Ron Burgundy has a message for mega-anchors like WNBC’s living legend Chuck Scarborough: “fly off into the sunset while there’s still a dash of news left.”
Okay. The quote’s not technically from Burgundy himself (admittedly, a fictional character and all) but from the closest thing we have to Burgundy this side of Will Ferrell, “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” co-writer Adam McKay, who writes in today’s New York Post that the day of the big time local news anchor is officially over. “So farewell perfectly parted ones,” McKay writes. “Adieu teleprompter readers.”
McKay’s op-ed comes on the heels of a rough week for high-salaried, deep rooted local newsers, like Paul Moyer in LA and Len Berman in NYC. Both announcing unexpected departures from NBC O&O’s, and raising questions about the network’s continued investment in superstar anchors like New York’s Chuck Scarborough.
As McKay writes, “Their avuncular baritone voices reassured us in times of crisis and made us laugh when there was a frog leaping contest or a cat who had befriended a pig. But slowly their days are coming to an end.”
McKay has a pretty good grasp on the changing local news landscape, noting that “gone are the days of only three networks, the days when these men were gods.” And sure enough, he’s right. I realized earlier this week that I may have been clouded by my own emotions–rooted in the local news of my childhood, with three stations doing news and big, oversized anchors chuckling and clearly ruling the Earth–when I wrote that it would be nuts for NBC to get rid of Chuck.
The movie man may have a better grasp on my biz than I do: “Let’s face it,” McKay says. “Local news has always been pretty sugary, but these days it looks like the National Enquirer and the Weekly World News had a baby and taught it to only speak drug shootings and Madonna affairs. It’s orange, loud, dumb and absolutely devoid of any news whatsoever outside of the occasional baby food recall or toxic spill. I’m convinced their entire audience consists of people looking to see if they got on TV while waving their hands behind a reporter in the field.”
I’m tempted to defend my dear local news, with an impassioned argument of the irreplaceable role of local newsers in informing communities in the face of dangerous weather and in the aftermath of horrible tragedies. But the impulse passes quickly.
McKay offers this to the goliaths who still toil in TV: plan your exit, and plan it now, while you still can. “What does a retired anchorman do? He can yell at the neighborhood kids not to play in his yard in a pitch-perfect non-geographically specific voice. He can watch the local anchor in Clearwater, Florida, and mumble ‘punk kid’ to himself. Or he can host a PBS news show and bask in the joy of no producer handing him copy about a dog trapped in a drainage ditch.”
Too bad PBS isn’t hiring.