'Anchorwoman' Needs to Find a Better Story

Media Reviews for Media People

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- With a crop of shows making their debuts on cable and the fall season right around the corner, Ad Age TV Editor Brian Steinberg casts a critical eye on some of TV's new and continuing series to help marketers determine which may prove to be the best showcases for their ads and products.
Photo: Fox

Lauren Jones on the set at CBS affiliate station KYTX in Tyler, Texas.

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Where you'll see it: Fox

What you'll see: This just in -- "Anchorwoman" is god-awful. Billed by Fox as a "comedy/reality" hybrid, this half-hour waste of time focuses on Lauren Jones, a former "The Price is Right" hostess, former Miss New York and former WWE diva who will fast become a current pain in the neck for viewers who tune in to this program.

The premise here isn't terribly complex. Ms. Jones journeys to Tyler, Texas, where she immediately begins a stint as an on-air newscaster on KYTX, a CBS affiliate. She was relegated to KYTX's 5 p.m. newscast, which Phil Hurley, the station general manager described as "a softer interview/community-type newscast, before we get to the hard news." In an interview, Mr. Hurley said Ms. Jones was chosen from among a group of potential applicants and, despite what viewers may see in the show, really had to work. "We taught her how to shoot, edit, report, write and anchor," he said. "We found an extremely intelligent young lady that did pretty well."

We'll have to take his word for it, because on screen, there's no drama.

We know Ms. Jones is not your typical buttoned-down talking head. We know she isn't so focused on that whole "journalistic-credibility" thing, thinking more about her appearance, skimpy wardrobe and makeup. We know the KYTX news staff is wringing its hands over her arrival, wondering whether she will ruin the integrity of their newscast (even though the station's mascot, "Stormy the Weather Dog," doesn't exactly stir up images of hard-hitting reporters scrambling to cover the latest government corruption).

Unfortunately, little of this manifests itself as believable conflict. The best reality shows depict participants striving for fame or riches, some kind of prize, whether it's the M.B.A.-wannabes of "The Apprentice" or the would-be wilderness kings of "Survivor." The backers of also-rans of the reality genre (a category into which "Anchorwoman" clearly falls) are lazy in their execution, usually content to place a ne'er-do-well on the order of Paris Hilton or Nicole Richie to function as a squeaky wheel or fish out of water -- these people don't care why they are on the show, they're simply glad they're getting some camera time. So they sit around and make a few half-hearted attempts at completing the task at hand while others gawk and gaze. So long as they get TV exposure, they don't really concern themselves about anything that's going on.

Ms. Jones has just this sort of air about her, and viewers will be hard-pressed to figure out why they should care about whether she achieves on-screen success, or whether the KYTX staff survives to tell about the next car accident or local bake-off.

"Anchorwoman" is bound to bring in a lot of folks to its first episodes, simply because they will be attracted by the sheer novelty of the situation. These people are likely to discover, however, that they can see much of this kind of behavior out at the playground. There's no need to bring it into the living room.

When you'll see it: Wednesdays, between 8 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. for four weeks (Fox will show two episodes on Wednesday to kick things off -- and probably to get the greatest amount of show in front of what ought to be the series' largest audience)

What's at stake: Late summer is a dreary time for broadcast TV. Bogged down with repeats and cheap, soggy reality outings, the networks' offerings are relatively lackluster, while cable trots out high-class series such as "The Closer," "Damages" and "Saving Grace." A quirky, funny reality program can sometimes latch on to a decent-size crowd crying out for mainstream entertainment from the broadcast sector, and even gin up enough interest for a second round. For Fox, a successful "Anchorwoman" would add to the network's momentum as it winds its way toward baseball championships and the launch of the fall TV season, where Wednesdays look to be one of the most competitive nights of the week.

Who's onboard: A Fox spokeswoman said the network has no product-placement or sponsorship deals in place for "Anchorwoman," and declined to offer specific advertisers whose traditional commercials would appear during the program. Last year, top advertisers on Fox -- which typically attracts marketers interested in reaching viewers the coveted 18-to-49 age range -- included movie studios, AT&T, Gap and PepsiCo in August and September, according to TNS Media Intelligence.

Insert product here: A smart marketer might have gotten some cosmetics or fashionable duds into Ms. Jones' wardrobe or pocketbook in advance of production. One scene in the first episode shows her painting her toenails while driving to Tyler. If there is any interest here, advertisers ought to place their spots in the first episode of the program. One likely bet: Ratings will dwindle over the next few weeks unless the plot of "Anchorwoman" thickens noticeably.

Media buyer's verdict: "These days, to be on Fox it's gotta be 'out there' for reality," said Chuck Bachrach, exec VP-media resources and programming at RPA. "At some point they need to get on with real programming, like 'House' and the like. Reality is cheap and hence one of the main reasons it continues."
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