What can you say about a week of television where a well-worn movie like "Cheyenne Social Club" finishes first in the ratings while Eric Sevareid poignant interview with Anne Morrow Lindbergh finished next to last?
Admittedly, "Cheyenne Social Club" starring Henry Fonda and James Steward is a nice piece of fluff about what happens when Fonda's brother dies and leaves him a brothel. It is the kind of confection about the West that the movie studios produce for our amusement and their profit - a harmless bit of synthetic history.
But Mrs. Lindbergh is not synthetic history. She is a part of history: the widow of the most famous American celebrity of the first half of this century. She's also a celebrity in her own right, not simply because of her marriage but by virtue of the fact that she is a gifted author.
And the interview was not your usual one-on-one conversation. The executive producer, Perry Wolff, used imagination and flair in punctuating the conversation with snapshots and old newsreel film of Lindbergh's historic flight to Paris, their flights together all over the world, the fatal kidnaping of their young son, and Lindbergh's trips to Nazi Germany which,in a few years, were to tarnish the hero's mantle he had worn.
Nor was Sevareid at fault in the way he interviewed Mrs. Lindbergh. He asked very personal and difficult questions about her husband - but in a becoming and gentle manner that could serve as a guide to a currently fashionable school of television interviewers. And she answered those questions with candor, insight and tenderness.
It was a remarkable hour of television. A colleague of mine, not noted for a sentimental view of life, told me later that he and his wife were in tears when the program ended. it represented television at its very best.
The program as well advertised by CBS, and came after a great deal of publicity the previous week on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of Charles Lindbergh's flight to Paris. So it wasn't as if this program was aired in a vacuum of anonymity.
But perhaps that is where I am wrong. It might just be that in this celberity-crazed atmosphere that we journalists have done so much to foster, a woman like Anne Morrow Lindbergh is not famous enough to attract a television audience that would have placed the program higher in the ratings.
It can be argued that I emphasize the ratings too much. After all, despite the program finishing next to the bottom, it may have been seen by 15 million viewers. That is a matter of no small importance. But it doesn't offer much consolation to news departments fighting to get prime time for their specials.
People at CBS-News must be asking themselves, especially after they have taken their best shot with a program like this: What do we have to do to attract a larger audience?
Perhaps there is nothing much they can do if they want to devote time and energy to programs of this quality. Maybe the bulk of the television audience simply is not interested in conversations with individuals who can begin and end a sentence without once having to say: "Yuh, know?"
There must be a moral, albeit a small one to thefact that "Cheyenne Social Club" and a conversation between Anne Morrow Lindbergh and Eric Sevareid finished at opposite ends of the ratings.
One show is a small bit of tomfoolery set in a fake historial setting. The other is television magic arising out of real people and real history. Have we all sat in front of our sets so long that we have no appetite for the latter?" I'm afraid to try to answer the question.