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Commentary : THE DAN AND CONNIE SHOW CONTINUED...

January 23, 1994|FRAZIER MOORE | ASSOCIATED PRESS

If anything, they bring out the worst in each other on "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather and Connie Chung."

Chung, with her coquettish flair and once-upon-a-time way of reading her copy, seems all the more lightweight beside the hardy Rather.

And as for Rather, whose taut, white-knuckle style worked fine in his past life as a full-time correspondent but has never served him well as an anchor, Chung crowding his left elbow seems only to heighten his unease.

"The Dan and Connie Show" is distinguished by how it detracts from the process of reporting the news.

With a partner--a woman partner, at that--beside him at the anchor desk, Rather himself seems distracted. Should he be warm? Chivalrous?

Meanwhile, he has pushed to the limit the chief asset of any journalist: credibility. Despite an understandable desire to do more on-the-scene reporting after a dozen years solo in the anchor chair, his claim of being "a very happy and very excited Dan Rather" just didn't wash when the Rather-Chung team was announced last spring.

In second place behind ABC's "World News Tonight" when Chung came on board, "The CBS Evening News" quickly dipped to third place, where it currently resides.

But here a destroy-it-to-save-it sort of rationale takes over. Numbers suggest that since Chung arrived, the broadcast has shed older viewers (many welcomed by "The NBC Nightly News," now No. 2), while strengthening its audience in the 25-to-54 demographic many advertisers prefer to reach.

"That's the long-term news-viewing audience of the future," says David Poltrack, CBS' top research executive.

Maybe Chung is indeed the cure CBS is seeking.

Even so, it remains to be seen whether she will have a remedial effect on Rather's lapses into wackiness. She was off one night a few weeks ago for a particularly odd outbreak of what has come to be called "Dan Rather-isms."

Apparently feeling the urge for a little Catskills humor, Rather came out of a 3 1/2-minute report on attention deficit disorder with this crack: " 'CBS This Morning's' going to have a lot of good stuff tomorrow," he deadpanned, "but for the life of me I can't remember what it is."

But seriously, folks, Rather knows well the difference between glitz and solid journalism. And in a much-reported speech to the Radio and Television News Directors Assn. last September, he called both his colleagues and himself on the carpet for lapses into "fuzz and wuzz."

"We've all succumbed to the 'Hollywoodization' of the news," he said.

These were strong words, especially from a newsman who considers himself to be principally a reporter, yet who retains, even now, the high office, high salary and high profile of an anchor. Predictably, he was praised for raising his prominent voice--and also criticized, for blasting the system that gave him prominence in the first place.

In giving the news a face and a voice, therefore, the anchor also makes news. And not only by making a speech but, sometimes, just by sitting there at the anchor desk.

That's the case, squared, on "The CBS Evening News." An anchor team with scant chemistry and minimal journalistic reason for being, "The Dan and Connie Show" makes news by distracting its viewers from the real thing.

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