If It Bleeds, It Leads: An Anatomy of Television News

Overview

You’ve been watching television news forever. You’re intimately familiar with the friendly faces and soothing voices that nightly tell you what’s wrong with the world. You think you know everything there is to know about them. You’re wrong.If It Bleeds, It Leads shows you why. In an unprecedented real-time look at television news shows, If It Bleeds, It Leads takes you minute-by-minute through two-and-one-half riveting hours of syndicated, local, and network information programming to uncover the truth behind ...

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Overview

You’ve been watching television news forever. You’re intimately familiar with the friendly faces and soothing voices that nightly tell you what’s wrong with the world. You think you know everything there is to know about them. You’re wrong.If It Bleeds, It Leads shows you why. In an unprecedented real-time look at television news shows, If It Bleeds, It Leads takes you minute-by-minute through two-and-one-half riveting hours of syndicated, local, and network information programming to uncover the truth behind what passes as news. Why is the only real difference between Jerry Springer and Dan Rather that Dan’s guests usually don’t need medical attention? How did a load of baking powder spark two minutes of high-strung local news coverage? It’s all here: the personal revelations of talk show guests; the dangers lurking in your neighborhood; sports; sex; celebrity; power; and weather updates every ten minutes -– all real material taken from real broadcasts combined into 150 minutes of the most electrifying newscast you’ve ever seen.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In a scathing critique of local and national television news, Kerbel slyly argues that talk show hosts like Jerry Springer, Jenny Jones and Montel Williams have much more in common with "hard" news anchors like Dan Rather, Tom Brokaw and Peter Jennings than the anchors would like to admit. Oozing compassion, facilitating the instant resolution of disputes and quickly moving on to new faces and problems, the "talkers" are, in Kerbel's formulation, the close counterparts of prime-time news anchors, who manipulate audiences by emphasizing sound bites and visuals over substance, decontextualizing events, kowtowing to the powerful, famous and wealthy and playing upon viewers' fears or outrage. Drawing on his experience as a former radio news reporter and PBS newswriter and as a political science professor at Villanova University, he alternates italicized excerpts from actual broadcasts with his own fast-paced, acerbic commentary, which is structured like an amorphous chunk of TV talk and news programming, complete with teasers, weather reports and ad breaks. Although Kerbel's critique would have a lot more bite if he had delved into corporate ownership and control of the news media, he uncannily re-creates and simultaneously exposes superficial reporting, titillation and trivial distraction in television news. (Feb.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-From his first words, "WARNING: Everything you are about to read is true," readers know that they are in for a scathing look at television news. Kerbel deconstructs two-and-one-half hours of syndicated, local, and network information programming by analyzing an amalgam of news scripts from four of the largest U.S. media markets on a minute-by-minute basis. His tone is made clear in his Fundamental Rule of televison: "It is a pretend medium." Headlines for each news segment grab readers' attention. Kerbel gives readers a chance to put what they have read into practice by playing a game to create their own lead local story from a list of standard phrases. The author loves stock phrases, often referring to the "newswriter's bible, The Thesaurus of Clich s and Aphorisms." One of his favorites, "Please, use good judgment," allows weathercasters to make only slightly annoying weather conditions look dangerous, if not life threatening, to please their news directors and build their ratings. Kerbel drives home his points with a biting sense of humor. Students will look at the news with a new sophistication after reading this book.-Jane S. Drabkin, Chinn Park Regional Library, Prince William, VA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Booknews
In a real-time look at television news, this book takes readers minute-by-minute through three-hours of syndicated, local, and network information programming to debunk what passes for news. The format is that of a "composite" of various broadcasts, followed by a brief concluding essay. Kerbel (political science, Villanova University) uses a breezy, ironic voice to play up the silliness and predictability of the television news media. Comparisons are drawn between "tabloid" and respected news shows. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780813368368
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 1/6/2000
  • Pages: 164
  • Lexile: 1020L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.73 (w) x 8.58 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Meet the Author

Matthew R. Kerbel has been writing about the news media ever since he stopped writing for the news media. A one-time radio and television newswriter and employee of Public Broadcasting, he is author of three books on television and politics, and is professor of political science at Villanova University. He lives in Wayne, PA with his wife Adrienne and his daughter Gabrielle.

