CBS News, the quixotic news organization that has run the gamut from Edward R. Murrow to Phyllis George, is now running the gamut with its newsmagazines from ``60 Minutes'' to ``West 57th.'' West 57th (CBS, Tuesdays, 10-11 p.m., starting Aug. 13) was being called ``Yupdoc'' (for its upwardly mobile appeal) and ``Vice 57th'' (for its ``Miami Vice'' slickness) before it ever moved out of its West 57th Street conference rooms (where the name originated).
Well, it doesn't exactly deserve either derogatory appellation -- ``West 57th'' is just a ditsy, disco-beat docu-mag for viewers with a short attention span. Its major difference from syndicated magazine shows like ``PM'' is that somebody apparently pushed the fast-forward button.
I haven't seen all of the premi`ere show, but the opening segment, described to me as typical of what to expect, concerns the daughter of Leo Ryan, the congressman who was murdered during the mass suicides at Jonestown in Guyana in 1978. ``Ryan's Daughter'' (yes, that is the ``swinging'' title of the piece) is now a follower of Bhagwan Rajneesh, whose compound of 5,000 disciples in Oregon has attracted a great deal of media attention because of the cult aspects of the commune, which has allegedly been t urned into an armed camp. Ms. Ryan is portrayed as a naive, disturbed young woman, completely taken in by Rajneesh, described as a ``master manipulator, hypnotist, mind controller.''
Perhaps much of that is true. But ``West 57th'' certainly doesn't prove any of it . . . or even scratch the surface of what is obviously a very complex story. Other segments of the premi`ere show include a profile of Rambo-like Chuck Norris and a piece about the transplanted heart of recently deceased actor Jon-Erik Hexum. And so it goes.
Executive producer Andrew Lack says: ``People are going to be surprised . . . sometimes stunned, shocked . . . entertained. . . .'' He seems to have accomplished that.
He also says, ``We're going to eliminate a lot of the standard reportorial clich'es.'' He seems to have accomplished that, too. None of that dull, in-depth, blood-sweat-and-tears reportage for his team of go-go-look correspondents -- Jane Wallace, Meredith Vieira, Bob Sirott, and John Ferrugia.
``West 57th'' -- what I saw of it -- seemed to be a kind of hopped-up ``60 Minutes,'' a toned-down People magazine. It's a lot more National Enquirer than National Geographic, with its slick graphics and hypocritical concentration on supposed ``serious'' looks at the day's more sensational items. But whatever else it is, ``West 57'' is not a bore. If ever a TV newsmagazine had most of the finger-snapping elements for popular success in today's mass market, ``West 57th'' seems to have it.
It's just too bad there isn't a TV at the checkout counter so viewers could watch it while they wait in the supermarket line.