Correction to This Article
A May 18 Style article incorrectly said that Walter Cronkite was a reporter for CBS Radio during World War II. He covered the war for United Press and joined CBS in 1950.
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'Cronkite' Grasps The Admired and The Avuncular

Actor George Clooney is among those who appear in a tribute to Walter Cronkite tonight.
Actor George Clooney is among those who appear in a tribute to Walter Cronkite tonight. (Cbs News)

Cronkite's presence is part of the nation's communal memory of the tragedy. "He handled it as a human being first and an anchorman second, and I think, at times like that, that's what you want," Couric says of the assassination and its aftermath. "He calmed America down," recalls Don Hewitt, founding producer of "60 Minutes." Rather calls it the moment when "television news as we now know it was born."

Even in person, Clinton says, Cronkite "has a calming and elevating effect on everybody around him." Not that he's stuffy. He likes to drink, likes to dance and will launch into a kind of mock-striptease "at the slightest provocation," according to actor Clooney. Fortunately, there's no tape of that. Not mentioned: He's also known in the business as a notorious tightwad who never picked up a check at lunch. Not shown: a charming moment from a Cronkite series called "Universe" in which Cronkite donned top hat and tails and did a soft-shoe to help illustrate some scientific theory or other.

Many other events, minor and momentous, are recalled, including his role in ending the Vietnam War and his more-than-infectious support of the space program ("Whew, boy!"). When man walked on the moon, it was as if Cronkite were there himself, making those funny footsteps in the gray dust, and us beside him.

Kathy Cronkite, one of two daughters, makes a few observations about her father and her mother, Cronkite's beloved Betsy, who died barely three years ago and of whom Cronkite says, "I miss her every minute."

Watching this chronicle of Cronkite -- seeing him again with presidents and potentates, with Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin, in a jet over Vietnam and in a NASA training vehicle that simulates weightlessness -- one might think of words printed on the screen during the fake newsreel that begins the movie classic "Citizen Kane." They were corny, and meant to be, but they seem to fit:

"All of these years he covered, many of these years he was."

'National Bingo Night'

"National Bingo Night" isn't a television show; it's a malaise. It's a sign of sad times: networks so desperate for quick-buck, high-concept brain-bypassers that they'll try turning even the primitive game of bingo into a pathetic imitation of spectator sport.

Worse than the cheap diversions that NBC regularly heaves into the airwaves at the 8 o'clock hour ("Deal or No Deal" being a relatively respectable exception to the rule), ABC's "National Bingo Night" amounts to little more than the reading of numbers, a contestant hopping himself into an embarrassing frenzy, and a studio audience outfitted with bingo cards and cheering the contestant on even while hoping he'll lose. The contestant's loss is potentially their gain.

The major, perhaps only, twist on bingo as practiced at carnivals and in church basements is that the numbers are chosen by a contestant who pulls an electric "trigger," releasing one oversize ping-pong ball from a huge plastic bubble in which the numbered balls whirl. He guesses whether each number will be higher or lower than the one that preceded it, accruing a jackpot that grows with each correct hunch.

Those numbers correspond to those on bingo cards held by the studio audience and "the folks at home" (apparently viewers will be able to play along via the Internet); thus the contestant loses everything if anyone shouts "Bingo!" once five numbers have been chosen. At least I think that's how it works; I may have dozed off once or twice even with all that hysterical screaming from the audience and repetitious rabble-rousing from a host with an accent similar to that dreadful insurance-company lizard's.

Only about half the premiere episode was available for preview. On behalf of all the hard-working TV critics of America, may I say a heartfelt "thank you" to ABC for that generous shortcoming. It's the only merciful aspect of "National Bingo Night," believe me.

That's the Way It Is: Celebrating Cronkite at 90 (one hour) premieres tonight at 8 on WUSA (Channel 9).

National Bingo Night (one hour) premieres tonight at 9 on WJLA (Channel 7) .


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