One Good Plug Deserves Another … and Another, and Another

The tale of one Fox affiliate's news broadcast and its obsession with the network's hit show 24.

It’s hardly unusual for a local TV news outlet to promote one of their own network’s shows. We’re used to the occasional fawning interview with the lead actress of a new sitcom, or the soft feature about how a show mirrors an actor’s real-life tragedy.

But at some point, it crosses the line into such crass self-promotion that it becomes positively embarrassing.

Such is the tale of our local New York City Fox affiliate, and its obsession with Fox’s 24.

Monday’s broadcast was typical of the sort of behavior Fox 5 News has engaged in for the past few months, hoping to ride the coattails of the hit show.

One short commercial after the end of the week’s episode of 24, Fox 5 News’ broadcast began: “Next. It’s 24’s secret weapon,” an announcer intoned. “It’s not the dialogue or the surprising plot twists. The one thing you see on 24 that you don’t see on most other shows.”

At 10:20 p.m. Fox 5 teased viewers some more. “We can’t get enough of it because 24 dares to do what no other network show will,” said entertainment reporter Toni Senecal. “Stick around and we’ll fill you in.” Anchors Rosanna Scotto and Ernie Anastos then urged their audience to “Sound Off.” Asked Scotto, “What do you think is the real secret weapon on 24 that makes the show such a success?”

After one more teaser, Fox 5 finally delivered the goods at 10:43, as Senecal reappeared to give us “Toni’s Take” on why 24 is so popular: shocking, nonstop violence!

“Death and destruction are integral parts of Jack Bauer’s story, but what sets this show apart is the actual force of 24,” she said. “Whether it’s the death of a president or Jack’s brain at the end of a barrel, the violence is ever-present.”

Senecal’s single source, Jennifer Armstrong of Entertainment Weekly, explained: “24 definitely raises the bar on the kinds of violence and the frequency,” she said, arguing that while you may see such violence on cable, “you don’t see a lot of that on network television.”

Lest entertainment moralists furrow their brows too deeply, however, Armstrong and Senecal made the case that rather than simply blowing things up for the sake of ratings, the carnage on 24 is also crucial to the show’s plot and character development. (Considering it’s a show about terrorists and counter-terrorists trying to outwit and kill each other, we never would have guessed.) “Jennifer also says that other network shows are now starting to emulate the violence of 24. It will be interesting to see what Jack Bauer comes up with to top them,” Senecal concluded, before anchors Scotto and Anastos read a series of emails from viewers writing about why they think the show is so great.

Fox 5’s broadcast on Monday, March 20, was equally fluffy. “He’s been saving the world 24 hours at a time for the past five years,” the broadcast began, “and Jack Bauer is showing no signs of slowing down. The real reason 24 is better than ever, next at 10.”

Twenty-one minutes into the broadcast, Senecal’s bright visage appeared to tell Fox’s viewers what was in store: “It’s [the] fifth season, the ratings have surged. So why is 24 the hottest show on TV? We’ve got the secrets of its success coming up.”

Those viewers were then forced to wait until 10:43 to hear Senecal’s breathless report. “Hit is right, and there are lots of reasons the show is such a huge success,” said one of that evening’s anchors, Dari Alexander. Senecal introduced her piece by explaining that her own family members are some of the biggest fans of the show: “So for all of you 24 fanatics out there, no, you are not alone. In fact, there are more and more of you each and every day.”

Once again leaning on a single entertainment journalist — this time, New York Post television critic Don Kaplan — Senecal explained those long-anticipated secrets for 24’s success: no repeats, “Soprano-like plot lines,” and a quick-moving program. “Rick, Dari, are you hooked on this show too?” she asked the evening’s anchors afterwards. “Love this show,” Rick Folbaum responded. “Have always loved this show, and I want to meet Donald Sutherland too. Or, uh, Kiefer Sutherland.” Alexander and Folbaum finished the segment by letting viewers “Sound Off” with their reasons for why 24 is “the best show on TV.”

Fox 5’s performance the past two Mondays might not seem so brazen if the station had not been playing up such network “synergy” for much of 24’s season. Aside from the two-night season premiere of Jan. 15 and 16, which Fox 5 inexplicably ignored, the station has run a story promoting the series (if not outwardly praising it) each and every Monday night since. Most of those nights a 24-related hook has run at the top of the broadcast, but, regardless, a story on 24 (often featuring an inside look at the show) has always appeared at three-quarters past the hour — save for Feb. 20, when Mark Joyella’s feature on a Jack Bauer sidekick (computer analyst Chloe O’Brian, played by Mary Lynn Rajskub) was the lead story on the newscast. On March 13, “Toni’s Take” called attention to another aspect of the show’s franchise: the new 24 video game.

A suggestion for Fox 5: Why not just put Jack Bauer in the anchor’s chair?

We’re certain he could spice up the broadcast with some of his signature character-developing, plot-advancing violence.

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Edward B. Colby was a writer at CJR Daily.