Can the media break free?

There is no business like show business, an adage that holds good from time immemorial. Jay Leno is one such man who fits the bill of being a great showman and the Americans absolutely love him. NBC has had Jay Leno from early 1992 when he replaced the temperamental Johnny Carson. Thanks to the advent of satellite television in the nineties, we got a taste of NBC’s Tonight show and more so of Leno. Leno’s wise cracks are irreplaceable and the comedy elements in the show became more important than the guests on the show. The opening monologue when Leno struts in and rambles non stop for around 7 – 8 minutes has always had me in splits. NBC had some terrific writers to pen the monologues and it is believed that Leno over time wrote most of it, over-riding NBC norms. Leno’s double chin is perceived to be his “trade mark”. I did a tour of the NBC studios a few years back and I recollect the guide pointing to the make up room where Leno would sit and spend hours on emphasizing his chin. Such was the importance given to it.

The Tonight show is a legendary show and Connan O’Brien was given the mantle to take on from Leno mid 2009 when his contract expired. Leno went on to do the Jay Leno show at the prime time slot. I initially found it a bit difficult to get used to Coco, but in a few weeks warmed up to him. His by Jove expressions, arching of the eyebrows, the sneer and the snigger probably highlighted the comical ability of this man besides his dazed look at the camera when his guest would give him a serious answer. Coco was getting rather good with this and he would break into a little jig now and then. My favorite show of his was when he interviewed Deepak Chopra, with due credit to Chopra’s charm, the witty session was marvelously orchestrated by Connan. Connan was previously a script writer for another addiction of mine, The Simpsons show and appeared as himself in the “Bart gets famous episode”.And, just when I was used to the man, there was the big fight at NBC over the time slots and NBC was not getting the desired viewerships in both Leno’s and Coco’s show. The stand up comedy show men were now drawing the swords.NBC wanted to move Leno to a 30 minute slot at 11.35 and move the Tonight show to the 12.05 slot. A deal that was not acceptable to Connan and Leno was offered the Tonight show. Conan did not go empty handed, he was paid out 33 million dollars and another 12 million to share with his team. Connan lasted a few months and went home rich.

The marvel of it all was the ability of Connan to appear in the last few weeks of the Tonight Show and hammer NBC on their own show! He made fun of the network, he made fun of NBCs collective ratings, he made fun of just about everything that had NBC pasted on it. Such is the power of these men, stemming from the popularity that they have with the American public. Can we imagine popular Indian anchors ranting against their own networks. No way. They would possibly disappear without a whimper, however popular they think they are. Albeit, some of the popular ones actually own a significant share of the network, which could be another reason why they may not rant. The freedom to express oneself irrespective of conflict of interest is unsurpassable, and there is a certain joy that exudes from breaking free from the shackles of restraint and authority. Indian anchors are puppets of their networks and will never be given this kind of freedom. They are not larger than the networks that they represent. Their only perceived authority is that they remain the questioner and will work on the guidelines of their networks. Anchors also do not risk themselves by straying from the networks beliefs and affiliations.

The affiliations of the media with political parties is not new. I had received a very interesting relationship chart on the nexus between prominent channels, newspapers and political parties. There are some regional parties missing in the link like the DMK and the AIADMK which own channels in South India like the Sun TV, Kalainiyar TV and Jaya Tv. Also, Sardesai has moved from NDTV and has a stake in CNN IBN.

The relationships above are indicative of a network that in my humble opinion operates like a cartel. Our expectations from the media agencies is to disseminate information in a true and fair manner, without influence and without prejudice. But, with operations like the one above, is it really possible? It is very difficult. When I examine the chart above, a very clear pattern emerges, in fact a very sinister trail is highlighted. When was the last time I turned on the TV and believed every thing they told me during the news hour. My cynicism prevails. Albeit, Connan is not a newsman, he remains a showman who survived the politics played by the network and strutted on his own terms. He walked out richer and will have his own show rather soon on another channel. Hats off to the Connans of this world who can toss a coin in the air and decide how they want to lead life. Can we expect this kind of attitude against the larger players in Indian media today? No way, the strings that control Indian media are longer than what meets the naked eye.


18 Responses to “Can the media break free?”

  1. We in India are unfortunate not to have had showmen of the caliber of Jay Leno and Connan O’Brien, and this speaks a lot about our sense of humor or rather lack of it. Not that having celebrated talk show hosts would have made much difference to the way our media houses function. However, I guess our politicians would prove to be better showmen.

    • Melwyn – exactly my thoughts. We do not have anyone. There was Shekar Suman who tried something, but never left a mark. I actually like Cyrus on CNN IBN, the week that was not show he anchors. He is very witty. But, not very popular. Sad really that we have no great showmen on the small screen.

