Do TV News Viewers Want Jim Gardner or Boobs?

Philly's local stations get more babelicious every year.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Kacie McDonnell, perhaps you’ve seen her ads for Fiat of Maple Shade on television. She’s the curvy brunette walking through the showroom with the blinding smile and the body-hugging mini-dresses saying things like “Go topless!” (Oh yes, of course, I’m sure you remember her best as “a great parallel parker.” My apologies.)

The 2012 Villanova grad became a mini-sensation online, thanks to those spots, some easily Googled bikini photos, word that she was dating Minnesota Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder, and an appearance on WMMR’s Preston & Steve Show. (Though I submit her finest work is this commercial for the Czech lottery with ex-Flyer Jaromir Jagr. First of all, I can’t believe there’s a commercial for the Czech lottery with Jaromir Jagr. Or that he’s dressed like a firefighter. Or that the plot is pretty much what happens in a porno, right before the orgy breaks out.)

So of course, what better way to add credibility to your TV news station than to hire a woman known as a “smokeshow” bartender at Mad River? Leave it to Fox, home to more leggy females than a season of America’s Next Top Model, to make that call. Last month, the station announced McDonnell would be joining its “Good Day” morning show as a traffic reporter. Which wasn’t awkward at all, considering resident perv Mike Jerrick had made his drooling crush on her so well-known that in April, the station surprised him with a visit from the dream-girl-that-could-be-his-daughter (during which Jerrick couldn’t resist the sure-fire lady-pleaser, “You smell good”).

Of course, the babes arms race in broadcast news is nothing new. In Philadelphia, this trend dates back to Jessica Savitch, the beautiful blonde who skyrocketed from KYW to national fame on NBC Nightly News in the ’70s. Every station in town has a few stunners in their ranks, including the ever-high-minded Action News, which could arguably claim the best-looking talent in town, both male and female. But lately, as ratings sag and Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have become the Walter Cronkites of this generation, there’s an unmistakable desperation in the airwaves around here. Take NBC 10’s Sheena Parveen, for example. Whenever she’s been on the air with  Glenn “Hurricane” Schwartz, you can almost hear him thinking “First I had to compete with John Bolaris, and now her?” Hot weatherfolk are as old a trick as the five-day forecast, but Parveen generated so much buzz that she was sent to Clearwater to cover the Phillies spring training. Why? Because she’s from Tampa, I was told. Apparently, an actual sports reporter—who’s, like, a journalist and stuff—wasn’t as qualified as someone with a Florida driver’s license. Parveen was also hired to host Comcast SportsNet’s Net Impact, a move that ruffled plenty of feathers at the station. She was also on the late news Wednesday; I’m sure it was just coincidence that Schwartz had the night off so Parveen could appear during the NFL’s first game of the season.

For weather and traffic folks, being a journalist is not a job requirement. They’re not reporters and shouldn’t act like them. I’d think most viewers know the difference between what Walt Hunter or Dave Schratwieser does and reading copy about a gaper delay on the Schuylkill. I’m not knocking Parveen for taking those assignments, or McDonnell for her new gig; from the clips I’ve seen, she’s more adept than some who’ve filled that role in recent years. Perhaps it’s simply time that local TV news finally admits that it’s more Maxim than Time, more TMZ than Meet the Press. No one waits for the 11 o’clock news to find out what happened at the Republican National Convention or the Eagles score. If you’re worried about the weather, sports or breaking news, you’ll check the Internet, or your phone. But maybe, just maybe, you’ll tune in for those stale headlines if the person delivering them is compelling. For some, that’s a trusted authority figure with gravitas, like Jim Gardner. For others, it’s Cecily Tynan, who might be the prettiest sight they see in any given day, and that’s enough.

In the digital age, if local TV news has any chance of surviving—or at least staying on life support for a few more years—you can bet we’ll be seeing more Sheenas and Kacies. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I just wish that stations would finally admit that the babes, not the investigative reporters, are running the show.