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HOWARD ROSENBERG

Stop Me If You've Seen This One Before . . .

August 20, 1993|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Me, too. Me, too. Me too.

Me-too-itis is a dangerous inflammation that's ravaging television.

It's common for kids to want exactly what their playmates have. Everyone has seen the brat who goes to the toy store with his parents and throws a tantrum when they say no, stamping his feet and screaming, "I want one, too!" That's TV, where unfortunately, there are more clods to replicate than classics.

NBC's just-aired "Now With Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric" is a symptom of me-too-itis. So is KCAL-TV Channel 9's new "Live in L.A." Both are on the air only because shows just like them are on the air.

There are 10 newsmagazine-style series in prime time (to say nothing of the tabloidesque newsmagazines in pre-prime time). "Now With Tom Brokaw and Katie Couric" became No. 10 at 9 p.m. Wednesday, opening with a curiously self-conscious comment that revealed its own apparent edginess about existing. Couric to Brokaw: "Just what America needs, huh, Tom, another news magazine show."

The hour that followed offered no evidence to support that conclusion.

To launch itself, "Now" chose the many times-told heart-wrenching story of Baby Jessica, with Couric, a field producer and camera crew having spent time with the DeBoers in the days immediately preceding the couple's court-ordered surrender of their adopted 2-year-old to her biological parents after a protracted legal battle.

"Now" added its two cents of mystery, not bothering to explain a recorded phone message, allegedly from Jessica's biological father, Dan Schmidt, appearing to threaten the DeBoers. Otherwise, the "Now" story was every bit as sad as the crush of other stories chronicling the custody saga of Baby Jessica (which will resonate in the ABC movie, "Whose Child Is This? The War for Baby Jessica," scheduled to air next month).

Brokaw reported the program's second segment, a laborious review of the controversy shrouding a shootout between federal agents and Idaho white supremacist Randy Weaver that killed a government marshal and Weaver's wife and 14-year-old son.

In the final segment, Couric interviewed Bette Midler.

Well, look, it wasn't a bad program, and no one caught a communicable disease from watching it. Nor was it distinctive or memorable, unfortunately. Instead, it sank like a tomato in a large vat of ratatouille, undistinguishable from the other tomatoes.

CBS is television's news-ratatouille maven. In addition to its 800-pound zucchini, "60 Minutes," CBS serves America "Eye to Eye With Connie Chung," "48 Hours" and "Street Stories," the latter two often seeming to congeal into a single chunk. ABC has the venerable "20/20" plus "PrimeTime Live" and "Day One." Fox has its new "Front Page." And on NBC, "Dateline NBC" has been joined by "Now."

It's no wonder that this is such a large crowd. Newsmagazines are relatively cheap to produce, hence potentially very profitable. They're also highly promotable and a handy way to give anchors (as in Dan Rather on "48 Hours," Chung on "Eye to Eye" and Brokaw and Couric on "Now") the kind of prime-time visibility that may have a ratings rub-off on their day-job news programs.

Aside from the networks themselves, however, who really needs so many of them?

*

Meanwhile, just what Los Angeles needs, huh, another daytime talk show.

Anyone who has met Cyndy Garvey knows she is bright.

Anyone who has listened to Steve Edwards on his former KABC radio shows knows that, in addition to being witty, he's one of the best-informed, most-thoughtful people in broadcasting.

Yet on Channel 9's so-far-superfluous "Live in L.A.," a 10 a.m. weekday show that premiered Monday, these two are essentially Ken and Barbie. On television--which seems to homogenize almost everything and everyone it touches--Albert Einstein and Madame Curie could become Ken and Barbie.

The Ken-and-Barbie analogy (or cheap hyperbole, if you insist) originated with a reader who called after watching the first few episodes of "Live in L.A." to complain that Edwards and Garvey were interchangeable at 10 a.m. with John Tesh and Leeza Gibbons of NBC's "John & Leeza From Hollywood" and Gary Collins and Sarah Purcell from ABC's "Home."

If not that, certainly, very similar, as "Live in L.A." spent its first four mornings of life being largely inseparable from a swarm of other daytime talk shows, some of them on Channel 9, that have come, and mostly gone, through the years.

This is a case of the format sucking the brains from the individuals, rendering them Stepford Hosts.

"Live in L.A." opened Monday with Tom Selleck, a smart man with lots to say who was given scant opportunity to say it. Selleck later was succeeded by Mayor Richard Riordan, a smart man with lots to say who was given scant opportunity to say it. Well, it was Day One, give these people a break.

On Day Two, however, Garvey and Edwards were already doing their first cooking segment while sounding like "Regis & Kathie Lee" wanna-bes, and Edwards was sparring in baggy trunks with Sugar Ray Leonard.

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