Watching the relentlessly turgid cable news coverage of Hurricane Katrina, I wonder: How long until Mark Burnett, the brain behind CBS’s "Survivor" franchise and many other reality TV series, gets into staging programming for natural calamities (or potential calamities) like this? Don’t laugh. Roone Arledge made his name in sports television for ABC and wound up taking over the network’s news division. The next logical step is to bring Burnett’s sense of drama, character, pacing, and production values to set-piece stories. To the extent that Arledge and many others have pushed news toward entertainment — an old development — both producers and consumers long ago started to make this shift.
Of course, most of the people doing electronic news are bad at both journalism and entertainment. So the problem for Burnett would be he’d have to undo much of what news divisions have undertaken to appeal to their audiences: the flimsy veneer of theatrics laid over every square inch of a story like a hurricane. He’d have to find a few good Jeff Probst types to act as team leaders/anchors, and a bunch of adventurous and photogenic amateurs to send to the beaches to get blown all over the place. Maybe he’d set up competitions to decide who gets what storm-coverage assignments: winners of a challenge might get to stay inside a well-fortified four-star hotel while losers would have to ride out the storm on the beach.
As cheesy as this all sounds, it would almost be preferable to watching the news pros knit their brows and search for words to convey what a horrible spectacle nature is unleashing.