HBO News – A Proposal

The broad consensus of the election post-mortem is that the Democrats have a superior, more popular set of positions on the issues. Their losses are due to their inability to articulate those positions better. Whether this is because the party lacks an overarching “vision thing” or because John Kerry was not as likable as George Bush or merely because the Republicans “package” their positions better etc. is open to debate. Regardless of this, one obvious means to achieve better messageering for Democrats is to have some parity in television media, which has become a stalwart right-wing megaphone. Several excellent books have already been written on this phenomenon; lets just take it as a given that the right-wing bias in the media means that any “D” candidate is always running up hill.

There has been some thought of a liberal news network, one that would combat the conservatron Fox News in a similar way that the reasonably successful Air America radio counteracts Rush “Hillbilly Heroin” Limbaugh and his demon-spawn. Another denizen of combative talk show, point-counterpoint television, however, will not provide the changes necessary to further progressive causes and points of view. Air America radio has given the underserved left-wing audience a place to hang its hat, but it has not pushed issues and points of view the way the right-wing media was able to. The conservatrons were able to put Kerry’s out-of-context, “global test” statement into the ether after the first debate, whereas Air America and whatever other “liberal media” that exists was not able to nip the slanderous Swift Boat Veterans For Truth brouhaha in the bud.

The model that progressives should look to is not the Fox News Network. It is HBO. Network news is right now where network entertainment was about seven years ago. For the networks then the suppression of creativity forced by the mandates of advertisers and the FCC had created bland, repetitive program that was generally a dull copy of original shows that had established themselves in the late 80s and early 90s. For the networks now, decades of bitching by Republicans with a ridiculous victimization complex, reduced news budgets, and the demands of advertiser and “if it bleeds it leads” has created timid programming with almost no content save for varying degrees of repetition of the Republican party line.

In the late 90s the networks abandoned scripted television for game shows and reality shows. Free of the constraints of networks, HBO concocted daring, high-quality programming such as “Sex and The City” and “The Sopranos.” HBO proved that audiences had not left intelligent television – thousands of new customers subscribed to HBO just for its original programming and not its movies. Conversely, the networks have not had a new scripted hit until this years’ “Desperate Housewives,” which could be aptly titled “Sex and The Suburbs.”

Right now the only people who watch the nightly network news are senior citizens who developed the habit of watching the news before it devolved into inchoate right-wing blather. I posit that citizens have not left the idea of the evening news. Indeed, the growing popularity of the CBC news and The Daily Show – which analyzes issues better than network news does – is a testament to the utility of evening news.

A pay cable, commercial-free news network whose flagship program would be a half-hour telecast that competes directly with the networks’ broadcast, along with other intelligent, investigative programming would be to the news what “The Sopranos” was to scripted television. By doing research and making investigations, this news network would influence the rest of the media in the way a lefty Fox clone could not. By uncovering and highlighting unpleasant truths, it would break stories that the rest of the media would avoid to its peril. Other programming could include documentaries, and news directed towards underserved audiences such as the young.

HBO would be the logical place to do this. It already has an established brand, “Real Time with Bill Maher” is an infinitely better talk show that any of the others on TV, and “Real Sports” runs laps around ESPN and the Fox Sports empire. If they won’t do it than a wise progressive with money should. The network would not have to be officially liberal – Fox is not officially conservative – but suffice to say, I believe that more truth in reporting could only help the progressive cause.

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