Are we now witnessing the spectacular demise of that once significant cultural artifact, the network evening news anchor? Still, despite the acrid aroma of decline, the Three Wise Men, like the great marble busts of the Roman emperors, besiege a shrinking viewership nightly with their manly looks, their exuberant confidence, their expression of Stoic determination, and, most important of all, that fabulous hair. These talking heads -- granite pillars of respectability, all -- combine the saintly charms of the priest, the sagacity of the rabbi, the divine prescience of the minister with the warmth of your favorite uncle all wrapped up under one � strikingly ... beautiful helmet of robust hair.
Peter Jennings, for example, gives off the worldly impression of a long winter afternoon spent by the parlor fire in the company of old French novels. Tom Brokaw, recently retired, is a child of the Great Plains, an All-American outdoorsman, who would be at home hiking canyon trails, or, say, whitewater rafting in some red state. But Dan Rather? Well, he�s �colorful chap,� what can The Corsair say?
Rather�s eccentricities make us pine after the days when Walter Cronkite handled on-air anchor duties at Black Rock. Dan Rather�s infamous �What's the frequency, Kenneth?�episode is the stuff of explosive belly laughter if you are not careful. The story goes like this: In October 1986, Rather was roughed up while walking down New York�s Park Avenue in broad daylight. The ruffian, one William Tager, mercilessly kicked and pummeled the supine anchor, all the while repeating the mysterious phrase, �Kenneth, what is the frequency?� The Corsair can only hypothesize that Rather responded in a baleful pleading tone, �Not � the � hair!� Michael Stipe of REM, who later parlayed this quixotic little happening into a hit song, said of the incident, �It remains the premier � American surrealist act of the 20th century.�
To be sure, Dan Rather�s half-hour broadcasts venture unawares into the realm of outsider art. Take, for example, his odd penchant for phrasemaking. In his vague Texas twang, Rather delivers unintentionally hilarious metaphors via his unique consciousness, now commonly accepted in the broadcast news medium as �Ratherisms.� Of the tight 2000 Presidential election, Rather gamely opined on air, �This race is tight like a too-small bathing suit on a too-long ride home from the beach.�
Wildly inappropriate comes immediately to mind.
Also, why is this man allowed to break off into what can only be properly construed as �free verse� unmolested by a stiff reprimand from an Executive Producer? CBS Evening News was living la vida loca for a moment there.
And how can we forget The Anchorman�s infamous tantrum during the 1987 U.S. Open. After being told by producers that a match would run long, abbreviating the Evening News, Our Danny Boy mysteriously found someplace better to be, thus leaving the network with more than six minutes of dead air. Dan Rather, as anchorman, the ultimate �News Diva,� as Michael Wolff of Vanity Fair put it.
Meanwhile over at NBC, the highly implausible Wise Man, Geraldo Rivera actually once ran hard and hungry for the prestigious Tom Brokaw chair, a seat now occupied by the follicly privileged Brian Williams. Geraldo, you�ll remember, is the author of the salaciously titled autoerotic autobiography, �Exposing Myself,� � irony unintended -- a �tome� which starkly chronicled Rivera�s moist trysts with the likes of Liza Minelli, Bette Middler and Margaret Trudeau, the then wife of the sitting Canadian Prime Minister (Charmed, I�m sure); that this man would aspire to an urbane anchor chair is a supreme act of Daffy Duck logic. But Geraldo Rivera possesses cojones the size of honeydew melons, so Daffy be damned.
In an August 1998 TV Guide article, the man whose nose was famously �slam-jammied� in a scuffle with some puckish skinheads, brashly declared, �I'm running for the center chair at the desk of the wise men.� Don�t mock, reader, don�t scoff! Afterwards in another interview, in a characteristic exhibition of �the balls,� Geraldo trash talked the tragically mild but beloved ABC anchor, Peter Jennings, referring to him pejoratively as �Little Petey.� Ahem. Needless to say, that appeal to �the thug life� did not sit well in the staid precincts of network television news. Still, like a bad brandy, Geraldo lingers on, well past his introduction to the system, and is presently blowing hot air at large within the Fox News firmament.
But pity the oft-married Peter Jennings, who in a truly pathetic attempt to get ratings is selling his broadcasting integrity by "probing UFOs." Fucking: unidentified flying ratings. On his fourth marriage by our reckoning, so called �Little Petey,� a trusted name in evening news, ought to have conquered Tom Brokaw�s newbie replacement, the milk fed Brian Williams, and reclaimed the number one spot in the ratings in the wake of CBS�s Rathergate by now. That has not been the case. Instead, New Jack Brian Williams has scored some impressive bitchslaps over both Jennings and the soon to be retired Dan Rather in the ratings. This disturbing trend, if it indeed continues, cannot bode well for the future of Peter Jennings. It�s enough to turn even the most full-bodied and well textured anchor hair gray.
Ultimately, the future of ABC�s news may lie with Ted Koppel�s successor at the slumber inducing �Nightline,� now headed into its 25th Anniversary. Has anyone even noticed that milestone in broadcast news? Sugary-voiced beta male and former Clinton White House adviser, George Stephanopoulos has been mentioned as a possible replacement for that long winded magnum of chloroform (zzzz), Koppel. From there it would be only a hop, skip and a jump for George to replace Jennings. But we worry that �Nightline� would cut into George�s rather �athletic� sex life. Stephanopoulos� wife, the very frank Alexandra Wentworth, told the Washington Post last year that she and her husband make sweet love twice a day. That Stephanopoulos manages to host The Week for ABC in between these gymnastic booty calls commands our respect.
And so there you have it. Rather is on his way out, and no one is sure with whom or what evil CBS television overlord Les Moonves will fill the vacuum. (Bloggers, Les; we work cheap and have tons of opinions on the news) Peter Jennings is losing ground against the young upstart with the great hair, Brian Williams. And just about everyone else is watching Jon Stewart or 24/7 cable for their news. And that, in the end, might just be a good thing all told.