'The Road' meanders that's Kuralt's charm

May 04, 1994|By David Zurawik | David Zurawik,Sun Television Critic

Right off the bat, you get the sense that CBS isn't sure about "One More for the Road With Charles Kuralt and Morley Safer," which airs at 8 tonight on WBAL (Channel 11).

"This is not a tribute to Charles Kuralt, and it's certainly not an obituary, because he's very much alive," Morley Safer tells viewers in the opening.

"But he's leaving us to follow his own wandering star. So, what could be more fun than to sit down and talk to Kuralt and have one more for the road?"

More than anything else, the CBS special resembles a long celebrity profile/interview on "60 Minutes," with Safer chatting with Kuralt about Kuralt's career.

But even the notoriously soft celebrity profiles on "60 Minutes" would address the kinds of questions that were raised last month by Kuralt's sudden departure from "Sunday Morning" and into retirement at 59. "One More for the Road" is maddeningly silent when it comes to why.

But, if you can get past that, there's a lot to like about the hour. It's casual, relaxed and, yet, it manages the very difficult task of suggesting what is lost from the TV landscape with Kuralt's departure. Gone is a correspondent who became a mellow kind of Walt Whitman for the TV Age -- celebrating common folk, eccentrics, small-town heroes and big-dream dreamers.

Through film and videotape, we get to revisit people Kuralt celebrated during his years as host of "On the Road" for CBS:

The man with a third-grade education who built a library with his own hands for children in rural Arkansas. The tenant farmer in Mississippi who managed to send his nine children to college. The 65-year-old farmer in Iowa who hated farming and built a boat in his backyard out of odds and ends and sailed into the sunset. The man in Duluth, Minn., who decided to take a shovel and tractor and build a highway to Fargo, N.D., instead of waiting for the government to do it.

Those snapshots are the best moments of the show. But the conversation isn't all that bad, either, if you overlook Safer's reluctance to step on any corporate toes. "Are you nervous about being out of harness?" Safer asks near the end of the hour.

"I have occasionally had the alarming thought that I'm giving up the only thing I know how to do," Kuralt says. "But I ought to know by now that it always works out fine, if you keep your eyes open and force yourself to go slow, stay off the interstate and stick to the back roads."

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