Did Ted Turner sound the death knell of televised news when he created CNN back in 1980? The sudden need for 24/7 news did do away with traditional, information-driven news reportage and created a world in which airtime had to be filled by any means necessary. Now gossip, rumor, opinion and innuendo are promoted to the same level as well-researched investigative journalism. And it’s only gotten worse since then. CNN’s sister station Headline News (like KFC, now known simply by the abbreviation HLN) was originally created as a 30-minute newscast to be rebroadcast throughout the day, giving viewers a quick recap of the day’s top stories. Major revamps in 2001 and 2005 have taken HLN further away from even those modest goals. Today, the network is desperate to rebrand itself as the “new TV home for the social media generation.”
Since last year the new, emoji-friendly HLN has announced the addition of social media game shows (“Keywords”), satirical cartoon shows (“I Can Haz NewsToons”) and the last bastion of the idea-deprived network programmer—reality shows (we’ll get to that later). For the last few months, the network’s daytime block, HLN [Now], has been staffed with hip, young internet journos like Yasmin Vossoughian, who spend the day sharing Facebook posts, Twitter posts, Vine videos and Pinterest pics from viewers. Instead of politicians, scientists or even cartoonish pundits, HLN turns to comments (often via Skype) from such hyperlinked experts as “George 2.0” (that’s what he calls himself) and the author of The Pinterest Diet (so, that’s a thing).
In February of last year, HLN general manager Albie Hecht said the network wanted to “debunk the myth that the world of social media is only about videos of cats riding skateboards.” Fair enough. But in practice there are a lot of cat videos playing on HLN right now. Also, lots of pictures of pretty sunsets and videos of people dunking basketballs in various extreme ways. This, apparently, is what passes for news among Millennials. On the extremely rare occasion that HLN blunders into an actual news story now, the focus is shifted away from any facts. A 7-year-old girl was the sole survivor when her entire family died in a single-engine plane crash? Sounds dramatic. This needs a story detailing what random people on Twitter have to say.
This week HLN is putting the final nail in the “news” coffin with its very first reality show. It’s called “Jack Vale: Offline.” Jack Vale is an internet “comedian” who posts hidden camera prank videos on YouTube. He’s got 1.2 million followers. Among his signature pranks is one in which he hangs out at the mall or a sidewalk cafe or an elevator, and pretends to fart on people. Yup, a million people watch this guy push the button on a $1.99 fart noise keychain he bought at Spencer’s Gifts. And now he’s got a show on CNN’s sister station. The show follows Vale, his wife and their five kids through the “creation, planning, execution, editing and posting of prank videos.” It’s worse than it sounds. The “pranks” are lamer than the jokes your dad tells at Christmas. Vale has all the charisma of Johnny Knoxville’s dorky dentist. And his family is like a bunch of Mormons who have been kidnapped by Disneyland and forced to tap dance for their food. From the sound of it, that death knell is getting louder.