April 02, 1984 12:00 PM


Call it Washington Squares. It’s America’s longest-running game show, the Presidential race. But the pols aren’t the only ones running. So are the game-show hosts, the network anchors. The standings in that race:

NBC is the front-runner, in quality at least, thanks to the performances of Roger Mudd, John Chancellor and Tom Brokaw on Super Tuesday’s orgy of oratory. Chancellor provided the best analysis of the race. Mudd’s playful punch-up with Gary Hart was the most entertaining interview of the campaign thus far. “Why,” Mudd asked Hart, “do you imitate John Kennedy so much?” (“I don’t,” Hart replied.) Some called it nasty; yes, some called it Mudd-slinging. But Roger was only doing his job, asking tough questions, just what any politician deserves. To be fair, Mudd also should have jabbed Walter Mondale, who got off easy at the hands of Brokaw. NBC took the risk of putting its election-night special in prime time at 10 p.m. (the other networks waited until 11:30). It lost to Elizabeth Montgomery’s Second Sight on CBS and, yes, to Hart to Hart on ABC, but did “have respectable ratings.

CBS is No. 2, pulled down by Dan Rather’s metaphor madness: The race was “as hot as a hickory fire,” Hart was “moving like a freight train,” Mondale was “off the side rail,” Jesse Jackson was “chugging along” and George McGovern was a “cut-loose caboose.” Stop that train! Rather also could not refrain from asking Hart aides what they felt in their “heart of hearts.” Stop that pun! Rather was the most eager to call the races—too eager. Rather wanted to declare Hart the Democratic nominee already; his CBS colleagues couldn’t agree.

ABC is a distant third. Peter Jennings, the handsome Remington Steele of network news, and David Brinkley, the Grandpa Walton, were simply boring. Their interviews were softer than Merv Griffin’s, pure pap. When Hart made the preposterous statement, “I’m not fighting Mondale,” Brinkley only muttered, “Oh come on.” He didn’t follow it up. ABC would have been far better off with Ted Koppel anchoring.

And then there is Cable News Network, the Fritz Hollings of the TV race. Poorer than the networks, it cannot afford the exit polls that let them predict an election before the votes are cast; it used UPI projections.

But it was a CNN anchor who found the silver lining in all these clouds of political hot air. “Since the primaries began,” he said, “nobody on TV has mentioned those You-Know-What Patch Dolls. That must be some progress.”

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