You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Bruce Jenner Overcomes Hype in Diane Sawyer Interview

In advance, everything about “Bruce Jenner – The Interview” screamed smarm, from ABC’s steady promotional drumbeat to the sweeps-timed airdate to the inordinately large two-hour primetime window, the sort of time ABC News hasn’t devoted to Iraq or ISIS. Yet Jenner’s honesty (and certainly preparation) along with additional elements the program incorporated made extremely good use of the forum, shedding considerable light on an issue about which much of the public is no doubt still ill-informed. ABC has clearly tilted toward soft news across its platforms, but this was a genuine human-interest story presented in a sensitive and serious manner.

“I’ve always been very confused with my gender identity,” Jenner said in the early going, adding that he (and that’s the pronoun Jenner currently chooses to use) had “lived a lie his whole life about who he is.” At that point, given the lack of suspense to begin with, one had to wonder what he and Diane Sawyer could possibly have to talk about until 11 p.m.

Still, Sawyer’s soothing, softball style proved particularly well suited to eliciting the thoughtful, patient, explanatory responses that Jenner delivered. That included — in the most memorable sound bite — his dead-on observation that in the context of the reality show of which he was a part, “Keeping Up With the Kardashians,” “The one real, true story in the family was the one I was hiding and nobody knew about.”

Sawyer took Jenner back to his youthful surroundings, then walked through his gold-medal performance in the 1976 Olympic decathlon, which earned him the title “world’s greatest athlete,” and a lucrative career as a product pitchman. Even for those well versed in those chapters of his life, seeing the footage and hearing Jenner discuss struggling with his transgender identity at the time brought a sobering spin to those familiar images of flag waving and Wheaties boxes.

Sawyer also wove in interviews with experts, providing useful context; history about transgender pioneers, including Christine Jorgensen and tennis player Renee Richards; and referenced (and illustrated) violence against transgender individuals, as well as the high suicide rates within the community. Indeed, the footage of Jenner being hounded by paparazzi – one derisively whistling at him – brought an additional note of empathy to the special.

In short, ABC took an interview that easily could have been diced into a week’s worth of segments on “Good Morning America” and turned it into a broader discussion and examination about the current state what it means to be transgender in 2015, juxtaposed against loneliness that surrounded it when Jenner was younger.

Granted, the content began to lag in the second hour, as Sawyer brought Jenner’s children into the conversation, an aspect of the story which – as the ads within the telecast for “GMA” made clear – the network will continue to milk into next week. Business, after all, is business.

In the bigger picture, ABC News has undergone its own transition in recent years, not only fluffing up “GMA’s” giddiness but extending those morning-show values to the rest of its news, including the David Muir-anchored “World News” and “Nightline.” For a night, however, the network delivered an appropriately elevated and multifaceted broadcast, which was all the more welcome – and surprising – given the sense of queasiness created by those initial promos featuring Jenner in shadowy silhouette.

Give ABC credit for that, but much of it also goes to Jenner. Because in terms of cutting through the hype and reality-TV baggage and displaying a core of humanity, this was another gold-medal-worthy performance.

More TV

  • Five Takes on Canal Plus, Federation’s

    Just Days Left to Catch Canal Plus’ ‘The Bureau’ on MyFFF

    The most lauded of titles on this year’s MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online showcase featured by over 50 OTT services around the world, may not be a film but a drama series. With four seasons aired, and a milestone in world sales on a French TV show, slow-boiling espionage series ‘Le Bureau des légendes’ (“The Bureau”) is [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA

    TV Writer Christopher Knopf, Former WGA West President, Dies at 91

    Prolific Emmy-nominated television writer Christopher Edwin Knopf, former president of the Writers Guild of America West, died in his sleep of congestive heart failure on Feb. 13. He was 91. Knopf was born in New York and attended UCLA, leaving during his senior year to join the Air Force during World War II. He finished [...]

  • Jussie Smollett The Black AIDS Insitute

    Jussie Smollett Case: Two Suspects Released Without Charges as New Evidence Emerges

    After two days of questioning, the Chicago Police Department announced Friday evening that it has released two suspects in the Jussie Smollett case without filing charges. Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said that detectives had developed new information in the case. Police no longer consider the men to be suspects. “Due to new evidence as a [...]

  • GOTHAM: L-R: Guest star Cameron Monaghan

    TV News Roundup: Fox Drops 'Gotham' Final Season Trailer (Watch)

    In today’s TV news roundup, Fox released a new trailer for an upcoming episode of “Gotham” and Disney has announced the cast for its upcoming “High School Musical” series.  FIRST LOOKS Showtime released a new trailer and the official poster for the upcoming fourth season of “Billions,” premiering March 17 at 9 p.m. ET/PT. In [...]

  • Chris Rock

    Chris Rock to Direct Kenan Thompson Comedy Pilot at NBC

    Chris Rock has come onboard to direct the NBC single-cam comedy pilot “Saving Kenan,” Variety has learned. Rock will also executive produce the pilot, which stars “SNL” mainstay Kenan Thompson. Thompson will play a newly widowed dad determined to be everything for his kids while begrudgingly letting his persistent father-in-law become more involved in their lives [...]

  • Peak TV Saturation TV Placeholder

    Apollo Global Management Buys Majority Stake in Cox TV Stations

    Private equity giant Apollo Global Management has cut a deal with Atlanta-based Cox Enterprises to buy a majority stake in Cox’s 13 TV stations as well as three newspapers and a handful of radio stations in Ohio. Apollo has been in the hunt for broadcast TV stations for some time. Cox’s station group, which includes [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content