All the fun has gone out of mocking local TV news. There's no joy in it anymore. It's like making fun of the blonde fashion model with a great boob job who wants to be accepted for her brains. It's too easy.
Sure, there is a certain amount of glee to be found in dissing a Stan Miller or Jeff Powers, the hunky stuffed shirts who are paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to act like journalists. But there's nothing new to the joke anymore, no hope that any of the local stations will get the joke.
This may seem like an odd conclusion-odd, as in, who the hell cares?-but it says something about the community when the most visual and powerful media in the community is relegated to a cheap punch line.
To paraphrase an old Woody Allen joke, local TV news has become a parody of a mockery of a sham. Will Ferrell's Ron Burgundy is funny because the audience can recognize more than a few familiar traits in the buffoonish character.
In the same way, The Daily Show works because it nails the true nuances of the form, the blizzard of exclusives and breaking-news reports and reporters standing in front of meaningless backdrops trying to furrow their brows when they talk about icky stuff. It reveals with stunning clarity that there's really only a slight difference between the satire and reality. Why watch actors trying to do real news badly when you can watch smart people doing fake news well?
If Jon Stewart read KUSI's nightly script instead of Michael Tuck, it would be the funniest show on TV. The only distinction is that Tuck delivers the news with a straight face, not guessing that the audience may be chuckling at his mock seriousness as he reads the latest exclusive report on pet safety.
Broadcast News is often cited as the most accurate satire of the shallow forces driving the industry, but a closer cinematic reference point for local TV news might be To Die For, which starred Nicole Kidman as a murderous airhead who just knew she was destined for stardom as a weather girl.
Kidman's vacuous character knew that all it really takes to succeed in the TV news game is a big smile and a decent résumé tape, and maybe a few thugs willing to knife any beauty-queen bimbo who gets in your way.
That was the cliché about TV news 20 years ago and it hasn't changed a bit. If anything, it's truer today than ever before, evident in the army of sparkly kids covering news on San Diego's airwaves.
At one time, the typical TV news reporter might have actually worked at a real job-maybe on a newspaper or writing or editing at a TV station-before earning a spot on air. Now they start by doing stand-ups in Montana, move on up to Yuma and then they're off to San Diego to do live reports about boating safety on Mission Bay, a "report that could save your life."
These days, the qualifications for a local TV news job are closer to car-show spokes-model than big-time reporter. The reporters who move up are the ones who can nail a live shot without stammering. If they have nice teeth, that's even better. For candidates who are noticeably stupid, but still have nice teeth, the station can always assign them a field producer to make sure they don't drool during newscasts.
Local TV news is all about playing a role, acting like a serious news organization. Any news director who says differently is lying. They all talk about the commitment to news and service to the community, but any crackhead watching the news can see the truth.
In recent years, Channel 8 didn't try to improve its news product by spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on experienced reporters, flooding the streets with bloodthirsty crews hunting down news. Instead they dumped the "I-team" and spent the big bucks on talking heads Denise Yamada and Tuck, only to dump them when the ratings didn't improve. Now they're paying Miller the big bucks, hoping that his diction and nice tan will propel the station to new ratings heights.
There is clearly a huge disconnect between how local TV news sees itself and how the rest of the world sees it. TV news professionals believe they are working in an honorable profession, fighting for truth and justice. The audience sees the local news as something to fill the gap between weather reports and commercial breaks in Seinfeld.
In many ways, local TV news is in danger of becoming irrelevant. Even when one of the stations does break news, it's often ignored or trivialized, a blip, easy to dismiss.
News directors like to point to their ratings to prove they have an audience, even though those same ratings show viewership of local news is steadily plummeting. And ratings certainly give no indication of how many people watching actually respect TV news, or how many feel it is important.
Delusional news directors truly believe viewers sit at home and think, Hmm, Hal Clement is a sincere guy, but KNSD had that exclusive last week on bikini wax, so I think I will watch Marty and Susan at 6 p.m.
That's a joke, but it's not really funny anymore. TV news is supposed to be important, not comic relief.
Write to MsBeak1@aol.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.