Even with George Clooney, CBS 'Person to Person' feels thin, flat, plastic

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I wanted to like "Person to Person," the new-old CBS News interview show with Charlie Rose and Lara Logan trying to fill the celebrity interviewer shoes once worn by the legendary Edward R. Murrow.

And with George Clooney as the first interviewee, I thought it couldn't miss.

But it did. And I'm not here to blast it. The show just felt so flat, thin and plastic, I kept asking myself what am I getting here that I couldn't get on"Access Hollywood"or any of a half a dozen other sold-out-Hollywood show biz shows. Like them, the media bargain struck here is painfully obvious: You give us some phony access to your popularity, Mr. Hollywood Star, and we'll give you publicity. We're not looking for truth, cultural insights or, God forbid, a second of wisdom, just viewership by your fans.

The contradiction in this format, though, is even more maddening than it is when you see a celebrity being interviewed on a soundstage or in a hotel PR room with couch, table, and flower-filled vase. Viewers are told in "Face to Face" that the cameras of CBS News are going to take them to one of the most intimate realms of a celebrity's life, his or her home. But once the viewer gets there, all the he or she gets is a phony, public performance by the celebrity.

In the case of Clooney, he walked around his Studio City home with a mug in his hand, being the smooth, charming, witty Clooney you have seen in a million public performances. Even the pictures on the walls of his home most often referred to public aspects of his life, like his movies, not anything private.

Typical of the empty interview talk and contradiction (some might say big lie) at the heart of this show was a moment when Rose asked Clooney what the difference is between a house and home.

Clooney, after acting like he really had to think about it, said a home is "filled with family and good friends." Then, he assured us that the place we were visiting was like that -- except we didn't see any family or good friends, just the star blah-blah-blahing his way through a half hour of CBS prime time as part of his Oscar campaign.

Wait, Clooney's dog, Einstein, did make a fast appearance. It was the highlight of the segment. I hope it really was his dog. I guess I will have to take his word for it.

(Under the heading, "Where's Stacey?" Sorry, Baltimore, I know it seems as if we here at never let a day go by without one item or new gallery of pictures featuring Clooney's friend and beloved hometown gal, Stacey Keibler. But the lovely and talented Ms. Keibler was not part of the featured package Wednesday night on CBS.)

I do know a little about Murrow. There was a time when I could talk about "Harvest of Shame" practically frame by frame. My Ph.D. research was steeped in CBS founder Bill Paley and the kinds of compromises he made to create and turn CBS into the great network it once was.

"Person to Person" was Murrow's compromise with Paley -- the show he did to make money for Paley, so that he could do the kind of journalism that sometimes cost the network a sponsor or two.

The "Person to Person" that debuted Wednesday night isn't an homage to Murrow -- even the compromised Murrow. It's a classic example of re-purposing or recycling an idea that once had some originality and imagination connected to it -- commercial as it was.

It's an example of a old corporation taking a brand that it still owns, dusting it off and trying to make a buck off it with some re-packaging and "TV icon" talk.

No thanks. I'd rather remember what made Murrow and CBS News great -- once upon a time.