Committed to the First Amendment
By Staff -- Broadcasting & Cable, 2/2/2003 7:00:00 PM
On the Broad Shoulders of Giants
It was hard, make that impossible, not to see a changing of the guard last week in the news that Ted Turner would be exiting AOL Time Warner and Don Hewitt will be stepping down from 60 Minutes.
The change is not immediate. Turner will resign as vice chairman of AOL Time Warner at its board meeting in May, and could remain on the board, and Hewitt won't be giving up the reins until next year.
Not that Turner has been much of a player since the merger, but he was still suited up and in the dugout and ready to go if the manager had ever called. Crude, difficult, loud and brilliant, not necessarily in that order, Turner has made for good copy and even better television for the good part of four decades. He has been a true pioneer, which means he took risks to stake out new territory. He also cussed and bullied, shot up the town on Saturday night, and had a way with the dance-hall gals. Through it all, with sweat, luck and chutzpah, he helped build an industry by being audaciously right at almost all the right times.
Last week, Turner said enough, although, if his name on an anti-war ad was any indication, he will make that voice heard for the causes he believes in, including, as the largest shareholder at AOL Time Warner, greater stock value.
Hewitt's grudging departure (we would expect no less) from atop the show he built will remove one of the last links to the glory days of CBS News, to Murrow's boys, who took on McCarthy and won, who pioneered the modern newscast, presidential election coverage, ground-breaking documentaries and, of course, the TV newsmagazine. With more than 30 years on that ever ticking watch, 60 Minutes is the single most popular TV series in history. It was, and is, intelligent, tough journalism that became the model and touchstone for the raft of imitators that followed. Its continuing popularity shines as a ray of hope in today's too often bleed-for-me, crud-eating, ratings-pimping TV world.
We will miss both of them.
Long Live the Kane
The FCC says it is ready to define what broadcasters' public-interest requirements will be for digital television. It has always been difficult to balance the medium's regulated status and the need to keep the nation's principal news and entertainment organ as free as possible from government intimidation, influence and control. But here's one thing the new rules shouldn't be: a wish list of mandates and prohibitions from various regulators, legislators and public-interest groups. That is not because many of us wouldn't like to see broadcasters doing more of one kind of programming and less of another; it's because the mechanism for determining that balance of programming should be the free interplay of viewer and medium, not the dictate of government. The public's best interest is served by an electronic medium as free as the press, and that means free to be exploitive as well as exceptional. Or, as Michael Powell put it last week in another context: "I understand anxiety about Citizen Kane, but don't replace him with King George."
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