My Pitch to NBC: 10 TV Shows About Journalism & Media Worth Watching in 2013

Last week, NBC issued a public casting call for a planned reality show centered on a small town newspaper.  According to The New York Times, more than 150 newspapers responded– one even sent a video of its staffers lip syncing Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

As the NYT reports, “NBC executives say they’ve been inundated with all types of pitches, from newspaper editors talking about how they are struggling to survive to newspaper staffs eager to show off their talents, sometimes well beyond their coverage of school meetings.”

Yet, one journo told Jim Romenesko, via his Facebook page, the reality of contemporary community journalism may not be quite ready for prime time: “The producers missed out on their chance to follow my dramatic life: Two and a half hours last night hearing about water and sewer rates, followed by a late dinner of cheese, crackers and beer. That, friends, is the reality show about small town weeklies.”

Forget sewer rates and cracker dinners.  I have 10 ideas of my own that deserve attention for the next fall season.  The shows are generally based in reality, at times with a staged or supernatural twist– depending on who I feel is their target audience. In a few cases, they also go beyond just newspapers, small towns, and the professional press.

Some are simply silly.  And others require sincerely high levels of journo geekdom to (even marginally) enjoy them.  But I have to say, if done right, I would actually watch most of these.  So NBC, here you go.

10 TV Shows About Journalism & Media Worth Watching



Plot outline: A powerful media mogul and former top morning show and network executive with a shiny forehead and Harvard roots attempts to turn around a struggling 24-hour news network.  Along the way, he is repeatedly forced to have “Dinner with the Kings.”

Gist: Think “Broadcast News” meets “Live from Baghdad” meets “Page One: Inside the New York Times.”

Guest stars: James Earl Jones as “The Voice” and Kaj Larsen as a former investigative reporter itching to get back in the field for some serious scoops.

Potential recurring sequence: Near the close of each episode, the real Zucker discusses his hopes and fears and gets inspiration from a hologram Zucker.

Cliffhanger possibilities: A love triangle somehow involving Kathy Griffin and Roger Ailes from Fox News; mysterious hijinks eventually connected to Conan O’Brien; and a Piers Morgan two-hour deportation special.

Survivor: Hazelwood

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Plot outline: A small band of journalism advocates fight regular battles against lawmakers, lawyers, judges, and school administrators– all tied to the infamous 1988 Hazelwood ruling that imposed severe limitations on student press and speech rights. Each episode revolves around a case at a different school or with a different student or student media outlet.  And, at some point during each show, people sing.

Gist: Think “The Good Wife” meets “CSI” meets “My So-Called Life” meets “Glee.”

Special episodes: 1) “In Texas, an appeals court throws out the First Amendment claims of a high school cheerleader who was disciplined after she quietly sat down rather than recite a cheer mentioning the name of an athlete who was later criminally charged with sexually assaulting her.”  2) “In Illinois, administrators at one of the nation’s biggest public high schools force students to produce a ‘sanitized’ newspaper removing articles about student drug use and shoplifting.”  3) “In Missouri, a public high school bans any depiction of tattoos, and briefly confiscates a newspaper over a photo of a student’s anti-cancer-ribbon tattoo.”  (All are actual Hazelwood cases.)

DVD extra: Cure Hazelwood, a site set up in 2012 by the Student Press Law Center.

Potential spin-off shows: “FERPA” and “The Clery Act”

Homicide Watch D.C.


Plot outline: An impassioned husband-and-wife team start an independent news site to report on every unnatural death in the Washington D.C. area.  While ensuring everyone’s stories are told, they battle their emotions as they connect with the friends and family of the deceased– and at times the alleged and convicted assailants. At the same time, they struggle to produce innovative journalism and earn enough money to keep their crusade alive.

Gist: Think “The Social Network” meets “Homicide: Life on the Street.”

Special episodes: 1) Planted evidence leaves one of the staffers falsely accused of murder– and forces the spouse to cover the police investigation and trial.  2) An episode written by Aaron Sorkin focuses on the outlet’s coverage of President Bartlett’s “West Wing” assassination attempt– revealing it goes far beyond a few white supremacists in West Virginia.

Potential spin-off shows: “Homicide Watch Miami,” “Homicide Watch Las Vegas,” and “Homicide Watch Singapore” (after all, as one of the ad slogans in the country confirms, “Low Crime Doesn’t Mean No Crime”)

The Storm


Plot: A top New Orleans newspaper attempts to move forward with a much smaller staff and a decreased print publication schedule, under the continued haunting specter of a major natural disaster and their extraordinary coverage of it.  Along the way, the editorial team battles upstart competitors and breaks tons of investigative exclusives.  And every once in a while, they also hunt vampires.  It will air three days a week.

Gist: Think HBO’s “Treme” meets “All the President’s Men” meets “Interview with a Vampire.”

