Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Donaldson Always Puts on Show for `Primetime'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Donaldson Always Puts on Show for `Primetime'

Article excerpt

FOR A DOZEN years, Sam Donaldson stood tall on the White House lawn.

It is upon that much-trod turf, of course, that correspondents who chase the president pause long enough to do their so-called "standup" shots. But since moving to "PrimeTime Live" five years ago, Donaldson, though still running, has also had to learn to walk.

"When I was doing hard news, I don't recall walking in my standup more than three or four times," says the veteran ABC newsman. "Now, I have to walk while I do my 15-second intro for a report. I don't do it well. But I've had to learn how. Because that's a rule of the magazine shows."

Rule: When you're chasing a story, don't ever look like you're standing still.

Donaldson knows he must think "show biz" along with "news," must entertain his viewers as well as inform them on "PrimeTime," where he has schooled himself in skills he knows co-anchor Diane Sawyer long ago mastered.

Rather than recount another page of the presidential saga every night on the evening news, he shapes each of his "PrimeTime" reports into a self-contained morality tale with beginning, middle and end.

Then he checks the ratings to make sure viewers tuned in (he needn't worry: "PrimeTime," which airs at 9 p.m. Thursdays on Channel 2, is ranked a healthy 20th for the season to date).

And through it all, he upholds "PrimeTime's" duty to give the public what it's interested in seeing.

"I get a few anguished letters, `How dare you put on this silly Tonya Harding story, that's not important when people are dying in Bosnia.'

" `RIGHT! But let me just tell you something, my friend. I am not king of information when it comes to deciding what's good for the American people to watch.'

"The press is there to come along, NOT drive," he says. "It's a tail that gets wagged by the big dog of events."

Granted, maybe he's had to re-learn a few things. But on "PrimeTime" and the Sunday morning "This Week With David Brinkley" (check local listings), Donaldson always puts on a show. …

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