Fox's new reality series Anchorwoman is what happens when the owner of KYTX in Tyler, Texas hires former bikini model and WWE looker Lauren Jones as an anchor and reporter for 30 days to help boost ratings. It's the show that asks that question: how much of TV news is beauty and how much is brains? The series follows Jones as the KYTX staff try to mold her into something resembling a TV journalist while they get their own jobs done. The concept has elicited much huffing and puffing among TV newspeople, who are tired of having to justify their existence and convince the rest of the planet they're not ratings-hungry tabloid hacks.
Before I deconstruct the program, you need to remember a dirty little secret about unscripted, so-called "reality" television. Producers can easily manipulate the raw materials of these shows to fit their pre-conceived visions. They don't write the dialogue, but they can re-arrange the words and the scenes. The editing technology available today makes it seamless.
So many things about the show don't surprise me one bit, and not just because I've worked in TV newsrooms for 13 years. It's because the program fits into a neat little formula. It's watchable and admittedly entertaining. But it's only mildly enlightening for non-newsies about the demands of the business. I can break down the first episode (which was actually two episodes glued together) into a perfect outline for a scripted show: anticipation, consternation, preparation, presentation, celebration, abomination, determination, and congratulation.
Jones is excited about her opportunity, but the KYTX newsroom isn't. A combination of grumbling and sighing awaits her. Some staffers roll with it, but not anchor/producer/reporter Annalisa Petraglia, who's rightly concerned with the station's credibility. News Director Dan Delgado seems resigned to it all, knowing Jones is not his hire but determined to make it work. The new girl gets a crash course on reading from a prompter, which is truly a lot tougher than it looks, even for a suspected bimbo. Her big debut arrives, where she reads a block of stories. She does all right except for one prolonged pause, but not extraordinary. Still, the staffers praise her, but I have to ask, are they really happy for her or happy the earth didn't open up and swallow them? Just as Lauren is getting her groove, she messes up by making distracting moves in the background of a newsroom live shot. It prompts a dressing-down from the General Manager and new resolve from Lauren as she goes out on her first reporting assignment, eager to earn respect and prove she's no dumb blonde. It's classic made-for-TV reality.
Anchorwoman is shaded with irony. As staffers fret about their credibility, scenes pop up over and over again of Stormy the "weather dog." We also see shots of billboards advertising Jones' arrival, exclaiming "She's Coming!" While Jones gets chewed out on her newsroom antics, staffers laugh over a tape of her goof-up in an edit bay. Clearly credibility and integrity are in the eye of the beholder, and one detects some unrighteous stone-throwing. Still, if credibility is the issue, I have to ask why the show doesn't show more of Dan or Annalisa's jobs -- especially Annalisa's. I know many anchors at many small-market stations produce -- but report as well? For the same show? How she manages to organize, execute and pull it all together day after day is worthy of another show. But this is entertainment, not news. This isn't about KYTX. It's about their guest-star anchor.
Perhaps I need to watch Making News: Texas Style on the TV Guide channel instead, which delves into the KOSA newsroom in Odessa, Texas without a top-heavy centerpiece.
I don't begrudge Lauren Jones or her determination. But it's hard for me to enjoy Anchorwoman without feeling for the real stars -- the people trying to maintain their professionalism while looking after an unwanted house guest.
UPDATE: Fox canceled the show after one low-rated airing. I guess people don't want a show about TV news airheads. They've seen it already on too many nights. It's saddening.