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What Is the 'Live Desk' Really Up To?

Reported by Judy - October 19, 2006 -

Martha MacCallum's "Live Desk" replaced a weak afternoon show with a confused identity. Is MacCallum's "Live Desk" any better?

That sounds like a simple question, but it's not. First, we have to ask, better at what? What did Fox News want from the show?

After watching for a few weeks, some things are becoming clear.

First, despite its name the "Live Desk" really is not about live news all that much. The first half hour is ostensibly devoted to news, but it's not that different from the same old Fox News Live with its right-wing agenda that spews forth most of the day from the news channel.

The real change comes in the second half hour or so with the "A-List." On a set where a soft blue predominants, seated around a table, MacCallum discusses newsy items with a group of guests. It is chatty rather than confrontational. The discussion has the look of "The View," down to the blue color and the predominance of females.

The subjects have tended in the direction of soft news -- pre-nuptial agreements of movie stars, Paul McCartney's divorce, Oprah's endorsement of Barak Obama for president in 2008 -- as well as news that involves children, especially children in school. MacCallum features something about schools nearly every day -- a school banning an after school meditation club, an effort to give guns to school personnel proposed by a Wisconsin Republican lawmaker, both on Thursday (October 19, 2006), for example.

The result is a show that is aimed at women viewers -- conservative women viewers who might be tempted to stray from Right-Wing Land and watch "The View" or "Oprah."

Is it better than "Dayside"? MacCallum definitely is more professional than Juliet Huddy. There is much less giggling, which is a blessing. And getting rid of the audience is a definite plus, although I wonder what happened to the Fox News employee whose job it was to drag people in off the street from outside Fox News' headquarters to try to fill the seats for "Dayside."

And "Live Desk" suffers from the same handicap that "Dayside" always did -- that of having to play second-fiddle to whatever aspect of the Bush administration agenda Fox News is pushing that particular day. On Wednesday, for example, "Live Desk" cut away for a few minutes of Donald Rumsfeld talking, even though MacCallum was in the middle of an interview with Arkansas Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee. Rumsfeld was not making news. He had been asked a question, which the viewers never heard, at an event which was never described to the viewers. Yet Fox News felt it necessary to interrupt scheduled programming for a random Rumsfeld comment.

So far, viewer response to the "Live Desk" may be tepid. Several times, MacCallum has asked people to email her with comments to a question, which she promises to read during the "A-List" discussion, but never does. That implies she is not getting any comments because MacCallum certainly is skilled enough to retrieve them while on the air or during the commercial break and work them into the discussion if she were receiving them.

The show is still evolving. MacCallum is feeling her way. She'd better find it soon.