You may find yourself a talking head

I was channel-surfing the other night, and for a moment I thought my clicker was broken because the only images that popped onto the screen were talking heads on panel discussion shows. Over and over they appeared, a cavalcade of serious faces all intent on imparting their opinions.

The era of talking copiously is now fully upon us. It's been gaining momentum since the trials of O.J. Simpson and the Menendez brothers. Reporters, producers, and eager newsroom interns are scrambling right now to find any gas-station attendant or convenience-store clerk who ever sold a pack of gum to the D.C. sniper suspects. Who cares if the information is trivial? When you're trying to beat the competition at the other stations the only thing that matters is getting something new on the air.

I wonder if anyone besides me realizes where this trend is leading: It should be obvious that somewhere in the not-too-distant future, possibly around the time Social Security goes belly up, the news media will run out of people to interview.

Every incident that makes national headlines puts another chunk of the American population in front of the cameras. Once we have heard from the folks directly involved in a big story, attention shifts to friends and relatives, Army buddies, former schoolmates, you name it. I wouldn't be surprised if the Sci-Fi channel started having John Edward contact ancestors of famous newsmakers for insights.

As the Immigration and Naturalization Service and various law-enforcement agencies look for ways to share information and cross-reference data to keep track of potential terrorist threats, news organizations might want to start compiling their own master files of names and faces in order to avoid embarrassing duplicate interviews.

Imagine how sheepish a reporter would feel if it turned out the man on the street he just quizzed about having to scrimp and save during tough economic times was also the same guy who appeared two weeks previously on Maury Povitch when the topic of the day was "Our Neighbors Hate Us Because We're So Affluent!"

Conspiracy buffs should be especially alarmed by this trend. If the news industry starts running out of interview subjects, it might be forced into a covert alliance with the federal government to find new sources of sound bites, possibly by invading another country. Can you prove it won't happen?

The problem for me is that I can't discuss very much about this issue without becoming part of the problem. The best place to explore it more thoroughly is a venue like Saturday Night Live. I envision a sketch that opens with a smarmy TV host standing in front of a studio audience as he leers into the lens and proclaims, "Has the news become all blather and no substance? Let's talk about it!"

If anyone on the show wants to pick up this ball and start running, go right ahead. I promise not to get mad or demand a royalty payment. In fact, I won't say another word about it.

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