Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
Watching "20/20," the ABC news-magazine which premiered on the network Tuesday night, was like being trapped for an hour at the supermarket checkout counter and having to read the front pages of blabby tabloids over and over again.
"20/20" is the Top 40 radio of TV news, an animated smudge on the great lens of telivision and probly the trashiest stab at candycane journalism yet made by a TV network.
For its first 20 minutes or so, the program was a kinetic explosion of shifting images in dizzying array - certainly impressive as a piece of tape editating but hard to distinguised in textures from the commercials. It was all zip-zip-zip, but it produced zilch. It looked like "Laugh-In," and they could have called it "News-In," because it represents the same kind of blitz on the mind.
There is certainly not the briskness and authority of "60 Minutes" nor the wit and sophistication of "Week-end" here. But as an alternative to those shows, "20/20" offers a sleazy choice we probably do not need.
The last half of the program was lightly more respectable than the first; it included a political portrait of and brief interview with California Gov. Jerry Brown who, in the breakneck spirit of opening night, was three times interruped by interviewers as he answered their questions.
Earlier, a report by Sander Vanocur on the possibility of nuclear terrorism within the United States started on a tastelessly sentioanlistic note (shots of the White House and the Capitol as we told how homemade nuclear bombs could destroy them) but verged into freshed and informative territory with a look at the "NEST" team that ferrets out stolen nuclear materials with helicopters.
It was hardly enough to redeem the hour's honor, however.
The ghastliest sequence was one ostensibly offering insight into the mind of comic Flip Wilson but providing a keener peek into the voycuristic mentality of the producers. Much of this segment had Wilson dabbing dramatically at his teary eyes as he recalled the time he spanked his little girl. The information quotient of this was flagrantly nil but it did have a certain campy bathetic appeal reminiscent of TV's "Queen for a Day."
Inexplicably chosen as cohosts for the program were the look-alike team of Harold Hayes, a former Esquire editor, and Robert Huges, an Australian-born art critic. What executive producer Bob Shanks saw in either of them is a mystery counterpart of "The Two Ronnies" of the BBC. Instead, the Dum's having a distracting and irritating Aussie accent.
He pronounced Susan B. Anthony's last name as if she were Marc Anthony's sister.
"Hughes" and "Hayes," as they referred to each other, sat at a desk in an overly elaborate media room in an overly elaborate media room and fake library, and occasionally correspondents materialized to report to them like students talking to their high school counselor.
First to show up desk-side was the redoubtable and self-parodistic Geraldo Rivera, whose foray into investigative gernalism on the first show was an endless and dubiously important expose on how jackrabbits are killed during the training of grey-hounds. "The rabbits don't stand a chance," said Rivera, who spoke as usual in tones of sepulchral indignation and allied himself with all the enemies of evil who have ever existed, Batman and Robin included.
Rivera's on-the-job outfits are as flamboyant as his self-glorifying reportorail style. With a red bandana around his neck and an open Western-style shirt, he looked like sokeone who should be accompanying Ratso Rizzo down 42nd Street.
The news boys at the other networks must have been in sttitches as Geraldo hid in the bushes to watch the secret sale of jackrabbits. It was pretty funny, but the fact is that "20/20" looks like just the kind of show that would have hatches in the mind if the ratings mad programming executive in the movie "Net work."
Even she might have had better sense, however, than to actually put it on the air.