Dan Rather Returns … Bogdanovich Loves Holiday

I’ve always had an exceedingly soft spot in my heart for George Cukor’s 1938 version of the Philip Barry social comedy, Holiday [Sunday, Dec. 21, Cinemax, noon], starring Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant, both in top form. The first time I saw it was on the big screen here in Manhattan, around this time of the year, at what used to be the Alden (and is now the Regency, at 67th Street and Broadway), when I was 16 years old and the movie was 17. Walking home in the evening, I remember feeling unbelievably happy, euphorically inspired about life’s vast potential-all as a result of this wonderful romantic comedy-drama-in its own day not a popular success. It was, in fact, sometime around its release that exhibitors were calling Ms. Hepburn “box-office poison,” a condition that prevailed until two years later when the indestructible Kate resurrected herself in another Cukor-Barry-Grant collaboration, The Philadelphia Story , though by then she had to take second billing to Cary. However, I’ve always preferred Holiday , the story of a rich family’s female black sheep (Hepburn) and her affection for an unorthodox young man (Grant) who believes one should take a long holiday early in life to figure out what the world is all about rather than simply going blindly after the bucks; things are further complicated by the black sheep’s conventional sister, who is planning to marry the guy. With a thoroughly marvelous supporting cast, there are at least two other memorable performances: Lew Ayres as Ms. Hepburn’s drunken brother, and Edward Everett Horton as Grant’s best friend, an underpaid college professor. The screenplay, which is somewhat different from Barry’s original, and better to my mind, is by that brilliant Algonquin round table member, Donald Ogden Stewart. This picture was actually the second of three Cukor-Hepburn-Grant films, the first being the resounding flop, Sylvia Scarlett (1935), which was not at all a bad film and the first time Grant blossomed as a comic actor. Of course, it was Cukor who discovered Ms. Hepburn for 1932’s A Bill of Divorcement , and subsequently directed her-the screen’s longest-lived star actor-in eight other movies, the last being a delightful 1975 television film, Love Among the Ruins . The director’s amazingly empathetic handling of actors resulted in some of the finest performances of the American screen, and though Holiday is not among Cukor’s most famous works, it remains one of my particular favorites and cannot fail to cheer up the darkest season. Grant even does a couple of gymnastic turns that are exhilarating. What more could you want? (If your answer is the big screen, the Museum of Modern Art will be showing Holiday on Jan. 9 at 8 P.M., and I will be introducing it.)

-Peter Bogdanovich

So what is behind the ratings resurgence of Dan Rather and CBS Evening News ? After years spent in third place, Mr. Rather’s show tied NBC Nightly News for first place in the first week of December. The reason for the leap: It could be that viewers simply want more hard news. Andrew Tyndall, who obsessively chronicles the fortunes of the three nightly news programs in his Tyndall Report newsletter, said CBS Evening News has given more air time to hard news than the other two network shows over the first 11 months of 1997. Mr. Rather’s show also has fewer commercials than the other two, allowing for more editorial content. NBC Nightly News has the most features and ABC World News Tonight , which dropped to third place the first week of December, has spent the least time on politics and crime this year …

CBS’s lineup is doing better in the ratings over all, but Mr. Tyndall believes the content of Mr. Rather’s show is mainly what has drawn more viewers lately. “The recent history of the three shows,” said Mr. Tyndall, “is that CBS was in crisis two or three years ago because it lost its affiliates and its major markets when they lost football … [CBS News president] Andrew Heyward made a decision that they would do an old-fashioned, hard-news, gimmick-free broadcast, and they would wait for the audience to find them. This was in 1994, and NBC decided to revamp in the other direction and feature a heavy life-style-oriented newscast which confined the breaking news to the first 10 minutes … So you’ve got these two distinctly different newscasts developing an identity for each other, and this was when ABC was the No. 1 ranked newscast. Viewers have gotten used to the styles of NBC and CBS, and the change is that ABC is a confused newscast at the moment because it doesn’t know if it should compete with NBC or if they should rely on their old strength, which is lots of foreign coverage. My feeling is the interest in CBS has come from ABC. Their viewers are the ones who have started watching CBS instead of ABC.…

“You have to have a style of news that fits the anchor. CBS tried to do first what NBC has succeeded in doing-they did it with Connie [Chung]. They were going to do it, and then they pulled back. Tom Bettag, who is Nightline’ s producer, was Rather’s executive producer and was fired after the Gulf War, and that was a hard newscast, and then they switched completely. They brought in Connie, which virtually everyone thought was a disaster. I mean, Tonya Harding was her biggest story! NBC developed their hallmark style last year with the O.J. trial, and their most heavily covered story was the Atlanta Olympics. They’re not as shameless now as they were, but they covered the septuplets more than anyone. They know what they’re doing, whether you like it or not. [NBC news president] Andy Lack is America’s self-proclaimed news leader. The question is, Where is he leading us?” [WCBS, 2, 6:30 P.M.]

-Deirdre Dolan Dan Rather Returns … Bogdanovich Loves Holiday