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Almost Golden: Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News.

Almost Golden: Jessica Savitch and the Selling of Television News.

Yes, they're hyping the hell out of it with movie deals and splashy spreads. Yes, there are details about the haircuts of Jessica Savitch's boyfriends that we could do without. Yes, Gwenda Blair is picking on a decidedly minor cultural figure who can't respond. But this book is still worth reading, mostly for the devilish pleasure that is derived from the misery of others, particularly (and aptly in this case) when bad things happen to the bitch in the office. Am I arguing that anyone's happy the anchor woman died in that freakish car wreck? No. But the truth is that Blair could not have written this if Savitch were still alive. (Nor, for that matter, could Nicholas von Hoffman have written about Roy Cohn or Gerald Clarke about Truman Capote.) Combine freedom from libel suits and the public's lurid appetites and you have a hardy literary tradition: cannibalizing the dead.

Blair's larger point--that the TV industry (and NBC in particular) set Savitch up for a fall--doesn't quite work. It has the feel of a theme concocted to lend gravity to what is essentially luscious gossip. The most unsettling is that Savitch's second husband hung himself with the leash of her beloved dog Chewy. Savitch also insisted on all the perks granted network "talent"--chartered planes, personal staff, and getting her way on details like the temperature on the set. Savitch liked it so cold that set technicians wore their overcoats.

Working in television can indeed bring out the worst in people. If you go in a quarter jerk, you may come out a full jerk. But the business did not make her a drug addict. She could have had the same news training as a male correspondent, not been sexploited by local TV news, not been promoted by the network before she was ready--and ended up exactly the same. We'll never know for sure. The book succeeds more as simply another good yarn about how sad and lonely life can be for the rich and famous, thereby making it more bearable for the rest of us.
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Author:Alter, Jonathan
Publication:Washington Monthly
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1988
Words:357
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