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Media: Getting Back To Normal

Or trying to, in an age of "All anthrax, all the time"

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We're supposed to get back to normal, the government tells us. Shop! Fly! Go to the mailbox, but wash your hands afterwards. Live your life, but be on high alert. So this week, I'm hunched over a strange computer bringing this to you after a 10-hour day on the job, far from Charlotte. What I do for a living is the thing that makes me feel almost normal in these abnormal times. I'm helping make TV shows, the thing that makes me feel at home. If you're one of those people (and you know who you are) who puts in long hours and likes it, read on.

This day was spent in a chilly, dark television control room, where video and audio and graphics are married, even as a teleprompter laptop whirrs softly. Ten people out in the studio are making it happen on the set along with the nine people in here.

Due to my advancing age and surly demeanor, I am on the third row, the back row, supervising this circus. By the end of the day, we have to tape three one-hour shows for a cable network that specializes in programs about home improvement and do-it-yourself projects.

I've gone from newscasts to learning the finer points of an Eames lounge chair and what mitre saws are. But bottom line, it's somehow the same. Choreography, teamwork, fractious personalities, scripts that crackle, "talent" that makes the weeks of prep work and research shine.

This show is a baby of mine. Helped with the pilot, developed the format, produced six, retooled after a bunch of real folks watched it in a focus group and had better ideas for what they wanted to watch. Now, we're doing 65 of them, cranking them out like the dysfunctional team we are.

I am secretly loving every minute of it. That's normal for me, more normal than getting on a plane when I still don't quite feel like it. Routine is what can make you feel normal. You somehow hunker down at work even when you keep one eye on the future.

The World Series is on in the background, and I keep screwing up the spell check, but even that feels normal for some reason.

*****

Now that the video has worn thin from what used to be the World Trade Center, and the war (feels odd to say it) will continue for who knows how long, what's the next step for the news media who now have an ongoing story to cover?

From the looks of it, they haven't quite figured out what to do beyond breaking news. I speak mostly of the 24-hour cable folks, who have to feed the news beast.

They did an admirable job in the weeks after September 11, but have recently become little more than "All Anthrax, All The Time." Now, I don't mean to downplay the seriousness of the situation when envelopes in the morning mail can kill and sicken. And when those envelopes can disrupt Congress, the Supreme Court, and the US Postal Service, like many people have said, "it seems like a movie."

The fine line, however, is being crossed by the endless informational crawls and creeps across the screen along with the so-called experts/pundits who blather, blather, blather. "America At War." "America On Alert." Or as the comedic Daily Show banners it, "America Freaks Out."

But many media consumers are so used to digesting only the quick update or the headlines or the front page, it makes me worry. These are times to read the fine print. Get the details from more than one source, and decide for yourself whether to panic. I know many smart individuals who swear that they watch no TV news, and don't bother to subscribe to a newspaper. I can't quite fathom that.

True story: three days after September 11, I was pedaling the trusty stationary bike at the YMCA, the ones with the built-in TV. I was multi-tasking: pedaling, reading a magazine, and keeping on eye on a news network. A woman got on the bike next to me and started to "ride," and adjusted her small TV on the bike. She turned to me and commented, "I am so sick of them showing that stuff all the time."

And that scares me almost worse than anthrax.

*****

CRUMBS FROM THE VAST TABLE... WSOC-TV reporter Michele Kozinski has flown the coop to a bigger coop, as it were. She has left the station to head to WTVJ in Miami...

A crisp $100 bill to the first cable network to cease the brain-rattling lower-third crawls. "Too Much Information," sang that ancient band The Police ..

Talent shows continue to seek out contestants for Carolina Calling, which you read about in this very column in our last outing. November tapings of the show will be open to the public at Spirit Square, and Arthur Smith hosts...

Our thoughts are surely with WBTV's Bob Knowles, who's facing a new incidence of cancer since he lost an eye to the disease last year. It's a tough break, but as the smart chick who hired him at WBTV way back when, I know he can fight this thing. And hearing from some of you, many good thoughts go out to him from the community as well.

Stay tuned. *

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