Tag Archives: Sarah Brightman

News? Don’t talk to me about news. I mean it.

With the death of curmudgeonly Walter Cronkite last week, I notice that a poll has now nominated Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s Daily Show, to be the most trusted name in news. But of course. He’s the only one who doesn’t lie to us: he actually admits that what he’s doing is a put-on.

Unlike Fox News, for instance.

The day Fox changes its name to something more reflective of its content – Fox Propaganda, Unfair and Biased – is the day I might start watching it.

Not that I follow this stuff too closely. On the contrary, I try to avoid the news as much as possible. Same way I avoid sports, and performances by Sarah Brightman.

To me, it’s a no-brainer. Yet, apparently, not being plugged into the news cycle is quite a bold stand to take nowadays, viewed by many as the height of adult irresponsibility. Then again, who says my aim is to be a responsible adult? I might have other plans.

“But how do you know what’s going on,” friends ask me, “if you don’t watch or read the news?” To which I respond, “Why do I need to know what’s going on? If it’s that important, I’m sure someone will tell me. Otherwise, I’m happier not knowing.” To which they respond, usually, by sighing and walking off in exasperation. Because deep down they sense a real truth here, they just can’t go along with it: that the news makes you miserable, fearful, skeptical, unsettled, and ultimately stupid. Why fill your mind with that? Better to be ignorant and a free-thinker if it means being happy too.

Don’t forget, I’ve worked in newsrooms for years, both here and in Britain, and I was never impressed.

By the time what’s laughingly called “TV news” reaches the public attention, it has already been analyzed, filleted, filtered, censored, and neutralized to death by a stiff hierarchy of editors trying to shape it to a particular viewpoint or agenda. In the end, what you’re getting is not news, but someone’s interpretation of events, shaped in a way they’d prefer you to see it. You have to differentiate news from the truth. The two are very different.

For a long time, I’ve had the privilege of contributing to a wonderful public radio news show in the States.

When I joined years ago, it was a scrappy, crazed animal, with every edition a wild ride produced by a bunch of young maniacs in a dingy, claustrophobic bullpen at the University of Southern California.

Reporters and editors back then were opinionated, intellectual, and in some cases obnoxious firebrands who’d fight and hustle and drive everyone crazy in their efforts to get their stories on air. There was a real sense of fun and excitement and purpose to what we were doing, resulting in frequent tantrums and displays of indignation, born of sheer passion – a passion to package vital information in an interesting way and get it off the wires and out into the public arena where it belonged, asap.

Alas, that’s no longer the case. Walk into the show’s new, modern offices today, and that loud obnoxious vibrancy has gone. Sometimes you can barely hear yourself think for the blanket hush that fills the place. Morgues are more exciting.

The people working there – the ones I know anyway; it’s the same show, but the staff has multiplied, I can’t keep track – are still bright and intelligent, though in a different, more subdued way.  More noticeably, the open and free expression of passion has largely evaporated. The dismal climate of fear that rules our times has seen to that. Everyone’s too scared of losing their job to be too innovative, too loud, too outspoken, or to take risks. Result: instead of soaring majestically, setting our sights ever higher, we coast at a low altitude, hiding our light.

Additionally, the recruiting guys made the mistake, in my opinion, of hiring print people for key positions instead of radio people, something I would have discouraged. Inevitably, it’s a long, slow haul to get newspaper journalists to understand the potential of sound. They think  in words only. Lots and lots of words. Facts. Data. Statistics. The old way of presenting information. Which is why newspapers are dying. And radio is so much more than boring old print. Or should be.

Maybe I’m being too harsh. I love this program. Always have. It still manages to be a superior piece of radio, some of the best out there. Perhaps inevitably, with maturity, it’s simply settled in, turning a wild adolescent into the very creature it used to poke fun at: a slick, glossily produced, critics might say overly-edited, and very, very grown-up corporate enterprise. Examples:

  • When you’re given a piece to do in radio now, a computer sends you an email to tell you so. Years ago, people used to do that.  There was actual human contact. Imagine.
  • Also years ago, the topics we covered were beyond exciting (“Hey, d’you want to go train as a cosmonaut in Russia?” – was one of the most interesting questions I’ve ever been asked). Compare this to a recent subject I was given:  items placed in public storage, and what happens to them when they’re auctioned off. Yawn.
  • At the start, my pieces went out on air with the minimum of scrutiny. They were fun, light, irreverent, edgy, filled with raw, dangerous moments. The result was exciting: there were countless complaints from listeners, even a couple of death threats. Now, though, there’s none of that and I miss it.
  • A two-page “script” for a radio feature is analyzed word by word, line by line by an editor, the way scientists scrutinize test-tubes, always with a troubled look on his or her face, busily figuring out if it breaks the rules or causes offense on any level. Words are replaced, interview clips removed, new thoughts inserted.
  • During this autopsy, which can take up to an hour, the cadaver of originality is frequently picked apart wholesale before the script is shunted off to the next stage of the assembly line: the studio, to be recorded.
  • Now, once the piece has been recorded, that should be it, ideally. You’re done. But no. Later on, the report is picked apart a second time by someone higher in the editorial chain and often recorded again. Doubtless a good move from the “monitoring content at all times” standpoint, but artistically stifling, no matter how good the editor might be. And these people are good. Almost too good.

