The two “Jacks” and their personal brands

Just a quick note reflecting on the end of two of my “appointment” TV shows in the last two days and how their main characters were true to their personal brands (SPOILER ALERT FOR THOSE WHO ARE CATCHING UP ON DVR’s)

The two “Jacks,” Jack Bauer on 24 and Dr. Jack Shephard on “LOST” remained true to those brands till the very end.

Whether you liked the endings in either case or not, Bauer stuck to his guns (literally) as the defender of truth justice and the American Way by killing all in his wake to set the President straight and not settle for peace at any cost.  His suggested banishment to Europe also sets up the expected motion picture nicely.

For the ever-searching Jack Shephard, he finally found what he was looking for, his purpose, in the late episodes.  And while he fought off unconventional thinking to the very end, he found final peace as a leader knowing he accomplished what he set out to do — helping his friends get off the island.  In the final scene, his found his peace and stayed true to himself and his purpose.

As we all struggle to figure out who were are and who and what we represent, we will miss these two characters and their shows.  We will likely look back at them as two who helped define a decade and a generation that desperately needed that definition and loyalty.

The “last” miracle?

The are few moments of one’s life that are so important to be worthy of the question “where were you when?…” 

Old "AP" machine

 

In my case, I was at the student radio station at Rutgers University 30 years ago.  Watching the old Associated Press machine for updates of a hockey game being played in Lake Placid, New York.  Little did I know that 30 years later that hockey game would be seen as a defining moment for my generation. 

So many things have changed since then, especially in my chosen career path of communications.  Thirty years ago, ESPN was five months old, cable television was in its infancy and satellite TV didn’t exist, there was no “commercial” internet, no email, the first “1G” cell phone network was three years from coming online.  There was barely a fax machine. 

We used phones and mail.  We got our scores from newspapers and from dial-up sports services called “Sportsphone,” and from following the AP machine stored in a closet because it was an overgrown typewriter that made an incredible amount of noise. 

There was no multicast of the Olympics.  It was ABC and Jim McKay and the game was on tape delay that night.  In some markets, the local news broke in during the actual tape-delayed replay and ruined the results for those who were watching it and had avoided hearing the final score. 

Thirty years ago was about gas rationing and hostages.  It was about the Soviet Union and Jimmy Carter.  It was about the US getting its head handed to it on the world front.  Until…. 

Until…this group of college hockey players who averaged 22 years old beat the Russian hockey equivalent of the New York Yankees and turned the world upside down.  Then came Reagan, the hostages were freed, the wall came down and the rest is history. 

The world has changed.  You can tweet while watching hockey games, as I did last night, with thousands of your closest friends as far away as Texas and Toronto.  You can click to curling and ice dancing and be pissed that NBC didn’t offer the hockey match in HD. 

And you can watch interviews with Eruzione and Craig and Johnson and listen to Al Michaels one more time.  You can try to explain to those who weren’t born yet just how much it meant at the time and how much it means today.  

And how much things have changed, and how much you can’t imagine a “miracle” quite like that ever happening again.

Reinventing the network morning show

The recent announcement that Diane Sawyer will take Charlie Gibson’s seat on ABC’s “World News Tonight” not only has far reaching implications for the dying art that is network morning news, but also is sending a shutter through the “prime time” world that is morning television.

There was a time where the naming of a second female main anchor of a network nightly newscast would have been unthinkable.  But the real news here is not that Sawyer is joining Couric as one of the big three, but that “Good Morning America” is left with no obvious choice to succeed or as The New York Times reports, replace the heart and soul that Sawyer has provided to the show.

Here is the great opportunity not only for ABC but for the future of news/infotainment on television.  Morning shows today are what evening network newscasts used to be for the “big three.”  They get the most viewers, create the most network brand equity with viewers and they are the shows that provide most viewers with the news of the day/news they can use.  They also are the BIG money makers for the networks.

They also are getting stale in their format and delivery.  As the Times piece points out, ABC now has the chance to “reinvent” the morning show.  I for one urge them to embrace the future and not the past.  They need to take a hard look at incorporating social media platforms as a way to include their viewers in ways even forward media thinkers like CNN and others are not doing.

It is time to engage their viewers in active conversation instead of just talking at them in the morning,  That is reinvention.  Anything else would be a disappointment.

The day TV news died

You can argue that TV news, as folks from my generation knew it, died on Friday.  Not only because Walter Cronkite died, but because the network that his carried on his back for almost two decades decided not to blow up entertainment programing on the east coast and ran reruns instead.

CBS execs say that’s because no one watches on Friday nights and they wanted folks to watch the pre-produced special they ran on Sunday.  But for a man who created the art form of the breaking news story on television, not to report his death in the same manner was the highest form of irony and injustice at the same time.

Perhaps, as Brian Williams and Dan Rather explained in that special Sunday from their own unique perspectives, TV News actually died in 1981 the night Cronkite signed off at the same time.  Paraphrasing Williams, he said he couldn’t help wondering that night whether TV news would ever be the same.  For Rather, it was the fact that no one not even he could replace Cronkite, a fact that remains to this day.

For many including myself, Walter Cronkite was the face and voice of their childhood.  I was born in 1961 and remember vividly the events of my youth, from the Kennedy’s to Martin to the Moon to Watergate being reported and explained to me by this man.  He created the art form that was the television news anchor.  An art form that sadly today many try to copy but no one can replicate.

In some ways Cronkite was the very first social media practitioner, following the principles of honesty, transparency, consistency, etc.  In many ways he was and always will be the best.

Maybe that’s way I shake my head sometimes when people are quick to say that “citizen journalism” practiced on platforms like Twitter are the future of journalism.  When I grew up that journalism was delivered by people like Cronkite who reported facts that needed to be double and triple checked and only on those rare and powerful occasions interjected his opinion and emotion.  I’m afraid that many today check the facts at the door and lead with opinion for effect.

As we enter into this next era of journalism fueled by this explosion of technology I hope future journalists do not regard Cronkite as a distant memory.  In many ways it was the last explosion of technology (television, phone, satellite, etc.) that allows him to shine.  May others follow his example as we ride this next wave.

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