The Transatlantic TV Uniform

Posted by on Feb 12, 2011 in Blog

“Wel­come to Fox News. I’m blonde.” So spoofed Jane Krakowski on the hit television series, “30 Rock”.

I’m a “liberal” regular on the notoriously conservative Fox News – and – guilty as charged, I’m blonde.

However, from all the women I have spoken to in both US and UK television, I have not come across some grand conspiracy, on any network, about making women dress or colour their hair in a certain way for ratings.

What is true is that every woman in every setting puts on a metaphorical uniform that makes her feel secure, that allows her to forget about what she’s wearing so she can concentrate on the job – or the social situation – in hand. This focus is especially essential when you’re live on air – in HD.

Thus women on television tend to follow various sartorial conventions on the small screen in both the UK and US. Some are universal, while others are specific to country – and perhaps network.

A number of rules have always been sacrosanct on the small screen. Angela Rippon, who became the first female BBC News anchor in the late 1970’s, explains that “simple, classic, unfussy lines, in clear colours”, have always been in vogue. Patterns do not translate well on camera, to the extent that former Fox Business anchor Cody Willard, told me “there are some ties I can’t wear on television.” A whole dress and the viewer can be left dazzled for days.

Women on air continue to dress more conservatively than their high fashion counterparts. “What works on television is what usually what works in the boardroom for successful young women”, says Jonathan Wald, executive producer of CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight, former executive producer of NBC’s Today and Nightly News, and former senior vice president of CNBC. However, Wald does note that clothing wise, “women have loosened up tremendously” over the years.

For decades it was all about the suit. When I was a small child, I don’t remember Anne Diamond appearing on TV AM in anything other than jacket with significant shoulder pads and a demure skirt.  Compare and contrast to today. Naturally, Barbara Walters looks now as she did then, with timelessly elegant suits, shirts and trousers. But sitting on the panel with her on The View you have Elisabeth Hasslebeck, who in her shift dresses and high heels typifies her generation of host’s approach to dressing.

There are areas where the Brits and Americans diverge. Boundaries seem to be pushed in different directions in the two markets.

The UK is regularly beset with the cleavage controversy. From Holly Willoughby’s plunging necklines on ITV1’s Dancing On Ice to Kate Garraway, a presenter on morning television show Daybreak. Garraway’s cleavage was so extreme during one programme that she changed half way through. Even the venerable BBC is not immune to such storms – Michael Buerk’s comment about Rosie Millard in her “best supporting dress” has gone down in broadcasting history.

American TV does not do cleavage in the same way. I quickly realised this when I turned up on Fox’s  Morning Show with Mike And Juliet in the same outfit I had worn for a segment for the UK’s GMTV. When I compared myself to my fellow guests, I felt my top was just a little too low cut, while my Kirsty “I’m perched on a Channel 5 news desk” Young style trousers, were completely out of place.

For women on American TV tend not to wear trousers unless they are Barbara Walters. If the British are about the boobs, the Americans are about the legs. I receive hate mail when I appear on the late night cult hit Red Eye and wear trousers or black opaques in the “legs chair”. (This is a stool almost exclusively inhabited by the show’s female panelists that provides a glimpse of their legs in long shots.)

The UK and the US approach to hair and make up is poles apart. Flick from the news on BBC America to an American news network and you could briefly assume you’ve switched to the Southern belle movie Steel Magnolias by mistake.

As Katie Nicholl, a regular on US and UK television as the Royal Correspondent for The Mail on Sunday and author of “The Making of a Royal Romance”, tactfully puts it: “the Americans definitely like big hair”, while in the UK “we seem a bit less worried about volume.” On one American appearance Nicholl says a “make up artist used pink eyeshadow on me and so much HD make up [that] I… looked like I had stepped out of the 80′s.”

Within the US itself, there seems to be a consensus that conservatives – or their network(s), are more appearance focused than the liberals. However, I have never been told by any producer, including those at News Corp, what to wear or where to dye my hair. If there is a variation, it may be budget based. I’ve been lucky enough to do TV on a number of US networks and what is true is that Fox employ some of the best hair and make up artists in the business. They always have separate people to do both disciplines, which those in the profession maintain makes for a higher standard. This doesn’t always happen at other networks, where one person is often responsible for both hair and make-up.

