Posted on Monday, October 9, 2017 by RODNEY HOemail@example.com on his AJC Radio & TV Talk
11Alive last month launched its long-awaited new 11 p.m. program starring Vinnie Politan and it's not your usual newscast.
In essence, it's faster paced and features more outside voices. And the focal point is Politan and his opinionated take on subject matter.
To start the show, Politan - sometimes joined by former HLN colleague Natisha Lance - will usually walk purposefully down an 11Alive hallway to promote what's coming up. The intro music is pounding and dramatic, even by newscast standards.
He'll usually open the night with a hot topic, whether it's breaking news like the Georgia Tech shooter or the Vegas tragedy. As a former New Jersey attorney and prosecutor who cut his teeth on TV at Atlanta-based HLN before moving to 11Alive in 2014, Politan will sometimes pontificate about a news story, throwing in his thoughts like a cable channel host. While Lance provides a "Speed Feed" mix of stories with pounding music as a backdrop and Chris Holcomb throws in a bit of weather, those are merely side elements most days.
Politan typically hosts a panel of three different experts he dubs the "Think Tank" related to a topic that night. Given the tight time frames at 11 p.m., the panel only has about five minutes to gab on the show.
"People are getting news in different places, whether it's social media account or apps," Politan said in a recent interview. "They're getting bombarded all day. By 11 p.m., they've heard all the stories. We're trying to create clarity and perspective to those stories. You need a different way to deliver that."
He said management has given him a lot of leeway to figure this all out. (Politan plans for the time being to host the show Sunday through Thursday since Sunday often brings bigger audiences with football.)
The host knows the challenges of fitting basic news and squeezing a panel in, too. "It's a change. It's difficult," he said. "It's a balance." He said the format will not be rigid.
This past Sunday night, for instance, with a late NFL football game pushing back the start of his "Late Feed" by nearly an hour, Politan ditched the panel and played a long-form investigative piece instead by Andy Pierrotti regarding the Veterans Administration. He did spend a couple of minutes talking to anchor and sports specialist Jeff Hullinger about Vice President Mike Pence walking out of an NFL game after players took a knee during the National Anthem.'
He said the show will evolve over time. "That's a good thing," Politan said. "One thing we're not going to be afraid to do is drop things when they don't work."
Why did 11Alive decide to shake up the 11 p.m. newscast?
General manager John Deushane noted that for six-plus decades, local news has been the basic bread and butter of news, weather and sports. "Our industry has done 'Lather, Rinse, Repeat' versions of that ever since," he said.
He notes that "there are stations in this city that have mastered traditional news very well. In fact, it terms of doing it the way it’s always been done, no one does traditional better than a couple of stations here. Hats off to them." [He is referencing Fox 5 and Channel 2 Action News, which typically get higher ratings than 11Alive during that time slot.]
Deushane said his station has "the capability to do the same thing. We can go live to 15 different locations if we want to as well and cover yet another house fire or more accidents to show off our technology. But just because you can doesn’t mean you should and it certainly doesn’t mean that’s what people want to see."
He sees the Late Feed as a quicker, more modern version of a newscast. The show largely has dumped standard reporter packages. "In are in-depth conversations with those either making the news or covering it," he said. "The viewer has the opportunity to take part in actively via social connection in real time or as a interested onlooker as if they were listening to people talking at the table next to them who are experts in something they care about."
And he wants to use Politan's strong personality to his best advantage.
"Vinnie is not a typical vanilla anchor who can’t think beyond what’s written on the prompter," Deushane said. "In fact, Vinnie doesn’t even use a script. As a former prosecutor and long-form cable news host, he can think on his feet, ask probing questions, and help people understand complex issues. To effectively lead a news program like this, that skill set is paramount."
Deushane added that "Chris Holcomb’s weather presentation will also be interactive, with Vinnie occasionally being at the map with Chris and asking him questions about meteorological data and why it matters." (Politan did this last Thursday night as Tropical Storm Nate was approaching the Gulf Coast.)
During a recent episode after the Equifax CEO "retired" following a massive security breach of 143 million people's personal information, Politan let loose:
"How about being a leader in security?" he said, looking straight in the camera. "So you can protect our information that you're holding? How about that?"
He showed video of the CEO expressing fraud as an "opportunity."
"He sees fraud as an opportunity," Politan said, his voice dripping with sarcasm. "Now fraud is an opportunity for the people who stole our information from you."
I solicited feedback from my Facebook readers and they were largely skeptical of the changes:
Here's a sampling:
- Dave C. Gibson Not fond of it. Kinda sucks. They seem to think super-sensationalism for local news is a thing we need more of. I feel really sorry for some folks that work at the station, because they have to endure really bad ideas like this.
- Doris Bowers I happen to like it. Gives you a different perspective on news rather than the same old news reading that takes place on other newscasts. I do think that maybe a better selection of guests. The story of shooting at Georgia Tech was hard to watch BUT it brought the situation to the attention of many who did not know there was an issue with transgender population at GT
- Judi Bry Stevenson It's different been watching it to see if it gets better.
- Stuart Ginsberg Was a loyal 11 Alive watcher. Switched to CBS46. Way too over the top and not enough information. Too much opinion.
- Norma Lyons He's over the top 😤
- Marc Fredo It's the evolution of news programming. It isn't enough to tell you the news, they now have to tell you what to think about that news.
- Kelly Macc I like Vinnie....if we're still watching court tv. Otherwise he's just too much. Couldn't watch in the morning and certainly can't at night.
- James Locklin Not a fan. News is news, not what that show is. Put it on 36 and real news back on 11 at 11. That show is the best way for 11 to be last with a bullet.
- Susan Luke I’ve been watching Eleven Alive News at 11 for many years. Hopefully this new format will be short lived, as it’s not working for me!
"I think people will love it or hate it or ignore it," said Darryl Cohen, an entertainment attorney who used to appear on Politan's HLN show "After Dark. "I hope people like it. Vinnie's great. He's very talented. In my opinion, it's a great alternative."