Sunday, May 16, 2010

360 Friday: Anderson Cooper Tries Out A Talk Show Format With A Live Studio Audience

Hi everyone. I can't say I've really given this whole 360 Friday talk show thing much thought. Honestly, I was pretty skeptical that it would ever actually be filmed, much less see the light of day. But air it did, and as your trusty reviewer, I suppose I shall weigh in. This post is just going to focus on the format. They're supposedly continuing coverage of the race study next week, so I'll deal with content at that time.

My initial visceral reaction upon viewing the first few minutes of the new format was to be fairly weirded out. It was my show. But it wasn't my show. You know? Actually, the experience was almost akin to having a dream about the show. Like, you know how sometimes you have a dream about your house, and you know it's your house, but there are extra rooms or something? It was kinda like that. It wasn't a bad dream. It wasn't like suddenly being naked in front of your ninth grade science class. But it also wasn't awesome like that time you dreamed you made out with Collin Farrell either. Ahem.

For my regular readers, it probably goes without saying that this 360 Friday format is not the route I would take to save them from their ratings woes. But dismissing the entire concept just because it's not exactly to my liking is rather unfair, so I shall just work with what they gave me. I will, however, note that at this point I really don't have the slightest idea of what they're trying to do. Years ago, I would have just assumed that the big cable news show had elaborate plans that I the lowly viewer couldn't begin to grasp. Yeah, not anymore. These days I'm not confident they know what they're doing either.

I'm not even sure who this new format is geared toward. It really had the feel of something that was trying to cater to their fans or regular viewers. So, I dunno, maybe they're trying to shore up their base. Because it seems rather counterproductive to try to use this format to gain new viewers. The other four days of the week the format is different. How's that supposed to work? Unless of course this whole thing is not so much about ratings as it is about them only having to do four live shows a week.

Or maybe they're going to try to change the entire show over to this format, which I think would be a colossal mistake. How that would work and what that might do to Anderson Cooper's career is beyond me. There are a lot of issues in that scenario to ponder (issues that I can guarantee would be written about extensively in the press if this speculation came to fruition), but I'm waaaay ahead of myself here. They just had their first show. It's a little too early to say the eulogy for the original 360 format.

Though I have my criticisms, there was no part of the show that I considered to be a train wreck, and there were a few parts I quite liked. For example, the intimacy of the set itself was a nice change of pace. Logistically, I know it can be hard to get all the guests in the studio, but it really does make a difference. I am so sick of heads in boxes. I also loved that for the most part, the screen remained uncluttered. No obnoxious graphics and sound effects or irrelevant technology. Just the necessities and a little bit of bump music. Now that's something I wish they'd adopt for all five days of the week.

The conversation itself had a Real Time with Bill Maher feel, which is a show I like a lot. Unfortunately, I have my doubts that 360 can capture that show's popularity. Anderson Cooper is not Bill Maher; he's an objective journalist. The reason shows like Real Time and The Daily Show work so well is that the hosts have a distinct point of view. It's not always a point of view that can be pigeonholed as left or right, but it's a point of view nonetheless. And that goes against everything Anderson has strived for in his professional career. So what is our anchor's role? Moderator? That's what he always does. I suppose it's something to tinker with.

Something I'm not sold on is the live studio audience. It's just, well, weird. I'm not so sure I actually want to hear them laughing and clapping. I'm also wondering if 360 has considered the accusations of bias that might come their way. Look, I don't think it's any secret that 360's viewership seems to skew left. I don't state that comment as a reflection on the show--for the most part I believe they do try to be objective. You can't help it if your viewers don't land equally on both sides of the partisan divide. So, my question is, what happens when liberal guests/viewpoints consistently get more applause? Or even worse, what if a conservative is booed? People will begin to notice.

