Is It a Case of “The Grass is Greener….”& Showing Breasts on Local TV News
I traveled to Louisville this past weekend to visit my son and his family. It also gave my lovely and talented bride Bethany a chance to dress up for Halloween with our 4 year old granddaughter Patterson. Patterson loves the Wizard of Oz and wanted to go as Dorothy and asked Bethany (her Granny B) to dress up as Glenda the Good Witch, which she did.
(No, I did not dress as any of the characters not even the flying monkeys.) A good time was had by all.
While there, I did sneak a peek at the local news and generally speaking, the Louisville market has an overall good product with good people and good production values. I’ve always liked the news out of the Louisville market and always really liked what I saw out of Nashville while going to school. In fact, I really wanted to work in both cities but only sent tapes to Nashville back early in my career but never got on there. Perhaps it is a case of “the grass being greener” but I’ve always thought that both of those cities had a news product that was a bit better than what Memphis had. Don’t get me wrong, the Memphis TV stations have a good product. But there is something about those two markets I always liked. I can’t really put my finger on what it was. I know Nashville (WTVF & WSMV) always seemed to be on the cutting edge with production values. Louisville seemed to be right with Nashville. Perhaps I was too close to the product when I was working in Memphis but I thought the other markets kind of stood out before I even showed up in the Bluff City. Maybe it’s just me. Of course I also learned a long time ago that market size was no indication of quality but we have already plowed that particular field in this blog. Perhaps I’m just off base here or does anyone else out there share a similar opinion. Moving on…
I read on TVSPY/Shoptalk that a station in Washington DC is accused of exploiting women’s bare breasts for a ratings boost. Imagine that. Actually that’s what some critics are saying while others are applauding what they are doing. That station, WJLA, is running some news segments on breast cancer awareness and are teaching women the proper way to perform a breast exam. Critics say they shouldn’t be showing such stuff as someone’s bare breast on the 5pm and 11pm news. Well, I guess it’s a good thing we didn’t have the internet or Youtube back when I was working at good old WTXL TV in Tallahassee, FL in 1984-86. In addition to my anchoring duties, I was also the Medical Reporter and I was doing a story on Breast Cancer. I can’t even remember if it was during a ratings period. I was talking to the good folks at the American Cancer Society and they told me that one of the biggest problems was that not enough people really knew how to conduct a breast exam and that we should show how to do an exam on TV. Of course my first response was “have you lost your mind?” I told them there was no way that we could show a bare breast, nipple and all on TV. Then I got to thinking that with the ratings we were pulling, not many people would see it anyway. I pitched the idea to the news director who looked at me like I had lost my mind. I was then told that we could show this exam only if we did it at 11pm and after the ND and I guess the GM signed off on it. We set it up like this with a two-part report (remember those). I did a segment on the early news with the family of a person who developed breast cancer who didn’t make it and the importance of early detection. We promoted the fact that we would talk with a survivor at 11 and how to conduct an exam. I can tell you that leading up the 11pm piece, I was quite nervous. In the teases during the 11pm news, we emphasized that what was coming up would not be suitable for underage viewers and we repeated that warning during the medical piece intro. (Yes, there’s nothing like telling people not to watch to get them to watch). The segment aired and it was quiet as a mouse in the studio and until the segment finished airing and we went to commercial break. Then the studio crew (all guys) erupted into cheers that I had managed to show breasts on local TV. I was really into medical reporting at the time and felt that I was just doing a service to the community in sharing information. Honest. We did get some negative feedback from a couple of viewers who thought we were out of line but we also received praise from some who thought we did the community a service. And, here we are almost a quarter of a century later and it is still a big deal to show information that might save a woman’s life. Oh, it’s okay to show bloody survivors or the blood soaked ground after the local murder de jour but heaven forbid that someone see a bare breast because that, in the immortal words of George Carlin might “curve your spine, grow hair on your hand or God help us, bring us ‘Peace without honor’.”