Last Thursday, actor Mike Myers announced he’s expecting another child with wife Kelly Tisdale. Considering that Myers is still associated with his role as zany British detective Austin Powers in the three-part series, national news outlets were quick to make such a reference in delivering the news.
“Groovy, baby — again!” People magazine gushed. “Yeah, baby!” the Huffington Post exclaimed. But how was the news playing on local newscasts? Well, on Thursday night, Conan O’Brien’s show “Conan” decided to compile videos of local news anchors breaking the story.
“Local news found a really unique way to tell the story,” O’Brien said, setting viewers up for the punch line.
The segment showed 29 separate local newscasters using the exact same line — “Mike Myers says ‘yeah, baby'” — in reporting the news. While some anchors nailed Myers’ signature catchphrase from the film, others sounded more Australian than English.
When Gawker posted the video, many commenters ridiculed the stations and wondered aloud how such repetition is possible.
“It was a bad representation of our station,” said Scott Saxton, news director at WECT-TV in Wilmington, N.C., which was one of the 29. “It’s embarrassing and unacceptable, and we’ve addressed it within the team.”
Saxton said that the offending line came from CNN News Source wire copy, and was part of a packaged segment called “Hollywood Minute.”
“I imagine that it was a copy and paste of the entire intro,” he said.
Reading wire copy word-for-word is a practice known in the biz as “ripping and reading.”
“You have the right to (do so), but it’s our standard operating procedure to put that into our anchor’s voice and be a little creative with it,” Saxton said.
Seemingly, many stations found the “yeah, baby” line perfect as is, or needing only minor tweaks. Of the 150 or so local television stations that reported on the Myers story (as of Friday afternoon), 44 of them used a version of the catchphrase, according to a Critical Mention media monitoring search.
Five stations opted for another Powers standby: “groovy, baby.”
So why do some stations chose not to reword or rework content? Poynter’s Jill Geisler, a former news director for Milwaukee’s WITI-TV, gave several reasons.
The station could be “unimaginative,” she said, or simply understaffed, especially lacking producers who are often tasked with rewriting wire copy.
Local television stations have to do more with less staff these days, said Jan Fox, who spent 18 years as a weekend anchor and reporter at WUSA-TV in Washington, D.C.
“Everyone is in a humungous time bind,” she said, “so I’m not surprised that someone would say ‘that’s cool’ and just take it.”
Not surprisingly, Geisler also said stations “rip and read” content they find clever or compelling.
Although Fox said she rewrote everything to fit her “folksy” style and make it more readable on air, she admitted she might have fallen for a pre-written line like “yeah, baby.”
“That’s what he’s known for, so why wouldn’t you say it?” she asked.
When watching the video, it’s hard not to feel for some of the anchors who looked uncomfortable when trying on an Austin Powers accent. But you shouldn’t, Geisler said.
“Anchors don’t have a gun to their head and have to read everything” as it’s written, she said.
Saxton said his anchor, Bob Bonner, normally rewrites the script when he has the time to do so. This time, he didn’t.
“Unfortunately, he’s the face of some copy he didn’t write himself,” Saxton said.
Ann McGill, a morning anchor for Charleston, S.C.’s WCSC-TV, was one of the few presenters who seemed to relish the opportunity to do her best Mike Myers impression.
“I had fun saying it,” McGill said by email, noting that the video also aired on NBC’s “The Today Show.”
Reached by email, “Conan” spokesperson Drew Shane declined to comment on the segment because it is a comedy piece and said “there is always a chance” the program may do more such looks at local TV. Back in February, CoCo caught dozens of stations using the same line to talk about a favorite topic.
“You don’t need to tell us to tell you that gas prices are back on the rise,” anchor after anchor said, some stumbling over the challenging sentence structure.