A critic has been described as someone who comes down from the mountain after the battle and shoots the wounded.
With this column, I am coming down from the mountain. In a few weeks, will be joining ABC News. So this is something in the nature of both a farewell and a reflection. On such an occasion, one is tempted to sound large chords. Age and experience, however,mandate the tinkling of small notes.
When I started this work two years ago, I received a letter from a former NBC colleague, now the dean of a distinguished school of journalism. he said that when he first read about what I would be doing, he was surprised. But after thinking about it, he said it made sense, for he knew that I had always been a critic of television - even while I was working on it.
And he was right. This characteristic has been, according to other friends, either a blessing or a curse. it certainly has not been a prescription for steady work within the television industry.
The past two years have been, on the whole, a pleasant interlude. The Washington Post paid me real American dollars to sit in front of a television set day in and day out, and tell readers what was good, what was bad and what defied description of any kind.
But The Post also wanted something else. It wanted me to write a column twice a week to tell all of you what all that viewing meant. That was easy. All one had to perform was a process once described by sports columnist Red Smith as merely sitting in front of a blank piece of paper, waiting, while small beads of blood formed on one's forehead.
I would like to be able to tell you that over the past two years I had a clear idea about what service a television column should perform. But that is not necessary. If you have read these droppings faithfully, your are perfectly aware that I did not have a clue.
If there has been any general rule motivating me, it was only that there be no general rule. I wanted the column to be entertaining and informative. And on some occasions it was. What I did not want it to be was cruel. But on some occasions, I fear it has been.
That was not intentional. it has never seemed to me that a television column should be used exclusively for target practice against individuals or institutions. Ventin spleen may be marvelous for one's own ego. I am not sure that it is helpful to readers who look upon television as a powerful force in our society and seek to understand its workings.
That was always a problem with the column. How do you balance the necessity to be entertaining but at the same time informative about television? I'm not exactly an ingenue in this business, and I know exactly what happens when a reader is confronted with a choice between reading about Sonny and Cher or yet another column about the pros and cons of "the family hour."
Yet it was absolutely necessary to use the column from time to time to write about issues like the family hour which seemed to me to be a direct assault on the freedom of expression and the talents of people who write and produce television programs. These columns may not have been entertaining, but they were necessary.
The sound of the small notes tin kling grows fainter. There is not much more to say. There is no regrets, no looking back, nothing but the expectation of returning from whence I came. I thank you for your attention.