`American Almanac' will pick up where nightly news leaves off

Roger Mudd seems quite satisfied to relinquish his on-again, off-again role on ``NBC Nightly News,'' with Tom Brokaw, for his new role as host of NBC's latest try at a newsmagazine show. American Almanac (NBC, once a month on Tuesdays, starting Aug. 6, 10-11 p.m.) ``is a full-time assignment,'' he says in a last-minute phone interview from Washington, where he is putting the finishing touches on the premi`ere show. ``I will go to New York to do `Nightly News' in Brokaw's absence, but my contributions to that show will be rare, given the demands of this one.''

(In an aside on NBC's recent handling of assignments during the Beirut hostage crisis, Mr. Mudd criticized the network's decision to post anchorman Brokaw at the scene. ``When an anchor goes into the field, it usually means he will get twice as much time on the air as deserved, because anchors don't go anywhere without all the expensive paraphernalia. Without being specific, I believe anchors belong in the studio pulling it all together.'' CBS's Dan Rather and ABC's Peter Jennings remained in their stud ios.)

How will ``American Almanac'' differ from most current news and newsmagazine shows?

``Nightly news broadcasts on all three networks have a responsibility to give people a report on what has happened in the previous 24 hours. Generally they do not have time to take long looks at stories. They just report on conflicts, crises, turmoils. What we don't do is report systematically about the rest of the country that didn't get on the evening news -- transportation, religion, sports, subjects which ordinarily do not supply confrontation and conflict.

``We think there is a large hole that needs to be filled by commercial TV. We are trying to give breadth and texture to current events. We will always remember, however, that we are a news broadcast, not show biz, not confrontational or even investigational. We want to inform people, help them to understand what is happening.''

According to Mr. Mudd, on the premi`ere broadcast he will do the cover story about the Enola Gay and its crew. ``For a quarter of a century this B-29 which bombed Hiroshima was boxed up and even vandalized, until only this past week they started restoration work on it at the Smithsonian Space Museum workshop in Maryland, which I visited.

``We also interviewed the pilot, navigator, and bombardier and found the surviving eight members of the crew scattered around the country.''

Mudd says the crew members have no reservations about what they did. ``Given the same circumstances, they would do it again. Most of them believe that the casualties they caused were small compared to the loss of lives the US would have suffered if we had been forced to invade Japan.''

On the same premi`ere show, Connie Chung has a piece on ``gender genetics''; there's a segment on Bijan, the exclusive Iranian boutique in Beverly Hills; stories on weather and interstate trucking; and an essay on Coca-Cola. Mudd acts as reporter on two of the pieces but says that when the program goes weekly, as expected in January, he may not be able to do that much.

What would make the show a success as far as Roger Mudd is concerned?

``I'd like it if lots of people watch, of course. But it would give me great satisfaction if we manage to bring people well-thought-out, informative stories about what is happening in America without surrendering our standards of honesty and integrity.''

How does Mudd feel American network TV handled the TWA hostage crisis?

``I don't think as an industry we really thought carefully ahead of time about what the impact was going to be of constant interruptions of regular programming, sometimes without very good reasons. When you repeatedly have major anchor people interrupting for 30 seconds with no really significant developments to report, you create an agitated audience. And that is reflected in the general disquiet in the country. That builds up pressure on the government to settle the crisis.''

Does he feel the three networks should now get together and agree on a code of conduct in such situations?

No hesitation here. ``No. That's definitely not the answer. I hope we continue to make our own decisions.''

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