Sunday, May 21, 2006
Count me among the millions of news enthusiasts who will miss the Sunday night stylings of one Mike Wallace. For as long as I can literally remember, this master of the mellifluous evisceration has been refining the form he helped to create: the contentious TV interview. Crooked bureaucrats, mob bosses and movie stars; they've all fallen prey to Wallace's erudite inquiries and debonair stare. Now this irascible communicator is stepping away from his Sixty Minute duties, bringing to end his incredible career as the prototype newsman. At 88, he's more than earned it.
Still, I cannot help but think that with Wallace goes the very best of his breed; old school scribes and irascible broadcasters whose biggest thrills came from simply exposing wanton chicanery, not the overnight rating surges all those televised takedowns produced. Those are days l-o-n-g gone. A show like Sixty Minutes in its prime would have dominate even today's 500 channel line up. To think that Wallace took most of his victims in a three network world is mind boggling. No wonder he was the most dreaded man to be found loitering outside your office park, chop shop or Hollywood mansion.
These days, the carefully lit two shots and sweating brow close-ups that Sixty Minutes virtually invented are the intellectual properties of a generation bent on mock irony and stilted satire. As a result, the deadpan interrogators of The Daily Show owe Wallace and his gravitas rat-pack just as much respect as all those comedy albums they listened to back in the day. As for me, I'll be here behind the camera, listening to the windbag factory of cookie-cutter Kent Brockmans and real life Ron Burgundys clear their throats and grasp for that Mike Wallace menace, even though the lot of them aren't worthy to touch the great man's coat.
At least that's how it feels through the viewfinder...