Making New Year's resolutions aimed at making oneself a better person is an old custom. But it is a lot more fun to think about how others might improve themselves, isn't it? So here are some resolutions for some television people:
* For Jesse Jackson: to make a decision, already. Is he a political candidate or a TV talk show host? Leader or entertainer? In a country that elected a bad movie actor president, of course, it is hard to tell the difference. But Jackson is the first who has tried to be both. (His syndicated talk show now airs in Baltimore at midnight Sundays on WMAR-Channel 2.) It seems one more unhealthy step toward the day when we actually vote via TV and our leaders need not meet the public at all.
* For Barbara Walters: to resolve her split personality. This is prompted by news that video stores will be stocking in February a cassette of the ABC personality's best interviews from her "Barbara Walters Specials." The list of profile subjects is downright schizophrenic, from the hardest of news makers, such as the Shah of Iran, Fidel Castro and Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter (on the eve of his presidency), to the lightest of pop-flash celebrities, such as Michael J. Fox, Brooke Shields and Don Johnson. At least Walters hasn't interviewed herself yet.
* For Deborah Norville: to have a healthy baby in the spring and a job to return to afterward. It is true that NBC's "Today" show has been worse since Norville slipped into the co-host chair in place of Jane Pauley, yet the blame lies with the network. Norville did not do well as a hostess/interviewer, but she was a pretty good, if showy, newscaster. And if the network replaces her on "Today" with newswoman Katie Couric, as has been reported, perhaps it will at least give her the old job back.
* For Roseanne Barr: to just lighten up a little (and we're not just making a subtle weight joke here). Her Tuesday series is still up there in the ratings (in third place for the season at last look), but suffers from swings in tone. Some weeks it is warm at heart while capturing the tension of families, yet on others it is downright mean-spirited.
Barr's public persona is no soft sell, either, from the ridiculous national anthem incident to her new marriage to writer Tom Arnold. (Regarding the latter, Media Monitor's favorite moment came one day recently when Barr and Arnold cuddled on "Live With Regis and Kathie Lee" while at the same time over on "Donahue" husband No. 1, Bill Pentland, argued he deserves a financial share of her success.)
* To Jane Curtin and Stephen Collins: to pick their networks better. This is not really in a performer's control, perhaps, but "Working It Out" certainly deserved better than it got from NBC. One of the few new shows this season that occasionally sparkled with adult sensibility, the story of their tentative once-burned romance was slotted too early in the evening on Saturdays. NBC gave it one shot at a different time and day, on Wednesdays, then pulled the plug and canceled.
* To broadcasters everywhere, from radio stations to network news people: to be a little less obvious in viewing the American troop deployment in Saudi Arabia as one big ratings/marketing opportunity. OK, donations of audio and video tapes and other entertainment items are probably welcomed by the troops, and taped greetings to and from service people and their families are an undeniable service. But what a crass business it has sometimes been! And doesn't it seem there are more reporters crawling around the desert looking for local-angle sentiment than many a small nation's entire armed services?
* To Ken Burns: to be as skilled in his next project as his last one. The producer/writer of the best documentary of this and many a season, the monumental PBS series "The Civil War," is turning his penetrating eye to a less bloody but nonetheless important part of the American experience. "The Civil War formed modern America. Baseball, more than anything, expresses it," says Burns, in announcing a planned five-hour historical study of the national pastime, which is scheduled for airing in 1993 on PBS.
Steve McKerrow's Media Monitor column appears Monday through Friday in the Accent section of The Evening Sun.