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HOWARD ROSENBERG / TELEVISION

Perhaps the View Will Be Better From the Center

December 27, 1996|HOWARD ROSENBERG

It worked for President Clinton.

So, as 1997 approaches, I'm renouncing my radical views of the past and edging boldly toward the vital center.

Although this is not the act of a fence-straddling, cynical pragmatist currying favor with all sides, some readers are bound to be skeptical. Accordingly, I've granted me this exclusive no-holds-barred, one-on-one interview with me to candidly explain why--now that I'm older and wiser--I'm abandoning my former fanaticism in favor of positions about television that are more in line with the centrist opinions of my fellow mainstream Americans.

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Question: In reviewing this season's crop of new shows, you raved about the ABC comedy "Spin City" being. . . .

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Answer: "Very funny"?

Q: Right. You seemed so positive.

A: Ah, yes, I recall with bemusement those writings by the brash young man that I was, headstrong, full of himself and living on the edge. Wasn't it George Bernard Shaw who noted that youth is wasted on the young? With the circumspection that comes with experience, I would say today that "Spin City" is funny when it's not unfunny but that I remain open to alternative views.

Q: In writing about the new NBC comedy "Mr. Rhodes," you called it "the funniest of the new season's comic-playing - a - maverick - teacher - fighting-a-school-bureaucracy sitcoms." Do you regret writing that?

A: Let's just say that was before I reached out for consensus, and that I'm more centered now. My newer, more responsible position is that it's funnier than some, less funny than others, but I wouldn't entirely rule out that it's not funnier than some.

Q: That's quite daring. But weren't you equally emphatic about the new CBS series "Early Edition," saying that it performed "unconvincingly"?

A: Yes, but I've since researched that issue even more deeply and have determined that in addition to viewers who find "Early Edition" unconvincing, those who find it credible will be persuaded by it.

Q: Even I, an objective interviewer, am awed by the heroic stands you're articulating today. And say, didn't you observe about Brooke Shields, star of NBC's newcomer hit, "Suddenly Susan," that she's "still a clown in progress--not bad, really, but not yet someone to build this sitcom around"?

A: I would add only that she will progress unless she regresses or remains stagnant, and that building sitcoms is as important to the Southern California economy as building houses.

Q: Now, when you wrote in your Christmas column about "Talk nuts roasting on an open fire". . . .

A: In fairness to me, that was written when my callow views were still evolving. Now that my perspective has widened, I've revised that to "Well-intentioned talk-show hosts bronzing in a tanning salon while munching on cashews."

Q: You're disavowing something that appeared in the paper only Monday?

A: I have more clarity now.

Q: What gave you this increased clarity?

A: A phone call this week from an angry reader accusing my Christmas column of being blasphemous and anti-Christian.

Q: Yet you have, in the past, been savagely critical of many talk-show hosts. Sally Jessy Raphael is one you've called a phony, for example. Surely you're not flip-flopping on her?

A: "Flip-flopping" is not a word I would use. I'm neither endorsing her nor dismissing her. Let me just say that upon further reflection, I've moved to a position of greater respect based on her humanitarian behavior of supplying bawling guests with tissues.

Q: You've also slammed Jerry Springer, right?

A: Without fully appreciating, as I do now, that his glasses are always clean.

Q: Have you not been equally hard on Larry King, calling him a wimp who allows some of his guests to have their way with him?

A: A more mature mid-position, I believe, is to note Larry's failings, while also acknowledging that his pants never fall down during an interview.

Q: How do you respond to those who are greatly disillusioned by your reversals of position on live news chopper coverage of freeway chases, something you formerly called stupid and gratuitous?

A: It's hardly a reversal, only a modification. I believe that it shows growth on my part, not inconsistency, to now conform to the view that such coverage is appropriate when it is not stupid and gratuitous.

Q: I commend you on the fearlessness of your vital centrism. Just one more thing, however. I've studied your bio, and I see here that once, in describing your own reviewing style, you labeled yourself a smart ass. Has that changed?

A: Oh, my, yes. I would say today that I'm neither a smart one nor a dumb one, just an ass.

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