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What the End of the Iraq Conflict Means for TV

Here’s the fallout for the networks now that TV won’t have a war with Iraq to broadcast — yet

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As of this writing, it looks as if the United States’ disagreement with Iraq will be settled by peaceful diplomatic methods. A few things this now means for television:

— The realization that the most enlightening confrontational event of the past two weeks hasn’t been anything involving weapons-site inspections, Presidential hanky-panky, or the Olympics (the sight of Tara Lipinski’s steely-grinned lack of humility or grace in victory signaled my own personal closing ceremony for that generally sorry event, at least as it was bumblingly broadcast by CBS). No, it was that Columbus, Ohio, ”town meeting” on CNN, in which anchors Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff were rattled by encounters with ordinary, skeptical-folk questioners in a shocking, rare-for-TV example of what President Bill Clinton correctly termed old-fashioned democratic debate.

CNN will have to shelve its already-in-place, ready-for-a-ratings-surge slogan for the face-off, ”Showdown With Iraq,” along with its freshly composed martial theme.

— More face time for pleasantly low-key, hardworking United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan; less for Secretary of Defense William ”Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!” Cohen.

MSNBC can breathe a sigh of relief and get back to being what it so longs to be at this moment, your All-Monica, All-the-Time network.

— More opportunity for Monica Lewinsky lawyer William Ginsburg to air his new idea: a Monica defense fund. (May I suggest a benefit album, with bands contributing songs they’ve written to groupies?)

— ABC can go back to running the ads that tell us how much Peter Jennings and his producer are like an old married couple rather than the new ones they’ve been airing which assure us that World News Tonight will actually report on world news.

— Hands-down winner among TV inquisitors: Meet the Press‘ Tim Russert, seguing from Iraq to Lewinsky with facts, figures, and squirm-inducing directness. Hands-down loser: This Week‘s staggeringly self-satisfied Sam Donaldson, who in the middle of interviews now regularly refers to his own tough questioning without in fact asking tough questions. To quote Dr. Seuss: I do not like that Sam-I-am.

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