The prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons makes even the most tender-hearted of U.S. foreign- policy doves a little queasy. On Sunday, NPR kicks off a nine-part series called The Challenges of a Nuclear Iran that takes an exhaustive look at the problem. It covers everything from the prospects for diplomacy to the practical questions surrounding a military option as well as the implications for Israel, Saudi Arabia and other neighboring states. Here's a clip of NPR Pentagon correspondent Mary Louise Kelly discussing some of the factors that would have to be taken into account for launching a military strike on Iranian nuclear sites.
Now that the rollout of Nielsen people meters in South Florida is complete, the company can give us much quicker snapshots of what we're watching on TV. And that turns out to be telenovelas and Don Francisco. Of the top 10 primetime shows in South Florida the week of Aug. 10, only one aired on English-language TV: WFOR-CBS 4's 60 Minutes, tied for eighth place. No. 1 was Univision's Saturday extravaganza Sabado Gigante; the rest of the top 10 consisted of various episodes novelas, WAMI-Telefutura-69's Yo Soy Betty, La Fea and WLTV-Univision 23's Manana Es Para Siempre. Of the top 31 shows, 21 were telecast in Spanish.
Forget all this talk about how we're moving toward a 12-month-a-year TV season. We're already there. The past few days have been rife with reports of cable networks renewing hit seriesthat debuted this summer: Syfy picked up its X-Files-with-a-laugh show Warehouse 13, Lifetime its hottie-reincarnated-as-fatty Drop Dead Diva, USA its life-among-the-filthy-rich Royal Pains as well as the spy action-comedy Burn Notice, a summer hit three years running. And the return of AMC's Mad Men, another summertime regular, rolled up monster raters the likes of which basic cable nets rarely see at any time of the year. The broadcast networks haven't had much summer success because, despite all their talk about a new model, they keep plugging in second-string shows between June and August. But TV's not all about broadcast anymore, even if the networks haven't figured that out yet.
Walter Cronkite may have defined the role of the television news anchor, but CBS producer Don Hewitt -- who died of pancreatic cancer Wednesday at age 86 -- practically invented TV news itself. From literally the very first network newscast (which he directed on May 3, 1948, with Douglas Edwards at the anchor desk) through the first televised presidential debate (which he produced on Sept. 26, 1960, with John Kennedy and Richard Nixon at the lecturns) through the first news magazine (60 Minutes, which he created and nursed to the airwaves for the first time on Sept. 24, 1968), Hewitt was at the forefront of virtually every important innovation in TV journalism.
It was Hewitt who in first used cue cards -- the primitive ancestor of the Teleprompter -- for anchors. It was Hewitt who came up with the idea of "supers," putting type in the lower part of the screen. It was Hewitt who first used used two film projectors, allowing editors to cut back and forth in a story. It was Hewitt who pushed hardest for evening newscasts to expand from 15 minutes to 30, and he produced the first one: CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite, on Sept. 2, 1963.
Not all of Hewitt's ideas were gold. Before he thought of using cue cards, he wanted CBS anchor Edwards to learn Braille so he could speak directly into the camera while reading a script with his fingers. And 60 Minutes was a mixed blessing. Not only did the show introduce the so-called ambush interview, a cheapshot tactic that produces great video but lousy journalism, it spawned hordes of penny-ante imitations with an ever-more-tabloid bent. Hewitt himself conceded the proliferation of 60 Minutes ripoffs had less to do with journalism than network economics: "Behind every news magazine there is a failed sitcom.” Not that he had any regrets. "I don't believe in journalism making a mistake is a crime," he said a few years ago. "I think the crime is not admitting that you may have made a mistake."
Robert Novak, one of the most influential political columnists in Washington for more than four decades and one of the original regular faces on CNN, died Tuesday, a victim of the brain cancer he'd been fighting for more than a year. He was 78.
Novak,a young reporter at the Wall Street Journal, quit his job in 1963 to team with the New York Herald Tribune's Rowland Evans on a syndicated column that exposed political malfeasance and electoral incompetence. Originally it was the scourge of practically everybody in the Washington universe -- Time magazine once called Evans and Novak "zealots of the center" but during the tumult of the late 1960s it began marching steadily right. The column ripped 1972 Democratic presidential candidate George McGovern so regularly and so devastatingly that Evans was kicked off the campaign's main airplane and forced to travel on a secondary plane with foreign reporters and TV technicians. "Okay," Novak warned McGovern staffers with infamous irony. "No more Mr. Nice Guy."
Though their column was carried in more than 300 papers, Evans and Novak gained their real fame on television. They were both regulars on NBC's Meet The Press and CBS' Face The Nation, and Evans in particular took delight in playing the sneering, scowling bad guy. When he sank his fangs into a politician, he wouldn't let go. One of his most notable exchanges took place with Jimmy Carter, who during the 1976 presidential campaign frequently denounced the U.S. diplomatic corps as full of "fat, bloated, ignorant" men who got their jobs by bankrolling Richard Nixon's political career. On Face The Nation, Novak asked for specific names; Carter ducked. "Can you name one?" demanded Novak. "There are only four ambassadors, governor, who have contributions to Mr. Nixon. Are any of them that fit that category?"
Evans and Novak joined CNN soon after it went on the air, and Novak -- as a frequent co-host of Crossfire with liberal journalist Michael Kinsley -- pioneered the evolution of TV talking heads into screaming heads. Soon the scorched-earth pageantry of Crossfire metasticized onto Capital Gang and other CNN shows, where Novak became known as The Prince of Darkness -- a title he lifted for his 2007 autobiography.
He was philosophical about it. "Not all people may like it, but it is discussing public issues," he told American Journalism Review of his TV shows. "Sometimes intelligently, often not intelligently. But at least we are talking about taxes, Bosnia and affirmative action and not 'I used to be a teenage vampire' or something." Some Washington reporters who knew Novak thought his hellfire TV persona was just an act. If so, it was consistent with Novak's estimation of the city in which he worked for half a century, the one he offered in his autobiography: "Little in Washington is on the level."
The BBC has come up with some unaired outtakes and band chit-chat from the Beatles' Abbey Road recording sessions. They'll air in Great Britain on Sept. 5 in a documentary called The Beatles on Record that follows the group's recording history from 1963 through 1969. Whaddya say, BBC America? Are we going to see it here?
Hollywood births and deaths:
** Newest addition to ABC's Dancing With The Stars is former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. If the show, which debuts Sept. 21, has a tap-dancing event, he's a cinch.
** It's last call for Holly Hunter's debauched cop in Saving Grace. TNT will wrap the show up in an abbreviated nine-episode season next summer. Cause of death: money, or the lack of it. Ditto for Reno 911 over at Comedy Central.
** NBC, which apparently thinks there's still viewers to be had among comic-book readers despite the declining ratings of Heroes, has picked up a show based on DC Comics' Midnight, Mass. The comic, a sort of ghost-busting version of The Thin Man, follows a sophisticated married couple as they investigate paranormal mysteries. Hollywood has tried to adept Midnight, Mass. into a film for years with no success; now TV will take its shot.