When Ted Turner invented cable news in 1980 with the launch of Cable News Network, he said he wanted the news to be the star, not the talking heads. It’s been almost 30 years now and the monster he created is killing its creator — CNN is wallowing in fourth place, even losing to its sister station Headline News Network in the October numbers.
What happened? Partisanship came home to roost on MSNBC and FOX News. The “if it bleeds, it leads” ethic that Turner hated so much rules. (Two words: balloon boy.) And from Bill O’Reilly to Rachel Maddow to Nancy Grace, the hosts matter.
It’s admirable and valuable that CNN plays fair, and I think the network can attract more viewers and continue to live up to the standards of good journalism (which is why they parted ways with right-winger Lou Dobbs). But the network that invented cable news is going to have to go back in the lab and reinvent itself.
ADD SOME PERSONALITY: Sorry, Ted, but you’ve got to have better hosts. Wolf Blitzer? (Did you see him on Jeopardy? Ouch!) Campbell Brown? (Campbell who?) Larry King? (This is TV, not the Smithsonian.) Anderson Cooper? (OK, now he’s worth saving.) Maybe give Rolling Stone’s gonzo journalist Matt Taibbi a show. Or pony up a big pile of money and steal Jon Stewart away from The Daily Show. (If Al Franken can become a Senator, maybe Stewart is ready to tone down the partisanship and become a newsman.) CNN needs (younger) talent who give America a reason to tune in.
REBRAND IT: What if CNN allowed some other, better brands to take over parts of its prime-time lineup? Can you imagine a half-hour show produced by The New Yorker magazine? Or maybe cool arts features produced by Entertainment Weekly? It could all add up to more of a news magazine show, a la 60 Minutes.
GET OFF THE CRACK: CNN has to shake its addiction to idiotic stories. Forget keeping up with the Joneses of cable news — they’re chasing their tails, and you’re already in fourth place anyway. Ignoring balloon boy will feel like a betrayal of everything the producers ever learned, but it’s time to let HLN handle the circuses. And just let FOX and MSNBC own the angry blame games. I contend there’s a vast, untapped viewership out there that would tune in if they were treated like grown-ups with cutting-edge journalism grounded in Ted Turner’s original vision.
Unbutton your pants, recline your chair and settle in. You’ve eaten way too much, and it’s TV time — but the football is lame. (Green Bay vs. Detroit, Oakland vs. Dallas — the two worst games of the week.) Not to worry, we scanned the listings and found that the best movie lineup is on IFC (Comcast Ch. 503). At 5 pm, it’s Super Troopers, followed by A Fish Called Wanda at 6:45, with Raising Arizona at 8:35 for dessert.
KSPS produced this documentary about explorer David Thompson. With more viewers in Alberta than in Spokane, it’s a perfect fit for KSPS — Thompson is the Lewis and Clark of Canada, having mapped much of British Columbia and Alberta. Thompson had many rollicking forays around our waterways, too, including Lake Pend Oreille and the Spokane River. (Thursday, 11/26, 11 am and 6 pm, KSPSW, Comcast Ch. 108)
The Jon Dore Television Show
Canadian comic Jon Dore has had a mockumentary sitcom up in Canada since 2007, and now IFC is running it. Entertainment Weekly calls Dore a “Will-Ferrell-meets-Tom-Green manchild.” (Tuesday, Dec. 1, 11:45 pm, IFC)