Air Check by Diana Marszalek

PBS Digital Finds The Funny In News

The public broadcaster’s new Web-only miniseries Everything But the News, while gently mocking broadcast journalism and the process that goes into creating TV news stories, also delivers substance.
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Say what you want about PBS news, but my hunch is the word “funny” won’t be part of the conversation.

Yet humor-infused news is what the public broadcaster is offering up through its digital arm in Everything But the News. The 10-episode miniseries is PBS’s first foray into news programming exclusively for the Web.

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Partially scripted, partially real, Everything But the News follows cub reporter Steve Goldbloom’s trials covering tech stories in and around California for PBS’s NewsHour, the network’s venerable, albeit staid, news brand.

Co-funded by PBS Digital Studios and ITVS (Independent Television Service), the series debuted on PBS’s YouTube channel on Feb. 12. Backers wouldn’t say how much the project costs, other than to say it was made with “a five-figure budget.”

Goldbloom is a real guy, a 30-year-old producer at ITVS who worked for NewsHour as a producer for three years. He plays an alter ego with the same name in the series. Goldbloom’s real-life buddy and co-creator Noah Pink plays his videographer.

Goldbloom says he knew his future with PBS Digital was not going to be in straight-shooting news when he pitched his off-kilter approach to storytelling last year. “There are enough people who look and sound like me that read the news,” he says.

Brand Connections

Despite his longstanding admiration for NewsHour — he used to read transcripts for his college political science courses — Goldbloom knew a series that poked fun at public broadcasting, and TV news in general, would be the better bet.

“I told them that I did have something to lampoon — the newsgathering process,” he says. “It was a pretty bizarre pitch to someone who is going to be funding the idea.”

The impetus for Everything But the News dates back about two years when Goldbloom and Pink were covering the Sundance Film Festival for PBS Digital.

Goldbloom says the duo filed their share of serious reports as expected.  But as freelancers on a tight budget, they also found themselves shut out of Sundance’s more glamorous venues, repeatedly being turned away from parties and the like. They also took note of the insular film festival crowd.

So they produced “news-type pieces” that took a lighter approach. One focused on “the ridiculous things said at Sundance.”

“We were just getting frustrated and wanted to do something fun,” says Pink, a Toronto-based filmmaker. “So we spent a night going around and, I would say, poking fun at the people who attend Sundance. We showed it to PBS and they loved it and posted it.”

After that, the pair decided they wanted to capture that spirit in a Web series. They decided the tech boom in San Francisco, where Goldbloom now lives, would provide plenty of fodder.

The five-to-six-minute episodes feature Goldbloom in pursuit of tech stories, from online dating to the booming ride-sharing business in San Francisco.

Although the series is not pure journalism, given the fictional character and conversation, it does include real-life storytelling. “We have fun with it, but there is some substance you can take away,” Goldbloom says.

The ride-sharing story, for instance, includes interviews with the head execs of companies including Uber, Lyft and Sidecar. Goldbloom talks to taxi drivers who say those companies are skirting the rules.

In another episode, Goldbloom travels to cover the world of online video at the annual VidCon conference in Anaheim, Calif. — the largest convention of online creators and stars in the world. Navigating the conference floor, grabbing interviews with the people who put all those videos on YouTube, Goldbloom wonders if the assignment will be his breakthrough moment. The title: “What Would Jim Lehrer Do?”

A scene in “Modern Love,” a story about online dating, includes Goldbloom’s mom on the phone providing input for the JDate profile Goldbloom is creating with a company exec. She appears off-screen in other stories, too. In one, the chief engineer of Reddit explains to her the premise of the website. In another, she learns the basics of venture capitalism.

Goldbloom says his off-kilter storytelling techniques are designed to break out of the broadcast journalism mold. “When you speak with executives, there is usually a suite of talking points they are going to just cram in,” he says. To make Everything But the News work, Goldbloom says he and Pink “needed to change the environment.”

Every episode (a new one debuts each week) has drawn about 10,000 viewers.

PBS Digital Studios’ Matt Graham says Everything But the News works primarily because it is such a departure from what viewers expect from public broadcasting.

