The state of Arizona has been at the top of the news since last week's approval of a law designed to crack down on illegal immigrants.
Social and political developments seem to be breaking nearly on the hour, so there's plenty to report. So where did the crack news leaders at KNBC Channel 4 take us to capture the story one night this week? The Hollywood red carpet launch of a celebrity's new perfume.
That's right. Because if the beautiful people don't care about immigration in Arizona, why would we? Thank goodness KNBC got lithe, super-hot, perfume-hawking Eva Longoria Parker to weigh in (The law is clearly unconstitutional) and buff, bouncy and eternally inoffensive Mario Lopez to offer his two cents. (Don't boycott, it only hurts innocent Arizonans.)
Some of you have asked before why anyone would even bother to judge local TV news, which seems to do nothing so ebulliently as layer on the cheese.
The answer: Because someone has to care about the medium that remains the top information source for most Americans. And because, even in a degraded local TV landscape, KNBC has devolved from cheese to cheesier to, perhaps, cheesiest of them all.
We're talking about a news operation that treats entertainers and entertainment as a critical component of seemingly every newscast, that thinks we can't digest the news without a sprinkling of stardust. That's a bad, but long-standing, habit of local news operations.
But Channel 4 has pushed these confections with particular abandon in recent months, while also mastering another of the dark arts of local TV news — making sure much of the cheese comes from the company store. Look closely at the "product" KNBC is hawking and you'll find plenty of it comes from NBC Universal and subsidiaries.
Just this week, KNBC featured "Hit Makers," a reality show that will find "America's next great songwriter." The show, to air on NBC-Uni's Bravo cable channel, promises to bring "passion" and "raw emotion" to the small screen — or so one of the creators promised on the KNBC "news" story.
A couple of weeks back, KNBC turned over more precious air time to a feature on celebrity chief Mark Peel and his new restaurant the Tar Pit. A gushing reporter oohed and aahed over Peel's food and cocktails, the segment ending with a plug for "Top Chef Masters." Yes, another Bravo show, in which Peel has starred.
None of those, however, wins the Entertainment-News Emulsification Championship. That title had been locked up in late February by a KNBC story that featured one of the stars of "Real Housewives of Orange County." The program airs on, wait for it … Bravo.
Apparently dissatisfied with the expertise of thousands of financial planners in Southern California, the station turned to the all-too-real Vicki Gunvalson for a story on new federal credit card rules. Even though she may seem to be just another of Bravo's endlessly back-biting and narcissistic Real Women, Gunvalson informed us she's also "an insurance professional and retirement planning specialist."
KNBC presented the wide-eyed blond not as an expert, already a bridge too far, but as its own reporter on the scene. The plucky Real Housewife interviewed patrons in an Orange County boutique, which was super-productive because the customers at the store seemed to know nothing about the new credit rules.
Still, if a Real Housewife knows anything it's how to soldier on in adversity. So Gunvalson took the reins and urged us to pay cash whenever possible, to shop around for better borrowing rates and even to cut up credit cards and "stay in control."
Someone should give that advice to the bosses at KNBC, namely Steve Lange. In the old days they called people like Lange news directors. But the title I see on the NBC website is " Vice President, Content," which is more apropos, given the barrier-crushing campaign Lange seems to be waging.
Television station owners are desperate to prop up plummeting revenue. Those inside KNBC still dedicated to somewhat more sober news tell me they are losing heart because of the premium the bosses now place on celebrity. Notice the surfeit of features about restaurant and club openings. All the better if stories have Big Names and especially Big Names from the NBC Universal family.
Who's got extra time for the city's budget meltdown, a California governor's race and the like, when you've got a crackerjack feature on Sharon Stone joining "Law & Order: SVU," as was reported on the NBC Los Angeles website this week? What's newsier, Los Angeles, than another NBC show flying high?
Lange would know this world well, I suppose, because he once served as executive producer of "Extra," the infotainment program. Before that, he spent years in the local news business.