In the latest casualty of the Fox News Channel’s ninja assault on the TV news business, Peter Jennings of ABC has decided to quit his job and begin reading the nightly news at my home here in the leafy suburban village of Scarsdale, New York.
Officially, Jennings attributed his unexpected career move to a long-held desire to report more political, science, and international news, which is fine with my wife and me, because we will catch up with all the breaking Eminem and Jennifer Lopez headlines later at night, after Peter goes home.
But sources close to Jennings (actually, his periodontist, who plays volleyball with my sister-in-law) said the veteran anchor worried it was only a matter of time before he was replaced on the air by Chris Rock, one of the Hilton sisters, or a runner-up from American Idol. The Big 3 networks are so panicked about the rising influence of Fox News that ABC News interns started holding up giant cue cards that read “Go Mental!,” “All Lies!,” and “I’m $%^& Angry!” while Jennings reads his stories.
An ABC source told us that Jennings has grown so exhausted by all the internal bickering over how to beat back Fox News that he prefers to work in a private home in a bedroom suburb, where he will receive the personal respect and hands-on admiration he deserves, not to mention a much better parking spot.
Our Evening News will also allow Jennings to work without the annoying handcuffs of corporate interference. “That’s the last time I sit in a marketing meeting where Jennifer Aniston or the latest Survivor knock-off is analyzed for its successful formula like the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said Jennings. He also made a profane reference to Disney and “synergy” which went right over our heads. Was Synergy one of the Seven Dwarves?
The flexibility of the newscast will free Jennings to explore previously repressed personal interests, such as Tibetan meteorology, telekinesis, and grocery-store news. Jennings will also offer movie and modern dance reviews and is currently developing a 17-part series on Klezmer music.
As executive producer of Our Evening News, Jennings will also create the show’s graphic elements, which will include the application of glitter glue, finger puppets, and blow pens. Our Evening News will proceed without commercial interruptions, but Jennings’s contract allows him to take bathroom breaks at his discretion.
The social fallout in our small but highly competitive village has been significant. Last week, my internist and neighbor, Dr. Brett Bernstein, hired acclaimed novelist Salman Rushdie to read his children bedtime stories on Friday evenings. Rumors that poet Maya Angelou had been retained by a local family to write book reports for a set of eight-year-old twins have not yet been confirmed.
Jennings’s pay cut, estimated at about 98.333 percent, will be offset by considerable fringe benefits that include paid nap time, an unlimited supply of Lunchables, on-site cardigan repair, and all the free Yu-Go-Oh cards he finds in the couch.
My wife Roni, a corporate attorney who works long hours and wishes I might somehow do the same, was unavailable for comment.
“I don’t care that my audience is a freelance writer and his four hyperactive children,” Jennings said in a statement. “I want to get back to the basics of writing and reporting. And I want to cut down on my dry cleaning.”
Jennings, whose reports from the Vietnam and Cambodian battlefields helped launch his career, said he looks forward to returning to the field, although the dangers he now faces will lean toward strep throat and misplaced cereal bars that become heat-welded to his trousers.
During the critical “Sweeps” weeks in February and October, Jennings will read the news in costume, dressing up as a fireman, policeman, Spiderman, and break-dancer.
Jennings dismissed criticism that he was abandoning millions of viewers. Instead of worrying about total ratings points, Jennings will focus on his “share” of the audience.
During a test broadcast last week, Jennings scored an incredible 83 share of our available household audience. Jennings fell from a record-shattering 100 share after Jared, one of our six-year-old triplets, left the TV room to flush Jennings’s debit card down the toilet.
In a related development, Ditmar Flanget of Montgomery, Alabama, has lured Ed Bradley of CBS News to a Sunday morning jamboree at the local pancake house. A report that Brian Williams of MSNBC may jump to an elementary school outside of Topeka could not be confirmed as of snack time.
–Bruce Stockler is a media-relations consultant and humorist. His memoir of family life, I Sleep At Red Lights: A True Story of Life After Triplets, was recently published by St. Martin’s Press.