December 28, 1998 at 05:00 AM EST

60 Minutes II

TV Show
Current Status
In Season
Dan Rather, Charlie Rose, Bob Simon, Vicki Mabrey

Dear John

It’s the last week of the old year, and on television that means reruns, lame stunts like A&E’s announcement tonight at 8:00 p.m. of the ”Biography of the Year” (hmmm, Monica or Bill? Bill or Monica?) and CBS’ even-lamer special, the “Ladies Home Journal Most Fascinating Women of 1998” (10 p.m.). These include Judge Judy and Mary Bono, but no Monica Lewinsky, so we know it’s malarkey.

May I, during this wasteland TV time before Dick Clark rings in our national New Year’s rockin’ eve and we all begin partying like it’s 1999, suggest an alternative? Undistracted by new episodes of your favorite series, you should check out MSNBC’s “Hockenberry,” a news show that debuted last week. It’s on nightly at 8 p.m., and its host is John Hockenberry. Some of you may remember Hockenberry as one of National Public Radio’s most valuable correspondents ever — a writer and reporter who was never afraid of giving his stories a point of view yet who invariably maintained a measure of objectivity.

This is the trickiest thing you can do in journalism, and it’s a trait Hockenberry continues on “Hockenberry.” The host is taking over the spot previously occupied by Keith Olberman’s “The Big Show,” which Olberman quit after, he says, his bosses insisted he do nightly Clinton scandal stories to the exclusion of everything else. So far, Hockenberry is keeping tabs on the scandal stuff without letting it take over the program, but he’s also delving into everything from the impeachment process to pop culture with an impressive range and ambition.

With the exception of the knowledgeable Brian Williams, MSNBC had been in danger of turning into a TV version of a mediocre tabloid newspaper. So it is heartening that John Hockenberry is being given air time to mull over — with wryness and perspective — the day’s events each night. He probably won’t keep you from going back to “Friends” or “Dharma & Greg” when they resume new episodes, but “Hockenberry” is definitely worth catching as a bit of fresh air as this year of gas-bag controversy comes to an end.

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