"Chung can't get beyond cringe or shouting distance of her foes"
Chicago Tribune
June 26, 2002
by Steve Johnson


How many times can one TV show make you cringe?

CNN's "Connie Chung Tonight," in its rudderless, borderline embarrassing debut Monday, came close to setting a record for any program not starring Emeril Lagasse.

The cringes came:

when the opening credits made Chung walk, smiling, toward the cameras in a physique and friendliness display that is not required of, say, Larry King;

when it became clear the show employs a scary-voiced announcer, one of those guys who can make an interview with World Cup soccer players sound like a local news team's tawdry, sweeps-period investigative report;

when Chung's graphics folks misspelled the name of guest and Comedy Central host Jon Stewart as "John," costing the show what little younger-demographic credibility it may have had;

when, during the uncomfortably sloppy Stewart interview, Chung didn't know what an Xbox was and mistakenly upbraided the comic for what she misinterpreted as a tasteless reference to the Sept. 11 attacks;

when--this was the most painful one of all--Chung got up to high-five three guests from the U.S. soccer team;

and when she ended the show on an inappropriate domestic note, saying, "goodnight, [husband] Maury [Povich] and [kid] Matthew."

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, the show was an ill-defined hodgepodge of news, newsy interviews (the potential pedophile Dear Abby turned in; a relative of the alleged Colorado fire-starter), and morning-TV-style chat. Chung simply does not have the force of personality to make these disparate elements cohere.

The nearest thing to a plan "CC Tonight" seems to have is to rely on Chung's strength from her network newsmagazine days, her ability to land the big, exclusive interview. But that's a dangerous thing to promise without network clout behind her and in a world where so many others are playing the same game, including her CNN colleague King.

Chung's exclusive Monday delivered the shocking revelation that arson suspect Terry Barton's relatives think she's innocent. Viewers, though, were giving Chung a shot: 858,000 tuned in to the heavily promoted debut, CNN said. That's 160,000 more than CNN's 7 p.m. Monday average during the last six months but still 1.24 million behind her principal competitor, the Fox News cable ratings king Bill O'Reilly.

A TV show takes time to develop, of course. Chung is a professional who will likely settle down. But what will be left, still, is a milquetoast host and similarly bland show concept trying to compete in a universe of shouters and other strong personalities.


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