Gary Conkling Life Notes

Mostly whimsical reflections on life

The Road Not Taken

After graduating from college and before a newspaper job opened up, I toyed with the idea of a career in broadcasting.  The latest Anchorman movie starring Will Ferrell as Ron Burgundy makes me glad I chose a different career path.

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A well-played spoof can make any profession look bad. Thank You for Smoking didn’t exactly idealize lobbyists. Kevin Spacey’s performance in House of Cards won’t boost the confidence rating for Congress. And Charlie Sheen’s depiction of an ambitious ladder climber in Wall Street didn’t create a lot of sympathy for stock brokers.

But Ron Burgundy, in tribute to Ferrell’s comedic ability and the clever marketing campaign for Anchorman 2, falls into his own separate category of disdain. Burgundy is egotistical, arrogant and narcissistic. He is also a boob, capable of reading anything written on a teleprompter, which proves his undoing, at least on the fictional San Diego TV station where he was a star.

Now zoom to the latter-day Burgundy, bound to redeem himself and rise again to fame. The marketing of Anchorman 2 tells you a lot about the Burgundy caricature. There was the Dodge Durango ad in which Burgundy has a stare-off with a horse that he ridicules as less powerful than a truck. Or his cameo appearance on a real TV new show in Bismarck, North Dakota and establishment of a “Ron Burgundy School of Communication”at Emerson College – for a day.

Ferrell is funny, without doubt. But Ron Burgundy is sad, bordering on pathetic.

We no longer crave tragic heroes or noble figures in our movies and TV. We are perfectly happy watching a cartoon turned into a human drama, such as How the Grinch Stole Christmas. But who wants a career as a cartoon character? Okay, don’t answer that.

The role of TV anchorman isn’t a cake walk. I admire the men and women who do the job every day. But I am glad I’m not doing that job.

An anchorman is the captive of what producers give him or her to read on air. They may or may not have significant editing roles. Hopefully, none are quite as hopeless as Ted Baxter on the Mary Tyler Moore Show, who couldn’t read, write or recognize the news.

la-et-st-the-newsroom-recap-acn-digs-deeper-in-001Even the more complex incarnation of an anchorman as depicted by Jeff Daniels in Newsroom leaves a lot to be desired. Anchorman Will McAvoy is torn between ratings and the urgings of Sam Waterston, whose character is the president of the network’s news division, to be a force for change, to say what he thinks.

Whatever internal turmoil McAvoy goes through, his broadcast umbilical cord is still attached to his ear. McAvoy occasionally shows independence and goes off script, but viewers are left to wonder if that is realistic or HBO science fiction.

Former anchorman in Portland who have gone on to new, productive careers lament how the news business has changed. In particular, they say news broadcasts now favor incidents with live footage over stories with long-term implications. They say the news has been smudged into a marketing arm for its network’s entertainment programming. Integrity has been buried under colorful formats.

Despite the glamor or the job and the challenge of being up when on air,  a career as an anchorman doesn’t seem all that rewarding to me. Even though I still have my broadcast school curriculum and know the correct pronunciation of the word “harass,” it’s a road I’m glad I didn’t take. As deep down as he can get, Ron Burgundy would agree.

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