TV's high-glamour host with farmhand hours
New York — David Hartman is proud of the Chagall murals which decorate his office. Of course, they are across Broadway on the far-off third-floor walls of the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. "But I can see them perfectly in the Afternoon when the sun can't harm the murals and they open the drapes," he explains as he points out the drawn curtains which protect "his" Chagalls.
In his arms, as he stands at the window of his "Good Morning America" corner office in the ASCAP building, is baby Bridget, eight weeks old, the youngest of three Hartman children (the others are boys, 5 and 2 1/2). Bridget yawns, bored already with the interview, and Mr. Hartman yields the cute bald bundle to the nanny who has brought her for a visit.
"Okay," he says, resuming his relaxed position behind his desk on which are the plastic-boxed remains of what had been his late- morning breakfast, "let's talk." He radiates the famed Hartman grin, designed especially to make you feel comfortable in the morning.
In case the interviewer should get the impression that David Hartman is pretentiously proud of his Chagalls, he points out that his black McDonalds-Jerry Lewis Telethon T- shirt is the only one he can find long enough for his six foot five, 200-pound frame.
As host of "Good Morning America" (ABC, is weekday mornings, 7-9 a.m., check local listings), David Hartman has presided 4 1/2 years over the spectacle of that once-disdained morning shows, finishing first in the weekly averages for 21 consecutive weeks, with rival "Today" a close but consistently also-ran second. Now he is promoting a special: "David Hartman . . . The Shooters" (ABC, Wednesday, 10-11 p.m., check local listings).
It is a bland but interesting summer entertainment featuring the life and work styles of five of the nation's top photojournalist: Eddie Adams, Douglas Kirkland, Neil Leifer, David Kennerly, and Mary Ellen Mark.
Amateur photo enthusiast Hartman acts as host-narrator mainly because the network believes that his face and name will attract viewers to this mildly informative, mildly amusing, harmless bit of June electronic fluff. Still, the keen curiosity of questioner Hartman adds a great deal to what might have been a totally routine throwaway hour. Hartman, somehow, adds life and vigor to the special.
Intellectual curiosity is David Hartman's stock in trade on the morning show as well. In his interviews, he plays the role of surrogate questioner, askings the very questions any average intelligent viewer might imagine himself asking. Never does David Hartman seem to know it all -- he appears to be just smart enough to discover the proper questions.
Mr. Hartman doesn't worry at all about the feeling among some newsmen that "Good Morning America's is blurring the line between news and entertainment by utilizing what they consider a non-newsperson (Hartman) in what can be interpreted as a news capacity. What riles TV newsmen even more is the fact that ABC has seen fit to make the show a co-production of both its news and entertainment divisions.
"I've felt for a long time that a lot of those line should have been blurred sooner," he says stubbornly. And from the angle of that jaw and the blazing self-assurance in the eyes, it is apparent that his baseball-playing economics major from Duke University is not about to allow himself to be used as an innocuous cipher on any show, news orm entertainment.
"We have a capacity in television to present information, sure, but the trick is to do it in an interesting way. So much of what we might use in our lives, what should be stimulating to watch, is presented in a boring way. When somebody says they shouldm watch something, they are implying that it is going to be dull. There's no reason why something with substance has to be boring.The only thing that stands in the way of combining the two is lack of imagination. That's the barrier we are tring to break through on GMA. And succeeding at it, too.
"There's been a big growth of audience in the morning since we came on. Larger numbers of people are flipping on their sets -- and I say flipping on rathern than watching because, I think we're really doing glorified radio. There are a lot of people bouncing around their houses and listening. It's only if they get hooked on something that they'll come and look at the set. But they don't sit down and watch in the morning. I don't kid myself about that."
David Hartman doesn't kid himself about anything. "I don't perceive my job is to prove to everybody how much I know, how smart I am. They key is: Do I elicit from our guests the kind of information that people can apply in their own lives? Because that's why we have guests on, to let the audience know what is going on in a broad range of subjects. That's how I perceive my job and over the years I have continued to try to find ways to do that."
Mr. Hartman is concerned about the commercials on his show as well. "Six months ago I was off on a trip and so was able to watch the show, and I noticed a public service announcement that was one of the most violent, frigthening things I've seen in a long time. It was on alcoholism. I instantly called our Standards and Practices fellow and told him that if I were a parent with young children I would have that TV set turned off so fast. . . . He agreed with me and the commercial was yanked.
"So, I decided to start watching tapes because usually we have no control over commercials. And I came up with three or four scary, violent kinds of things within the body of our program, and they have been removed. Now I notify them on a regular basis about objectionable commercials -- including the one for hte movie 'The Shining,' which would be terrifying for a young child."
How does Hartman account for the success of GMA, asides from the fact that NBC's "Today" show seems to be manned mostly by self-assertive know-it-alls with whom the audience cannot identify?
"The show has a comfortable feel for the morning, it's not sterile, we have real people sitting there talking with real people."
How would David Hartman categorize himself? Newsman, host, generalist?
"I can't do it," he laughs and then proceeds to do it. "A catalyst."
It is apparent to the interviewer that Mr. Hartman, like NBC personality Tom Snyder, yearns to be accepted by the news community as a newsman. "If you look at the program, most of the show is news . . . the largest single hunk is news and weather. We have an eight-minute newscast, commentary, Julia Child, Jack Anderson, Rona Barrett, Hughes Rudd, Irma bombeck, and more human-interest-oriented items. Viewers really get a lot of news and news-oriented stuff but they don't perceive it that way because of our relaxed style."
What human quality is most required to do the job?
Without hesitation: "Curiosity!"
"It's important to know what you don't know. Ignorance is wonderful if you recognize it because then you have the fun of getting rid of it. And what an exciting process that can be! I really feel I have the most interesting job on the air in television.
Hartman's job comes with farmhand hours. "I get up at 3:45 a.m. and I'm in here around 5 a.m. I read newspapers, magazines, talk on the phone to sources, confer with the production staff. The I do the show from 7 till 9, and the rest of the day is mine. I go home about 5 or 6 p.m. I read all the time, but in the past 4 1/2 years I have not read one thing for fun . . . always business.
What's the most embarrassing thing that ever occurred on camera?
Hartman's smile turns into a roaring laugh. "Burt Reynolds came on and at the end of our discussion he said, 'I just want to tell you that out on the West Coast we're proud of you, because you were in the movies and on television and now you are sitting here and it shows you have a brain, not just mirrors, in your head. We're proud of you.'
"Would you believe, I blushed and said: 'Thank you. We'll be right back after this word from General Fools."
What world personality would David Hartman like to have on the show if he could get anybody he wanted?
"Given the last several weeks, I would like to get Brezhnev on Monday morning on our terms, which is of course impossible."
Is David Hartman bored with the show yet? His contract comes up in about a year and a half and he will have a chance to exit -- or become one of the highest-paid performers on air. Rumor has it that his take will be nearly as great as Johnny Carson's.
"I certainly hope it will," he chuckles. "But how could I possibly be bored? It's the most fabulous job I ever had."
"I'm thinking about that question because I know you are not asking it frivolously," he says, closing his eyes for a moment.
"I consider myself a happy man -- happy in the sense that for some reason I've considered myself challenged ever since I was very young to do something with this," he points to his head, "whatever this is capable of doing. I want to use some of this in some way that might affect somebody else constructively. I believe I am finally doing that."
He laughs embarrassedly. "I know that is going to sound dreadfully pompous in print -- but there is fun and happiness for me in that."
"But, let's not be so serious," he says, standing up and towering over the interviewer, as we head for the window. . . . "Instead, let's take a look at my Chagalls."