From Diego To A Slow Newsday

If there’s a pop culture albatross hanging around the neck of my adopted home San Diego, it’s that of bad local television. Not only is the successful Anchorman movie franchise about a San Diego news station – with Will Ferrell’s hapless broadcaster Ron Burgundy a composite of local newsmen – but iconic American late-night sketch show Saturday Night Live currently runs a series of skits called ‘Inside SoCal’ parodying magazine shows on San Diego public television. It seems too much of a coincidence for San Diego to have been arbitrarily picked twice to represent the worst in local TV by the nation’s leading comedians. Before moving here, I thought Anchorman was set in San Diego by accident not design. It didn’t take long to rectify that misnomer.

San Diego: A Dolphin's Vagina!

San Diego: A Dolphin’s Vagina!

It must be acknowledged, however, that this comedy works on national and international levels and clearly doesn’t require affinity with local San Diego stations to be enjoyed. Anchorman and ‘Inside SoCal’ can be identified as broad mockery of the ineptitude of provincial media, applicable to whatever region the audience happens to be in. But in each case, the portrayal captures something unique about the TV coming out of San Diego, which gives them greater weight as parodies, whether you are aware of what they’re referring to or not. It’s presumably why so many of the best media satires (Alan Partridge, Parks & Recreation, Wayne’s World) have a recognisable geographical point of origin, even if the native in-jokes go over the majority of the audience’s heads.

But does it really matter that Anchorman is based in San Diego? On one level, no, since it tells the overarching story of how the sensationalism and kitsch of local news became the mainstream national norm, and could conceivably be about the foibles of broadcast journalism in any overlooked region of the US. Despite an acknowledgement of the city with some local filming at Sea World, San Diego barely features in sequel The Legend Continues, set in New York during the cable boom of the ‘80s. But then there are touches which suggest that Anchorman can’t do without the real thing, with sports reporter Champ’s catchphrase ‘Whammy!’ unnervingly close to KUSI weatherman (and notable global warming denier) John Coleman’s dancing and squealing to signature slogans.

Similarly, ‘Inside SoCal’ could surrogate for just about any poorly-made, small-minded public access show, and indeed you could just as easily locate the skit in the history of Saturday Night Live’s local TV parodies from Illinois-set ‘Wayne’s World’ to the Hampshire College students’ webcam series ‘Jarrett’s Room’. But, again, the self-conscious presenting styles and just-discovered-post-modernism of the editing hits right at the heart of many of the manchild-hosted late-night shows on San Diego’s local stations. The dress, talk and articulation of the East County twentysomething male is rendered to a tee, and G – a San Diego native – was particularly impressed at how convincing this was coming from East Coast comedians. Clearly, though, San Diego-born skit writer Kyle Mooney had a lot to do with this.

But is local TV in San Diego really that bad? Well, yes, but so is I suspect all the regional broadcasting outside the country’s media hubs (and probably in them too!). What distinguishes San Diego is its complete lack of self-awareness. Aside from the waltzing weatherman, KUSI also has an investigative reporter, Michael Turko (of a segment called ‘The Turko Files’ no less), who I will refuse to believe isn’t a parody until my dying day! Turko seems to have studied under Chris Morris’ Ted Maul at the Brass Eye School of Journalism and his voiceovers would be considered a broad spoof if they appeared in a Scary Movie sequel. The anchors are so Stepford I once saw a man present the news with himself.

News For Our Generation!

News For Our Generation!

It might be a welcome break from the surf and sun clichés that haunt San Diego, but the city’s synonymy with laughable local television doesn’t permit the world to take it seriously. Sure, the surfer tag can inadvertently make San Diego seem bland and vacuous too, even if the beach music and movies it stems from are among the best in America’s popular culture. However, there’s no such backhanded compliment in Anchorman or ‘Inside SoCal’, however affectionate they are. Since it puts San Diego on the map and heralds the rise of natives to national fame, I don’t think locals will put up too much of a protest. Given the state of TV here, they wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if they did.

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