"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 9 October 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

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[The SIte]

The other night, as I endured the

blandly manic, open-mike-caliber

punditry of video game reject

Dev, the secret purpose of The

Site suddenly occurred to me: to

make the web appear as insipid

and irrelevant as possible, in

the hope that this might spur

magazine sales. Given that

publications like the New

Yorker, the Wall Street Journal, the

Sporting News, and a dozen or so

others are The Site's most

frequent advertisers, I probably

should have divined this sooner;

perhaps I was simply overcome by

the show's infectious mood of

anti-analytic somnabulance.



Of course, The Site is actually

pretty good at producing the

kind of hobby-oriented,

up-with-people stories that

CompuServe's member magazine

pioneered in the early '90s. Did

you know, for example, that

amateur genealogists use the

web? And technologically spry

seniors? And forgetful folks

who've lost track of their

uncles and ex-boyfriends? Well,

it's true!



Only in that strange state of

digital delusion known as

Mediaville could such stuff pass

as an "important breakthrough in

broadcast journalism." While

that realm's addled emperor

calls The Site the net's "own

evening news," people who pay

more than cursory attention to

the show are more apt to liken

it to an endlessly repeated Buzz

Bin video: segments that seem

overly familiar the first time

around become so much televisual

surf upon the sixth Siting. In

this respect, the show does

achieve a new-media breakthrough

of sorts: It proves that it's

now possible, in this age of

pervasive syndication and heavy

rotation, to recycle the "news"

without anyone noticing - or at

least caring that much. Sure,

The Site's producers could cut

down on the repeats by reducing

the show's running time to half

an hour, or airing it less

frequently, but then, as Site

reporter Craig Miller explains,

they'd only be able to run 10

commercials per episode instead

of 20.



With a pick-up-your-phone-

and-call-now pitch punctuating

every segment, it's only fitting

that The Site's set resembles an

infomercial's version of a

newsroom more than it does an

actual one: busy infobees

buzzing at their workstations,

selfconsciously visible camera

crew members, jazzy anchor desk,

and plenty of neon in the

background. Soledad O'Brien, the

show's quintessential Lisa-unit

host, appears right at home in

this milieu; as she wanders

toward the set's coffee bar to

banter with Dev, you almost

expect her to break into an

impromptu demonstration of some

new high-tech kitchen gadget.



Instead, she simply deploys an

impressive arsenal of facial

expressions and gestures: the

judicious-moment-of-analysis lip

purse, the quizzical head tilt,

the uh-huh-uh-huh-I'm-not-buying-

it smile. She has the kind of

slightly above-average

intelligence that works so well

on TV, and the smooth

self-possession the job requires -

but not for a moment do you

believe that such a savvy

careerist has any real interest

in a time-waster like the web.

You can see in her eyes the

unspoken question (that we

ourselves have grown tired of

asking), Why?


Compared to the polished O'Brien -

or even Monday Night

Football's Dan Dierdorf - The

Site's Denise Caruso often comes

across as a bit brusque, but at

least her interest in her

subject is apparent. Watching

her interview William Gibson

about his new novel Idoru, for

example, you get the feeling

she's actually read the thing -

and probably some other books




The rest of The Site's supporting

cast add little to the mix.

Nervous young spokesmodels from

Yahoo! demonstrate on a nightly

basis how hard it can be to

actually say something

meaningful about a site instead

of simply labeling it "cool."

The computer-generated Dev is

exactly as annoying as you'd

expect a real guy named Dev to

be. And about the most you can

say for Jim Louderback is that

for someone who's primarily a

print journalist, he sure is

well-groomed. To be fair,

Louderback does get the show's

toughest assignment: showing off

new software. Not surprisingly,

his tedious reports make it

exceedingly clear why developers

at COMDEX staff their booths

with jugglers, comedians, and

off-duty strippers;

demonstrating software is one of

the most boring pastimes in the

world. Eventually, one imagines,

the software reviewer will

evolve into the computer show's

version of the zany weatherman:

a cartoonish dolt who leavens

the information he delivers with

at least an equal dose of "comic

relief." Louderback, a kind of

preppy version of Kato Kaelin,

simply lacks the presence for

this difficult task.



As for Cliff Stoll, well... Stoll

is so objectionable he gets his

own paragraph. Until recently,

I'd always thought it was pretty

near impossible to give the

long-petrified Andy Rooney less

than his due, but I believe Ned

Brainard recently accomplished

that miraculous feat by

comparing Stoll to the still

alarmingly lifelike curmudgeon.

For all his rote sourpussery, at

least Rooney occasionally

manufactures a point now and

then; the squirmy Stoll is so

scattered he barely manages a

smudge. Taking unpreparedness as

a seeming badge of honor, he

invariably scrunch-faces and

tiny-sighs and shoulder-shrugs

his way toward some

incomprehensible mishmash of his

one best-selling notion:

machines are OK, sort of, but

the real world - with all its,

um, people, and, uh, stuff - is

where it's at. Like some Dr.

Seuss character who never quite

made it out of beta, the wistful

stargazer is filled with an

inexhaustible reservoir of love

for humanity - at least through

the mediating mechanisms of

print and TV. But I know some

folks who live in his

neighborhood, and they say in

the flesh he's actually a bit



[Iron Chef]

At the moment, The Site's own

true identity is similarly

ambiguous. Yes, this is the age

of Cuisinart culture, and

sometimes an unprecedented blend -

the PBS-style cooking show

crossed with American

Gladiators, say - results in an

inspired addition to the canon.

But haven't we already learned

what you get if you mix the

Evening News with the Today Show

with the McLaughlin Group with

Siskel and Ebert, and you limit

the subject to the online world,

and you skimp on the point of

view and the budget?


Frankly, I've yet to hear any

actual TV viewer say, "I want

something like c|net, only lots

more of it." Unfortunately, that

seems to be all we're going to get.

courtesy of St. Huck