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Indie goes to big TV news but will it bloom there?

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Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The major networks have always had their little battles going on about ratings and who’s on top, extending to their news broadcasts but now that little battle has gone even deeper into… indie rock?  Yep, it seems that NBC and ABC are now battling it out with their own programs: NBC anchor Brian Williams has BriTunes while ABC’s Dan Harris has Amplified.  How the hell did it come to this?


Where it was once a given, nowadays it’s comical to think that a half-hour (22 minutes, really) daily brodcast can cram in all the news around the world.  In that space of time, there’s little room for entertainment news, which gets turned into short blurbs or puff pieces at the end of news casts, if that.


As such, Williams’ and Harris’ five minute music segments wouldn’t be able to find a place in their regular newscast and they don’t- both series are web only.  It’s probably not too much of a stretch to think that the two networks are doing these programs to reach a younger demographic in a medium that Gen Z can relate to better.  The boobtoob is so 20th century by now with figures showing that the audience for network news is now only shrinking quickly but that it’s also at AARP age- if you think I’m kidding, there’s several recent reports to back this up, from 2009, 2007 and 2006. NBC and ABC clearly ain’t happy about this and most likely, they think Bri and Danny can turn the tide.


But can they really do it alone?  Both do fine jobs on their regular TV newscasts with Williams’ stern demeanor (though he races through headlines so quickly sometimes, you don’t know when one story starts and when one ends) and Harris as the earnest observer, and not the main anchor at his station (yet).  On their webcasts, neither of them wears a jacket and tie like they do on TV, just to show off their casual look as they interview bands.  They also rely on flashes and clips from music publications to show you why the bands they chose are worthy of their time and your time- Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork and yes, PopMatters all help them bolster the bands’ reps.


Harris has been at it for a few months now, having Superdrag, Superchunk, Camera Obscura, Hold Steady, Bob Mould, Dan Deacon, the Pains of Being Pure at Heart and Neko Case among others on his show.  All of which makes for a nice mixtape but you’ll notice that other than Pains, all of the others have been around for some years and already have a rep.  The thing is, that rep is in the indie world and in the greater world of music, they ain’t exactly household names.  ABC then is either trying to expand its audience’s musical pallette or trying to lure in the younger demographic who knows and supports these bands- maybe they’d appreciate seeing a news clip of their favorite bands or think “Wow, they’re putting them on ABC’s website!” 


Either way, ABC is going to be hardpressed to compete with places like Pitchfork that already make the indie scene their bread and butter. Harris (who admits to being a Superchunk freak and did the best in that segment) is earnest on the Amplified segments as well, and a little looser too though he could and should be more- he asks mostly background questions from the bands, about their lives growing up or how they cope with being an artist now, which isn’t bad but doesn’t always generate deep, penetrating answers or analysis. Until the program sticks its neck out to break bands or can do something more than the mini Q&A’s with little clips of songs now and then, it’ll never take off or distinguish itself.


Williams’ show, which is just starting out, follows the same basic format- BW does a brief Q&A with the band and we hear short clips of their music.  It’s obvious that he’s not as comfortable interrogating bands as he is with politicians.  That might change but he should really take a good hard look at his own clips though he doesn’t come off as laughably square as Tom Synder did on his Tomorrow show.  Williams might also want to take a gander at the advice that Harris gives him on his blog (“The V-neck sweater works. Love it”).


Despite all of these reservations, I hope that both of them keep at it and not just because we see a more relaxed, human face on these two pillars of network news.  As it is, the big networks don’t show enough love for music so maybe this is a foot in the door.  I just hope that they find the time to get some rap, country, modern classical and jazz in the mix too at some point, no matter what the demographic reports tell them.  Hope that also means that they won’t wear flannel shirts, cowboy hats and backwards baseball hats too though…

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