Thursday :: Apr 29, 2004

Calling The Roll


by pessimist

I don't usually plug television shows, but I make an exception for Ted Koppel's Nightline for April 30, 2004. On that show, the names of the American dead in Iraq will be read.

As anchor Ted Koppel reads the names for the entire half-hour, viewers will see photographs of those killed since March 19, 2003, as certified by the Defense Department.

In its announcement yesterday, ABC News said the program was its way of paying tribute to the dead. And "Nightline" executive producer Leroy Sievers called it the program's way to "remind our viewers -- whether they agree with the war or not -- that beyond the casualty numbers, these men and women are serving in Iraq in our names, and that those who have been killed have names and faces."

Get your Republican friends to watch - maybe some of them will begin to understand why this war was so wrong - even if Saddam is gone from power.

The Iraqis certainly know. Especially when Americans are doing things like this.

It's becoming more and more clear that the major corporations which own the media are separating themselves from the Bush Coalition. The question right now is - why?

As one critic puts it:

That is good to know because otherwise we might be left thinking that Friday's broadcast, which ABC will simulcast on its Jumbotron in New York's Times Square, is a cheap, content-free stunt designed to tug at our heartstrings and bag a big number on the second night of the May ratings race.

Koppel, also in the announcement, acknowledged that Memorial Day might have been "the most logical occasion" to do the program. Ya think? "But we felt that the impact would actually be greater on a day when the entire nation is not focused on war dead," he said.

I agree with Koppel on this point. Memorial Day is for remembering the dead from all of our wars. The intention of this show is to get people to look at the costs of occupying Iraq.

Ah yes, and, of course, Memorial Day falls outside the May sweeps, when viewer levels are used by the networks to set advertising rates. Memorial Day is also traditionally a day of very low television viewing. He forgot to mention that stuff.

I consider these points to be valid criticisms, but we do have to remember that telelvision is a business and not a public utility. We long ago lost television to the Dark Side. If this admittedly cheap ratings ploy is unsuccessful, will we lose another opportunity in the future to spread a valid message? Just as we must render unto Caesar, we must 'render' unto the media moguls for the use of the facilities they control.

Sievers and others we spoke with at ABC News insisted they did not realize that the May sweeps start tomorrow. Additionally, he told Poynter Online yesterday that the idea came out of a brainstorming session and Koppel was all for it, as was the management of ABC News. Imagine, nobody at ABC News stopped to think that telecasting this thing on the second night of the May sweeps might appear like an unseemly sweeps ratings grab.

Who'd have thought that the only people in broadcast TV with no awareness of ratings sweeps periods all work at ABC News? I mean, what are the odds, really? "Honestly, we did not know that's when the sweeps begins," Sievers told The TV Column. "We don't pay a lot of attention to that."

Our author is rightly incensed at such verisimilitude. Business decision drive the news, not the other way around. Certainly, with ABC last in the ratings race, and with a new president, ABC is seeking anything that brings the numbers up to keep Disney head honcho Michael Eisner from turning ABC into the media version of Iraq.

Allowing for the fact of business life that business is always the prime factor in any media programming decisions, I think the following comments show that underneath it all, these ABC folks have their hearts in the right place:

He and his colleagues don't expect the "Nightline" telecast "to be a huge ratings hit -- we don't know whether people will watch the whole thing or 20 seconds. Obviously we want people to watch -- not because of ratings, but if nobody watches, it's a shame. But that's not what we're trying to do," Sievers said.

"If somebody watches 20 seconds and says, 'I got it,' that's fine with me."

This is why I recommend watching this episode - somebody might get it.


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pessimist :: 3:11 AM :: Comments (4) :: Digg It!