Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Eric Alterman:

Strange things are happening these past few days in the world of television news.

There's this:

Just in time for the closing rush of the presidential election, MSNBC is shaking up its prime-time programming lineup, removing the long-time host -- and one-time general manager of the network -- Dan Abrams from his 9 p.m. program and replacing him with Rachel Maddow, who has emerged as a favored political commentator for the all-news cable channel.

Also this:

The correspondent Martin Savidge is leaving NBC News for public television, where he is to become the anchor of a new weeknight broadcast that will focus on international news. WLIW in New York, which is developing the program, is expected to announce his appointment on Wednesday.

"Worldfocus," with a start-up budget that station employees said is about $8 million, will attempt to fill what Mr. Savidge called a void in television news.

"When CNN was born as a concept, we all said: 'The 24-hour era of news has arrived; think of the topics we can cover,' " he said in a telephone interview late Monday. But, he said, 24 hours now "boils down to about six headlines repeated over and over and over," adding, "It seems that opportunity was squandered."

In recent days, he said, the conflict between Georgia and Russia was heavily covered by television news media in the United States, but not the economic downturn in Europe, Iraq's nearly unspent budget surplus from oil sales or the assassination of one of Syria's top generals. "There were other events happening in the world that most Americans heard nothing about," Mr. Savidge said.

It's worth saying that for all the silliness that does exist on television, there's also great stuff out there that heightens the civic discourse (Moyers, Frontline, NOW, The Daily Show, virtually all of HBO's original programming, and so on). And while I would never say a trend towards better programming is emerging, certain conventions are being challenged. As Ezra Klein writes, about Maddow's show and its announcement online by Keith Olbermann: "You know, when I was young, this world had rules. And standards. And liberals did not get TV shows. And liberals who had TV shows did not write on DailyKos. And liberals who had TV shows and wrote on Daily Kos did not get TV shows for their even more liberal guest hosts." The audience for this stuff is out clearly out there, and let's hope the bosses finally act accordingly. In the meantime, God bless TiVo ...


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