The former ''NBC Nightly News'' anchor reflects on 60's pop culture and the pop temptations of today

By Vanessa Juarez
December 07, 2007 at 05:00 AM EST

Both your book and History Channel special [airing Dec. 9, 9 p.m.] focus on the ’60s generation. What did their music mean to you? I was a child of the ’50s, so I was a student of cool jazz. I was with a friend yesterday and we were at a restaurant and he looked up and said, ”Hey, they’re playing Miles Davis and John Coltrane.” And I thought, ”We’re the last generation that still recognizes that.” But I did love the sounds of the ’60s, and I think the one consensus judgment about the ’60s was that the music was amazing.

Do you have a defining memory of any of the musicians from that era? I went to the Troubadour in L.A., and at the midnight show Kris Kristofferson came out, and he was pretty seriously stoned or drunk, but it was a very raw performance. I remember being at a bar the first time I ever heard ”Lay, Lady, Lay” by Bob Dylan, played over and over one night. Everybody has those memories.

Recently Brian Williams drew raves for hosting Saturday Night Live. I understand Lorne Michaels has approached you in the past. Yeah. Ten or 15 years ago, Lorne said to me, ”Would you ever think about…” And I said, ”No.” I just think the rules were different then. But new generations are able to make that transition, if you will, from one screen to another.

Now that you’re not doing Nightly News, would you reconsider? No. [Laughs] And I don’t think that they want somebody in my demographic.

How do you feel about the absence of news on the morning news, stories on the likes of Bhutto and Musharraf? Well, it’s disappointed me. I would rather see more attention paid to that and maybe a little less to a cop’s wife disappearing or a reopening of the Aruba case again. Those stories are always going to be part of the stuff of news…. News is not just ”Eat your spinach.” It’s the mix that I would fine-tune a little more.

So what has you turning on your TV? I’ve briefly watched Dancing With the Stars…. I was watching when Emmitt Smith, the football player, won, and I thought, ”This guy is just a phenomenal athlete.” I look at it more as a sports fan than as entertainment. But I’m a wonk, you know. I watch C-SPAN on Saturday nights.