Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Help me, Wolf Blitzer. You're my only hope.

Keeping to my promise to keep the blog non-political, the only thing I want to touch on about last night's election coverage is this: for reasons passing understanding, CNN decided that election night was the perfect time to unveil a flashy but otherwise completely pointless new gimmick where correspondent Jessica Yellin appeared in the studio as a hologram, Princess Leia-style. And, of course, in typical obnoxious TV news fashion, they had to spend forever and a day explaining how awesome it was. I know there's a lot of time to fill in between when certain races can be safely called, but wow.

I look forward to Jon Stewart going to town on this.

31 comments:

Stef said...

It was bizarre enough when they did it with their reporter Jessica Yellin. But late in the night, when Anderson Cooper had to interview the hologram version of Will.I.Am, not only were my friends and I busting out laughing, even AC himself had that "I can't believe I'm doing this" smirk. How much did that bizarre little gadget cost?? So not worth it.

Matt said...

Somehow, in my flipping between CNN, MSNBC, and Comedy Central, and being generally unimpressed with all of them (save the Larry Wilmore stuff near the end of the hour on Comedy Central), managed to miss this.

The hour between 10 and 11 was particularly painful, watching everyone on all the networks basically try to come up with something to say besides "more polls close at the top of the hour! We anticipate having news then!"

Nicole said...

The map is still cooler, and when I caught the will i am beam in, I also thought of how Stewart would rip into this tonight.

Indecision 2008 had its moments, mostly from Colbert yelling into a jug, and the aforesaid Larry Wilmore, but otherwise not as funny as usual. I'm hoping that it's not a sign of things to come now with Obama as president elect.

BF said...

It actually ended up being LESS immersive than talking back to a TV moniter because the hologram-ee had to go inside some tent and had to be filmed with Matrix-style cameras or some such techno-wank. And in doing so, you took the correspondent out of the crowd, which is the whole reason you sent them on location in the first place!

mp said...

While I was usually flipping between BBCA (very enjoyable), CNN, and Fox News, I did spend some time on NBC. NBC had Ann Curry in some big room which would (through the magic of technology "just like on the Weather Channel") look like some marble floored room with columns and a graph that could pop up in the middle of the room. Brian Williams took a lot of joy in having the cameras pull back and show that it's really a green screen. "Amazing," said Brian. Unfortunately (at least in my opinion) navigating the room was apparently quite disconcerting to poor Ann as she was having a lot of stammering and hesitancy in her delivery. I felt sorry for her as I imagine it's tough enough to try to figure out what to say as networks get different bits of polling data and results without trying to navigate through images you can't see.

katie said...

another crazy thing: the electoral college ON ICE on msnbc (and nbc?).

polkadotoes said...

hahaha i missed that! and they actually had ac talk to will.i.am through it..too much, too much

LA said...

another crazy thing: the electoral college ON ICE on msnbc (and nbc?).

I was totally amused, but in a good way, by the states on ice. (and yes, it was on NBC).

Yeah, Ann Curry in the marbled rotunda was pretty strange.

Andrew said...

What's the point of the hologram technology (which I assume involves the reporter/interviewee standing in front of a green screen)? If you're sending a reporter into the field, isn't showing what's going on in the background around them providing more useful context to the viewer than just showing more of the studio set?

What I found so aggravating about watching coverage (particularly of the speeches at the end of the night) was the need for the on-air people to make sure that there was someone talking at all times (Brian Williams and Katie Couric were the ones I noticed this with, but I just happened to be between NBC and CBS at the time). After Obama's speech, instead of just showing the crowds and letting the viewers listen to their cheering, both Williams and Couric were talking about "what they must feel" and such.

This is a symptom of the same hubris that thought up CNN's hologram. Instead of using the TV medium to show us the news and use visuals to provide useful analysis, the networks seem more obsessed with showing the importance their news teams coverage of events rather than the intrinsic importance of those events.

Fred Armisen playing with the touchscreen map on SNL's Weekend Update may be one of the most perceptive media critiques of this campaign.

KB said...

