See Peggy Whedon run.
The producer of the ABC News Sunday gab session "Issues and Answers" has been on the go for 20 years. She flatters bigwigs, arranges flowers and makeup and satellite transmissions, dashes between countries and candidates -- all so that "Issues and Answers" will fill its half hour of castor-oil programming prior to the onset of the Sunday games.
Some of the backstage stories she tells in "Always on Sunday," her breathless chronicle of the highlights of those 20 years, are more entertaining than "Issues and Answers" itself. "It is not so much what is said but what is seen and felt that gives the interview its impact," she writes -- and it is clear that Whedon saw more of, say, Yasser Arafat, than her viewers did. (Memo to ABC News: Just what happened to all of those gifts Arafat gave Whedon?)
However, Whedon's ability to produce a book of her anecdotes does not begin to match her apparent ability to produce a TV show. Like her program, her book appears to have been composed on the run; unlike the program, "Always on Sunday" is not up to the race. It's a shambles.
Whedon's prose evokes unintended laughter. She describes King Hussein's throne -- "oh, so kingly! so regal!" -- as she sits on it, pondering "all the whys and wherefores of the inscrutabel Middle East" while her picture is being taken. Of course, no one requires television producers to write well. But there are also some startling factual bloopers, that should make any king of journalist blush. At one point, Whedon labels Morris Udall a Republican. She places Lebanon and Syria in Africa, which she calls "the dark continent." She says she was on hand when John Kennedy and Richard Nixon were nominated for the presidency at "the conventions of 1959." r
The book is haphazardly organized around news topics. Whedon discusses her adventures in the Middle East, her foray into Vietnam, political candidates she has known, Watergate, South Asian and European leaders, First Ladies. Suddenly she gives us two chapters that have zilch to do with "Issues and Answers": an inexplicable acoount of the problems she faced while trying to snag guests for the ABC News tables at a Washington Press Club dinner and a chapter of random comments on presidential campaigns. Back to Issues and Answers" once more, she concludes with stories from the 1980 campaign and Iran.
She mentions no programs on the economy, energy, the environment, civil rights, poverty or virtually any domestic issue.
Nothing ties the book together except the presence of Whedon herself. Her ABC colleagues, and ABC News itself, remain mere names.
Perhaps these are topics she is not free to discuss. She is still on the job this is no tell-all memoir. This factor also may have affected her assessments of the powerful pashas who are her guests on the show. She describes herself as "a fan" of Ronald Reagan, and she sounds similarly sycophantic about nearly every dignitary she meets. The exceptions are those whose presence will no longer be required on "Issues and Answers" -- Nguyen Van Thieu, for example, or Richard Nixon. Sometimes her appraisals of the famous seem artificially mixed. Within one paragraph, she calls Muammar Qaddafi "smiling and affable" and "very cold and deliberately distant." Maybe she is trying to placate both Qaddafi and his critics.
On the other hand, maybe she is genuinely awestruck by her guests -- and by everything else about her job. She sings hosannas to her show's meager set design; she arranged a John Anderson interview "so that all the light would be focused on his face in a Rembrandt effect. We featuring [sic] his highlighted face against a background of dark infinity." And she is "fascinated by that wonderful hour right before the show goes on: when the guests, front-page stars of the day, symbolically join hands with me, and we move onto the electronic stage together. It is a new moment in the history of mankind, born of television, born of a technology that is revolutionizing human existence."
No wonder she feels her job is so very, very important. Whether any readers outside the Whedon family will share this feeling is very, very doubtful.