By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
The newly dumbed-down DayBreak OC is the funniest Orange County-centered Sitcom since Arrested Development
A little more than a year ago, on Sept. 10, 2007, DayBreak OC debuted on KDOC, the Orange County independent TV station best-known for turning Wally George into a cultural icon. Designed to compete against such established network fare as The Today Show and Good Day LA, DayBreak at the time seemed to have nothing but the best intentions. In a county that has always been severely under-covered by a Los Angeles-centric broadcast media—a county that, were it lifted up whole and plopped down in the middle of, say, Kansas, would instantly become the third-largest city in the U.S. with its own CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox affiliates—here was, at the very least, a two-hour weekday block of news focusing primarily on Orange County. As DayBreak OC co-anchor Pete Weitzner proclaimed, “Orange County finally has a reliable source for stories that affect you.”
Fast-forward to a few weeks ago. DayBreak OC has been trimmed back to an hour per day and now airs from 10 to 11 a.m. instead of its old 6-to-8-a.m. time slot. The original news anchors, Weitzner and Nancy Aziz, have been replaced by the outgoing but giggle-prone Shally Zomorodi, a former Miss Orange County USA pageant winner who can’t seem to keep her hands off whomever she’s sitting next to, and Ben Aaron, a would-be funnyman who has described his job as “the reporter who finds himself in some crazy situations.” Weitzner, who has years of broadcast-news experience dating from his days as a member of the defunct Orange County Newschannel, has now been largely exiled to the control room and pops up on camera for a couple of minutes each show to deliver rip-and-read wire stories. (Apparently, Weitzner just isn’t sexy enough, even if he does occasionally go without a necktie these days.)
The show no longer airs at daybreak—and there also isn’t much OC about it, either. The Sept. 12 edition led off with the following “stories”: Aaron and Zomorodi reading a list of the highest-paid actors in film and television, Kanye West’s confrontation with paparazzi at LAX, the Village People getting their star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and a quick rundown of the films Burn After Reading and Righteous Kill. Eight minutes later, Weitzner poked his head in to finally deliver some substance. Other “stories” that aired during its Sept. 8 relaunch week touched on such topics as beauty secrets (“Ben, this is the kind of stuff I want to know about every single day!” Zomorodi chirped), flirting, cellulite and finding the perfect mate. By the end of last week, DayBreak’s struggle for ratings gold had fallen to the desperation level, with segments on “signs that your spouse is cheating on you” and a seemingly limitless parade of cute, furry animals—one of which was Zomorodi’s dog.
Obviously, it has become just another tacky entertainment program, and no one is more saddened about DayBreak’s dumbing down than its former news director, Jeff Rowe, who left in July. Rowe has solid journalism cred, having spent 16 years as an Orange County Register reporter, primarily covering business. Was he distraught as he watched his show slide into inanity?
“Immensely,” Rowe tells the Weekly, pointing to a moment last December when KDOC owner Bert Ellis decided to hire consultants to help boost DayBreak’s ratings. Slowly, the consultants began to overrule Rowe’s original news-based vision. “Bert was sold [by the consultants] on making DayBreak into this variety show,” Rowe says. “That was when there became more of an emphasis on entertainment.”
Though there wasn’t one particular incident that led to Rowe’s departure, he admits to being frustrated as the news emphasis he had championed for DayBreak vanished in favor of puffery.
Key to this was Ellis’ hiring of Zomorodi and Aaron, both young, bubbly personalities who seem ill-suited to cover, say, the latest sheriff’s-department scandal. But there’s little chance of them getting such an assignment: DayBreak is now weighed down with such ratings-grabbing gimmicks as ticket and DVD giveaways, making the show seem more like QVC than KDOC. One ongoing promotion gives viewers the chance to win free sunglasses, with Zomorodi and Aaron donning shades several times each show. Register news director David Whiting, who shows up to plug his paper’s stories—and who really should know better—also takes part in these shenanigans, a bit jarring when it’s just prior to telling people about a 14-month-old getting run over in a driveway.
Yet, according to Ellis, ratings for the 10 a.m. DayBreak have been “significantly higher” than they were in the previous time slot. “We wanted a time that would allow us to have better ratings, so now the show is geared toward females between 25 and 54,” Ellis tells the Weekly. “Depending on what you want ?to call it, it’s either news or entertainment.”
Well, it certainly is comical, though not always intentionally so. During its relaunch week, while interviewing soap-opera actor Bryton McClure, who is African-American, Aaron jokingly blurted out, “Why are you not a crack addict?” McClure didn’t appear to have heard the comment, but to some viewers, it was like a real-life scene from an old Arrested Development episode.
For her part, Zomorodi, a classic teeth-and-hair anchor, constantly touches and rubs her hands on both Aaron’s and Weitzner’s arms. She puts more passion into reading such lines as “Could it be? No more cellulite?” than she ever did during DayBreak’s previous, newsier era.
“I think extremely highly of all the folks there [at DayBreak], and I would hire and work with all of them again,” says Rowe, who now is the business editor at the North County News, an Escondido-based daily paper. “The real heartbreak for me is that KDOC isn’t doing news anymore.”