As a 'Today' show anchor, Arthur Kent makes a pretty good mannequin


August 16, 1991|By David Zuraw | David Zuraw,Sun Television Critic

Arthur Kent tried to sing backup for Ben E. King. He tried to dance with Faith Daniels. He tried to slice and serve a 157-pound watermelon and kibitz with Willard Scott at the same time.

All of which is to say that NBC's handsome correspondent -- dubbed the "Scud Stud" for his Middle East reports during the Persian Gulf war -- got to fill in as a substitute host for Bryant Gumbel this week on the "Today" show.

Maybe the most evenhanded thing to be said about Kent's performance is that he seemed profoundly uncomfortable. Take the moment on yesterday's program with King: The camera cut from the singer to Kent and Daniels standing in the wings, the latter moving in time to the music and singing along with great abandon. Kent tried to move with the music as well, but looked as natural as Richard Nixon uttering "Sock it to me" on "Laugh-in" back in 1968.

A couple of things should be said in Kent's defense, though. First, he may not be as inarticulate as he seemed during the give-and-take banter sessions between segments. To some viewers it must have looked as if he were incapable of initiating any conversation or doing anything except react stiffly to what co-anchor Daniels said.

Apart from his own discomfort, there was a reason for that: NBC reversed the more traditional male-female co-anchor duties. The more experienced Daniels (subbing for Katie Couric) was designated lead anchor, the Bryant Gumbel role. As second banana, you take your cues and speak only when spoken to, as Kent did. He was being a good, little, submissive co-anchor.

Also, he may be the victim of a more egalitarian attitude on gender these days. The inclination to beat up on anchorwomen considered bimbos provides license to go after Kent as a kind of Ted Baxter with sex appeal -- a male bimbo, if you will.

That said, let's hit the bottom line: Kent was awful on "Today." He should never have been anchoring the show in the first place. But, as an NBC spokesman said yesterday, "The calls and letters remain high on him." Translation: He's got sex appeal. He's got a fan club. He's Canadian; maybe he's the next Peter Jennings.

In fact, Kent will get a tryout at that level when he subs for the the vacationing Tom Brokaw the next two weeks on NBC's "Nightly News." And that could make some people wonder whether TV news has much to do with news anymore or whether it's become too much a matter of celebrity.

It's bad enough for someone so clearly out of his league to be anchoring a morning show. But filling in for Brokaw is another matter, and it's not clear whether the 37-year-old Kent -- who worked for the Canadian Broadcasting Co. before joining NBC in 1989 -- has earned the right of ascension on merit.

Let's hope he brings more to that assignment than the heartthrob celebrity he stumbled into on a rooftop in Saudi Arabia during the Persian Gulf war.

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