How The Networks Lost Me on Sunday Morning

Sunday Morning Shows

It didn’t happen all at once, but my “appointment” for Sunday morning with the network press shows was broken, and it’s probably irrevocable.  Once it was a habit: Get the coffee; Turn on the TV; Grab the crossword to play with during the commercials; and Listen to the broadcasters… no longer.  The appointment was broken for the reasons Jonathan Bernstein set forth in his piece for Bloomberg News last March.

“In the era of three-network television, the Sunday shows were useful because there were few other venues to hear the parties talk about important issues. And politicians didn’t have many ways to send up trial balloons, or to engage in public, high-profile bargaining.” [BloombergNews]

No longer.  Jason Linkins expanded on the problem:

In short, the subtle work of partisan dealmaking was served. But those days are over. Now, the Sunday shows simply serve as a venue for prestige arbitrage, where having regular access to deemed-to-be-important people is an end in itself. And so these shows have slowly morphed into salons for the powerful, where one can only get so adversarial before a plum booking is put at risk. [HuffPo]

Did Chuck Todd admit the sad and sorry truth?  If those seeking to increase their prestige are annoyed, then the bookings are over?

“We all sit there because we know the first time we bark is the last time we do the show,” Todd explained. “There’s something where all of the sudden nobody will come on your show.” [RS]

It looks like it. And there was the admission affirming my distaste for the Sunday morning fare.  Worse still, merely serving as a venue for “prestige arbitrage,” the shows have become formulaic.  That’s been in evidence for some time now. Not so long ago the formula was (1) present an issue (2) the “guest” would answer questions, and (3) during the other Sunday shows other “guests” would answer the same questions… over and over again.  Nothing so improves a person’s performance on cross word puzzles as a television show which is profoundly derivative, utterly unoriginal, and all but devoid of actual news.  But the cross word puzzles couldn’t mask the predictable boredom for long.

What could a show, in which the “guests” are determined to make their talking points without challenge, be if not boring?  The Sunday morning offerings descended into a morass of selectable sound bites suitable mostly for derision on comedy shows later in the week. Why be bored silly with the original broadcasts when I can catch the comedy show later – getting the same inane talking points served up with a side of reality, challenge, and context?

Thus, what is the point of getting up to watch a Sunday morning show if it will be nothing more than the recitation of talking points, and the fulminations of pundits?  When the object isn’t “deal making” or even the launching of “trial balloons,” then we’re left with the politics of personalities, not usually a very interesting affair.  This transformation yielded another formula, no more informative than the old repeated questions format.

Our host introduces a topic such as the President issued an executive order to _____(fill this in with whatever might be at hand). The “guest” from the opposition is invited to comment _____ (fill this in with the opposition talking point of the day.)  The background of the issue is rarely if ever explained in any detail, the nature of the problem is assumed, and the discussion devolves into the political ramifications of the action and the perfectly expected opposition.  There is, at this point, very little difference between the scripted prime time melodramas and the scripted Sunday morning chatterati speculation.  I prefer my shows with members of Actors Equity playing their roles, the writing is generally better and the presentations more professional.

Now that the appointment has been broken I am free to find other channels and other forms of entertainment.  And, I have — evidently there are others who are now finding news from other sources than the networks.  However, it may be a sorry thing to admit that even a news junkie can be lured away from a news program by cable broadcasts of FA Cup soccer on Sunday morning – who would have guessed that Manchester United defeating Yeovil Town 2-0 could be more interesting than “Meet The Face Of The Nation This Week?”

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