Bill and Bob are ready to rumble
- Pete Schulberg
- Portland Tribune - Features
It's about time two of television's most tube-friendly dudes Ñ both of them married to hardworking U.S. senators Ñ got off their duffs and climbed back in the ring.
On Sunday, CBS' '60 Minutes' kicked off its newest feature: the resurrection of 'Point/Counterpoint,' this time starring Bill Clinton on the left and Bob Dole on the right.
There's a slight difference: It's a minute shorter than the original segment from the '70s, thanks to what Executive Producer Don Hewitt concludes is a shorter audience attention span.
You do remember these guys, don't you? One was a former governor whose campaign for the presidency got a shot in the arm when he played the sax on Arsenio Hall's old talk show. He adopted a warm and fuzzy approach for a 1992 debate showdown with the elder Bush, and even, presciently, took a question from an MTV audience about his taste in underwear.
The other guy, of course, knows his way around a studio as well, having done commercials for Viagra, Visa and Pepsi when not on the campaign trail.
Like so many of us, I wondered where Bill Clinton would land after leaving office in 2001. At first, there was a flurry of speculation that he'd wind up with his own syndicated talk show. Or, as some Clinton bashers hoped, his own sitcom (based on his presidency). A reality show Ñ 'I'm a Former President! Get Me Out of Here' or 'Bill Millionaire' or, most appropriately, 'Survivor' Ñ would have been a sensible fit.
But this is an excellent idea, returning to the place where he and Hillary answered questions from '60 Minutes' correspondent Steve Kroft about Gennifer Flowers, when that brouhaha broke during the '92 primaries. That appearance may have saved the election for the Clintons.
For Dole, it's an opportunity to get back at the guy who beat him in 1996. Hopefully, this time around, he won't be afraid to bring out the keen sense of humor he mysteriously abandoned during his unsuccessful presidential campaign.
The best part of this, however, is that networks and especially local TV stations might see this as an opportunity to bring back the lost art of commentary. If it works, copycats will be coming out of the woodwork. And for oft-neglected TV news commentary, that would be a welcome change.
In Portland, only KATU (2), with Lars Larson and Ron Saxton, offers any kind of commentary on its newscast. And for that, the station deserves praise. But Larson's 'Contradictions and Common Sense' is often as confusing as its title. Besides, there's nobody around to counter Lars' ultraconservative bluster with some left-leaning bluster.
Stations need to figure out how to make commentary as stimulating and (dare I say it?) entertaining as it is informative. That was the secret behind the original 'Point/Counterpoint' with Shana Alexander and James J. Kilpatrick. Both of them knew how to reach out and hook viewers. Otherwise, we would never have seen Dan Aykroyd's 'Jane, you ignorant slut' become one of the most popular catchphrases ever from 'Saturday Night Live.'
With cable news so heavily into opinion Ñ shrill and contentious though it may be Ñ it's odd that we're not seeing more commentary elsewhere.
Now, thanks to 'The Bill and Bob Show,' maybe it will. Can't wait for the next episode of 'Saturday Night Live.'