Just recently I was watching the Toronto channel CP24 do an item about the constitutional referendum in Turkey and I realized that the beleaguered news anchor did not know how to pronounce "Erdogan," the name of the Turkish President. It was painful to listen to her hesitant, multiple mispronunciations.
It was funny, too, in a cruel way. How on earth could an experienced on-air newsperson be so ignorant? Maybe she doesn't watch the news?
People watch a lot of TV news. There is, in turn, a lot of news on TV. Some of it gripping and insightful, a lot of it shockingly shallow. That's why many viewers actually hate-watch the news on TV. And it's why a TV newsroom has so often been the setting for satire.
The workplace sitcom Great News (Tuesdays, NBC, 9 and 9:30 p.m.) is set in the newsroom of a TV station. Let's assess.
On this week's episode, the one airing first, the blustering, egotistical male news anchor Chuck Pierce (John Michael Higgins) has to take a day off. This creates euphoria in the newsroom because he usually terrifies people with his temper tantrums. But it also means that some staff members take the opportunity to do something different.
The co-anchor, Portia (Nicole Richie), tells her boss this: "Now we can finally do my idea for the show. What if we get rid of the desk so people could see my legs? My mentor Roger Ailes suggested it." It's a cruel, sharp joke. But it goes nowhere.
Exactly what is happening on Great News is a mystery to me and, one suspects, everybody involved. Created by Emmy-winning 30 Rock writer Tracey Wigfield and executive-produced by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, Great News is bizarrely unpredictable, swinging wildly from satire to schmaltz, which is problematic, given the talent involved. Also, NBC is airing two consecutive episodes every week, which suggests the show is being burned off so that it comes and goes rather quickly.
The gist is this – Briga Heelan plays Katie, a smart but shy producer at a cable TV news program called The Breakdown. Katie thinks she's got a bunch of workplace problems but nothing prepares her for the chaos that ensues when her mom Carol (Andrea Martin), gets a job as an intern on the show.
Yep, an overprotective mother in the workplace doing her constant meddling and rambling diatribes at work, not just on the phone. Hilarity is meant to ensue and a great deal of attention has been given to Andrea Martin's late-career blossoming as a sitcom mom. Mostly, mind you, this mother says things like, "Oh, shush your tush," and other characters look amazingly charmed.
The show is an unholy mess. On the one hand, co-anchor Portia is a vehicle for jabs at the shallowness of TV news and the bubblehead quality of the successful news anchor. In the pilot episode, she introduces a nonsensical news item with the summary, "Is there a silent killer hiding inside your family's handgun?" There is her reference to former Fox News chief Roger Ailes in one of Tuesday's episodes and in another episode she tells Katie that sleeping with the news bosses is an empowering act for a woman.
So, there is a vicious quality to some of the comedy. But the target that is Chuck, the aging, self-aggrandizing anchor, is much less in focus. In the way of traditional sitcoms, he rather falls for Katie's mom and she gets to mother him. Not that any of this leads anywhere. Most episodes seem to end with Carol declaring she's failed as a news intern and she's too old for the business, but she and Katie hug, make up and everything is resolved until the next episode of nitwit chaos in the fictional newsroom. Little jabs of sharp satire followed by hugs and more hugs. And Andrea Martin mugging for the camera shamelessly.
Tuesday's second episode, called War Is Hell, features Katie's sometime-boyfriend returning from assignment in Syria. This inspires Chuck to declare he's going on assignment to South Sudan. There is enormous scope for mockery of shallow TV news and its handling of serious foreign news stories. But the upshot of the wobbly comedy plot revolves around Carol claiming to actually like Katie's sort-of boyfriend.
That anchor of CP24 struggling to pronounce Erdogan was funnier than that. Great News is a great opportunity squandered. That sucks.