I’m watching At The Movies, which I haven’t seen since Siskel died and Ebert went home sick. The format’s the same – two critics, debating the merits of three movies released that week. The problem was – and you could tell by the critics’ pained expressions and their struggling efforts to say something interesting – none of the movies was worth talking about. The critics’ highest recommendation – and it was for only one of the three movies discussed on the show – “Rent It.”
A cable channel focusing on Major League Baseball offers its “Top Ten Plays of the Day”, counting down from the tenth most exciting defensive play to the best. The problem was, on the night I was watching, maybe three of the ten plays were particularly special. The “Play of the Day” elicited an unenthusiastic “Eh.”
It was almost funny. The show’s host, forced by circumstances into hyping the ordinary, seemed to be effusing over these “spectacular web gems” while simultaneously biting his cheek.
What are you gonna do? You can’t fabricate great fielding plays, any more than you can invent quality movies. Your only choice is to go with what you’ve got. Why? Because there’s a show to do.
When they don’t have three movies worth talking about, the critics can’t just blow up the format and say, “We’re sorry, At The Movies audience. They didn’t release three movies worth talking about this week. So we’re going to talk about our children.”
Having no alternative, the critics are required to “mark on the curve”, relegating them to discussing the three recently released movies that most closely approximate movies that are worth talking about. It’s a show biz “Written in Stone”:
The show must go on.
Whether there’s anything worthwhile on it, or not.
It’s the same with the “Top Ten Plays.” Television can’t control the players’ performances. They can’t call the manager at a game still in progress, and say, “Look, in about twenty minutes, we’re going to be showing the “Top Ten Plays of the Day”, and we only have nine. Could you ask one of your players to do something spectacular in the field? It would really help us out.”
That night’s plays are that night’s plays. It’s up to somebody to edit what actually occurred into ten plays that come the closest to “Wow!” even though on some nights they’re all, “I’ve seen a lot better than that.”
So, okay. Some days you have a so-so show. It’s no big deal.
Except when it’s the news.
Like great plays in baseball, the news happens when it happens. There’s no Editor-In-The-Sky saying, “We have to spread the ‘Big Stuff’ out evenly; otherwise, one day, you’re going to have an oil spill, a stock market crash and a tornado and the next day, it’s a kid who flies off inside a balloon, except it turns out he didn’t.”
Important news events occur when they occur. And when they do, they obviously deserve to be covered. But when nothing of great consequence happens, instead of hyping a trivial event into a major catastrophe, why can’t the news people simply come on the air, be honest, and say exactly what’s going on?
“Good evening. There are no big news stories to report to you today. So good night.”
They can’t do that. Any more than they can say, “There are no movies worth talking about” or “The most exciting play was a ground ball that bounced funny.” Captives to the concept – the concept here being there’s a news show every day or in the case of CNN every second – news shows are obligated to pretend they have important news, even when they don’t. (Scaring the audience every day, even when there’s nothing to be afraid of.)
“Good evening. There was a report today of giant rats infesting our local sewer system. Upon further study, however, it was discovered that they were not giant rats after all, but were, instead, regular-sized rats found in every sewer system in the country, though one of the rats may have been slightly oversized. An investigation is currently under way to determine why the people who reported the “giant rat” infestation believed they were giant rats, when they were, in fact, ordinary, run-of-the-mill rats. The mayor has announced he will throw the full weight of his office behind the investigation, vowing he will not rest until the perpetrators of the “Rat Scare” are rooted out, a scare that could have thrown an entire city into a panic over giant rats, which were revealed to be normal-sized rats that were not at all special.”
“In other news…”