Commentary

TV Juggles Ads And Programs In Midst Of Tragedy

There was lots of death at Virginia Tech, lots of analysis, and, at times, fewer TV advertising messages. 

CNN's "Showbiz Tonight" leapt on the story -- offering up a segment about whether we've become desensitized to real violence through TV violence  -- and what to do about it.

CNN's "Nancy Grace," which focused on those 33 deaths at the college, ended with Grace's usual American hero tribute -- another U.S. soldier who had died in Iraq, bringing the number to 3,308. Some newscasts even segued into a mention of a "deadly" storm battering the Northeast.

Networks scrambled to cover the event throughout the day. Some, like NBC and ABC, had limited advertising during their evening telecasts. CBS had a special hour-long show.

ABC's "Nightline" did a one-hour show about the shootings at Virginia Tech.  In the first half hour, the ads ran this way, Pfizer's Celebrex, Subaru Forester, Men's Warehouse, Dodge Ram, and then Audi.

Every TV newscast reminded us that this was the worst shooting, the worst massacre in U.S. history. This is news -- and yet this is business. How much are people interested in this story? Networks are always in hot ratings competition, yet deadly tragedies transcend all that -- Columbine, Oklahoma City, and, of course, 9/11.

TV assignment editors across the country looked for sidebars. One Los Angeles TV station, KABC, offered up a story about on-campus police teams at local universities such as UCLA.

Newscasts then moved on to other stories, other advertising. Car manufacturers continued to advertise -- not out of disrespect, one guesses, but because life goes on.

How do you segue from one news event to another? You really can't. Michael Wilbon of ESPN's "Pardon The Interruption" said exactly that when moving from the Virginia Tech massacre to other seemingly less important stories like San Antonio Spurs Tim Duncan's ejection from a basketball game.

But maybe this isn't enough. If TV violence --  the real kind, not the scripted --is that shocking, perhaps TV should just go dark for a while. No comedies, no advertising, no late-night-TV-talk-show laughter.

Or, is it like CNN "Showbiz Tonight" muses -- are we just so desensitized to violence that our TV life, our real life, and all advertising in between just keep going, relatively unabated?

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