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RICK DU BROW

Charlie Rose of CBS News' 'Nightwatch' Gets a Day Job : Television: The veteran interviewer hopes to reach a wider audience with 'Personalities,' a daily syndicated newsmagazine.

June 14, 1990|RICK DU BROW

Night owls, insomniacs and workers getting off the late shift are about to say goodby to one of the best bedside companions they ever had on network television, Charlie Rose.

As host of CBS News' "Nightwatch" for six years, Rose established himself as one of TV's premier interviewers--some would say right up there with Ted Koppel and Larry King--with his comfortable four-hour talk show that is broadcast from 2 a.m. to 4 a.m. and then is repeated from 4 a.m. to 6 a.m.

But now Rose, 48, has found a day job.

He finishes work on the tape-delayed "Nightwatch" Friday, with "a personal goodby from me to the audience" planned for the Monday morning broadcast. And then, in July, he packs his bags and moves from his Washington base to Los Angeles, where he becomes host of a new daily newsmagazine, "Personalities," which will be syndicated by 20th Century Fox starting Sept. 3.

"Nightwatch," meanwhile, will continue for its middle-of-the-night TV addicts, with rotating hosts presiding until a permanent anchor is found, said producer Deborah Johnson.

Departing "Nightwatch," Rose said: "I cherish this show. Nothing that I have ever done compares to it in terms of my craft."

Then why is he leaving?

"Because," he said Wednesday, "the people at Fox offered me an opportunity to do similar things in a variety of forms for a wider audience. CBS would have liked to do that but didn't have a place on their schedule for what I wanted to do. I wanted to share 'Nightwatch' with a wider audience. Fox and CBS are at different points in their history."

"Personalities," a daily half-hour show aimed for the late-afternoon and early-evening time periods, already has commitments from about 115 stations covering 80% of the nation, Rose said.

There have been reports that "Personalities" may be syndicated as a companion piece to the sensationalistic series "A Current Affair." But Rose said, "Our broadcast will not be like that. It will be a look at newsmakers in the broadest sense, whether it's Dianne Feinstein or Isiah Thomas or Jonas Salk or Dan Quayle. It is not a tabloid.

"We want to be a broadcast of record about people. We're not about glitz and glamour. The people at Fox, including Barry Diller (chairman of the company) and Joel Cheatwood (producer of 'Personalities') understood who I was and what I wanted to do."

Cheatwood, who previously produced the tabloid-style TV series "Inside Report," agreed with Rose. "Personalities," said Cheatwood, "is not a tabloid show."

He emphasized that it will "not at all" bear a resemblance to "A Current Affair." The selling approach, he said, was simply "the pairing of personalities"--Rose and Maury Povich of "A Current Affair."

Admirers of "Nightwatch" will, of course, be drawn to Rose's new venture because of the special, high-style approach he has brought to the CBS series. Cheatwood said that "Personalities" will have five correspondents, with Rose doing "at least one interview a show" and presiding over the broadcast.

"I think 'Nightwatch' had a resonance with its audience because of its diversity," said Rose. "We had time to explore my curiosity. I think that's what made it unique. In many cases, my curiosity was the audience's curiosity. And when you do a show like this, you get a sense of your own mortality because so many people you've spoken to have died--like Sammy Davis Jr. He was on the show a number of times."

As it happens, one of the fans of "Nightwatch" is CBS President Laurence Tisch. "Yes, Larry Tisch watches it," producer Johnson said. "He's one of those guys who gets up in the middle of the night. Every time I meet him, he says he saw it the night before, which is good for us."

Regarding the future of "Nightwatch," Johnson said that she recently visited CBS News President David Burke in New York and believes that "the news division is committed to the show. It's going to remain an interview program, but much will depend on the personality of the new anchor."

In the meantime, the first of the rotating hosts, beginning next week, is expected to be CBS newsman Terence Smith, who has filled in for Rose often in the past. Johnson said that she hopes to have a permanent anchor in place by the fall.

"We have all felt fairly confident of remaining on the air because we're a very low-budget show and basically break even," Johnson said. "Luckily, so far, we've been able to get through the scrutiny. We all love Charlie and we're sorry he's leaving the show. But this gives us a chance to re-think and revitalize it. We all assumed Charlie would wind up in a better time slot at some point, and we're glad for him. He's done this for six years, and it's the hardest anchor job I've ever seen."

Some "Nightwatch" viewers may be surprised that the show is taped the morning and early afternoon of the previous day, then pieced together and updated as news events may warrant. Somehow, however, it has managed to retain a cozy, late-night atmosphere.

"Nightwatch" debuted in 1982, and many TV observers felt it was created partly because of CBS' determination to combat Ted Turner's 24-hour Cable News Network. CNN had been launched in 1980 and was already beginning to siphon off network viewers with its around-the-clock format.

Although it originated in New York, "Nightwatch" moved to Washington in January, 1984, when Rose took over as host. With its staff slashed from 45 to about 20 in CBS' massive budget cuts, the future of the program has been a matter of conjecture in recent years.

But Rose gave "Nightwatch" a definite image and clout that made it stand out. And he said that if the series should ever "need me, I may be available from time to time."

Of his move to Los Angeles and his new "Personalities" series, he added: "This is a new beginning for me. I think it's important for people to respond to risk. Everybody talks about where news ends and entertainment begins, and vice versa. All I know is my own integrity."

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