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September 09, 1988 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 1988-09-09

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4

Page 14 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, September 9, 1988

Who Killed CBS?
By Peter Boyer
Random House
$18.95/hardcover
Prime Times, Bad
fTimes
9) Ed Joyce
Doubleday
$19.95/hardcover
"'Whoever put together the dust
jackets for Peter Boyer's Who Killed
CBS? and Ed Joyce's Prime Times,
i't d Times knew what she was
doing. Both jackets compare their
respective books to last year's
highly successful movie, Broadcast
News, which confirmed everyone's
most cherished stereotypes of
broadcast journalists as air-headed
egomaniacs for whom journalism is
simply a vehicle to success.
Boyer and Joyce's accounts of the
chaotic history of CBS News in the
post-Walter Cronkite era fulfill their
promises to give you more dirt than
ytu dreamed possible about the once
undisputed leader among network TV
news divisions. Like Broadcast
News, however, the books take on
self-righteous tones hypocritical for
a couple of guys trying to cash-in on
te phenomenon with would-be best

0

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Elizabeth Winthrop, past recipient of
the PEN award for short fiction, has
written a complex, gripping account
of the Webster family.
There is Lydia, the matriarch, d'
woman before her time, who runs
for state legislature during the
women's suffrage movement. She
attempts to lend her strength to her
daughter, Charlotte, and tells her,
"You see, it's awfully important for
a girl to be strong in life. You,
probably won't understand what I"
mean for a long time, but one day-
you'll remember and be grateful. I
want you never to be afraid of
anything the way I was as a child. If)
you are afraid and you show it,l
people can take terrible advantage oft
you.
Charlotte,however, rebels against
her mother's attention. At one point,
Charlotte remembers, "inside a little
voice of defiance cried: I don't ever
want to be like you." Ironically, but
not surprisingly, Charlotte treats her
daughter, Molly, in much the same
way. Winthrop has created true to
life relationships that show the
delicate intricacies of mother-daugh-
ter relationships. She shows the
differences between the women
through their view of .the family

News, novels resemble soaps

president of CBS News under Sauter
and served as president between
Sauter's terms, has a bone to pick
and he declares that from the very
start. Sure enough, Prime Times,
Bad Times is a tattle-tale book that
makes it difficult to decide who you
dislike more - the seemingly
endless list of money-grubbing,

Both books offer enough scandal, corporate
politicking, and mud-slinging for those who
couldn't get enough of Broadcast News (or
Network, or The Powers that Be).

sellers.
The villain of both accounts is
yan Sauter, CBS News president in
82-84 and again in 1986. Sauter is
per.trayed as an image-conscious
wieeler-dealer more concerned about
whizz-bang special effects than
geeing out the news. He's accused
qhselling-out "the house that
Wwrrow built" to capture"moments",
mire valuable as stimulation than
news.
The validity of this criticism of
Sawter is irrelevent, since the only
damative offered is the preservation
ofQthe privileges and the pecking
cider of the "old boys" network at
CBS News. Neither alternative was
cwcerned first with journalism.
IdBoth books offer enough scandal,
dorporate politicking, and mud-
a1inging for those who couldn't get
qpough of Broadcast News (or
Network, or The Powers that Be).
Boyer's is preferable over Joyce's,
lbiwever, if only because he covers
the same material in 200 fewer
pages.
i>Joyce, who was executive vice

back-stabbing characters, or the
pious, misunderstood author.
Joyce peppers his "personal drama
of network television" with
flashbacks within flashbacks within
flashbacks and page-long biographies
of people that receive only passing
mention after that.
One particularly fascinating
theme is the size of Dan Rather's
head in relation to the Evening News
graphics. While writing of that,
Joyce begins talking about CBS czar
William Paley's views on the
subject, which leads to a flashback
to the first time Joyce met Paley,
which leads to more musings on
Joyce's early career. Eventually you
get back to Paley's role in the
decision-making process at CBS, and
then, at last, to Dan Rather's head
-which you have no doubt
forgotten entirely as you try to
remember who took over as station
manager in Los Angeles after Joyce
left, the entire corporate structure of
CBS Inc., and a morass of other
details which serve only to make the
book fatter and, thus, more

