While the world tunes into the Academy Awards to see who waltzes away with Oscar, I’d like to take just a minute to focus attention on the local scene. Not Michigan’s movie industry, but Detroit TV.
As a product of the Motor City’s television industry from 1979-87, I have to confess it’s painful today to tune into Detroit’s ABC, CBS, NBS and FOX affiliates. These stations’s are skeletons of their former organizations and are generally dedicated to police blotter, scandal, weather and sports. The news departments are actually sharing footage to save costs as budgets dwindle to keep pace with declining audiences. Local programming is virtually extinct, unless it’s a paid infomercial by ahealthcare system or a telethon, with airtime bought by the charity raising funds.
And then there’s “Let It Rip” on FOX in Detroit. It’s a low budget, bare knuckles, smash mouth gab-a-lot where the smooth and professional veteran news anchor, Huel Perkins, hosts localnewsmakers and commentators on the hottest topics, usually local. His corner man and cohost, attorney, Charlie Langton, sparred late Friday night with the co-founders of Detroit 300 -- a grass roots, community group that works the city’s streets to make them safer. They were deconstructing last week’s murder of a nine-month old boy, shot in in a gang-related incident when assailants used an assault weapon to indiscriminately pepper his home with rapid gunfire.
The conversation was intelligent, detailing the battle to quell vicious street violence in a town where citizens are reluctant to cooperate with cops. Detroit 300 was calling on resident’s to take back their community by reporting criminals and gang bangers who are crossing the line, to kill grandmothers and babies.
The production values were simple, but the topic was universally compelling. These ingredients are essential to successful communications and any worthwhile program. There was no screaming and shouting; just an unvarnished yet civilized exploration of an inner-city paradox. A lifestyle where neighbors are afraid of the bad guys and afraid to get caught informing the cops. It’s the most community service I’ve seen from a local TV station in years.
I’m going to be dropping in on “Let It Rip” when I can on Sunday nights at 6:30 p.m. or on demand at myfoxdetroit.com.
It’s easy to get caught up in the drama of the world torn by war and strife, the struggle for independence, the toxic tragedy of divided nations, including our own, and the spectacular sacrifice that achieves world championships in sports. But few things on television will have more impact on your life than genuine issues in your neighborhood, county or state. In some cases, these are matters of life and death.
There’s a void among local media created by collapsing budgets chasing a bottomline business strategy over a cliff. The void is waiting for a financial commitment that repays viewers, listeners and readers for their loyal following.
It’s called meaningful, regular local programming and reporting about things that matter at your kitchen table. I say, let it rip.