With the public’s negative attitude toward the press — a byproduct of incessant cable-news shallowness, right- and left-wing outrage, and the occasional juicy journalist scandal — it’s about time for a TV show to give journalism a good name .?.?. or, at least, an honest one. Bravo’s unscripted doc series Tabloid Wars, debuting Monday night, is an exciting, wonderfully detailed look at the notebook-page-flipping, bystander-quizzing, lead-tracking, city-traversing world of daily metro reporting. Last summer the New York Daily News allowed cameras to follow its journalists around as they hunted down everything from the lowdown on that maid who swiped jewelry from Robert De Niro to the circumstances surrounding a black man’s beating in Howard Beach to the background of an NYPD cop and soldier killed in the Iraq war.
What you get from this fast-paced, funny and enlightening show is that the business of news is like a multiheaded feline on perpetual prowl, its curiosity taking it to places thrilling and dangerous and often simply banal. It’s the disappointment in getting to a location and finding Newsday and Post scribes sitting nearby, or realizing that when you don’t have a photo and the other publication does, the words aren’t enough and you got smoked. It’s also the kick in finding that one witness whose quotes help put a breaking story in context, or the strange joy in turning that street oddball into copy that makes people want to read it out loud to others. But the most quintessentially humanizing moment comes in the second episode, when Daily News staff writer Tracy Connor realizes her boss wants her to call the home of a policeman who just got shot. The fear: What if they don’t know yet, and she’s suddenly the bearer of bad news? She emits a quick, nervous laugh at this fucked-up part of the gig, and you can tell she’s almost grateful there’s a camera to talk to before she does it, so she can give the filmmakers a spiel about the protocol of a call like this. She dials, waits, then hangs up. No one answered. So no quote — at least not then — but the sigh she emits afterward is unmistakably one of relief.