Funny You Should Say That! And Now for Your Local News
Musings on broadcast happy talk.
By John Cadley
Local news is an oxymoron. News is what happens to other people in other places. If it happens in your hometown, it’s not news – it’s life.
That’s why I feel so sorry for local news broadcasters. To compensate for the lack of real news, they have to be entertaining. This involves a form of broadcast balderdash known as “happy talk,” in which the on-air personalities trade unscripted remarks between segments to liven up the otherwise mind-numbing reports of water main breaks, town hall meetings and Memorial Day parades. Unfortunately, they’re not very good at it. These aren’t actors. They’re communications majors with expensive hair. Watching them ad-lib clever chitchat is like watching the sailing team try to play varsity football.
First, there are the “anchors.” They get to be the most serious, reading news of a break-in at the 7-Eleven like it was a raid on the Federal Treasury. Because they lack the weight of a national network anchor, there must be two of them and they must be of the opposite sex in the hopes of sparking a little on-screen “chemistry” that will make viewers wonder how they really get along (i.e., Do they like each other?)
Usually their happy talk consists of commenting on each other’s stories:
ANCHOR 1: … and the mayor said no resolution on the matter would be forthcoming until the next council meeting.
ANCHOR 2: Still no resolution, huh?
ANCHOR 2: Not yet.
ANCHOR 1: We’ll have to wait for that next session, then.
ANCHOR 2: Yes, we will.
That sort of thing.
They get to be a little more entertaining when they introduce the court jesters of the show, the weatherman and the sports guy. For the weather guy the anchor might segue with something like: “So, what’s it going to be this weekend, Bill, the golf clubs or the umbrella?” To which Bill replies: “A little bit of both, Lou, so hit the links and bring an umbrella. If you hit a slice you can blame it on the rain.”
“I don’t need the rain to hit a slice, Bill. I can do that in broad daylight.” Ha-ha-ha-ha.
Using Special Sports Words
The sports guy has license to be even more of a kook. That’s because he gets to use special sports words to break the interminable monotony of game results. “Mulloy edged Hudson 21-20, while Hamilton blanked Greenwood, 14-zip. Jefferson snuck past LaFayette 14-10, Lowery topped Dewitt 27-20, and Benson routed Kirkville 30-3.”
Then the comedy starts: “And that’s it for sports. No golf scores to report. Lucky for you, Lou.” Ha-ha-ha-ha.
Wow, what great camaraderie. That’s because they’re part of a team, and not just any team but “your local news team.” They even have slogans to communicate their commitment to your news. “Breaking news while it’s breaking.” (These guys are fast!) “The news behind the news.” (These guys are smart!) “News you can use.” (These guys really care!) “A higher level of reporting.” (These guys sit on taller chairs!)
And, boy, are they connected. They have laptops in front of them, right there on the desk. That way, they can break even more breaking news on top of the breaking news they’ve already broken.
What I love most, though, is their sincerity. Just the other day I saw an anchor doing a “promo” for his show. He was chatting casually with someone off-camera, his tie loosened, drinking coffee from a paper cup just like regular folks. He said, “I don’t just report the facts. I tell you what those facts mean. If there are potholes on County Route 7, I tell you what those potholes mean. If there’s a kitten caught in a drain pipe, I tell you what that means – for the kitten and the drain pipe.”
This is supposed to show his commitment to the community, even though he’s trying to get out of this community as fast as he can so he can get a bigger job in a bigger market. When he does, he’ll be reporting on what’s happening to other people in other places – and I’ll finally get to hear some real news.
John Cadley is an advertising copy-writer in Syracuse, New York. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.