Democracy Soup

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Posts Tagged ‘NBC

David Letterman is the bridge between Johnny Carson and the current late night crop

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Johnny Carson asked David Letterman on the “Tonight Show” in 1991, “Can you envision yourself 20 years from now doing your late night show?”

Letterman laughed, making it clear that he had no interest in lasting as long as Johnny Carson’s 30 years in late night.

The fact that Letterman lasted 33 years in late night speaks to two things about David Letterman. He would have been embarassed to say in front of Carson that he had that level of ambition. And Letterman wanted to outlast Carson in general and Jay Leno in the 11:30 pm Eastern time slot.

So if you are a Millennial and wonder if Letterman has gone past his prime, go back to that Johnny Carson episode in 1991. It’s not that Carson is bad, but that the talk show world was different from when Carson started.

David Letterman was that world for that generation. When “Late Night” started in 1982, the TV world centered around Baby Boomers. Late night TV had made a few pushes such as “Saturday Night Live” (thought the original cast had left), “Fridays” on ABC, and SCTV reruns on NBC. Monday-Thursday was the “Tomorrow” show territory but that show had an intellectual audience and had peaked a few years back.

In 1982, David Letterman was late night. Stupid Pet Tricks, The World’s Most Dangerous Band, Viewer Mail, velcro, legendary appearances (sometimes for the wrong reasons) from Andy Kaufman and Jerry Lawler as well as Crispin Glover.

Letterman would go outside the studio to dispute other NBC shows, national and WNBC-TV, New York. He would drop various items from a rooftop. This was not Carson by a long shot.

Letterman came up with a late night show that emulated Carson and also gave us something new. Letterman had a monologue and a band, but Carson had a longer monologue and a band that was more interested in old music than new music. Ironically, the shorter monologue and smaller band were demands from Carson to differentiate his show from Letterman’s. Turns out that helped Letterman greatly.

Then again, when Letterman had the opportunity to expand the monologue and band at CBS, he did both.

Letterman’s humor might have been too old for Millennials, but his music taste expanded instead of being held back. Carson would never have dreamed about having on what would have been the 1991 equivalent of First Aid Kit.

If Letterman is missing a beat these days, it’s that his style has lost some of its anger, its edge. Unlike the Incredible Hulk, we did like Dave when he was a little angry.

Letterman challenged his guests. Cher, Madonna, and Oprah had issues with that. Bill O’Reilly as well, but for different reasons.

Letterman might not voted for John McCain, but Dave had the presidential candidate on quite often, asking him better questions than his news counterparts. When John McCain blew Letterman off in 2008, and his people discovered the CBS News feed where McCain was on the Evening News, his feisty nature made for beautiful TV.

Letterman was sincerely hurt but recognized in the moment, and this happened while the show was going, that this was comedic gold. When Letterman shouts at the TV monitor, asking McCain if he needs a ride to the airport, the audience bursts into laughter and applause. The situation was legitimately awkward: pinch hit guest Keith Olbermann, in the height of his MSNBC run, looks shaken at what is going on.

In subsequent nights, Letterman went after the joke about being abandoned. Letterman’s efforts were rewarded as McCain went back on the show and admitted to a national audience that he had “screwed up.”

Jon Stewart had McCain on a lot, but after McCain turned the page, the presidential candidate never went on “The Daily Show” ever again. McCain did go back to Letterman.

That exchange with McCain was less than 7 years ago. Carson never had anywhere near that kind of moment in his last 15 years.

During the Jay Leno vs. Conan O’Brien battles, you wanted to watch for Letterman’s reaction. Watching Letterman’s take on Leno made you forget that they used to be friends and that Letterman helped Leno get famous during the Late Night era. But that anger made Letterman funny.

Letterman’s take on General Electric when the company bought NBC was amazing television. That is the major reason why Letterman didn’t get the Tonight Show. But the idea of taking on your bosses spoke to a generation that couldn’t do that in real life but could on TV through Dave.

