If It Ain't Brokaw, Don't Fix It: Anchor Sinks Gently Into A Good Night

Joe Mandese is filling in for regular TV Watch columnist Wayne Friedman who is off this week.

Perhaps the most telling signal that the network evening news business has lost its significance to the American public is the coverage that followed the retirement of television news' top anchor. There hardly was any.

While that may have been due in part to the fact that Tom Brokaw delivered such a long wind-up to his final pitch, giving us several months of contemplation before he actually signed off of "NBC Nightly News," the dearth of coverage is nonetheless striking given the quarter of a century that Brokaw reigned in the anchor seat.

Odder still is the fact that seemingly less significant TV milestones, like the series finales of sitcoms like "Frasier" and "Friends" captivated TV critics and trade reporters for weeks leading up to and following their final episodes.

It could be that TV news reporters simply didn't think it was news that a newsman was retiring, especially when the show essentially is going on. At least that's the way The Hollywood Reporter treated the passing of the news anchor baton from Brokaw to Brian Williams:



"In his first night in the anchor chair, Brian Williams picked up where Tom Brokaw left off. 'NBC Nightly News With Brian Williams' averaged 11.7 million viewers Thursday -- down from Brokaw's finale Wednesday but still well ahead of ABC and CBS, according to Nielsen Media Research," wrote the Hollywood trade, optimizing the lack of fanfare surrounding Brokaw's finale, and one of the few papers to actually cover it.

Another, critic Tom Shales' remembrance in this week's TelevisionWeek goes so far as to directly link Brokaw's retirement to the diminishment of network news, noting that he frequently wrote about Brokaw "back in the '70s and '80s, when network anchors seemed to command a lot more space in newspapers than they do now."

Oddest of all is the fact that the most significant Brokaw send-off came not from the consumer or business reporters that actually cover the TV business but from David Walsh, a writer for the World Socialist Web Site, published by But while WSWS may be good at political ideologies, it apparently doesn't have a feel for the TV news business.

"With a great deal of undeserved fanfare, 'NBC Nightly News' anchorman Tom Brokaw delivered his final broadcast December 1. Brokaw was an American celebrity - in Oscar Wilde's words, he was well known for being well known," reads the site's article, which adds, ironically and incorrectly, "His bowing out after 21 years on the job predictably became one of the major news stories of the day."

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