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Bashing the Media? Think Again.

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  November 1, 2011 09:34 AM

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A vast wasteland?

Well, sure. You can watch teenage girls gripe about homework on "16 and Pregnant," eavesdrop on catfights between "The Real Housewives of New Jersey," and dip into the rantings of Sean Hannity on Fox and Al Sharpton on MSNBC.

But what if - slowly, slowly - viewers are rebelling, and media execs are tuning into the rebellion.

Of course, the shouting (Obama's a socialist! Republicans only care about rich people!) stopped a long time ago on "Morning Joe," which debuted on MSNBC in 2007.

But "Morning Joe"'s collegiality and substantive focus - which seemed, for quite a while, to mark it as an outlier - now appears to have been a harbinger of real change.

Take Charlie Rose, host of one of the most serious programs on TV. Rose is now in talks to join "The CBS Early Show," where segments on fall fashion and easy desserts once reigned.

Already, CBS has undergone a complete morning overhaul, featuring extensive political and cultural commentary (Monday's show included a meditation on the meaning of a 7-billion-person world, as well as a conversation with Malcolm Gladwell).

Unlike their competitors on ABC and NBC, who often stand or sit in front of live audiences, CBS' anchors use a "bleak blue backdrop," as The New York Times' Alessandra Stanley called it, "that gives the show the look of a Soviet newscast in the Brezhnev era."

And there's more evidence of hard-nosed journalism invading the wasteland.

Take, for example, "Rock Center," a sort of homage to "60 Minutes" (and its popularity) debuting on NBC last night.

And now there's talk that CNN will upend its morning format and bringing in Soledad O'Brien and Ashleigh Banfield, who have done extensive in-the-field reporting.

Not that everyone is about to catch Murrow fever. You can still watch Kim Kardashian whine about skin problems - or catch Snooki hurling expletives and dripping mascara.

But, at least for now, some of the decision-makers have decided that there's a market for seriousness. For reality. And not the Snooki kind.

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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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