CBS' new "West 57th" may be almost as much about how television newspersons do their jobs as about the news itself. But that, says correspondent John Ferrugia, is what makes it different.
"West 57th," debuting at 10 p.m. Tuesday, needs to be sufficiently different to make it distinctive from CBS' other long-running magazine-format show, "60 Minutes." And it needs to be different to survive in a field where television magazines come and go quickly. (Just last week NBC introduced yet another, the monthly "American Almanac.")
Ferrugia, who has been covering the Reagan campaign and White House for CBS, is the only one of the show's four correspondents to be based in Washington. Colleagues Meredith Viera and Jane Wallace are base in New York. Both were substitute anchors on "CBS Morning News" and had worked with Ferrugia as he covered the White House, but until they gathered for "West 57th," he had never met them in person. The fourth correspondent is Bob Sirott, born, educated and still based in Chicago.
"These people are fun to work with," says Ferrugia. "I know these people and I'm working with good reporters." Though he had not previously met Sirott, he says, "Bob's a great storyteller. He takes a look at the world through a different eye."
Because all four are in their mid-30s, the program has already picked up the cachet of Yuppiedom. Ferrugia explained that when executive producer Andrew Lack was searching for a name for the show, a wag teasingly suggested "Yup to the minute." Lack, who has produced award- winning news shows for the network for nine years, eventually chose "West 57th," CBS News' address in New York.
Ferrugia is enthusiastic about the concept of the show, his confreres and the fact that after four years of covering the president he at last gets weekends off. He and his wife, Mona, who is executive director of Preservation Action here, are expecting their first child in December.
"West 57th" will air six programs in August and September as a lead-in to the network's new fall season, then go on hiatus until the "second season" begins in midwinter to allow its crew to work on the four to six stories they must produce for the 13 additional shows that are scheduled.
Ferrugia says that after 21/2 years covering the White House "it's time to move on . . . I want to tell stories." One of his first features -- for the pilot -- was about the drug PCP. He said he and his camera crew hung around D.C. General Hospital for four days and captured on film a PCP patient "who was breaking his teeth on the bars of the gurney."
He also has prepared stories about the death penalty, family violence, questionable medical practices, the physically handicapped.
Producer Lack says he plans "to look for stories that happen in front of a camera . . . We're going to try and find stories where we can get inside and show people what's going on, without us having to tell them . . . we want to convey the sense of surprise we often experience ourselves in covering a story. We're going to write and talk in the pieces as they're broadcast the same way we write and talk to each other when we come back from the field."
And for none of them will "57th Street" use a set. "We've tried to tear down the facade," Ferrugia explains, preferring to "get to essence of the story" through innovative production techniques and fast- paced editing that follows the reporters and editors themselves as they go about their work. "It's an attempt to use the medium to tell the story," he says. "Sometimes we just let the cameras roll."