SERIES "Alaska Daily"
WHEN|WHERE Premieres Thursday at 10:01 p.m. on ABC/7
WHAT IT'S ABOUT Eileen Fitzgerald (Hilary Swank), an out-of-work New York newspaper star, is lured to a struggling Anchorage newspaper, the Daily Alaskan, by her old boss, Stanley Cornik (Jeff Perry) to enlist her help investigating a major local story. The abrasive newcomer is hardly met there with open arms. "Alaska Daily" was created by Tom McCarthy, who directed and co-wrote 2015's Oscar-winning "Spotlight," about The Boston Globe's investigative unit.
MY SAY TV networks rarely do series about newspapers because (ready for this?) most viewers don't really care for TV series about newspapers. Nor do they do many scripted TV series set in Alaska because (ready for this?) not enough potential viewers live there. Yet here we have "Alaska Daily," a veritable square peg in a certifiable round hole. What gives?
What gives is that the old rules no longer apply, nor should they. A series about land disputes in Montana didn't exactly present itself as Nielsen magic either, yet "Yellowstone '' is cable TV's reigning champ. And like real estate, TV now is all about location, location, location, although Alaska is but one of two stars here. The other (Swank) has won a pair of Oscars, and hasn't appeared in a broadcast network TV series in little over 20 years. Together they ensure tune-in, or at least should. (That old rule still applies.)
Those who do tune in will see a particularly sharp pilot that also builds a plausible character study in local print journalism, circa 2022. Downsized nearly to oblivion, the Daily Alaskan is making one last stand in a suburban strip mall, sandwiched between a travel agency and insurance outlet. Its reporters are too young and too green to know that while the First Amendment may guarantee freedom of the press, it hardly guarantees the freedom to keep on printing.
They drift by the newsroom tote board to see how their stories are performing online — the de facto performance gauge in any city room these days — while struggling with the existential plight of diminishing returns. It's left to Eileen to remind them (and us) that those returns do still make a difference: "We don't do this job to be liked," she says. "We do it because it matters." Yes, "Alaska Daily'' is the story of her redemption, but also the story of local journalism's redemption — assuming, of course, that it's not too late for such a story.
"Alaska Daily'' plunges right into a real-world tragedy — missing Indigenous women. Eileen is paired with a reporter of Native descent, whose cousin also went missing, and they're on the trail of the kidnapper. After two episodes (those made available for review), it's impossible to say whether "Alaska Daily'' will succumb to the "white savior" trope, but the show does make the case that journalism has an important role to play (along with law enforcement) in tragedies like this.
Will the newspaper crack the case? This is prime-time TV — what do you think? Nevertheless, there is a lament at the heart of this newcomer: Unless owners and readers support investigative journalism like this, maybe it won't after all.
BOTTOM LINE A true rarity — a sharply drawn portrait of local journalism.