On the morning of Wednesday, May 14, Torrey Meeks, a 25-year-old freelance writer and producer in Las Cruces, N.M., rolled out of bed and checked his various Web pages. “Unbelievable,” he thought to himself. “This thing is blowing up.”
The previous afternoon, Mr. Meeks, along with thousands of others, had taken his first (and second, and third … ) look at the Internet’s viral video du jour—specifically, a decades-old clip, freshly unearthed on YouTube, featuring news anchor Bill O’Reilly (long before his current Fox News fame), unleashing a curse-filled tirade on the set of Inside Edition.
For the next several hours that afternoon, the young producer meticulously spliced together the video of the tirade with an audio mash-up, by an equally amused fellow Web user, that set the series of invective to a thumping dance anthem.
Just before going to bed, Mr. Meeks posted “Bill O’Reilly Flips Out—Dance Remix” on YouTube, along with a link to his MySpace page.
Mr. Meeks produces an Internet show called “Fail,” about the iffy professional ventures of two stoned slackers. A typical episode might get several hundred views.
By Friday afternoon, visitors had watched his O’Reilly Remix more than 600,000 times and traffic on his site spiked.
“It was a like a godsend,” Mr. Meeks told NYTV.
He was hardly alone in that sentiment. Last week, all across the media landscape, ravenous Web publishers everywhere were likewise marveling as the traffic piled up on their sites.
All thanks to the anchor freakout.
Sue Simmons, the longtime anchor of WNBC in New York, sparked the week of the Web’s viral re-creation of these Network moments (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it anymore!”).
On the night of Monday, May 12, during a promo for the upcoming 11 o’clock news, Ms. Simmons suddenly snarled at her longtime co-anchor Chuck Scarborough, “What the fuck are you doing?”
The clip of the dependable, professional, very grown-up Ms. Simmons, who has smiled at New Yorkers from that anchor chair since 1980, swearing madly at her longtime television companion hit the Internet roughly 24 hours after that original O’Reilly-freakout video went viral, and pretty soon the nation’s first unofficial Anchor Meltdown Week was in full fucking swing.
Analysis of angry-anchor syndrome was everywhere you looked. It was like television was trying to reclaim its own discarded moments, made important only on the Web. It wasn’t very pretty.
There was Michael Musto on Showbiz Tonight arguing that Ms. Simmons was entitled to one “boo-boo after all these years.”
On MSNBC, Keith Olbermann and a fake “body language expert” pored over Mr. O’Reilly’s behavior frame by frame.
CNBC’s Donny Deutsch speculated that screwing up on the air might be good for one’s ratings (as long as it goes viral on YouTube, right?).
On The View, Whoopi Goldberg said that people had lost their minds.
Kathie Lee Gifford declared the digital age a scary one for anchors.
Perhaps. But for those with a taste for the genre, it didn’t take long to realize that we are now living in a golden age of anchor meltdown.
Type “anchor” into YouTube and you can spend hours watching TV correspondents being heckled by drunken sports fans, walking into street signs, falling down snowy slopes, being bitten by animals, knocking laptops off desks, sputtering, cursing and falling off chairs.
Decades worth of material is free for the taking. Last week as the anchor-meltdown coverage had just started to gain steam, Richard Blakeley of Gawker composed a compilation video of them, which hit the Web on Tuesday, May 13, and with the help of links from Fark, Digg and the Drudge Report quickly stoked the interest in angry anchors into a full-blown frenzy.
The next day, page views on Gawker were the second-highest in the history of the site.
“Thank you, Sue Simmons and Bill O’Reilly,” wrote Nick Denton.
So where did all the archival anchor-meltdown material come from in the first place?
Producers who have spent time working at local TV newsrooms tell NYTV that historically at every station, there’s at least one guy—usually a camera man or producer with a wry sense of humor—who loves to capture and collect all the screw-ups of the on-air talent. In years past, before the dawn of the Internet, whenever a big mistake happened, word would spread around the station, and the guy with the gallows humor (or his buddy) would pull the air check, dub the incident onto VHS and add it to his collection.