Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TV, Politics, and Al Sharpton

Yesterday I was channel surfing and I stop on MSNBC which I haven't watched in a long time and who do I see on my TV screen... Motherfreaking Al Sharpton. Like dude was in an anchor chair and giving me the news.

I was confused. I thought I had been bamboozled. I was waiting for the cameraman the director anyone in the control room with knowledge of the board to switch the shot but it never happened. I mean Al was giving me the news, his opinion, and commentary and I was just so beside myself I couldn't even pick my up my bottom lip.

So what did I do. I took to twitter to see if anybody else was seeing what I was seeing. After a series of tweets no one responded. Then I went twitter stalking people I don't know but find interesting (don't judge me) and found this:

I never thought I'd see the day al sharpton became relevant. but here it is. here it is. I am so humbled by this startling change of events.

I haaaaaatttttte that al sharpton INSISTS on giving me liffffffffeeeeeeee these days.....this ASSHOLE just played "He's Got the Whole World"

This is somebody I find smart and absolutely hilarious telling me via twitter that Al Sharpton is giving her life. For real though. I mean that's how you really really feel about life. Okay so let me give the Rev a shot.

I still wasn't sold and explained why to the other members of Urban Politico via email. They will tell you how they feel in the comments. My position though is that Al Sharpton is being played for ratings. I work in TV so I know a little something about "the book" as it's called. Matter of fact we're in one right now.

Let me break it down; ratings periods are the months of November, February, May and July. The July book is the least important. November sweeps (interchangeable with ratings) is when all the juicy stuff happens on your favorite TV shows following the late September early October premiere. If you kill in November you're going to get more advertisers, be able to charge more for advertisments, and basically make the network, and all involved a lot of money and very happy. November sweeps also ends right around Thanksgiving before people realize family is more important than the tube.

In February TV once again gets good following all the re-runs played during the holidays. This follows a period of stupid, insanely high TV watching known as the Superbowl. TV gets a little boring around spring break but come May it heats back up with the season finales that keep you wanting more. Oprah's 25th season was centered around this cycle. July sweeps are for those summer shows to break ground and decide if networks want to keep them going. Think USA.

So this is where Al Sharpton fits in. He's being tried on by MSNBC and so far people are biting. According to TVNewser on
"Sharpton has hosted the 6pm show for the last two weeks. This past week, the hour was second, to Fox News in A25-54 viewers Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday."
Sharpton's show -- which does not have a name -- coming in second to FOX in the most key of key demographics is no laughing matter. It is a tremendous accomplishment. Therefore I will assume Sharpton will be here to stay at 6 p.m. on MSNBC. His trial run this July will set up the network to really give him a great show by the time November hits and the election campaign process truly begins. Sharpton's presence on the network adds to its diversity as Tamron Hall is the only other Black host and Rachel Maddow brings the nerdy lesbian crowd (that is not meant to be offensive just a statement of fact) keeping true to the network's slogan of Lean Forward.

Sharpton's placement also gets the NAACP off of MSNBC's back after that whole rant of cable networks not giving Black politico's a primetime spot. Additionally, since Sharpton has the inside track to President Obama on Black issues -- specifically unemployment and education in the Black community -- he can actually break news as he sees fit and possibly, just maybe, snag that primetime cable interview with the President that won't have the racist undertones and blatant disrespect as Obama's interview on O'Reilly.

Sharpton's placement for ratings, for the election, for diversifying the network is a win-win for everybody involved right. Wrong. You may not see it but I see it as a position of temporary permanence. If Obama wins in 2012 Sharpton on MSNBC can last another four years. If Obama loses Sharpton may keep his show to maintain the "black opinion" or be deemed null and void now that a White man is back in the White House and America goes back to ignoring its flagrant problem with race. I see more of the latter happening than the former but we'll just have to wait and see now won't we.

