Style outshines substance in CBS' 'America Tonight,' new late-night news show


October 03, 1990|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

The most striking thing about the premiere of CBS News' "America Tonight" Monday was the color coordination between the show's logo and co-host Lesley Stahl's outfit.

Stahl's blue sweater, white blouse and red skirt were a near-perfect match for the red, white and blue of the show's logo. It was a match worthy of a political candidate. In fact, it seemed so carefully thought out compared to the concept and content of the rest of the show, that it made you kind of wonder about the priorities of CBS News.

"America Tonight" is CBS' answer to ABC's "Nightline." It is a half-hour late-night news show that is supposed to be the last word on the news of the day. Like "Nightline," it is broadcast live at 11:30 weeknights. CBS affiliates have the option of airing it live at that time or taping it and airing it later. WBAL-TV (Channel 11) airs it at midnight after reruns of "Who's the Boss?"

While definitive assessments surely cannot be made on the basis of one viewing, there are some problem areas for "America Tonight."

Stahl's co-host is Charles Kuralt. He wanted to keep slowing things down Monday night; she wanted to speed them up. He was clearly going for the elegant little twists of language and wry asides that are so much part of his style on "Sunday Morning." She was doing the bam-bam, thank-you-senator, Washington interviews that are the staple of her work as CBS' White House correspondent and host of "Face the Nation."

Their incompatibility seemed more than a matter of distance -- he's is New York; she's in Washington -- and technology. They made Sam Donaldson and Diane Sawyer -- broadcasting's other DC/NYC couple on ABC's "PrimeTime Live" -- seem like they really were made for each other.

The show grew out of news specials CBS did on the Persian Gulf. And, so, Monday's show opened and closed with tape of American soldiers training in the desert. Only there was no real reason for the pictures, despite Kuralt's solemn efforts to make them seem significant with such omniscent talk as "a nation wonders if war is just around the corner."

It was mainly lows Monday. It ranged from more saber rattling by Gen. George Crist, who was identified as CBS News' military adviser, to a Stahl interview segment titled "Endgame." Stahl promised "Endgame" would be a continuing feature. Like I said, the outfit appeared to be the thought-out part of "America Tonight" Monday.

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