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Read an Excerpt


Chapter One


Hour One: Syndicated Talk


(The Actual Program You See Will Vary
Depending on Where You Live)


4:00:00 PM: STATION IDENTIFICATION


You're watching Channel Seven, WXYZ Detroit, where Seven stands for news.


The "News Fifteen" investigators get results—KNXV Phoenix.


All new "Air Seven"—only on ABC/7, KABC-TV Los Angeles.


This is NBC/10, Philadelphia—your station for the new millennium.


4:00:05 PM: OPENING MONTAGE (ROLL TAPE)


The Jerry Springer Show may contain adult themes, strong language, or violence. Parents are cautioned that this program may not be appropriate for children. (Audience: Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry!)


Jerry: Thank you. Oh, gosh, bring tears to my eyes. Hey, welcome to the show!


Face to face with the new woman ... Babies caught in the middle ... It's time for the test—I have to know ... Who's your daddy? Today on Sally. (Video: Audience members standing and shouting; Sally waving her arms up and down.)


Bitter enemies face off ... Who wrecked the friendship? Montel will find out. Betrayed by a best friend. Don't go away—that's coming up right now, on Montel. (Video: Audience applauds, kids laugh, adults laugh, Montel laughs, everybody laughs, someone cries, lots of people hug.)


4:00:35 PM: MEET THE HOSTS


Judging from all the laughing and hugging, we should have a good time. But before we meet the guests, let's take 5 minutes and say hello to some of the hosts who will guide us through the next two-and-a-half hours of television talk and information. What motivates these hosts to be at television's cutting edge as they relate the "Great Issues of Our Day"? After all, their views inevitably influence our views. So, it's worth taking a moment to consider the backgrounds of Jerry and Montel and Jenny and Ricki and Sally.

What's that? You say you're already familiar with them? Well, what about their second-act counterparts, Dan and Peter and Tom?

That's right, the serious news guys. They belong here, too.

You're wondering what they have to do with wrecked friendships, cheating spouses, and testosterone-primed audiences? Actually, a lot more than you may realize. Let's see how much you know about the people who have access to your living room any time you want to let them in.

Try a little matching game. First, connect the three biographies below to the correct news host:


  BIOGRAPHY  HOST 
1.   This television personality was raised in
Canada, did not complete college, and
was recognized for the two-part special
report, "AIDS in America, 1996."
  a. Peter Jennings
2.  An Annapolis graduate, this big-time host
holds an engineering degree with a minor
in international security affairs.  
  b. Dan Rather
3.  A former big-city news anchor with a law
degree from Northwestern University, this
former staffer for Senator Robert F.
Kennedy is consistently first or second in
the ratings for his category.  
  c. Tom Brokaw


You're probably thinking number one is easy. Peter Jennings is Canadian, doesn't have a formal education, and always seems to be getting honored for something he's done. Dan Rather seems like the Annapolis type, and he appears to have a concern for international security affairs, so he must be the choice for number two. That would make Tom Brokaw the Northwestern law-school graduate and the former political hand. And that makes a lot of sense—he's from the Midwest and has an abiding interest in politics.

It all fits pretty well. Except these were trick questions. The Canadian host with the report on AIDS is Jenny Jones, not Peter Jennings. The Annapolis graduate isn't Dan Rather—he went to Sam Houston State University. It's really Montel Williams. And the lawyer with the Big Ten credentials who worked for Bobby Kennedy is Jerry Springer. Honest.

You see, talk show hosts and television anchors have a lot in common—probably a lot more than the anchors would like to admit. Maybe Ricki Lake didn't jet to Tibet to interview the Dalai Lama like Tom Brokaw did, and maybe she would have suggested a makeover if she had. But the talkers and anchors are cut from similar cloth.

They've all written books, and their books usually become bestsellers. Sally and Jerry once worked in local television news, just like Dan and Tom. Just about everybody's won an Emmy for something.