I also think 360 is severely underestimating the draw of live television. Are Fridays really always going to be taped now? Meh. That's not must-see viewing for me. There's no urgency with a taped special; no possibility of anything truly amazing happening. If it's a subject I'm interested in, I'll usually try to catch it, but as a general rule, taped news is not something I schedule into my day. Not to mention the fact that this new format means that live news would stop for the west coast at a ridiculously early time. Yes, they've got someone doing live updates, but c'mon.

That's pretty much the meat of my criticism. As far as the odds and ends, at times the tone felt uneven, and some of the laughs felt forced. Personally, I wouldn't write many jokes; I'd just let them happen. For a guy who is a reporter, Anderson has crazy good comic timing. When it comes to humor, he wields a scalpel, not a mallet. Please don't try to make him into Jay Leno. The whole "have you seen this video, Kevin?" thing was pretty awkward. Don't get me wrong, I love Kevin, but my first thought was, "oh God, a sidekick."

I think the entire quiz segment needs tweaking. Given this was the first show, that's pretty natural. Also, it was great to see Jack Gray, though again, his appearance had me wondering exactly who this show was geared toward. Despite his gabillion Twitter followers, how many people actually know who he is and what he does, versus those who just casually read his funny tweets? I'm not sure that question can even be answered. But he was presented as someone we should know. And if they're working on shoring up their base, that's perfectly appropriate. If not...I just don't know.

It'll be interesting to see where this goes. I hope they're successful in what they're trying to do--whatever that may be. But I also hope that it involves maintaining the integrity of a news broadcast. Remember, so far it's just been one show. This could all get scrapped next week or it could be the beginning of a massive shift at CNN. Only time will tell.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what to make of it either. I like AC and he was actually very good in this format. It is the contents and also the guests that I think I did not find particularly appealing. I also felt that the discussion on race dragged on a bit too much (though it was an important topic). I still miss the old (red) 360. If 360 is looking to increase its ratings, it should go back and look at the red 360. Segments such as Nth degree, or (I forget the name now) segments that have AC and a guest discuss a lighter topic towards the end of the program were nice. Nth degree was one of the best things that has ever happened to 360 and for the life of me, I can't understand why they won't bring it back. I don't know what is wrong with 360 nowadays. It is just so so boring, most of the time. Even AC looks like he is bored. I ask myself why I still bother sometimes. The thing is...AC is good. He is very good. It is rare to have a journalist who can do hard news and have fun with celebrity stories at the same time.


6:29 PM  
Blogger eliza said...

@Patty: I agree that the guests weren't anything to write home about. Though the tone was lighter, Donna Brazile and Mary Matalin just felt like same old, same old.

I actually really liked the segment on race, though I did wish we would have gotten it in the more serious 360 format. I don't know, maybe I'd change my mind if given the opportunity to compare the two.

I hear about "red 360" a lot. I wasn't a regular viewer then, though I did watch sporadically. Honestly, from what I remember, there was a lot of fluff in that broadcast and missing white girl-esque crap.

I've seen some of the Nth degrees and they were really cute and funny. Despite being a self-identified news snob, I have no problem with a few minutes of fun. But you can't build a show around that. It's not going to improve their ratings.

From my point of view, "red 360" is dead and fans just need to move on. It's been five years. It's a different time slot; a different news landscape. Even Anderson's position at the network has changed. I also suspect some fans are longing for something that never really was.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes, true--there was some fluff. I think it is OK to present a mix of news if they only do fluff at the end, not be obsessed with it, spend only a small portion of time on it, and do it in a fun and an unique AC way.

You are right. Things are different. It is the 10 pm timeslot, which is different. I just wonder if they can make the program more interesting. I miss the old 360 because it truly was fast paced and dynamic. It was more engaging and was full of energy. But I get what you are saying.

8:08 AM  
Anonymous pebbles said...

I'm not a fan of 360 Friday too, it's just so-so for me although AC seemed more relaxed - maybe because it was taped. One of the producers tweeted it's still a work in progress, so I don't know let's see what happens. He said there are 2 more shows planned for it as of now. So this isn't something permanent, I think.

1:53 AM  

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