Counting down to Xmas

So, last week had Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, and tonight, was A Charlie Brown Christmas. Aww. Tradition!

I watched the rerun of the first episode of “Commander in Chief” on ABC (House wasn’t on, and I couldn’t get myself to watch “Amazing Race”). Hmm. Looked really interesting. Kyle Secor as Rod, the First Spouse/ex-VP Chief of Staff (clearly frustrated to have lost out on the Chief of Staff job) – he’s always a good choice as an actor. Geena Davis ain’t so bad as President Mackenzie Allen. And, Donald Sutherland, as the Evil Speaker of the House. Ooh, he just oozes with evil. I’m thinking “He can’t become President; he’s Canadian!” (ok, in real life). And, really, can we have too many Sutherlands on tv – “24” returns in a few weeks, and it’ll be Keifer as Jack Bauer, ready to save America (maybe the world this time) again (while again getting through another Worst Day in his life).

I missed “Arrested Development” last night. Shoot. I have to tape the remaining episodes.

The NY Times came up with interesting articles on the hows and whys of ABC’s choice of Bob Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas as anchors. And, I wonder – will it be “Vargas and Woodruff” or “Woodruff and Vargas”? Daily News’ David Bianculli raised interesting points, too – it’s more than about having two anchors, but about news in the 21st century:

Vargas, meanwhile, acknowledged her achievement in attaining the status of network broadcast-news co-anchor, an honor won by few females in TV history.

“I’m proud to be a woman in this post, which has been such a bastion of maleness,” Vargas said.

Together, they’re new anchors for a new era – an era where the traditional TV audience continues to shrink, and alternative-delivery systems sparkle with allure.

ABC’s announcement promises to work its new co-anchors to the bone, not only by having them anchor separate live versions of “World New Tonight” to three time zones but by having them write daily blogs for the ABC News Web site.

The network also envisions providing outtakes and expanded stories via the Internet, and even breaking some stories before the evening newscast itself – trying to reach viewers at their computers, mobile phones and other digital means.

It all sounds very 2006. NBC already has headed in this direction, with new anchor Brian Williams writing his own diary entries on the Web and “NBC Nightly News” available in its entirety as a streaming download. And with ABC going the double-anchor route, that leaves CBS free to try any direction it wants – one, two, maybe three anchors – without concern about breaking the mold too much.

The obvious and unavoidable truth, though, is that the network evening news format, up to this point, isn’t just a mold. It’s moldy.

Though audience levels have dwindled for the evening newscasts on ABC, CBS and NBC, they’re still exponentially larger than the combined viewers of CNN, Fox News Channel, MSNBC and others. One problem is that the pool of potential anchors with Dan Rather-type gravitas just isn’t there. Another is that the commercial broadcast network newscasts haven’t responded sufficiently, to this point, to the changes around them.

The emphasis on blogs and complementary Internet materials, while sounding very modern and advanced, misses the real focus – a dangerous mistake for a news organization to make.

The networks, communally, messed up decades ago by not strong-arming affiliates into accepting a 60-minute newscast. If they make a similar mistake early in the 21st century, it’ll be to pay more attention to technological bells and whistles instead of providing what they alone have the resources to do best: in-depth coverage that explains as well as reports, that pioneers as well as recycles.

“BBC World News” is the best model out there for serious coverage in a tight TV format. The focus, for ABC and its network competitors, should be squarely on the over-the-air evening newscast. That’s the flagship, the fountain from which all reputations and fortunes spring. Blogs are fun diversions, but the news – and the newscast – is what matters. Now more than ever.

Hmm. Good points – Vargas as a woman (and a woman who has a Puerto Rican background), Bob Woodruff with the appropriate foreign reporting work (and he’s an ex-lawyer!), the age of blogging, and so on. Hopefully, we won’t have a Dan Rather/Connie Chung failure here, but well, this isn’t the Golden Age of Anchormen anymore either.

And, it ain’t the era of “Nightline” anymore.

“Doonesbury” – so this week’s storyline is back to the misadventures of crazy Uncle Duke. I never really cared for Uncle Duke (he’s a little too crazy for me). But, I thought last week’s storyline was quite something – a little bit of everything – humor, sadness, politics and so on. Sure, Alex Doonesbury came to Walden and met up with Jeff and Zipper (reminder to Jeff: Alex is your older half-sister’s daughter; your mom’s granddaughter; your half-niece! You can’t date her!; Zipper though think she’s his future wife – ah, the infatuation of crazy kids) – and it remains unclear if she actually sat in on classes (Walden College still has classes? I thought it lost its accreditation because they dropped grade curves to maintain student retention, or whatever other crazy stunt the President of Walden College did to keep his school running); Jeff and Zipper certainly don’t bother attending classes; Jeff’s still on his way to being a CIA agent who will have to torture people; and B.D. refuses to talk to Mike about the alcohol and other problems.

The Doonesburys’ visit to Walden, ended really somber last Saturday – with Sam, B.D. and Boopsie’s daughter, telling Alex, Mike’s daughter, that she’s getting scared of B.D. See, B.D. – the Iraq War veteran/amputee – has serious post-traumatic stress syndrome, such that he woke up with nightmares and once punched Boopsie. It’s scaring Sam – she feels her daddy will hit her next. Anything sets B.D. off. But, Sam tells Alex to not tell anyone this. Alex: “I won’t.” The next panel shows Mike and B.D. listening to the girls (is B.D. really listening?) – Sam: “Swear to God?” Alex: “Swear to God.” B.D.’s looking away, Mike’s glancing at him. Mike has the look of Grave Concern. Boopsie had asked him to get B.D. to go to the VA for help. B.D. has yet to end the paranoia though. Can he find a way to maintain a life again? Can Mike help? This is a storyline to watch.

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