Whether CNN’s attempt at a game show was a “one-time thing” or a harbinger of things to come depends on what the Nielsen gods report about its premiere episode. Scheduling it opposite the Celebrity Apprentice finale (a showdown with a heavy cable news resonance about it) was probably not the best programming move. But even lukewarm ratings are enough to trounce MSNBC these days, so the odds favor its return. Like most television, it’s an idea that dates back to the medium’s earliest years. It isn’t new to The Cable Game either: Bill O’Reilly used to do a news quiz, though it was just a five minute segment once a week.
The erstwhile “most trusted name in news” will put pretty much anything on the air these days as they “broaden the definition of news.” Documentaries arguably qualify. But documentaries purchased from independent filmmakers, with lax or nonexistent editorial standards and often some very large axes to grind, are problematic. And are we seeing hours devoted to pole dancers, sex workers, and cannabis because they are urgent page-one issues? Or for their appeal to younger viewers? All of this is in addition to shows you’d ordinarily expect to see on The Travel Channel (Parts Unknown) or Discovery (Somebody’s Gotta Do It). There’s even a series with Morgan Spurlock, apparently a reward for his tendentious, unreliable Super Size Me.
Perhaps CNN will air a Real Housewives style “documentary” series following Chris Cuomo around after work. Maybe strand a handful of CNN anchors on an island: I’m a Journalist! Get Me Out of Here! With reruns of other people’s reality shows (Shark Tank, Forensic Files) finding their way onto so-called “news channels,” Canadian newsman Peter Trueman comes to mind. He would end his broadcasts (on the fledgling Global network) with several minutes of commentary, sometimes with only the most remote connection to the news of the day. And then his closing mantra: “That may not be news, but that, too, is reality.” Nowadays that sounds more and more like the programming philosophy at CNN.