Thursday, March 01, 2007

Weightless Anchors

210 Weightless Anchors

They’re fussing around at NBC News because their Nightly News program looks like it’s about to get a drubbing from ABC, which hasn’t happened in awhile. Like years. Before Hurricane Charlie (Gibson) strikes land, they’re battening down the hatches and wondering what, beside a new executive producer they can fiddle with in order to avoid storm damage.

Here’s the answer: make Brian Williams older.

People expect to get their PM news from old men. They’re used to it. That’s what they want. Walter Cronkite, David Brinkley, John Chancellor, Hugh Downs, Harry Reasoner, Douglas Edwards.

When Dan Rather was resigned from the CBS Evening News, they put in this guy Bob Schieffer , and he immediately raised the ratings just by being old and calm. Katie Couric’s numbers have dropped like a feather into a fire. (When Charles Kurault filled in during one of Rather’s tantrums or vacations, the ratings went up. Charlie wasn’t old, but he was fat and talked slow. That’s almost as good. Plus he had a really low voice and a southern rhythm, if not a full blown accent.)

Peter Jennings ups and dies and they stick in a couple of young nobodies and Jennings’ respectable ratings dropped like the Rock of Katie, only earlier. Finally they figured it out. Old guys. Enter Charlie Gibson, an amiable type who spent much of his career at ABC being shafted at “Good Morning America,” which was crushed like what was left of the feather by the “Today Show” on NBC. Ted Koppel would have been just as good a choice.

Then, there’s Williams. He’s still the top dog. He succeeded Brokaw who was a one man ratings machine. Probably that had a lot to do with his warmth, charm, slightly impared man-of-the-people speech, his slightly imapred man-of-the-people aw shucks Dakotas approach and the simple fact that he got OLD.

When Brokaw was young and on “Today” he was a geek. When he started at Nightly News, he was a middle aged near-geek. By the time his hair turned grey, he was The Voice of Authority.

He’s still doing some pretty good TV stuff, unlike some major leaguers who semi-retire and get office space and no assignments. And his presence at NBC lends credibility to the whole outfit.

But Williams is young, or at least young-ish. And he has just a touch of that Peter Jennings “I Am The News” attitude/disease, though a much, MUCH milder case. To his credit, he has learned to talk in a straight line, which makes him the easiest of the aforementioned (except Shieffer) to understand.

He also has the flashiest graphics, the best set and the best staff.

But we’re talking TELEVISION, here. So that’s not so important.

Everyone “knows” the PM newscasts are losing audience. But there still are almost 30 million of us who don’t want the mind-numbing “nothing’s happening but we have to fill the screen” incrementia we get from CNN, MSNBC and Fox.

If Brian wants to keep the top spot, he’s got to put a little grey in his hair and talk slower. And gaining 20 or 30 pounds wouldn’t hurt, either.

I'm Wes Richards, my opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.

(c) 2007 WJR

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