Leo: good news or bad?

It's not as easy as it looks to produce responsible, engaging news. ABC is taking a lot of heat for employing teen idol Leonardo DiCaprio to interview President Clinton on global warming.

An article in the New York Times - written by an old-style journalist who has never kissed Claire Danes - quoted the president of ABC News defending this latest innovation: "'A first-rate news division of any sort has to be moving forward,' David Westin said. 'We can't keep programming news programs just the way we did five or 10 years ago.'" Or apparently even five or 10 minutes ago.

Mr. Westin faces a battle against the august forces of the journalism establishment. TV celebrities Sam Donaldson, Peter Jennings, and Ted Koppel are alarmed at this latest attempt by a Hollywood celebrity to interview a political celebrity. (Mr. Koppel was reportedly so upset that he yelled at his hair stylist.) After all, when's the last time People magazine called Sam Donaldson a "hottie"?

Westin knows that young people don't like network news because they rarely feature characters from "Friends" investigating new skateboard styles.

"If we don't add a younger audience," Westin explained, "sooner or later our audience will die." (Here's a ripe expos for ABC News: Why don't young viewers grow up to become old viewers anymore? Get Dick Clark on this immediately.)

If Westin is right, prepare yourself for more news shows aimed at that valuable MTV generation eager to spend its weekly allowance on new Volvos and hair loss tonic. Here are a few projects under consideration:

*Sarah Michelle Gellar's stunning portrayal of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, makes her an obvious choice to interview Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin. Enquiring teens want to know: What's up with those gnarly Chechen dudes?

*James Van Der Beek understands Dawson's Creek so well that the time is ripe to unleash the dreamy TV star on Amazon River polluters. (Note: Use frosted lens for shot of James standing on a Brazilian raft among recent fish kill.)

*Consultants are burning the midnight oil to figure out how Bart Simpson could cover the Democratic convention this June. Main sticking point: How to shuttle the little rascal across town during the notorious LA traffic jams.

*When CBS's "48 Hours" changes its name to "24/7," Calista Flockhart will replace Dan Rather in a tribute to the aging anchor, who, like so many of the show's old loyal viewers, sooner or later will die. (Order Ricky Martin theme music to attract crucial Latino demographic.)

*To stanch the ratings drop among 14-year-old girls at "Washington Week in Review," PBS plans to replace the roundtable of insider journalists with the five singers of 'N Sync and rename the show "Providence Week in Review."

*Ron Charles is the Monitor's books editor.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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