From Al Gore to Al Jazeera

al_jazeera_studio_605_apDay One of the new Al Jazeera America, taking the place of Al Gore’s old Current TV, began Tuesday with a special that was meant to emphasize what an achievement it was to get a big national cable news operation up and running in a matter of months. That enough is true.

But the initial shows, despite the fancy graphic design and walls full of video, seemed like nothing special. Tony Harris seemed like the most generic of afternoon CNN anchors — overly pleasant, intoning the headlines in the usual manner, without giving much of an indication that he’s listening to what he’s saying.

The content, however, is notably a step up from of course the polemics of Fox, but also of the increasingly shallow CNN, with heavy attention on Egypt, and solid looks at the wildfires and an Atlanta school shooting without dwelling on them. There was never a mention of anything Royal (the new baby! new Diana death theories!) and Dick Van Dyke’s car accident was never mentioned, while it became an apocalyptic event on CNN, which is turning so celebrity crazy, one of its reports on the Utah wildfires was through the eyes of a resident who was the former Nancy Drew, Pamela Sue Martin.

At 5 p.m., Al Jazeera America’s “Inside Story” was a huge disappointment. Host Libby Casey proved she could produce a show as dull as her former employer, CSPAN, with a talk show about climate change that seemed pre-recorded (when it could have tied into the day’s wildfire outbreaks (59 separate fires in 10 states, they said during the weather). Instead, it focused on rising ocean levels with experts that couldn’t be more boring.

Things changed with a different news show, “Faultline,” that produced the best report on the connection of Walmart to dangerous sweatshops in Bangladesh than I’ve seen anywhere else to date. Already the network shows it’s willing to take on the biggest corporations to find a story.

And as I watched through the night, the theme was constant – important stories, treated with time and thought that only brushed with entertainment when there was a panel to discuss the failings of the Ashton Kutcher Steve Jobs movie. Then again, this is a time when there are fewer commercial interruptions, and most of the breaks are taken up with network promos.

At its worst, it could end up being a duller than usual news network. But it’s kind of cool they’ll skip the “celebrity news” stuff.

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