Face, but one not often seen anymore, popped up...

A FAMILIAR

September 02, 1993

A FAMILIAR face, but one not often seen anymore, popped up recently on a rerun of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" on cable TV's Nick at Nite.

In this episode from about 1974, the fellow with the familiar face had a short scene with only a few lines. But when he made his unexpected appearance in the WJM newsroom, the surprised studio audience let out a robust round of applause that lasted some 15 to 20 seconds.

Was this visitor a famous movie or TV actor? A beloved sports idol? A renowned public official?

None of those. The owner of that familiar face and the recipient of the affectionate ovation was Walter Cronkite, the former anchorman for "The CBS Evening News."

It makes us wonder. How would a sit-com audience react today if Dan Rather, Peter Jennings or Tom Brokaw did a surprise walk-on a la Cronkite on the Moore show? With a disgusted gasp? A volley of rotten fruit? Catcalls and Bronx cheers?

We doubt the reaction would be warm applause. For one thing, journalists (or, as their detractors call them, "liberal media types") seem to be held in much lower esteem than they were 20 years ago.

Second, there was -- and still is -- something about Uncle Walter that made people trust him, like him, respect him, applaud him. Dan Rather, with his sweaters and goofy sign-offs, can only dream about that kind of public reverence. Ditto for Peter Jennings, with his marital strife plastered all over the tabloids, and Tom Brokaw, with his stunning lack of on-screen charisma.

Come home, Ted Baxter. All is forgiven.

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