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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Network news viewers still want to see father figures
Posted by Jill | 7:42 AM
While the trend in cable television news is towards vapid-eyed, poufy-haired, lantern-jawed men and vapid-eyed blond botoxed women, all around the age of 35, it seems that among those who still watch network news in the evening, the mature, father figure still reigns supreme:

he looming change in the control room at “Nightly News” and the ratings surge by Mr. Gibson are but the latest developments in the most tumultuous two years in the recent history of broadcast news.

Mr. Williams succeeded Tom Brokaw in December 2004. After that, Dan Rather resigned as anchor at CBS in the midst of a reporting scandal, and was soon succeeded by Katie Couric. Peter Jennings died of lung cancer while still the lead anchor at ABC, and one of Mr. Jennings’s designated successors, Bob Woodruff, nearly died in a roadside bomb explosion in Iraq, setting off a sequence of events that ultimately led to Mr. Gibson’s move to the anchor desk at “World News.”

Only six months before Mr. Gibson got the evening news job, he was effectively passed over for it, in favor of two much younger journalists, making his current run at Mr. Williams’s broadcast all the more remarkable.

Even as some young viewers forsake television for the Internet, the three network newscasts continue to attract a collective audience of nearly 25 million viewers most nights. The programs are also among the most lucrative for the networks, with advertisers planning to spend nearly half a billion dollars on them this year.

More than a few viewers, and advertisers, choose their broadcast based on the personal strengths of those anchors. That has left some people at the networks wondering whether Mr. Gibson — who, at 63, is the oldest and most established of the three — may be proving more attractive to more viewers than Mr. Williams and Ms. Couric.

The network news viewer tends to skew older than the audience for cable news, and this undoubtedly counts for part of Gibson's rise. Elderly audiences don't want to be read the news by their kids. But I can't help but wonder if some of the loss of Brian Williams' audience doesn't come from his frequent presence at the side of Jon Stewart. Stewart's growth as a news personality is baffling to him, but it's more an indicator of the state of television news than a reflection on Stewart's own gravitas. The problem with Williams is that his role as a fixture of fake news/comedy indicates a healthy snark and lack of reverence for the traditional role of news anchor as father figure. Gibson, being a bit older, seems to embrace that role, and therefore his older audience is more comfortable receiving the news from someone who better accepts the "reassuring parent" role.


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