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
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.