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Commentary : SMOOTHING OUT A ROUGH 'DAY ONE'

July 04, 1993|SCOTT WILLIAMS | ASSOCIATED PRESS

The first thing ABC News learned about "Day One," was that the week's first day turns out to be Monday, not Sunday.

ABC's newest magazine show debuted on a Sunday night, March 7, at 8 p.m. Anchored by Forrest Sawyer, its staff included some of the hottest younger reporters in television news.

And, following hard behind CBS' "60 Minutes," they got kicked around something awful.

"Day One" opened at 50th place in the ratings and headed south. Except for a mid-April blip into the Top 40 shows, it went four straight weeks no higher than 68th.

Mercifully, ABC News pulled the show off the air for two weeks in May. It returned to the air June 7 in its new Monday time slot, after some minor tweaking.

So what's new about "Day One" these days? The changes are largely cosmetic and subtle enough so that you might miss them. Here are some of the things you won't miss:

-- The show's wretched opening tease and MTV-style titles are gone, as is the harsh, syntho-jazz, muted-trumpet theme music. Gone, too, are the laughable "action news team" staff credits, where each reporter turns and looks into the camera.

(The reporters are much the same crew: Correspondents John Hockenberry, Sheila MacVicar, Michel McQueen and contributor Jay Schadler have been joined by John McKenzie. Lisa McRee has left for a new assignment.)

-- Sawyer's anchor desk now has a grid of white panels in the background, instead of the lurid, rear-projection graphics that made him look like a night desk clerk in the Hotel Hell.

-- The show's hyperkinetic graphics have been toned down.

The silliest was a computer-generated image of a whirling column that extruded a countdown of numeral-shaped metallic rungs like a helical staircase. It ended at the ground floor where the "Day One" logo slid across it with a heavy, metallic clank.

And that was just a "bumper" to put between commercials!

Nowadays, the show's logo is recessed, confined behind a marbleized proscenium arch (all computer generated). The theme music is upbeat woodwinds and brass, with a mellower voice-over announcer.

These style changes seem to have helped "Day One," which always has been a pretty good magazine show. A recent show was 28th in the ratings.

Since coming back on Mondays, "Day One" has reported on scandals in the post office, pedophiles in the Boy Scouts, child-selling in Texas and the contemptibly underfunded public defender system in New Orleans.

The stories have been thorough, well-written and balanced.

The video photography has been uniformly excellent, especially a beautifully crafted feature story about an amateur tornado chaser.

"Day One" has one great thing going for it: ABC News decided to make a magazine show, where reporters make "good stories well-told" and put them on the air. That's bucking the trend.

CBS' "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung" and NBC's as yet untitled Tom Brokaw-Katie Couric magazine were created as "star vehicles" for TV's most telegenic performers. Their presence is the justification for the news shows.

That's a way to get ratings, true. "Day One" has chosen to get stories.

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