Wednesday, April 16th, 2008
Up there on my bookshelf, along with my pointlessly-displayed local television awards, collections of caps, and mardi gras beads (a gift from a news director in New Orleans) is something I really treasure…my ABC World News Now coffee, tea, or soup mug, which, I should explain, was not so much earned from the program (they gave them out as prizes) as cajoled from a buddy who was a powerhouse at Good Morning America back at the turn of the nineties when WNN was given license to take over the overnight airwaves at ABC.
Quirky, offbeat, irreverent, the show was certainly a tonic for me—back when I had to do design in the overnight hours in order to make the financial and technological equation work, I usually had the program on in the control room, and the voices of anchors Aaron Brown and Lisa McRee brought welcome sanity to some quiet early morning hours.
The show was largely crafted (cobbled?) together by Brown and then-executive-producer David Bohrman, and featured witty writing, cardboard cutouts of absent anchors, a review of how morning newspapers worldwide would be covering stories, super-sarcastic sports, a cryptic World News Now ‘National Temperature Index’, and, on Fridays, long credits accompanied by a guy on accordian doing the World News Polka.
Really, that’s just about all you need to get you through the night.
And because they celebrated their 16th anniversary earlier this year, I’ve been able to find a couple of YouTube videos which feature Brown and Bohrman talking about what they wrought and where the parade of distinguished anchors are now (Anderson Cooper, Thalia Assuras, Alison Stewart, and a raft of literate Canadians have populated the WNN anchor chairs over the years.)
World News Now owes some large debt to Lloyd Dobbins and Linda Ellerbee’s as-quirky-but-shorter (and shorter-lived) NBC News Overnight, which premiered on the night of a lunar eclipse on July 6, 1982. It might even be said that they both owe a tip of the hat to WTCG/WTBS’s Bill Tush and Tina Seldin, and their beyond-quirky 17 Update Early in The Morning on the nascent SuperStation.
I bring all this up mostly to say: I think that there remains a market for quirk…especially literate quirk, at all hours of the day or night. Bohrman recalls “There were a million people watching this show every night…that’s where Larry King peaks out, at a million people.” There’s a lot of television and internet programmers who would be very satisfied with that much viewership.
Bohrman, by the way, went on to create the short-ish-lived NewsNight with Aaron Brown at CNN and then apparently had some sort of nightmare that involved being trapped with Wolf Blitzer inside a Best Buy, that led to The Situation Room on CNN.
Quirk and wit works—if you can create a hip club that welcomes people in, doesn’t insult their intelligence, and offers a relaxed smile with their buffet of information.
In some ways the best internet commentary sites (oh, okay, blogs) are traceable descendants of programs like this. If cable networks would hand over the keys to the control room to upholders of this tradition of wry information, presented with a chuckle (as opposed to, say, streaming nonstop informercials) my mug of happiness would run over.