A POPULAR DAYTIME television talk show went back on the air yesterday. It is the House of Representatives, which has gained a sizable audience around the country since coverage of its floor proceedings started going out over a cable television network in March. Most people expected that some school systems would use the broadcasts as a teaching tool, while some voters might watch major debates. But the daily show from Capitol Hill has acquired a wider following, including many people who tune it in, watch sporadically while doing this and that, and become quite familiar with its story lines and leading characters.
Why should House members be surprised by this? Most coverage of state legislatures and local governing bodies has been well received. The broadcasting of the Canadian parliament has been a great success. The popularity of the House coverage simply shows again that public interest in Congress' proceedings goes beyond the most dramatic, headline-grabbing debates. Visitors to the Capitol enjoy watching even the most desultory proceedings in the House. Now, though the tightly focused House cameras do not cover the entire scene, voters can at least follow the speeches at home.
Some members of Congress have latched onto the new possibilities for publicity and have begun aiming more floor speeches at the home audience. Speaker Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., who has never been wildly enthusiastic about televising the House, is especially annoyed by what he sees as a surge in "special orders," the speeches that members may make at the end of each day, usually to a nearly empty chamber, on any large or small topic that they choose.
Before the recess, Mr. O'Neill was grumbling about trying to discourage these speeches by turning off the cameras. But these announcements and orations are traditional in the House -- and the best remedy for excesses is more broadcasting, not less. If Mr. O'Neill would let the cameras take in the entire scene, everyone could see the representatives speaking to an empty room. Nothing is likely to discourage such self-indulgence more than critical comments from the viewers back home.