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Z on TV Critic David Zurawik writes about the business and culture of TV
Cable TV shapes national perception of Freddie Gray's death

From Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake getting grilled on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" to CNN giving wall-to-wall coverage of an afternoon news conference, the story of Freddie Gray's death became a national TV story Monday.

And while city officials might have thought that conducting a news conference and releasing surveillance video would let them control the narrative, it was cable TV — through the use of video and still photography — that was shaping how the story and Baltimore's police-community relations would be seen nationally.

The 25-year-old Gray died Sunday after his arrest the weekend before. Driven by citizen-made cellphone video of the arrest that showed Gray seemingly unable to walk and onlookers angrily shouting at police as they dragged him into a van, the story had already sparked protests in Baltimore.

The chasm between what city officials were saying about their handling of Gray and what viewers were seeing was evident during CNN's coverage of the Baltimore news conference.

On...

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Despite lack of clarity, Freddie Gray video has real public opinion power

As legal evidence, the citizen-made, cell-phone video of the arrest of Freddie Gray has its problems.

It's shot from such a distance that it's hard to identify anyone definitely. And while you can hear screams of pain and anguish on the audio, it's hard to say exactly who they are coming from and how accurately they reflect what's happening to that individual.

And yet, while the video might not serve as great evidence in a court of law, it definitely has the potential to be highly potent in the court of public opinion.

In that regard, it might even come to have some of the same kind of power as the more-definitive citizen-made video of an unarmed Walter Scott being shot five times in the back by a white officer two weeks ago in South Carolina, and Eric Garner being brought down by police with a chokehold that led to his death in Staten Island last July.

I believe the Freddie Gray video is already playing a role in the protests in Baltimore over the weekend. For all the clarity it lacks,...

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Gary Cole on 'Veep' Season 4, loss of Armando Iannucci and more

Gary Cole joined the cast of "Veep" in Season 2 as a White House political strategist, who thought himself superior to the vice presidential team of Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus).

One of Meyer's aides called Cole's character, Kent Davidson, "the Pol Pot of pie charts." (You tell me what other American TV series would reference Pol Pot?)

This year, Selina's in the White House, and Davidson stands shoulder to shoulder with her other team members in their crazed attempts to stay ahead of the curve -- or, at least, within shouting distance of it.

Like most of the series regulars, Cole has a long and solid resume dating back to Steppenwolf Theatre, network mini-series like "Fatal Vision" and starring roles in such series as "Midnight Caller."

We talked last week about "Veep," HBO's Maryland-made political satire that airs Sunday nights at 10:30 on HBO.

Q. I've talked to Armando and Mike Walsh in recent weeks. But both were before the news that Armando is not coming back to the series he...

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Press must not let Jon Stewart back it off intense Hillary Clinton coverage

With the debut of Hillary Clinton’s best-new-image-money-can-buy video Sunday, it felt for the first time to me last week like the 2016 presidential campaign was seriously underway.

And already I am distressed by one major media aspect of it.

As soon as Jon Stewart ripped cable and network news on his Tuesday night show for giving what he saw as ridiculously over-the-top coverage to Clinton and her “road trip” stop in a Chipotle at the expense of GOP Senator Marco Rubio’s announcement of his candidacy, it seemed to instantly become the conventional social media wisdom.

And, as a result, you could see coverage getting less intense by the next day, with cable correspondents looking almost apologetic for doing their job in staying all over Clinton and her so-called “road trip” to meet “everyday people” in Iowa.

But Stewart was wrong about the Clinton coverage, and the press should not be insecure about chasing her Scooby Doo van down the road or showing overhead security-cam shots of her...

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Satirical knives ready to carve up presidential candidates

I was feeling pretty bad about the state of political satire on TV until I saw Kate McKinnon of "Saturday Night Live" mock Hillary Clinton last week on the eve of the former secretary of state's presidential announcement.

Practicing her announcement in front of a smartphone on the advice of an aide, McKinnon's Clinton looked into the lens with a mad glint in her eyes and said in a forced and scary voice, "Citizens, you will elect me — I will be your leader."

And that was supposed to be the new, friendlier Hillary showing that she understood she had to connect on a personal level with "everyday people" and "earn" the nomination one vote at a time in 2016

By the time Clinton's real, feel-good campaign-launch video debuted some 18 hours later, it was already undercut for millions of viewers who had seen "Saturday Night Live" — or the YouTube version of McKinnon's takedown of the candidate posted online or in social media.

Team Clinton should be afraid of McKinnon's Hillary — very afraid....

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Let's try for some perspective on Hillary's campaign ad

Now that Hillary Clinton’s campaign-launching video has run its one-day course of novelty and interest, maybe we can start to assess it with some perspective.

As media, it was a solid piece of feel-good political filmmaking. But it was nothing new or special despite Vox calling it “fascinating, bold filmmaking” in the headline for one of the sillier pieces of media analysis I have seen this year.

If you think “sillier” is too strong a word, check out the discussion in the piece about certain images being positioned slightly off center in the frame of Clinton’s video and the interpretation the reviewer offers for that.

The basic template for the message, tone and sensibility of Clinton’s “political campaign trailer,” to use Vox’s term, can be seen in 2009 ads done for American Express. Titled “Small Business Anthem,” the ads celebrate small business owners starting new shops and businesses in their communities.

The ads were intended as an antidote to the economic meltdown of 2008 that still...

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