If the problem with latenight news is that it puts you to sleep, then maybe Fox’s WWOR New York is onto something with Chasing New Jersey, the off-kilter news show that debuted on Monday night on the Secaucus, N.J.-based MyNetworkTV affiliate. The nightly half-hour show is anything but tired.
But the problem is — or at least was with the debut episode of Chasing New Jersey, which replaces a traditional 10 p.m. newscast — is that it seems to be trying too hard.
From the get-go, Chasing New Jersey is so overtly trying to skew young — flashing graphics, an ’80s (or is it ’90s?) pop song as background music and segments like “Ancient History” (“Here’s what the nets led with tonight …”) and a weather “Futurecast,” versus the blah-sounding “forecast” — that it feels more forced than funky.
Chasing New Jersey is so fast-paced that it’s frenetic, turning the format, not necessarily the content, into the star of the show.
That format is borrowed from TMZ, Warner Bros.’s popular syndicated entertainment magazine. There are no anchor desks, no stand-ups, no reporters with mikes.
In place of TMZ’s Harvey Levin, “Ringleader” Bill Spadea (he’s a New Jersey businessman and former congressional candidate), presides. The only guy wearing a tie, he gathers around him a cadre of young news “chasers,” calling on them by name to introduce their stories.
Each story get a post-mortem during which the “chasers” comment on the topics they covered — a worthy effort to delve deeper into subjects.
The show starts with the “Wrap,” a roundup of everything from what the New York Post and NBC Nightly News are reporting to what’s “On the Blogs” and “Geek Stuff.” If you’re looking for pop culture, with tomorrow’s weather thrown in, it’s there.
The guts of the show are the chasers’ enterprise stories “focusing on all things New Jersey.” They have all the makings of viable, albeit atypical, news stories.
A story Monday on “The Streets of Trenton (the New Jersey state capital, from which the show originates) Being Terrorized by ATV Riders,” did the work, including interviews with people on both sides of the story and video clips.
A piece on whether another Hurricane Sandy-like storm could hit the Jersey shore, possibly as early as this summer, came complete with explanatory graphics and footage from a reporter in a small plane.
But where do you draw the line? You have to ask whether the story of a New Jersey Nazi who lost his young kid he named Adolph Hitler (a neighbor says he taught the boy to kill in self-defense) in a custody hearing deserves the glory of air time.
With time, Chasing New Jersey could settle down, get its groove and connect with the young viewers that local broadcasters so desperately want. And you have to hand it to the folks behind Chasing New Jersey for doing what they set out to: giving viewers something different.
Created by Dennis Bianchi, GM of Fox’s WTXF Philadelphia and produced by Fairfax Productions, where he is a VP, Chasing New Jersey will repeat on WTXF, which serves parts of southern New Jersey.
WWOR dropped a conventional newscast last week to make room for Chasing New Jersey.
Fox executives wouldn’t talk about the show pre-debut — and likely won’t anytime this week.
A spokeswoman says they have been swamped with requests from the press, since innovation in TV news, an unfortunately rare phenomenon (and even more rarely successful), is certainly buzz-worthy.
TV Spy reported that Fox has applied for several “Chasing” trademarks, including “Chasing Seattle,” “Chasing Texas,” “Chasing Florida,” “Chasing Charlotte” and “Chasing America.”
This suggests that Fox will roll out the show elsewhere, assuming, I suppose, that Chasing New Jersey actually catches up with some viewers.
Diana Marszalek covers local journalism for TVNewsCheck. You can reach her at [email protected].