TV or not TV. . . .
STATE OF THE UNION: What a feisty lot those Democratic presidential candidates were in their NBC debate Sunday.
There ought to be a ticket in there somewhere--except that New York Gov. Mario Cuomo was missing. He was still making up his mind about running.
Nonetheless, the tape-delayed, dinner-time broadcast from Washington was both instructive and full of pizazz--thanks in great part to former California Gov. Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown and his shots at the political Establishment.
He even gave out an 800 number--twice--for those who want to help his cause, despite moderator Tom Brokaw's request early in the program that there be no solicitations for funds.
And he reminded Brokaw in the 90-minute broadcast that General Electric, "which owns NBC," gave $350,000 to political incumbents in the 1990 campaign.
Way to go, Jer.
Well, there were six Democrats on hand, and some of them have TV potential in a political system that now, alas, relies so much on TV. And most of the debaters actually had something to say--although part of it was aimed at skewering each other.
Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska clearly knows his TV, combining directness with a deceptively friendly, don't-tread-on-me attitude. Gov. Bill Clinton of Arkansas has turned into a textbook political smoothie who doesn't babble as much as he used to.
Brown knows TV and politics and the system and remains undaunted by all of it. Agree with him or not, his fiery, realistic dreaming aloud of what we really can be is often thrilling.
Gov. L. Douglas Wilder of Virginia, the only black among the candidates, knows how to handle himself on TV--but made one gaffe when, attempting to be courtly, he referred to potential women candidates for vice president as "the ladies."
Former Sen. Paul E. Tsongas of Massachusetts is a smart guy, but comes across more as someone who would be a good cabinet member or presidential adviser. And Sen. Tom Harkin of Iowa registers more as a frontier judge than a presidential contender.
Together, they all made the first national TV debate of the 1992 presidential campaign livelier than might have been expected--despite several undignified NBC intrusions for uncalled-for commercials.
Brown was a constant prod. Conceding he's been part of the system, he said at one point: "The money that's going into this thing is coming from a few people . . . (who) are buying these campaigns, even candidates that are here tonight, and the American people have lost control."
Kerrey, who sat next to Brown, confronted him in the debate's most dramatic TV moment, snapping: "Are you saying I'm bought and paid for?" Rather than answer him directly, Brown deftly took a different verbal tack.
With President Bush's popularity slipping, the Democratic aspirants used the 90 minutes to try to puncture him further in discussing a wide range of domestic and foreign issues.
And as the debate wound down, with each candidate allowed a brief final statement, Brown addressed Brokaw for a moment. "Tom," he said, "I want to thank you and NBC for making this broadcast possible."
Then he gave out his 800 number again.
THE WAY WE WERE: Hard to believe that 1992 will mark 40 years since Dwight D. Eisenhower chose Richard M. Nixon as his vice presidential running mate, which led to a television event that is still as well remembered as their election.
In September of 1952, Nixon, facing demands that he withdraw from the race because some California businessmen were supplying him with funds, presented his famous TV defense known as the "Checkers" speech. Checkers was his dog, and Nixon used a story about the canine as part of his shrewd assessment of TV as a powerful emotional tool to reach people directly.
The speech, while derided by many for its manipulative sentimentality, worked with the public at large, and Nixon was kept on the ticket.
MIDNIGHT SPECIAL: The recent, statewide AIDS "cablethon" that raised funds to fight the disease will be repeated from midnight Saturday to 3 a.m. Sunday on KCOP Channel 13, with those on hand including TV headliners Joan Rivers, Marlee Matlin ("Reasonable Doubts") and Scott Bakula ("Quantum Leap"). Although it's a rerun, there will be phone numbers so viewers can make additional pledges.
INSIDE MOVES: She went from Roseanne Barr to Roseanne Arnold as smoothly as Datsun switched its name to Nissan. She's been in one fracas after another, but there's no longer any doubt that Arnold is now the queen of TV.
The national ratings for Dec. 2-8 showed that "Roseanne" not only finished No. 1 again but also drew a whopping 33% of the audience, topping even CBS' Gibraltar-like "60 Minutes."
Do you think maybe it's time she got an Emmy nomination?
The brassy comedian gets around. She once dropped in on the "Mr. Pete" show on public access, helping bring him the attention that led to his own current series on KTLA Channel 5.