Last night,as Pan's Labyrinth was being shut out as Best Foreign Language Film, Fox debuted the pilot episode of "It's Out There," a web-themed news-and-chat show hosted by Conservative Michelle Malkin and Liberal Kirsten Powers in a spin-off of their tag-team action on "The O'Reilly Factor" every Monday night. The segment typically pulls the highest ratings of the hour — which, recall, is the highest-rated of the night, and the week, for ever and ever. So it seems like a canny move on the part of Fox to have tapped the duo for some follow-up.
And who knows, it could work — with tweaks. "It's Out There" has the feel of a kids' news show on Nickelodeon — add an exclamation point and you're thisclose — with quickie, glib story-bytes, neat-o graphics (with sound effects!), and gimmicky features like the "Mystery Blogger" (teased throughout the half-hour until he was identified as Mark Cuban - nice get, but his chat was cut short). Everything on the show was short — a discussion of imprisoned Egyptian blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil lasted precisely 30 seconds (right after Malkin said "This is amazing, Kirsten, it deserves a lot more attention"). The show's "Webmaster" Griff Jenkins files his report from some sort of virtual techie stronghold and reaches up to tweak a screen that materializes Star Trek style. The Nickleodeon feel is in their presentation, too: Super upbeat with the perma-smiles of pageant kids, not at all conversational or natural-feeling.
Those on the left side of the blogosphere will be concerned about the content of the show, too: Already in the first show Malkin plugged her blog Hot Air, Red State, Little Green Footballs claiming an LA Times photo "may have been" doctored, and her trip to Iraq where she "reported" that a mosque claimed to have been destroyed was still standing (we only see an exterior shot with a broken dome up top, so there's no sense of whether the interior would qualify it for "destroyed"). Powers' "Reality Check" moment was more politically neutral, about two guys who spray painted their faces red and then went and got ID at the DMV. The show's "Left Hook, Right Hook" segment does bring on someone from each side — tonight Ari Berman of The Nation (introduced by Powers) and John Hinderacker of PowerLine and (introduced by Malkin) — but it felt like Malkin was pushing for the team more than Powers.
Ideology aside, the show's got potential. Both Power and Malkin are really appealing onscreen - Malkin in particular is a surprise, because she actually smiles and isn't angry (of the three, Powers is by far the most natural, with the same demeanor that she brings to her other TV appearances). As soon as they get comfortable, lose the after-school special line-reciting feel and dig into the issues, it may even be legitimately interesting. But the flipside is that it has to also be useful, and its just too quick and surface right now for anything but the most web-un-savvy audience (right now, it hardly qualifies as "blowing the lid off the blogosphere"). And they've got a good niche here: The blogosphere evolves differently in the news cycle, and they could really tap into a void here, plus capitalize on the interactivity potential. A little more depth and a little more conflict (which means a lot more from the left), and this show might stick. In any case, good on Fox for trying - it's a smart space to move into, and smart, too, to capitalize on Malkin and Powers. We also give Fox credit for offering a timeslot to two female anchors — you don't see that on cable all that much.
Here's a clip of the show's opening - note the way-cool Alias-inspired entrance for Powers. But miming typing? Eek.