August 11, 2004

Booknotes, R.I.P.

As you could probably guess from reading my blog entries, I've suffered from a C-SPAN addiction for many years. I was a little disappointed, then, to see that the network is ending its author interview program, Booknotes. The show will be replaced by a new interview program with Brian Lamb:

"We really want to hear from new and exciting people who are not necessarily writing books, accomplished people from all walks of life," says Lamb, mentioning that politicians, journalists, doctors, scientists and historians will all be a part of his expanded Rolodex. A scenario he's counting on for the show's development sees him picking up the paper, turning to the back pages and finding a story on someone who has very little or no chance of making it on any other TV show. That's his new definition of a quality guest.

"There are 4,000 schools of higher learning in this country," Lamb says. "How many of those chancellors and presidents have you seen on TV? How many of them have interesting stories to tell? How about we just start with that?"

I was amused reading the passage above: maybe I'm just a cynical old grad student, but I'm not convinced that college presidents and chancellors would be especially interesting guests on interview shows. (What are they going to talk about? Fundraising? Plagiarism?) The basic idea for the show could be intriguing, though: I like the way that Lamb sometimes interviewed obscure authors of obscure books, with obscure questions phoned in from random members of the public. Booknotes was a weird, hit-or-miss show, and I'm not sure I ever watched an installment of the program in its entirety, but I'll be sorry to see it go. At least C-SPAN 2 will still (I hope!) devote its weekend programming to Book TV...

Back in 1999, David Brooks wrote an entertaining article on C-SPAN for The Weekly Standard. He makes some really silly comments in the article (say, that "university historians" are "obsessed with social forces and group consciousness"), but he has some neat passages too:

Itís hard for impatient people in an impatient age to understand the pleasures that some people feel poring studiously over old documents.

The political theorist William Dunning said that one of the happiest days of his life was the day he discovered, by comparing handwriting samples, that Andrew Johnsonís first message to Congress was actually written by George Bancroft. Dunning wrote to his wife, ďI donít believe you can form any idea of the pleasure it gives me to have discovered this little historical fact.Ē

One of the strengths of C-SPAN's Booknotes, I'd argue, is that it appealed to a lot of different groups: history buffs, autodidacts, and academics, to name just a few. It wasn't showy, and it didn't make an effort to draw in people who wanted a fluffy, fast-paced show; even when it was dull or silly, however, it was a refreshing change from a lot of the programming on other channels. I'll be sorry to see it go.

Posted by Ed at August 11, 2004 12:23 PM


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