"Person to Person": New life for legendary TV show

CBS News made television history with the groundbreaking series "Person to Person," hosted by legendary newsman Edward R. Murrow. Each week Murrow, seated in his armchair in New York, took viewers by remote into the private homes of the most famous people on the planet. Although it was produced more than 50 years ago, Murrow's guests were of such iconic status their names still resonate today: John and Jacqueline Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Eleanor Roosevelt, Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall to name a few.

With a nod to history, CBS News brings back "Person to Person" as a television event with the celebrities and newsmakers that are the legends of today. The new program is hosted by Lara Logan and Charlie Rose, two widely respected journalists who excel at the art of conversation.

When the original program was launched, there had never been anything like "Person to Person" on television before - genius in its simplicity -- but with a huge impact. Viewers by the millions tuned in to see Murrow, languidly smoking a cigarette, as actors, artists, statesmen and newsmakers drew him into their homes and into their lives. The concept of the show was hatched over drinks one night after the evening news. Murrow and his producers Jesse Zousmer and Johnny Aarons were kicking around ideas for new programs when they hit on the notion that most of us are intensely curious about the private lives of public people. Television cameras could capture a side of celebrities like no other medium could. Ideas born on barstools - even brilliant ones--don't often see the light of day, but this one did.

"Person to Person" debuted on Friday, Oct. 2, 1953. Brooklyn Dodgers' catcher Roy Campanella was the first guest. As luck would have it, Campanella had just hit the winning home run in game three of the World Series, beating the Yankees that night. Campanella's segment was paired with a visit to the home of conductor Leopold Stokowski and his wife, Gloria Vanderbilt. The program was an instant hit with viewers and remained that way for years. Person to Person hosted by Murrow ran from 1953 to 1959 and was a fixture in the top ten list of most popular programs. At its peak in 1957, 45 percent of all homes with television sets were tuned in to "Person to Person." But live television, fame is a fleeting thing and a search of the CBS archives turned up no trace of that historic premiere broadcast with Roy Campanella.

A few weeks later, on Oct. 30, 1953, then-Senator John F. Kennedy appeared with Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy, his wife of one month. Mrs. Kennedy had been a reporter when she met her future husband. Murrow asked, "Which requires the most diplomacy--to interview senators or to be married to one?" The young bride hesitated. Her husband broke the silence, "Being married, I guess." If you look closely at this excerpt below, Jacqueline Kennedy looks like she's about to burst out laughing as she walks nervously out of frame.

Perhaps no guest on Person to Person was as highly anticipated as Marilyn Monroe. She appeared at the home of her dear friend, photographer Milton Green. Monroe appeared to be very fragile at first yet it soon became clear how slyly funny she was. She lamented to Murrow that although her photo graced the cover of many gentlemen's magazines she'd never made the cover of the Ladies Home Journal.

Murrow's guests shared prized possessions that reflected their personal lives and professional achievements, providing a natural starting point for conversation. For example, actress Lauren Bacall showed off a whistle, dangling from her charm bracelet. She told Murrow it was a gift from husband Humphrey Bogart commemorating the famous movie line she delivered to him, "If you want anything at all, all you have to do is whistle. You know how to whistle don't you? Just put your lips together and blow."

Another viewer favorite was a visit with Liberace, whom Murrow called "Lee." The segment opens with Liberace in his bed, the head board shaped like a piano.

With a nod to history, "Person to Person" returns on CBS as a television event with the celebrities and newsmakers that are the legends of today. The new "Person to Person" will retain the signature element of the original show-- access to the private lives of public people. We'll keep the unpredictability and fluidity going in the new series. One note, the new program will be taped, not live.

Perhaps the single most important element of the special that we'll retain is trust. Edward R. Murrow insisted on a thorough respect for the guests who allowed their homes to be invaded by CBS cameras. Charlie Rose and Lara Logan have earned their position as trusted journalists. They will build on Murrow's legacy and introduce "Person to Person" to a new generation.

  • Judy Tygard

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