Magazine article Variety

Time for the National Crisis Mood to Lighten Up

Magazine article Variety

Time for the National Crisis Mood to Lighten Up

Article excerpt

TV's continued use of the tools of brinkmanship is a ticking time bomb

Although "60 Minutes" opens with a ticking stopwatch every week, the sudden popularity of countdown clocks suggests the venerable newmag's forward-thinking look at time runs counter to prevailing trends.

President Obama has spoken about the damage associated with governing around perilous deadlines like raising the U.S. debt ceiling, as Washington lawmakers dysfunctionally lurch from one manufactured crisis to the next. But TV - and especially cable news - is becoming addicted to the adrenaline rush. Indeed, at times their preoccupation with countdown clocks is about the only thing Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN can all agree on.

Then again, why not? As the AP reported, it's good for business, with the cable networks enjoying a ratings surge during the 16-day government shutdown. "Whenever there's a drama, people are interested," CNN reporter Dana Bash told the service.

The problem is that the general desperation to get noticed has resulted in a nonstop barrage of similar deadlines - some legitimate, but most completely contrived. In the latter camp, consider OWN, aka Oprah Winfrey Network, which kept a running countdown on the screen for 24 hours to bridge the gap between the premiere of one new Tyler Perry series and the next.

Cable news networks, meanwhile, have recently careened through a series of countdown-clock-worthy moments, topped off by the near-default on the U.S.' debt and the shutdown of the federal government.

Not to be outdone, sports networks regularly feature countdowns to kickoffs and first pitches of major playoff games. And since the NFL and NBA drafts became multiday television events, regular viewers have grown accustomed to hearing a team is "on the clock," watching minutes and seconds elapse as management tries to decide which college dropout will become the next instant millionaire.

Major networks have gotten in on the act as well, counting down to the premieres of new series. In the "It's never too early" department, NBC is actually initiating a late-October push for the upcoming Olympics, marking that the Winter Games are a mere 100 days away. Because seriously, why shouldn't the screen be cluttered with more bugs and pop-ups and moving parts to distract us from the program that we actually chose to watch? …

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