Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Big Picture

I’ll admit it. I’m a channel-changer. While I’m not the type that has to constantly scroll through all the channels in order to find a thirty second bit that he likes before moving on to the next channel, when it comes to big news events like this weeks Democratic National Convention, I channel change a lot in order to try to get a variety of viewpoints (usually the motivation for a new channel is when my blood starts boiling at some inept analysis).

So it happened that last night I ended up toggling between Thirteen’s (where I work during the day) coverage and MSNBC. On my cable system, they’re right next to each other and so it made it easy. I was enjoying watching and listening to Keith Olberman and Chris Matthews and the adjacent commentary by a panel of people that included an newly easy going Pat Buchanen who got admonished by his colleagues when he attempted to turn the discussion decidedly anti Obama. It was then, though, that I noticed that they were talking so much that they were talking over a pre-taped segment covering Michelle Obama’s history. Toggling back to Thirteen I got the whole video (and through the magic of DVR, I was able to ‘rewind’ to the beginning).. and that’s when I noticed it.

The screen looked less cluttered on PBS and I could see a full picture.

It’s funny how we get used to something. On the other stations (not just MSNBC) the news crawl at the bottom of the screen has become a part of the television news landscape since 9/11’s scattered news stories demanded a Wall Street ticker-like bombardment of updates to a chaotic swarm of concurrent events. But over the past few years it’s become ubiquitous and used unecessarily out of crisis.

Do Angelina Jolie’s children really need a news crawl? I swear I saw that on one a couple weeks ago.

Worse, though is how over the past few years the intrusion of too many graphics (most of the time they’re ads for products and other in-network shows) has gotten to be so bad that at times it’s hard to see the actual show behind all those dazzling, moving, colorful ads. They fly in and twirl and people now move about along the bottom of my television set, but I just want to see the actual show I’m watching. I get enough commercials. Yes, I’m aware of your show, but bombarding me with more ads while I’m trying to watch something else won’t get me to watch.. it’ll get me to turn the set off (which is ironically what people are doing .. and then the network guys sit in an office in Hollywood and scratch their heads wondering why people aren’t watching.. well, DUH!).

But anyway, back to the DNC coverage. As the graphics on MSNBC were covering up nearly a half of the screen, all I could think about was

1. how some poor camera guy and producer are sitting in the control booth trying to make sure that the framing is right so that what’s actually important gets seen, in this case, Michelle Obama

2. and. that I see now why there’s been a push towards larger TVs – not for that movie theatre ambience, but more importantly, so that there’s more screen to see the picture of, you know, the actual thing they’re showing.

I didn’t even realize how much of my screen was taken up by the logos and the ads of MSNCBC until I went to Thirteen and suddenly the picture area was huge. It’s like the 8 foot guy who’s sitting in front of me in the movie theatre finally got up to go to the bathroom and I can at last see what I want to see without having to look around someone’s head. That’s frustrating enough in a movie theatre but intolerable at home.

Anyway, I ended up staying put on Thirteen for the rest of the evening even though the sound quality was a little less than the other stations and even though a couple of the commentators on the post convention talk about really should have no future in news reporting or politics. One in particular I was aghast had little to no grasp of either how to speak on camera or solid political opinions. How do these people get these jobs anyway?

Tonight, Hillary Clinton speaks in what is sure to be the most talked about evening of television tomorrow and possible for some time to come. I’m pretty sure that I’ll just turn to Thirteen to begin with but you never know. The allure of that remote is sometimes too good to pass up.

This piece was originally posted on the Thirteen Facebook page, re-written slightly and then posted on in this, it's final form.

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