LADIES AND GENTLEMEN!
Step right up to the very edge of the stage and gaze deeply into a world where the strange is commonplace and the bizarre is the least you should expect! The masters of conjecture, speculation, and innuendo have returned for one month only to take you on a magical ride that will astonish, thrill, and disgust!
Hear the chicanery of the platinum-haired Christmas fisherman! See thirteen episodes of the slippery, slithering ex-football star! Witness the hypnotic beauty of the former intern turned love slave turned game show host! And feel the very terror of a dark magic ten times deadlier than the black plague!
I never thought I'd find myself saying this, but I miss the war.
I can no longer stomach the news. It's as if someone found a hole in the floor, chipped away at it, and wound up building out a teenager's basement bedroom in an unfinished level of hell. Do you know why most of the talking heads and pundits and special correspondents were objectively leaning towards giving UN inspectors more time as we approached the eve of war? A common desire for diplomacy? No. A vast left-wing conspiracy? No.
It's simple really. If we had just given the inspectors another thirty days... the war would have happened during May Sweeps.
Of all the bum luck.
Yes kids, Sweeps is upon us once again and every news media outlet will be digging, scraping, and clawing to be the first to reach that new low mark. You don't even have to look at the calendar anymore, you can feel it creeping under your skin.
You simply can't be an American and not know what the Sweeps period is. But I'll tell you what it was. It used to be a week in May - Sweeps Week - in which the denouement of the television season reached its fever pitch, resulting in cliffhangers, two-hour specials, guest stars, what have you. This, typically, brought in the season's best ratings, so the broadcasters would use the measurements from these periods to justify that season's ad sales as well as determine the price for future ad sales.
It almost seems quaint. Reasonable. How things have changed.
As television viewership continued to splinter and that lowest-common-denominator thing caught up with everyone, the competition became truly fierce. Sweeps were added in November, then February. They expanded to a couple of weeks, then the entire month, and now we have what I believe might be the first example of an April pre-Sweeps period - a phenomenon caused by shit shows, the short lifespan of reality television, and the recent trends of a horrible advertising market.
It wasn't soon afterwards that news departments began to ape the outlandish, outrageous, and controversial stories that became prevalent in entertainment programming during Sweeps. Well, what the hell, if they're going to run stories "ripped from today's headlines," shouldn't today's headlines live up to all the hype? So, with as much journalistic integrity as humanly possible, the news programs set out to ratchet things up a notch.
Okay, I'm exaggerating here. There is in fact no journalistic integrity involved in ratcheting things up a notch.
It was a matter of mere hours after the last echo of the last bomb bounced off the satellites and through the speakers of our television sets when poor Laci Peterson's body washed up to shore. A feeding frenzy followed that hadn't been seen since, ironically, the last high-profile professional young woman went missing, that being Chandra Levy. I say ironically because it took another war scale event, 9/11, to get Chandra off the news in the first place.
What's most frustrating is that there are still shots being fired in Iraq. There is historical change, no matter what side of the fence you fall on, being made in the middle east. North Korea says they have the nuke and Israel and Palestine may sit down again. France continues to march quite whimsically towards comeuppance.
The story is far from over and I want my fix.
Ah, but there are no big bangs, not as many embedded journalists being shot at, and very few ugly statues left to topple. It has all the heat of a crack addict in a room full of coke without so much as a drop of drain cleaner.
I don't want to be crass about this. It makes me uneasy just typing Laci Peterson's name. But at the same time, I doubt I could serve it up with any less dignity than the legitimate news sources already have. The difference is I'd be doing it to get you to laugh, they'd be doing it to get you to buy Crest White Strips.
Such is Sweeps. If you think that all the commotion and speculation and guessery surrounding the murder will only serve to make this another blockbuster trial of the century a la Orenthal, well, now you're thinking like network executive.
Local news, during Sweeps, brings out the absolute worst of humankind. They've begun to parody their own parodies. Just to check my facts, I paid close attention to the local news promos during prime time this week. Sure enough...
"The safe sex product that can kill you... tonight on Action News!"
Yep. It's Sweeps.
But now national news wants in on the play. Five years ago, the Michael Jackson special would have been run as a Saturday night afterthought on FOX, not as a pseudo-intellectual pseudo-news package for a pseudo-news magazine on a pseudo-legitimate network. But this is just another cog in the machine. I've seen network news do angles on the Real Cancun, an MTV invention dubbed a "reality movie" (you know, Michael Moore's genre), with the sole purpose of getting a little T&A into the newscast.
Now I ask you. Honestly. With all the freedoms we have today, with all of the channels, and all of the access, and the Internet its very damn self... DO I REALLY NEED A LITTLE T&A WITH MY NEWS?
Shouldn't they digress, perhaps pick up on the fact that there is a little T&A in everything we see, whether it be an ad campaign for financial advice or children's programming on Saturday morning? Wouldn't the responsible marketing thing to do be to go the other way, and differentiate yourselves from the bottom-feeders?
