Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Room for one more cable channel

I have a brilliant idea for a new cable network. Like C-SPAN, it could be funded by America's cable companies, or perhaps CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC could all go in on it. Like so many sure-fire ideas, this came as a flash of brilliance, as I staggered through 25 minutes on the elliptical machine at the gym.

Four televisions in front of me - one showing the College World Series (ESPN), one a Depeche Mode video (the in-house entertainment channel, which is often enough to discourage me from working out at all), and two (CNN and NBC) were showing the press conference announcing the successful search for the missing Utah boy scout.

After 15 minutes of this, CNN was still labeling it "Developing News". Of course, by this point, there was nothing developing about it. It was over. In fact, there were only three developments to the story at all: Scout gets lost, people start searching, scout gets found. The end.

By the time NBC had returned to the developing news on "Days of Our Lives", CNN had found perhaps the ultimate segue -- an interview with Senator Robert Bennett (R-UT), that allowed them to go from the non-missing scout ("Senator Bennett, you've been to these mountains before. Can you describe how difficult it would be to conduct a search...") to Bennett's proposal to revamp Social Security.

So back to my idea. It's another 24-hour news channel. We could call it the "Missing White People News Channel". Or, better still, "Television Milk Carton". Today's programming (and tomorrow's, and the next day's, most likely) could feature more analysis on the non-missing scout from experts ranging from the rest of Utah's Congressional delegation to ex-boy scout Steve Garvey. We'd break away for updates on the search for the missing teen in Aruba, checking in with a panel of experts (Sen. Bill Frist, Dennis Miller, Diane Sawyer) who can decry the sorry state of security in backwater Carribean nations.

There would also be hourly breaks for weather forecast-style national round-ups of missing white people, whose stories are poignant, but don't tug at the heart strings the way a missing boy scout, or a missing soon-to-be-bride does.

Television Milk Carton would be a certain ratings smash. There would be heartwarming and heartbreaking developments. Best of all, with constant analysis and post-game, the stories never have to end. Remember when John Wayne's grandson disappeared? Neither did I, until I ran a Lexis-Nexis search for "missing" and "search" that went back 15 years. TMC could recap those dramatic two days in February 1992, when Anthony Wayne disappeared shortly after moving to California from Idaho. We could relive the gripping announcement from the boy's aunt, who told the Chicago Sun-Times that "she didn't know details of the boy's disappearance. She said he turned up in the Los Angeles area."

Best of all, people would feel connected to the searches for these photogenic white people. And they'd feel like part of the rescue effort, running the search in, say, a living room in Akron, or an airport bar in Binghamton.

Best of all? No messy segues to news like Social Security reform.

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