Monday, January 19, 2009

Lou Grant, reimagined for the 21st century

I've been catching up on my LG episodes today (there's a new channel on our cable system that runs them), and this seemed apt.

Thanks to The Paley Center for Media.
Development season—that time of year when writers and producers start pitching new shows to the networks for the Fall lineups—will be going full force soon. Since remakes are never out of vogue, I took it upon myself to watch an old episode of Lou Grant, the newspaper drama starring Ed Asner that ran on CBS 25 years ago. I wanted to see how it stood the test of time and what updates I could make to bring it into the 21st century, perhaps with a new title—Sam Zell.

For starters, there is a lot of waste at the fictional Los Angeles Tribune. There are three senior editor types on the show—Lou Grant, Charlie Hume, and Art Donovan. They all seem to duplicate each other and, I'll be honest, I can't figure out what Art does other than wear three-piece suits and make the occasional wisecrack. He's gone. Hume is getting up there so we can phase him out, too, with a nice buyout. That'll put a lot of work on Grant's back, but we all need to do more with less.

I've also been looking at Rossi's expenses. Sure he's a hot-shot investigative reporter, but does he have to keep meeting sources in parking lots? For starters, that's so All The President's Men, and secondly, if he's not going to bother validating while he's there, then we're not covering his costs anymore. And I'm still not quite sure how to translate breaking a story on some city council member taking kickbacks into ad dollars, and that is, after all, the business we are in. I'm reassigning Rossi to the entertainment beat. Gossip and celebrities are what moves papers off the shelves. We can let the AP handle local and national news.

Furthermore, reporters have to be able to multitask, which means no more staff photographers. With cell phones and digital cameras, anyone can be an Annie Leibovitz. The very idea that we need some expensive professional like Dennis "Animal" Price is absurd.

Now I see there is a cafeteria at the Tribune. It's not enough that we're paying these writers and giving them insurance, they want to be fed, too? Don't think so. There's no revenue to be made in having a mess hall for a bunch of prima donnas, especially with that taco truck parked right down the block.

Also, no more company cars. We're going green here. From now on its mass transit for all stories unless prior approval is given.

The culture of newspapers has also changed and this new series will reflect that as well. In an episode of the old Lou Grant, Rossi becomes the paper's unofficial ombudsman, monitoring other reporters for potential conflicts. He uncovers a bunch. An editor is married to someone who works for someone running for office. The food reporter is reprimanded for taking junkets, and the metro editor is too close to the owner of a local sports franchise.

Maybe some of this would have raised eyebrows in 1980, but this is 2009! We want our staff involved with the movers and shakers. These are the kinds of walls we need to be tearing down. If you're not inside, you're outside.

As for the junkets, how else are we going to afford to have a food correspondent unless someone is picking up the bill? Do we want a food section above reproach (whatever that means) or one that turns a profit?

There is also going to be a bigger focus on our web operation. Rossi should be blogging. The web is where our future is, even if we are giving away product we used to make money on. It's about traffic, and the dollars will follow.

And finally, much of the cast on the old Lou Grant wasn't exactly...attractive. We're going after the 18-34 demographic—is it too much to ask that our stars have more hair and less paunch? Except, of course, for the owner. I think we should see if Ed Asner is available, but only if he'll work cheap.

Now playing: 'Til Tuesday - Everything's Different Now
via FoxyTunes


Engineering Goddess said...

Very well done my friend. This was one of my favorite shows - gosh - 25 years ago - blah - are we that old or what?

CAC said...

Oh, but the sad thing is, it started when we were in JUNIOR HIGH.

It only became must-see TV for me in high school, though, when I started working on the paper and we would all get to school early Tuesday mornings and gather in the journalism room to deconstruct the previous night's episode. :-)

BTW, wish I could take credit for writing that, but that's why I put the link to the Paley Center in there. Somebody beat me to it. I'm taking consolation in the fact that he's probably way older than me. ;-) (That's still possible, right?!?!)