Let me assure readers that I am not writing the following post in another attempt to lure search-engine hits by linking the words "Jessica Simpson" and "GetReligion." Honest. That's the naked truth. I just had to get that off my chest and make a clean breast of things. No, I saw this Los Angeles Times article last week and then lost it in the overload of email on my computers. I ran into it again today and it bugged me again.
OK, the basic idea is that CNN is so desperate for viewers that it is seeking new ways to pump up news numbers, primarily through a fusion of subjects such as politics and entertainment, crime and entertainment and, well, entertainment and entertainment. The headline was a classic: "Jessica Simpson's tummy aches, next on Headline News." Here is a key part of reporter Paul Brownfield's story about the new "Headline Prime" lineup at CNN Headline News:
You know Headline News, it's where you go to get nuance on the Islamist platform of the United Iraqi Alliance while you're on the treadmill at the gym. Now the network has scheduled "Showbiz Tonight" at 4 and then again at 7, a beguiling hour of entertainment industry nonsense, followed by "Nancy Grace," which is pitched as a tough-talking legal affairs program, but is closer in spirit to "America's Most Wanted," not to mention Maury Povich, Sally Jesse Raphael and Jerry Springer. . . .
Then follows a spruced-up, hourlong version of Headline News' bread and butter, called "Prime News Tonight." Co-hosted by Mike Galanos and Erica Hill, who are trying for a news-magazine feel, the show spends four minutes on the bird flu story instead of one. It means to be more serious, to slow down Headline News' usual Orwellian loop of national and global misery and fear, and it does this job in a serviceable way. But the rubric is still the world as infotainment: Should we be scared of this bird flu? And what's this latest identity theft scam? Now here's our tech guy to tell you about some new gadgets.
Here is my question (or, truth be told, questions). If CNN is interested in finding new niche audiences linked to prime news topics, what would it take to demonstrate the need for a regular show focusing on news and commentary about religion? I realize this is not exactly Ted Turner territory, but there may be people in CNN executive suites who have noted some of the Fox demographics.
But while we are talking about that, what would it take to inspire Fox News to do a hard news and commentary show on religion? Doesn't that seem like a rather obvious product for the Bible Belt cable-news giant?
Peter Jennings once told me that World News Tonight's reports on religion by Peggy Wehmeyer generated the program's highest positive viewer response rates -- ever. I do not know if that is still true, but I doubt -- in light of world events over the past four years or so -- that viewer interest in religion news has declined.
Of course, I fear that some cable network is going to create a format that combines religion and entertainment and then hire some born-again celebrity to host it, someone such as -- Jessica Simpson?