BBC had the best election show of the night. They were far more entertaining than any other shows and much funnier than Comedy Central's election special. The best part of the BBC show the Gore Vidal interview, it was just bizarre and hilarious. The clip is on youtube and its worth checking out.

David J. Loehr said...

I came to CNN late, but just in time to see Will.i.am. Over on Twitter, I immediately typed "Help me, Anderson Cooper," etc.

I did love the map sketch with Fred Armisen but--having avoided CNN for most of the campaign--I have new respect for the writing in that one.

Surely, there are better ways to spend money than on silly touch maps and useless tent-based holodecks...

Crystal said...

During Indecision 08, (I was flipping back and forth between NBC and Comedy Central from about 10:40pm on) John did turn to Colbert and ask, "you're a hologram, aren't you?" Now, the comment makes sense to me. Don't worry, he's already begun leading the attack.

jcpdiesel21 said...

I agree that Indecision 2008 was disappointing, especially since I was really looking forward to it. Larry Wilmore was awesome, as was Stephen Colbert, but everything else was meh.

I am sad that I missed the use of this hologram technology. It looks and sounds very bizarre, but it certainly explains Jon Stewart's hologram remark to Colbert, which was already funny on its own.

Stef said...

Andrew -- I totally agree with your point on news folks feeling like they have to fill air time with talking. That's a big part of why I switched to PBS during the convention coverage, cuz they would actually show the convention and let us listen to speeches rather than talking over them and telling us what to think.

Of course, last night I did watch CNN specifically because I wanted to see all their gadgety magic map stuff. But the holograms were way over the top. And there was just too much clutter on the screen all the time, with scrolls and polls and counts, oh my! I found it was helpful to have my laptop fired up so I could check the details online rather than trying to catch it on screen.

Mo Ryan said...

A friend of mine suggested this would also be perfect fodder for Colbert -- another green screen challenge a la the Star Wars contest.

All I kept thinking was, this technology would pay the salaries of -- I'm guessing -- half a dozen entry level producers and reporters. Arrrrrhhgghhghgh!

Tracey said...

I missed that one. I was mostly watching CBS, but flipped around a bit.

The bizarre special effect you describe reminds me oddly of an experiment they had with weather forecasts a few years ago: a 3D simulation that made it look like you were flying through the weather. I'm sure the technoweenies peed their pants in excitement over that, but it didn't actually help you understand the weather! It wasn't anywhere near as useful asa good oldfashioned timelapsed overhead radar view, where you can see where it's raining and where it's not and which way it's moving. Sheesh, if I wanted to see what the rain looked like falling down, I just step outside, morons!

The special effect you describe is similar: I'm sure it's really cool from a technological perspective, but it doesn't actually add anything to the information; it takes more away than it adds.

Anonymous said...

And there was just too much clutter on the screen all the time, with scrolls and polls and counts, oh my! I found it was helpful to have my laptop fired up so I could check the details online rather than trying to catch it on screen.
Not on MSNBC, there was no useful clutter at all. They kept only showing the electoral college count. While I was thinking "there are senate races, house races, gubanatorial races, the popular vote count. Tell me something else 'cause that number isn't going to change for another 30 minutes."

dez said...

Some of the clutter on ABC was going by so fast that I couldn't tell who was winning what.

I think I enjoyed Indecision08 more than others here. Colbert's goggles and ear protection after Obama was declared cracked me up, as did the staff going outside to see that everything looked...normal.

J said...

Please, Alan, it's 2008 and Changehascome and whatnot: They're Hologram-Americans.

Whenever they had to kill time over on FOX last night, Britt Hume seemed so constantly amazed by technology that I thought he'd start addressing the studio cameras as strange demons from another world.

I couldn't weather Comedy Central for more than a minute at a time. In a year when I really didn't need any comic relief, they seemed unnecessary. Weirdly enough, I spent most of the night (though flipping between CNN, ABC, and NBC also) with both FOX News and the FOX network feed, if only to see how reactionary they might get. (And for the most part, they acquitted themselves fine. Hume was even sort of giddy at the end of the night when they cut to the revellers on Pennsylvania Avenue.)

