Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Best Of Anderson Cooper 360 In 2008

The listicles continue! It's that time of year again. Yesterday, I posted my choices for the worst of 360 in 2008, which means it is now time for the praise-heaping to begin. I like doing that much better. As previously stated, the majority of the picks have been chosen by me, using my memory and a quick trip through my archives. I have also taken input from two other long-time 360 viewers. If you think I've left something out (and I've no doubt left out plenty) or disagree, feel free to chime in and leave a comment. Now on to the lovin!

I'll admit, when I heard Anderson Cooper tease this interview as "probably the toughest McClellan has faced," I might have raised an eyebrow in bemusement. But dang it if he wasn't telling the truth. Probing questions. Passionate follow-ups. This was our anchor totally on his 'A' game, leading me to deem the interview one of Anderson's best ever. Unfortunately, it got a little tainted when Dan Abrams decided to be a jerk and play fun with editing (you'll notice most of those clips don't even include Anderson's questions), but there was praise to go around as well. All in all, a most excellent job.

I debated on whether to include this because it wasn't exactly done by 360, but logistical issues and work put into the special no doubt affected the regular broadcast, so I think it merits inclusion. As I stated in my recap and review of PIP, the CNNers should be proud. Traveling across the globe is no small feat, and to do it in pursuit of important stories that the public may not exactly be clamoring for, is an admirable undertaking. All of the segments were informative and engaging, though Sanjay Gupta's reporting from Peru probably stands out as the strongest of the bunch. I look forward to the third installment of this series and respect CNN for their ratings-be-damned mentality when it comes to this issue.

One of the most frustrating things about cable news is their seeming belief that if anyone spends more than a few minutes discussing a specific topic, everyone will spontaneously burst into flames. This sound bite world we live in almost ensures that news is delivered to the masses lacking context. Not so with the map table. The discussions conducted during these specials are intelligent, thought-provoking, and often educational. In my prior post I derided the ever-present panels, but this is an example of conversation done right. I only have one request: more please.

Not long ago, you could ask any long-time 360 viewer to identify the show's biggest problem and you would almost always get the same answer: consistency, or actually, a lack there of. I know I myself have previously deemed this show the most inconsistent I have ever seen. It used to be that viewers had no idea what they were going to get and when they were going to get it. Would 360 be leading with Britney Spears? Doing an excellent hour on foreign issues? Nobody knew.

It was to the point that I had great difficulty describing the show to other people--even though I had been watching for years. But something happened in 2008. Aside from a few slip ups, I can now actually expect to see real important news at the top of the show every night. The sensational stories are still done (of course), but they've mostly been relegated to their own 'crime and punishment' segment, and the more trivial matters (and fun) have rightly found a home at the end of the broadcast.

The show has also exhibited a stick-with-it-ness that I'm not sure we've seen before concerning the segments ("The Shot," "Beat 360," even the retired "What Were They Thinking?). They used to pretty regularly start a segment, only to forget about it or ditch it a few days later. Though I would like to see a slight overhaul of the show regarding the panels, I hope they stick with this new-found consistency.

The financial coverage hasn't always been as deep as I would like, and I know I've noted previously that it would have been nice to get some good investigative coverage of these issues before everything went to hell, but I still think 360 should be commended for stepping up and calling out. They took on some powerful people (surely none too thrilled) and even made viewers ponder their own culpability in the economic disaster. Could the financial coverage have been better? Sure, but the attempt, and the fact that they're staying on the overall story is a step in the right direction. Honorable mention to hardworking financial guru, Ali Velshi.

Amid all the ridiculous pundits feeding us their wrong predictions, and sniping surrogates that had us scrambling for the remote, there was one really bright spot when it came to the coverage of the election: actual reporting! I'm really not that interested in what the chattering class of the Washington elite have to say about the problems that I face, but it's always a good thing when reporters bring us the perspectives of every day people just trying to get by. Though there were many correspondents that found themselves all over the good ol' USA, Gary Tuchman's reporting specifically stands out.

