By Alan Pergament
I’ve been accused of a lot of things as a critic, but I never thought I’d be accused of not believing in evolution.
I also never thought I’d write this – but I don’t believe in evolution. At least not when it pertains to certain aspects of TV news.
On Monday, Channel 2’s Maryalice Demler -– she’s called MAD for short on the station’s website (I’m not making this up) -- delivered a two-minute response to my Saturday column in which I called her commentaries obvious, unnecessary and inappropriate for reporters and anchors who are just supposed to cover news, not opine about it.
Her Monday commentary, "The Evolution of The TV News Anchor," was an unnecessary, inappropriate, hilarious waste of news time and unintentionally validated my point.
I haven’t laughed out loud so much about local TV news since watching "Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy," the Will Ferrell movie about TV news set in San Diego that was briefly highlighted in MAD’s commentary and an apparent example of her research.
Demler's latest commentary was an astonishing display of ego and self-importance, even by the standard of news anchors. I was almost waiting for her to claim that she was a woman who invented the wheel and built the Eiffel Tower instead of Burgundy.
I also hear that some other local news people weren’t laughing because MAD wasn’t just criticizing me, she was inadvertently bashing her competitors by suggesting that Channel 2 has reinvented TV news while everyone else is stuck in the 1970s.
MAD started off the commentary by noting that about a year ago she was asked by station management to deliver commentaries on issues she "felt passionate about."
"I was honored that they entrusted me with this assignment," said MAD. "An added bonus was being honored with two New York Emmy nominations for both writing and delivering these commentaries. … Honors that came from my peers in the broadcast industry."
(I should note that I quoted Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner on Saturday as saying that the station asked all of its anchors if they wanted to do commentaries. And the photo of the Emmys behind Demler made it appear like she won one and wasn’t just nominated. But I will respond to MAD’s response after I let her finish.)
She then noted that a newspaper TV critic "doesn’t approve" of her doing the commentaries. She eventually tossed away the newspaper with the column that I had written before continuing an acting performance that rivaled anything Ferrell has done and almost seemed like one of the parodies he
did on his "Saturday Night Live" days.
"Whatever," MAD said of my remarks. "His comments really show a lack of understanding about what we do at 2 On Your Side. And I get it. This is groundbreaking. No local news anchor in Buffalo has ever done commentaries on a regular basis. Not much has changed here for anchors since the '70s when we were told to look good, smile pretty and well just read the news (cue the "Anchorman" shot). Well that was then. What you see before you is a 21st century news anchor. My job – like our newsroom – has evolved over the past 30 years. …
"My commentaries are what you, our viewers, have been asking for…. It is an extension of the kind of journalism we pioneered at this station. It is bold, it is out of the box. And it was highly criticized when we first started doing it eight years ago. Showing our reporters, asking those tough questions and now it is something that all the other stations are trying to imitate. This is what it means to challenge the status quo. Yes, it takes courage. But that’s what’s being a voice for the voiceless is all about. That’s what we do here unapologetically. Just because it hasn’t been done before doesn’t keep us from pushing forward. It was Aristotle who said 'to avoid criticism, say nothing, do nothing and be nothing.' Well, that’s not me. And that’s not 2 on Your Side."
Wow, she quoted Aristotle, who I believe was an anchor somewhere around 350 B.C. I’m impressed. (By the way, some people have attributed that quote to Elbert Hubbard.)
Let’s get back to the Emmy nominations. From what I can tell, the rest of the commentary field in the 2013 Emmys competition consisted of a webcast editor, a film critic and a former standup comedian who used to work in Ron Burgundy's San Diego and does commentaries for WPIX in New York. The former standup, Larry Mendte, won. Once upon a time, he was a host of “Access Hollywood,” and he also made news years ago for being involved in a scandal involving a relationship with a co-anchor.
Demler appeared to be “the only 21st Century anchor” in the category, presumably because most if not all anchors realize that they shouldn’t deliver commentaries. In the writing category, Demler’s writing competition appeared to be two people who work in promotion and someone who covered hockey. I hate to think what the other commentaries were like, because Demler's commentaries are anything but "bold" or "out of the box." They are loaded with platitudes.
To all those who have asked, I was "honored" that she responded to my column. I also thank her for the publicity. The response illustrated how thin-skinned the station that claims to be asking tough questions is when tough questions are asked of it.
The line about 1970s anchors who were told to look pretty, smile and read the news also made me laugh loudly, because Demler is a former beauty-contest winner who has had a lot of practice smiling. If I read that line correctly, Channel 2 anchors Melissa Holmes, Scott Levin and John Beard better hurry up and do commentaries or go back to the 20th Century with all the anchors on Channel 4 and Channel 7 who somehow have avoided giving commentaries.
I’m hearing that Demler’s commentary is the talk of local TV news. She apparently didn’t realize her egocentric and self-important defense ("we are bold, we are courageous, we are groundbreakers, we are pioneers") was insulting to just about everyone who works at the rival stations.
What we saw before us Monday was an anchor who patted herself on the back so much that you have to hope she doesn’t end up in traction. I hope that never happens, but if does, I’m afraid that she is so in need of attention that she’d do commentaries from her hospital bed.
Clearly, Demler thinks it is a MAD, MAD, MAD World and the rest of us just are in it to adore her and her station in the 21st Century.
Sorry, but it is that kind of attitude that could be Channel 2’s undoing. Now that it is No. 1 in local news, the last thing it needs is to have a boastful anchor who makes some viewers cringe and change the channel while ruining all the goodwill it has created in its rise to the top.
I almost felt sorry for Demler on Monday, because no one at the station saved her from herself and further embarrassment. She should have been comforted by the number of people who don’t understand the principles of journalism and support everything she does.
I know the temptation to respond is there. One of the only two columns that I ever had killed in more than 40 years in the business was my response to a minor news guy who bashed me. My boss told me the guy was an ant and I should just ignore him. He was right. (The guy is still an ant, by the way.)
I’m sure my old boss would be OK with this response to Demler’s response.
Someone at Channel 2 should have told Demler to tone down the ego, accept some criticism and move on. But I thank her for responding and proving my point all over again.
To quote Aristotle (I can look up stuff, too), "we are what we repeatedly do."
Please, Maryalice, do many of us a favor, stop the MADness of repeatedly giving commentaries.
taggedTelevision | TV news