The Insider

Sep 8, 2003  •  Post A Comment

It would take more than the space The Insider is allotted to list all the VIPs, whether Very Important Personalities or Very Important Pals, who were wedged into the Kaplan Penthouse at Lincoln Center in New York on Sept. 3 to observe urbane “World News Tonight” anchor Peter Jennings’ 20th anniversary with ABC News.

Mr. Jennings, 65 and the very picture of a tanned Dorian Gray, expressed ambivalence about the self-centric event but managed to relax and enjoy it.

The program started with a nostalgic and entertaining video that condensed Mr. Jennings’ career while showcasing some unexpectedly funny famous folk. Book Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia for the next “Last Comic Standing”! Justice Scalia gave the Canadian-born but recently naturalized Mr. Jennings permission to criticize American policy and then whipped out an American flag intended for Mr. Jennings. (ABC News President David Westin would actually present the flag to his top anchor.)

The best jokes and stories in such reels always are rooted in truth. President George W. Bush offered “congratulations on your 20th millstone.” “60 Minutes” man of the week Don Hewitt forgave Mr. Jennings for spurning a long-ago offer to move to CBS. “The key is still under the doormat,” Mr. Hewitt said. Sen. Hillary Clinton chided ABC News for “overhyped promos and music, with all due respect.” “This Week’s” George Stephanopoulos focused on how Mr. Jennings makes correspondents “comfortable” just before live stand-ups on a Jennings-anchored program: “`Your tie is a little loud, isn’t it?”’ Lauren Bacall appropriated the desk in Mr. Jennings’ office (“I don’t see my picture,” she mock-whined) for her contribution. “So happy to see you finally got the hang of it,” Ms. Bacall said in a delicate allusion to Mr. Jennings’ reputation as a man about many towns. “Sex and the City” sexpot and fellow Canadian Kim Cattrall smooched Mr. Jennings’ photo.

In the Kaplan Penthouse crowd congratulating Mr. Jennings: a gregarious Tina Brown, whose third “Topic A” special is scheduled to be telecast Sept. 10 on CNBC, Charlie Rose, Alan Alda and Fox News personality Bill O’Reilly. (Bulletin: It is still wa-a-a-a-a-a-a-ay too soon to invite Mr. O’Reilly and Al Franken to the same event.)

In the prodigal contingent was former “World News Tonight” executive producer Emily (daughter of Andy) Rooney, looking more like a sun-kissed California girl than the host-executive editor of the popular “Greater Boston” airing nightly on public station WGBH-TV.

The Insider can hardly wait until Mr. Jennings’ 40th anniversary party/class reunion.