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2004-09-09 / This Week's Attitude

Sundays Wouldn’t Be The Same Without “Sunday Morning”

By Neil S. Friedman

Sunday mornings just wouldn’t be the same without “Sunday Morning.”

The entertaining and informative 90-minute CBS-TV newsmagazine recently encored its 25th anniversary show. I missed it when it was broadcast in January, which is uncommon, because in 20 years I rarely failed to tune in promptly at 9 a.m. every Sunday.

As I drink my first cup of coffee I’m almost mesmerized as trumpeter Wynton Marsalis’ lively theme plays while the familiar days-of-the-week graphics roll across the screen until “Sunday” and a grinning sun illustration fill the screen.

“Sunday Morning,” along with a handful of prime-time dramas, sitcoms and New York Yankees games, is on my must-see TV list.

In its early years I didn’t even know the show existed. I avoided it due to a misguided preconception that it was just another humdrum talk show confined to Sunday morning. But while working in entertainment public relations and recognizing it as an outlet to pursue, I watched it for a few weeks and became hooked — for business as well as personal reasons.

“Sunday Morning” is a mélange of timely topics, combined with subjects that stray from the routine and mundane news beaten track. While never hard-hitting, urgent or controversial, it is never boring. Most segments run almost ten minutes, which allows a subject to be explored beyond the traditional newscast span with more details from experienced correspondents and more images from skilled camera operators. In its formative years, except for “60 Minutes,” that sort of presentation was rare, but has since become imitated by similar prime-time shows that followed.

“Sunday Morning” respects its audience by not resorting to insincere, viewer-friendly devices to lure and maintain its audience. What you see is what you get, which is always clear, concise, informative or humorous segments on newsworthy issues. And what you get goes down as easy and is as refreshing as iced tea on a scorching, summer day.

Yet,the program never overlooks significant current events. In fact, because of its ability to present lengthier stories than the average newscast, it includes aspects of a news story you won’t see anywhere else. And “Sunday Morning” does so with intelligence, poignancy and an evenhanded point of view. Its stories stir the heart and educate the mind.

It may occasionally contain a segment for which I would otherwise ignore, but regardless of the topic “Sunday Morning’s” style is always engaging with an eclectic mix of stories and subjects about small towns and a person or group therein, art, music and nature. Original host Charles Kuralt referred to these as “gentler subjects” that TV journalism doesn’t get around to covering very often.

“Sunday Morning’s” extended nature segments are as well, if not better, produced than one-hour PBS or Discovery Channel programs. Flora and fauna from coast to coast and continent to continent are showcased and uniquely examined. Even the most hesitant environmental lovers can’t help being awed by Mother Nature’s wonder after seeing a few shows.

“Sunday Morning” can be best compared to Life magazine — for those old enough to remember the popular periodical — during its heyday from the late 1930s though the late 60s. Like the glossy weekly, the television program is interesting, informative, entertaining, sophisticated, and yet accessible enough for everyone. It presents distinctive slices of Americana you rarely — or never — see on newscasts or other newsmagazine programs.

When “Sunday Morning” premiered on January 25, 1979, Charles Kuralt declared: “Here begins something new.” That guarantee has been more than adequately satisfied. When Kuralt died, Charles Osgood was named his successor and has more than ably filled the role.

A few correspondents have come and gone and the program’s graphics have been tinkered with over the years, but the show’s distinctive style has essentially remained intact. After all, it wouldn’t make much sense to renovate what doesn’t need fixing.

“Sunday Morning” remains as tempting as just brewed coffee and oven-fresh bagels with Sunday morning breakfast. If you have yet to give it a taste, try it next Sunday morning. It should gratify even the most discriminating emotional and intellectual palettes.

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