TV's Biggest Disappointments (And Annoyances) in 2013 - News Edition

by , Dec 30, 2013, 1:26 PM
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The Grinch is continuing his look back at television's biggest disappointments and annoyances during the last twelve months. This time he is focusing on all the things about TV news networks and programs that irked him. Remember -- a celebration of the medium’s best of 2013 will follow in the New Year.

Almost Everything About CNN. What has happened to the grandfather of cable news networks? CNN has had its issues in recent years, but thinking back over more than three decades I can't recall it ever being so completely unimportant or so easily forgotten about. There is simply no chemistry between any of CNN's anchors and reporters -- and from what I have seen, none of them have much of a connection with viewers, either. Anderson Cooper may be the sole exception to this; sadly, he seems to be adrift in a sea of mediocrity. (Also, I don't think his annual shenanigans with Kathy Griffin in Times Square on New Year's Eve have done much to boost his news cred, but that could be the Grinch in me talking.) I think Piers Morgan is a good interviewer who is capable of starting and maintaining interesting conversations, but his show lacks the appeal and urgency of its long-time prime-time predecessor, “Larry King Live.” (Could the problem have anything to do with Morgan's garish, visually repellent set?) Here's hoping the network turns itself around in 2014.

Almost Everything About MSNBC. Why do I always get the feeling that so many MSNBC anchors and their guests are smirking at the audience? Why do so many of them attempt to emphasize what they are saying by waving their hands? And what's with all the speed talking? I sometimes think their heads are going to explode, like those unfortunate folks in the 1981 David Cronenberg movie “Scanners.” They are free to do what they want, of course -- but they should know that perpetual forced smiling, breathless hyper-talking and frantic hand movements tend to prompt people not to lean forward but to sit back and turn away, regardless of what is being said. Maybe that's why MSNBC's ratings remain so low.

Those Giant iPad-Like Screens on the Fox News Deck. Fox News this year bugged me the least of the three cable news networks, largely because I think it does a better job on the technical level of engaging viewers. But I was a bit overwhelmed by the screens that look like over-sized iPads that fill much of the new Fox News Deck. I don't tune in to watch people work, which is what everyone standing near one of those things seems to be doing. Energy should flow from news anchors to the camera, not from anchors to screens (and vice versa). At first pass the new Deck looked silly and overdone, but now I think it's kind of cool, even if the largesse of it all seems unnecessary. I have to wonder: Why are all three cable news nets so challenged whenever they attempt to modernize their sets? They should just negotiate with the BBC to acquire sections of Doctor Who's TARDIS and be done with it.

The Attack of the Sleeveless Women. They were everywhere this summer. Many of them stayed throughout the fall. A few of the hardier ones are braving the winter. They are … the Sleeveless Women of TV News and Infotainment. I realize this gripe ought to be directed toward the fashion industry, which seems often to betray no interest in or understanding of the lives of real women (or men), and also to the media that fawningly covers it. But this is a TV column, so … can someone please tell me why every woman on every morning news show and every infotainment program this year felt the need to dress exactly alike in sleeveless, scoop-necked, above-the-knee, brightly colored frocks that often fit so snugly as to look breath-constricting? Most of them had the same hair, too! (I'm guessing there were hundreds of extensions on display, but I know little about such things.) Every one of these women, regardless of age or size, is very attractive and looks just fine on camera. So why did they do this to themselves? Or perhaps the better question is, why are they allowing their (mostly male) employers to treat them like Barbie dolls? I suggest they all resolve to assert their individuality in 2014. They can start by looking to Barbara Walters, Diane Sawyer and Jane Pauley for inspiration. These veteran newswomen have always dressed for success, but never to the degree that they looked silly or uncomfortable.

3 comments on "TV's Biggest Disappointments (And Annoyances) in 2013 - News Edition".

  1. Chris Simpson from AU/SOC
    commented on: December 30, 2013 at 4:51 p.m.
    from one Grinch to another -- your comments on sets & style are valid, but they miss the point. Cable TV news is steadily losing viewers and dramatically losing credibility because about 90 percent of its content is sterile, repetitive, and superficial. Exceptions are so rare that a middling-competent news report is viewed as extraordinary and award winning. And don't get me started on the 'Jesus is white' level of deliberate ignorance among news readers....
  2. Jonathan McEwan from MediaPost
    commented on: December 30, 2013 at 7:54 p.m.
    I don't watch all the news channels, but CNN has gotten more over dramatic and desperate over the last year. "Look! It's raining! Look at the ice on my camera bag. There could be an accident. Something bad might happen, if it gets worse. But it won't. But then it just might..." I love Anderson, he's got the gravitas tempered with an ability to laugh at his own jokes and himself when warranted. Piers. Is there a nut job in this country he won't invite on that garish set of his to talk about how much better things are in the UK than the USA? Seriously. What happened to them?
  3. James Smith from J. R. Smith Group
    commented on: December 31, 2013 at 2:38 p.m.
    Wow Ed, those were some really good points. My fundamental gripe is that the news nets are gathering inertia on the trajectory taking them far from their ‘true-news-roots.’ Did you ever get the queasy feeling that program X doesn’t really seem appropriate to air on a given net? It’s getting pretty dismal when you can’t figure out a way to make news and real information content engaging enough to draw sufficient eyeball counts. After all, ice caps and glaciers are melting and the Blue Ridge Mountains could become beachfront. That seems pretty dramatic to me. Is this all the fault of the providers or viewers? Viewers might reject linear programming but they still have to watch what’s produced and available. Are these shows given season two green lights because they averaged a .3 compared with the previous time-slot occupant’s .2? Remember sampling error? Ah, that’s too complicated…besides, .3 is bigger than .2. Here’s some random thought-fodder. Rain in Atlanta is not a crisis and branding winter storms isn’t going to keep index fingers off the remote (but it would be nice to see more of the jet stream). One 30 minute dose, taken before bedtime, of foodie Anthony B. should sate most appetites. An interview with six financial wizard guests doesn’t promote solid and considered issue analysis but it does promote a false sense of chaotic urgency. You mentioned ‘hyper-talking.’ The word-per-minute speaking rate of some business news anchors exceeds the information processing speed limit of most brains (even those in the 18-49 demo) …but hey, it’s the fast paced world of business. And finally, in a couple of years, will any network be left standing that hasn’t tried to clone ‘Pawn Stars?’ (With compliments to ‘Antique Road Show.)

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