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Jeff Simon: Of waves, raves and morning faves: Putting the 'TV' in focus on TV news

Jeff Simon: Of waves, raves and morning faves: Putting the 'TV' in focus on TV news

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Hurricane Ida had just made landfall Sunday.

Al Roker, 67, was there to meet her.

Standing on the shoreline as waves battered his shoes and shins and splashed the hoodie covering his head, Roker looked to be one good oversized wave from being swept out to sea, never to be seen or heard from again.

That's how he delivered his latest report on Ida to Chuck Todd of Sunday's venerable "Meet the Press" – onetime home of Tim Russert and Lawrence Spivack.

In an era where people aren't afraid to rethink the basics, a lot of people seemed to agree afterward that the time has now come to reconsider the necessity of having lovable, 67-year-old weathermen risking life and limb by standing as close to the business end of a hurricane as possible. It's a relic based on traditional war reporting where embedded journalists in earlier eras were able to give the point of view of combatants to the folks back home.

AccuWeather's Kim Leoffler was live in New Orleans on Aug. 29, where Hurricane Ida had already caused severe damage to a building shortly after landfall.

The trouble with that in weather coverage in the TV era is that it's unnecessary. Hurricanes aren't TV shows; they're dreadful happenings in nature. Lives and property are lost. Power is wiped out. Communities are lucky who can fight total extinction by achieving long-term upheaval instead.

Truly phenomenal news photographers routinely give us a sense of weather calamities and other disasters. We don't need "stars" clobbered for emphasis. Every time I see winds tearing roofs and walls off buildings and California wildfires engulfing one more house in the night, my heart is in my throat. The presence of someone with a microphone in the middle of it all is pointless. I know that someone amazing risked life and limb, whether professional or amateur. To get that close to horror for photographic purposes is human courage in the raw.

Dangerous proximity is bone-chilling enough. Senior-citizen weather-charmers don't need to be there to dance their resistance gavotte to nature's murderous tune.

It's an ancient argument about TV news: Just what IS it? TV or news?

A new version of it is about to hit us all in the morning next week when "CBS This Morning" gets a new name – "CBS Mornings" – and a new anchor lineup: Still Oprah Winfrey-buddy Gayle King and sidekick Tony Dokoupil but replacing Anthony Mason in the third chair with former NFL player Nate Burleson, an alumnus of the wide receiving corps of the Vikings, Lions, Seahawks and Browns

Not only is Burleson replacing Mason but the whole show is moving to Times Square, in an old MTV studio. They'll be just a hop, skip and an ego leap from ABC's much-better-rated bunch at "Good Morning, America": Robin Roberts, George Stephanopoulos and gap-toothed former New York Giants defensive crusher Michael Strahan.

Yes, yes, I know very well what you might be thinking. Here was a morning TV news show on CBS that was once proud of its news purity when King teamed up with the sagacious Charlie Rose – whose private sexual behavior evinced something less than his public sagacity, thereby earning him a ticket out of the big money. And now that "pure" show seems to be shooting its arrows at some of the same things as "Good Morning, America."

Let the weeping and teeth-gnashing commence.

Not so fast. Something else also seems to be happening. And I'd urge all of us to keep our powder dry before we train all our cannons at CBS News. We need to see what they're doing first.

There's some good news, too. When, on Wednesday, King, Dokupil and fill-in third wheel Vlad Duthiers discussed the changes, they said its supposed model was going to be "CBS Sunday Morning."

Ahhhhhhh, "CBS Sunday Morning." As far as many of us have been concerned for decades, it's the best news magazine show on television, by far.

"CBS Sunday Morning" goes all the way back to the invention of Charles Kuralt and was subsequently hosted for many years by eccentric Charles Osgood. When his age crept too far north for executive comfort, the show was cannily seized by Jane Pauley in one of the smarter TV comebacks of our era.

It has long been a much-better show than "60 Minutes," whose headlong investigative journalism and prestige still can't be denied but whose variety and grasp of cultural subjects has slipped badly.

That is where there's room for the new CBS game plan to surprise us all.

The loss of Mason from the show's co-anchor chair may actually turn out to be a good thing. Mason, it's now said, will be a regular arts and cultural journalist for CBS. Anyone who has ever seen his touch with rock and pop music can't help but think that's a good thing. He's serious and personally engaging at the same time.

It's true that Mason is the only fellow in current TV who has some of the witty, scholarly aura of TV news in the era of "Murrow's Boys" at CBS and John Chancellor and David Brinkley at NBC. But his work has as much solidity as it does wit.

In that respect, a little bit of "CBS Sunday Morning" added to the recipe of CBS News' new morning package would be a splendid development.

As for new host Nate Burleson, let me confess that may prove to be interesting, too. I've lately been watching a lot more early sports TV than usual on ESPN where the splendid rants and raves of Stephen A. Smith have been some of the funniest and meatiest commentaries on TV when they were aimed at Smith's sparring partner, Max Kellerman.

After five years, Kellerman will be leaving Smith's ring. Let's hope it's for much greater things because he deserves it.

Will Burleson learn a thing or two from Smith's outrageous and bombastic ranting? Good question.

An even better question is this: Will Rachel Maddow learn something from ESPN's ease and confidence to add to her own?

Maddow's new contract calls for her to do a lot more behind-the-scenes production and direction.

Maddow's exchange in her new contract was for more power at MSNBC, it seems, as well as more money, in honor of her healthy viewership numbers.

I don't know for sure, but I'd be willing to bet that her contract stipulates that during hurricane season she doesn't have to get her shoes, shins and hoodie wet.

Then again, let's hope it doesn't have to.

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Semi-Retired Columnist and Critic

Jeff Simon began working at The News as a copyboy 57 years ago. Since that time, he has been closely involved in all aspects of The News' cultural coverage – as critic, columnist and Arts and Books editor for 25 years.

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