Like a growing number of Americans -- especially younger Americans -- I don't own a TV, and when I wanted to catch a glimpse of Ronan Farrow's new show on MSNBC, I had to find clips from the show on the network's website. Once there, I was greeted by Ronan Farrow's sultry visage, which is reminiscent of his fath -- oh no, but wait! Is his father Woody Allen or Frank Sinatra? What intrigue!
I'm not mentioning this because I'm keen to dredge up a juicy bit of tabloid fodder, nor because I'm genuinely interested in the answer. I'm not. In fact, I really couldn't care less.
I'm 24 years old. I know Woody Allen best for his 2010 film Midnight in Paris and for marrying his stepdaughter. I watched Annie Hall with my mom once -- it's one of her favorite movies -- but I don't remember it well enough to be able to tell you what it's about. Frank Sinatra was my grandfather's favorite singer. And I honestly couldn't tell you what Mia Farrow is famous for, other than the fact that she's somehow involved in all of this.
Am I culturally ignorant? Perhaps. More to the point, I'm just too young to either know or care. I'm a member of that prized 18-24 demographic for whose attention everyone from television executives to political strategists to marketing professionals vies. I'm one of the young, savvy consumers of political media whom MSNBC potentate Phil Griffin no doubt had in mind when he decided to give Ronan Farrow his own show.
Unfortunately for Mr. Griffin, Mr. Farrow won't win me over, and I strongly doubt he'll be able to win many others of my generational cohort over either.
Why? Well, for starters, Ronan Farrow hosts a TV show, and by many accounts the youths just aren't watchin' the tubes like they used to. But what about that Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert? you might ask. They have TV shows, and the youths love them!
That may be true, but who in their right mind at MSNBC honestly thinks that that the twenty-somethings who tune into The Daily Show at 11 p.m. are going to watch Ronan Farrow Daily at 1pm? My guess is that those who will are, more likely than not, young, Democratic congressional staffers who are forced to labor under the constant drone of MSNBC playing on their offices' televisions.
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert appeal to people in my generation because they've spent years hurling proverbial Molotov cocktails at the Washington media establishment our parents' generation built, an establishment that many millennials view as being bitterly partisan, unrelentingly self-serving, and repulsively self-congratulatory. For us, clips from Jon Stewart's 2004 appearance on Crossfire and Stephen Colbert's 2006 performance at the White House Correspondent's Dinner -- clips in which both Stewart and Colbert enter the belly of the Washington media establishment beast and tear it down brick-by-brick -- are classics.
Mr. Farrow appeared on The Daily Show a few days before his show premiered, presumably to kiss Jon Stewart's iconoclastic ring and make a pitch to the very youths whose viewership he has been charged with acquiring. He adulated Stewart, saying, "I've said this to you before, but your tirades against cable news are exactly what cable news needs." He shrugged coyly, his palms turned upwards, nodding in a gesture of supplication to an applauding audience. He continued by saying, "'Cause I'm going into this not knowing how to do cable news, right? At all. Actually, I've learned a lot watching your show."
"Lord help you," Stewart replied.
If the first few episodes are any indication of what's to come, don't expect to see a show that holds cable news' proverbial feet to the proverbial fire. In fact, expect just the opposite. The show has included the same tired "expert panel" segments featured on virtually every other MSNBC show in which recycled casts of the network's personalities and contributors regurgitate the same staid analysis show after show. There are the same glitzy graphics whose sanitized sheen is completely devoid of any personality. There's the 2016 presidential speculation; the punny chryons; the same misapprehended use of the terms "breaking news" and "developing story."
The show is, in every way, fashioned from the very cloth Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have spent their careers assiduously shredding.
And for a show whose lead-in word cloud boasts that its host is a "SPOKESPERSON FOR YOUTH," Ronan Farrow Daily has thus far featured remarkably few youths. It's becoming clear that the show's goal is not to actually engage young people, but rather to simply have a young person speak to all the grown-ups in the room. You can bet that I won't be tweeting clips of Mr. Farrow's interview with George Takei or David Axelrod anytime soon.
In that respect, Mr. Farrow looks more like the kid at the dinner party who mingles easily with his parents' friends and has impeccable table manners than a spokesperson for the politically active generation that helped propel President Obama to victory -- twice.
I don't so much blame Ronan Farrow as I do the network executives who put him there. He's their errand boy. They have no clue how to connect with young viewers and don't truly care to find out, save for inserting a young, fresh face with a famous last name into the equation.
Frankly, it seems to me that Mr. Farrow, distinguished résumé in tote, is better than the "Behind the Tweet" segments and the witty, though oftentimes stale, asides he makes on his show. Try as he might, his mission is a doomed one from the start. My generation takes a more collaborative, decentralized approach to news. We don't want our news "panalyzed" and chewed over by experts until it becomes the sort of intellectual cud that's regularly peddled by cable news networks as "insight."
There is one thing I'm looking forward to about Ronan Farrow Daily: The first time Yale Law graduate and Rhodes scholar Ronan Farrow is forced to interview Luke "Hey look, bro, I'm a journalist" Russert. Now that should make for some quality television.