Why is 207 So Lame?
By Al Diamon
Created Feb 14 2008 - 8:30pm
Rob Caldwell had just gotten a scoop. The co-anchor of "207," a daily newsmagazine airing at 7 p.m. on WCSH-TV in Portland and WLBZ-TV in Bangor, had scored an exclusive interview with Bill Clinton. In it, the former president discussed the mistakes he'd made while campaigning for his wife Hillary during her bid for the White House. Caldwell asked decent questions, and Clinton gave unusually frank answers. It was an interesting segment, filmed at Becky's Diner on the Portland waterfront and rushed on the air within minutes.
Good stuff. But hardly typical fare for "207," which tends to fill its 30 minutes each evening with fluff. Not to worry. One night after the Feb. 7 venture into real journalism, "207" was back to form, devoting much of its half hour to all the national attention Caldwell had received for the Clinton interview. Co-host Kathleen Shannon (who claims in her profile on the station's Web site, that "her main areas of focus are politics, the economy and in-depth interviews") gushed about how her on-air partner had gotten exposure on "Today," CNN, CNBC and MSNBC. Then, she and Caldwell aired clips from those networks of him talking to Clinton - clips we'd already seen the previous night.
None of this offered any further insight into the campaign. Or much of anything else. It was just about Rob. "It opened up a barrel of monkeys," he informed viewers at one point. "I felt like I've been in some sort of parallel universe," he said at another. Me, too, especially when he showed us video of him being interviewed by a cable network anchor who told us she grew up in Maine idolizing Caldwell.
Enough hooey? Nope. That night's "207" wrapped up with e-mails from viewers telling Caldwell what a great job he was doing.
To be fair, the show isn't always quite that worthless. In two weeks of watching, I saw some interesting and informative segments. But they were almost always surrounded by dreck. Caldwell's fascinating interview on Feb. 12 with former Major League Baseball player Billy Bean about the difficulty professional athletes have in revealing they're gay was followed by a feature in which a comedian discussed the importance of couples taking time off from their kids to be with each other. The comedian wasn't funny (although Shannon giggled throughout the interview). Her suggestions were mostly obvious. And nobody explained why a comedian was getting airtime to offer seemingly serious advice on relationships.
After a few days of watching "207," I came to believe that the quality of the show depended more on the guests than the hosts. A Feb. 5 Caldwell talk with Elaina Newport, one of the founders of the satirical music group the Capitol Steps, sparkled with wit and featured well-integrated concert video from Portsmouth, N.H. On Feb. 4, actor Dustin Tucker overcame Shannon's insipid questions to give some insight into what it's like to play 39 different characters in the one-man show "Fully Committed" at Portland Stage Company. Again, good performance video interspersed with his answers added much to the segment.
But a talk with an etiquette expert on Feb. 6 on how to propose marriage on Valentine's Day was downright boring ("I think it's good to stick to some of the traditions [but people] can be a little adventurous"). Shannon's Feb. 8 encounter with Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy was ponderous and lacked good follow-up questions. When she asked Kennedy what advice he'd given Barack Obama, he said he'd told him to move beyond "identity politics." What's that mean? Shannon didn't ask. A Feb. 4 piece in which two guys from Bull Moose Music handicapped the Grammy Awards was filled with generalities ("It was great for every reason a record should be great"), but when one of them finally said something intriguing ("Amy Winehouse is not going to be interesting in five years"), Caldwell and Shannon failed to follow up.
None of this is to say "207" is worthless. The show has high technical values. Video is well-edited. Music acts are presented in excellent audio quality. Production is generally slick without calling attention to itself.
The show also earns points for being eclectic. It offers a forum to everybody from a Washington Post sportswriter plugging his new novel (although it seems fair to ask what he's doing on a program whose name indicates the contents will relate to Maine in some way) to officials from the Children's Museum of Maine pushing a new exhibit on 20 families who have come to Maine from elsewhere in the world (featuring a fine video focused on a Somali girl in Portland) to a financial expert offering a warning to make sure your tax-preparation software includes a "patch" dealing with last-minute changes in the alternative minimum tax (although Shannon wasted too much of this segment going over stuff that's already been heavily covered elsewhere, before getting to the fresh material).
"207" has its moments. But they tend to be few and widely separated by material that falls well short of being either interesting or informative. If the guest isn't fascinating on his or her own, it's unlikely the hosts will do anything to raise the level of the conversation. The anchors - Shannon in particular - don't seem to dare to ask pointed questions.
One last example: In a Feb. 1 segment on a new law that allows teenagers who will turn 18 before the November election to vote in party caucuses and primaries, the guests were a 17-year-old and two legislators. Caldwell asked the teen if he was excited to be participating in the political process (he said he was, although he didn't look it), and Shannon asked him what factors he'd be thinking about in deciding how to vote (he said he didn't know, but then said he'd made up his mind how he'd cast his ballot - a contradiction Shannon, as usual, let pass without follow-up). The remainder of the piece was devoted to eliciting a few platitudes from the legislators ("every vote counts"). Then, on to the cooking segment.
Caldwell and Shannon are veteran journalists. Both have done better work elsewhere at WCSH and WLBZ, where they anchor regular newscasts. Why they go all soft and squishy on "207" is a mystery worthy of a segment on a TV newsmagazine. Preferably, one where they ask tough questions.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at email@example.com.