PBS Digital airs about 30 short-form, Web-exclusive series on its YouTube channels, primarily on quintessential public broadcasting topics like science and the arts. But until Everything But the News came along, the department had not ventured into news programming because it could not come close to what NewsHour already offered, Graham says.

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Comments (1) -

HopeUMakeit Nickname posted over 3 years ago
they need to spend 10 episodes on the damage done to our country by the Faux News Channel.
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Ratings

Overnights, adults 18-49 for September 25, 2016
  • 1.
    5.5/18
  • 2.
    2.6/8
  • 3.
    1.2/4
  • 4.
    0.9/3
  • 5.
    0.5/2
  • 6.
    0.2/1
Source: Nielsen

Reviews

  • Rob Owen

    Easily fall’s best broadcast network comedy pilot, NBC’s The Good Place offers a clever high-concept premise that’s complemented with intelligent, sometimes absurdist humor. Created by Michael Schur, co-creator of NBC’s Parks and Recreation, The Good Place is a highly serialized series that’s essentially set in heaven and stars Kristen Bell and Ted Danson. NBC made five episodes of The Good Place available for review, and the show not only holds up, but also it improves, deepening characters that initially feel one-note and frequently leaving viewers guessing with cliffhanger endings to many of the episodes. The combination of snappy dialogue and winning but flawed characters makes The Good Place a great bet for fans of smart TV comedy.

  • Maureen Ryan

    Pitch has swagger, for good reason. It gets the big things right; the Fox drama about the first female baseball player in the Major Leagues is one of the year’s most assured and exciting debuts. But part of what impresses about the pilot is also the way it confidently strings together so many small but telling details. Ginny (Kylie Bunbury) is the first woman to be called up from the minors to the big leagues, and no show since Friday Night Lights has done a better job of portraying the internal and external pressures that weigh heavily on young athletes asked to do much more than merely succeed on the field. Pitch will likely do a good job of getting viewers to root for it. The hope is that the show won’t be an impressive, short-lived curiosity, but rather a long-term phenomenon.

  • Kevin Fallon

    In a fall TV season that’s already making a splash for championing diverse, distinctive voices in an array of projects that they created, wrote, and starred in, Better Things on FX stands out. The show is created by, written by, and starsPamela Adlon. She plays Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters modeled after her own reality-show-ready experience raising three girls in Los Angeles following a divorce. Sam is also, like Adlon, a working actress — on shows both raunchy, a la Californication, and animated for children, like her role on Recess. It’s a refreshingly blunt take on single motherhood without sacrificing the warmth of parental love, portraying the dance between selfishness and selflessness that’s at the heart of being a parent — especially one weathering the hormonal fireworks of a household of four women at different ages.

  • David Wiegand

    The fall TV season doesn’t count as much as it used to — we already know that. But no matter how many retreads the broadcast networks throw at viewers in the next few months, this fall will be memorable because of the premiere of Atlanta on Tuesday, Sept. 6, on FX. The half-hour comedy created by and starring Donald Glover (Community), simply and brilliantly recalibrates our expectations of what a TV comedy is and how black lives are portrayed on the medium.

  • Louisa Ada Seltzer

    The second reboot of the 1980s John Candy movie Uncle Buck, bumped by ABC from midseason, has the same tired jokes you'll find on any second-rate sitcom. Too bad, because Mike Epps is appealing and ABC would be wise to keep him around for future shows, but there’s just not enough to this show to suggest it will last past summer. It also airs against NBC’s America’s Got Talent, summer’s No. 1 program on broadcast, which may make it even harder to find an audience.

  • Neil Genzlinger

    Bryan Cranston brings his Tony Award-winning interpretation of President Lyndon B. Johnson to television in an adaptation of the Robert Schenkkan play All the Way, and it’s still quite a sight to behold, just as it was on Broadway in 2014. Nothing beats witnessing this kind of larger-than-life portrayal onstage, of course. But the television version, presented by HBO, offers plenty of rewards, allowing Cranston to work the close-ups and liberating him from the confines of a theater set. Cranston’s performance is a gem — in his hands, this accidental president comes across as an amazing bundle of contradictions, someone who seems at once too vulgar for the job and just right for it.

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