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HOWARD ROSENBERG

The Riordan Era: A New Mayor but Same Old TV News

July 02, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Local newscasters took some heat for providing superficial coverage of the Los Angeles mayoral race. But finally, on the day of Richard Riordan's inauguration as the city's chief executive, they got their act together.

Some live TV news sound bites from early Thursday morning:

"It's a big day. Los Angeles gets a new mayor."

Click.

To Richard Riordan: "How do you feel?"

Click.

"Let's take a little exclusive peak inside the church."

Click.

"As his daughter, what can you tell us about your father that people don't know?"

"I think a lot of people don't recognize his sensitivity. . . . He's a very soft person."

"It sure looks like it."

Click.

To Riordan: "How do you feel this morning?"

Click.

To Riordan: "That matter of putting police on the street--we'll talk as we walk--how do you think we'll pull that off?"

Click.

"Quickly, let's take a look at Dick Riordan. He has arrived for his sound check."

Click.

To Riordan: "How do you feel today? You finally got here?"

Click.

To City Councilman Joel Wachs: "What's the first thing Dick Riordan has to do?"

"Get people together. . . ."

"Is he going to reinvent government in Los Angeles?"

"I think he will."

Click.

"He came here, he had a sound check, and we asked him about his feelings today."

Click.

"What's the mood out there? Do they really feel it's a new era, a time for change?"

Click.

To Riordan: "How do you feel today?"

"I feel excited, I feel confident. . . ."

Click.

To Riordan, from "KTLA Morning News" weathercaster/political sharpie Mark Kriski: "I just wanted to say congratulations. . . . I've got a few parking tickets here. . . ."

Click.

"Live . . . Mayor Riordan's breakfast."

*

It's a new Administration, a new day. So I do solemnly swear that I will support the convolution of local news and. . . .

Nahhhhhh.

KABC-TV Channel 7 and KCAL-TV Channel 9 virtually ignored the inauguration buildup. Except for a brief cut-in during Riordan's ritualistic walk to City Hall from Union Station, so did KNBC-TV Channel 4. At least Channels 4 and 9 popped in at 11 a.m. for the formal ceremony. KABC-TV Channel 7 did not break in until 20 minutes later, shortly before its regularly scheduled newscast, just in time for the Riordan swearing-in.

In a morning of many symbols, the tardiness of Channels 4 and 9, and especially of Channel 7, was symbolic of non-commitment during ceremonies noting an historic, rare transferral of power in a Los Angeles yearning for a new age in news coverage as well as governance.

Otherwise, perhaps never have so many logos--on those little microphone clips that stations use to hype themselves during news interviews--been thrust at the face of a single politician, who affirmed prior to his inauguration that he felt real good becoming mayor of this sprawling metropolis.

At one point Thursday morning, Riordan was flanked by two reporters from KCBS-TV Channel 2, each aiming a microphone at him as he paused within a cocoon of media to expand why he felt so good about becoming mayor.

The inaugural morning was the kind of symbolic, poopah-galore, photo op of a ceremonial party that TV inevitably covers like a latex glove--encompassing but thin. Naturally, there were the predictable babble, exemplified by the excerpts above. But there were highlights as well:

* In an inspired move, KTTV-TV Channel 11 imported historian Kevin Starr for its morning-long inaugural coverage. Whether speaking about Riordan or mayors generically ("To be a mayor is a separate kind of politician") or looking backward ("Abraham Lincoln, you remember. . . "), Starr's intermittent appearances gave Channel 11 the kind of historical dimension rarely available in a local newscast. And Susan Lichtman's anchor work was further evidence that she merits something better than being a second banana in Channel 11's cockamamie new morning newscast.

* KCOP-TV Channel 13 aired a nice retrospective of Tom Bradley's 20 years as mayor.

* "The KTLA Morning News" brought in Susan Estrich to help with analysis and interviews, and she was pointed and astute. For much of the morning, though, the newscast's usual cast stayed in comic character, typically joking about their competitors and inserting themselves into this occasion like UFOs.

Absolutely without conscience, they spread a nasty rumor that KCBS-TV Channel 2 anchor Michael Tuck had helped himself to some of their egg salad sandwiches, one of which that shrewd political observer Kriski earlier had presented to Riordan himself while asking the new mayor about those traffic tickets.

Naturally aired live by Channel 5, the Kriski/Riordan high jinks crept into a Channel 2 live shot, too, and when Channel 2 reporter Angela Estell saw Kriski beginning his act, she announced, judgmentally, "Something promotional is going on here."

She was right, of course, even though Channel 2 itself was not above its usual self-promotion Thursday morning, repeatedly decorating its coverage with a special new logo: "L.A.: A Time 2 Change."

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