In his new film, Will Ferrell plays a self-absorbed 1970s-era San Diego television anchorman who is a vapid egomaniac. The film's concept may be many things, but it will never be described as "far-fetched."
Ferrell's character, Ron Burgundy, even looks like former San Diego anchorman Harold Greene, complete with perfect hair, bushy mustache and slightly surly demeanor. Greene was famous for getting into a fight in the press box during a Padres playoff game. According to legend, he also duked it out with a shopping-mall Santa Claus once, but that may be nothing more than fond mythology.
Chances are Ferrell has never heard of Harold Greene. Most likely, his Ron Burgundy character is simply a composite of a thousand Harold Greenes, an ode to pompous news readers everywhere.
Regardless, it's doubtful that Ferrell's characterization will spark waves of protests from irate local TV news viewers, offended at the portrayal of San Diego TV anchors as arrogant idiots. Everyone in the business knows, in this case, the stereotype is reality.
The exceptions are guys like Hal Clement and Marty Levin, who actually come across like real human beings, a claim that most anchors find difficult to make. But Clement and Levin are "local guys" who keep their jobs because they've worked in town for eons and have high "Q" scores, which measure a TV personality's recognition in the community.
In terms of moving on up, it's understood that Clement and Levin aren't going anywhere in the TV news game. The industry prefers the young guns, the saucy wench with the glint in her eye or the studly hunk who likes to model underwear in his spare time, when he's not scouring crack alleys for new sources.
Ferrell's Ron Burgundy may be a throwback to the '70s, but little has changed in the anchor game. If anything, the job is even easier these days. Unlike the Ron Burgundy generation, modern anchors are rarely called upon to go out into the field, where there are icky bugs. In the olden days, when he worked for Channel 10, Michael Tuck actually offered up regular commentaries; now he spends more time working on his intense gaze.
The basic skill set necessary for the modern anchor is fairly simple. Beyond the ability to look good in business attire, a candidate must be able to read at an eighth-grade level and speak clearly, without any noticeable facial tics. That's it.
These skills put anchors one step up the food chain from spokesmodels. At Burger King, these qualifications wouldn't get a candidate past the fries station. Paris Hilton is over qualified.
Personality is generally frowned upon in the anchor game. Personality might piss off a few viewers, and the one thing essential to being a TV anchor-more than anything else-is the ability not to piss off anyone. Intelligence and sincerity are optional. It's far more important that an anchor be able to act intelligent and sincere than to actually be intelligent and sincere. The job is easy street once an anchor masters the fake sincerity game, the ability to look into the camera and introduce a story on penis pumps without cracking a smile.
While overworked staffers scurry around, desperately trying to meet deadlines, the typical San Diego TV anchor usually arrives at work at 2 p.m. and spends the next hour or so reading newspapers, drinking lattes and engaging in high-level discussions with the news director. Most might write a story or two-or, more accurately, rewrite the stories-but mostly they prepare for the newscast by perfecting their makeup and practicing how to say all the big words.
Once the early evening newscast is out of way, it's off to dinner. At that point, the anchor's only requirement is to make it back to the station in time for the 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. newscast, preferably sober.
For this, San Diego anchors are paid anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000 a year, with Tuck probably topping the scale.
In other words, anchoring is not a bad gig if you can get it. The only job easier is weather. Weather dudes need only look at the weather report and fill about three minutes a night with the high and lows-and sobriety is optional.
But anchors are the real stars.
And this is where all the attention lavished on these well-manicured news readers turns into something more than another of society's cruel jokes.
At a time when news budgets are shrinking, instead of paying reporters, producers and photographers, who may actually improve the station's ability to cover news, the stations hand bucketfuls of money to stuffed shirts and saucy soccer moms to read the news.
Sweaty news directors justify the salaries and star system by arguing that anchors are the biggest factor determining whether or not people watch a newscast. At the same time, they wonder why viewership for local news continues to shrivel.
Afraid to buck the consultants and focus groups, news executives ignore the fact that the vast majority of newscasts with highly paid anchors bomb in the ratings. All those highly paid anchors are not bringing in the crowds, despite their great diction.
In this environment vapid Ron Burgundy would still be a star. He would be making six figures and playing golf at the Del Mar Country Club. As the movie's promotional material notes, he might even be governor of California. ©
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and editor@SD citybeat.com.