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From: New York Now | Television |
Monday, August 24, 1998

CBS Has Starry 'Eyes'
For News Shows
'Angel'-ic Downey hosts tonight's report


BEFORE YOUR EYES DON'T TAKE MY DADDY.
Tonight, 10 o'clock, CBS.


Eric Mink'm Roma Downey." "I'm Don Johnson." "I'm Fran Drescher." "I'm Bill Cosby. Those stories and Candice Bergen, next on '60 Minutes III.' "

The stars of CBS comedies and dramas working on CBS News programs? Absurd. Ridiculous. Preposterous.

True.

Tonight at 10, Downey, the star of CBS' inspirational Sunday-night hit drama, "Touched by an Angel," is the on-camera host and off-camera narrator of a one-hour CBS News special called "Before Your Eyes: Don't Take My Daddy."

downeyr.jpg (7761 bytes)
Roma Downey of 'Touched by an Angel' & CBS News

Roma Downey. Not Dan Rather. Not Paula Zahn. Not Erin Moriarty of "48 Hours" or Morley Safer of "60 Minutes" or even Bryant Gumbel, who isn't exactly overworked at CBS News these days.

The excuse for Downey's participation in "Before Your Eyes" is that she was born and reared in Northern Ireland and that tonight's program tells the story of three American families whose stability seems threatened by past links to the violence in that long-troubled country.

Indeed, Downey tells viewers in an on-camera segment about growing up in Derry: "As a child," she says in that bewitching lilt of hers, "I often could not sleep because there were gunshots in the street."

Fine, but how does that justify trotting her out to read the script of a news story written and reported by a team of CBS News journalists headed by executive producer Mary Murphy and co-producer/editor Gregory F. McLaughlin? It doesn't.

I don't doubt Downey's sincerity, and her talent works perfectly in the dramatic context of "Touched by an Angel." But the only reason for her participation tonight is ratings: CBS has been using Downey in promotions aimed at getting people to tune in, and her onscreen charisma may cut down on the number of people who tune out during the show.

Journalistically, meanwhile, the program has serious problems. It is beautifully photographed, and the families' stories resonate with honest emotion.

But we're dealing with a stacked deck here, and a dated one at that. For almost a year, for example, the seemingly precarious situations of the three families have been essentially stable.

The three non-American husbands — Matt Morrison of St. Louis, Gabriel Megahey of the Bronx and Noel Gaynor of Bloomfield, N.J. — all had been facing deportation because of past crimes classified as terrorist acts. But last September, the Clinton administration suspended legal proceedings against them (and four others) as part of the diplomatic maneuvering in support of the peace process in Northern Ireland.

And with a subtitle like "Don't Take My Daddy" and a focus on mothers battling to keep their families whole, is there really any doubt as to this program's editorial point of view? Please.

A couple of interviews suggest the arguments justifying deportation, but these pale in comparison to the amount of material included to the contrary. At best, the show is guilty of glossing over and oversimplifying real complexities.

A couple of weeks ago, "60 Minutes" executive producer Don Hewitt confirmed that he had chatted informally with actress Candice Bergen about the possibility of her somehow contributing to his program. Tonight, we get Roma Downey fronting a CBS News special.

Art isn't just imitating life; it's taking over.




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