Dispatches from the Twenty-Year War Between a Television Reporter and His Medium
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 A crisp report, both funny and sad, on the career of a TV-news correspondent. As a lonely 13-year-old in Pittsburgh, Burns studiously took notes on every gesture of those confident kids who danced on TV's American Bandstand. Years later in Parkersburg, West Virginia, he was still at it, this time observing his own performance on the tube as a local news anchor. Burns's quest for self-improvement and approval took him to Minneapolis and then, steadily, to the top tier of his chosen profession--as an Emmy-winning correspondent for NBC News--though never quite to the summit. Here, his notes--too selective and sketchy to qualify as memoirs--are, for the most part, hilarious: purported transcripts of on-air interviews; scripts; surreal conversations with powerful executives; backstage interchanges with crew and colleagues. But Burns can work quick changes on our emotions as well: Conned into an interview about her raped and murdered child, a Native American mother wears heavy makeup for her TV debut, looking like a hooker. As her tears wash away her mascara, the author knows he's made a professional coup- -but he wrestles with a conscience that won't let him feel triumph. Later, with NBC, he covers a riverboat mailman in Louisiana who turns out to be a monosyllabic bigot, almost impossible to interview--but Burns saves the assignment, adroitly turning the subject into a folk hero. The author's account of two years squandered on an unproduced PBS documentary is scathingly funny, detailing Kafkaesque meetings with sanctimonious bureaucrats whose double talk he cunningly reproduces. In one of his last skirmishes, Burns (now a commentator on Entertainment Tonight) was urged to become ``more wacky.'' Burns renders his blues with an almost unfailing ear, and if he occasionally hits a wrong note (an episode on Jessica Savitch seems unnecessarily mean-spirited), he's redeemed by his sharp observations, comedic timing, and rare self-understanding.

Pub Date: May 26th, 1993
ISBN: 0-06-019032-9
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 1993


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