|Feral - a good word for Fox and Murdoch|
The match itself was a thriller, with Real Madrid rallying in extra time to defeat its crosstown rival Atletico Madrid. But nearly as entertaining as the match itself was the online commentary decrying FOX* Sports' announce team of Gus Johnson and Eric Wynalda. Fox's decision to put an "American voice" on its soccer broadcasts, filled with the requisite American style, has been widely vilified by soccer fans and media critics everywhere. According to World Soccer Talk's Christopher Harris, "FOX’s coverage of soccer has moved from being a joke to something that’s just second-rate. Unfortunately,given that Fox seems to have no consideration for the soccer fan, preferring to dumb its coverage down to the lowest common denominator, " I have no confidence or faith that it’ll get any better in the future."
*Is there anything more pretentious than the convention that the network's name is spelled in all caps? I know it, but other than making the point in this article's title and in quoting other sources, I just can't bring myself to do it that way.
With that established, suddenly it seems that Fox is popping up everywhere. At the website Awful Announcing, this was this morning's headline: "Fox Sports Putting Viewers Last By Cutting Corners With Production Costs." The story relates how last Saturday's coverage of the Angels-Tigers game on Fox Sports 1 was hampered by shoddy camerawork, including losing fly balls, because the network hired "cheap, inexpensive labor" after failing in an attempt to lowball the regular Fox Sports Detroit camera operators.
Of course, it goes on. NASCAR fans criticize Fox for having way too many commercials in their coverage (turning off the fan just trying to keep up with the race) and the incessant cheerleading from its commentators. Liberals have decried Fox News for years, and the network's emphasis on shout-a-thons and talking heads in lieu of actual broadcast news has even begun to turn off conservatives. Even before that, the Fox broadcast network has been criticized for its dumbing-down of programming, including its plethora of tasteless reality shows.*
*Probably an oxymoron.
What do all of these stories, and others like them, have in common? Well, when one thinks of Fox, of course, one thinks of Rupert Murdoch, the media tycoon who displays something of the reverse-Midas touch, turning everything he touches into crap.
In 1988 Murdock, the "titan of tabloids," purchased TV Guide. In my opinion, the magazine was already on the downhill slide; it's best days had been in the '60s and '70s when it combined intelligent writing about the business of TV with incisive commentary about the role TV played in the cultural landscape, and added political and historical perspectives to the shows being broadcast. By the late '80s I felt that TV Guide was heading toward being just another fan magazine, but under Murdoch's ownership the slide became a total freefall, as documented in Changing Channels: America in TV Guide by Glenn Altschuler and David Grossvogel, the latest offering in the Hadley Institute of Cultural Archaeology's reading list.
Altschuler and Grossvogel's book takes us only through the early '90s, before Murdoch's destruction of the magazine had become complete, but it didn't take them long to size up the situation. Whereas in the past TV Guide prided itself on articles written by renowned critics and historians, the new management
Grumbled that articles on news and public affairs were too long or too boring...Within the year the new management had doubled the number of personality profiles, added more photos, inserted a soap opera summary, and even offered a horoscope (where readers followed Uranus, the planet that rules television).As one observer put it, the image of the average TV guide reader became that of "a couch potato who lives in a trailer park."
Of all the sections in the national edition, the "Insider" was least in need of alteration, given the emphasis on fun. If anything, its tidbits grew more childish. For example, on September 2, 1989, it revealed that Vanna White considered her greatest beauty flaw to be her ugly toes and that Robin Leach stole soap from hotels. And nastiness now accompanied the childishness more frequently...In essence, the tabloid-thinking Murdochians expanded the "Insider" to the rest of the magazine.
Under Murdoch's management, TV Guide now sought to create news as much as they covered it, as was the case with the 1990 "TV Beauty Poll." By 1989, the magazine's Managing Editor "implied that investigative reporting was no longer valued," telling his bureau chiefs that "We feel that the overwhelming majority of our pieces require no more than two weeks to write and report," when in fact even a simple profile used to run to dozens of interviews and several weeks' preparation time.
Time referred to all this as the "Tarting up of TV Guide." Under previous owner Walter Annenberg and his chief lieutenant Merrill Panitt, it was always emphasized that TV Guide was "a family publication," and that any articles and pictures that appeared in its pages should keep that central fact in mind. The joke in the newsroom was that Panitt kept a stamp in his desk drawer that said "Airbrush nipples." And yet, anyone who's looked at an issue of TV Guide over the last two decades can vouch for how sexed-up it's become. For me, the final straw came around 2000 or so, I think,when the magazine ran a feature on homosexuality in TV, including fawning pictures of same-sex kissing. When I called to cancel my subscription, I explained that although I'd been a subscriber for close to 30 years, I had no desire to get a magazine that looked and read as if it ought to come in a brown paper wrapper.
Mind you, TV Guide was never a perfect publication - I've taken my share of shots at it during the course of this blog, and I expect to continue to do so. In fact, in the coming months you'll see an influx of "This Week" articles coming from a decade we've rarely visited in these features, the '80s. But the magazine had always had ambitions to be something other than a simple fan magazine, something that could be of merit not only in the quality of writing, but in the subject matter covered and the influence it might wield within the industry. And while the decay might already have been visible in the early '80s, it bears scant resemblance to the tawdry stamp which Murdoch and his people have put on it in the years since.
As is the case, I expect I'll be excerpting various parts of this book as time goes on, before giving a formal review of the whole thing. And by no means is everything in the book as bleak as the section covering the Murdoch takeover. But that's all for another time. Today, I seek only to lament the involvement of Rupert Murdoch and Fox Broadcasting in the television business. If there's been a man or an organization that's done more damage to television, I'd like to know who. Perhaps everything would have come to pass eventually, but it is strange, isn't it, that those same three letters seem to come up so often when assessing the state of the medium today? I can't really say that I'm surprised.