Thursday, August 11, 2005

Three Short Takes On ABC

Item 1: Peter Jennings

Last night ABC gave us two hours of extraordinary television when they said goodbye to Peter Jennings. Extra Ordinary as in beyond ordinary. It was a special in all the best meanings of the word.

Besides saving us from the final two hours of Brat Camp (more on that shortly) it was a true tribute to one of the great TV personalities, an erudite and intelligent man who tended to look for stories where others didn't and tell stories that weren't always from the popular side. While both NBC and CBS have offered tributes to anchors Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather, those programs were not as compelling as Wednesday night's show simply because both Mr. Brokaw and Mr. Rather are still very much alive and in the case of Dan Rather still broadcasting. It not only showed us Jennings the consummate professional but also gave us an insight into his personal life (although I find it vaguely curious that his first two wives - Valerie Godsoe and Anouchka Malouf - weren't mentioned at all). I confess that when I was in the habit of watching American network news, my preference was for Dan Rather, so I was not fully aware of just how good Peter Jennings was. Watching the special last night showed me what I missed.

One thing that it did remind me of however - although the special didn't give the specific anecdote I remember hearing on another tribute - was how much Peter Jennings (and Dan Rather and probably Tom Brokaw although I don't recall him being as outspoken about it as the other two) hated the sort of tabloid journalism that surrounded stories like the O.J. Simpson trial. The story I heard on the other tribute concerned an executive of ABC News coming up to Jennings around the time of the Simpson trial and asking how long it would take the network to regain the ratings lead which the network had just lost. Jennings predicted - accurately as it turned out - that they wouldn't regain it because he was not willing to indulge in the sort of tabloid reporting that other stations had. One can hope - although I fear it won't happen - that the new generation of anchormen/senior news editors will adhere to the ideals that Jennings, Rather and Brokaw and before them Reynolds, Cronkite and Chancellor (and Huntley & Brinkley) upheld.

Item 2: Hooking Up

Somehow, in the wake of the tributes to Peter Jennings, it seems necessary to bring up something that has been bothering me for a while, the show Hooking Up which I gather is about a group of women trying to find love online. I don't "mind" the show - which is to say that I have never watched it, and it's existence doesn't offend me any more than other shows that I haven't reviewed here, and considerably less than shows like The Swan did and Brat Camp does - but what bothers me is the branch of ABC that is providing the money for it. Hooking Up is a production of ABC News. In light of Peter Jenning's personal disgust with tabloid TV and the general agreement that most of his colleagues have for his views on the matter, I find the fact that the ABC News division is putting this show out unworthy at best and a potentially sad sign of things to come at worst.

Item 3: Brat Camp

My friend Ian J. Ball has a posting about Brat Camp on his blog, The iBall. Ian and I don't agree at all on this show which is fair enough. I find it exploitative and almost voyeuristic, he says "Personally, I find Brat Camp interesting because this is one of the few reality shows left that still seems to deliver some actual {gasp!} psychological insight."

However a couple of incidents have come to light which make me doubt the effectiveness of the place these kids were sent to as well as the nature of the show. The first is the story of 17 year old Isaiah Alarcon who was arrested for writing racist graffiti in front of the home of a Black pre-school teacher. Apparently further charges are pending in the incident.

In the second case Jada Chabot is facing four charges following an incident in which a speedboat she was operating hit a inflatable raft with seven people aboard, one of whom is still in hospital. In Chabot's case it was an unfortunate accident but it is one which is getting national and even international attention because of her presence on the show.

Finally there's been a news report about the youngest Brat Camper, Derek. While he's not in trouble it also seems clear that the Sagewalk School (which can cost ordinary people who are not on TV $446 a day for the minimum 30 day "Preparation/Youth Transition Program") wasn't the right program for him. According to an statement from his mother in the Arkansas Democrat (registration required - use if you don't want to register) "He still couldn’t properly function in school," and indeed he might have been misdiagnosed in the first place.

What seems apparent is that Brat Camp didn't work for these kids. In Isaiah Alarcon's case Merced County Sheriff Marc Pazin said "Reality TV has taken the place of long-term rehabilitation. These kids had some real serious issues that needed to be dealt with in a long-term process, not a multi-week TV program for entertainment." In both the Alarcon and Chabot cases however the result has been exactly the same - The kid is still a brat - which is what some professionals have been worried about in the first place according to a Boston Globe article (again registration required). I'm not saying that the kids aren't responsible for their actions; I am saying that Karyn Chabot (Jada's mother) is right: "the 'free' therapy ABC had promised wasn't worth the cost."

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