Wednesday, July 2
When former New York Times executive editor Howell Raines finally left the New York Times building on West 43rd Street, The Times itself reported that as he left the office he grabbed his white Panama hat-which gave NYTV an idea. It was clear Mr. Raines was made for something more stylish than print. Show business! With apologies to 60 Minutes executive producer Don Hewitt’s acknowledged successor, Jeffrey Fager-by all accounts, a talented producer-consider this bit of fantasy baseball: What if CBS understood that the only man who could follow a showboat like Don Hewitt would be a showboat like Howell Raines, the kind of seersuckered news executive who comes along only once in a decade. What if CBS brought in Mr. Raines to replace Mr. Hewitt when the founding father releases his own kung-fu grip in June 2004?
It’s not so crazy: As a news editor, Mr. Raines is an aggressive, gut-check guy, Captain Flood-the-Zones, who coddles stars and is willing to spike the punchbowl with pop culture and fresh talent-the sort of Rainesian tactics he used to punch up The Times and that 60 Minutes could use now. It’s exactly the sort of right stuff Mr. Hewitt had when he invented the program 35 years ago, after a stint producing CBS Evening News .
Sure, Mr. Raines’ tendency to tart things up produced its share of resistance at the paper, but it was also fun to read for kids under 55-something 60 Minutes can’t say about its viewers.
” 60 Minutes is like the front page of The New York Times ,” observed David Blum, who teaches journalism at Columbia University and is writing a history of the program for HarperCollins. With Mr. Raines’ Times , he said, “you got a fresh tabula rasa point of view on American culture. It could be theoretically very valuable at 60 Minutes . He’s got the right instincts, he’s clearly into new things he hasn’t heard of and he loved promoting star correspondents. He’s a seasoned executive and, like Hewitt was when he started 60 Minutes , he’s casting about for something exciting to do-theoretically. We can’t presume to know what Raines is doing.”
Fly-fishing, man, fly-fishing!
Let’s just take one example: the male-only Augusta National Golf Club, the Rainesian crusader story par excellence. It was a little much at The Times , but it was made for Ed Bradley on the 15th hole. And there wouldn’t be any Dave Anderson around to counter the story.
But Gay Talese, a former Times reporter, author of The Kingdom and the Power and a friend of Mr. Raines’, didn’t see it. “He’s much too young!” laughed Mr. Talese. “Lelyveld may go over to 60 Minutes ,” he joked, referring to The Times ‘ acting editor, formerly retired Joe Lelyveld. “He’s got the right age. He’s still young by 60 Minutes standards.”
But that’s just the point: With retirement calling for the marquee correspondents-and with commercials that look like outtakes from Cocoon -the show will need a new set of stars, and the challenge will be similar to the one Mr. Raines inherited at The Times : Wake the joint up.
“I can’t see Howell Raines ever being happy in TV,” said Mr. Talese. “I think he was a traditional newspaper man. In the sense that he liked the feel of paper. He came out of the Age of the Typewriter-he’s one of the last.”
But wouldn’t the huge audience of 60 Minutes match the power of The Times ? “Once you’ve been at The Times, ” said Mr. Talese, “going into the networks, especially something associated with entertainment-a man with an exalted sense of journalism and himself wouldn’t think television would be a lateral move, but a step into Dante’s Purgatorio . I wouldn’t wish it on myself.”
But purgatory is where Mr. Raines is now, so 60 Minutes couldn’t be that bad. Mr. Blum also pointed out that an incident like the Jayson Blair fiasco couldn’t happen in television. “In the world of TV, with cameras and tapes, there’s no possibility whatsoever that anyone can fabricate, and be caught up short on a fabrication issue ever again,” he said.
As for the Rick Bragg incident-in which the former Times scribe used a stringer to do most of the reporting, later converting it into patented Braggian Southern Gothic and christening it with only his byline-it’s pretty much standard operating procedure in the TV world, if you consider that multiple producers work on a story and only one person appears on air. Sure, they list the other producers on the credits, but c’mon-Mike Wallace is Mike Wallace is Mike Wallace.
