The Talk Behind <i>Talk</i>

This week, John Leonard reviews the premiere issue of Talk magazine, a general interest monthly that combines media giants Miramax Films, Hearst Magazines and the expertise of media chairman/editor Tina Brown, a former editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair and The New Yorker.

Already, maybe youÂ'd rather Talk about almost anything else except Tina Brown, and her party, and her magazine, and what the mayor of New York did to her party,
John Leonard
and how the president of the United States felt about the first ladyÂ's interview in the first issue of that magazine, and whether the culture really needs a photo spread of Gwyneth Paltrow in a black leather bikini with high heels and a whip.

But weÂ're long past the point where grumpy media opinionizers can do much about hype other than contribute to it by deploring it. Buzz has become our static cling.

Last week, before there was a Talk magazine on the newsstands, there was a Talk picnic at the Statue of Liberty, to which so many celebrities were star-barge ferried that there wasnÂ't room on the island for the usual sycophants.

Besides editor Tina herself, there was lots of Miramax Hollywood, like Liam and Natasha and Kevin and Kyra and Demi & Hugh, not to mention such postmodern odd couples as Al Sharpton & Madonna.

And before the picnic, there was a White House press conference to answer questions about HillaryÂ's interview, during which they didnÂ't exactly deny that Bill is depraved on account of heÂ's deprived.

Reviews by CBS News Sunday Morning Critic John Leonard
And before that press conference, there had already been a parody of Talk on the Internet, making it maybe the first periodical to be satirized before it existed. After which any mere magazine was bound to be a letdown because you have to read it.

As Finger-Friendly as Life
The surprise is, itÂ's not bad at all, as finger-friendly as the old weekly Life; equally highbrow/lowbrow like a bohemian slumber party, from playwright Tom Stoppard discovering that heÂ's more Jewish than he thought he was (page 190) to a fashion show at a prize fight in Las Vegas (49), with columns of text so uncluttered that you can actually read Eddie DeanÂ's article on life in a Virginia trailer park (133), and Charles BowdenÂ's article on the murders of 200 young women in Juarez (11), Mimi SwartzÂ's article on divorce consultant Lorna Wendt (147), and Jonathan MahlerÂ's article on the crazy poet Laura Riding (202) instead of fighting your way through the stab wounds of the graphic designers who have made most of the monthly perfumed slicks look like ads for vodka and narcissism.

International in Scopecolor>

And itÂ's genuinely international in scope, taking us not only to Mexico after NAFTA and Czechoslovakia after Havel, but to Uganda (206) and Iraq (196). ThereÂ's even a book review section, even if Martin Amis ends up saying the same thing about the new Hannibal Lecter novel that everybody else has already said.

Never mind the exploitation snapshots of John F. Kennedy Jr. (232), the 50 Best Talkers in America (154), a moronic list of whatÂ's hip (92), from thick-cut bacon to aromatic bath bombs, and the fact that almost all this stuff was written by guys. ThereÂ'll always be Bad Girl Gwyneth (188).

To be sure, as weÂ'd expect from Miramax & Disney, there is too much emphasis on Hollywood, as there was in TinaÂ's New Yorker, as if they hadnÂ't noticed the movie biz is so bankrupt it canÂ't even produce a decent copy of an old television series. And maybe the days of the monthly mound of print are numbered, when cyberspace mags like Salon post new articles every other hour.

But I miss the old Life, which sat around in freeze-frames waiting for me to notice it. I canÂ't take my computer with me to the bathtub, nor uplink and download while at the same time eating Wise potato chips and watching a Mets game. At least in an atavistic whisper, Talk speaks to me.