CBS's 'The American Parade' comes marching in
What promises to be television's most foot-stomping, flag-waving, all-American show starts next Tuesday. And - predictably - the host is TV's Mr. Americana himself, Charles Kuralt.
Probably the most un-American thing about The American Parade (CBS, Tuesdays, 8-9 p.m.) is the fact that it dares to air opposite NBC's ''The A Team'' which has come to be regarded as, itself, a kind of American classic of the mindless, violent action-adventure series.
And just to make certain that you don't miss the point that ''American Parade'' is about America, CBS has brought in Korean video artist Nam June Paik to help create the show's unique $120,000 set which features more than 300 television monitors picturing scenes from around the US. 165 of those screens will form a giant American flag, just for good measure.
''Parade's'' format will differ from week to week. Occasionally, explains the show's senior executive producer, Robert (Shad) North-shield, it may take the form of a one-subject documentary by such CBS News luminaries as Bill Moyers and Walter Cronkite; but most often the show will be presented in multisegment format featuring Kuralt's ''On the Road,'' interviews conducted by Diane Sawyer and Bill Kurtis, plus features by Morton Dean, Andrew Lack, and Maria Shriver. Art Buchwald will appear regularly to comment on political events. It is also expected that CBS News correspondents like Dan Rather will make appearances, expecially during primary and election days.
Northshield, a more than 30-year veteran of TV news and originator of the much-acclaimed ''Sunday Morning'' news show, wants to make it clear that ''Parade'' will not be a ''Sunday Morning, Primetime.''
''It will have more popular type of material and it'll be more quickly paced, '' he explains. While he describes the thrust of the show as ''celebratory'' of America, he also wants to make it clear that there will be no phony patriotism. ''But there is such a thing as the American dream and we won't hesitate to investigate it, even if it means tough pieces as well as Kuralt's wonderful soft pieces. Andrew Lack, for instance, is in Togo right now doing a piece on the Peace Corps there.'' And, according to reports, ''American Parade'' will probably be using some of that Nixon interview which CBS News bought recently.
''Our major strength will be Charlie Kuralt,'' Northsield underlines,''a man who understands America better than anyone else in journalism.''
A chat with Charles Kuralt
I spoke with Charlie one day last week while he was in town to work on both CBS's ''Sunday Morning'' and ''American Parade.'' He had just flown in fron Oregon where he'd left the white van or, as he calls it, ''the bus,'' with Izzie and Larry, his on-the-road partners.
In addition to hosting and his ''On the Road'' pieces for ''Parade,'' Kuralt will do a weekly Almanac. ''It's a feature that will try to stay in touch with what's going on in America,'' he explains. ''Community celebrations, azalea festivals, snookies coming back to Oregon. This week the brown bears come out of hibernation in the Poconos, for instance. I'll be telling all America things about the country that are known only locally.''
One of the highlights of the show, says Kuralt, will be his weekly conversation with humorist Art Buchwald. ''I'm just the straight man. Art and I have agreed that I won't even know what he's going to talk about because he wants somebody to laugh at what he says. I met with him the other day, and he says: 'Just try me.' I said: 'Isn't it amazing how Grenada has dropped out of the news.' He answered: 'Charles, I've been thinking about that. Do you realize how much nutmeg every man, woman, and child in America is going to eat in order to pay for that invasion? Despite all his other projects, ''On the Road'' is what Kuralt seems to care about most. He still likes to describe these features as focusing on ''significant insignificance.''
''We just did a couple of sweet ones in Missouri and Oregon. There's this doctor in Lincoln, Mo., who works for free among the poor farmers. And then there's this guy in Oregon who still runs a steam-powered sawmill. His memories of virgin forests and early logging . . . really tell people what the country used to be like.''
Kuralt says that early on there will be a Bill Kurtis interview with Muhammad Ali and a Diane Sawyer interview with former Treasury Secretary William Simon. ''So, with people like that handling important personalities, I think 'On the Road' should keep the franchise on people you haven't heard about.''
What would make the new show a success in Kuralt's eyes?
''I have been struck by how little we know one another; it's such a big country. New Yorkers don't think there's anything west of the Hudson until you get to Hollywood. I'd like to show them a thing or two about the rich and varied country that exists between the two coasts.
''Then, I've heard people in Nebraska and Kansas say that they can't imagine anybody living in New York. It just seems to them to be a sort of impossible Gomorrah. New York is filled with interesting characters and interesting things they should hear about.
''Wouldn't it be nice if we prove to be an intelligent alternative to (NBC's) 'The A Team.' And, if at the same time, we help Americans to understand America better. Maybe it seems silly . . . and even a little pretentious . . . but we do have the chance to do that.''
''American Parade'' doesn't sound a bit silly to me. But, if it threatens to get too pretentious, you can depend upon Charlie Kuralt to cut it down to size.
When Rita Jensen's roommate was revealed to be Weather Underground member Kathy Boudin, a serious ethical problem arose for journalist Jensen: Was she obligated to report the details of that part of her life for the newspaper (the Stamford (Conn.) Advocate) which employed her as a reporter? Or was she entitled to privacy?
That's the problem posed in a fascinating edition of Inside Story (PBS, Friday, March 23, 9-9:30, check local listings for repeats). Hodding Carter probes the question with Ms. Jensen, who now believes she has ''come to terms with what happened'' and wants to ''start exerting some control of her own life.'' She has also had difficulty finding another job on a newspaper.
Appearing on camera are Dick Oliver, assistant to the editor of the New York Daily News (who says she is ''a lousy reporter'') and feminist free-lance writer Susan Brownmiller, author of ''Femininity'' (who disagrees and says she believes Ms. Jensen acted within her rights in refusing to write stories about her private life).
Carter sums up by stating that ''every individual has a right to a measure of personal privacy . . . the Boudin story was (a great) story but not one owed to the public or required to write . . . at least not in the heat of the moment. What do you think?''
If the program does not clarify the issue, it will at least force viewers to think about it. What do you think?