Letterman’s comedy was about release. Throwing items off a roof to see what would happen when they hit the ground. Full disclosure: we did that in college though inside down the center stairwell in the process of emptying out our refrigerators at the end of the year. We felt the euphoria that Letterman and his audience did on TV.

So as Letterman does his last show tonight on CBS, Jimmy Fallon, Jimmy Kimmel, Seth Meyers, James Corden, Conan O’Brien, and in September, Stephen Colbert will be some of the many choices the current young generation will have to mourn their retirement years down the road.

David Letterman is the bridge between the old time talk shows and the current crop. In Letterman’s NBC show, he would often give credit to Steve Allen — the first “Tonight” show host — for borrowing some of his old bits. Every single major late night talk show host has Letterman to thank and credit for their success.

video credit: YouTube/Johnny Carson

Will political conventions have to survive on only 3 days?

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Now that political conventions are merely a PR pep rally, will they permanently shrink to 3 days instead of 4?

The Republicans started this trend in 2008, shortening the coronation of John McCain and Sarah Palin to 3 days to honor those who suffered under Hurricane Gustav. The Democratic Party chose in 2012 to not work on Labor Day, a day the Republicans were going to work in 2008 until the adjustment for the hurricane. Now the Republicans aren’t going to work on Monday thanks to Hurricane Isaac.

Of course, the GOP also took Monday off because the major networks weren’t going to cover the RNC since they wanted to give equal time to both conventions. The Republicans wanted the broadcast networks to carry Ann Romney’s speech. So now the wife of the presidential nominee will speak on Tuesday.

This trend wouldn’t have started except the major parties wanted to run their conventions as late as possible. They want the momentum to run as late as possible as people finally pay attention to the presidential race.

One night for the presidential nominee, one night for the vice presidential nominee, one night for the keynote speaker and the rest.

The networks don’t really want to cover the conventions: 3-4 hours is all they want to do. The FCC licenses for public service be damned.

NBC won’t cover the second night of the Democratic convention for the kickoff to the NFL season. The NFL moved its debut game early for the Republicans in 2008 so as not to interrupt John McCain’s speech. The Dems moved Joe Biden’s speech to earlier on Thursday. NBC won’t show Bill Clinton’s speech at the convention. This would be a good time to remind TV stations of the ability to show more than one feed through the digital spectrum, but stations are under using that technology.

Another good reason for the parties to start thinking about earlier starts. If not for the hurricanes, think about the difficulty of competing against the NFL.

As we said during the Olympics, let the games begin!

Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich can’t be pro-family if they are against food stamps

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Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich are at opposite ends of the GOP presidential polls, yet they are united in being clueless about food stamps. Santorum and Gingrich have enough experience in Washington to know better, but have proven that are woefully ignorant or lack in compassion or both.

Santorum pretends to not know the correlation between food stamps and obesity (i.e., cheap fattening food sponsored by the government), while Gingrich takes us back into a time machine with totally fabricated “welfare queens” stories about food stamps recipients.

For more of this shameful behavior, check out this report from our sister Web site, BalanceofFood.com.

Katie Couric’s CBS legacy is plagiarism, ethical violations, hypocrisy, and Sarah Palin

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The government may shut down soon, Medicare may go down the tubes, and Glenn Beck is leaving his show, but not Fox. But there was only one story to write about this week: the Katie Couric/CBS era is coming to an end.

It’s no often — or ever — that a nightly news anchor would move on to a syndicated talk show, but this is why Couric was never suited for the CBS Evening News chair. The comparisons ran to Barbara Walters and Tom Brokaw, like Couric, former “Today” hosts — and Walters and Brokaw went on to host the evening news. But Walters and Brokaw had a news background and a news sense; Couric never had either one.

Now, I thought this going into the gig — Couric would be a lightweight, wouldn’t be interested in news angles that didn’t involve herself. And these came true. What we hadn’t counted on was flat out plagiarism and ethical violations.

Funny how the tributes to Couric leave that out.

Let’s start with the major ethical violation: Katie Couric substituted a different answer in an interview with John McCain. The different answer was designed to make McCain look better. The policy was a direct violation of CBS News policy and basic journalism decency. But no one was punished, much less fired.

