ABC/ HEIDI GUTMAN
The argument behind the self-help concept The Secret–sorry, The Secret–is that if you want something, you can get it through force of will, determination and positive thinking. This may also be true of winning network-news ratings battles. In February, ABC won the first evening-news sweeps in 10 years over NBC, which–coincidentally or not–has just hired a new producer and sent Brian Williams to Iraq.
Also coincidentally or not, February just happened to be the month that the Oprah Winfrey Show–which leads in to local news in many major ABC markets–was flogging The Secret as if it were a brand-new set of lost Gospels.
It’s an argument that gives ABC conniptions, naturally. The network will argue that no matter how strong or weak a lead-in, it’s the strength of the news show that counts. Which may be, but it’s hard to pinpoint just what was stronger, or weaker, or really in any way different, about ABC and NBC’s newscasts last month.
Then again, I may not be the best person to judge. I’m not a big fan of the evening newscasts. I watch them only occasionally, out of professional duty, and while I think they do their job well enough, to me that job is pretty superfluous, and the differences between the newscasts too minor to matter. (The difference between the BBC news or the PBS News Hour and any of the network newscasts is ten times greater than the difference between any network newscast–even Katie Couric’s–and another.) They deliver highly polished, bare-bones treatments of stories that you’re already well familiar with if you’ve seen a newspaper, checked the news online or watched cable news over the course of the day. Yes, there’s a set of viewers to whom the network news is still valuable. But the Grim Reaper claims more of them every day.
So I put the question to you: what makes you watch one network newscast over another? Is Charlie really that much more commanding than Brian? Is Brian that much more soothing? Is Katie that much more, um, Katie? Or is it all just about which channel Wheel of Fortune is on?
And yes, I realize that asking the question on the Internet is inherently flawed. Isn’t part of the reason people still watch evening newscasts that they’re afraid that, if they turn the computer on to get the news, they’ll start a fire?