Sitting at a desk fiddling with this review lead, I freely admit, isn’t the sort of job that lends itself to having an audience. That’s the main problem with this docu-series, which attempts to transform the New York Daily News staff into action heroes. Journalism is too stagnant and solitary to make for compelling reality TV, even trailing reporters doing legwork or columnists attending posh events. And can it be that gossip Lloyd Grove doesn’t know Sheryl Crow is, as he so colorfully puts it, a “piece of ass”? Inquiring minds want to know.
The best thing “Tabloid Wars” has going for it, actually, is the title, as well as editor Michael Cooke’s fondness for bloodthirsty battle analogies in discussing the paper’s competition with the New York Post. Not surprisingly, the News staffers are the good guys in this scenario, and, in the series anyway, emerge victorious over their hated rival with reassuring regularity.
Granted, what they kick the Post’s ass on is a matter worthy of some discussion, one that’s never engaged during the program — even when a random passerby chastises a reporter for ignoring Iraq while he stakes out a theater where Christian Slater is performing. Slater’s crime? He allegedly pinched a woman’s butt.
Indeed, reporter Tony Sclafani acts positively indignant that anyone would question the News’ priorities, which in the previewed episodes include a heated search for information about Robert De Niro’s allegedly thieving nanny and married gossip tandem George Rush and Joanna Molloy covering Victoria Gotti’s party for her son.
“Tabloid Wars” fares only slightly better when venturing into the field, following reporter Kerry Burke as he investigates the beating of African-American men in Howard Beach, evoking the specter of racial discord in an area brimming with history in that regard. Nor is there much drama, strangely, in the second hour, which deals with a wounded policemen and the death of a local cop serving in Iraq.
Theoretically, the clock ticking toward deadline should lend drama to the festivities, as the reporters race against time, constantly fearing they will be beaten by the Post or get a story wrong — which, in the Howard Beach case, could have dire consequences. Yet the show itself proves strangely lifeless, with no trace of internal politics or squabbling. The reporting, rather, is workmanlike — including the fact News scribes never seem to question their mission, even when it requires knocking on someone’s door when they are most vulnerable.
Bravo has enjoyed some success exploring workplace settings, and its ratings-challenged edition of “Project Greenlight” remains a fascinating primer on the movie biz. Still, hair salons and fitness gurus tend to be a little more camera-friendly than newspaper grunts.
Not surprisingly, “Tabloid Wars” seeks to generate excitement by focusing on the hunt, as well as a smidgeon of glamour. Grove’s legman Hudson “Hud” Morgan, for example, is followed as he club-hops before experiencing an unexpected bout of humanity covering a cancer event. He’s also shown briefing his boss on cyclist Lance Armstrong and his relationship with singer Crow, which is all an apparent mystery to Grove.
Extra! Extra! Watch all about it!
But probably not.