Score one for Paddy Chayefsky. Make that yet another one. Television news continues to approach a reality that more and more resembles the self-interested corporate free-for-all pitched at the lowest common denominator that Chayefsky foresaw in his prophetic screenplay for the 1976 film Network.
Nowhere is this more evident, to me, than in the increasing number of cameos by real-life TV news personalities (notice my avoidance of the word “journalists”) in movie or TV fiction. Where once this was a novelty, it is becoming more and more common. It’s reached critical mass in season 2 of Netflix’s irresistible political thriller House of Cards, showing how topsy-turvy this trope has become.
I mean, it’s not like this is something new. But now the floodgates have opened, and TV news men and women seem to be more eager than ever to play themselves in works of pure fiction.
For instance, it was only when I was “doing research” (read: Googling) for this post that I realized that the woman playing the insipid interviewer of the vice president’s wife in episode 4 was an actual TV journalist, CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield (whom I’d honestly never heard of before). At the time I saw the episode, I thought no respectable TV news person would ever really conduct themselves the way Banfield’s “character” does in the interview with actress Robin Wright’s character. Now I’m not so sure.
Overall the effect of these appearances is to reinforce a feeling that many have already had for a long time: that these people are more interested in pursuing and purveying sensationalist drama than information. Once it was easy to think these cameos were mostly intended to boost the verisimilitude of the host productions. Now it’s obvious that these TV pundits see them as opportunities to promote their own shows and “personal brands.”
The fact that they aren’t worried that these appearances harm their credibility, that they are just as eager in these shows to discuss fictional events with the same “gravitas” they reserve for actual current events, reveals their stark cynicism about the discernment of their viewers. The attitude seems to be, “Everyone already knows we’re just phony gasbags trying to earn ratings, the truth be damned.” How else to explain the prideful glee with which Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow—who devotes almost four minutes of screen time to it—trumpet their appearances in the clips below?
The last clip is a montage of House of Cards cameos from 12 real-life TV news people. Paddy would be too disgusted to gloat.