Downs in brief return to interviewer's chair - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Downs in brief return to interviewer's chair

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Posted: Thursday, February 28, 2008 11:42 pm | Updated: 10:24 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Hugh Downs will be breaking out his notebook of questions this Saturday evening. But the veteran broadcast journalist and longtime Paradise Valley resident won't be making a return to the camera for this interview.

Instead, Downs, 87, will make his hosting debut at the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, tossing questions to New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Rich, for the next installment of the center's "In The Spotlight" series.

It's a task, Downs surmises, that may be a bit of a challenge.

"An interviewer is supposed to be a devil's advocate at times. That's not easy with Frank Rich. He never wrote anything I disagree with," said Downs of his friend Rich - who also was the Times' former chief drama critic - in a phone interview from his Paradise Valley home.

Downs, who's been on the air for more than six decades - serving stints as an announcer for the "Tonight Show" with Jack Paar, host of the "Today Show" and anchor of the ABC prime time news magazine "20/20," retired in 1999 to write, lecture and spend more time with his family in Arizona.

The great-grandfather of three says he doesn't long to be back in the anchor's chair.

He says he's not even tempted to step back in front of the camera, even as he watches the heated presidential race unfold.

"It's hard not to try to follow it," he said. "It's sort of a busman's holiday for me. I've been there, done that."

Downs said the coverage of the "endless debates" is a good thing.

"The more an aspiring nominee is exposed, the more the public comes to know about them," he said.

These days Downs says "he's mired in academia," lecturing several times a semester at the School of Communication that bears his name at Arizona State University.

But within minutes of engaging Downs in the latest political and media fodder, it's apparent the reporter inside him is still going strong, astutely watching from the sidelines with a critical eye.

Downs says he typically follows the broadcasts from the likes of CNN and ABC News and sometimes NBC and CBS.

He says he's concerned about the "tabloid flavor" that's creeping into some mainstream news reports.

He cites a day when he turned on the TV and news of Britney Spears was commandeering the broadcasts.

"The Britney Spears story should be covered but not the way they're doing it, with the tabloid flavor moving in," he said.

Downs said he's sometimes asked who are today's Edward R. Murrows.

"There may be several, but there isn't one on a venue that would give scope to (Murrow's) integrity," said Downs, who remembers an era when news outlets were all about public service and weren't in the business of making money.

When the erudite Downs wants some humor mixed with his news, he says he tunes into Comedy Central's "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report."

"(Jon) Stewart is hilarious, even without saying anything."said Downs, who once e-mailed Stephen Colbert to tell him he's very funny and that he watches his show.

On Saturday, Downs said the arts center audience can expect him to question Rich about more serious matters - topics including the presidential hopefuls and what the current groundswell for Barack Obama means.

Downs said he also plans to ask Rich about the condition of the Bush administration's policy and the condition of the U.S. media.

Downs says he's also open to taking questions from the crowd.

"Older audiences tend to ask me about the Jack Paar show or what Barbara Walters is really like. They can ask me anything."

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