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HOWARD ROSENBERG

The Gripes of Wrath . . . TV Taken to Task for Ineptness

February 20, 1989|HOWARD ROSENBERG

All right, the gripe line--reserved for those aspects of television that irritate you the most--is open. I'll go first.

--Hackneyed dialogue: "I'll send for my things."

This shows up even in the best of productions, including last year's "A Dangerous Life" on HBO, when the American hero's English wife walked out on him in the Philippines, saying: "I'll send for my things."

Just how does one "send" for "things"? Whom do you send? Do you find someone in the Yellow Pages? And how will that person know where your "things" are when he gets there? And what will he carry your "things" in if he's lucky enough to locate them? And what if some of your "things" are missing when he brings them to you? Do you send him back for the rest of your "things"?

A solution: Send for new dialogue.

--Hackneyed dialogue No. 2: "I'll see myself out."

This offer is frequently made by a visiting stranger. But truthfully, now, has a guest in your home ever offered to "see myself out"? And if he did, would you let him? How would you know he was really seeing himself out? He could be sneaking into your bedroom and going through your "things."

--Characters who hang up a phone without saying goodby. Have you ever noticed that characters in TV stories say nothing when concluding phone conversations? Not "ta ta" or "bye-bye" or even "see ya." They just hang up.

--News anchors who can't resist promoting their employers--and thus themselves--on the air. Case in point: CNN's Bernard Shaw, who regularly refers to the cable network he works for as "your network of record." Not mine. CNN comes closest, but there is no network of record. And even if CNN were one, an anchor shouldn't be the one continually pointing it out. That's the job of public relations departments, not journalists.

--Anchors who don't know when to shut up.

Case 1: Said ABC "Good Morning America" news anchor Forrest Sawyer to Tim O'Brien after the ABC correspondent had assessed the stalemate over the trial of Oliver North: "Thanks very much for talking to us."

Reporters are now being thanked on the air for doing what they are assigned and paid to do? And who else would O'Brien be talking to? CBS? NBC? The BBC? Good Housekeeping?

Case 2: "Good work. Hard work." The words were KCBS-TV Channel 2 anchor Jim Lampley's following a KCBS series reviewing alleged misconduct by members of the Long Beach Police Department. Lampley was right. The series represented good work, and surely hard work too.

But please! There is something more than a tad self-serving about newscasters congratulating themselves on the air, unless they also publicly criticize themselves at those times when the work they do is inept.

TV is unceasingly self-laudatory. When the occasion demands it, however, will Lampley also say, "Bad work, soft work"?

--Anchors--those on Channel 2 and KABC-TV Channel 7 are the worst offenders--who begin stories by addressing one another before they address viewers.

This is a repeat gripe about an element of ridiculous and abrasive stagecraft that has endured in local newscasts for years. The strategy is to project a feeling of family in newscasts, as if everyone--them and us--is in this together.

--Stations that cross-promote newscasts and entertainment programs, using the former to advertise the latter in such ratings sweeps months as February.

--Michael Jackson's good deeds.

Everyone applauds a celebrity who seeks to alleviate suffering. But a curious thing happened when Jackson dropped in on patients at a hospital some time ago, and again recently when he visited students at the Stockton school traumatized by a maniac with an AK-47.

By some remarkable coincidence, TV cameras and still photographers were on the scene to record the super-singer's goodness.

Could it be that the media throng was summoned by Jackson's people with the goal of enhancing his image as a humanitarian? Could it be that they equate a good deed with a tree in a forest: It doesn't exist unless everyone knows about it?

--Mood killers. That's what networks and stations are when they crassly announce coming programs during the credits for a movie that is lingering in your thoughts. The ending credits and music can be an integral component of a thoughtful, poignant movie, offering a sort of quiet time to contemplate what you've just been watching.

Sensitivity, however, is not the long suit of TV hucksters, who think nothing of sacrificing the integrity of a film just to squeeze in one last promo.

--Sportscasters who complain about hockey violence, then hypocritically show it in their sportscasts, thereby exploiting and celebrating what they have just condemned.

--Sportscasters who see themselves as an extension of the industry they are supposed to be covering.

--Sportscasters who interview Tommy Lasorda about his eating habits.

--Commercials starring John Madden.

The gripe line is closed.

Editor's note: Good work. Hard work.

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