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HOWARD ROSENBERG

An Action Column! Just What TV Needs!

February 17, 1988|HOWARD ROSENBERG

You know how it is when you suddenly realize you've become stale and musty? That's the way I felt when I heard that KCBS Channel 2--in its relentless quest for credibility and integrity--had changed its news name to "Action News."

Of course-- action!

That's what's been missing from this column--electricity, a sense of movement and danger, a feeling of being on the edge.

A friend of mine agreed.

"You do a nice job," he said. "But you're not, you know, exciting. You need frenzy, fervor, heat."

Right. Merely giving information is not enough. I need noise. I need rockets. I need pulse-quickening acceleration. I need a thrilling image of arousal and adventure. I need a new title.

Action Column.

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Good morning. And now, from the Los Angeles Times. . . .

--Action Column Witty Anecdote: I was out of town when KABC-TV Channel 7 hired a replacement for commentator Bill Press. Someone called me long distance with the news. But the phone connection was so bad that I heard Rose Bird's first name incorrectly, getting the wrong impression.

Boy, was I relieved to find out, when I returned, that Channel 7 hadn't hired Big Bird.

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--Action Column Cover Story: The Winter Olympics are so fiscally critical to ABC that even an exclusive interview with controversial Austrian President Kurt Waldheim could not dislodge previously scheduled Winter Olympics highlights at 11:30 p.m. Monday.

So Ted Koppel's and Pierre Salinger's interview with Waldheim for "Nightline"--conducted in Austria, where Waldheim faces increased pressure to resign after admitting knowledge of Nazi atrocities as a German soldier during World War II--was relegated to midnight. That's the "Nightline" time slot for the duration of the Olympics.

Action Column has learned that there is a large drop-off in audience from 11:30 to midnight, meaning few viewers watched Waldheim. Action Column tried but fell asleep.

Beyond airing a brief excerpt, ABC's "World News Tonight" could not accommodate the interview either, exposing the absurd inadequacy of a network newscast's 22-minute news hole.

As for Koppel's usual 11:30 time slot, Action Column assumes that ABC had pre-sold commercial spots with higher rates tied to an Olympics update hosted by Frank and Kathie Gifford, not "Nightline." Trying everything to recoup its enormous $309-million Olympics investment, ABC was not about to reduce its Monday night payday by replacing the Olympics with Waldheim. Besides, the Giffords had hockey highlights and Koppel didn't.

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--Action Column Expose: Republican presidential candidate Pat Robertson is slippery on TV. Robertson made the startling public claim Sunday that the Soviets have installed SS-4 and SS-5 nuclear missiles in Cuba, undercutting any nuclear arms treaty that the Reagan Administration would sign with the Soviets.

That prompted a denial by the White House. Even a Robertson aide said later that Robertson meant missile delivery systems, not warheads. But Robertson didn't back down--directly.

If he had to do it again, would he make the same statement? That's what Pat Buchanan asked Robertson on CNN's "Larry King Live" Monday night. "You better believe it!" the ever-grinning Robertson replied to Buchanan, who was joining Bernard Shaw in substituting for King.

But later Robertson said: "I don't think frankly . . . there's anybody in the United States right now that I'm aware of who can say categorically they (missiles) are or they are not there."

And later Robertson further confused Action Column by adding: "They may be there, they may not."

In other words, the Soviets have installed nukes in Cuba. No one in the United States knows if the Soviets have installed nukes in Cuba. The Soviets may not have installed nukes in Cuba. Robertson was correct to charge that the Soviets have installed nukes in Cuba.

Shaw did his best to pin down Robertson, but Action Column believes that no one is better at finessing TV interviewers than the former TV evangelist. He did it Monday on CNN. And he chuckled his way through another hour Sunday in a syndicated interview with David Frost. Not a bad chunk of free TV leading to Tuesday's New Hampshire primary.

If there are Soviet nukes in Cuba, Action Column thinks Robertson should pray for a storm to wipe them out.

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--Action Column Insightful Critique: Steve Kmetko, the "Action News" entertainment reporter, recently lauded Ann-Margret for de-emphasizing her "movie-star persona" while acting in the new movie "A Tiger's Tale." Hey, doesn't Steve know that Ann-Margret has been accepted as a serious actress since she appeared in "Carnal Knowledge" way back in 1971?

Action Column is happy that Meryl Streep doesn't let her movie-star persona get in the way of her acting, either.

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