The new CBS weekly news magazine "Who's Who," which premieres tonight on channel 9 at 8 o'clock, is a very promising program which needs some further thought and work to achieve what it aims for.
With Dan Rather, a host, and supporting roles to Barbara Howar and Charles Kuralt, this is not a mid-week version of "60 Minutes." That excellent news magazine show mixes investigative reporting on controversial subjects with human-interest stories about institutions and people.
"Who's Who" deals primarily with people who are not so much interviewed as they are profiled. The subjects tonight are conductor Leopold Stokowski, with Rather; Actor Richard Burton, with Howar; and Mona Allen, a 19-year-old railroad engineer in North Dakota, with Kuralt. The object is to have interviewed reduce their presence to a minimum so the subjects can reveal themselves through their own words plus pictures about what they do.
The technique is bought off with great skill. The Stokowski piece includes some footstage from two movies: "One Hundred Men and a Girl," in which Stokowski chases Deanna Durbin from a concert hall, and "Fantasia," in which Stokowski is congratulated by Mickey Mouse.
The Burton profile is about as revealing as anything seen or read about this gifted actor, in large measure the result of Howar catching him at the right reflective moment in his life and having the sense not to seek to play verbal Ping-Pong, but to just let him unravel his thoughts.
The profile of the young female railroad engineer is the kind of television reporting that Kuralt has made his trademark.
So the problem with the program does not come its profiles. It derives from what comes between them, when Rather and Howar stand in front of the drawings that adorn the walls of the striking set.
The purpose of the drawings is to allow the two of them to release to us some information about the subject of the drawing. Thus Rather moves from a drawing of Amy Carter to one of Miss Lillian to tell us that, despite attend to the contrary, Amy would attend Thaddeus Steven Elementary School in Washington: that the world is out among Carter staffers that as far as Evangelist Billy Graham in concerned don't call us we'll call you: and that Golda Meir told "Who's Who" that Israelis have no business meetng with officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). According to Meir "the PLO's are the killers of little children."
Later Howar told us a story about what Happy Rockefeller said to Nelson Rockefeller on election night: and that Paul Newman had refused to do Polaroid commercials because the contractual terms were an infringement on his private thoughts and actions. Then at the end of the program with Malcolm X when he was assissinated was an FBI agent; and that Henry Kissinger can make, once he leaves office, more in one week on the lecture circuit than he does in a year as Secretary of State.
It was all very interesting, though not very compelling. Instead of being used as a form of punctuation for the profiles or as a way of moving from one to another, the procedure in fact seemed to slow down the pace.
This is not a difficult problem, and when it is solved, "Who's Who" should attract a wide and loyal audience.