The Write Stuff

Did ‘writing for broadcast’ start with him?

I was in the back of a taxi this afternoon, and the taxi had a TV in it.

Taxi TV is a growing phenomenon in Manhattan, and most of the time I ignore it or turn it off, but today is the ‘7th worst gridlock day of the year’, (so says WNBC-4, which I was watching in the taxi) so I had lots of time.

After we got done with a story about dog adoption and some guy who is building the next generation artificial foot (he lost both his own legs in a climbing accident when he was 17 – see what you can learn from TV?), we got a bit from Brian Williams….then an SNL clip.

The SNL clip was not funny. (I don’t think they have been funny since Belushi died, but I am stuck in the back of a taxi and you can’t change the channel). But the SNL clip reminded me of a bit I had seen Brian Williams do on the Today Show, where the was throwing pennies out of his window on Rockefeller Center and hitting Matt Lauer in the head with them.

Now that was funny.

I had heard that Brian Williams was supposed to be funny, at least in real life.

He certainly is not funny on NBC News… nor is he particularly entertaining.

Jon Stewart if both funny and entertaining.

But Brian is not.

What Brian is, is a ‘serious newsman’. He talks in ‘serious newsman talk’.

Like Peter Jennings did.

Like Walter Cronkite did.

Like Dan Rather did.

And ‘serious newsman talk’, which was kind of cool in 1966 is today both old and boring. Really boring.

And they all got it from Edward R. Murrow, who invented it.

All of this made me think of Chuck Yeager – pictured above.

Yeager was a test pilot who broke the sound barrier – back when that was a very big deal. He became the model for all test pilots. Calm. unflappable, with that Texas drawl and twang. “Roger.. the wing has fallen off the airplane and I am attempting a 90-degree turn so as to return the airplane to the base… over”. You know how it is supposed to sound. Yeager talk. Test pilot talk. Right stuff talk.

When you get on a commercial plane today, no matter who the carrier, the pilot talks in Chuck Yeager talk: “this is your pilot speaking. We are now cruising at an altitude of 40 thousand feet”. Slim Pickins in Doctor Strangelove did a great job.

You know what it sounds like. It makes you feel comfortable.

If you ever buckled into your American Airlines flight and suddenly the pilot got on and started talking with a heavy Brooklyn accent “Oye….ve are flyink very very fast…” you would throw up on the spot. Yeager talk means confidence.

In the world of broadcasting, Edward R. Murrow set the standards for Anchor Talk. Tall, dark haired, smoker, trenchcoat. Pauses at poigniant moments. “This…. is London”. Look at Peter Jennings and you could be looking at Edward R. Murrow. Look at Brian Williams and you could be looking at Peter Jennnings imitating Edward R. Murrow.
Which is too bad.

Because Brian is probably a lot better looser and funnier than Murrow.

Murrow is old… and so is Chuck Yeager.

Why can’t we deliver news with a sense of humor – (unless its on the Comedy Channel?)

Maybe we should let Brian be Brian. Loosen up, Brian!

Maybe we should let Katie be Katie.

She doesn’t really make a believable Murrow… or Chuck Yeager for that matter.


10 responses to “The Write Stuff

  1. I recently revisited Stewart’s amazingly devastating appearance on “Crossfire”…

    Brilliance. I love that man.

  2. People should not pretend.

    Especially… to know something about something they do not know about.

    Nor should they make accusations, insinuations, or give opinions, unless asked for their opinions. Not news people at least.

    That is the problem. Pretentiousness.

  3. I have to say… you are one of the most interesting people I have had the pleasure of listening to. And I do mean “listening” because while reading your pieces its like I can hear your voice come through. Very inspiring.

  4. Michael is a very clever guy and every so often I think he is going to come up with something new and revolutionary but unfortunately rather than thinking outside the box Michael has limited himself to one corner of the box… the selling the VJ corner.
    If Albert Einstein was a refrigerator salesman would we have got E=MC2 or E=More Cool beer?
    Michael is about as inspiring as a Bud commercial.

  5. Stephen,
    I am disappointed! Today’s article has nothing to do with VJ at all (unlike tomorrow’s).
    But I personally find some of the bud commercials pretty inspiring. A lot of people buy bud! (If only half would sign up for the academy).

  6. Oh come on. One of your main arguments for VJ is to get rid of “personality” presented TV, using the apparent unfairness of what Katie and friends get paid to build resentment toward them and warm fuzzies to VJ’s…
    You’ve been selling VJ so long you can’t see how much it colours your thinking…
    Or maybe I’m getting so cynical I’m reading “VJ agenda” into everything you say…
    Damn I’m going to have to think about that…
    Where did I put my thinking box…

  7. Talking of funny have you seen Flight of the Conchords on HBO?

    I did wonder what an American audience will make of these guys but it seems to have come across ok.

  8. oops… Flight of the Conchords

  9. No, (and we all mature with time), I certainly think there’s a place for personalities on TV. How much they get paid, if they even have a personality is another story. I don’t particularly wanna see every hair and teeth dope in local news in a standup every time, but take a smart guy like Stewart. he IS the show (or at least he and his writers). And it works. So go with it. There is (imho) no point in creating an airhead on purpose, which after seeing Brian Williams in his apparently funny real self, was what motivated me to write the thing.

    BTW, when we run the longer bootcamps – like 2 weeks, and let the tv pros go, they almost always make really funny stuff. I think that’s whats in their hearts.

    The Office pilot was actually a project on a BBC producers training course.

    My whole point here really is that news could be greatly improved by loosening up and lightening up. For today we put the small cameras in the box. Yeah…that box.

  10. my dad was in the 101st in ww2 hes gone now but not forgoten do you know what all those metals are ? just wonding dad has some but dont know what they are only his wings.

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