If no news is good news, what are we to make of three newscasts at 11 o'clock at night?
Is this a case of back to the future, or forward to more media muddle? On Monday, Sept. 24, the fall TV season will include the premiere of a new half-hour, 11 p.m. newscast on Detroit's FOX2, dubbed "News Edge," following the station's well-established 10 o'clock report. Me, I get leery anytime a conventional television outlet uses the word "Edge" to describe its programming. It's like your grandfather trying to explain to you why something is "cool."
What's going to make this 30-minute add-on any "edge-ier" than the 60 minutes preceding it? If the warehouse fire is raging at 10:10, chances are it'll still be ablaze at 11:05. How is FOX2 going to make the coverage any hotter? Place a street reporter inside the warehouse?
Hey, that would be edgier. There are a couple of reporters I'd love to see get that assignment.
"I'll describe it as my boss (WJBK-TV general manager Jeff Murri) describes it: 'hyper-local' and 'fast-paced,'" says Huel Perkins, the venerable FOX2 anchor who has been handed the task of hosting the new broadcast while continuing to anchor the hour preceding it, as well as newscasts at 5 and 6 and sharpening the "Edge." "We're not reinventing the wheel. We're doing news, we'll just be doing it a different way.
"It'll be news, we believe, for people with a busy lifestyle," Perkins says. "Intelligent people, curious people, who want to know what's going on but don't have a lot of time. I don't think you're going to see something every night on the 'Edge' that you haven't seen on the 10 o'clock. The 10's doing very well. But it'll be edgier in terms of how we'll present it. There'll be a lot of local stuff, the writing will be less stiff, the presentation will be very interesting.
"We want to give you something you'll be able to tune into and get the news and information you need to know before you go to bed. That's essentially what it is."
If anybody can make a dent against the traditional, deeply-entrenched 11 p.m. newscasts on Channel 4 (WDIV) and 7 (WXYZ), don't bet against Perkins, still the classiest act on Detroit television. But here's basically what we know about "News Edge": It will revolve around Perkins, sports director Dan Miller and meteorologist Rich Luterman on a snazzy, expensive new set that will lack one conspicuous feature: an anchor desk. Now Perkins is a stand-up guy, but does the brother have to stand up for the last half-hour of a long day?
Wait, this is news: Perkins says he asked to stay on his feet for the entirety of the "Edge."
"I'm never going to sit down, but that's what I wanted," he says. "I've been asking for years, 'Why do we have to sit at a desk?' So now I'm going to stand up because that's what I want to do."
FOX2 has stood atop the 10 o'clock news hour in Detroit since back in the last century, so convincingly that it forced Channels 50 and 62 to eBay their TelePrompTers and get out of the news game altogether. (Where have you gone, Amyre Makupson?) Its morning news goes up against the network behemoths of NBC's Today and ABC's Good Morning America and, though Alan Lee is no Matt Lauer, routinely beats the national offerings like a Michael Vick pit bull. Why can't they be happy with that? What does FOX2 want to do, own all the newscasts in Detroit?
Well, frankly, yes.
"My initial reaction was, 'These guys are amazing,'" says Dick Kernen, vice president of placement for Specs Howard School of Broadcast Arts and Detroit's resident Yoda of media perspective. "It's a tribute to how successful they have been with the 10 o'clock, and the morning news. This is an expensive proposition, and if you're struggling with your local newscasts you don't add another half hour. I have great admiration for them."
TV addicts with long memories know that in its last run at 11, Channel 2 was a weak third among the city's three newscasts since the 1970s, when Channel 7 raided nearly all its top talent. And that was before the explosion of CNN, and Fox News Channel, and MSNBC, and ...
The apparent strategy is hopefully to retain at least half its 10 p.m. viewership and siphon just a little audience from WDIV and WXYZ. Channel 2 will be the ninth of FOX's owned-and-operated affiliates nationwide to launch a "News Edge" format. In Charlotte, the "Edge" is co-anchored by a morning disc jockey named "Brotha' Fred." That sounds less edgy than scary.
We shall see what the "Edge" will be here. Meanwhile, to answer your most pressing question: FOX2's Seinfeld reruns are moving a half-hour later, from 11 to 11:30. It's called progress, sitcom fans. Now, Seinfeld: That was edgy.Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org