Here's a clue: His name is Hugh Downs. Now, name the category. Television personality Hugh Downs, host of ABC's "20/20" (Thursdays, 10-11 p.m., checl local listings), was at one time announcer for the "Jack Parr Show," host of the "Today" show and the game show "Concentration." He has been narrator for many documentaries, author of six books on various topics, consultant to the Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions, and now is also president of the National Space Institute. He has been called a television communicator, America's No. 1 generalist, and it is acknowledged that he has probably logged more hours on TV than any other performer.Skip to next paragraph
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So, what is his category?
Responds Hugh Downs, in New York to do "20/20" live before flying back to San Francisco t otape mor segments of "Over Easy": "I don't know how to categorize what I do. I face that every time I fill out a customs form that asks for occupation. I haven't know for the past 25 years what to put down. I'm really tempted to put down -- professional human being."
One of the surprises of the 1979-80 season has been the strength of ABC's newsmagazine show, "20/20," which started out as a poor imitation of CBS's "60 Minutes" and, with the addition of Mr. Downs as host, rapidly developed a character of its own.
"I do about one feature every four or five shows," he says just a bit sadly. "I'd like to do more, but I don't think it's right for me as an anchor person to be in the field much more than that. The value of an anchor is to give some sort of cohesive identification that makes it a program, gives it a focal point. And that's about what it comes to, barring occasional commentary and the normal personality vibrations exuded unavoidably by a person in an anchor position unless he's extremely cold and machinelike. . . ."
Hugh Downs is definitely a warm personality even though he does exude a kind of brisk, no-nonsense air of get-down-to-the- business-at-hand. Generalist he may be, but his wide-ranging knowledge and sensitivity to the need of others for information make him a master purveyor of entertainment-information.
According to Mr. Downs, the highest rating the show ever got was a 48 percent share of the audience with its segment on Elvis Presley a few months ago. "It proved how many Elvis fans are still out there. He's one of those performers who will never die -- like Isadora Duncan, James Dean, and the Beatles. The fanatical loyalty to Elvis caused a tremendous reaction to Geraldo Rivera's report which alleged that it was drugs which really killed him. At first it was hostile but then it changed because Geraldo'r report was compassionate. . . ."
What topics seem most to interest "20/20" viewers?
"Consumerism, medical reports, and, oddly, safety. . . ."
Is that also true of "Over Easy," the daily public TV program concerned with the problems and rewards of aging?
Mr. Downs smiles and shrugs. He has a boyish grin which lights up his whole face and sets his eyes asparkle -- especially when he is imparting worthwhile information.
"It really is consumerism, too. They want to know the latest on social security, inflation, things economic. So many people on fixed incomes can't go out and get a job -- just on the borderline of making ends meet -- are now beginning to tear apart because they're having to choose between paying for their heating oil or eating. Something has to be done for those people. Their apprehension is real and justified.