The crux of how a woman looks on air is not producer pressure, it comes from the women themselves. I researched my Single Girls book from over fifty women, across generations and on both sides of the Pond. Their message to me was: you perform better in every setting if you think you look great. As Rippon says, “most women have a built in sense of “style” – they know instinctively what suits them, and what to wear in specific situations.  The women who work in television employ that “sixth sense” to their work – and for the most part get it right.”

Women have throughout history worn metaphorical armour to get through the battles of every day life. Women on television, as all professional women do, wear what they think presents them in the best light, so the people they are talking to are concentrating on what they are saying, not how they are looking. Women have not always won this battle, but they will continue to try.

Why More Americans Don’t Travel

Posted by on Feb 7, 2011 in Blog

This fascinating piece…

… caught my eye on CNN the other day. I was lured into their website by their Tweet that 30% of Americans have passports compared to 75% of Brits.

Of course there are multiple reasons for this – Americans have everything on their doorstep, so there is less need for travel. It is also much harder, just logistically, for them to get places. At the same time, it now being a global society, we should all, if we possibly can, be visiting as much of the world as we can. I know I have a long list of places to go – there is so much I don’t think we can even begin to understand without seeing for ourselves how others live.

It’s wishful thinking of course, but wouldn’t it be wonderful for the world if those numbers rapidly climbed close to 100% for everyone.

Economists Are Optimistic About Economy: Time To Worry?

Posted by on Jan 25, 2011 in Blog

According to a recent survey, 90% of economists are optimistic about the US economy, which prompted Cavuto to ask on air last night: everyone’s been wrong before so maybe we should still worry now?

This thrilled me as it meant I could trot out my favourite quote: “the function of economic forecasting is to make astrology look respectable”. So said renowned economist Galbraith. Words that never rang truer than in the Noughties.

Here’s the thing. The economy is growing – the economists are right about that. The problem is, people are not feeling it.

Even with the projected growth this year, the US is still looking at an unemployment rate of 9% come December. The 200,000 jobs that should be added a month in 2011 are a far cry from an emerging market such as Brazil, which is adding on a million jobs a month.

The business community is currently sitting on $2 trillion in cash and liquid assets, more money that they’ve had at any time since World War 2. But companies are tending toward spending this money on stock buy backs and acquisitions rather than hiring (in the US – they may be venturing abroad).

Home values are still depressed. State budgets remain in deep trouble.

The academics may well be right. But that doesn’t mean that Main Street still hasn’t every right to have cause for concern.

It’s Not About Repeal

Posted by on Jan 21, 2011 in Blog

A whole segment on last night’s Cavuto was devoted to my recently fractured elbow. Slightly excessive, one might say, especially as in the end I’ve come out of it all pretty unscathed – I don’t even have a cast and I’m almost as good as new. However, I adore doing the show and it hopefully made for some amusing viewing.

I joked that it was obviously in the interest of journalistic research that I fell over (in broad daylight, wearing flat shoes) on an icy NYC pavement. Although nobody in their right mind would ever do such a thing, the experience did of course mean I had a bit of a look inside the infamous American healthcare system.

My first thought, as I lay in and out of consciousness on the concrete, was clearly “ow”. The next was: “I’m uninsured”. This is not because I’m a Muppet – it’s just I’ve got a whole load of unique circumstances that I haven’t managed to figure out the insurance for yet.

But for hundreds of millions of people around the world, this is a very shocking thought process to have in the immediate aftermath of an accident. Many in developed countries live by the philosophy that unless everyone can afford to call an ambulance, nobody can.

No system is perfect. But Americans do not have healthcare, they have health insurance. And 50 million Americans do not have that. So 50 million Americans cannot afford, basically, to fall over, let alone do anything more sinister to themselves.

America is still the best country on the planet. The world’s only superpower. I think most would agree its healthcare situation is less than ideal for a country of its great stature.

And so we come to Obamacare, which the Republicans are in the process of trying to repeal. Many argue that it is “un American”. Too “Socialist”.

I find it worth noting to start with, that Obama’s healthcare legislation is based in part on a Republican’s reforms… namely Mitt Romney’s in Massachusetts.