expensive.
Whichever reviewer called Prime
Times, Bad Times "riveting" was
right - reading it is about as
pleasant as having a hot metal stud
driven through your head with a
high-powered tool.
Boyer, a New York Times
television writer, speeds along and
before you know it you have a fairly
well-written, straight-forward, well
written account of the fall of CBS
News.
But while Joyce's book is a first-
hand memoir, with all the expected
one-sidedness, Who Killed CBS?,
which claims to be a balanced
account, lacks in the research
department. That Bob "Deathbed"
Woodward called the book "great
reporting" is enough to make me
doubt its completeness, but kinder
readers will not find other
discrepancies.
Joyce, for instance, is not among
those listed as interviewed for Who
Killed CBS?, despite his important
role during the period. Boyer treats
him unsympathetically as an
unimportant hatchetman for Sauter.
Note also that both books were
published about the same time -
inevitably, Boyer knew of Joyce's
upcoming account which would
compete with his own.
Boyer also cites a profile of
Sauter by Esquire writer Ron
Rosenbaum as "particularly
valuable". Joyce disputes the
article's accuracy, particularly it's
portrayal of Sauter role at The CBS
Evening News:
"(Dan) Rather described the fight
in a lineup meeting for the broadcast
over which of three stories should be
the lead, the Falklands, the Middle
East, or Princess Di's baby. The
writer had a good ear for a quotable

phrase.
"'I decided we had to go with the
royal baby,' Rather said,'on the back
fence principle.'
"'We might take some heat on it,
but I'd defend it,' Van chimed in his
support.
"Not once in the past year could I
remember Van taking part in an
Evening News lineup meeting."
Both accounts seem so intent on
digging up generous portions of
sleeze that, 800 pages later, you still
wonder who killed CBS. If you want
to know that, don't look here.
' --Robert Earle

Then after selling billions of copies, in both
hardcover and paperback versions, the rights to
the book are sold, and it becomes a TV
miniseries so that billions more can experience
these epics.

,1

A

Leaves of Fortur
By Linda Barlow
Doubleday
$18.95/hardcover
In My Mother's
By Elizabeth Winthrop
Doubleday
$19.95/hardcover
A glance at the bestse
shows that multi-generation
by the likes of Danielle St
Belva Plain steam t
bookstores, with their por
princesses, palaces, and p
Then after selling billions o
in both hardcover and pa
versions, the rights to the f
sold, and it becomes a TV m
so that billions more can ex
these epics.
Case in point - Lea
Fortune by Linda Barlow is
with the events that bring in
and ultimately viewers. Wh
be better for a miniseriest
story of the Templeton tea
run by the 80-year old matr
the family, Minerva Temple
the struggle for control beta
grandson Travis an
granddaughter, Delilah? (Ev
11I

ie

,

names are appropriate for a
miniseries.)
But that's not all. There's the
rags to riches rise of Delilah, from
her days as a clerk in a health food
store to her success as the head of an
herbal tea company. There's the
romance of Delilah and Travis who
had an affair several years ago ... and

they're first cousins ( it turns out
that they're even more closely related
House- but you won't find that out until
about halfway through the book or
three days through the miniseries).
Finally there's the obligatory love
ller list triangle - Nick, Travis' younger
ial sagas brother, is also in love with Delilah.
eele and Of course the two brothers fight for
up the her affection - perfect for the
traits of climax of a 12 hour miniseries.
anache. Leaves of Fortune is the stuff that
f copies, miniseries are made of - and that's
perback not saying much.
book are From its billing as a saga that
iniseries takes the reader "from the
perience brownstones of turn-of-the-century
New York to the farmlands and
ves of tobacco fields of Connecticut," In
steeped My Mother's House appears to be
readers much like Leaves of Fortune - yet
at could another novel of epic proportions
than the with torrential romance, tumultuous
empire, striving towards success, and a
riarch of happy ending.
ton, and Unlike Barlow however,
veen her
d her
ven their

estate:

"For Lydia the house had always?
loomed friendly ... she came home
... grateful for its peace and safety."
"For Charlotte, the house of her
childhood did not 'loom friendly' andt
she rarely went in ... " "
"Molly came back too. 'Why?'
Charlotte asked her daughter once.]
'Why do you keep going back'
there?' 'Because it feels like home,"'
Molly replied."
At one point, Winthrop writes,
"In the Webster family, the women's
lives were threaded in and out of that
white farmhouse in Northington like.
the piece of string a bird weaves into
its nest." It's this kind of prose that'
elevates In My Mother's House"
above sappy screenplay commentary.-
In My Mother's House is a book
that would make a great basis for a
miniseries - but unfortunately it's
too good for prime time.
-Lisa Magnino

I

4
N

Interested in writing about film, theater,
music, books or dance?
Join the Daily
Arts Staff
Call 763-0379 for
details I

L

m

11

-U

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