TV news is repeatedly attacked for being superficial and not penetrating the surface. Finally, though, here's news that Los Angeles can really sink into.
The new KCBS-TV Channel 2 news block is that soft.
It's news for people who can't read People magazine without a dictionary. It's for people who think "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous" is too intellectual. It's for people who wish Mr. Ed would speak slower.
This isn't news; it's a series of hiccups.
After continually trailing KABC-TV Channel 7 and KNBC Channel 4 in early-evening local news ratings, CBS-owned Channel 2 decided to take a dive and opt for something it's euphemistically titling "The Next Generation of Local News." Bite your tongue.
Its Monday unveiling--bolstered by big music and a glamorous new wood-and-glass set--was the advertised rotating anchors and seven news segments strung across 2 1/2 hours leading to "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" at 6:30 p.m. Viewers got 20 minutes a pop, except for a 6 p.m. half-hour for scholars.
Anchored by that fine old trouper Bill Stout and Valerie Coleman, the "Channel 2 News First Edition" at 4 p.m. was headlines upon headlines, big stories mostly reduced to small sentences.
"Now freeze frames," announced Coleman near the end of the 20 minutes, introducing shorter headlines and lighter stories apparently for viewers whose heads were bursting from those earlier longer headlines.
Onward to "California Health" with Tritia Toyota and Steve Gendel, who delivered an "exclusive report" on an alleged arthritis remedy unapproved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Then came a few fleeting pictures, health tips and more headlines and a doctor call-in segment, followed by the answer to the day's health quiz about thumb sucking, information that you figured most Channel 2 news viewers could use.
Onward again, this time to "California Living," where former weathercaster Kevin O'Connell blew in on his usual gust of hot wind.
If there is a segment in Channel 2's "Gong Show" news that deserves the title "worst of show," this is it. Somebody should cork O'Connell and put him in a cellar.
He's Mr. Sheen. There he was disclosing to Californians how they live. There he was on a roof. There he was in front of Union Station. There he was observing California's "incredible blend of humanity." There he was announcing, "It's time California television caught up with the people." There he was at a produce counter: "And, of course, you've got your zucchinis and squashes." There he was behind the wheel: "You want to talk about problems: We have to drive everywhere!" There he was, mercifully aborted by a technical glitch while pointing out "the 'California Living' cam," but back again standing in front of "the 'California Living' van."
Please, please, Kevin, you win. No more. See, we're crying "Uncle." Honest. We give.
Heavy stuff awaited on "Channel 2 News Live at Five," though, with John Schubeck ticking off the day's "top stories": President Reagan's proposed anti-drug program, Philippine President Corazon Aquino's visit to the United States, the release of Cuban political prisoners, a terrorist bomb in Paris and an update on Nicholas Daniloff.
Total time: 90 seconds.
"Live at Five" did later enlarge the Reagan anti-drug story by a whopping two minutes.
"Coming up, news in brief," Schubeck said near the end of the mini-newscast. Was he kidding? The entire 20 minutes was news in brief.
Time to rush, though, for the debut of "California People" starring KABC Radio personality Michael Jackson. He popped on with an "exclusive" interview of campaigning California Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird, "exclusive," apparently, because no one else at that specific time was asking her the relatively soft questions that Jackson was asking her.
The controversial Bird responded eloquently to Jackson. The very glibness that helps make him such an engaging whiz on non-news radio, though, is his downfall on a news-produced TV program. For example, he said to Bird: "I think you told me the truth about everything except, 'I look forward to the election.' " In other words, he seemed to be certifying Bird's answers to his questions.
The best thing about "California People"--and maybe in the entire 2 1/2 hours, save limiting Maclovio Perez to an occasional "weather minute"--turned out to be Digby Diehl's astute and perceptive review of the movie " 'night, Mother."
Now came "California Family" anchored by Warren Olney and Paula Zahn, featuring profiles of families and one-liners from small kids about their school lunches.
Next was a half-hour of "Southern California Evening News" with Toyota and newcomer Dan Miller. Their "top story of the hour"--two minutes long--was about the theft of guard dogs, supported by footage of a suspect being handcuffed by cops and led away, pictures that will linger even if the man is later released.