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How Has the Network Anchorman Endured?

How Has the Network Anchorman Endured NYMag


The interchangeable blandness of the two Nightly News anchors and the continuity of their viewership confirm the reality that lurked just beneath the moral outrage, torrential social-media ridicule, and Comcast executive-suite chaos of the Williams implosion: For all the histrionics, this incident of media blood sport was much ado about not so much. The network-news anchor as an omnipotent national authority figure is such a hollow anachronism in 21st-century America that almost nothing was at stake. NBC’s train wreck played out as corporate and celebrity farce rather than as a human or cultural tragedy because it doesn’t actually matter who puts on the bespoke suit and reads the news from behind a desk.

Yet the institution of the network anchor persists even as such perennial eulogies are written for it, even as the broadcast networks give way to the individualized narrow­casting of social networks. As Andrew Heyward, the former president of CBS News, describes the atavistic absurdity of the franchise, the very concept that an anchor could “organize the world in a coherent way,” putting the world “literally” in a box for half an hour, is now a non sequitur. But like the cockroach, the anchorman has outlasted countless changes in the ecosystem around him. And he has done so despite being a ridiculous, if ingenious, American invention since his birth.

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Jon Stewart is still the finest network anchorman there is.