Exploitation Yesterday on “Today”

The Curmudgeon is not a morning person.  He rises slowly, carefully, almost gingerly.  If you didn’t know him, didn’t know he was a teetotaler, you’d swear he had a hangover.

For this reason, he’s never had much use for early morning television.  He can handle a little radio, as long as there’s no music and the volume is low, but the last thing he wants early in the morning is to view all those annoyingly energetic, upbeat, expensively dressed people who populate the network morning news/entertainment programs:  “The Today Show,” “Good Morning America,” and CBS’s “The Early Show” (confession:  The Curmudgeon had no idea what CBS calls its morning program and had to look it up).  This past summer he shared a beach house with members of his family for two weeks, accidentally awoke much too early one morning, and was surprised to learn that David Hartman is no longer the host of “Good Morning America.”

Yesterday, though, The Curmudgeon found himself in a doctor’s office at eight o’clock in the morning within earshot of a television blaring “The Today Show.”  (Note to doctors everywhere:  Why?  Why a television in your waiting room?  Do you really think it’s necessary, that we need you to entertain us while we wait?)  Despite doing his best to ignore the program, The Curmudgeon nevertheless heard Matt Lauer positively kvelling about how some D-list celebrity, a television personality named Giuliana Rancic, had previously shared the news – exclusively on “The Today Show” – that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer and that she was going to be on the program shortly to talk about her health and experiences as a breast cancer patient.

Based on the excitement in Matt Lauer’s voice, you would have thought “Today” had gained a major scoop:  maybe a new development in the Middle East or the results of a poll showing a new front-runner heading into the Iowa caucuses or perhaps a significant shift in U.S. policy toward Pakistan.  You would have thought Lauer was telling us about something…something…important.

But really, “Today”?  Really, Matt?  Is this news?  Is it news that a D-list celebrity was ill?  Is this entertainment?  Do you find this woman’s battle with cancer entertaining?  Does it make you proud that some poor quasi-celebrity agreed to spill her illness all over your airwaves?  Does it make you feel good to capitalize on this woman’s illness, to attempt to lure viewers who want a peek at a pretty girl’s suffering?  Is this the kind of story that makes rising at three a.m. to put on a television show all worthwhile?

Or is this just one of those opportunities for “cross-promotion” that we’re always reading about when one major media conglomerate swallows another major media conglomerate and brings them all together under one large, unwieldy, messy umbrella?  The Curmudgeon was unfamiliar with the unfortunate Ms. Rancic but did a little research and learned that she is employed by the “E” entertainment cable network, which is owned by Comcast – which also owns NBC, which airs “Today” and keeps Matt Lauer in $800 suits.  That makes this little more than a thinly veiled attempt to boost the ratings of not just one but two Comcast-owned television networks and to elevate the status and popularity of Ms. Rancic – maybe to enable her to make the leap from the D list to the C list.

How unseemly.  How pathetic.  While it is sheer serendipity that The Curmudgeon is not normally a viewer of morning news/entertainment programs, today he feels quite fortunate for that serendipity.  There are so many people to blame here:  the people behind “The Today Show” for putting this on their airwaves; Matt Lauer, who seemed positively giddy about this big story laid at his expensively shod feet; and Giuliana Rancic, who apparently views one of the most feared diagnoses that modern medicine can render as an opportunity to promote her career by appearing on a television program that has more viewers than her own.  And please, spare us the suggestion that this was done to benefit viewers, to help other breast cancer patients understand that they’re not alone.  It’s all been done before (including an episode during the first season of “L.A Law,” all the way back in the 1980s).  We all know women who’ve had breast cancer; it’s not like Ms. Rancic suffered from schistosomiasis and this was a genuine opportunity to educate people about a virtually unknown malady.

You can keep morning television.  The Curmudgeon will stick with “Morning Edition” on public radio.  Or his morning paper.

Or just plain silence.


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