Jewish World Review March 25, 2002/ 12 Nisan, 5762

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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A threatened species on the evening news | The bimbo's days on the evening news are numbered. Like it or not, bimbos are going the way of the old trout. We have an old trout's word for it.

We'll miss Paula Zahn, Diane Sawyer and the interchangeable network and cable-TV blondes, with their high cheekbones, blonde hair, blue eyes, and cleavage twice as impressive as their IQs. We'll miss the old trouts, the ladies of a certain age regarded by network executives as having the faded looks just right for radio. They're going, going, going and soon they'll be gone.

The word on this is from Kate Adie, famous in Britain but unknown in America as one of the "news readers" on the BBC. The term "anchorwoman," like "anchorman," is a recent import from America. But news in British television, like news in American television, is only about money, the common language of network accountants and media lawyers everywhere. What works there works here, particularly if works for less.

Miss Adie earned her reputation as a war correspondent in the Falklands and at Tiananmen Square. She is 56 and calls herself "an old trout," a veteran being forced out by British versions of sexpots like Miss Zahn and the other cable-TV cuties. "They want people with cute faces and cute bottoms and nothing in between," Miss Adie says. "The celebrity culture is interested in who people sleep with and whether their legs are the right shape. Everyone on TV now comes in for this type of scrutiny. It will keep people out of public life who are able, but not perfect."

Selling the news with sex is nothing new, of course, as every newspaper reader knows. When Allen Neuharth instructed the editors of USA Today to display a certain number of photographs of women saying clever and important things on the front page every day, he is famously reported to have added a crucial postscript: "And keep the [boobs] above the fold."

Television news, which is all about the visual, has merely emphasized its advantages. "There have always been beautiful and intelligent women in television news," says Judith Dawson, 49, a one-time political correspondent for an independent network and now a documentary maker in England. "But it's also true that women get to a certain age and they get instantly marginalized ... around 40 to 45."

But now the news is not good for the cute faces and neat little bottoms, either. Male bimbos are threatened, too. Permanently perfect faces and bottoms are on the way.

A British "futurologist" whose record as a prognosticator is described by London's Daily Telegraph as 85 percent correct, has compiled a list of what to expect from computers and other machines over the next few years and the implications for show business, and in particular television news, are momentous. Within a decade, the Telegraph reports, "the world's highest-earning actor, pop star or model will be a synthetic 'celeb-bot' whose looks, voice and personality are generated by computers." This will definitely include television news entertainers. Peter Jennings will be extruded in more lifelike plastic.

Fully a fourth of all the faces on television will be completely synthetic, even more artificial than the human faces and bodies on the tube today. They won't demand big salaries, and when the network executives (who may be artificial themselves) decide to substitute a comedian for a commentator in the late night slot, the synthetics won't make a peep. An occasional electronic beep, maybe, but not a peep. Looks and personalities will be altered - touched up, you might say - by studio technicians, not plastic surgeons. (Could Greta Van Susteren, the Fox News star whose looks were famously altered after she was bought from CNN, be an early prototype of the "celeb-bot"?)

Ian Pearson, the futurologist who compiled this list of things to look forward to for BT Exact Technologies of London, says artificial brains are close enough to full development that a machine with artificial intelligence will be able to earn a university degree by 2013, a Ph.D by 2015 and a Nobel prize by 2018. Toys will exhibit lifelike qualities, and dolls, linked to the Internet, will lead social lives outside the homes of the little girls who think they own them. The "orgasmatron," which Woody Allen thought was a joke when he wrote the script for his movie "Sleeper" in 1973, will be a real pleasuring machine to make courtship obsolete.

There's already software that writes news dispatches, and it's made to order for television news, which gets most of its information from newspapers. You just scan in the daily newspaper and the software spits out a rewrite. Programming an artificial bimbo with it should be a piece of puff pastry.

JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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