December 7, 2012 6:13 pm

TV’s news cycle needs a push start

Jeff Zucker should get CNN out of the fluffy, celebrity chasing territory that makes much of its domestic output unwatchable

The round-the-clock world of TV news should make for more interesting viewing over the coming months.

The BBC is moving to new offices in a transition that will take until March while CNN’s new head honcho Jeff Zucker begins to shake things up at the TV network that started it all in 1980. While the BBC will probably offer much the same fare (hopefully with better-looking sets and fewer purple ties and blouses) the arrival of former NBCUniversal chief Zucker will hopefully force CNN’s channels into dry-dock for a total refit.

If we’re to believe the chatter around Zucker’s appointment and the odd email forwarded to this columnist from CNN staffers, then the man credited with turning the Today morning show into a billion-dollar franchise is going be hiring big personalities to help maintain existing advertisers and to attract new ones. At the same time he’s also going to be busy rethinking the entire genre of rolling news.

As a somewhat frustrated viewer of all the big news channels, I’m hoping Zucker gets CNN back into the business of delivering serious news and analysis for a bigger chunk of the day and out of the fluffy, celebrity chasing territory that makes much of its domestic output unwatchable. I’m also hoping CNN International starts to live up to its name, that Anderson Cooper’s talk-show is confined to the 50 states, that more output moves back to London and Hong Kong, and that there’s a new trawl for on-camera talent. One of CNN’s biggest problems at the moment is that it rarely delivers news when you want it – a prime example being European mornings, when there’s a total absence of smart, relevant English-language news programming. I’ve long wondered why the main players in 24-hour TV news haven’t produced a clever morning show targeting the type of people who read this newspaper, and the advertisers that support it. Likewise, I often find myself jumping between Sky News, Al Jazeera and Bloomberg at midnight attempting to cobble together my ideal 30-minute newscast. Surely Zucker has designs on slotting in a couple of big budget, high profile news bulletins that work across the international schedule and force people to tune in with a degree of loyalty rather than flick aimlessly looking for relevant morsels from lesser-reported regions.

As confident as I am about Zucker’s talents as a producer, I’m also fearful he’s going to end up going too far with the reinvention of the network, making it more of a reality outlet than a news provider. While CNN has already flirted with various formats that play into this territory with limited success, I can see a case being made for cutting back on bureaux and correspondents in favour of delivering even more opinion and round-the-clock talk. If this is the case, then CNN Headline News (now dubbed HLN) should go global and return to what it used to be (a dependable cycle that did exactly what it said on the label) and CNN can move into Discovery and National Geographic channel territory. Think of the possibilities for massive viewing numbers and even bigger sponsorship deals if CNN could come up with programmes to rival the likes of Deadliest Catch. Building on its audience of international travellers and globetrotting-related advertising, I’m thinking of dropping Zucker a note and pitching a programme called The World’s Dumbest Passengers for his primetime line-up.

Having already imagined part of the pilot episode en route to Tokyo this week, the show would use a mix of hidden camera footage, re-enactments and animation to weave together real events and possible outcomes. In the short opening sequence I visualised at Heathrow’s terminal three on Sunday evening, an impossibly tall woman is standing in the security queue and scrambling about for her see-through vinyl bag of toiletries. After a good 30 seconds of wrestling with a fake Louis Vuitton duffel, she finally manages to pull out a massive clear plastic bin bag full of cosmetics, shampoos and various personal care products. As she tries to claim ignorance about the size of bag she’s allowed to put all her beauty products in, the security guard hands her a series of smaller bags to store all her lotions and potions. Rather than doing the right thing and taking her mess to the side, she just stands there and blocks the opening to the X-ray machine while the security guard looks on grinning.

As this unfolds, the camera would then spin around and film the angry queue of passengers. As it panned along the line, little thought bubbles would pop up above people’s heads and animated sequences would unfold of what that passenger would like to do with the offending passenger and her load of beauty stuff at that very moment. I’m thinking a big pharmaceutical company with a strong line of relaxants or a spirits company would be a ready sponsor.

Tyler Brûlé is editor-in-chief of Monocle magazine

tyler.brule@ft.com

More columns at www.ft.com/brule

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