MAD DOG: Snoozing Through the News

The news is boring. It's not the fault of those making the news. Lord knows there's nothing dull about terrorist bombings, gas prices that make truffles look like a bargain, and the presidential election -- okay, two out of three isn't bad -- it's the delivery of the news that's the problem. TV newscasters are stoic and unflappable, newspapers couldn't find an exclamation point if their circulation depended on it, and radio's idea of news is telling us the time and temperature for the hundredth time this hour. Even MTV's Music News, which should be fun and interesting, features human dynamo Kurt Loder droning on in a monotone that makes Ben Stein seem effervescent. Is it any wonder people are falling asleep during the 10 o'clock news in spite of the fact that they're passing out No-Doz as a promotion?

This isn't to say they aren't trying, they're just doing it in the wrong places. On TV they'll encourage the weather person to wear clown outfits, use glitzy special computer effects, and come up with ridiculous names for weather conditions like "thunderboomers" and "Wanda's Watch-out Weather Warning", yet they force their newscasters to have surgery which leaves them physically unable to smile. And if they should even think of showing a glimmer of emotion, the producers flip the switch on the cattle prod that's stuck down their shorts. And you thought the job looked easy.

Newspapers have tried to spice things up by adding color, fancy weather maps, and fluffy feature stories. This doesn't make the news any more interesting, it just gives us something more to read. Time and Newsweek thought it was a good idea to get a brain transplant from USA Today. This is a lot like giving Stephen Hawking Pauley Shore's brain. Thus, Time now runs a weekly crossword puzzle, cute statistical comparisons they ripped off from Harper's Index, and silly multiple choice quizzes so lame Conan O'Brien wouldn't donate them to Jon Stewart. Is it any wonder 40 percent of the under-30 crowd gets their political news from late night talk show monologues?

I know the news media is supposed to be impartial, but a touch of entertainment wouldn't hurt. Maybe we should take a tip from the Russians and put some sex into it. "The Naked Truth" is a hit news program on channel M1 that makes "60 Minutes" look, well, overdressed. It's a thirteen-minute newscast featuring 26-year-old Ukrainian actress Svetlana Pecotska reading the news topless. At least she usually ends up that way, though sometimes she's more than topless.

Before you think the show is just about sex, she does read the news and she reads it straight. In fact, there are evenings when she doesn't undress at all -- the weather girl does. Or her guest interviewee might strip. It would probably go over well here in the U.S., though I don't think we should inaugurate it on Nightline, especially during an interview with Madeleine Albright. And heaven forbid Andy Rooney picks up on the idea, though I have to say I've always suspected he was doing his segment without wearing pants. It's that smirk.

If this isn't the network's bra cup of tea, maybe they could import another show the same Russian company is producing, the talk show "Natural Selection", where host John dePalma discusses topics with his guests that range from politics to philosophy. Picture Larry King with a Russian accent and no suspenders. Okay, now picture him as a chimp. I know this doesn't take a lot of imagination, but that's exactly what they're doing. DePalma, you see, is a chimpanzee. I'm not sure this will do as well as "Naked Truth", despite how much people like animals. Now maybe if the monkey was topless.....

The networks already know that entertainment beats news. That's why NBC and Fox skipped the first presidential debate. Well, that and they already have enough sleepers in their new fall line-up. Back in 1985 the networks were faced with a choice of airing President Regan's second inauguration or the Superbowl because they were both scheduled for the same day. Luckily they didn't have to make the obvious decision because the government made it for them -- they moved the inauguration.

It's too bad because I'm sure the networks could have found corporate sponsors for the inauguration, like Depends ("Protects against trickle down!"), Grecian Formula, and Memorex. And with a little work they probably could have talked the Supreme Court Justice into foregoing his robes. At least then people would quit asking him "Is that a gavel in your robes or are you just happy to see me?" I feel certain that if they promoted it right -- "Inauguration 40. The Gipper Returns!" -- they could have pulled people away from watching the "My Mother The Car" marathon on Nick at Night. A few anyway.

They should learn from the success of shows like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire" and "Survivor." It's true they ordered up "Survivor 2" and are importing new so-called reality shows like "Boot Camp", where contestants are put through basic training, and "Public Property", in which viewers tell people what to wear, what to eat, and why they should have their heads examined for wanting to be on a show like that. Luckily no one's come up with the idea of a cooking show based on the Survivor menu, "Rats in the Kitchen." Yet.

But what they really need to do is incorporate some of these concepts into the news -- it would boost ratings while raising our current events IQ. Put the "Dateline" crew on an island and let them compete in silly contests in order to read the news. Lock Mary Sunshine and Dick Dour from your local nightly news in a house filled with cameras so we can see them without make up and with their hair messy. And let's put the whole New York Times editorial staff on a quiz show with Regis. I'm sure they'd do well, which would be fun, but if we're real lucky they'll get so sick of his pointing his finger at the camera that they'll break it. It won't make the news any more interesting but at least it would be good television.

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