PRINT January 1988



WHETHER THE NEWS is good or bad, whether it's sunny or sleeting outside, regardless of the conditions of their domestic milieu, morning-TV viewers remain privy to a tableau of faux-lived-in midbrow cheer: burnished orange rooms abloom with botany and padded with pillows. These implacable interiors are invariably graced with quaintly paned picture windows which appear to look out into the world. But if we look carefully we might notice that these are not rooms with a view but rather trompe-television-l'oeil, rendered in the same stunned casualness of the interiors. The stunned casualness of the viewers might be interrupted when we realize that we're boxed in, that the windows are no way out, that we are blinded by the blinds and there's no escape through the fake landscapes and cityscapes painted on them. Nothing can rip asunder the “alwaysness” of this sheltered interior—no war, no natural disaster, no political conflict can soil or dishevel the sanctity of this homey order. What a perfect place to “do” the news.

And indeed, that is just what is “done” here, as the networks usher in the day with a dollop of global goings-on. But rather than taking any sort of precedence, the news is just a smidgen buried amid volumes of magazine-style factoids, ranging from hot-shot personality portraits to consumer tips to medical advice to locker-room chatter to endless expanses of weather prediction. Locking horns from 7 to 9 A.M., the networks stage a kind of “Home is where the heart is” havoc, a minute-by-minute pitting of Good Morning America's breakfast-nook vigilance against Bryant and Jane's perkily mannered niceties on The Today Show and the late and unlamented Morning Program's inept mining of homespun coziness. The airwaves are choked with pinches of human interest (David Hartman's narcoleptic report on the plight of the Native American, for example), and with interviews with the show-biz sex object of the moment (Harry Hamlin's ample lips were interviewed by both CBS and ABC within the same half-hour segment); a dog-trainer runs her favorite pooch through its paces, and Daniel Ortega drops in to state his case (allowing the networks once again to supply their highly questionable diplomatic channels, which loom all the larger because they replace—not without a lot of help from the government—the notion of representative government with the governance of representation), all this prefacing a flower arranger who tells us how to groom a bloom.

Every half hour this “life” is interrupted by five minutes of the “world,” a capsule commentary concerning the murky otherness that surrounds and threatens the supposed autonomy of these burnished orange dens, these demi-high-tech kitchens, these domestic dioramas. The switch to this “news” segment varies stylistically from network to network. On The Today Show Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley cut to a newsman, John Palmer, who is propped up in front of a blue-and-white striated map of the world. On ABC and CBS something more interesting happens: when the household hosts switch to the news anchor they simply swivel around in their seats and glance over to the smallish TV perched on the kitchen counter or the coffee table—you know, just like we folks at home do.

Constructed as they are, these programs purport to represent “life” via decor and life-style, all the while introducing us to the people who “matter.” Despite the difficulty of procuring shelter in America, despite the grotesque inflation of property values in and around urban areas, despite a burgeoning homeless population, even perhaps because of all these factors, the networks' presentation of domestic comfort functions as a powerful sedative. From “A man's house is his castle” to the corporate construction of each viewer's “Home Box Office,” the sanctity of interior encapsulation remains sturdily intact, reinforced by the desire to separate the domestic refuges of “life” from the alien rampages of the “world.” So what we get is quite literally a “happy medium”: you give us five minutes, we give you the world.

Barbara Kruger is an artist who writes her column on television and her film reviews appear regularly in Artforum.