It’s like the dessert platter at a dinner party. Some dive right in, taking not just one, but two. They eat ‘em up with obvious delight. Others ponder, thinking about it, weighing the caloric impact, then methodically decide, “sure, just this once.” Others stand on their laurels and resist, thinking instead about the body they’ve sculpted through hard work, and the reputation they’ve built of skipping the sweets in favor of healthier fare. Until, one night, even they decide THAT platter? That platter’s just too damn delicious to pass up. And they dive in with both fists.
So it was for KNBC/LA Monday night, and the tempting fare was an LA local news tradition, as much as cotton candy and funnel cake at the fair: a car chase. Pure spun sugar, of course, and some stations couldn’t care less. They love feeding it to their viewers for the sugar high and temporarily pumped numbers. Others, like KNBC, have tried to be more cerebral about the absolute lack of substance to such stories, and worse, their ability to turn off viewers in search of calorie-rich news. You know, like important stuff that actually means something.
But this chase. Oh, this one was soooo tempting. Every station in town jumped on it, choppers out in force. As Variety’s Michael Schneider writes, “With visions of O.J. Simpson dancing in their eyes, the stations almost giddily hinted that the driver was a “significant figure” who had recently battered his galpal.”
“R&B artist Chris Brown had just been accused the night before of allegedly beating his girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. Mix in a pop culture stereotype – urban singers and rappers love to drive Bentleys – and, well, it was enough for stations to scrap their late night newscasts and go wall-to-wall with chase coverage,” said Schneider in today’s daily Variety.
And KNBC gave in–big time. Out went the entire 11 p.m. newscast in favor of this chase. Basically, they tossed the steamed veggies and grilled fish and jumped right to dessert, which they gorged on for the full half hour. “”On rare occasions we’ll make them a part of regular newscasts if it seems to rise to the level of legitimate news,” KNBC news director Bob Long, a car chase critic, told Variety. “This one smelled like it might. We got some information that turned out to be incorrect, that a person of some prominence was involved.”
It wasn’t Chris Brown. It was a mistake–and Long, like the kid who ate too much cotton candy, admitted such as he rolled around with a stomach ache in the back seat of the car, telling the LA Times, “”It was a wasted newscast, and I feel terrible about that,” he said. “It irritates my serious news watchers. I got a lot of unpleasant mail today, and I answered everybody to explain my thinking.”
Then, as Schneider deftly points out, there’s the even more profound impact: local stations, struggling to attract advertising in the midst of the worst slump in industry history, blew out half an hour’s worth of spots–ads they’ll have to make up, while the sales force works to convince tight-fisted retailers that, yes, KNBC still stands for news. Forget the other night.