Serial Viewing

TV critics' opinions on the Gibson-Palin interview

Yesterday, we questioned whether it was possible for Charles Gibson to do a solid job on the Sarah Palin interview—within the framework of a TV sit-down that was based on the McCain camp’s ground rules, that is. As it turns out, Gibson did an excellent job, taking his role as interviewer (and, possibly, as one of only a few who will have the opportunity to play that role) seriously and pressing Palin for concrete yes-no answers on a number of issues.

But some TV critics had thoughts to share on the question of how the format—visually, logistically, and otherwise—served the purpose.

On the LAT’s Show Tracker, Mary McNamara, who ordinarily critiques shows like Grey’s Anatomy and House, writes: “In this case, [Palin’s] actions, or non-actions, have spoken much louder than any words.” McNamara echoes an excellent piece by Alessandra Stanley in today’s NYT, which, noting that Palin’s “eyes looked uncertain and her voice hesitated” and that Gibson “impatiently wriggl[ed] his foot,” argues that visual and aural details were as telling as the questions and responses themselves. “On television, tone matters as much as content,” she concludes.

David Zurawik at the Baltimore Sun presents an interesting counterpoint. He argues that the staggered segments allow ABC News to “fine tune the editorial content to the reaction of the press and public if executives feel the need.” He notes in particular that the final edit for tonight’s 10:00 episode of 20/20 occurs “after a full day in which to gauge the reaction to Gibson’s performance.” Zurawik’s point is interesting, not necessarily because what we see will differ so much in terms of content, but because if the edits are tighter and more controlled, the little details that are supposed to be so telling (as argued by McNamara and Stanley), could slip to the cutting room floor.

Matea Gold, also at the LAT, asked ABC about the impetus for the two-day rollout. ABC’s response: It’s not “parceling” the interview out. “We are putting this out almost as fast as we are getting in,” explains a spokesperson. The network is also apparently distributing one-minute clips to other networks before the entire interview airs—not that it matters very much, but it’s certainly a thoughtful gesture.

Despite the nod to inter-network good will, the LAT posts evoke a sense that the real problem isn’t the broken up nature of the broadcasts, or the total estimated one hour of face time that Gibson will have with Palin, but the fact that this single interview has to be such a unique moment at all. McNamara laments that, given the stakes, “a broken-up hour is too short to offer, a week is simply too long to wait.”

Here’s her concise review of the night:

Even Gibson acted as if he feared this might be the one shot the entire Fourth Estate gets, conducting what was essentially a high-level, high-pressure interview with a job candidate…

Even given that Sean Hannity has next crack at Palin, McNamara’s statement is insightful in its expression of impatience with what feels like a one-night movie viewing rather than what it should be—a season-long series.

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Jane Kim is a writer in New York.