C-SPAN’s ‘Booknotes’ Going off the Air
In announcing the cancellation of “Booknotes” — C-SPAN’s popular author interview program — yesterday, host Brian Lamb was haunted by the numbers. He spends 20 hours each week reading books in preparation for “Booknotes,” he estimates. That’s 1.8 years of his life that have been dedicated to reading since the show debuted April 2, 1989. Now he wants to reclaim some of that time for his personal life.
Has it come to this? The author-interviewer, arguably the most quirky and dedicated on television, the creator and curator of one of TV’s few institutions for avid readers — has he finally tired of books? “Oh, that’s not true — I still love reading,” Lamb says. “I’ve never missed a show in all these years. It’s been great, but I also think it seemed, in many ways, like I was always studying for a semester exam every week. Even kids in school get the summers off. I just thought it was time to do something new.”
The program — which has featured guests ranging from Bill Clinton to Shelby Foote, from Roger Mudd to Michael Moore — will be pulled Dec. 5, when “Booknotes” celebrates its 800th author interview.
I heard about this on the Don Imus show this morning driving in. The show is an institution. As the piece intimates toward its end, it will likely be replaced by a similar program at some point. It is rather fitting that it not be called “Booknotes” if Brian Lamb isn’t hosting it; the two go hand-in-hand. Lamb notes that one of the reasons he grew tired of the format is that the book promotion cycle has taken some of the fun out of it.
The new Lamb vehicle sounds mildly interesting:
On Dec. 12, “Booknotes” will be replaced by another interview program hosted by Lamb, tentatively called “Q&A,” which will occasionally invite guests from the book world. More frequently, however, they will come from beyond. It’s a bonus, says Lamb, if they come from the deep beyond. “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?”
Having taught at a few colleges and met a few presidents and chancellors, I’m not at all surprised that they’re not frequent television guests. With rare exception, they’re essentially used car salesmen in nicer suits. My guess is he’ll soon be wishing that he was on “Booknotes.”