Andrew Heyward, president of CBS News, conceded that Howell Raines needs to be the boss of something, that he’s “the kind of person who should be running a journalistic organization, whether it’s a newspaper, magazine or television program.”
But that organization won’t be 60 Minutes , said Mr. Heyward. “We’re fortunate to have the great Don Hewitt running 60 Minutes and the great Jeff Fager ready in the wings-the job is not available and I don’t see him playing second fiddle.”
Oh, well. How about Maureen Dowd taking over for Andy Rooney?
Tonight, correspondent Charlie Rose scores an interview with America’s poet laureate, Billy Collins, on 60 Minutes II . [4, CBS, 8 p.m.]
Friday, July 4
What’s all that racket outside?
President George W. Bush addresses the nation after Macy’s shoots off some fireworks. For a complete transcript, try the closed-caption option on your set. Happy Birthday, U.S.A.! [4, WNBC, 9 p.m.]
Tuesday, July 8
If you’re thinking of signing up to compete on Fox’s new Making the Band –for-tykes show, American Juniors -and we know you are-just don’t forget to read the fine print. Kids, I direct you to item 11 on the release form that all the minors must sign. Your appearance on the show, it reads, “may be disparaging, defamatory, embarrassing or of an otherwise unfavorable nature which may expose you to public ridicule, humiliation or condemnation.”
Furthermore, the producer has the right to exploit whatever humiliating footage he can get over and over again and then pimp it to TV Guide and Entertainment Weekly until such time as everyone has had a good long laugh. Also note: Mr. Producer can reveal information that may be “factual and/or fictional,” so even though you say you’re li’l Tori Thompson from Santa Maria, Calif., if we decide to say you’re a big L-O-S-E-R who wears hair extensions, then we can, O.K.? (In Ms. Thompson’s Web bio, she says her fave place to visit on earth would be “nana and popo’s new house in Iowa.” Isn’t that sweet?)
Also note that if you go blabbing about the show to your little “friends” before the show actually airs, Mr. Producer can squeeze your folks for an amount “in excess of Five Million Dollars ($5,000,000),” which means you can just forget your silly singing career-and oh, by the way, Daddy’s bankrupt.
Now take your burnt-sienna Crayola and sign right here.
[5, Fox, 8 p.m.]
Monday, July 14
You know that epic horn music at the beginning of every broadcast of the Olympics?
Duuuum, duuuum, da-dum-dum-DUM-dum ….
Well, ABC’s legendary Roone Arledge-creator of Wide World of Sports , Monday Night Football , Nightline , This Week with David Brinkley and World News Tonight -plucked that tune out of obscurity and made it famous. It wasn’t so hard: In 1964, preparing to televise the XIX Winter Games for ABC Sports, a guy offered Arledge a stack of records to sample. He played the first one (“Bugler’s Dream”), liked it, and ever since it has been the music of the Olympics, regardless of which network broadcasts it.
Back when there were only three networks, Roone Arledge was like a little like Lenin: No matter what he did, he seemed to make history. Every little thing he did to spike ratings at ABC seemed to be revolutionary. To read his memoir, Roone -published five months after he died at age 71 while still chairman of ABC News-it’s clear the man had an Olympian view of what he did with television. He exulted in it, he lived it. He was truly a pioneer. The book is self-glorifying-the response to everything he ever tried to do: “It’ll never work!”-but it’s not an unjustified one. If the 1960′s and 70′s were a time of cultural expansion, then Arledge-a theater buff and a Europhile who loved sports-helped expand TV’s mind, partly by being prescient enough to see that barrel-jumping on ice skates or a hapless Slovenian skier getting mangled in a daredevil jump might enthrall American audiences, but also because he knew instinctually that TV was visual entertainment, be it sports or news. He produced like a movie director-he cracked the boring two-camera-angle façade of 1950′s, broadcasting with instant replay and multiple camera angles. And he dug up Howard Cosell.
