Top entertainment stories, or top media fascinations?

by Paul William Tenny

MSNBC published an arbitrary list of their "top 10 entertainment stories of '08", topped by the death of Heath Ledger. Some of the things on their list are legitimately popular stories but I think a more accurate title would have been "top 10 stories that fascinated MSNBC media writers in 2008".
The media barely covered the Writers strike which actually took place mostly in 2007, and despite the virtual media blackout, it was still a very popular story with people last year because it basically nuked the 2007 fall television season and delayed a handful of big feature films. Few outlets outside industry mags and blogs covered the strike with any substance and of the few mags that did, their coverage was woefully biased in favor of the big media conglomerates that end up paying most of their bills.

It should have been a much bigger story than it was and it's shameful that MSNBC and most MSM outlets simply ignored it the best they could. The strike belonged solidly #1 on the list because it had the largest impact in 2007 and really 2008 on the industry at large than anything else did. Heath Ledger's death was sad but it didn't even harm the production of The Dark Knight, and as big as that film was at the box office, it just wasn't that big of an event as far as these things go.

Nobody lost their job or their home and no shows that employ dozens and dozens of people went off the air because of his passing.

Most of these "top stories" were flares that were only in the news for about a week while the rest were mostly culture and media obsessions that had no substantive impact on our lives at all -- unlike the strike.

Here's my re-ordered list for top entertainment stories with MSNBC's rankings in parentheses.

1. Writers Strike (#2)
Definitely the biggest entertainment/media story of 2007 and 2008 as it wiped out the 2007 fall television season. There are approximately 112 million homes with at least one television in the United States which is the bulk of American households. Chances are that everybody you know watched at least one show that was prematurely ended by the strike, which is the kind of national reach that most of the rest of these stories couldn't dream of having.

2. Political Comedy (#4)
I don't think this country has been as interested and polarized towards politics at any time in the modern era as they were in 2008, but given the number of people that voted compared to the number of people that watch TV on a regular basis, I feel like this has to come in second behind the strike. Comedy did especially well but it was more an instance of something gaining popularity with an existing base, even though Saturday Night Live did great numbers on the back of Sarah Palin, they still weren't anything special in the grand scheme of things. And outside of SNL, what other political comedy was there?

3. George Carlin (#8)
Comedians as popular and iconic as George Carlin touch more lives than actors do -- that's just a fact of life. Everybody at one time or another has heard a George Carlin skit and a hell of a lot of people know about the "seven dirty words" that established the FCC's (unconstitutional) right to censor broadcast network television and radio for language. That alone should probably place Carlin at #2 for his impact on history and American law and culture.

4. Paul Newman (#6)
There are bound to be a lot of media writers with strong sentimental attachment to Newman that would place them high up on their list for personal reasons, but I'm not one of them. I appreciate the man as a very fine actor with a very long and successful career, but he never had the kind of iconic reach that someone like Tom Cruise or even Arnold Schwarzenegger has had. That in no way is comparing their talent, but as a measure of national and global impact, this is as high as I can place him. Ironically he does rank higher on my list than on MSNBC's -- they put him under Britney Spears "downward spiral". Ouch.

5. TV Networks embrace the Web (#7)
I've got this ranked #5 on the my list although it probably should be #3 because of the future, global impact. For that matter it could easily be #2, but all that future greatness just hasn't happened yet. 2008 is the first year that the networks and studios (really it's the studios who produce and own the shows, not the networks that broadcast them that are responsible for this) had the guts to put TV shows online, though they still have a long way to go. Only NBC and Fox have really embraced this, CBS has some of their shows on their own website but nothing dedicated to viewing that competes against, and I don't even know what -- if anything -- ABC is doing. As far as I know none of the cable networks have stepped up which leaves a gaping hole in finding good programming online. Nobody has put an entire series online except for Firefly which is off the air, and current-run shows usually have no more than a handful of episodes online at any given time, and even at that, you still can't watch anything from Hulu outside the United States. That's not much of an embrace if you ask me.

6. The box office for 'Dark Knight' (#3)
It may have been one of the top 3 biggest films ever, but it's nothing compared to some of the other things on this list. Dark Knight was just a movie, high grossing as it may have been, which cannot compare to the lives that an actor like Paul Newman touched over the course of his career. Nor does it compare much to the size and scope of the Writers strike (which allegedly cost over $150 billion in lost revenue -- that's over 150 times what Dark Knight hauled in), or the growing scope of television viewing online. In the end, it was just a movie.

7. Tim Russert Dies (#9)
This goes higher on my list because of the influence and respect that Russet had garnered throughout his career. Nobody's name was as synonymous with politics like that of Tim Russert. Though he got pretty sloppy in his later years and actually was very disappointing in the way he uncritically carried the Bush administration's water without question, that doesn't erase everything he did before. And honestly, how big of a joke is it that this man's passing is ranked lower than the downward spiral of Britney Spears' life? How pathetic can you get?

8. Britney Spear's downward spiral (#5)
At the bottom of my list are what I'd call the celebrities, people who haven't spent enough time garnering any level of credibility or building a career before becoming famous for doing something. Spears was famous because of her singing talent, which is fine, but she's best known these days for being a terrible mother and basically a piece of trailer trash that nobody wants. The only reason Spears isn't dead last on this list is because she's so famous for her previously successful music career that in comparison to the others from here on down, she has actually accomplished quite a bit.

9. Jennifer Hudsons' family tragedy (#10)
I don't know much about Jennifer Hudson and her accomplishments thus far are impressive, but this isn't even a story about her. Tragic as it may be, murder sprees like this do tend to happen, and if it had happened to any one of our families instead of Jennifer Hudsons's, it wouldn't even make the back page of a national paper.

10. Heath Ledger (#1)
MSNBC's top entertainment story of 2008 is literally my last pick. The man was talented and it is sad that he died the way that he did, but there's nothing unusual (sadly) about a promising young actor overdosing on drugs. It happens literally all the time and had Ledger not been co-staring in one of the most anticipated films of all time, I doubt that most people would have made such a big deal out of this.

That's my version of the list with, I think, more sensible priorities -- not based on sensationalist value but on actual impact. What's yours?
in Feature, Film, Television


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    1 Comment

    To bad you're not in charge at MSNBC...
    I think I'd put Tim Russert at number 5 though and for the very reasons you stated. In the end Dark Knight WAS just a movie and TV and the Web are still just dating.

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