Posts Tagged ‘CBS’

DVD review: CBS’ “Obama: All Access” laces political greatness with journalistic irrelevancies

February 9, 2009

I come here not to praise Barack Obama and the remarkable political campaign which made him our nation’s 44th president. Rather, in regard to Tuesday’s DVD release of 60 Minutes Presents Obama: All Access — Barack Obama’s Road to the White House, I come to chide 60 Minutes.

Certainly, the news magazine has earned our respect over the years. But too often on this DVD I’m reminded of another allegedly journalistic broadcast source that’s routinely guilty of making itself the story, and that’s Entertainment Tonight.

Rather than tell us as much important news as possible from the world of show biz, E.T.‘s preening “reporters” angle for as much screen time as they can get, constantly referencing themselves and making them and their show a major part of the story.

Similarly, though certainly less offensively, 60 Minutes offers correspondent Steve Kroft, who followed Obama throughout his presidential campaign. For this DVD he appears on a spiffy 60 Minutes set to force-feed each chapter with needless and often poorly written on-camera intros.

For instance, in introducing a 60 Minutes segment from February 2007, just after Obama announced his campaign, Kroft says when  he  went to Illinois to do a story back then, “it wasn’t because we thought he was going to be elected the 44th president of the United States. Nobody thought that.”

Nobody? Then why did you do the interview? And by “nobody,” do you mean no one in CBS News, and did you, in fact, assess every staff member’s position on this? And does “nobody” discount Obama and his own staff, who clearly believed he could win, and whose will to win was proven true on Nov. 4, 2008? “Nobody”?  A tip: Absolutes aren’t good words to use when you’re a journalist striving for accuracy. Same goes for this disc’s hypey All Access title.

Elsewhere, in introducing previously unused footage, Kroft says this: “But still we were able to use only a fraction of the material we gathered. This DVD gives us a chance to share some of it with you for the first time.”

Now, in this context, by “it” he seems to be referencing the previous sentence, whose subject is the “fraction of the material” CBS was able to use. So, they were able to use a fraction, and now they’re sharing it with us for the first time? That makes no sense. Clearly, we can infer that Kroft meant for “it” to signify the large amount of material CBS hadn’t been able to use yet, but that’s not how he said it. Ask any high school English teacher.

As they yelled in old newspaper newsrooms now going the way of the dinosaurs: Gimme rewrite!

It’s also awkward when Kroft introduces Obama’s big Berlin speech of July of ’08 by saying “He couldn’t have asked for a more enthusiastic crowd.” That, of course, entices us to see and hear such enthusiasm. But when CBS cuts to the speech, it cuts straight to its first line, with Obama standing at a podium and addressing a then-silent audience. Kroft teases us with the crowd’s incredible enthusiasm, which I well recall as Obama took the stage, but then it’s edited out.

Elsewhere, too, CBS fails to put speeches in their full context via the live audience’s welcome. An exception is the November victory speech in Chicago, which opens with Obama and his family walking onto the thrust stage while the crowd goes wild. Now that’s an enthusiastic audience.

Still, these are quibbles, because much of the content here is superb, from Kroft’s sit-down interviews with Obama and his wife, Michelle, to Obama’s oratorical greatness in speeches which also include his candidacy announcement, his Philadelphia speech on race, his nomination acceptance in Denver and his inaugural address. The only pivotal speech missing is Obama’s keynote address to the 2004 Democratic National Convention, which truly set the table for him to pursue a presidential candidacy, but you can’t have everything.

So thanks, 60 Minutes. You’ve done a nice job of presenting many meaningful moments from what you call “one of the most improbable political campaigns in American history.” But as Ronald Reagan chided Jimmy Carter in their debates, there you go again.

Yes, I must challenge that statement too. Clearly it should be qualified by calling Obama’s road to the White House “one of the most improbable successful political campaigns in American history.”

I mean, really, we’ve had scads of improbable campaigns, from Pat Paulsen’s in ’68 to Ralph Nader’s in any year. No, the distinction here wasn’t that Obama’s campaign was one of the most improbable, but that it was unprecedented — with a young African-American senator — yet also successful. In fact, forget “one of the most,” too, and let’s call this what it was: “The most improbable successful political campaign in American history.” Now that’s a striking statement — and a far more accurate one.

In short, there’s a lesson here. The eloquent guy is named Barack Obama, so let him have the stage. All this history and greatness isn’t about CBS News or 60 Minutes or Steve Kroft or fancy sets and logos and intros — its about Barack Obama.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Unlike many people, I’m not down on the news media, which I served as a print journalist for many years. And I don’t want to shoot the messenger. In this case, I just wish the messenger had gotten out of the way.

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‘Wild Wild West’ weathered tough final season

March 17, 2008

As Heath Ledger’s recent death and Patrick Swayze’s current illness remind us, larger than life celebs are no different than anyone: They’re human, and they’re subject to illnesses, accidents and worse, just like all of us. And that brings us to Tuesday’s release by CBS DVD of The Wild Wild West: The Fourth Season, a season which was hit hard midway by its own human frailty when star Ross Martin suffered a heart attack.

He was just 48 years old at the time (1968). Martin recovered, but he lived only until 1981, when another heart attack proved fatal at age 61.

His famed series about 1870s U.S. secret agents ended too, after that fourth year, though its production values never faltered. If anything, The Wild Wild West looks better than ever for its swan-song season, when guest stars include the likes of Harvey Korman, Kevin McCarthy, Ted Knight and even singer Jackie DeShannon (What the World Needs Now).

With Martin’s Artemus Gordon ostensibly sent to Washington, D.C. on assignment, co-star Robert Conrad’s James West soldiered on with a substitute sidekick, Charles Aidman. The show must go on, as they say.

Conrad also continued to do his own stunts (no absurdly dissimilar stuntmen for him, unlike William Shatner on Star Trek)  and this proved both a plus and a minus. It was a plus because the action looked more realistic. It was a minus because networks were smarting after the assassinations of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. earlier that year, and violent TV programming came under fire. Thus, after four fine seasons, WWW was axed — though, to be fair, it was far more fanciful than realistically violent.

But that end was only a beginning, in some ways, and you can still see all 104 episodes in four boxed sets. That’s more than you can say for many shows which emerge on DVD for one or two seasons, then subside. And while human frailty may halt some things, digital entertainment is forever.