Special episodes: 1) A real-time glimpse at staffers’ on-the-street reporting during Mardi Gras.  2) A look each year at the paper’s Katrina anniversary coverage, mixing newsroom footage with reporters and photographers talking about the tragedy with locals– and discussing its impact on their own lives.  (I’m picturing the latter episode in the vein of the recent HBO four-part photojournalist documentary “Witness.“)

Sex on Tuesday


Plot outline: An unlucky-in-love female college student and campus newspaper sex columnist writes about her dating exploits, enduring friendships, and search for Mr. (and Ms.) Right.  Over time, she begins to realize the One may be the student sports reporter in the newsroom cubicle right beside her, but there’s a hitch– he’s president of the school’s abstinence club.

Gist: Think “His Girl Friday” meets “Private Parts” meets “Sex and the City.”

Potential show topics faced by the lead character in season one: threesomes, BDSM, interracial dating, sexual assault, bisexuality (including “being a vagina-tarian“), sex-positivity, pornographic video viewing, and how “the thought of being in a relationship scares the living shit out of me.”  (All are actual Sex on Tuesday topics published last semester in the excellent Daily Californian column.)

Potential spin-off shows: “Wednesday Hump” (name of long-running Daily Nexus sex column at UC Santa Barbara) and “Roxy Sass” (name of long-running Stanford Daily sex column at Stanford University).

E-book extra: My book, Sex and the University: Celebrity, Controversy, and a Student Journalism Revolution.

Red & Black & Blue


Plot outline: One of the country’s top college newspapers rebuilds and rebrands after a digital-first reinvention– and a staff meltdown which made national headlines. Students at the paper also start a journalism fight club, but don’t talk about it– causing an ethical conundrum.

Gist: Think “The Paper” Penn State newspaper documentary meets “The Paper” by Ron Howard meets “The Paper” on MTV meets “Fight Club.”

Special episodes: 1) A real-time glimpse at the making of Ampersand Magazine, the Red & Black’s full-color newsmag.  2) A “To Hell with Georgia” fall two-parter featuring the Georgia Tech student paper aggressively mocking UGA– until journalism fight club fights back.

Potential spin-off show: “Ink and Fangs,” a dramedy about a group of students at a Florida university who launch an independent online news outlet after school administrators unconscionably shut down their campus newspaper and fire them.

News Mob: The Real OC Register


Plot outline: Amid drastic cutbacks throughout the journalism industry, a single daily newspaper– in the real Orange County– goes on a massive hiring spree.  The paper is left with so many staffers, no one knows what to do.  News mobs– and actual violence– ensue.

Gist: Think “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County” meets “The Insider” meets (an actually good) “State of Play.”

Special episodes: Real-time glimpses at the paper’s innovative news mobs– covering everything from Major League Baseball’s opening day to a day at Disney Land (“OC Disney”).

Out of Eden


Plot outline: Renowned veteran journalist Paul Salopek spends seven years walking and reporting– retracing “the path our human ancestors followed out of Africa and across the world, ending at the southern tip of South America.  Along the route, Paul will report on the stories he encounters and share his experiences with students around the world.”  He also solves crimes, rights social injustices, delivers babies, and not only travels across countries but also through time– including to the future.

Gist: Think BBC’s “Doctor Who” meets anything on the National Geographic Channel meets “MacGyver” meets the middle of “Forrest Gump.”

Challenges Paul might face during the seven seasons: border trouble, getting lost, sickness without proper medical care, trouble at home, and a Skype video #epicfail.



Plot outline: A competition regularly pits two reporters or reporting teams against one another, putting them on the same story or providing them with the same topic. The challenge: produce a digital package with higher traffic and social media shares by the given deadline– while also impressing an expert journalism judging panel.

Gist: Think “Project Runway” meets “60 Minutes” meets “Tosh.0” meets BuzzFeed.

Possible story prompts for season one: online love hoaxes, stair racing, Subway sandwich lengthslip syncing, and female soldiers in combat.

Season finale: Top reddit users brainstorm the story prompts and subsequently comment and vote on the posted content in real time.

Potential spin-off show: “Internet Famous Class

Paper Cuts


Plot outline: A look at the lives of young and veteran journalists who are soldiering on, living with regrets or finding success after taking a buyout or being laid off from their job at a mainstream old-world media outlet.  Each week features a new post-employment narrative.  At times, top newsroom executives don disguises and report and edit alongside the editorial staff to see who is excelling and who needs to be laid off or bought out.

Gist: Think “Extreme Makeover” meets “Celebrity Rehab” meets “Undercover Boss” meets “The Apprentice.”

Potential spin-off shows: “No Raise This Year: A Comedy,” “No More Free Coffee in the Newsroom,” and “M.S. ASAP: Gimme a Journalism Master’s Degree So I Can Teach.”

DVD extra: Newspaper Death Watch— “Chronicling the Decline of Newspapers and the Rebirth of Journalism”

2 Responses to “My Pitch to NBC: 10 TV Shows About Journalism & Media Worth Watching in 2013”
  1. Greg Piper says:

    I’m working on a scripted show that covers a lot of these topics, called COPY. The one difference is it’s set at a Christian college, where journalism not only has the usual hoops to jump through on campus (like the CNM “sex mess”) but also a shared identity and set of cultural values that can subject the uncomfortable truth to the higher aim of being “Christlike.”

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