"Look, you've got your boredom," says Kelly Lange. "You've got your misery. You've got your tragedy. You've got to have your laughs, too. You've got to have your chuckles. Otherwise you're just asking too much of viewers who've been hassled all day long."
Lange is defending the fact that local TV newscasts tend to be salted with levity. Sometimes they are in fact levitycasts salted, with news. In a way, she is also defending her own status as an up-and-coming news personality. Now a busy anchorwoman, interviewer and talk-show host for the NBC-owned station in Los Angeles, Lange also pops up on the network from time to time. Expect more such popping; among the dominant industry rumors is that Lange will soon move into a Today Show berth, though she says she doesn't really want to.
Her current duties include co-hosting with Michael Landon, the Tournament of Roses parade to be seen Monday on NBC (Channel 4). This year the parade, at 11:30 a.m., will be preceded by a 90-minute program generously and lavishly promoting the network's ailing prime-time and daytime programs, with Lange interviewing their various stars.
This doesn't sound like a hard-news assignment. But we have to remember what Kelly lange represents. She is not a reporter.
Kelly Lange belongs to the new breed of pop TV journalist. She's a newsonality.
"We do not hell of a good newscast," she says of KNBC's early evening two-hour all-star news revue. "We have the highest rated news in Los Angeles, which is a big market. When the last sweeps came out, we had a 12, ABC had a 9 and CBS had a 5." Lange says she and her colleagues do not do the bouncing "happy talk" trivializing kind of news show. That's on the ABC station. In fact, she thinks KNBC keeps frivolity to a minimum. "We are less guilty, let us say, than are most other local news operations.
"We don't even look at the ratings. We see them when the sweeps come out and if we won, they put them on the bulletin board, which is how I saw them."
Still, not everything on the news is the news. Lange does occasional special features in which she visits movie stars' homes. Hmmm. "Well look, here in Washington you've got all the politicians and there, we've got all the celebrities. They're all there because that's where we do all the product, so we have them on all the time. They're our home town people."
Is Lange in show biz or news biz? It seems obvious. "When you put the news on TV, it's a show," she says. She's even at work on a screenplay, like everybody else in Hollywood (who can so much as blink). "I love it out there," she says of tinselania."The weather! The ambiance! That's why I don't want to move to New York. The NBC building in New York is rigid, right? A different atmosphere. But Los Angeles is where all the production is: There's very little left in New York. Jackie Gleason is in Miami and . . . what else? But this is where all the stuff is. So you walk down the hall with your news script and you say 'hi' to Johnny Carson walking by. And an elephant walks by. It's fun, you know, people in their cutoff jeans or whatever, a much more relaxed atmosphere.
"Also, there's a caring as far as production is concerned. The people out there really care. It's a known fact that the guys and gals out there seem to be more together as far as putting things together."
"It's not an easy business. It's structured so the weak of heart don't make it. A lot of people get hardened and let it roll off their backs. I've never been able to be that way. I care . I care, you know? Maybe that's silly but that's the way I am."
The way Lange is happens to be the way more and more imparters of the news on television are; Kelly Lange is hanging 10 on the wave of the future. Sure, there are good solid reporters in TV news, but the TV news directors no longer insist that their reporters have a background in the grittier and perhaps less ego-boosting world of print. In college, Lange thought she was going to be a teacher; she broke into TV news spotting traffic jams from a helicopter.
Newsonalities tend to look good and sound good - they come across on the air - and their function is often that of picker-upper. They sometimes deliver non-news about fellow celebrities - soft-core gossip, idle chater, and pleasing tales of retrieved orphans and redeemed bums. With sunny smiles and shiny teeth, they spread the gospel of everything's-going-to-be-alright. After all, we've got to have our chuckles.
And we know they care because they say they care.
Then, too, there is the discomforting fact that the big TV news stars all have agents who sweat and strain to get them zillion-dollar deals. Lange is hardly alone in this. Her agent is Norman Brokaw. He's also Menahem Begin's.
I don't see anything disreputable about having an agent. DO YOU?" Well, do you. It does seem a little glitzy for the news biz. - Tom Brokaw was always that way about it, conservative, you know, Aw, the jugglers and the clowns, whatever. And then he turned around when the big money was coming down the pike, and he signaled up with one of the most showbizzy agents there is, a guy they call The Hook. Right. Well I would not sign with The Hook. Hook asked me to sign with him. I would not go that far, because he has certain tactics that do not agree with my way of doing things."
Brokaw - Tom, that is, who is not related to agent Norman - started at KNBC like Lange (who entered the TV news biz under the name Dawn O'Day). And so did the man with the million dollar eyebrows. Tom Snyder, another big news star at NBC. Snyder and Brokaw - they're the - two heavyweights and I learned so much from," Lange says.
She credits Snyder with introducing what she calls - interplay" - chit-chat between news persons - on the KNBC news. Here's how he did it: One night, 15 seconds before air time, he grabbed Kelly's script out of her hand and threw it in the wastebasket.
So come the revolution in broadcasting.
"I've never had it so good," Lange says of her NBC position, but late last year when her contract came up for renewal and ABC made her an attractive offer, she couldn't refuse and decide to leave. Under the terms of the old contract, though, NBC could keep her if they matched the new offer. They did. Lange stayed on. "I remember crying, not that I didn't love NBC. They're very good to me. I do my work. I do my thing. And consequently, there's a lot of respect on both sides."
But enough talk of journalism, for now Lange has to leave Washington to continue a multi-city tour promoting the Rose Parade coverage. Before going, she extends an invitation to visit the city of Los Angeles and offers to help get tickets for the Johnny Carson show.
Tickets for the Johnny Carson Show? Thanks just the same. But hey - next time you see him in the hall at NBC, do say hello.
Say hello to the elephant, too.