By George, he’s got it!
Yes, Leslie Moonves has hit upon the formula for reversing all that Henry Higgins taught Eliza Doolittle about the king’s English. And all some newscasters once held sacred. And not just pronunciation, either; the whole kit & kaboodle — spelling, usage, construction. You name it, and if your name for it is a bit risqué, what the heck, that’s how people friggin’ talk nowadays.
Moonves, president of CBS for those just back from Mars, is taking the occasion of the news division’s embarrassment over the 60 Minutes airing of memos of dubious authorship assailing President Bush’s Air National Guard Service to revamp the entire presentation of news. No more the authoritative voice speaking from on high à la current anchors; now a more ensemble presentation of folks talking just like folks, more like — well, more like you are likely to see and hear on your local station.
“A revolution and not an evolution,” says Moonves. He notes that network news, and especially at his network, has been losing audience over the years, and especially that vital audience of youngsters. How to get ‘em? Be like ‘em. Make Henry Higgins more like Eliza Doolittle, like.
A few suggestions, like. A new set. (Already in work?) Blur further the area between straight news and commentary. (Straight is a suspect word, anyway.) Have the anchors react to what they read like they do on local, feigning sadness, joy, horror, shock, and awe in rapid succession to fit the tenor of the story at hand. Learning these rapid transitions is one of the primary concerns of a would-be local anchor.
As a matter of staffing, of course the name Couric comes up. Perky, good legs. A general demeanor that says, “I am hiding nothing.” Male anchors, successful ones, anyway, must have up-turned brows — no furrowing as if there might be thought behind them, but forever upturned as if the owner were forever surprised by the import of what he has to say.
Moonves has had kind words to say about Jon Stewart, the comic who does pseudo news on the cable outfit, Comedy Central. How about this? A series of anchors, Couric (can you afford her?), Stewart, and whoever else survives the 60 Minutes faux pas read a series of stories and then the audience votes? No, not on which reader read the best, but rather which of the stories was true? The tsunami in Lake Erie was false, the CEO who gave back the money was false, but the dog who found his home from three blocks away was true. Cable avails itself of audience participation all the time. A silly question is posed, and the audience votes and at the end of a shift the tally is made public. What works for cable will surely work for network, like. Lots of bells and whistles, whooshing sounds and frequent splashes of “Flash!”, “Bulletin!!”— words whose meanings have been bastardized and lost and may be thrown upon the screen at any time.
There is no reason why the latest failure or reject from one of the reality shows should not be asked to read a couple of stories, and perhaps some of the runners-up from American Idol could sing a car-jacking or two. The concept of sanctity among networks is long gone. Invite the staff of competing networks to come over occasionally. CBS newsfolk appear on CNN regularly, whereas there was a time when the mere admission of another network’s existence was grounds for dismissal.
Speaking of time, there was one when the language was prized on the major networks. And attention was paid. An English professor, Dr. W. Cabell Greet, would call the CBS newsroom whenever he heard a mispronunciation or misconstruction. It was one of his jobs. A prize in English Literature still is given in Greet’s name at Barnard College.
There is an advertisement running currently on the networks for a luxurious Jaguar automobile. A cultured woman’s voice lists its merits then concludes… “which begs the question: how can you resist?” Cabell Greet would beg to differ.
No telling how far this democratization of news presentation may go, or its conflation with the entertainment division. Those still in the business may wonder how this stuff suddenly got so deep. This execrable tsunami stems from the 60 Minutes earthquake far beneath West 57th Street in New York City.