Sunday, November 11, 2007

CNN's Headline News is the MTV of 24-hour news

There was a time when Headline News had the most descriptive motto of all twenty-four hour new channels: "A whole day's news every half-hour."

This motto stated outright the content and purpose of the channel. I could get live news in half an hour: national and international headlines, business news, entertainment news, a weather report, and maybe even some regional news if it was a slow news day. Ads ran approximately every eight or nine minutes, which was perfectly acceptable since the ads logically separated parts of the half-hour broadcast. This same schedule repeated every half-hour, with news changing as the day turned into night. Weekends were understandably recorded every two or three hours.

MTV started out with nothing but videos. Any time I wanted to watch music videos, I could turn on the TV and flip to the fledgling network and hear my favorite tunes and perhaps even see the artist in the video. Every two to seven or eight, maybe even ten minutes, a new song would play. Every now and then, some advertisements would air--acceptably--and the music videos would return.

Then, MTV introduced programming like the VMAs, Club MTV, Road Rules, Real World, and Total Request. The number of music videos shown daily began its steady decrease as the network realized there was more money in real programming than in simply showing music videos all day, every day. Some good would come out of this, at least in my opinion; I enjoyed Aeon Flux, Beavis and Butthead, Celebrity Deathmatch, and Daria, as well as MTV Unplugged. Later shows, such as Jackass and The Tom Green Show, where more lackluster, but still humorous enough to warrant some time every now and then.

Nowadays, MTV has all but banished actual music videos from its lineup. Sure, there might be an hour or two here and there, but it's mostly just well-dressed socialites talking about mainstream music and featuring 60%-80% of the videos the network actually does play. I have nothing against this progression, only that I long for the days when I could turn on the television while getting ready for work/school in the morning/afternoon and enjoy some music videos.

I fear that Headline News is headed this way, too. I believe that Nancy Grace's program was the first to break the "whole day's news every half-hour" mission statement. My contempt for the talking head aside, I simply avoided Headline News the hour that her program aired.

Not long ago, Headline News added the Glenn Beck program. I regard him to be yet another talking head, but one who attempts to mimic the style of The Daily Show's Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report's Stephen Colbert, but alters it enough that he's unique. I tend to disagree with him on most of his viewpoints, but that's irrelevant. The addition of his show to the Headline News day further encroached on my preferred "whole day's news every half-hour."

More recently, Headline News saw fit to further alter the schedule, doubling the time given to both Grace and Beck, and adding Erica Hill's Headline Prime, which is somewhat of a recap of the headlines of the day. That's three hours less real newscast, three hours more talk show. Then Headline News added Larry King at 11 a.m. and A.J. Hammer's Showbiz Tonight at 11 p.m.. I like Larry King--mostly his voice and interview style--but I don't want hour-long interviews at 11 a.m.. I want news!

So, from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., here's a rundown of Headline News's weekday schedule:

6 a.m. News with Robin & Company
7 a.m. News with Robin & Company
8 a.m. News with Robin & Company
9 a.m. News with Robin & Company
10 a.m. News
11 a.m. Larry King Live
12 p.m. News
1 p.m. News
2 p.m. News
3 p.m. News
4 p.m. News
5 p.m. Headline Prime
6 p.m. Headline Prime
7 p.m. Glenn Beck
8 p.m. Nancy Grace
9 p.m. Glenn Beck (replay)
10 p.m. Nancy Grace (replay)
11 p.m. Showbiz Tonight with A.J. Hammer
12 a.m. Glenn Beck (replay)
1 a.m. Nancy Grace (replay)
2 a.m. Showbiz Tonight with A.J. Hammer (replay)

Headline News shows ten hours (boldfaced above for visibility) of real, anchor-style newscast out of the 20 hours that most people are awake. Forget about tuning in after 5 p.m., it's all talking heads or entertainment news, both of which are good for little, if not nothing.

What happened to being able to tune in and catch an overview of the news in a half an hour, and being able to to accomplish this at any time during the day? What happened to be being able to tune in and catch music videos at any time I wanted?

On top of that, Headline News has its own well-dressed alarmists socialites to point people in the direction of the news that's "important," like entertainment news or the latest craze on the Internet or the never-ending wars of the world, just like MTV's VJs, who direct viewers to "good" music. I often question the credibility of some of Headline News's anchors, but some, such as Renay San Miguel and Daniel Sieberg, are more credible than their peers in the industry. Erica Hill was quite credible, but then came Prime News.

Headline News started great, and it's contributed greatly, but it's alienated the viewers who just wanted that sweet, quick news fix. MTV started great, and contributed massively to the culture of the so-called MTV Generation, but it's alienated the viewers who just wanted that sweet, quick music video fix.

Thus, Headline News is the MTV of twenty-four hour news.