I was distracted this week while watching George Clooney’s new film The Ides of March, and it wasn’t just because the middle-aged folks in the row behind me talked throughout the movie. Real-life news anchors including Rachel Maddow, Chris Matthews and Charlie Rose kept popping up to interview characters in the political drama. Et tu, Rachel? Matthews has made numerous cameo appearances, and your colleague Lawrence O’Donnell played himself in Showtime’s “Homeland” on Sunday. But you — I thought you were different.
News anchor cameos are nothing new, especially in comedies. Some of the scenes are gimmicky and most likely are designed to give viewers a sense of reality — that so-and-so character is living in our world and encountering our news people. I don’t buy it. They always pull me out of the narrative being built and remind me I’m watching actors. Worse, they make me question the anchors’ believability in other scenarios. So, you’re good at acting — lying, essentially. Why show off that skill? Sure, some of the guest spots are cute or tongue-in-cheek. But they still ultimately read like a product placement, with the anchor and their companies (NBC Universal, you’re the worst) as the product. Where’s the credibility in that? Don’t pander to us; report to us.
Just: stop it.
There are too many anchor cameos from the past several decades to list. Matthews is a frequent perpetrator (Dave, 1993; Swing Vote, 2008; Morning Glory, 2010), as is James Carville (“Mad About You”; “Spin City”; Wedding Crashers, 2005; Swing Vote; The Adjustment Bureau, 2010). Larry King may be the biggest loser, appearing in everything from 1984’s Ghostbusters to 1997’s Contact to 2004’s The Stepford Wives.
Here are a few recent examples:
Matt Lauer, Land of the Lost (2009):
Meredith Vieira, Get Him to the Greek (2010):
Bill O’Reilly, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011):
Katie Couric, “Glee” (2011):
Sarah Carlson has a front-row seat to the decline of the newspaper industry and lives in Alabama.