Governor's television chat had several rough edges

December 18, 1991|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

It is unlikely that anyone will ever accuse Gov. William Donald Schaefer of being a TV politician.

By television standards, his performance last night was simply awful. Mr. Schaefer tried to instill a message of determination, optimism and confidence with his words. But as he spoke, virtually all of the visual imagery was that of a man ill at ease, definitely not in control of his performance and possibly a bit confused by the cameras.

Mr. Schaefer's problems began at the very top of the live, prime-time broadcast. The cameras came on, but it was about 10 seconds before the governor started to speak: He just sat there silently looking at the camera.

Then Mr. Schaefer told viewers that he just wanted to have a chat with them. In fact, he said he didn't have a text -- just as he looked down at his hands and the camera pulled back to show him holding a sheaf of papers that looked exactly like a text. Whatever it was that he was holding in his hands, he referred to it throughout the talk and even put his glasses on at one point to get a better look at it.

Or maybe he needed glasses to read the poster boards with all the writing on them that shared the stage with him last night. The positioning and lighting of these boards were such that they were almost impossible to read in their entirety -- not that viewers who couldn't read them missed much. In TV terms, there are few props less dynamic and informative than pieces of cardboard with writing on them.

And what about those special moments when viewers saw a hand reach out from off-camera to remove one board and show another while the governor sat on a desk jiggling his leg -- and reaching new levels of viewer distraction?

Mr. Schaefer stumbled over words several times, said 1949 when he appeared to mean 1989 and used the word 'OK' so often while trying to find his place on the text that I lost count.

Near the end of his speech, Mr. Schaefer tried to summon the ghost of Franklin Delano Roosevelt's fireside chats with a quote from Roosevelt. But the reference to Roosevelt, who so effectively used radio to lift spirits during the Depression, merely underscored what a bad time William Donald Schaefer was having on the tube last night.

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