I can understand why knees are jerking and tongues are clucking over WXIA’s announcement that it’s engaging the services of “Real Housewives of Atlanta” diva NeNe Leakes. Perhaps like you, my initial reaction was visceral and negative. She’s a person I barely know from television. Yet I feel like I know enough: She’s mouthy, somewhat obnoxious and has a hilariously high opinion of herself. And that’s not a pejorative assessment. That seems to be the persona she cultivates, to apparent great success, on the “Housewives” show. I doubt she’d disagree. Yet it helps explain the reaction.
Once I got past the shock, my assessment changed. To wit: It’s pretty f—ing brilliant. (The expletive is a shout-out to the show, which is rife with them.)
Leakes is showing up at WXIA to shoot a limited number of feature pieces that will appear this summer on “11 Alive Today,” the newscast that airs between 5 and 7am. In so doing, she’ll have the backup of an experienced news photographer and a news producer. Leakes’ skills as a story producer are unknown and likely nonexistent. She’ll have journalistic backing in the wings, off-camera.
If this gives you the willies — the “woe unto WXIA, for it’s sending a non-journalist to do a journalist’s job,” I would advise relaxation. Especially if you’ve worked at, or are a fan of any TV news organization that has used a doctor as a medical reporter, or an athlete as a sports reporter, or a politician as a news anchor, or an actor as a weather forecaster. Leakes is a socialite. Her stories will be light and culturally-oriented. She will not be covering the July primary elections. Nor will she be taking the valuable salary space of a journalist. Leakes will be an unpaid presence.
Is it a ratings gimmick? Of course. And a pretty brilliant one, as such stuff goes. For some reason, my wife thinks Leakes is pretty awesome. She’ll probably DVR WXIA’s morning show to see Leakes’ stuff. Others will undoubtedly do the same. Some will want to watch for the train wreck potential, including folks who aren’t necessarily “Housewives” fans but have nonetheless caught a whiff of Leakes’ notoriety.
I doubt I’d be able to pick George Strait or TI or Matt Ryan out of a lineup. But I’d recognize Leakes. This side of Monica Pearson, I’d opine she’s as well-recognized a TV personality as any in Atlanta. You are free to disagree. My opinion in that regard is quite meaningless.
There are also the questions raised about Leakes in Dana Fowle’s piece on WAGA two years ago. Fowle’s story stung Leakes; recently she reportedly bailed on an interview at New York’s Fox station because of a grudge she holds against the network, thanks to Fowle.
Leakes subsequently admitted to WXIA’s Karyn Greer that proverbial wolves at the door forced her family to move from the Sugarloaf mansion where they’d lived. Fowle’s piece raised additional questions about husband Gregg Leakes’ business practices.
It’s worth noting that when I praised Fowle’s piece shortly after it aired, she and I were both roundly denounced by LAF readers.
I’ll have none of that now.