Monday, November 21, 2005

WHY I NEVER WATCHED NIGHTLINE

You know, I run this blog that talks about TV news a lot, and I did TV news and this big internship in a national newsroom at one point in time, so I ought to sit here and praise Ted Koppel like the rest of them.

I wish I could rant and rave about how much I'll miss Koppel. But I won't. It says a lot for my preferences in TV that I actually prefer Dave Letterman every night to Ted Koppel. It also says a lot that I prefer Stanley Cup hockey to Peter Mansbridge, and that I don't get upset when the National gets pre-empted by quadruple-overtime playoff games. What it comes down to for me is that I'm very interested in pop culture and particularly these big personalities. So I gravitate to shows that are heavy with interviews and pop culture references. That's why I ended up watching Letterman- because I love watching talk shows. I also tune in Larry King and to these radio hosts like Don Imus. Doesn't matter whether the personalities they interview are from entertainment or politics or wherever, I'd rather tune in to that than watch a hard-news show, even one like Nightline that has a lot of interviews with people.

That's probably the best explanation why I never became a fan of Nightline. It's surprising that I never became a regular Nightline viewer, because I consider myself a bit of a news junkie. Even as a kid I watched a lot of news, so this show ought to have lured me in as a loyal viewer. But this particular show dropped the ball with me in a lot of ways, starting with the awful time slot opposite Johnny Carson, and then Letterman.

The absolute reason Nightline never lured me in to be a regular viewer is because they didn't do a good job at showing stories that I wanted to see, period. It was more about what the Nightline people wanted to show to the closed-off club that was their audience. There was a take-it-or-leave-it quality to Nightline, it was not a "populist" show in any way. If you didn't like their high-quality journalism, something was obviously wrong with you; that's the sense I got from watching them. Even when they covered OJ you could sense their hearts weren't in it, that it was somehow beneath them.

As it turned out, this attitude was enough to drive me away most nights. I only tuned in on those occasions when they had a show on that had a topic that I cared about, like the end of the USFL or the rise of tabloid TV shows- those are two that I remember. When war broke out I tuned in, and I also tuned in during Katrina. I made a point of tuning in on primary nights in the USA. I guess this show really lost me the night it decided to not cover the political conventions. There was the day that not much happened at the convention and NIGHTLINE decided to take a stand about how it was all PR and not real news. So they decided to do a show on something else that had nothing to do with the convention, just to make a point.

Fine, but I was a political junkie and that was one night when I would have wanted to see something connected to the convention on TV, even if covering it was a boring waste of time. In fact I remember I tuned into Jay Leno instead, on the other channel. Keep in mind I'm not a big Leno fan, in fact I hate his show, but he did more political stuff that week than Koppel did. So I felt let down by Nightline. That one night symbolized, for me, everything that was wrong with the show. I strongly feel Nightline talked down to people and had an agenda too often. It told you what they thought you ought to know instead of what you really wanted to know.

It also rarely made a point of following the juicy stories that everyone was talking about at the water cooler. For those you were far better off listening to these hosts making jokes on TV. Where were you more likely to hear about those lesbian Carolina Panthers cheerleaders who got arrested? Ted Koppel's show? Or Dave Letterman? I can tell you for a fact that Letterman has been talking about it all the time, laughing with the rest of America. Case closed. Of course, this was the exact reason why all these critics loved Koppel and his show: because it was above this stuff. Nightline thumbed its nose at these types of populist stories and therefore was considered a real news show. Yet these same stories happen to say a lot about life in America.

Bottom line is I never became a regular Nightline viewer even though, as a news junkie, I really should have. Heck, I tuned in Barbara Frum every night on CBC for years, even though I couldn't stand her; there's no reason why I shouldn't have done the same with Koppel, when you think about it. But there were a lot of small reasons why I never became a big fan of Nightline.

I guess this rant is simply a big explanation on my part about why I wasn't hooked on the show. Certainly Koppel represented a certain style of journalist who had high standards, and that is definitely something that will be missed. It truly is the end of an era for broadcast journalism. The last of the old-style anchors is leaving. I'll probably tune into his last show, for once.

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