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Sweeps Update!

Sometimes, those of us who live in Los Angeles think the world revolves around us. We have the swimming pools, the movie stars, Buddy Ebsen and Max Baer, Jr. playing a lovable family of hillbillies. I think you see where I'm going with this...

But in our glitter-induced myopia, we sometimes forget that the lives and loves and day-to-day experiences of those living in the hinterlands are just as meaningful. And so we must turn a watchful eye to the sticks, to the outskirts of humanity, to America's heartland. Modesto, for example.

You see, here in Los Angeles, we labor under the sinking suspicion that we have the dumbest news anchors in all of captivity. Whether its NBC dim bulb Kelly Lange making peculiar noises during the hyper Fred Roggan's sports highlights or KCBS' affable Dave Torres taking along a camera crew to film his prostate cancer surgery, members of the local fourth estate, to a man, are ninnies, twits, blowhards and boneheads.

But we should never allow blind provincialism to cloud our vision. As it turns out, news anchors from the craggy shores of Maine to the sunny beaches of Florida and all the way out to right-wing militia-inhabited fields of Idaho are as dumb as posts. And whether its in Des Moines, Iowa or Clarksville, Tennessee, there's a bunch TV news hacks publicly debasing themselves over the airwaves while the slack-jawed populace stares passively at the screen and reaches for the Cheetos.

How do I know? Because this week I went to Las Vegas, and when winning all that money from the casinos and drinking all that liquor and meeting all those beautiful women became too boring, I flipped on the TV and caught the local news.

Oh boy.

Since it's a sweeps period, the NBC affiliate in Vegas had to come up with some clever feature story to suck in unwitting viewers and drive up ratings -- reporting actual news apparently not being a clever enough idea. And since the lovely young female reporter had no sports highlights to make peculiar noises to and no cancerous prostate to remove, she did the only reasonable thing a quick thinking TV journalist could do.

She did a week-long feature on how the folks at the NBC affiliate in Las Vegas cover the news. And sadly, the answer she arrived at was not "badly."

Those of you who are professional news gatherers like myself or those of you who used to work for campus newspapers or even those of you who have watched a TV news program sometime in the last decade may recall the term for such a story -- News About Us!

When KNBC lead off the 11 p.m. news one evening with exclusive coverage of the office party at KNBC to celebrate their top-rated newscast, we call that News About Us!

When KNBC weatherman Fritz Coleman takes time out from revealing his five-day forecast to let us know where his next standup comedy performance will be at, we call that News About Us!

When Dave Torres shows us videotape footage of someone jabbing away at his prostate, that most certainly is News About Us! And kind of spooky, too, now that you mention it..

On this particular evening, the Vegas reporter was showing how she goes about covering a story -- not a real story mind you, like a robbery or a presidential press conference or some schlep's enflamed prostate, but a story about a fabulous new show opening up at one of Vegas' casinos.

What information did I glean from this report? That the most challenging aspect of this woman's job is to get the interviewee to stand in the right place as she reads a voice-over while the station is showing pre-recorded video footage. And we all know how stressful that can be.

But I think the most revealing moment -- the segment that for me crystallizes everything that TV news is about -- came when the reporter was talking about how much research she does on a story... as pre-recorded video footage showed her thumbing through a press release.

"Boy," chirped one of the anchors when the reporter finished her story. "We sure work hard here to get the news out!"

Yeah, if you say so. Now about Dave Torres' prostate...


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