September 25, 2008

Local Interview Show Goes Through ‘Blander”

By Bill Mann

While watching Channel 7's "The View From The Bay" the other afternoon (waiting for Oprah to come on next), I kept remembering a phrase from the National Lampoon I swiped for my humor book about Canada: "The bland leading the bland."

Every Canadian kitchen, the NatLamp also said, has an appliance - - called a blander. (And if you've ever eaten Canadian "cuisine," as I did for years in Montreal, you know how true this is).

"View" comes from the blander. Co-hosts Spencer Christian and Janelle Wang are the kind of people who, when they come into a room, it's like someone has just left.

Especially so Wang, an unremarkable Channel 7 reporter until a station exec decided that she was sufficiently personality and conversationally impaired that she'd be a perfect co-host for an afternoon talk show.

One disgusted East Bay reader e-mailed me last week, "Janelle's so vapid she makes Paris Hilton seem interesting." Christian's claim to fame is having worked with Joan Lunden on ABC's "Good Morning America" for several forgettable years. He beat out far more talented weatherman and finalist Mark Thompson of KRON for the "GMA" job. (Thompson is now host of Fox's best new fall show, "Hole in The Wall." Thompson works with dim co-host Brooke Burns, who makes Vanna White look like Stephen Hawking.)

Christian's ABC contract was unloaded on ABC-owned KGO a few years ago.

The Bay Area has had some pretty good local talk shows during the years, e.g., KPIX's long-running "People Are Talking" and KGO's "AM San Francisco" with Jack Hanson and Nancy Fleming, plus the chatty Susan Sikora (who now hosts Channel 44's "Bay Area Focus" at 8 Sunday mornings.) All these shows, while hardly controversial, still had an edge.

But edgy is out. Insipid is in. Ergo, "View From The Bay," which did a gripping 30-minute segment (or maybe it just SEEMED that long) on a book about head lice the other day.

Christian, like his pal, KGO Radio's Ronn Owens, is a self- proclaimed wit who actually seems to believe he's clever. Still, he's pleasant enough most of the time on this show -- so long as the comedically impaired Christian's not trying to be funny.

Local TV talk shows have long been favorite targets of parody -- Bonnie Hunt's funny ABC series a short while back comes to mind.

Still, for all its insipidness, what's significant about "The View From The Bay" is that it's live and local. It's sadly, an almost-extinct TV phenomenon in these days of cheap syndicated daytime fare.

And for this if not its casting of co-hosts, Channel 7 deserves credit.

Now, if KPIX would just give reporter Mike Sugerman and his entertaining wife, KCBS newswoman Janice Wright their own talk show "...

What's Missing?: All the TV coverage of the Wall Street meltdown was daunting and confusing to the average viewer last week, with all the jargon about naked short selling, CDO's, the Uptick Rule, etc.

What was conspicuously absent from CNBC, MSNBC and Fox Business: Any discussion about how the huge shift away from corporate pensions to 401(k)'s in 1981 has disadvantaged the average worker, who's now forced to make investment choices in a financial minefield. Most people know -- or care -- little about investing. The only meaningful thing I've seen on TV about this huge shift in responsibility for retirement funding was a "Frontline" report on PBS in 2006, "Can You Afford to Retire?" It should be rerun.

Reach Bill Mann at [email protected]

Originally published by Bill Mann , Columnist.

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