Pamela Jaye said...

Hey, that must have been the channel I was watching! (oddly, I thought it was one of the big three... boy am I confused)

Pamela Jaye said...

then again, I didn't really watch but a few minutes between two eps of Mad Men, the Big Bang Theory, and HIMYM.

apparently we missed the beginning of McCain's concession speech and nonoe of the channels we were recording decided to start airing it live, either. (I think one of them was CNNH, so this was odd.)

Pamela Jaye said...

oh right. we also watched Indecision. Mostly live. I don't remember a thing. (it was slightly less boring than baseball, but their print ad (When we cross our arms, people listen!) was funnier)

Pamela Jaye said...

NBC had Ann Curry in some big room which would (through the magic of technology "just like on the Weather Channel") look like some marble floored room with columns and a graph that could pop up in the middle of the room.

thanks mp! *that's* what I was watching. (why did i think Ann Curry was on ABC?)

Matthew L said...

Surely, there are better ways to spend money than on silly touch maps and useless tent-based holodecks...

The touch-map may be a bit show-offy, but I can see some merits to it - it allows the presenter the freedom to burrow down to deeper levels of information at a faster speed than was previously possible (no need to wait for people in the backroom to bring up the needed information). Plus it is a genuinely cool piece of technology.

The hologram may have been cool for us to watch from home, but it gave us nothing that we couldn't have got from a standard satellite feed. It contributed nothing to the actual analysis and was purely about showing off. (Plus, apparently the hologram wasn't actually visible in studio and was just composited for home viewers - http://blog.wired.com/gadgets/2008/11/cnns-hologram-t.html - which makes it less cool as a technology.)

Nicole said...

I thought it was interesting that the CBC coverage around 11 pm, consisted of the reporter near the White House worrying about whether or not there would be a riot whereas none of the US networks were even focussing on the White House until much later.

Tom said...

Watching the returns on cable news was a surreal experience. First -- the evening was historic. Mind-boggling. Terrifically exciting.

Then, yes, there were the networks pulling out the stops to trump each other with holograms and interactive maps and graphs and green-screen wizardry. (My personal favorite was Chuck Todd standing like some Delphic oracle in a temple from Myst waving his hands to make West Virginia stand up and dance, etc.)

Then, in the midst of this history-making night and celebration of digital technology, they cut to the ads; the sponsors footing the bill for all this. And they were the cheesiest, silliest, stupidest batch of basic cable hucksterism I have ever seen.

"The ideals of America are at least realized! Here's Chuck to show you with a wave of his hand how this happened. But first, a word from the good folks at TouchNBond, the miracle glue that will repair torn jeans instantly. Act now! Operators are standing by." They are indeed.

This is one bizarre country. God bless it.

annie said...

Ah, yes, the Indecision joke does make sense now.

As far as technology, the giant touch screens are awesome. My dad wondered if they were all using the same software. xD

I loved how the green screen room had "windows" with a slightly moving image of the skyline. Totally gave it a floating castle (temple) feel.

Almost all the scripted Indecision 2008 stuff was unfunny, and the unscripted stuff (or Colbert jokes) were funny. But it was a nice break from the pundits doing the same stuff over and over.

Nicole said...

As expected, Stewart was on fire mocking the gadgets. I think the worry that there won't be anything to mock in the next 4 years is probably unfounded. At least the Daily Show seemed back on form tonight.

jim treacher said...

Then, in the midst of this history-making night and celebration of digital technology, they cut to the ads; the sponsors footing the bill for all this. And they were the cheesiest, silliest, stupidest batch of basic cable hucksterism I have ever seen.

Thank goodness that capitalism will soon be a fading memory.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Stewart on holograms and more. Very funny, but I think he could have been even more savage on this nonsense.

Tracey said...

@Alan: I dunno, I think Stewart very effectively captured the essence of what's wrong with all of these gimmicks: WHY??? This fundamental absurdity is vastly more important than the fact that they're not actually holograms. See: http://www.cbc.ca/technology/story/2008/11/05/tech-holograms.html