Now I’m a pragmatist. The Republicans have had years to sort healthcare out. They didn’t. They are not about to if repeal ever happens – too many special interest groups, lobbyists etc. would come to the fore. Obama had a unique opportunity to do something and if his legislation remains in place until 2014, when all the reforms kick in, millions of Americans should see the benefit. There are hugely popular elements to much of Obamacare, including the rules on pre-existing conditions and coverage for those up to the age of 26.

But what about the cost? There are a lot of scaremongers going on about this at the moment.

It should be noted that the non partisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that repeal would add $230 billion to the deficit over the next decade and much more in future years. Adding to the deficit is not where the US wants to be right now.

Obama made cost control central to health reform legislation. This is key. Repeal is not the answer; Americans deserve access to healthcare. But it’s vital that from this point on, Obama fights to strengthen the cost containment mechanisms within the bill.

However this is not enough. Notwithstanding the need for general spending and taxation reform across the board to deal with America’s massive federal deficit, there also has to be a fundamental shift in the American lifestyle.

$147 billion is spent on obesity related healthcare a year. 1 in 3 Americans is obese. Obesity kills 100,000 Americans a year. It is a public health catastrophe that threatens to shorten American life expectancy for the first time since the Civil War. The First Lady is on the right track, but this issue must be addressed with absolute urgency.

Yes, it is important that every American has access to healthcare. But every American also needs access to food and a healthy lifestyle that will help themselves. And taking such personal responsibility is very much the American way.

Gervais: What’s The Problem?

Posted by on Jan 18, 2011 in Blog

I do not understand why various people are stropping over Ricky Gervais’ Golden Globes performance. He warned everybody. He presented last year to many an eyebrow raised. This is what he does. Anyone who’s seen him live is always left wincing. His act is about being close to the bone.

You do not invite the Big Bad Wolf to the party and then claim he’s scared Little Red Riding Hood and all her friends. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association knew exactly what they were getting when they hired Gervais: ratings and a talking point. 17 million Americans watched the awards this year, a little up on 2010 – and the media got something to commentate on. The Globes are held in LA: it’s not as if there are a lack of bland sycophants in that town who could have hosted, if that’s what they wanted. No, the powers at be at the Globes opted to be discussed for more than fashion and some odd nominations.

All said and done, Gervais had some good jokes. However the most memorable line of the night came from Michael Douglas: “there has to be an easier way to get a standing ovation”.

If anything is to go down in awards show history from this weekend, it will be Douglas, not Gervais. The latter is a storm in a tea cup, the former a legend. That’s as it should be and there really isn’t a problem here.

Happy New Year

Posted by on Dec 31, 2010 in Blog

Wishing one and all a very happy and healthy 2011!

All best,

Obama & The Tax Cuts: The Global Reaction

Posted by on Dec 15, 2010 in Blog

This was the topic that I was very excited to be invited on Fox News’ Hannity to talk about the other day. (Producers of such shows supply the topics to guests in advance, from anything from a few minutes to a few hours before airtime, as the more informed the guest is, the better they perform for the viewer).

For those who watched, Mr Hannity had other ideas! Not one to waste my homework, here is a bit of it now…

A number of international commentators’ eyebrows have been raised at the irony that The Tea Party wandered up and down the USA calling for spending to end – and that their congressional leaders just added getting on to a trillion dollars to the debt over the next two years.

There is a split between what is going on in Europe (deficit reduction) and the US (stuck on stimulus) but this in turn reflects the views of economists. I’ve recently read editorials from them saying that what Congress has done is right, that it should lead to 4% growth next year in the US and a 1% reduction in unemployment. I’ve also seen scaremongers say that if the US doesn’t cut its deficit NOW, it will end up like Japan in 5 years time – with debt service costs consuming nearly all tax revenue.

At least, however, deficit reduction does finally seem to be on the agenda in the US, even though nothing has been done about it yet. It has been pointed out by both Secretary of State Clinton and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, that the deficit itself poses a threat to national security. Rumour has it that Obama may make major tax reform (essential for deficit dealing) the main focus of his State Of The Union address in January.

And so we come to Obama. Outsiders – and insiders – think he is gaining a momentum about him. The Republicans are on the backfoot – the President just got a second $900 billion stimulus package with their blessing. This should improve things for Main Street by the time it goes to the ballot box in 2012. Meanwhile, if Obama does now focus on tax reform and the deficit, he gets to claim that as his own.