Unfortunately, most people don't recognize these connections. The talkers have a bad reputation, which for many people keeps them in lower regard than the news anchors. But, when you read their biographies, it's difficult to understand why. If anything, the talkers are the compassionate alter egos to the hard-hitting journalists. While Dan is off exhibiting his "tough, active style" by reporting from the middle of Hurricane Opal, the talkers are demonstrating their sensitivity to some of the same social issues covered in the news—the "Great Issues of Our Day."

Don't take my word for it. Ask them—or look at what they say about themselves in their biographies. Jenny's purpose in television life is to "entertain, enlighten, and often educate." Ricki heals social wounds, turning passive television viewing into "an hour of lively community interaction." Montel applies his "passionate and proactive" demeanor to "breaking news," sort of a healing version of Peter Jennings. Even controversial Jerry is misunderstood by people who are blind to his sensitive side—the side that "holds the hands of AIDS-stricken children, goes underground with New York's `Mole People' who live in subway tunnels, and is the concerned humanitarian helping to raise millions of dollars for charity."

Sally is a "friend, confidante and adviser" who wonders aloud, through her Web site, "what makes [me] so empathetic?" Her answer: "I am the mother of grown children." I ask you—how can anyone argue with that? But, it must be more than her mom instincts that make Sally special, because she has assumed a burden few could carry. In her own words: "If I am in a strange city standing on a street corner, I'm the one people ask for directions. If I'm in a restaurant ladies room, the woman next to me automatically tells me the story of her life!" It's hard to imagine that happening to Dan Rather, and not because he doesn't frequent ladies rooms.

So, I'm visualizing Sally trying to plan for her next show while being bombarded by map-laden strangers who need the best route to the airport. She's summoning the sensitivity she needs to approach her guests and audience with the sort of respect she says we should expect from her. I'm imagining Jerry, fresh from a poignant visit with the "Mole People," ready to raise the consciousness of his studio audience. And, try as I might, I can't shake the image of Ricki offering a makeover to the Dalai Lama.

We are in good hands with these folks, provided that we never lose sight of their concerned humanitarian side. In saying that, I don't mean to slight Dan and Peter and Tom. They do good work, but it's not always uplifting. Sure, they've interviewed George Bush and Jesse Jackson—but so has Jerry Springer. Of course, the hard newsies help us make sense of our world, but not in the life-affirming way of Sally or Ricki.

Their guests should consider themselves lucky to be in the presence of giants.


4:05:00 PM: MEET THE GUESTS


Are the guests aware of their great luck in having such notable hosts? Unfortunately, I don't think so. Perhaps they're just too busy with their own problems.

Let's try to sort it out. Heaven is cheating on her boyfriend Billy by sleeping with Billy's friend Gary and Gary's girlfriend Lacy. Chautney, a transsexual prostitute, is cheating on Leasha, a female impersonator, by sleeping with Leasha's brother Jason. Mikki is an escort who cheats on her boyfriend by sleeping with her customers. Sandy has a crush on Rodney, and to prove it she's ready to shovel earthworms out of a box of dirt. Jeff wants to proclaim his infatuation with Erinn by drinking a mixture of tomato juice, hot sauce, pickle juice, and tuna. Twenty-year-old Toby wants to prove he's the father of ex-girlfriend Nikki's daughter Lacy, since he's already gone to the trouble of kidnapping Lacy from her Alabama home. For her part, Lacy may want to make sure you know that she's not the same person as the Lacy who is having an affair with Heaven.

And that's just Friday. Things get more complicated when you back up to Monday. Then, you find Willie, a bisexual, is cheating on his girlfriend by sleeping with a drag queen who is also named Willie, while bisexual Torrence is cheating on his transvestite girlfriend Seven (that's her name, not the channel designation) and Seven's boyfriend Jerry. Aries dumped his bisexual friend Jennifer after a threesome with Jennifer and Toya, but he's still with Toya. Erica dropped her boyfriend Mickey for her friend Sonya. Meanwhile, Eric is still in jail while his girlfriend Vera has moved on. Rosie Rockets and Chesty Love ponder their size M breasts, raising one of the most pressing social issues of our day: "Big-Breasted Women: Blessed or Cursed?" At the other end of the scale, Conrad talks about fooling women into believing she is a man, even though she is really a woman (named Connie). Salina challenges Kim while Dave challenges Rachel—they "Got to Know the Deal, 'Cuz I Don't Think That Body Part's Real."

