Thursday, May 06, 2004

On the passing of FRIENDS

Tonight is the final FRIENDS, at least as a first-run, because the re-runs will be forever running in syndication. I have had sort of a love-hate thing going on with Friends over the last 10 years, going from it being must-see (as NBC would have me saying it) to realizing I had missed entire seasons and hadn't realized it. While I've tried to watch the current season, I know I've missed more than a dozen. Out of a 26 week series, that's a lot. A tip of the hat to TV Land for their special recognition of the last Friends: they will suspend their programming and instead show a live shot of their own crew watching the finale.

But I will watch the finale', watch what happens to Rachael & Ross, and make a note of the passing of another era in television programming. Other such hallmarks in my mind include the final Mary Tyler Moore Show (yep, I saw it first-run), the final Barney Miller, the last M*A*S*H, the final Cheers, the final ride of Captain Picard on Star Trek, the last Newhart (and yes, I am old enough to have appreciated the last scene) and of course, the final Seinfeld. Since Cheers, each of these shows seem to outdo the last with their finale' promotions.

The NBC news department, itself, jumped the shark last night, and not for the first time. Dedicating a special for Friends? Fine. Taking two of the anchors who try and try and try to convince us all they're serious news journalists, and then putting the special under the masthead of the DATELINE newsmagazine? Definitively bad form.

We're always told how top-shelf Katie and Matt are, how they're serious news journalists. Then they do this show. Next week we're supposed to take them seriously when they interview a US Senator or foreign prime minister? Please. And the credibility of the Dateline product takes a hit because of the focus on Friends.

Yes, there's hard news and soft news, and the passing of Friends is definitely news, but definitely soft. What would have been more appropriate for that duo would have been a TODAY SHOW PRIME TIME SPECIAL, which would at least have saved some of NBC News' face. There's a reason why Tom Brokaw won't speak of Friends much more than in passing, and it's not because he's a grumpy person, but because it doesn't belong in the nightly news.

But Katie and Matt will keep smiling, and the line between hard and soft news will keep blurring. And NBC News will keep wondering why they are losing viewers year after year.

But hey! NBC has the residuals of Friends, so it's not all bad.

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