Obama is having a better time of it post the shellacking. He is Mr Tactician getting into bed with the Clintons, thus shoring up his own party support for 2012 (however much very Liberal Democrats are grumbling at present, who else are they going to support?). His reclaiming of the middle ground by compromising, will also serve to lure back the Independents.

Where there is agreement from all I have spoken to both internationally and in the US? The GOP needs to find an alluring and moderate candidate fast, otherwise the second term is Obama’s for the taking.

Obama Loses A Battle… And Is On His Way To Winning The War

Posted by on Dec 8, 2010 in Blog

It looks like Obama has lost the great Tax Cut Battle.

And with it, he might just win the War – Re-election in 2012.

Right before the mid-terms, the poll that struck me as most interesting was one where 80% of Americans said they wanted compromise. The winner in 2012 will be the politician who claims the middle ground.

And there Obama stood yesterday talking compromise and how the USA was founded on it.

Obama is polling ahead of every major possible GOP opponent for 2012, including the front-runner Palin, who he beats by a huge 12%. And that’s at the moment, with a low approval rating. Fast forward to the election debates. The politician who can claim the other side is belligerent – and who knows the difference between North and South Korea – will be the one who wins office in 2012.

Obama stays on this path, the GOP stays on theirs – and no third party candidate runs and throws a spanner in the works, Obama has his second term.

Keeping The Bush Tax Cuts For All: The Best Stimulus Of All?

Posted by on Nov 30, 2010 in Blog

I was on FBN’s Cavuto last night and the question posed was: would the best stimulus for everyone be that there are no tax hikes for anyone?

For the majority of American economists and politicians, it currently appears too revolutionary a suggestion that since the US economy has expanded for 5 consecutive quarters and that such indicators as charitable giving are now on the rise, that the recovery is secure enough to stop stimulus altogether.

But, at some point in the near (ish) future, the US deficit will have to be addressed. And to deal with the deficit there will HAVE to be a combination of tax rises and spending cuts – no politician has the stomach for the level of spending cuts required without tax rises, it is why even Republicans have been resolutely quiet on exactly how they would implement deficit reduction. Defence, Social Security and Medicare spending will all have to be reduced.

The Bush tax cuts, as I have said before, come from another era. An era where Dick Cheney said: “deficits don’t matter”. Well, deficits do matter. Reducing them, by definition, is deeply unpleasant. Everyone will suffer from the prolifagate spending of the past. It isn’t fair. Yes, everyone should have lower taxes. Unfortunately the numbers don’t add up.

Since in the near future, most of the American powers at be are determined to keep some sort of stimulus in the form of these tax cuts, let it be short term stimulus, an emergency measure, before the job in hand is focussed on – deficit reduction.

Millionaires were up by 8% in the US last year – they don’t need this stimulus. However, in the same time period, the number of Americans living in poverty had their highest ever increase since records began – up to 14.3%. Those earning the least are the ones who need the cash now and will spend it now, thus helping stimulate the economy immediately and sure up the recovery. The rich typically save the money not spend it, as they can – they don’t need this measure to remain and the country can’t afford for it to remain for them.

Wikileaks has not helped America this week. But both Secretary of State Clinton and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs have stated that the deficit itself poses a threat to national security. For America’s – and the world’s – sake, I hope that in the near future, somehow Washington, from politicians to lobbyists and special interest groups, can work together and address this ticking timebomb.

Ireland: A Symptom Of A Bigger Issue

Posted by on Nov 19, 2010 in Blog

In the short term, Ireland, predictably, will be bailed out by the Eurozone. It has to be. For a significant number of its problems have arisen from being within the Eurozone.

Yes, in the boom years, much of Ireland’s wealth stemmed from its European links. But at present, being part of the Eurozone has been a hindrance as much as a help. Compare it to the UK.

Since 2007 the pound has fallen by nearly 25% against other currencies. Ireland, as part of the Euro, has had to fight the crisis with a strengthening currency. It has not been master of its own economic destiny in the way that the UK has, having had no control over essential elements of its economy such as currency and interest rates.

Short term the Euro will live. But long term I wonder whether the PIGS may bring it down after all. Is economic union possible without political union? I honestly can’t see political union happening in Europe – the countries are fundamentally too disparate. But economic union without it, as the PIGS have proven, is seriously flawed.