News Article

WE HAVE GOOD NEWS AND BAD NEWS ...

A CRITICAL APPRAISAL OF TELEVISION'S INFORMATION OVERLOAD

CNN's round-the-clock coverage isn't the only reason the once-mighty evening newscasts at NBC, CBS, and ABC are now virtually obsolete. By packing their schedules from sunrise to late, late night with news, the Big Three have contributed to the info glut that has made sitting down to watch the nightly news seem like some outmoded ritual. But which of the three offers the best news package? We've graded all their current news shows and computed an average grade for each network. -Bruce Fretts, Nisid Hajari, Suelain Moy, Lisa Napoli, Lisa Schwarzbaum NBC

TODAY Weekdays and Saturdays, 7-9 a.m. (all times are EDT), Sundays, 8-9 a.m. Strengths:Strong hard-news first half hour; Katie Couric, skilled interviewer and engaging personality; Al Roker, delightful No.2 weatherman and weekend correspondent; Jim Brown, astute entertainment reporter. Weaknesses: Proliferation of NBC plugs; Bryan Gumbel,arrogant stuffed shirt; Willard Scott, too-ebullient weatherman; Gene Shalit, out-of-touch critic; oil-and- / water weekend anchors Jackie Nespral and Scott Simon (replaced by starchy Mike Schneider June 12). B

NBC NIGHTLY NEWS Weekdays,6:30-7p.m., weekends, 6:30-7p.m. Strengths: No mystique of personality, no flashy graphic, no scandals involving the re-creation of news events, just idiosyncracy-free news - how very retro - comfortably chaired by Tom Brokaw; good human-interest work on the ''America Close-Up'' segment; cozy commentary from John Chancellor. Weaknesses: Thin foreign capabilities; flare-ups of middle-of-the-road-it is with accompanying symptoms of dogged earnestness; a total snooze on weekends with hypnotist Garrick Utley. B

NIGHTSIDE Daily, 3:35-5 a.m. Strengths: the only overnight network news program on seven days a week - chronic insomniacs can count on it. Weaknesses: A dark, bookcase-lined set that has all the charm of a law office - or the Bat Cave; lackluster anchors Kim Hindrew, Tom Donovan, and Tom Miller; loaded with warmed-over filler news packages from local affiliates on such topics as a man who recycles wood; produced on the cheap in Charlotte, N.C., and it shows. C-

MEET THE PRESS Sundays, 10:30-11:30 a.m. Strengths: Moon-faced moderator Tim Russert, who gave this old gray mare a much-needed kick in the tail with his confrontational style; Prince of Darkness Robert Novak, Russert's hissable foil; refreshingly untelegenic print journalists Mary McGrory, David S. Broder, and R.W.''Johnny'' Apple. Weaknesses: Russert couches his hostility toward Beltway insiders in an overly chummy camaraderie; treats un-elected loudmouths Ross Perot and Rush Limbaugh as weighty thinkers. B+

I WITNESS VIDEO Sundays, 8-9p.m. Strengths: Shameless prurience; gory topics and immediacy of amateur footage hold a Faces of Death-Style charm; tastelessness keeps TV critics in business. Weaknesses: Shameless prurience; moralizing by host Patrick VanHorn and after- the-fact interviews are usually uninformative; vastly uneven segments - 10 minutes of a sinking cruise ship is interesting, but 10 minutes of a fire fighter performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a kitten should be a criminal offense. D+

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