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HOWARD ROSENBERG / TELEVISION

'Premier' Rises to Top of Sleaze Beat

October 07, 1994|HOWARD ROSENBERG

Being a reporter in the '90s means chasing tragedy.

Thus, the only good thing about this week's grisly cult massacre in Cheiry, Switzerland, is that at least it's a temporary diversion for some of the sensation-driven media riveted to even the trivia of the Simpson-Goldman homicide case.

Among them is the notorious "Premier Story," a 4-month-old syndicated tabloid series aired locally on KCOP-TV Channel 13, the station now boasting that its scrawny half-hour newscast at 10 p.m.--halved from a low-rated hour--is "finally, a newscast to fit your schedule." As if a nightly hour of news (about 44 minutes when the commercials are subtracted) puts you on information overload.

As for "Premier Story," finally a tabloid series to fit your schedule--if you think Lee is buried in Grant's tomb. On some nights, it makes "Hard Copy" and "A Current Affair" look like "The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour" on PBS.

Who wouldn't be for yanking TV from the O.J. Simpson courtroom if that would result in the erasure of such pernicious skulkers as "Premier Story" and its obnoxiously smug British host, Alison Holloway?

But, of course, it wouldn't. They and their commando colleagues do their damage outside the courtroom.

When I first encountered "Premier Story" on Channel 13, some time ago, one of its operatives was in its Los Angeles studio confidently swearing on a stack of Bibles that Los Angeles police had recovered a ski mask outside the Brentwood townhouse of Nicole Brown Simpson. As we now know, the ski mask turned out to be a ski cap .

Granted, coverage of the Simpson-Goldman case has not been a golden moment for even the media who regard themselves as being holier than thou. Yet "Premier Story" plays at it like a game. During one recent week, the show recruited a young schnook named Joe--a sort of tabloider in training--to roam the exterior of the Los Angeles Criminal Courts Building with a camera person and generally harass and bait anyone he could find in hopes of provoking a TV-worthy response. Presumably, that would include someone giving him the finger. Meanwhile, the smarmy Holloway popped in and out as his puppeteering mentor.

Joe just crowed when he got O.J. Simpson's lead defense attorney, Robert Shapiro, to shake hands with him. But his biggest coup was pestering other reporters. That included relentlessly tagging after ABC's Jeff Greenfield and pushing a mike at his face while asking him questions so witlessly inane and banal as to make Howard Stern's resident party crasher, Stuttering John, look like Ted Koppel.

First ignoring his tormentor, then testily telling him to bug off, Greenfield ultimately acknowledged Joe by stonily muttering something to the effect that "this is very unpleasant business."

But, of course, it was. "Premier Story's" business is unpleasant business.

In addition to creating mischief, the goal of "Premier Story," apparently, was to wittily do unto the media what the media have been doing unto others. And let's face it, the frenzied pack journalism practiced by the hordes outside the Criminal Courts Building hardly puts them on the side of the angels. (That ABC News would even dispatch to the scene a correspondent as high-ranking as the New York-based Greenfield reflected the extent to which it also had been sucked down into the same cesspool.) Thus, it wasn't that Joe's targets were so high that gave this entire exercise a kind of sad futility but that he and "Premier Story" had somehow found a way to descend even lower.

"Premier Story" devoted its Wednesday night episode to the tragedy at Cheiry, with Holloway sitting at her antique desk while doing satellite interviews about "the most gruesome act of human self-destruction" since Jonestown. So many victims, so many surviving family members to harass, so many rumors to unearth.

"I'm off to Switzerland," Holloway announced at the end of the program. That's the good news. The bad news? She'll be back.

*

SELF-LOVE. Three cheers for the Hollywood Women's Press Club, which annually awards scholarships to college students in journalism, communications and related fields. This year's nine winners are an especially impressive group.

Yet those attending Tuesday night's event in Beverly Hills honoring them may have wondered why a TV camera person there was interested in only one of the participants. The mystery was cleared up on that evening's KABC-TV Channel 7 news at 11 p.m., when co-anchor Lisa McRee introduced a brief story on the event.

"Among the presenters, our very own 'Eyewitness News' anchor, Christine Lund," McRee reported over footage showing Lund at a podium in a filled room. After describing the nature of the awards, McRee added, "Congratulations to all!"

"You bet!" said co-anchor Harold Greene.

Just who they were congratulating--Lund or the students--is open to interpretation.

Given the self-glorifying chauvinism of TV news, you wouldn't have expected Channel 7 to have mentioned that other presenters that night included KCBS-TV Channel 2 anchor Linda Alvarez and KNBC-TV Channel 4 reporter Laurel Erickson. But much more inexcusable was omitting the name of the scholarship winner, John Christopher Hyke, whom Lund was seen praising on the videotape shot by her own station. Obviously, Lund, not the winners, was the star of this story, and her being there mattered more to Channel 7 than the reason for her presence.

It wouldn't have hurt, either, for the station to have mentioned the other winners: Elaine Adolfo, Ryan John Bache, Robert Foster, Christine Ann Kelley, Karen E. Loeschner, Wendy Jo Maynard, Eva Sippel and Mary Gretchen Wentz.

All of the recipients are bright, dedicated people who, unlike the so-called pros at Channel 7, surely understand that the message of a news story should never be the messenger.

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