- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 14, 2001

NEW YORK "Inside Edition" marks its 4,000th broadcast today..

That's a long time. When "Inside Edition" started in January 1989, the first Bush presidency also was premiering.

As one of three syndicated newsmagazines that slugged it out for much of the 1990s, "Inside Edition" handily outlasted its niche rivals: "A Current Affair" (1986-1996) and "Hard Copy" (1989-1998).

Today, "Inside Edition" stands alone that is, if alone means competing for stories with network newsmagazines, entertainment newsmagazines, local and network newscasts and cable news channels and if alone means competing for audience share with everything from soaps and "Jeopardy" to "Seinfeld" reruns and "The Late, Late Show."

With the passing of "Copy" and "Affair" (which at one point bragged that it would no longer pay for interviews), "Inside Edition" also is spared guilt by association with that bygone tabloid-TV genre.

Breathe the T-word around the "Inside Edition" offices on West 57th Street (right across from CBS News), and you might be reminded of the show's many honors for investigative journalism, including a 1996 George Polk Award for undercover reporting about exploitation of the poor by the insurance industry.

Watch "Inside Edition" (check local listings), and you find a lively mix of off-the-headlines features, celebrity news, novelties, exposes and other pieces to get viewers talking.

Several minutes might be devoted to the Ohio doctor at the South Pole who treated herself for breast cancer and to her family, from which she is estranged. There might be a lengthy report on the Decatur, Ga., sheriff-elect who was slain in his front yard.

Did you hear? Tom and Nicole are splitting. Here's an update on zaftig widow Anna Nicole Smith. Also, since "Survivor II" is all the rage (and it's a sister venture of Viacom-owned "Inside Edition"), there's lots and lots about "Survivor II."

Last week, "Inside Edition" aired a hidden-camera investigation of how unethical salesmen of motorized scooters prey on elderly and disabled customers.

For nearly a decade, Robert Read has headed up the show's 10-person-strong investigative team. A veteran of "Dateline NBC" and ABC News' "20/20," Mr. Read deems his unit "quicker, I think, and lighter on our feet than some of the network shows."

Deborah Norville agrees. After high-profile news roles at NBC and CBS, she became host of "Inside Edition" in 1995.

"It wasn't that big a professional leap for me," Miss Norville says, recalling a certain story she reported at CBS. While interviewing her subject, she learned that "Inside Edition" had been there two weeks earlier. "I remember thinking, 'Not only are we doing the same stories, but sometimes they do them first.' "

Miss Norville has continued to go out on stories on "Inside Edition."

Last week, she did a two-day update from behind bars at North Carolina's Davidson County Jail, where, a year earlier she had spent five days incarcerated.

Hard-charging journalism? A goofy stunt for February sweeps?

Either way, it's worth noting that Ted Koppel (who never has been called goofy) once did the same thing for ABC News' "Nightline."

Could it be the more things change, the more they stay the same? Not when you have that missing minister who turned up after 16 years with, he swears, no memory of the wife and child he left behind.

"News changes every day, and each day is a great game," says Charles Lachman, executive producer since 1995, who was there on day one.

On that first "Inside Edition," host David Frost made a glib pledge vowing no "three-headed babies" or "programs devoted to issues like, 'Should one-legged lesbians be allowed to adopt ferrets?' "

Two months later, feisty man-of-the-people Bill O'Reilly replaced Mr. Frost, but the show would make good on Mr. Frost's promise.

"Every word, every frame of video that you see is carefully thought out and reviewed," Mr. Lachman says. "The stuff that our viewers are watching is truthful.

"In a lot of markets, we're the lead-in or lead-out to local news, so many of the people who watch our show like news," he points out. "But you've got to give them an angle to a story they haven't seen anywhere else. You've got to deliver something fresh and original."

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