Wednesday, October 7th, 1998
WAGA excuse me, FOX 5 Atlanta is now running a promo where an announcer runs through their daunting array of talk show hosts and other syndicated presenters as if he’s making rapid-fire introductions at a genteel Southern social: “Joe, Sally. Sally, Jerry. Jerry, Judy. Judy, Rosie” Everyone sit down and have some lemonade, why don’t you. One of the amazing powers of television is its apparent familiarity, where it seems to the viewer that he or she really is on a first-name basis with folks who tape their programs in Chicago or New York. As if you found yourself buying bagels in the store next to Rosie O’Donnell you’d be able to strike up a friendly chat, neighbor-to-neighbor. As if.
Tom Brokaw tells us “I’ll see you back here tomorrow night,” as the camera pulls back from his image towering over Times Square. See you back where exactly, Tom? Times Square? Thirty Rockefeller Plaza? Outside your lovely Upper East Side brownstone, on the stoop? Or in front of that fake newsroom backdrop where you deliver a bit of news in and around promos for CNBC and MSNBC?
And of course, none of them ever do see us tomorrow. They see the lens, the teleprompter, the bored floor manager. When my wife gets particularly exorcised about something someone has said on television, be it a factual error, an anthropological faux pas, or a poor choice of wager on Jeopardy, she loudly tells our Sony off, prompting me to say “just a second, let me flip on our TV’s special microphone so they’ll actually be able to hear you.”
The best producers and performers do create a comfortable home for us in a hard-to-define space somewhere between our heads and theirs. It’s a space that doesn’t require pictures-it can be that place where the Morning X trio shares coffee with you or a Turner Field of the mind, painted there by a few well-chosen words from Skip Caray. The comfort generated feels real. The familiarity feels comfortable.
So it makes me wonder on the other hand about some of the choices producers and scenic designers make when they decide that we’d be most at home hearing about the news from rooms decked out somewhere between The Overchromed Boardroom from Hell and the bridge of the Enterprise-D. (And who are those well-dressed young people in Aeron chairs sitting in a half-circle around Peter Jennings surfing the web while he does the heavy lifting of news delivery?) How do these images mean news?
Sometimes familiarity is just a shortcut. Why do the sets for revivals of The Hollywood Squares and Love Connection (yes, they’re back, we couldn’t get by without them) look likewell, the sets of Hollywood Squares and Love Connection? The unfortunate answer is that Those Who Decide are afraid we’d be uncomfortable anywhere else. It’s a visual shorthand, an easy answer, a way to avoid tedious re-introductions to old concepts.
Peter Marshall, meet Tom Bergeron. Whoopi, meet Paul Lynde. And come over here and say Hi to Jerry. And Judy.
Can I get you anything?