Nobody can blame NBC for finding an excuse to preempt “Siberia” — in this case, to air a special about the birth of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s baby. Naturally, ABC announced plans for its own primetime hour to air Tuesday, “The Royal Baby: Heir to the Throne.” Hey, it’s July. Why not?
The larger issue is how seldom the broadcast networks take advantage of their primetime real estate to cover anything that approaches serious news, as opposed to self-promotional nonsense, like ABC’s “Revenge for Real,” or silly infotainment stunts, like that network’s “What Would You Do?” and its latest bastard cousin, “Would You Fall for That?” (The answer is “If you would watch something titled ‘Would you Fall for That?,'” then yes, yes you would.)
These are serious times, with major issues afoot. Most people don’t understand the changes coming to the healthcare law and couldn’t find the Middle East on a map. The George Zimmeran trial has renewed discussions about race, gun laws and profiling of African-Americans. And the level of dysfunction in Washington has even relatively calm folks like Bob Schieffer railing against Congress and a dysfunctional system.
Granted, these are complex issues, and many of them have a shaky history in terms of attracting an audience. But faced with those hurdles, the networks have largely thrown in the towel. And say what you want about “Rock Center,” NBC’s failed newsmagazine, but its cancellation will no doubt be seized upon as an excuse to fall back on the usual assortment of true crime, celebrity and sleaze in those rare instances when the news divisions do get a primetime berth.
One can argue, frankly, whether the U.S. audience is truly as enamored with the Royals as its media. As my colleague Tim Gray suggested, “The media’s fascination with the royals feeds the public’s frenzy.”
OK, fine. Throw a primetime tea party, complete with white gloves. Besides, the presumed skew of the Royal Baby story toward women — especially those in desirable younger demos — makes the discussion moot.
We’re going to be fed a whole lot of it. As the coverage in weekly magazines and on the network morning shows has made clear, these Royals are almost as important as the Kardashians.
But as Oliver Twist might say, “Could we please have some more real news, too?”