On Tuesday, Sylvia is cheating on her husband Kenny by sleeping with Danny and Reggie, while Jeremy is cheating on his girlfriend Amy with Amy's cousin Shawna and DawnMarie is cheating on her boyfriend David with Eric—and Tammi. Sam may have been cheating on his twenty-two-year-old wife Erica, if the lie-detector test he took is correct. Will Erica resort to the same tactics as Caroline, who hired an undercover cop to kill her husband?

Wednesday brings us Charles, who sneaks out on his girlfriend Kim to be with his transsexual friend Moma. Ilana is cheating on her African-American boyfriend Brian with a Klan member. Jake is cheating on his gay boyfriend Jeff with his overweight buddy Tiny. Wild teens Courtney, Greg, and Keith run away, get arrested, steal for drugs, have sex, drink, carry weapons, and smoke pot.

On Thursday, Passion, Sommer, Collette, Ashley, Gummi, and Godiva feel compelled to announce to their friends and family members, "I Got Huge Breasts!" apparently because their friends and relatives are nearsighted. Yeko and Chara iron out who stole whose boyfriend. Engineering student Ruth gets a surprise makeover.

Then there's Big Daddy, who is cheating on his transsexual, phone-sex-operator girlfriend Christina, and twenty-nine-year-old Jim, who is cheating on his nineteen-year-old girlfriend Regina with thirty-eight-year-old Rhoda. Barry is cheating on his wife Dianne with his ex-wife Susan and his ex-girlfriend Melonie.

Bill is cheating on his wife Hillary by having an affair with Monica at work, although they are not sleeping together. Monica confides in her best friend Linda, who secretly records their phone conversations and hands them over to Kenneth, who doesn't think much of Bill and tries to get him fired. Bill admits to having been unfaithful hundreds of times with other women, including Gennifer and maybe Paula (who claims to have psychic powers), but he contends he always told the truth about what he did. Will Bill submit to a lie-detector test to settle, once and for all, "The Truth About My Outrageous Secret Lovers"?

Sorry, that one's not on "Montel." Let's wait two hours for Dan and Peter and Tom to give us their version of the "Great Issues of Our Day."


4:10:00 PM: SUPPLY MEDICAL TREATMENT FOR THE GUESTS


Now, if Dan and Peter and Tom would only let the people in their stories battle it out on stage, we might be spared having to listen to the same ugly details of their lives over and over for months at a time, not to mention the agony of having to listen to all those lawyers. The talkers figured out the secret before the newsies did: Don't change the story, change the characters. Resolve the problem and move on to the same problem with other people. Everyone's talking about the same things anyway, so it's not like the talk shows cover different ground than the news shows. The only difference is they move on more quickly to the next round. That, and they're more likely to feature people named Gummi.

Of course, there is a down side to the quick resolution of disputes. The talkers need to make sure they have enough units of their guests' blood types in reserve. This is something Dan and Peter and Tom don't have to worry about, providing Dan stays in his chair when he interviews George Bush.

It's a serious consideration. If those bouncers offstage don't respond quickly enough, guests could end up in an ambulance or, worse, on another talk show proclaiming, "I Got A Concussion on Springer!"

An incident can happen at any time, and probably will. Let's watch:


Jerry: Meet Vixen. She says that she's come a long way to find out what her boyfriend has to tell her. She says it's time to be a real man and confess his secret. (Audience: Wild applause.) Vixen, uh, tell us about you. How long have you been with your boyfriend?


Vixen: Uh, me and Solo, we've been together for six months on and off. We get along, we go out, we have fun, it's like he's my best friend. I care about him a lot.


Jerry (trying to understand): So, you care about him?


Vixen: Yes, I do, a lot. (Audience: Groans of empathy.)


Jerry: And you think he's here because he wants to tell you something, and you're thinking, oh, this is going to be good.


Vixen: Yes, I'm really thinking ... (Audience: Shouts of apprehension; Vixen shakes her head.)


Jerry: Well, every once in a while it's good news. I remember about eight years ago there was one story where there was good news, so we're due. (Audience: Laughter; Vixen smiles.) Well, let's meet your boyfriend. Here he is—Solo. (Solo enters, embraces and kisses Vixen. Bouncers take their stations.)