Who the hell are they aiming at? Which one of you is the demographic? How many of you are looking for a little T&A, don't have an Internet connection, only get network television and only during the early morning, have no access to magazines, newspapers, billboards, stand-up beer ads in convenience stores, junk mail, or syrup containers?
And at what point does it stop being news at all?
There are just too many questions left unanswered and no one left to answer them. Do yourself a huge favor. Turn off your television until June 1st. Unless we do go to war with North Korea. Or Iran. Or maybe we're still pissed off at Syria. It's hard to tell. All I can get out of CNN is a professor at Harvard discussing why Mr. Personality is actually a referendum on and a celebration of our American self-image.
More at eleven.
Joe Procopio trades in pop culture and tech culture, allowing him to poke fun at so many things. He's written for a number of online and offline publications from the late, lamented Smug to the fancy-pants Chicago Tribune and also for television. He's a novelist, a shredder, a joker, and a family man. Scoff at joeprocopio.com or follow on Twitter @jproco.
ABOUT JOE PROCOPIO
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
5.1.03 @ 12:55a
Heh. Joe's talking in caps again.
That means he's really ticked, boys and girls.
I hate local news. In fact, I rarely watch news at all. I sleep with a reporter. He keeps me informed. Other than that, I watch the Daily Show.
But I am a glutton for punishment with the newspaper. I devour it, usually cover to cover and go online for a few others. While they don't "sweep", they often "skew".
edited to say I saw the title, and thought it was a reference to Def Leppard, and got all excited....oh, never mind.
5.1.03 @ 2:19a
I like the column. No. I love it. One question, if I may? How many hair colors does Scott Peterson have? He changed his hair color more often than Cyndi Lauper. I don't think this will be the big case news executives are hoping for. They'd be better off holding out for Robert Blake.
5.1.03 @ 2:22a
Tracey: "I sleep with a reporter."
In the spirit of Joe's column, I just gotta say "Wait until your husband finds out!"
Will there be film at eleven?
5.1.03 @ 10:50a
I hate local news.
You know, this morning in the office, we were all talking about how much we love local news. It's not because we think they're particularly good, though. Just the opposite. It's because they're bad, and on top of that they're stuck with crappy programming to follow through on.
Speaking from the experience of growing up in Maine: There's nothing like getting up at 5:00 AM to get ready for school and watching the local news anchor do the early morning "Potato People" report about how, yesterday, a harvester was caught in a particularly large mud-hole near Guerrette. They have to do it with a straight face -- like it's real news.
Brilliant. Funnier than any sitcom ever invented.
5.1.03 @ 12:05p
God, I hate local news too. I can't believe I actually wanted to be a local news anchor when I was younger. It's just all such trite crap.
Especially in LA. All of the newscasters are really just actors who haven't made it and the top story is usually Hollywood Gossip. And then the war.
michelle von euw
5.1.03 @ 12:47p
I adore the local news -- for the same reason Erik does, though. Investigative reporting on a local level is hysterical -- it's like they've stopped taking themselves seriously, and just go for the splashy visuals and the puns. And the promos! The DC Fox affiliate did an "expose" on how clean bar glassware is, and the promo guy screamed, "Is there fecal matter on your drinking glass?" every thirty seconds for like a week. Classic.
5.1.03 @ 4:44p
and the top story is usually Hollywood Gossip. And then the war.-- heather millen
As it should be.
5.2.03 @ 12:02a
Just heard some radio spots today for tonight's news: "Danger at the Supermarket: An Action 7 Report" (about kids who have gotten hurt by shopping cart seats.) "Murder Investigation Revisited: A Channel Two News Special Report" (this one's about a three-year old, unsolved murder.) Oh, and in the Not News category: "Macauley Culkin guest stars on (something)" (apparently he will be playing a Doogie-esque attorney.)
Gee, I'm so psyched....
5.2.03 @ 12:27p
that's how they sell the "news" every day in LA.
we're going to get rain today and it's been the LEAD story since tuesday. but they don't give you any tips -- like, don't jump in the river, check your tires for tread and don't forget those wiper blades (remember, LA's a desert -- lots of people have no sense of these basic weather "safety" tips). they just want to scare the shit out of you that stuff might fall from the sky!
bravo, joe. thanks for pointing out that there really isn't much news on TV any more. it's all scare tactics and fluff designed to spur more sales.
5.2.03 @ 1:11p
"Don't jump in the river." Oooohkay.
Basics, people. Might need to tell us not to stand staring into the sky with open mouths; we might drown.
5.2.03 @ 4:30p
you think i'm kidding, but every "storm watch" there are tons of stories about people who jump in the LA River (which kind of really only *is* one when it rains, and they have to send the rescue choppers out to get them. it's ridiculous.