Whether investigating the persistent Obama-is-a-Muslim myth in Tennessee, taking a look at the nexus of politics and poverty in Kentucky, or following around everyone's favorite moose hunter in Alaska, Gary's stories were always respectful and engaging. Specifically in regards to covering Palin, it would have been easy for him to get caught up in the adoration from her supporters, or go the opposite route and turn snarky (which though enjoyable for me, would have admittedly been wrong). Instead, he struck a perfect balance, even with the piece where we learned that hey, you really can see Russia from Alaska. Here's hoping that 2009 brings less speculation and more actual reporting.

Let's face it, a lot of people who get booked on cable news are simply insane. Some of the conversations I've heard on the TeeVee I could never imagine going down in real life. This alternate reality where any statement is deemed legitimate for discussion often made the panels, shall we say, frustrating. That being said, as long as David Gergen is there, you know everything is going to be okay. The knowledge and thoughtfulness and just plain rationality that he brings to the table has resulted in proclamations of love and had me singing his praises on more than one occasion.

Sure, in the past I've noted his tendency to always give everyone the benefit of the doubt, even when they maybe don't deserve it. But in a world currently blanketed in cynicism, don't we need somebody like that? And yes, after watching him for a few years now I have come to the realization that he is, in fact, adorable. Besides, you have to love a man who knows how to boogie (Oh my God!). Honorable mention to the always amusing and informative Jeffrey Toobin.

Gay rights is not a subject that most outlets are exactly scrambling to cover, but 360 has done a good job keeping us informed of the battle, specifically concerning the developments regarding Prop 8. Though I understand that some viewers might find that the intense passion behind the issue results in annoying television, I thought the debates between Tony Perkins and Lisa Bloom and then Tony Perkins and Dan Savage were quite good. It should also be noted that, to my knowledge, 360 was one of the first to significantly cover the murder of Lawrence King.

This would be the spot where I dump everything that I want to mention, but don't exactly know where to put. One thing I've always admired about 360 is that though they take their work seriously, they don't really take themselves seriously. They realize that during this time of depressing news at every turn, it's okay to take a minute or two and have a little fun. Whether it's ambushing David Gergen with a declaration of love from Jessi Klein, asking Ed Henry's cameraman to pan out so we can see his shorts, playing "Single Ladies," for the 15th time, or conducting a mock "Voice of 360" contest, we've had some laughs in 2008.

The show also shines in their willingness to embrace new ideas. Yes, the webcast and live-blog are fairly gimmicky, but they're growing on me. Floor Crew Friday is a specific highlight. I've always had an affinity for behind-the-sceners, but who knew they could be so much fun! The Great Starburst(s) Debate of 2008 will go down in history. As for the regular blog, this year we saw it get quite the makeover. Fancy-pants! Not only is it more informative, with more perspectives than ever, it also allows us to read the comic-stylins' of the great Jack Gray. It's been quite a year. Here's to more fun and innovation in 2009.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh come on Eliza take off the rose colored glasses Anderson is a ghost of his former self. He doesn't care about his show anymore its all about the ratings. He's turned into what he used to loathe - a blow died anchor.

And as for your dissing of Dan Abrams at least Dan had the guts to give his opinion on subjects where as your beloved Anderson hides behind I won't give my opinion crap. Dan may no longer have a show, but at least he's following his bliss unlike some people.

11:00 AM  
Blogger eliza said...

@anonymous: It seems you didn't read my "worst" list or simply don't understand the concept of these listicles.

I wouldn't necessarily equate opinion-giving with guts, nor would I would identify Anderson as my "beloved" (again, see my prior post where he holds two spots)

I don't really have anything major against Dan Abrams. He got a fairly bum deal. Too bad his bliss seems to involve a big conflict of interest.

1:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If Anderson would do more interviews like the one with McClellan, it would make my year, it was blistering and a good argument against those folks who still aren't convinced he's a 'real' journalist. PIP2 was really well done, it may not have had the spark that last year's version with Jeff Corwin had, but the reports were engrossing. I hope they don't let the ratings prevent them from doing it again. 360's coverage of gay issues has been impressive and thorough, another welcome development on the show. As usual, I enjoyed reading your recap.

9:46 PM  

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