Anyway, you get the idea. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve worked at CNN too, and in British TV, therefore I’m able to bring a hands-on perspective to the topic of news shows. The news shows I refuse to watch.

And when I do watch, I see this same sad situation magnified a thousand times. Everything being filtered, censored, monitored, shaped and molded, then presented in a corporate, orchestrated way to achieve a certain effect, reach a specific demographic, and follow a party line set in stone by a commitee.

Well, that’s not for me.  Because I’m more convinced than ever now, after accidentally switching on a TV news show this past week.

Of course, I use the word “news” loosely, because the stories were outlandish and sensational, presumably to keep viewers outraged and watching. Airtime was being given to:

  • a pitiful movement challenging Barack Obama’s citizenship of America, a fictional dispute concocted by fanatics in an attempt to keep the conversation lowbrow and irrelevant, and to throw his popularity off-track, same way the Fox News-driven tea-bag campaign tried (Dick Cheney’s daughter was given a voice on this, for some reason)
  • Republican politicians trying to shoot down universal healthcare, not because it’s wrong for their constituents – quite the reverse – but because, a) they receive millions of dollars in pay-offs from the healthcare industry, and b) it’s a Democratic proposal and they can score cheap political points by defeating it:
  • police officers arresting a black guy for entering his own home, then feigning outrage when the President called them stupid for doing so;

…and so on and so on.

Seriously, people, I don’t need to know this stuff. It’s not doing me, or you, or the country, any good. So please don’t challenge me on this. You may enjoy being in the loop, but I don’t. I’m far happier just going about my life ignorant and distant and sane, untainted by other folks’ made-up nonsense. Unless it’s Jon Stewart’s made-up nonsense, in which case I’m right there, glued to the screen.

www.cashpeters.com

Read Cash’s book, Naked in Dangerous Places, HERE.

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PBS. Today’s excuse for not writing a blog

I’m snowed under. Truly.

Finishing book, finishing promo film, working on radio piece, doing taxes, sorting out insurance people after car crash, worrying that the right contestants might not get through on American Idol when clearly an Adam Lambert-Lil Rounds finale in May will make everyone’s life complete and possibly usher in a new era of international co-operation among warring nations…. I have a lot going on.

So I’m not doing a blog today. Bottom line.

In fact, I’m beginning to think that bloggers are people who resort to  writing down their thoughts as a handy alternative to doing anything useful or constructive. Watching TV would be one example. Whereas all I seem to do every day is write down my thoughts in one way or another. I make a living from it. So to then do it in a blog as well is beginning to seem kinda superfluous somehow.

Also when I blog I’m doing it for free. And every time I watch PBS, America’s version of BBC TV, I’m reminded what a bad business model ‘doing stuff for free’ actually is.

PBS – also known as The Begging Channel – is freely accessible to all. Each day they show a range of taped shows, from news hours to concerts to lectures, and whatever else they have lying around the office.

They’re also notorious for introducing Americans to truly mediocre Britcoms such as A Fine Romance and Are You Being Served? that were ratings winners when  I was about nine years old, and convincing them somehow that they are a freshly-minted example of the state of British entertainment today. In fact, it can’t be long before a British variety series I helped write when I was 15 and still in school – The Two Ronnies – gets shown over here, billed as the latest comedy craze. 

“Hang on, run that by me again. A short guy and a fat guy performing skits together? Really? Oh, you crazy goddamned English!”

The reason PBS is known as the Begging Channel, though, returning to my point, is because they proudly broadcast all their shows for free.

F-R-E-E. 

Including classical concerts by puffer fish chanteuse Sarah Brightman, and really excellent self-help lectures by such people as Wayne Dyer and that Rich Dad, Poor Dad guy. Which is fair enough. Who among us doesn’t like free stuff?

But then – then, they go and spoil everything by interrupting the shows with pleas for money. Every twenty minutes or so, some frumpy woman with a bad hairstyle, who wouldn’t be allowed on any other network with those looks and that dress sense, turns up to ask viewers to stump up cash for these so-called free programs. Pledge a financial donation of up to $300, she implores us, so that PBS can keep showing a wide range of “quality programming” – vintage comedies, stimulating lectures, and beautiful concerts by shrill, posturing divas with mannequin hands that we promise will be interrupted every twenty minutes next time as well with even more begging.

Meanwhile, in the background, a coachload of pensioners with similar fashion sense stare at a bank of phones that sound like they’re ringing off the hook but which nobody appears to be answering.

And they go through this ritual repeatedly. Week in, week out, year upon year, interrupting their shows with cheesy panhandling. No matter how much we send them, they’re never satisfied. They never have enough money, it seems, with which to broadcast their free programs. 

I, of course, have never sent them a penny, I can proudly tell you. My view is this: if you’re stupid enough to operate a TV network without advertising or other visible means of support, don’t then come to me and expect me to give you money for a service I can get for nothing. It’s not going to happen.

So that’s PBS. Now, extrapolating this money-pit scenario to my blog…

I write books. I get paid for that. I do radio. I get paid for that. I write material for a blog, for which I receive praise, comments, criticism, and attention, but never any money.  I mean, where’s the sense?

In short, ladies and gentlemen, I am not Sarah Brightman and will not be treated as such. Thank you and good day.

 

PBS gets three magic carpets out of five, simply for showing up.

TV Swami – he say NO to blog-writing.

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