What “Today” is doing is disturbing on two levels. First, it’s manipulating its audience, and second, it’s getting me in more trouble with my wife than Sarah Palin ever did.
For several months now, my wife and I have been rehashing a familiar argument at about the same time each day. The argument comes near the end of the first hour of the “Today” show.
We began watching the show during the presidential election partially because I couldn’t get enough Sarah Palin news. (My wife accused me of having a crush on her, which I vehemently denied to the point where I think I protested too much.) After Chuck Todd and Tom Brokaw would offer their thoughts on the previous day’s political news, Meredith Vieira or Matt Lauer would tease an interview with a person or a family that had overcome near tragedy.
Among the stories featured in the “Tales of Survival” series involved a boy who got a butter knife stuck in his head, a man who was hit by lightning at a gas station and a man who survived being cut in half by a train. The last straw, as far as I was concerned, happened on Tuesday when the tragedy of the day focused on a toddler who fell down on a key and ended up driving it through his eye and into his brain.
I turned off the television in disgust. She just smiled and said something like: “There’s Crotchety Rogers again.”
Rachael says I shouldn’t be getting so worked up over these tales of triumph. She says they’re positive and uplifting in a time where the news has been rotten for months.
“Just because something bad happens doesn’t mean there’s going to be a bad outcome. Something positive comes out of it,” she tells me as I’m driving her to work.
She’s right. These are inspiring stories featuring people with amazing courage and an indomitable will to live. In no way am I criticizing the folks who are interviewed or their families.
My beef is with “Today” for its lack of effort. Here’s my guess on how they get these stories: Scour the Internet for a freaky story (extra bonus points if it involves a small child), find out whether the story has been broadcast by a local television station. Contact the family and ask them if they’d like to tell their story to a national audience and, oh yeah, perhaps a free trip to the show’s New York City studio?
It’s smart television, and advertisers must love them. I would be shocked if these stories didn’t generate higher ratings than the more newsy stories they run earlier in the show.
There was a great story in The New York Times last Sunday about how Hollywood has been making a slew of movies in recent months based on the Holocaust. The story argues that Hollywood is Hollywood-izing perhaps the most horrible, horrific and despicable episode in modern history. The movies highlight the importance of hope, humanity and beating the odds. Even “Schindler’s List,” a very moving and powerful movie, is a Hollywood product. It’s gotten to the point, this article points out, that Holocaust movies are becoming more like Disney movies.
It’s a good point. Over the weekend, my kids and I saw “Bolt,” the new animated film featuring the voices of John Travolta and Miley Cyrus. The plot focuses on a dog that becomes separated from its owner and overcomes incredible odds to find his way home. But Bolt makes it home only after accepting who he is as a canine and learning what’s really important is his family and friends.
And in a sense, the “Tales of Survival” series on “Today” is heading down the same route. Yes, good things do happen and tragedy can be avoided. Just ask the 17-year-old woman who survived after falling more than 20,000 feet after her plane disintegrated over the Amazon. Too bad that happened in 1971, way before “Tales of Survival.”
But what “Today” is doing is disturbing on two levels. First, it’s manipulating its audience, and second, it’s getting me in more trouble with my wife than Sarah Palin ever did.
David Rogers is the editor of the Tri-Town Transcript in Boxford. E-mail him at: firstname.lastname@example.org.