But beyond this, Al Sharpton is not a journalist. Like not at all. Like not even a little bit. That's my biggest problem with his placement. I mean as a producer I can make anybody look good and they don't even have to be on camera. You call me The Storyteller but really I'm a puppet master. I pick the stories, I order them in the way I want them to be told, I choose the graphics, the video, the soundbites, and set up the live interviews conducted on air. I do all of that for my anchors in Jacksonville, Florida. Imagine what the producers behind Sharpton do to keep him looking good and insure their job security, a promotion, and maybe even a raise. (Yall know journalism doesn't pay)

But these grievances aside I tuned in to some of Sharpton's show Tuesday evening just to see what it was all about.

First thing I noticed is that his accent is thick and it's not distinctly Brooklyn even though that's where he was born. That's not a bad thing but if you notice most newscasters have a neutral tone so as to appeal to all. But I told myself, "Storyteller stop being critical and just watch the damn news."

So I did. His graphics on the show aren't of the flashy variety found on Hardball With Chris Matthews. He doesn't have a set he has a desk so the powers that be are still trying him out. That aside the content was pretty good. The phrasing was catching i.e. "Cut, Cap and Crack Up."

He delivered facts but when it was time for his live interview with Republican Representative Mo Brooks a Tea Party freshman from Alabama I began to take issue. Not so much with Sharpton but with whoever set up the interview. It seemed they chose the most conservative Representative they could find to make Sharpton appear extremely left on his politics therefore reinforcing the theory of cognitive dissonance to make any extreme conservative side with the extremely conservative politician instead of listening to the facts and forging their own opinion and vice versa for the liberals that can't see right.

Secondly, Representative Brooks was blatantly disrespectful questioning Sharpton's mental state so as to not answer a question on tax cuts. Rude, unruly, and possibly a tinge of another R word that we can get into later.

Following this live interview with Representative Brooks, Sharpton then talked to former Clinton Administration member Robert Reich.

The format of Sharpton's show is just like any other primetime commentary show. There are the topics of the day laid out in the headlines. The interviews that turn into tame arguments and serious discussions compared to the type of physical altercations you see on reality television; Basketball Wives anyone. There's the playing to the core demographic which are liberals and mixing in some colored flavor. (Yes I went there)

The show is good, but that doesn't mean I'm all of a sudden tuning into Al at 6 either. The show is good but as I explained earlier any producer worth their salt, and in New York you are definitely worth your salt, can make a personality look good. And yes it's sad to say that I think Al is only a personality MSNBC is trying out on its network because of the current conditions of our country; here comes that R word.

Racism has always made headlines in this country. So what better way to increase ratings than to play on race and racism. What better person to play this game than the man who's made a career out of fighting racial injustices no matter how minute. I don't want to discredit Al Sharpton's activism and all that he's done to push the dreams of slain civil rights leaders forward, however as the tweets above show, Al Sharpton's relevance and credibility have been on shaky ground. Now with the first Black president getting more hate than a little bit, Black people finding themselves in an all out depression instead of a jobless recovery, and the Tea Party people using Herman Cain and Michael Steele as puppets, what Sharpton has to say is way more important now than it was a decade ago.

I appreciate MSNBC capitalizing off of the times, inciting fury and infusing race into the political discourse. I admire them for thinking outside the box and putting Al Sharpton in the position he's in. But because it's all so calculated he will surely end up on Bill O'Reilly's Pinhead list faster than he can create his own Worst Persons. His appointment is populist instead of substantive, it is reactionary instead of groundbreaking, and I have the strange suspicion that it will be temporary instead of permanent. Because of that I would so much rather see an actual journalist with experience, talent, and the command of facts on any and all issues in Sharpton's seat, than a pawn for Comcast (which owns NBC/Universal and therefore MSNBC) to capitalize off of.

But hey. What do I know. I'm just a local news producer trying to make it big. And trust if Al Sharpton wanted me to produce for him I'd do it in a minute even if I knew I'd be looking for another job in 12 months. This is the TV business. Nothing lasts forever. Just ask Keith Olbermann.

What do you think of Al Sharpton's placement behind the anchor desk on MSNBC?
Do you think his appointment will be temporary or permanent like the 20 years Chris Matthews has been with the network?
If Obama is not re-elected do you think Sharpton will once again fade into obscurity his 15 minutes of fame over once again?

blog comments powered by Disqus