PRINT January 2005

Walead Beshty

In 1969, a nightly TV-news anchor named Fred Van Amburg was troubled by his declining ratings, which he believed were due to the unbearable daily reports of protests and body counts. Having limited control over world events but much control over their packaging, Amburg decided that the news wasn’t the problem, its presentation was. A somber, solitary journalist delivering the news directly into the camera—and, by extension, into people’s living rooms—made viewers feel responsible for it, and the only way to avoid that feeling was not to watch. Amburg’s innovation, dubbed “Happy Talk,” forever changed television news. The format allowed two coanchors to banter between segments, thereby taking pressure off viewers at home. Rather than having to react to the news, viewers could react to the coanchors’ reactions, which were invariably jovial.

As Amburg put it, “There’s more to life than news,

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