m James Brady on gun control…”
“I’m Rosie O’Donnell on gay marriage…”
“I’m Rob Schneider on Mel Gibson…”
What is this? Radio? The Wilton-North Report? Don’t they realize that there is no deader segment on any newscast or live show than the part where some civilian reads a prepared essay off a TelePrompter? Someone from the West Coast bureau should send some tapes of KTLA’s Hal Fishman, who does a commentary a night.
Les Moonves, are you approving this? You’ve been cutting away at CBS News, destruction is nigh, so go ahead, blow it up! Pit one side against another! Broadcast shouting matches! God. Back in the 80s, working for WNBC-TV News, we had to log the Tom Brokaw show every night, and sit through closeted old John Chancellor’s (“Chancel-LORE,” as the old queen would remind anyone within earshot in his fussy later years) soul-sucking commentaries. Our eyelids begin to drop just thinking about it.
And that's they great innovation they came up with after Katie's promo tour? Maybe they'll learn to not hand-pick the audiences next time around.
Here’s the problem as we see it: TV news execs may gut a division and dump a show, but when it comes to getting the replacement on the air, they fall back on the comfort factor and rely on the same producers who worked on and created the shows of the past. New executive producer Rome Hartman, we’re sure, is a very nice fellow. But he’s been with CBS News since 1983! He’s a CBS lifer. He’s indoctrinated in the CBS way of life (see the Prologue to Tabloid Baby) and hasn’t experienced the world or newsgathering outside the privileged rarified CBS fishbowl.
Hint: New blood. New ideas.
A new theme song by the guy who wrote the Titanic soundtrack is window dressing. Unveiling “commentaries” as some kind of revolutionary news feature tears open the chest and reveals the heart of the operation.
Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.
Then again, Les may be letting the last of the CBS Mohicans be hoist on their own petards. Because with a start like this, don’t expect Katie to be with the show for long, or for the show to be on the air much longer.
The Katie Couric Countdown:
Thirty-three fingers to liftoff!