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OPINION - Too old for TV?

by Chris Conley

NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Almost all of my broadcasting work has been on radio -- not TV. Frankly, I'm not good looking enough to be on television. TV is the land of men with good hair, attention-grabbing eyes and square jaw-lines.

Many years ago I was a panelist on a local TV news show called "Perspectives". It was a local version of "Meet the Press". No amount of makeup could make me presentable for television. I'm sure the producers were thinking, "can't we finding anybody else?"

And it's worse for women. There are many local evening newscasts that feature an older, experienced newsman -- paired with a younger, attractive newswoman. TV execs have researched how their news team is supposed to look. Focus groups of television viewers show over and over again that a slightly-grey male anchor is considered distinguished and credible. Viewers tended to judge female anchors based solely on how she looks. And these 'q-scores' determine whether people on television are promoted, hired, or fired. On television, good looking people get better ratings.

So what should we make of Pam Oliver. You'd never guess her age... she's 53. She's been demoted as the sideline reporter for Fox's number-1 NFL play-by-play team. Her replacement: younger Erin Andrews (who's 37). I'm certain Andrews tests better in focus groups.

In any other career, what happens to women in television would lead to lawsuits. The "out" for management is that these are ratings-based decisions, and they have a right to make staffing changes based on audience preferences.

What's a shame here is that Pam Oliver knows football. She can break down an NFL defense and can give legitimate insights to the game that enhances the average fan's viewing experience. For the record, Erin Andrews and Michelle Tafoya also know their football. But I'm suspicious of the other sideline reporters. Do they know what they're talking about? Are they just a pretty face? I'm certain none of the older male NFL play-by-play announcers won't lose their jobs based on how they look.

Chris Conley

Image: Pam Oliver on the sidelines of a Philadelphia Eagles NFL playoff game by TonyTheTiger via WikiCommons.com