The Barbara Walters interview: entertaining as ever . . . yet what a waste

Whatever happened to the tough, sometimes abrasive, superb newswoman named Barbara Walters? It's been 10 years since she left NBC, where she was that network's prime interviewer of world-renowned personalities, mainly in the political field, to serve as co-anchor of ABC's evening news. Now, aside from her duties as co-host of ``20/20,'' she has become basically an entertainment personality interviewer. Tonight ABC is celebrating the 10th anniversary of the highly rated ``The Barbara Walters Special'' (9-10:30 p.m.) with a 90-minute season premi`ere, taped partly in that land of ce lebrities, Monte Carlo.

Except for the fact that each interview runs about twice as long as necessary in order to fill the 90 minutes allotted, the special is pleasant and interesting -- but inconsequential in anybody's framework other than that of dedicated celebrity-watchers.

Princess Caroline of Monaco proves to be a charming young woman who has matured into wisdom after a frivolous adolescence.

Barbra Streisand asserts that she was ``a personality before I became a person,'' and describes herself as ``simple, complex, generous, selfish, unattractive, beautiful, lazy, and driven.''

Priscilla Presley, now a television star on her own in ``Dallas,'' describes an incredibly disturbed existence with her ex-husband and insists that she has always loved him. ``I was living in a bubble,'' she says of her life with Elvis from the age of 14 on. But when she left him, ``I found Priscilla.''

They're all fascinating semi-invasions of privacy, bordering on mere supercilious gossip but salvaged by Miss Walters's superb ability to extract the essence of character from everyone she interviews.

In Barbara Walters and Ted Koppel, ABC has television's two most incisive interviewers. These days, Mr. Koppel gets to do the Big Ones, the interviews of worldwide importance, while Walters seems to be relegated to the entertainment celebrity interviews. Good as they are, entertaining as celebrity-fanciers find them, as high ratings as they get, it is still a waste of the hard-news potential of Barbara Walters and a loss to America's television viewers.

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