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‘Reporter’ looks at Dan Rather’s career

Kevin McDonough United Feature Syndicate

“Dan Rather: A Reporter Remembers” (8 p.m., CBS) offers a glance back at Rather’s career and at some of the major news stories of the past four decades. Tonight marks Rather’s last night as anchor of the CBS Evening News, a post he has held since 1981.

The title says everything: It’s not “An Anchor Remembers.” In this hourlong swan song, Rather repeatedly speaks of his passion for reporting and for asking powerful people tough questions, and how this habit often clashed with people’s notions of how a news anchor should behave.

It was Rather’s fate and misfortune to replace Walter Cronkite. Cronkite was long considered the top anchor at a time when there were only three networks.

Rather replaced him just as cable was beginning to erode the networks’ monopoly and legitimacy, and he would hold his position during an information revolution that would bring us hundreds of TV channels and a blizzard of Web sites and so-called blogs.

But none of this is mentioned in “A Reporter Remembers.” Instead, “Reporter” recalls Rather’s Texas youth and his early days as a jack-of-all-trades in radio and then television news. When CBS hired him, his “beat” included all of the Southern United States, Mexico and Central America.

Vintage footage shows him covering hurricanes, floods and mosquito infestations.

The bulk of the salute is dedicated to Rather’s reportage from the front line of the Civil Rights struggle, from the Kennedy assassinations, under fire in Vietnam, being beaten up at the 1968 Democratic Convention, and asking questions to and about powerful politicians, including every president from Lyndon Johnson to George W. Bush.

In its own oblique way, “Reporter” tries to deal with Rather’s reputation for sometimes seeming strange and for being a rather “hot” presence in a news media that calls for a “cool” talking head. Rather discusses the 1986 mugging incident that inspired the R.E.M. song “What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” But the show never mentions the anchor’s peculiar 1985 decision to end his broadcasts with the word “Courage” and then, just as enigmatically, to stop the practice.

In this valedictory summary Rather also reflects when he may have gone over the line. And he apologizes for mistakes made last September when his “60 Minutes” team appeared to be hoodwinked by bogus documents about President Bush’s reserve duty.

But Rather makes no apologies to critics who have tried to make him a poster boy for an elite, liberal media. The show’s emphasis on Rather’s service on dangerous assignments underscores his defiant attitude.

Without saying a word, it reminds us that we have not seen Rather’s critics in similar dangerous situations. Where, after all, is the footage of Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity or Rush Limbaugh in a flak jacket reporting in a combat zone under enemy fire?

Other highlights

Meg learns that “Society’s Child” is more than a top-40 hit on “American Dreams” (8 p.m., NBC). This marks the first broadcast of “Dreams” in this time slot.

Jack wrestles with buried feelings on “Lost” (8 p.m., ABC).

Tyra Banks hosts “America’s Next Top Model” (8 p.m., UPN).

Santos (Jimmy Smits) is asked to take a stand on a controversial immigration bill on “The West Wing” (9 p.m., NBC).

Four more leave the fold on “American Idol” (9 p.m., Fox).

Sydney worries about Sloane’s plot on “Alias” (9 p.m., ABC).

A skeleton is found riding a tour bus on “CSI: NY” (10 p.m., CBS).

A murdered drug lord had a major beef with a corrections officer on “Law & Order” (10 p.m., NBC).

Scheduled on “Primetime Live” (10 p.m., ABC): an interview with tsunami survivor and model Petra Nemcova.

Cult choice

A failed musician (Jack Black) energizes a dreary prep school in the 2003 comedy “The School of Rock” (8 p.m., Showtime).

Series notes

On back-to-back episodes of “That ‘70s Show” (Fox), misadventures in baby sitting (8 p.m.), and Kitty joins the Me Generation (8:30 p.m.) … Clark is drawn to Lionel’s aid on “Smallville” (8 p.m., WB)

Group therapy on “King of Queens” (9 p.m., CBS) … A dance instructor’s last tango on “Kevin Hill” (9 p.m., UPN) … Jack contemplates intimacy on “Jack & Bobby” (9 p.m., WB) … High school reunion antics on “Yes, Dear” (9:30 p.m., CBS) … Interns out of control on “The Simple Life” (9:30 p.m., Fox).

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