INVENTORY OF THE PRIME TIME NEWS

I recorded the ABC network news evening broadcast on Monday, August 5th, and timed each segment. Here's what I came up with.

To begin with, from the end of the last commercial before the news to the beginning of the first commercial after the news was 28 minutes and 29 seconds. That's five percent of the half hour missing. I assume the network sells that leading and trailing time to sponsors.

00:00 -- 01:03 We start with some serious and strident music to let us know that what we're about to hear is important stuff. The music accompanies a list of the evening's top stories.

  1. Israelis Crack Down
  2. Heat Wave and Hurricane
  3. Siamese Twins Joined at the Head
  4. Possible Flaw in Airbus Design
  5. National Parks Overwhelmed by Crowds

01:04 -- 03:12 Israeli Crackdown Story. I think I recognize the footage from previous crackdowns.

03::13 -- 04:14 Bush White House reaction is to keep hands off the situation. BWH's top priority is the removal of Saddam Hussein from power.

04:15 -- 06:50 Heatwave and drought hit midwest. Hurricane Bertha hits gulf coast.

06:15 -- 07:33 National Briefing (fifteen-second news stories)

  1. D.A. seeks death penalty for Runnion killer.
  2. Bush visits with rescued miners for photo op.
  3. Incidence of asthma in children has dropped.

07:34 -- 09:36 Dow was down 269 points, Nasdaq down 42. Government revised economic figures to show economy worse than previously believed. War fears hurting market.

09:37 -- 10:11 More fifteen-second news stories

  1. Gunmen attack Christian school in Pakistan.
  2. U.S. consulate closes in Karachi due to fear of terrorist attacks and security difficulties.
  3. U.S. loans 1.5 billion to stabilize economy of Uruguay.
  4. 10:12 -- 10:54 Anchorman announces upcoming stories and music leads us into commercial land.

    1. Siamese Twins Joined at the Head
    2. Possible Flaw in Airbus Design
    3. National Parks Overwhelmed by Crowds

    10:55 -- 13:06 Commercials

    1. Office Depot
    2. Visine
    3. Farmers Insurance
    4. Maalox
    5. Good Morning America promotional announcement

    13:07 -- 15:24 Doctors are going to try to separate a pair of siamese twins which are joined at the head.

    15:25 -- 15:52 Anchorman announces upcoming stories on Airbus and National Parks and music leads us into commercial land.

    15:53 --18:36 Commercials

    1. Centrum
    2. Liquid Plumr
    3. Viagra
    4. Procrit
    5. Bayer aspirin plus calcium
    6. Promotional announcement for tomorrow's newscast.

    18:37 -- 19:19 Intro to Airbus story.

    19:20 -- 21:25 The Airbus story itself. There have been some chronic problems with tail structure and control systems.

    21:26 -- 21:43 Monitor turret salvage underway at Cape Hatteras.

    21:44 -- 22:03 Anchorman announces upcoming stories and music leads us into commercial land. He announces the national park story.

    22:04 -- 25:08 Commercials.

    1. Detrol LA
    2. Starkist Tuna
    3. Thompson's Water Seal
    4. Citrucel
    5. Staples Office Supply
    6. Serenity Panty Liners
    7. Promo for NFL Football
    8. Promo for this newscast touting emmy nominations

    25:09 -- 25:36 National Park Story introduction.

    25:37 -- 27:49 The National Parks are overcrowded and underfunded.

    27:50 -- 28:29 Anchorman announces stories coming up on World News Tonight later in the week. He then signs off and important-sounding music plays.

    1. Another National Park story.
    2. Corporate Corruption.
    3. Junior Rodeos.

    COMMENTARY

    There are four places where the anchorman announces upcoming stories.

  5. The opening 01:13
  6. Before the first commercial break 00:42
  7. Before the second commercial break 00:27
  8. Before the last commercial break 00:09
  9. The closing 00:39
  10. That's 03:10 telling you what you're about to see. That's just over 10% of the entire newscast. Never mind that the National Park story got introduced four times.

    The commercial breaks add up to 07:58. Add in the missing 1 1/2 minute for leading and trailing commercials and discover that 30% of your national news is commercials. Further notice that of 15 commercials, eight are for drugs.

    In the middle of the newscast is a feature story (02:14) about siamese twins joined at the head. I'm sympathetic to their plight. I wish them well, but this is a tabloid story better suited to Oprah or Geraldo. The only good thing about it is that from 10:12 to 18:37 is a gap of 08:25 where you won't miss anything. You can go make a sandwich.

    So add the 01:30 for the leading and trailing commercials to the 07:58 for the internal commercials and the 02:07 for the redundant announcements of upcoming stories and the 02:14 for the carnival sideshow story that displaced some real news and you've lost 13:49 out of your half hour investment in a big-time network newscast.

    And while we're at it, take a look at the weather story. There's a draught in the west and a hurricane in the gulf.

    It's August and this is a big country. That happens somewhere in the U.S. every August. If it's not the west, it's the midwest or the southeast. If it's not the gulf, it's the Atlantic coast. Sub out another 02:35 for the "duuuuuh" story and you've invested 30:00 and got 13:35 worth of news in return.

    RTJ--8/6/02


    Matters Literary | Arkansas Travelogue home page