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Archive for the ‘Commentaries’ Category

No Need to Know Need to Know

In Commentaries on February 14, 2011 at 6:00 am

Alison Stewart and Jon Meacham, the humorless hosts of “Need to Know.” (Photographer unknown; courtesy PBS)

Last September 10, Jon Meacham appeared on MSNBC’s Morning Joe and offered a personal plea as he began a live interview with Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who was threatening to burn Qurans on 9/11.

“I would appeal to you as a fellow Christian that the course you’ve suggested is going to be incredibly dangerous and would ask you to desist in the name of New Testament theology,” Meacham told Jones.

The interview ended there; Jones was never given a chance to respond, and for the next day or so, critics debated whether Meacham was taking a principled stand against using media to elevate an obscure bigot or just showboating.

Regardless of his intent – I suspect Meacham’s heart was in the right place – I wondered: Why doesn’t he bring this kind of verve to Need to Know, the weekly PBS show he co-hosts with Alison Stewart?

Don’t know Need to Know?

Don’t worry: You haven’t missed much. Read the rest of this entry »

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Reagan and Dynasty: Secrets of Their Excess

In Commentaries on January 20, 2011 at 6:00 am

Nancy and Ronald Reagan in 1985, top, and “Dynasty” cast members Joan Collins, John Forsythe and Linda Evans. (The Reagans were photographed by Harry Benson; the “Dynasty” cast photo appears courtesy ABC/Everett)

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Ronald Reagan’s first inauguration, an occasion that is sure to inspire tributes aplenty on Fox News Channel and more half-witted haiku from professional tweeter Sarah Palin.

For me, no commemoration of the Age of Reagan is complete without discussing Dynasty, the prime time soap opera that functioned as a pop culture barometer of our shifting values during those years.

Other critics have noted the parallels between the glamorous show and Reagan’s presidency, but they tend to focus on the optics – the sense of opulence that the first lady brought to the White House (expensive china, designer gowns) and the president’s resemblance to Dynasty star John Forsythe, who shared his matinee idol looks and benign, paternal demeanor.

There’s also the neat alignment between Dynasty’s eight-year run and the Reagan administration – ABC introduced the series nine days before he was sworn in; its finale aired in May 1989, a little more than 100 days after he left office – as well as how the show (and arguably, Reagan’s presidency) peaked during the 1984-85 television season, when Dynasty became the most popular series and Reagan won his landslide reelection.

Ultimately, Dynasty’s celebration of moral ambiguity is what really cements its status as a symbol of Reagan era excess. Read the rest of this entry »

First Responders: Beck, Stewart React to Tucson

In Commentaries on January 11, 2011 at 8:00 pm

Glenn Beck, top, and Jon Stewart on last night’s editions of “Glenn Beck” and “The Daily Show.” (Screen caps)

Since the Tucson tragedy has generated a much-needed public debate over the power of political rhetoric – and since I just named Glenn Beck and The Daily Show my Programs of the Year – I watched both shows yesterday to see how they responded to the shootings.

Neither surprised me.

Beck opened his Fox News Channel program by chastising the press for suggesting the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, was influenced by conservative media.

“Common sense doesn’t matter when you’re just trying to create a storyline to fit an agenda,” Beck said. “Tonight, I want to separate the garbage … from the facts. Because if this network … and this show doesn’t do it, who will?”

OK, I thought.

There’s been an awful lot of speculation about Loughner; maybe Beck has something insightful to share. Read the rest of this entry »

Anchor Astray! Katie Couric Does Glee

In Commentaries on December 5, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Katie Couric, stick to journalism. (Photographer unknown; courtesy CBS)

Maybe I shouldn’t get worked up over Katie Couric’s decision to portray herself on an upcoming episode of Fox’s Glee.

After all, Couric may be sitting in Walter Cronkite’s old CBS Evening News chair, but she hasn’t exactly inherited his mantle as the nation’s most trusted figure.

Who cares what she does when she’s not at the anchor desk?

I do.

If you ask me, news anchors should stick to journalism.

Admittedly, it’s an old-fashioned idea, but I’m clinging to it – without apology.

Here’s why: Anchors occupy positions of authority, even in an era when many Americans get their news from Facebook feeds.

But even though we may no longer turn to the anchors at suppertime to tell us what happened in the world that day, we still rely on them when big stories break.

If madmen fly airplanes into skyscrapers again, where will you turn for the latest information? Read the rest of this entry »

After Morning, Breakfast Time TV News Got Cornier, Flakier

In Commentaries on December 5, 2010 at 5:30 pm

A 1987 sketch of “Morning Program” hosts Mariette Hartley and Rolland Smith. (Artist unknown; courtesy TV Guide)

Every time CBS overhauls The Early Show – as it did this week, for the third time in eight years – I’m reminded of the network’s most spectacular a.m. news fiasco, The Morning Program.

What’s that, you say?

You don’t remember The Morning Program?

Well pull up a chair, child, and let me tell you about the most influential – and shortest-lived – morning show of our time.

The Morning Program debuted on January 12, 1987 and aired weekdays at 7:30; the 90-minute show lasted just 11 months, broadcasting its final show on the day after Thanksgiving.

Mariette Hartley, an actress best known for pitching Polaroid cameras alongside James Garner in the 1970s, co-hosted the show with Rolland Smith, previously a local anchor in New York.

The Morning Program caused a sensation when it debuted because it was so different from CBS’s competition – then as now, NBC’s Today and ABC’s Good Morning America.

Those shows mixed hard news with lifestyle reports and human-interest stories but The Morning Program only did soft stuff. Read the rest of this entry »

Bristol Backin’ Mama: Sarah Palin Targets Murphy Brown

In Commentaries on November 22, 2010 at 9:00 am

Murphy Brown (Candice Bergen) in 1992. (Photo by Richard Cartwright/CBS; courtesy USA Today)

Here we go again.

Sarah Palin is reviving the 18-year-old controversy over Murphy Brown’s decision to have a child out of wedlock.

In her new book America by Heart, Palin defends Dan Quayle’s criticism of the sitcom heroine, who chose to raise her son alone when the boy’s father left her.

Palin compares Murphy to her 20-year-old daughter Bristol, who gave birth to a son two years ago and then became a spokeswoman for teenage abstinence.

“Which is the more courageous course for a young, single mother: to sit down and shut up and avoid the critics, or to speak out in a painfully honest way about how tough single parenting is?” Palin writes.

“I’m biased, of course, but given a choice of role models between Bristol and Murphy Brown, I choose Bristol.”

It’s another half-baked idea from Alaska’s half-term governor. Read the rest of this entry »