Maria Shriver’s decision to end her career in broadcast journalism really got my mind spinning. Last week, California’s First Lady told NBC that she would not resume her TV news career. Her stated reason for departure? The media circus surrounding Anna Nicole’s death. According to Shriver, “It was then that I knew that the TV news business had changed and so had I … I called NBC News and told them I’m not coming back.”
Let’s look at all the facts, shall we? In 2004, Shriver announced that she was leaving NBC News because she couldn’t juggle her duties as California’s First Lady and be a journalist at the same time. Hmm. It’s also interesting to note that if you look back at the top news stories of 2003, a year before Shriver took her leave, you will find the war in Iraq, the loss of the spaceship Columbia, and yes, the Kobe Bryant sex scandal, as the most prominent stories of the year.
So Shriver was still in the news business when a celebrity’s downfall became the nation’s focus. The cynic in me can’t help but ask, “Is Shriver’s disgust with the Anna Nicole coverage merely a cop out for her overextended schedule?” Is Shriver using the celebrity-obsessed media as a way to get around admitting that she’s tired, or stressed, or maybe just ready to become a political advocate rather than a news personality because she simply can’t have two full-time jobs?
There’s no way to tell for certain.
But Shriver’s statement about a changing media got me thinking about a different issue. Because I do agree that while the media has always been celebrity-fixated, recently it has become more of an obsession. One only needs to watch the relentless coverage of Brittany spears’ custody battle, or Lindsay Lohan’s stints in rehab to realize that.
So here is the question I would like to pose. Is the media changing? Or are we, as a society changing? Is it that the media is hungry to cover all access celebrity, all the time, or is it the public who is infatuated with knowing the most personal details of the rich and famous, and the media is merely giving us what we want? Again, there’s no way to know for certain.
What I do know is that in 2000, not 2004, Maria, reality TV mania hit the U.S, and all forms of television including news, changed as we know it. And since then with shows like Big Brother, Survivor, and the Surreal Life, we are finding every way, shape and form to watch people at their most vulnerable, and share their day-to-day experiences with them. And as long as we keep watching, I have no doubt that the reality shows, and the celebrity news coverage will keep coming.
So Maria, I’m sure NBC will miss you. But perhaps you’re blaming the wrong animal. If you really left for the reasons you claim, perhaps you’re actually disgusted with your viewers. Again, we’ll never know. But if you and Arnold want to make a reality show so people can get to know you and your motivations a little better, I guarantee that people will watch.