Tuesday, January 08, 2008

I'd Rather Be Watching C-SPAN ...

Day job in the way of TellyPhile's election coverage fervor

Photo credit: ABCnews.com

Since Iowa, this couch potato has been guuhhlued to the coverage of the myriad presidential campaigns. While most of said coverage consists of a bunch of know-it-all pundits saying the same thing over and over again, I like that they're making a big deal out of something that since Obama actually took Iowa right out from under Hillary's annointed nose--is a pretty big fucking deal to me.
I even wrote about it in my column--The TV Set--this week. (I'm sure you're familiar with "The TV Set", a column that I write for the weekly paper of record in Westchester county "The Examiner", Dear Reader. 1) because you're probably a member of my immediate family and ...well, no two, that's all I got.)

So anyway, here's what I had to say this week:

The Amazing Race isn't on CBS – race for prez makes for great reality TV

I'm comfortable with obsession. Not the scary, throw your kid's bunny in a pot, Glenn Close sort, but that tamer variety. The kind that may or may not involve a now-embarrassing number of New Kids on the Block posters on one's bedroom walls, the name of the hotel where the Dave Matthews Band is staying while they're in town, and certain members of the 1996 Boston University ice hockey team. But truth be told, it's been kind of quiet on the obsession front these days. I'm pushing thirty. Sleeping on February cold sidewalks for Rent tickets just doesn't hold the same appeal it used to. These days, my obsessions are cultivated from the warmth of my living room with the help of my never judgmental friend, Google. But the obsessive in me has lain dormant lately—until Iowa.

As I watched the surprising results for the Iowa caucuses come in last Thursday night, the fever was working its way through my veins. By the time Obama and Huckabee were declared the winners, I was a goner. For the rest of the weekend, my TV was a slave to the cable news nets—CNN and MSNBC with Fox News, PBS and C-SPAN not far behind. Everyone was taken off guard by what Iowa had chosen to say to the American people while they had their chance at the national mic. The result was the kick off of the best reality show on television.

It was riveting. Popular pundit wisdom didn't truly believe that Hillary was beatable. When Obama accomplished the impossible, the talking heads latched on to this new storyline with a tenacity matched only by my avid consumption of it all. Watching three 24-hr news channels full of know-it-alls trying to figure out what they'd missed makes for great television. The entertainment value of their consternation is second only to the all-too-real drama of the truly high stakes game that is the race to be chosen as leader of the free world. Sorry, Mark Burnett. This reality show blows "Survivor" out of the water. Here you will find strategic alliances between candidates, challenges in the form of debates, and the elimination rounds that are the caucuses and primaries. At last, a reality show with an outcome that matters.

And there isn't just one host. There is a chorus of voices clamoring to join the fray. My favorite was Chris Matthews. He wears an expression that is gleeful, but not malicious. His questions are direct and when he finds his guests' responses to be anything less than that, he bluntly, but not rudely, calls them on it. He is all round-faced "kid in a candy store" to Andersen Cooper's prematurely grey gravitas and I dig that.

At some point, I got tired of being told the same thing over and over again so I turned to PBS—the channel I knew I could depend on for discussion that delves just a little deeper. And there was Bill Moyers, patiently dispensing some straight dope sans the busy theme music with busier graphics. Wanting to continue on this quieter path, my remote found C-SPAN. It was like being granted admittance to a true wonk's paradise. Everything we see on television is through someone else's filter but CSPAN's is not a heavy hand. It serves up politics cinema-verite style. Their cameras act as a fly on the wall, interfering as little as possible, leaving the way clear for voter and candidate to get to know one another better. What more could a reality TV purist ask?