Recalling the way they are: Don Lemon was at it again on CNN last night. Once again, he was producing his network’s version of “easy listenin’ news.”
Last night, his panel discussion of Donald Sterling ended at 32 minutes after the hour. He burned the rest of the hour with a discussion—get this—of the OJ Simpson trial!
Lemon’s programming is a classic form of easy listenin’! You can tune in at any time and lazily follow along.
You’ll hear about sex and you’ll hear about race! You’ll see a group of familiar faces making familiar statements.
You won’t be challenged in any way. Everyone says the same things!
Last night, though, we’ll have to say this—as he discussed the OJ trial, Lemon deftly defined the nature of modern pseudo-news. Speaking here with Jeff and Sunny, he gushed about how great it was when the trial was on:
TOOBIN (5/8/14): The world was so different then. I mean, you know, there was no Internet. There was no e-mail. There were two cable stations that showed the O.J. case. There was CNN, and there was Court TV, which doesn't exist in that form anymore.Everyone in the trial was good-looking! A director couldn’t have cast this better!
What about Fox News? Didn't exist. What about MSNBC? Didn't exist. I mean, the media world was much smaller. And so when you had one thing capture people's imaginations, there was no—there were no other choices out there!
LEMON: Jeffrey, we killed all of our programming! I worked for a Fox station, right, Fox’s local station right here in New York. We killed all of our dayside programming. We carried it all day. We had panel shows. We started a show called "O.J. Today."
HOSTIN: Of course.
LEMON: And it was just like this, sitting-around-with-a-panel show. We covered the trial. We covered the pre-motion. We covered what people were talking about, the news in L.A. covering it.
HOSTIN: It had everything. It was like a soap opera. It had celebrity.
HOSTIN: It had sports. It had lawyers. It had love. It had lust. It had murder.
HOSTIN: It was better than anything that was scripted on television.
LEMON: And Judge, you had a show coming out of this. One thing every reality TV show has, it has to have a good cast. And the Vanity Fair article makes the point that you could not cast a better group than this trial had. A former football star, his beautiful wife, the steely prosecutor, Marcia Clark; the flamboyant defense attorney, Johnnie Cochran—
HOSTIN: And everyone was good-looking.
LEMON: —Mark Fuhrman; Kato Kaelin, Judge Seidlin and on and on and on. A director couldn’t have cast this any better.
Please remember—these overpaid stars were discussing their idea of optimal news programming! They got to kill all their regular programs! It was like a soap opera!
Starting in 1998, we often discussed the “novelization of news”—the desire to sacrifice fact and nuance in favor of simplified, novelized tales with drove preferred points.
Last night, we saw these “journalists” discussing a similar process. Inevitably, they were soon listing the various people who became rich and famous:
JUDGE HATCHETT: And so not only, you know, does Jeffrey have this great book [about the trial], but then you have a lot of careers that came out of this. I mean, think about people who were doing commentary for this trial who then went on to have television shows. I mean, it was really an interesting time for us.We weren't losing Nicole Brown Simpson. We were gaining Star Jones!
TOOBIN: Here at CNN, play-by-play was by Greta Van Susteren, now famous on Fox. And my great friend Roger Cossack, who is still doing commentary for ESPN and was at CNN for a while.
LEMON: I think Star Jones became famous out of this.
HOSTIN: Star Jones.
LEMON: I remember working with Katie Couric's late husband, Jay Monahan, as well.
By Judge Hatchett’s admission, it was really an interesting time for these TV stars. They could talk about race and sex all day. They could cancel all other news programs! They could drop all the boring stuff!
As the gang continued, so did their true confessions. Eventually, TV Guide’s Steve Battaglia brought the eternal note of sadness in:
LEMON: “In Depth," on NBC Nightly News, was started because of the O.J. Simpson trial. “We're going to go in depth,” which really, they would go back on the show. They'd do it as a lead and they'd say, "Then a little bit later, we'll go in depth on blah, blah, blah, blah, blah." That was really so that they could go back and get more.The Simpson trial made tabloid culture a part of network news! Meanwhile, to his credit, Lemon did a strong impression of modern “easy listenin’” news:
BATTAGLIO: It really made tabloid culture a part of network news, which was still pretty buttoned up at that time.
“A little bit later, we'll go in depth on blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”
The stars were recalling the way they were. Also, the way they still are.