Then, the plagiarism: Katie Couric read essays on the air as if she had written them. She didn’t write any of them, and a producer plagiarized one of them. The producer was fired, but Couric wasn’t punished in any way.

Followed by the hypocrisy: Katie Couric lashed out against sexism in the coverage of the Hillary Clinton campaign, yet Couric had the most prominent sexist line asked of Clinton. Who was the reporter who asked Hillary Clinton, “Someone told me your nickname in school was ‘Miss Frigidaire’. Is that true?” Katie Couric.

And that Clinton interview, outside of the sexism, was horrendous, and interviews are supposed to be Couric’s specialty.

Who earned $15 million a year to languish in 3rd place in the TV news race, yet had to have Bob Schieffer sit at the political desk to help her when she clearly didn’t know what she was doing? Katie Couric.

We should note that Couric’s legacy with CBS does include the Sarah Palin interview. You could argue that Couric got lucky, both with a naive simpleton for an interview subject and that the previous interviews didn’t draw out that much of the subject. Credit where credit is due: Couric pulled off a good interview.

And these are the skills she used on the “Today” show and she will use in her syndicated future. The truth won’t be as important, her ratings might not suffer, and she’ll still be making too much money.

Whoever takes over the CBS Evening News will have to overcome the taint that Couric has given to the program. The legacy of Edwards, Cronkite, and Rather was significantly damaged by Couric. But CBS now has a low threshold that the next person can re-establish some of that credibility. What we know for sure is that CBS can’t do any worse than Katie Couric in the evening news chair.

How U.S. TV news stacks up compared to news around the world

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“different, honest, reactive, independent, direct, live, transparent, open, expert, fair, cutting-edge, undiluted, everywhere, any time”

Are these words that describe your TV newscast?

If you live in the United States, likely not. The words above played in a promo for Euronews, available on the MhZ Networks. The service plays on digital channels of various PBS stations throughout the country.

You could point out that words to describe a news service in a promo don’t mean they are true in reality. Like “fair and balanced.”

But those are words we should strive for to have in a TV newscast. There was a moment, maybe, where newscasts pretended to be some of those things. Now…

Let’s think about some of the 14 words.

“Any time” — doesn’t apply to MSNBC on the weekends.

“Open” “transparent” — doesn’t apply to Fox “News” when it labels a person as supporting terrorists when it doesn’t disclose that the same person owns more of Fox “News” than anyone without the last name of Murdoch.

“independent” — definitely doesn’t apply to any of the three cable news channels as well as the three major networks.

“everywhere” — literally doesn’t apply to any American newscast and probably never will. World newscasts go to places American news doesn’t want to go, certainly not American TV news.

“different” — is relative. Fox is definitely different from the other two cable news channels, and those that like Fox would agree with that statement more than those who don’t like Fox.

“honest” and “direct” — are words that can’t be done on U.S. TV news. As Jack Nicholson once told us, “You can’t handle the truth” and he’s right. Just look at the way we cover Israel and Palestine vs. the way every other country outside Israel covers the news from there.

“reactive” — is probably true, but U.S. TV news is less reactive than anywhere else on the globe. Well, maybe outside Russia, China, Cuba, etc.

“expert” — is relative. Too often, experts have their own undisclosed biases such as the retired generals who were on the networks leading up to the Iraq war, yet were being paid by Donald Rumsfeld and the Pentagon. Even after the scandal was disclosed, the process kept going with no apology to be found.

“undiluted” — can be subjective, but the U.S.-based news doesn’t even come close.

“fair” is something the U.S. TV news thinks they can do, but fail so miserably at doing.

“live” and “cutting-edge” — mostly true for all the channels, though MSNBC struggles with the “live” thing.

When U.S. TV news executives wonder why the ratings are free-falling for news, they can ask themselves of the words at the top of the page, how many of them apply to their newscasts. If you only get 3-4 of 14, people are getting their news from a more reliable news source.

Written by democracysoup

August 31, 2010 at 7:58 am