Wednesday, April 04, 2007

An Open Letter to CNN: Stop Surrendering at 11 (Arachnae's Guest Blog)

Hi everyone. As I previously stated, my friend Arachnae will be giving us a guest editorial in lieu of Tuesday's review. But before we get to that I need to state that CNN is totally messing with my mornings. No more O'Brien twins?! Say it ain't so! Congrats to John Roberts and Kiran Chetry. I look forward to watching them, but I'm going to miss Miles and Soledad. Man, the news. It is a tough business. Anyway, Wednesday's review will be up Thursday evening. Now give it up for Arachnae:

CNN, you are the only all-news network to be airing live at eleven PM, and yet at least once a week, and often twice or even three times, you show a taped hour instead of using this to your advantage.

First, I want to say I understand why you show tape - you do make great documentaries and they just don't get the viewers they deserve on the weekends. And it's cost-effective to re-package stories shot throughout the week (or weeks) into a one-hour indepth look at a particular topic. And I understand that it can be disheartening to air new material at 11 PM and have MSNBC come along and rank you in the demo with a repeat of Inside San Quentin. But that's because you're trying to compete with MSNBC docblock trash, instead of counterprogramming against them.

You are weakening the brand identity of the 11 PM hour by schlepping all the old 'CNN Presents' and 'Special Investigation Units' into the slot. Eleven o'clock becomes a fleamarket - the viewer never knows what they'll find when they tune in, but they won't value it very much because you're training them to expect 11 PM to be the Dumping Ground of Old Documentaries.

Don't get me wrong - some of your one-hour presentations are unparalleled. Your recent hour with Thomas Roberts, Tom Foreman's The Lion in the Village, the hour with Michael Ware explaining the four wars in Iraq - all exceptional programming. It's the polygamy, the sex slaves, the everlasting battle at the border, that lead one to suspect you are trying to out-tabloid, or out-divisive, your cable news competition.

A lack of consistency at eleven drives 'appointment viewers' away. But there's no point in even trying to lure away the viewers currently watching MSNBC's docblock. If they'll sit through the umpteenth presentation of To Catch a Predator, the only way you can get their attention is to out-sleaze them. Please. Don't go there. Let MSNBC have those viewers.

You should be targetting the viewers who have just watched the end of their primetime broadcast Must-See show, and are making one last cycle with the remote, maybe on their way to the Weather Channel, perhaps defecting from their local news when the sports comes on. They'll wind up at Comedy Central or the Sci-Fi Channel if you're offering another taped hour of Canned News; stay live, offer panels, and see if you don't get them to stop.

What happened, by the way, to the lively panel discussions of yore? The James Frey fiasco, the National Geographic, the Blue Zone guys, the Sex Survey? Those were the days. Don't be a 'news snob', if you'll excuse the expression, about 'lifestyle' stories. You can cover lifestyle issues without being either fluffy 'daytime tv' or tabloid trash, and lots of these issues are of burning importance to many people.

I know we're always nagging, through this blog and with emails, if we think the show gets too 'fluffy'. But covering important life issues is okay as long as they are in addition to, instead of in lieu of, important 'hard news' stories on the war and the Administration's latest assault on the constitution.

Why not make the eleven o'clock hour a one-hour investigation and discussion of one (or at most two) topics? Here you could use a few pieces of tape - investigations you have previously done on the topic in question, to set the stage for the discussions that follow. Indepth reporting paired with follow-on lively discussions on topics of both interest and importance? I'd watch that. I'd even phone in. Sure, it would change the tone of the second hour from the first, but what's wrong with that? As long as people know what to expect; serious and current news at ten, indepth, possibly light-hearted or at least not breaking-right-this-minute stories at eleven. A change in tone doesn't dilute the brand nearly as much as importing a doc made for another series does, and frankly, 360 could stand a bit more frivolity, as long as it's not overdone. Hell, bring back Dave Chappelle.

Topics? Too many - pick some.

How about an hour on Conspiracy Theories: Why are They So Seductive? Investigate the 9/11 conspiracy theories, the Princess Di Was Murdered theory, Ancient Astronauts - there are tons. Have a few theorists on your panel - Dan Aykroyd would be great here. Have a few skeptics, to include an evolutionary psychologist to explain why they are so easy to believe. People need to know how the mind processes this kind of information. It probably won't wake up any of the theorists, but it might help the currently-unseduced in recognizing the warning signs.

How about the looming retirement crisis. With all the companies currently underfunding their retirement plans, what's going to happen if a few of them go under? Are there a dozen Enrons waiting to happen? Fifty Enrons? Ten thousand? Are we looking at a future where college graduates can't find jobs because their grandparents can't afford to retire? Will these 'disaffected youth' go on a rampage in, say, Chicago or Seattle?

