The good old days @ CBS News: Sunday Morning

No insult to Viacom, Sumner Redstone, Larry Tisch and Co. but in the time that all those different media interests were tied up, Sunday Morning has become hostage to the synergy everyone ‘thought’ might exist between CBS and Viacom. Meaning we get celebrity interviews with Serena Altshul or celebrity interviews with Martha Tieschner or celebrity interviews with Rita Braver. Or we get editorials from Ben Stein.

What you don’t get are those long ‘set’ pieces, slice of life as it were called Postcards from Nebraska and Postcards from Maine. Roger Welsch and Tim Sample were the epitome of the Charles Kuralt style “On the Road” story-tellers. You could fine out more about what the USA was like just by letting these guys pick a topic, script it up, shoot the stand-ups and atmosphere shots, then do the voice over narration. By what I read in Wikipedia just now Tim did 100 stories and Roger did 200 stories. I cannot tell you how much those little insights to a geographical local did for me. I felt like I knew the places they talked about, like I had actually been there.

There is no other program on Cable or Broadcast TV that can hold a candle to the good old days, not of just Charles Kuralt but a good part of the time Charles Osgood was around too. But 2002 marks the end of the good old days for me. That’s when there was a decidedly strong move to redirect the appeal to a younger audience. MTV properties/personalities crept in to give the program a broader appeal. But how young really? Do kids today even watch MTV or remember “Week in Rock”?  Similarly there’s a segment that started this past year in a kind of breathy sciency, whiteboard kind of way that tries to explain things. It in fact has a whiteboard as it’s theme. Where one guy animates what the other guy narrates in an over fast-paced overly distilled and grossly simplified kind of way. It’s not very good, not very educational and comes off almost kind of as an infomercial for ‘saving the environment’. I dislike it, and flip the station the minute I see the white background show up with two shoulders high headshots of guys in dress shirts(that’s the visual cue their segment is up next).

And then last but not least I sadly have watched the erosion of that wonderful ending segment before the credits roll and trumpet blasts one last time. Just like the Postcards segments the shots at the end of scenes from around the U.S. usually in a state or National Park were to die for. They were so beautiful, austere, serene and I held my breath waiting to see how long it could last. In the days of Charles Kuralt it seemed to go on forever. Birds chirp, wind blows, leaves rustle and creeks babble along with just heart breakingly beautiful shots of this land. This land. Now all that we get is about a sum total of 1 minute quickly cheaply shoe horned in and then those credits fly by, and I mean fly. It’s as if you were trying to read a billboard from the Concorde flying at tree top level. It is a joke how fast the credits fly by. If you had any hope of reading any attributions in the credits, forget it.

Every year that goes by I tell myself, Sunday Morning is getting worse I should just stop watching. But the habit is so ingrained into my own Sunday morning. It has become my Sunday copy of the Washington Post. I don’t read the newspaper any more, but I would set apart 90 minutes every Sunday to watch the car ads, the investment ads and now a lot of pharmaceutical ads just to see what the busy people at CBS had cooked up and edited together in the last 7 days. I do not for a moment think I could do better. Any kind of TV production is in a word a non-trivial task. And doing it roughly 52 weeks (even with some repeats) is a challenge. I applaud the folks who have been there still since the days of Charles Kuralt and do what they can to keep the erosion from wiping out the whole program. Kudos to those people. But to everyone else who has had a part in the small, slight ever so subtle ‘accomodations’ made to management you have done more to harm Sunday Morning than to help it.

And in the spirit of the good old CBS News: Sunday morning it too leave you today with poem. It’s by Robert Frost and you may remember it from your middle school days before the time of ‘whole language learning’. It’s about a fleeting moment of something not so much seen, but felt, barely perceptible:

Others taught me with having knelt at well-curbs
Always wrong to the light, so never seeing
Deeper down in the well than where the water
Gives me back in a shining surface picture
Me myself in the summer heaven godlike
Looking out of a wreath of fern and cloud puffs.
Once, when trying with chin against a well-curb,
I discerned, as I thought, beyond the picture,
Through the picture, a something white, uncertain,
Something more of the depths--and then I lost it.
Water came to rebuke the too clear water.
One drop fell from a fern, and lo, a ripple
Shook whatever it was lay there at bottom,
Blurred it, blotted it out. What was that whiteness? 
Truth? A pebble of quartz? For once, then, something.

And so too, CBS News: Sunday Morning was once that whiteness. For once, then, something.





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