Witt: That guy in Vermont who gets the news

ABC, CBS and NBC. The three major networks (although not as major as they once were), all carry a half-hour evening news program at the same time, unless pre-empted by something more important, usually sports (he said, sarcastically).

There is so much similarity between all three broadcasts on any given evening they must be programmed by the same individual, a person who could easily be perceived to be some lonely guy in a small town in Vermont, snowed in for seven months of the year, who spends his entire day pecking away at a computer keyboard writing a scenario for the evening news.

He is dressed in his house robe, wearing flip-flops and sporting three days of unshavenness (not a real word).

He has become so bored with his life he writes one scenario and sends it to all three networks for their evening show, and just changes the address so each will not know the other two are working on the same schematic.

It’s so easy to believe this when one attempts to watch these newscasts, and if one switches amongst them during the half-hour, the sameness becomes painfully apparent (and don’t bother to switch from one newscast during a commercial break because they all break at the same time).

Here’s how all the evening network newscasts go, almost without exception:

The first 15 minutes is pure news, uninterrupted by commercials, perhaps with six or seven individual news items. The only variation in this segment between networks might be the stories which take precedence. But, during that 15 minutes, it is an almost certainty that the same stories will be covered by each newscast.

Then comes the first commercial break, a period which lasts long enough to air as many as six ads, most of which will be medications (“be sure to tell your doctor all the medications you’re taking”) targeted to the older generation (because the advertisers know it is this group that is most likely to be watching the evening news).

It wasn’t so long ago at least one of these commercials would be for an erectile dysfunction drug, but those have become so commonplace and so cheap they no longer merit a nightly place on network news.

Back to the news. But only briefly, because the next news item is likely to be a single piece before the anchor (don’t these people know what ‘anchor’ means? Yet they are constantly on the go, feeling they personally must report from some embattled site, like the hurricane-threatened coast or the disastrous fire in California or the president’s trip to Hanoi) says (always the same words, regardless of what network) “When we come back…”

So the final 15 minutes of the half-hour newscast is taken up by no less than three commercial interruptions, with short stories of little importance between.

And then comes the grand finale, following another four or five commercials, what can accurately be referred to as cotton candy news, some schmaltzy piece that most often has no news value at all, just a closing feel-good piece to send an elated staff home because virtually all the other news has been pretty bleak.

On Feb. 7, following the death of Frank Robinson, the black baseball player who achieved great popularity and helped propel black players into the sport’s mainstream, all three network evening news programs carried, as their last piece, a paean to him.

Not that he didn’t deserve it, but is it too much to ask a network to be a little more original with its programming?

Oh, wait. It’s all because of that guy in Vermont. Who probably doesn’t even watch the evening news.

Oh, well, there’s always a place to get some real news, like PBS or the BBC, both of which apparently believe important events also occur elsewhere on the globe.

Chuck Witt is a retired architect and a lifelong resident of Winchester. He can be reached at chuck740@bellsouth.net.