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Chaos and Confusion Mark the End of Analog

DATELINE, TV LAND: Where else would a celebrity baby adoption get precedence over the biggest technological federal mandate in the nation’s history? Not to mention the whining persecution of an unseated beauty queen or the quibbling argument between an acerbic talk-show host and a public figure? Welcome to Breakfast in America!

Indeed there was chaos and confusion in the news today, and indeed, bitter squabbles dominated the top stories. It’s just that the confusion involved Carrie Prejean, the embattled and now erstwhile California beauty pageant personage who was stripped of her title for being a snot-nosed infant or for opposing gay marriage, depending on who’s being interviewed. The bitter squabble was between Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and TV talk show host David Letterman, although Letterman wasn’t interviewed for a previous tasteless crack he made about Palin’s daughter, so really the squabble was between Palin herself.

Then there was the good news. The story of international détente, of the goodness of the United States of America to less fortunate countries that have but one-word names, for example. In a coup that resounded worldwide to the relief countless celebrities seeking to elevate their status through the use of children, Madonna was allowed by the country of Malawi to adopt another youngster. It was akin to the handshake between Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, only with peroxide and without any serious implications whatsoever.

Granted this coverage was perpetrated on the “Today” show, where host Matt Lauer is dressed up like a Swiss Mountaineer and sent to far corners of the first world to consume wine, steaks and cigars while his network sheds employees like dead skin cells. Then again, watching Lauer tango across Argentina is half the reason “Today” has ratings.

A few years ago, Tom Brokaw, a man who appears genial until you actually meet him, abruptly told me that the reason he never covered the DTV transition was that no one gave a hoot. “We covered stories people care about,” or words to that effect, he said to me during a trade-hack scrum at NAB one year. He was there with the post-downfallen Dan Rather, who moved in to shake our hands after a Q&A. Brokaw followed suit, though with a look indicating a pterodactyl had left a deposit beneath his nostrils.

To be fair to the “Today” show, and to Brokaw for that matter, because we here at TVB hold no grudges, now do we…. “Today” dedicated about 30 seconds to the transition in an exchange with Acting FCC Chairman Michael Copps, who had time to say what a big deal it was. The monotone Copps was book-ended by Prejean and a more extended interview with Palin, both of whom at least provided the wacky, outrageous, toothsome presence TV audiences love. Had the FCC hired Carmen Electra a few months ago to flack the DTV transition, the story coulda been a contender.