Ken Tucker
July 09, 1993 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Despite all the media hoopla, despite the sudden, sexist chin-pulling by the likes of TV Guide (”Dan Rather Has a New Partner-Does She Have the Stuff?”), the only real objection I can imagine to Connie Chung as co-anchor of what is now The CBS Evening News With Dan Rather & Connie Chung is that the amount of on-camera airtime Rather has to say or do something goofy has been cut in half. With the earnest, intense Chung sitting at Rather’s left elbow and reciting her share of the news copy, the likelihood of Dan dithering into quaint Texas folksiness or coining a new non sequitur catchphrase (remember ”Courage”?) seems slimmer than ever. As for the question of whether Chung is a serious journalist-well, this implies that Rather is, a dicey proposition at this stage of his game. The amount of actual reporting done by a network news anchor is negligible compared with the real reason he or she is paid millions of bucks: Rather, like ABC’s Peter Jennings and NBC’s Tom Brokaw, can read stories in clear, forceful tones. That’s it, basically. By this measure, Chung is as capable as any of those boys of holding down the ludicrously overrated job of news anchor. Watching Chung’s first couple of weeks alongside Rather reminded me why I usually try to avoid television news-it’s just too infuriating. During a period when major news events included fighting in Bosnia and Somalia, a Supreme Court nomination, and significant revisions in President Bill Clinton’s tax program, what did The CBS Evening News choose to lead off two successive broadcasts? That syringe-in-the-Pepsi-can malarkey. And given a news hole that, minus commercials, amounts to about 22 minutes, to what does The CBS Evening News devote no fewer than four minutes every weekday night? The invariably lame ”Eye on America” closing feature, which takes up such topics as ”America’s need for speed” (scoop: we like to drive our cars fast) and a promisingly existential but ultimately incoherent piece built around the notion that we are ”a society obsessed with time.” (Not that NBC or ABC are any better, of course-they have their own versions of these puffball time wasters.)

If you don’t rely on the networks to give you your news, however, the sudden ascension of Chung to television journalist of the moment has been pretty entertaining. She clearly unnerves Rather, who, because there is now a lady in the room, has taken to smiling politely a lot. The thing is, Dan doesn’t smile easily-grim intensity is what has made him a television king-and he always ends up looking as if he left one of his fishhooks in his undershorts. The ability to read a TelePrompTer smoothly and appear confident on camera also makes Chung just dandy as host of Eye to Eye With Connie Chung (CBS, Thursday, 9-10 p.m.), the newsmagazine that’s just like every other newsmagazine. Eye to Eye’s June 17 premiere led off with what Chung said was the ”first prime-time interview” with Bill Clinton’s brother, Roger. Now, Roger Clinton is that rarity-a person who behaves the same way whether television cameras are on him or not. This is incomprehensible to television people, of course, and so Clinton is described as being ”out of control” and ”another Billy Carter” (Chung’s words). The report also suggested that Roger had used his famous family ties to get a record contract, as if there were something underhanded about this. Given the music business, this is one of the more honorable ways of getting a label deal, and the fact that Eye to Eye showed Roger’s radiantly mediocre singing style to fall somewhere between that of Delbert McClinton and Engelbert Humperdinck already makes him a more enjoyable example of nepotism rock than, say, Julian Lennon. Chung followed up her hard-hitting Roger report the next week with a daring expose on Kim Basinger. Remember when network anchors were supposedly too dignified to do junk news like this? Let’s hear it for Connie for putting ’90s television journalism in its proper perspective: slightly more serious than Oprah, rather less relevant than The Simpsons. Eye to Eye With Connie Chung: C+

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