The idea of Channel 2 rechristening itself as "The Deuce" -- a popular slang term for bowel movements -- in a strained attempt to woo a more youthful audience was mighty amusing. Still, even this decision couldn't adequately prepare viewers for the off-the-rails catastrophe that was last night's launch of News on the Deuce, the outlet's evening newscast. The show, which was moved to 7 p.m. -- two hours earlier than before, so that it would no longer compete directly with the late roundup on Channel 31, its sister station -- was screwy in so many ways that it's hard to calculate. The misbegotten mess seemed more like an extended skit from Saturday Night Live than an actual information program.
Technical problems contributed to the calamity. For much of the program, attempted transitions to commercial breaks resulted in dead air and then sheepish returns to the newscast, and microphones didn't always work when required, leading to moments like a shot of weatherman Dave Fraser jabbering away in silence like an overstimulated mime. These gaffes continued into Gossip Girl, one of the CW's signature programs, which moved from 7 to 8 p.m. in order to accomodate News on the Deuce. Every half-minute or so, audio would briefly cut out, and breaks were botched in a big way. The same public-service announcement for Planned Parenthood ran three times in five minutes, and several ads briefly blipped in amid the Gossip Girl action. "I'm going to freak out!" declared Lora, one of my fifteen-year-old daughters, after a Wendy's logo appeared over Blair Waldorf's face. Her twin sister, Ellie, handled things better, staying calm during the glitches, and bursting into uncontrollable giggling fits every time the station aired its new web address: 2TheDeuce.com.
By the way, the Deuce site has been redesigned to look nothing like a traditional news portal. It's clogged with entertainment ephemera, most of it national: The top story at this writing is "Pedro Zamora: From 'Real World' to real legend." Also in view: The five most recent headlines on The Latest Word, Westword's news blog. If Westword's business folks have made a deal with Channel 2 for this placement, no one's mentioned it to me. Bet managers at the station will be thrilled to publish the headline on this item, though.
The new Deuce logo -- a large, numbered orb circled by a couple of rings -- added to the hilarity. The image initially recalls Saturn, but another planet circled by multiple moons -- Uranus -- is probably more appropriate under the circumstances. The Deuce's new set, located in Channel 31's mammoth studio at Sixth Avenue and Speer, picks up on this theme, offering a backdrop of multi-colored shards that recalls a movie-theater lobby circa the first Star Wars era. Another feature: an "Internet Cafe" set, complete with a tall stool, a long-legged table and a wall whose design suggests a colorful variation on a circuit board. Computers! They're modern!
The outfits worn by the Deuce's talent were supposed to scream "hip" as well, but instead, they merely induced chuckles. News anchor Kellie MacMullan was done up in a red satin blouse with an enormous bow; she looked like a Christmas present for an aging mogul whose longtime wife had finally died. Fraser's look was more subtle: He wore a standard suit jacket with an open shirt collar, because, apparently, the kids don't dig ties. And Heidi Hemmat, a Channel 31 correspondent whose presence on Channel 2 symbolized the commingling of the staffs that's also emphasized in new promos, was clad in jeans and a casual orange top that matched the hue of a car she crouched next to during a package about flat tires. Coincidence or color coordination?
The show's first segment was populated by fairly standard features like Hemmat's, albeit with a focus on lighter fare: The second squib in a national roundup spotlighted a pop machine that had been blown up in Iowa (presumably lots of young people like explosions, and others might be sad about all that wasted soda). But after the first dead-air gap, things got mighty loopy mighty fast. Chris Parente, acting as if he'd just power-slammed a six-pack of Red Bull, offered a hyperkinetic shaky-cam tour of the new studio, complete with a stage setup for a live band, the weather area, where Fraser twirled around like a wannabe Gene Kelly, and the aforementioned Internet Cafe, helmed by Nina Sparano. MacMullan soon joined the pair for a segment in which Sparano explained how to Twitter and Facebook, with all three blabbing about how "cool" and "awesome" everything was in between shots of pages loading. Especially liked the moment when an "error" message briefly popped up.
This portion of the show exemplified what's most off the mark about the entire concept. The audience News on the Deuce wants to attract already knows what Twitter and Facebook are, and don't need to be taught about it by chipper TV newspeople who treat the technology like some kind of exotic oddity. Hence, the whole thing came across as tremendously condescending, yet so brainless that the effect was laugh-inducing rather than offensive. The same could be said about the first musical group to be featured: the Bacon Brothers, with actor Kevin Bacon. Execs like Dennis Leonard, the Deuce's general manager, most likely thought this act constituted a tremendous get, considering Bacon's name recognition. Unfortunately, only people forty and above could possibly think the Bacon Brothers' music qualifies as current or trendy (or even listenable) -- and probably not many of them.
The show didn't exactly degenerate from there, but neither did it improve. For instance, a live shot took viewers to a party where plenty of top athletes were slated to appear -- but because it wasn't even eight o'clock yet, none of the big names had arrived. Good call on their part.
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Will viewers stay away, too? Probably. News consumers haven't been trained to look for headllines at 7 p.m., and those who tune in by accident won't exactly be overwhelmed with pertinent information. Stylistically, there's nothing new, either: Note that the anchor-desk-free approach, which calls for MacMullan to stand most of the time, was first attempted in this market during the mid-'90s, when Channel 7 unveiled its "Real Life, Real News" format -- one of the most epic Denver TV-news failures in a generation. As for the 18-to-34 crowd being wooed by promos that feature a bar setting, peace signs and the Deuce logo on a coaster, they might be tempted to watch for ironic reasons, or if the college crowd turns the program into a drinking game. Watchers who chugged a beer each time someone said "cool" and a shot of bourbon after each "awesome," would have been absolutely hammered within the hour.
I fear, however, that the technical problems will be worked out soon, and the on-air hosts will dial down the forced look-at-how-rad-we-are behavior to a reasonable level. That already seems to be what's going on during The Deuce at Daybreak, the rechristened morning show, where hosts Tom Green and Best of Denver award-winning co-host Natalie Tysdal remained their entertaining, low-key selves during the portions of the broadcast I caught this morning.
If that's the case, News on the Deuce may evolve into mere stupidity -- or, worse, dullness -- as opposed to the jaw-slackening avalanche of wrongheadedness that marked its first night on the air.