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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

I Guess I Should Be Thankful They've Stopped Blowing Up Pick-Up Trucks

Whenever network news divisions concoct preposterous non-news stories that just happen to advance the publicity interests of their entertainment divisions--the interviews with "Survivor" castaways on Friday morning's "Early Show" on CBS being the most obvious, if not the most egregious, example--the news and entertainment executives responsible always lamely claim the existence of a firewall between their respective domains, and insist that if the news folks decide to cover a network show, well, it's just because it's that darn newsworthy.

My favorite example was when I was out in Los Angeles at press tour--a twice-yearly press junket where the networks promote their shows to a sun-and-wine-addled corps of critics and reporters--a few years ago listening to then-NBC entertainment president Jeff Zucker admit at a press conference that NBC's summer "American Idol" knock-off "Fame" had failed to connect with viewers or become much of a phenomenon. So I asked him why, if the show was a bomb and had no buzz, had I that very morning watched Matt Lauer interview the winner on "Today"? Shouldn't your producers have better cultural news judgment, Jeff, than to flack for shows nobody cares about? He just gave me a mean look and pleaded ignorance: "Ask 'Today.' I don't get involved with the news side.'" Of course not.

But just this once, I can with utter confidence report the obvious: Tonight's edition of "Dateline," which just happens to be devoted to "The Da Vinci Code"--a two-year-old book--and just happens to be the lead-in to the premiere of "Revelations," a shitty Christian-apocolyptic themed short-run series, was indeed directly and unequivocally dialed up by NBC Entertainment, according to a "Dateline" producer I spoke to. There's no separation-of-powers fig leaf, no "Oh, we've been meaning to do something on 'The Da Vinci Code' for two years now, and it seemed like the perfect time." It was: NBC Entertainment wanted a Christianity-themed "news" lead-in. So they called "Dateline" and said, "Hi, you're coming up with an hour of Christian goodness for Wednesday April 13 at 8 p.m. Enjoy." NBC is promoting the two shows as a pair.

Meanwhile, I'm told by another source that "Dateline" executive producer David Corvo recently declined to pick up an hour-long documentary from photojournalist Molly Bingham, who spent four months filming with anti-American insurgents in and around Baghdad. "Really interesting footage," I'm told Corvo said. "Not something my audience wants to see."

What hacks.