In 1972, sports came of age during the hostage crisis at the ABC-broadcast Summer Games in Munich. Arledge converted his sports crews into a crack news team and reported it all. Later, he saw how he had beaten the crap out NBC and CBS by virtue of being center stage at history, pretty much foreshadowing the saturation coverage we know today. It was a lesson: ABC won 29 Emmys.
When he took over ABC News in 1977, Arledge wrote that he “was itching” for another “single, overwhelming event, with-hopefully-a happy ending,” so he could prove ABC News’s mettle, and he got it with the Iranian hostage crisis, out of which he and Ted Koppel flooded the zone and fashioned Nightline .
He also invented World News Tonight , during a period when TV executives shunned foreign news, fronting it with a blow-dried Canadian who said “aboot” and gave ABC a conspicuously cosmopolitan ambiance, Peter Jennings.
Arledge dragged ABC’s Washington news division kicking and screaming into a showman-like era-hiring Geraldo to do his hero-reporter bit, leading with Elvis’ death on the evening news-which was an affront to their staid CBS-is-the-only-way school of journalism. He ran the only profitable news organization among the Big Three networks well into the 1980′s, and pulled ABC News out of the slag heap of dead ratings.
It’s a shame Arledge can’t react to the CBS–Jessica Lynch predicament-in which the network apparently dangled its Viacom-ish appendages in front of the recovering soldier to nab the first interview-especially considering the sort of hardball Arledge played in raiding talent from competing networks. In 1964, he instinctively knew Olympic ice skater Peggy Fleming could be a star and cultivated her for future Olympic ratings by actually financing her training. Arledge writes that after the ’64 Olympics, he “discreetly helped her by arranging for Wide World to pay a larger than normal fee to a Seattle ice club so that they would help finance coaching lessons Peggy could otherwise not afford. She never knew that and neither did the International Olympic Committee. Whether it was on the complete up-and-up, I made a point not to check. All I know is that, in 1968, flashing sensationally and stunningly across the ice in her mint-green costume, Peggy Fleming won gold at Grenoble.” ABC acquired a future sports commentator, too: Her name was Peggy Fleming.
Arledge sometimes loved TV more than people-including his own family, it seems, whom he barely mentions in the book. How many network executives would destroy their marriage to helm a NCAA football game? In 1969, Arledge had an inkling that, with President Richard M. Nixon attending a Texas versus Arkansas game, there might just be a historic event in the offing-namely a Nixon assassination. Having missed Lee Harvey Oswald getting shot in ’63, broadcast live by NBC, Arledge wasn’t about to miss this event, should it happen, even if he did promise his wife Joan he’d meet her in Honolulu that day to repair their failing relationship.
Nixon lived and Arledge’s marriage did not. But “the loss brought me a gain,” he wrote, “a close friend who was going through his own split at the time. His name was Frank Gifford.”
Toward the end of his life, suffering from cancer, Arledge spent hours watching TV, and, inevitably, he didn’t care for the sensationalistic excesses of local news bleeding into the production of national news, a trend he said he had resisted as a news programmer. In the fullness of time, Arledge had a sense of journalistic decorum, a sense of humanity, and for him, CNN and Fox blew past it-even though it’s easy to see the Arledge That’s Entertainment! paradigm in much of it, even if the shark attacks and dead babies rankled Arledge’s old-school sensibilities.
In the end, Arledge resisted the urge to call the 1960′s and 70′s television’s “Golden Age.” He just said that he was a “septuagenarian who undoubtedly misses the vitality of his own youth.”
So does the rest of TV. Nobody embodied the medium like Roone Arledge. Tonight, Mr. Jennings continues anchoring his 26th year at the Arledge-invented World News Tonight . [7, ABC, 6 p.m.]