Rather, Chung invoke 'Huntley-Brinkley' ritual

June 02, 1993|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Television Critic

"Good night, Chet."

"Good night, David."

That's the way Dan Rather and Connie Chung ended the first newscast of the rest of their lives together at the CBS News anchor desk last night -- holding hands and saying good night.

They were referring to, and trying to link themselves to, the famous and highly successful "Huntley-Brinkley Report," with co-anchors Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, which aired on NBC from 1965 to 1970. They were also reminding viewers that this CBS News team featured a man and a woman instead of two men.

If last night's newscast is any indication of what's to come, the gender thing is what's important about the new Dan and Connie Show. Last night was not really about news. It was instead about packaging the news for women -- featuring a woman at the anchor desk, more women reporters in the field and women experts in stories in an attempt to win some women viewers. The most important fact to know about "The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather" is that it had been last with women and young viewers. As a result, it earned the least advertising dollars among the big three newscasts. ABC News, with Peter Jennings, is by far the most popular newscast with women.

And so there was Chung with the first and last story in last night's newscast. Correspondents Vicki Mabrey and Rita Braver reported major stories on Ross Perot and on panhandling in Washington. And three of the top five stories last night -- on smoking, busing and Bosnia -- featured women experts. There were stretches last spring of up to a week where the CBS nightly newscast went without even one woman expert.

The addition of women as experts is an important and positive change. But the rest of what viewers saw last night was mostly cosmetic -- meant to direct viewers' eyes away from the deficiencies of a leaner CBS News operation.

For example, the Bosnia report consisted of pictures from DTC Bosnia, but the report itself came from David Martin in Washington.

ABC News, on the other hand, had a much more thorough report of the same story filed by Dean Reynolds, who is in Bosnia. CBS News pulled the same sleight of hand on a story about neo-Nazis in Germany. The pictures were from Germany, but the report was done out of London.

The Dan and Connie Show is not a watershed moment in TV news. It's a calculating and fairly superficial attempt to win women viewers. It's the nightly news done with blue skirts and mirrors.

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