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Another look at Walters's best. `20/20' co-host unspools favorite snippets from past

Barbara Walters wanted to know whether Jane Fonda was sorry for her actions in Vietnam during the war. So Ms. Walters did a very Barbara Walters kind of thing. She asked Ms. Fonda. On camera. It's a style that has made Walters unique in the annals of TV news - a style we'll see in a ``20/20'' 10th anniversary special tomorrow (preview at right), in forthcoming segments of that ABC newsmagazine, and in Walters's own specials.

Speaking with a Monitor interviewer about the Jane Fonda segment (which will air June 17 on ``20/20''), Walters said, ``I wanted to ask her how she feels about still being called `Hanoi Jane' and does she want to apologize for anything she did and said during those Vietnam days. She told me she was not sorry she went to Vietnam, but she is sorry for some of the things she did there.''

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Walters admits she rarely does celebrity interviews on ``20/20'' these days, saving them for her ABC specials. Her 50th special will air in December.

``When I started [the series of specials], I did Jimmy Carter and King Hussein and people like that. But people preferred Barbra Streisand and other stars, rather than news interviews. So that's what I do on the specials these days.''

Her all-time favorite interviews? ``Jean Harris - that was the most touching I have ever done. And there was Klaus Von B"ulow. And the Iranians Kashoggi and Ghorbanifar. And the Duvaliers. Oh, there have been so many!''

Walters enjoys working as co-host on ``20/20'' with Hugh Downs. ``We balance each other and genuinely like each other. There's no competitive feeling, and that comes through to audiences.'' That wasn't the case when she was co-host on the evening news with Harry Reasoner, she admits. ``Harry never wanted a partner, whether it was me or anybody else.''

She predicts that audiences will be seeing more news shows in prime time. ``News programs are so much less expensive to produce than entertainment shows. And, in a time period where you can't beat the entertainment show - as in the case opposite Cosby - the network might as well put on a less expensive show. But also, more and more news shows are turning to magazine coverage ... because national news has to compete with local news.''

Walters feels that ``20/20'' differs from ``60 Minutes'' mainly in that it does many service pieces designed to improve the quality of life of its audience. ``And don't forget, `60 Minutes' is in a protected period, when their only competition must be children's programs or other news shows. We have to compete against `Miami Vice' and such entertainment shows. So we must be more concerned with reaching out to wide-ranging audiences.''

Walters, who has been married for two years to Merv Adelson, board chairman of Lorimar-Telepictures, commutes between California and New York, maintaining homes on both coasts. Might she tire of it soon and retire? ``Listen, I have three years to go on my ABC contract, and I have the most exciting job anybody could imagine. I love what I am doing, and I would not want to change - certainly not go back and anchor a news program. I work hard, but I can't imagine ever stopping work and retiring. What would I do - shop?''

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She does dream of more traveling for pleasure, however. ``Recently Merv and I went to China and Tibet with no VIP treatment, just as tourists. It was the most marvelous trip ever.''

How about a book? ``Well, you never can tell. I understand there are two unauthorized biographies of me being written, and I know they have to be mean and sensational to succeed. Maybe someday I'll have time to sit down and write my own.''

`20/20' marks its 10th year

Ten years ago, ``60 Minutes'' reigned supreme in the rarefied atmosphere of TV newsmagazines. Then, along came ``20/20.'' It premi`ered to generally neg-ative reviews in realms of taste and judgment. Audiences as well as critics turned back to the proven excellence of ``60 Minutes.''

After many seemingly frantic changes in on-camera and off-camera staff, as well as changes in time periods, the program is finally hitting its stride on a consistent basis under the aegis of co-hosts (since 1984) Barbara Walters and Hugh Downs. During the 1987-88 season, an estimated 20 million viewers tuned in each week.

``20/20'' has not only survived; today it is considered often more timely and relevant than ``60 Minutes.''

In its 10th anniversary show (ABC, tomorrow, 9-11 p.m.), hosts Walters and Downs introduce samples from some of the show's most interesting segments - Ms. Walters interviewing everyone from Richard Nixon (he concludes he should have destroyed the Watergate tapes) to Attorney General Edwin Meese. In between there are clips from hard-hitting investigative and consumer reports, and a series of wide-ranging, fascinating pieces that have helped make ``20/20'' the exciting magazine show it often turns out to be.

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