The Population Implosion - the Pope's nagging, Italians aren't breeding fast enough. Native populations are decreasing all over Europe; if it weren't for immigration from more fecund nations, some countries' populations would be shrinking. Is this necessarily a bad thing? Haven't we been hearing for years that there's an upper limit on the human load the planet will bear? Why are demographers alarmed? Should we be?

What's going on in space, anyway? Stephen Hawkings (now there would be an interesting guest) says we should be pouring all the resources we're currently burning up in Iraq into manned spaceflight and exploration. It's time to found a few colonies. What's up with that? Why aren't we doing this?

Need more? I got a million of 'em.

But that's not my main thesis. My point is, Wolf routinely comes up with three hours of programming a day. Every day, day in and day out, Larry King sets up a discussion, either with one or multiple people. 360's constant state of flux at eleven, and the prevalence of repeats in that hour, dilute the advantage of being The Only News Net Live at Eleven, until it's hardly an advantage at all. Why throw it away? Use it.

5 Comments:

Blogger eliza said...

@Arachnae-Well, as I told you before, I'd have to debate you on some of your suggestions because I am a news snob and I wear the title proudly. :) Dave Chapelle and Dan Aykroyd? No please. However, I do agree that's it's okay to go lighter in the second hour as long as the first hour is chalk full of newsy goodness. The most irritating thing for me is when I watch the whole two hour show only to realize I haven't actually seen any hard news.

IMO one of the best hours 360 ever put together was the discussion with Michael Ware about the four wars in Iraq and that was just two people talking. Too often in cable discussion is reserved to soundbites and I would love to see hour long panels on certain subjects. Call ins are great too, though they pose a risk since you can't control the caller.

As I've said before, the whole reason I even started this blog was because though I love 360, it's one of the most inconsistent news shows I've ever watched. They're better than where they were a year ago, but it would still be great to see them really get a handle on the second hour.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Arachnae said...

@Eliza - well, tastes differ. Frankly I'd have rather heard Dave Chappelle's thoughts on Chocolate Jesus than that ass Donohue. Yeah, it was good television to have the jerk on and give him the leeway to show off his true stripes as a bully and an idiot, but 'at the end of the day', the people who think he's right aren't going to see what a jerk he is.

Which is why, incidentally, I think more media exposure to the principles of mind control (as I suggested in my 'conspiracy theories' hour) would not come amiss. How did the meme of 'Christians as victims' ever be allowed to take hold in the ideosphere in the first place? It's as ridiculous as the concept of White Males as Victims, the poor downtrodden things. *snort*

12:24 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

@arachnae-you mean, Christians and white males aren't victims?! Now I have to change my whole world view. It's funny, I've been a Christian my whole life and it wasn't until the past few years that I discovered that, gasp, I've been a victim this whole time.

Yeah, I'd rather listen to anybody than Donahue. I just think if 360 has a celebrity on it should at least be for a newsy reason. Like when they had on Cher. How awesome is Cher? Anyway, there should at least sort of be a line between entertainment and news.

I could go for a panel on the mind control thing. And you just reminded me of someone I'd love to see on: Philip Zimbardo. He's the guy behind the infamous Stanford Prison experiment and he's got a new book out called, "The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil". He was recently on The Daily Show and my unused psych degree and I geeked out, but it was much too short. I think Anderson would be into this too because I know he's been quoted about how everyone is capable of great evil and great kindness.

3:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Excellent post, some great points made. CNN would be wise in considering some of these suggestions.

A panel discussion/phone in would be great for the second hour. The interview portion of 360 is something Anderson does best and there needs to be more of it, plus the unpredictable element of phone-ins is something I enjoy also.

8:51 PM  
Blogger Maddy said...

I don’t understand why the show is having so much difficulty establishing a consistent format. I wonder if having one hour is not enough to do what they want but two hours is too much time to fill. I don’t know, guess I don’t understand why, after all this time, when I tune in I’m still not sure what I’m going to see on the show. Seems to me that AC360 is missing a golden opportunity to give their audience a real 360° look at issues that are affecting all of us. Anderson continually says that his program shows all sides of an issue. Well, if he is going to say that then he needs to do it and on a regular basis.

I too would love to see hour long investigations & discussions on different issues. There are so many important topics that I’d like more in depth knowledge on. For example, I really learned a lot through the special with Michael Ware on the four wars in Iraq. I came away from that special with a better understanding of what’s going on over there. I also really liked Combat Hospital, The Lion in the Village and What Is a Christian. I’d like to see more specials like that on 360 in the near future.

Not sure if I agree that the show could stand a bit more frivolity. I think one or two segments a night is enough but I agree Arachnae, the 11 p.m. hour leaves a lot to be desired.

9:41 PM  

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