Jerry: Solo, welcome to the show.


Solo: How you doing, Jerry?


Jerry: Nice to meet you. Solo, interesting name. You alone a lot? (Audience: laughter)


Solo: Some of the time.


Jerry: Okay. What's the relationship doing?


Solo: Me and Vixen have been together for about six months on and off. We have a good relationship, like best friends. You know, we click.


Jerry: Is it romantic at all?


Vixen: Always.


Solo: Yeah. (Audience: Groans.} It's a connection, you know what I'm saying? Like we've known each other before, you know?


Jerry: Well great. Well, she's a little concerned that you say, hey, let's go on the "Jerry Springer Show," you've got something to tell her. (Audience: Wild applause and shouting. Emergency medical technicians take note.) What do you want to tell her?


Solo (to Vixen): Vixen, you know, I care about you, you know. You're a major part of my life, you know. We get along. You're there for me, and I didn't mean to hurt you, but, um, I slept with your sister.


Vixen: What? You what? (Audience: Frenzied shouting. Vixen jumps up and begins punching Solo.)


The elapsed time of this exchange was 2 minutes and 20 seconds.


4:12:20 PM: BEGIN FIRST PROTRACTED SHOVING, PUNCHING, AND DELETED DIALOGUE SEGMENT BETWEEN BEST FRIENDS WHO CARE ABOUT EACH OTHER A LOT


4:13:15 PM: ADD FUEL TO FIRE; CUE SECOND BOUNCER


Jerry (to Vixen): Actually, you've got something to ask your sister, too. Why she would, you know.


Vixen: You're damn right I do.


Jerry: Here she is, Kimberly.


4:13:27 PM: BEGIN 2-MINUTE 45-SECOND SIBLING SHOVING, PUNCHING, AND DELETED DIALOGUE SEGMENT


4:16:12 PM: ADD MORE FUEL TO FIRE; ALERT HOSPITAL TO PREPARE FOR INJURIES


Jerry (to Solo): There's something else you need to tell Vixen.


Solo (to Vixen): Yeah. I was born a woman. (Solo and Vixen chase each other into the audience; bouncers follow; some audience members punch Solo while others, on their feet, chant: "Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry! ... Jer-ry!")


The elapsed time of this exchange was 1 minute and 50 seconds.


Jerry: Okay, let's get back to the show.


4:18:02 PM: EVERYONE REALIZES THIS IS THE SHOW

Jerry (to Solo): You just told Vixen that you, in fact, were really a woman. But, Kimberly, you knew. Why wouldn't you tell your sister? (Audience: Screaming and shouting; bouncers try for 40 seconds to separate Vixen and Kimberly; time for a commercial message.}


4:23:30 PM: PREPARE TO PAY BOUNCERS OVERTIME


Jerry: Kimberly, you have a girlfriend.


Kimberly (to Solo): Well, Solo, I know we've been together and whatever, but I had somebody before you, and I love you and I love her, too.


Solo (to Kimberly): I just messed up my whole relationship for you. I messed up everything for you. You want to tell me you're with somebody else?


Jerry (to Kimberly): And your other girlfriend doesn't know that? Well, she's been watching backstage, but she didn't know about Solo? Okay, here she is. What's her name? Telly....


I don't mean to withhold important information, but you probably don't need the Psychic Friends Network to help you figure out what is going to happen next. So, for purposes of expediency, we're going to fast-forward through the next 36 minutes of the program. Unfortunately, that means we won't get to hear Cheryl, Nick, and Shane, or Kim, Lani, and Justin tell their stories. You can consult a tape of Jerry's May 17, 1999, show if you want to find out which of them, if any, end up in emergency care. I would advise you to do this if you are particularly concerned that the recent rash of cheating boyfriends who turn out to be cheating girlfriends may reach epidemic proportions. I would strongly advise you to do this if you're planning to contribute money to a foundation that's fighting the problem.

