Free Press, $26.00
The subtitle to Washington Post media reporter and CNN Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz's book is pessimistic if not prescient, but is guaranteed to turn out to be one or the other. What we're witnessing these days as viewers of the network evening newscasts - or, increasingly, as non-viewers - is indeed the biggest sea change in more than 20 years. Whether those seas are drying up, in the changing-media equivalent of global warming, is something only time will tell.
In the meantime, what Kurtz does so well here, by having conducted more than 150 interviews that helped shape Reality Show, is pull off the informative illusion of being in several places at once. There are several times, in his narrative of the competition among the newscasts of Katie Couric of CBS, Brian Williams of NBC and Charles Gibson of ABC, where Kurtz captures all three newsrooms and control rooms simultaneously.
We get some, but blessedly little, of what the anchors ate and wore as they went about their business. Kurtz clearly is more concerned with what distinguishes the network newscasts, and how journalistic decisions are made. And by placing the evening news war on a bigger battlefield, where Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, and Fox News and YouTube, all play major parts, Kurtz is asking all the right questions.
Most impressive, overall, is how seriously Kurtz takes the comedy shows - how he feels, and gives examples to buttress his opinion, that Comedy Central's The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report often deconstruct media, and political news stories and cycles, better than their "serious" TV counterparts. He's right. And his opinions, along with his impressively well-informed snapshots of TV news at a time of frenetic transition, make Reality Show a valuable new addition to the broadcast history bookshelf.
Buy it now