Samuel J. “Joe the Plumber” Wurzelbacher is a sitcom waiting to happen since being dispatched to Israel by the website pjtv.com for in-depth reporting on Israel vs. Hamas. Here’s my vision of how prime time’s “Journalist Joe” might progress.
Israeli military officer briefing Joe: “Our troops are in the Gaza Strip.”
Joe (perplexed): “Gaza Strip? Is that an Arab girlie club?
That would coincide with prime time’s generally banal view of journalists.
However flawed, a muscular press is essential for democracy, its free flow of information and ideas shaping what we think about ourselves and others. Can the platitudes, though. As if they matter to entertainment TV’s merry moguls, who rarely get journalists right, most notably we who slog away in print.
Exceptions: Credit the old “Lou Grant” series on CBS with tackling a ton of ethical issues attached to newspapering. And more recently former Baltimore Sun reporter David Simon for capturing the dark side of media corporate ownership in “The Wire,” his extraordinary HBO series that touched a raw nerve by depicting that city and a daily much like his alma mater in advanced ethical and fiscal decay.
Yet in the main, why are we such outcasts? Well, bummer. Not only are we vanishing as a species in this age of The Incredible Shrinking Newspaper, even worse we’re boring. Want realism? Try this as a possible TV listing:
Amos writes his planning commission story on a controversial easement, Homer wonders if he buried the lead, Melinda curses when she spills coffee on her notes.
Notes? What notes? No journalist in prime time takes notes. Why bother when you have a photographic memory? Nor is there writer’s block because, of course, no one writes.
My earliest recollection of this fantasy? “The Name of the Game,” an NBC series launched in 1968. It profiled a publishing empire, capping each episode with a screaming banner headline over an explosive expose achieved, magically, without anyone typing a sentence.
Why not show the minutiae of day-to-day? What, and render viewers catatonic?
Yes, chunks of Alan J. Pakula’s “All the President’s Men” show the Washington Post’s dogged Woodward and Bernstein in the tedious grind of making calls, encountering blind alleys, sifting through documents and yes, pounding the keyboard—all of it highly watchable. But c’mon, that was Watergate.
TV news holds greater promise for prime-time scenarists. Not just news anchors—comedy’s durable piñata from Ted Baxter to Ken Finkleman’s satirical gem, “The Newsroom—but also cable news channels that spew in-depth faux news. And especially CNN, where the “diggin’ deeper” it advertises is usually a euphemism for speculation.
“Breaking News,” a fictional take on a 24-hour news channel, had vision, relevance, drama, humor and credibility—everything but a large audience—when it crept along on Bravo in 2002.
That target is fatter today given the 24-hour burlesques of Fox and MSNBC and the giddy universe of CNN’s Anderson Cooper and Wolf Blitzer. I’m thinking of a series along the lines of “The Larry Sanders Show,” HBO’s wheezingly funny and spoofy keyhole view of late-show backstabbing that seamlessly straddled fantasy and reality.
“Coopy and Wolfie”—wittier even than Journalist Joe. And about as depressing.