Is Journalism Interesting to Watch? FX's 'The Weekly' Will Help Answer That Question

Courtesy of FX
A scene from the first episode of 'The Weekly'

The New York Times is transforming for the small screen on Sunday and editor Dean Baquet grasps the stakes: "It's a big deal. It's a big test for us."

Journalists enjoy watching the process of journalism, but FX, Hulu and The New York Times hope the audience for the new show The Weekly — debuting Sunday on linear and Monday on streaming — will be just a little bigger (and broader) than that.

"Our hope is that the reach of FX and Hulu and the language of narrative television will get us in front of more and more people than ever," said Times assistant managing editor (and executive producer) Sam Dolnick. "That would be a major victory for us."

Dolnick, who has spoken extensively about the project in his role as an ambassador for new formats at the Times (and a member of the ruling Ochs-Sulzberger family), makes clear that The Weekly is not actually a show about journalism — even though you see a lot of reporters onscreen.

"It's not an inward-looking show," he said. "We're not interested particularly in how the newspaper gets made. We want to keep the lens pointed outwards."

The goal, he said, is to focus on stories "that have real people at the center of them" and that "reveal something more about how the world works."

The show's first episode, which resembles a more traditional newsmagazine piece before blending in some verité, shoe-leather reporting that clearly sets it apart, focuses on a Louisiana prep school that was too good to be true. The second is a deep dive into the dark side — and human consequences — of New York City's taxi medallion business.

Dolnick's boss, executive editor Dean Baquet, is confident the show will deliver on the unproven promise of Timesian excellence on television. "The possibility of television sets is to reach audiences we've never had in different parts of the country," he said. "It's a big deal. It's a big test for us. Can we tell stories in such a completely different format?"

"We know there are lots of people who don't read the Times, who don't think of the Times, who may not even think of themselves as news consumers," Dolnick said. "My hope is that this show will find them and we'll grab them and they will realize they do care about the issues we're discussing. That would be a major victory for us."

Both Baquet and Dolnick compared the show to the CBS weekly 60 Minutes, an extremely high bar to meet. "You will watch Times reporters, the same way you watch 60 Minutes reporters, by the way, pursue the story," the editor said.

Dolnick made the comparison when asked if the show will endeavor to break news, as does Axios on HBO. "We've got scoops that will be on the show," he said. "We certainly want this show to be telling you things you don't already."

The show, he said, will present another format for the Times to tell a breaking story, perhaps in concert with the daily print product. With a big story, he asked, "Do we do it on TV first and then do it in the paper on Monday morning?"

The Times, of course, is no stranger to the small screen — a four-part Showtime series called The Fourth Estate aired last year and focused primarily on the newspaper's Washington bureau, profiling star reporters like Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt.

"The Fourth Estate was very different," Baquet said. "We didn't control it. It was a documentary about us. It was outsiders covering us, with us having no control of it. We actually were the story in The Fourth Estate."