  2. Anand Khare Says:

    Hi Shamz,

    I am also an admirer of jay leno. I was not knowing that most of the jokes are sctipted by himself.

    The chart showing relations of media, beuraucrats and political outfits is surprising. It is evident now why some f the leaders are so terribly hit by media all along.

    I hope you enjoyed tweets of chetan bhagat of tiger issue.


    • Hi Anand – I absolutely love Jay Leno and in a way looking forward to the Tonight show all over again, in a new way. I missed Chetan’s tweets, will catch it wight away. Thanks for this.

  3. The vicious levels that remote governance through local subjects has reached is evident in the media example you have given.

    Centuries ago, indigenous natives of any new found land were called, “Indians”. The practice soon lapsed after Captain Cook hit upon the name ‘Aborigines’.

    Obviously, the naming had little to do with preserving the native cultures on the land.

    One thing that has risen in occurrence is the Alzheimers Disease; when the rootlessness of the defecting native accumulates an erasable dump of memory in a foreign language!

  4. Aishwarya Says:

    Hi Sharmila,

    A blog par excellence. Enjoying the posts, the variety of issues dealt with, and also the pics! Keep up the good work.

    Love and best wishes,


  5. Jay Leno was the most popular show host. Connan was no where near him in that matter. after that feud jay left and Connan took over that time slot but he never could prove him to be up to the mark. Connan certainly has his peck of viewers to applaud but somehow to us his wits and presentation were not very tasteful. Connan certainly got a very big chunk out of that settlement and Jay is already back. However after return one can certainly feel that The Edge and/of Leno we all were enjoying is
    missing a bit. stage set up is bit different which makes a little difference too. i am glad though that he is back.
    i wish if you could see Leno on Oprah show. An excellent one. Oprah was very edgy and straight shooter and Leno was/seem being very honest too. Any Indian celebrity could not have dared or withstand that kind of bombarding for sure.
    In India media seems with very perplexed and boot licking
    kind of attitude and your chart reveals the secrete behind it. and other reason could be that infantile attitude and lack of openness of minds on the whole of mass and media- including elite class. either they cringe or explode hearing/reading anything adversary about them-in their opinion.

    • Monalisa – I have been addicted to Leno and I think rightly so. There are three men who make me laugh as much. Jay, Carrey and Steve Martin. Connan had a different style and it took me a while to get used to it, but, yes I prefer Leno on the show despite admiring the way Connan handled the entire affair and got support.
      Indian media is like a mirage. We like to believe they can quench our thirst, they do not. Melwyn raised a good point about their inability to even laugh at themselves.

  6. Sharmila, nice post.
    On a brief note, the media in India is only running behind controversies. Paid news or otherwise, the content today is less appealing to me. Every news channel is running the same story and the so called News flashes. Just a few months back the hot topic was the attacks in Mumbai, well how come all of a sudden it has died down. Can the people in the media companies who have the power and the authority to make a difference, raise their voices through their channels to show how pathetic it is that more than a year now and not a single person has been punished. Everyone in the government is just making statements, but is there anyone who is actually doing something about it. I wonder what would have been the situation of this case if Kasab had died during the attacks. Where is Journalism here? Not only on this case but for any other social issue, shouldn’t the media act responsibily and put pressure on the government to show results? Unfortunately, we are forced to think that there is more happening behind closed doors. Paid editorial content is certainly one part of it. Will we ever see a true showman in India? Well, highly unlikely in todays scenario where political parties come out all guns blazing when someone makes a statement about a cricket team. Imagine the state when there is someone from media actually standing against these so called politicians. I can only hope the ethics in journalism remain alive…

    • Deepan – Good to see you back. Yes, it is shabby news reporting that is hogging the limelight. Reality shows also find a place on headline news. Rather pathetic. 26/11 as you rightly say has been forgotten, the media will bring it up this year around November. Kasab is getting fatter by the day, we are keeping him well fed and he spins a new story daily. I really wish he died at the attack. There is no use having him and spending crores keeping him safe.Re – showmen, we have not produced one to date and we cannot produce one either.

      • Very true. Sounds strange but there seems to be no freedom of speech in the largest democracy in the world. What a shame!

  7. Salman Shahid Alvi Says:

    What do you think about Karan Johar…he was very mcuh appreciated for Coffee with Karan.But yes,he is seen more as a director than an anchoe i guess……….

    BTW,I’m quite busy these days……so couldn’t follow you proplerly……..and I can’t beleive myself for not having read AB’s blog for FIVE days…will do it after reading the rest from you

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