I can't speak for Jerry, but given his history, I'm sure he would hope you would do just that—open your heart and your wallet. It would gratify his concerned humanitarian side. After all, that is Jerry's motivation for telling us these real-life stories. With their signature style, the talkers bring us close to the "Great Issues of Our Day." They use their excellent training and powerful connections well. They earn their Emmys and high ratings for a reason.

And they prepare us to watch the evening news, which, after all, is just more information about more problems. After an hour with Solo and friends, I feel primed to hear about what's happening in my community and in the world from the mouth of my favorite trusted anchor, confident that no matter how bad it looks, I'm still going to have a better evening than Vixen. It's important to be prepared, because the community and the world usually look pretty bad when my trusted anchor tells the story. Someone once said that if you play a country music song backwards, your love comes home, you get your job back, and your pick-up truck runs again. News reports are the same way: Play them forward and everything seems to be coming apart. But after living in syndication for an hour, how bad can things look? Can the hazards, dangers, troubles, problems, and trials of daily life in our community or our country look as ugly as, say, Jerry's audience?

That's the brilliance of the talkers' contribution. They hand us over to the newsies all ready to feel good about ourselves.

And that poses a monumental challenge to the newsies, who have to stretch pretty far to find anything that will match, "My Boyfriend Is a Woman!"

But, the newsies are clever and they know what's being asked of them. Take a look at how well they rise to the occasion.


Excerpted from If It Bleeds, It Leads by Matthew R. Kerbel. Copyright © 2000 by Westview Press, A Member of the Perseus Books Group. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.


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Table of Contents

Disclaimer: Everything you are about to read is true xi
Hour 1 Syndicated Talk (The Actual Program You See Will Vary Depending on Where You Live) 1
Station Identification
Opening Montage (Roll Tape)
Meet the Hosts
Meet the Guests
Supply Medical Treatment for the Guests
Begin First Protracted Shoving, Punching, and Deleted Dialogue Segment Between Best Friends Who Care About Each Other a Lot
Add Fuel to Fire; Cue Second Bouncer
Begin 2-Minute 45-Second Sibling Shoving, Punching, and Deleted Dialogue Segment
Add More Fuel to Fire; Alert Hospital to Prepare for Injuries
Everyone Realizes This Is the Show
Prepare to Pay Bouncers Overtime
Hour 2 Live at Five (Dead by Six) 12
Tease
Inventing a Riot
A Reassuring Segue
Only Popular Restaurants Are Dangerous
Tease
Ad Time-Out: You Will Be on Television
Feeling the Barometric Pressure
What Ever Happened to the Story About the Breast Implants?
Movie--or Reality?
The Great Baking Powder Incident
Tease
Promo
Ad Time-Out: You Can Be a Newswriter
First Feature: It Could Happen Any Time Without Warning
Segue into Terrifying Weather
Air Quality
Weather Time-Out: You Can Be a Weathercaster
Dessert
How Many Times Can One Car Smash into a House?
Minor Injuries, Major Pictures
Wicked Winds
Tease
Ad Time-Out: May Is the Cruelest Month. February's Not So Great, Either
Second Feature: Extreme Sex
What's Really Important in Philadelphia
Exactly Why Do They Need Weather Reports in San Diego?
Ad Time-Out: You Can Be a News Director
Score!
Now, an Ad for an Ad
Third Feature: Implants
After the Surgery
Ad Time-Out: You Can Be a Star
More Sex, Please
Dave Loves Cheesesteaks
Lock Those Doors--and Come Back at Eleven
Hour 3 Network 77
Tease
War Stories
Excuse Me?
But Enough About You
Up Next
Promo
Ad Time-Out: Let's Have an Impeachment!
Al Gore Gets a Surprise Makeover
Down to Size
Tease
Promo
Ad Time-Out: Fear at 6:16, Outrage at 6:20
Scary Cars
Scary Phones
Feeling Fleeced
Tease
Promo
Ad Time-Out: Take the Fear and Outrage Challenge!
Freaky, Roof-Busting Great Balls of Hail
Promo
Promo
Promo
Promo
Promo
Promo
Promo
Promo
Promo
Fade Out
Postscript: The Sky Keeps Falling 127
News
TV Show
Mini-Series
News
News
News
Mini-Series
News
Closing Comments 130
About the Author 135
Notes 137
Index 145
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