Maybe it's the name. If Detroit's FOX2 had called its two-month-old 11 p.m. newscast "News Dredge," because it pulls up pieces from the day's earlier news shows, or "News Hedge," because it skirts around details in favor of exploitative headlines, it would've been more accurate. If only they'd been up front and called it "News We Put Together at 11 to Compete With Channels 4 and 7," we would've admired the station's honesty.
But when a half-hour news program is foisted on an unsuspecting public Monday through Friday and hailed as FOX2 News Edge, it would sit better if the broadcast was, oh, I don't know ... "edgy."
News Edge is many things — breakneck, assertive, more than half devoted to sports — but cutting-edge it ain't. If the idea behind this newscast was to follow its successful FOX2 News at Ten with a half-hour digest targeting viewers who were ready for bed, wouldn't it be wise not to shock and frighten them before they retire?
Let's be honest. News Edge exists for one reason: There was a glaring hole in Detroit late-night TV and money to be made in the void. Because our CBS affiliate (Channel 62) declined to enter the local TV news battles, Detroit was one of the only major markets in America with just two newscasts at 11 p.m., on Channels 4 (WDIV) and 7 (WXYZ). Channel 2 had been more than holding its own at 11 p.m. with reruns of Seinfeld, but even the most successful sitcom in history can show signs of age after years in syndication. (After all, its most fervent fans already know each episode by heart.) And the current crop of syndicated offerings, such off-network comedies as Two and a Half Men and Still Standing, is slightly weaker than in years past and already taken by the competition.
What to do? While not all FOX-owned and -operated stations, like our Channel 2, have moved toward a News Edge at 11 o'clock, a trend does appear to be developing nationwide. Having only two newscasts instead of three to compete with in Detroit surely accelerated its launch here. And don't forget, TV's year-long bonanza of political advertising hits the 2008 airwaves. Better to get the Edge entrenched now, before cash registers start ringing. After all, if you're a candidate hoping to make a serious impression, would you prefer your commercials run during a newscast — even a subpar one — or a sitcom rerun?
Say this for News Edge: It sure is pretty. Its bluer-than-blue studio set almost makes it appear as if its participants are floating in the nighttime sky. And Huel Perkins, FOX2's dapper, redoubtable anchor, prefers to stand during the newscast, as does sports director Dan Miller later on. That's different — and to those accustomed to seeing their TV news heads sitting, more than a bit wearying — but not, um, "edgy." Perkins holds some kind of electronic tablet while reciting bombastic headlines. I was certain it was an Etch-a-Sketch, but I've been told it's a device that feeds his news copy to him, since the station's teleprompters are built into the desks of FOX2's new set. Now that's planning ahead.
And pity poor Monica Gayle, Perkins' co-anchor the rest of the day, who now must stay later at work for just three minutes of air time. In an undisguised attempt to tie into the station's Web site, MyFoxDetroit.com, Gayle delivers the "three things you need to know" before turning in for the night. On a recent newscast, her three pearls of knowledge were 1) Starbucks has begun running TV ads, 2) teen sex may not be completely bad after all (it might help kids to focus!) and 3) some debit cards now charge a small fee when you use them in stores. Tell me, which of those morsels could I not have lived without?
According to TV ratings through the midpoint of November, the all-important month for setting local advertising rates, FOX2's strategy of stealing a little audience from WDIV and WXYZ at 11 while retaining its 10 o'clock news viewers too lazy to change channels is not faring as planned.
Channel 7, buoyed by ABC's strongest prime-time lineup in years, has actually gained two ratings points from last year at 11, and Channel 4 is right on its heels. (According to Nielsen TV ratings, each local ratings point in Detroit equals about 19,380 households.) Ironically, it appears WJBK is doing marginally better at 11 p.m. than with Seinfeld, but reruns of The Simpsons on Channel 50 and Two and a Half Men on Channel 62 both have experienced significant audience gains. Some folks just want a good laugh before hitting the pillow.
One night Perkins went to a commercial break by intoning, "You're watching the Edge ... hang on. "
It was almost prophetic. Will News Edge stick around? And if so, to what effect?Jim McFarlin is media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]