New show, old story: good first instincts clobbered by bad second thoughts. At least that seemed to be the case yesterday as "This Week With David Brinkley" premiered on ABC.
The hour shows promise as an informal alternative to the funereal ritualism of Sunday news interviews like NBC's "Meet the Press," "Face the Nation" on CBS, and ABC's own "Issues and Answers," which "This Week" has replaced. But while the new program is different, it's not nearly different enough.
In fairness, Brinkley and company had a rug pulled out from under their debut when David Stockman, the Reagan administration's barefoot boy with cheek, withdrew on Friday as the show's first interviewee. Brinkley dealt with this on the air, conceding Stockman's decision was probably in his own best interest if he wants the curtain to come down on the current big show in town, his recent fit of candor regarding Reaganomics.
In his closing remarks, Brinkley said the Stockman story had given gossip-hungry Washington "something new to talk about, which is, after all, one of the foremost desires of the human race," and that Stockman decided not to appear "because he figured, and probably rightly, that that would keep it alive for another week, and he wants it to die of natural causes, and quickly, to force people to talk about something else."
The best segment on the show was the one that Brinkley has previously indicated is of the most interest to him, a relatively casual bull session that was to feature Brinkley, syndicated columnist George F. Will, and Washington Post executive editor Benjamin C. Bradlee but which yesterday also included free-lance pundit Hodding Carter III and a granite presence from the Wall Street Journal, Karen Elliott House.
Carter, though less the fuddy-duddy than on his own soporific and provincial PBS show "Inside Story," added little to the discussion; and House, no doubt invited because somebody decided the show needed "A Woman," contributed nothing. The combination of Will's unflagging percipience, Bradlee's earthy moxie and Brinkley's crocodile wit could obviously carry the segment with no help from gratuitous reinforcements; once or twice, they really got cooking.
ABC News also chose to supplement the show's home team with correspondent Brit Hume for the interview segment of the program, the guest being an affable but unspectacular Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.), hardly a match for the promised attraction, Stockman.
And all this was preceded by the first half hour of the show, more white noise from ABC News, essentially the usual "World News Tonight" fare except that the reporters seemed snider (Were they trying to imitate Brinkley? Do they think they have the equipment for that?). The reports suffered from creeping Arledgia, brainchild of that old devil Roone, which can be summarized as: keep throwing pictures on the screen no matter what they are pictures of.
When you intersperse pictures of nothing with pictures of something, you devalue the pictures of something. Witnessing this in action is like watching popcorn pop -- it's lively, but it isn't very enlightening.
One might have thought that Brinkley would bring an infectious classiness to the ABC News operation and that as a result, this new program, taking a cue from the prestigious CBS News production "Sunday Morning," would have a distinguishing keen edge, but it doesn't. Brinkley's own quickie chats in the first half hour with Sen. William Armstrong (R-Colo.) and an insufferably blabbery Felix Rohatyn were unproductive and stuffy; Brinkley is a talker, not an asker.
There were minor technical problems; everyone looked overlit in the new ABC News bureau where the program originated, and a great deal of sniffling and throat-clearing could be heard via the lavaliere mikes. But the central problem with the new Brinkley show is that there is not enough Brinkley in it, and that it is at this point insufficiently Brinkleyesque.