By James Barron
A New York taxi driver who picked up Daljit Dhaliwal near the United Nations not long ago refused, with star-struck finality, to take her money for a trip across town. "He said, 'You're the news reader from ITN,'" she recalled a couple of days later.
Maybe those were not his exact words. "News reader" is, after all, the British term for an anchor. But Ms. Dhaliwal, the person behind the very big desk on a London-based program that recycles British news reports for public television stations in the United States, is still surprised when people in this country recognize her.
Consider the night last year when she went to dinner at the Four Seasons in Manhattan. She never expected to be an attention getter in a restaurant that is always being mentioned in the gossip columns with attention getters like Henry A. Kissinger and Ronald O. Perelman. But she said that "at least three waiters came up" and did everything but ask for her autograph.
Ms. Dhaliwal insists that news readers lead anonymous lives back home. Maybe, maybe not. Even before her "World News for Public Television" has its premiere on WNET and 42 other stations last year, she had fans in this country. They had discovered her when an earlier version of the program was a late-night staple on a handful of public stations, including WLIW, the Long Island station that is carried on most cable systems in the metropolitan region.
"I suppose anchors here do tend to have a more personal following," she said, sounding uncharacteristically uncomfortable during a recent conversation in New York. "There isn't that cult of personality in Great Britain."
Ms. Dhaliwal, 36, was more comfortable talking about the philosophy that sets "World News" apart from the evening news programs on American television. Her program, shown in the New York area at 5:30 PM Monday to Friday on Channel 13, is quieter and less jazzy, more of a throwback to the slower-paced days of Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. Her American fans are fond of saying that it has not been dumbed down by ratings-hungry producers catering to what they think the MTV generation wants in the way of news.
Ms. Dhaliwal's serious-minded mantra seems to be, "I want my foreign news." And that seems to be playing well with American viewers.
"It makes me wonder," she said. "People always say there's no desire for international news. That's what focus groups always say. Yet they say they like the program. It covers stories they wouldn't see on other news programs. So you feel like you're providing a really crucial service. It reminds me of what it was like in the Soviet Union. People were deprived of what was going on. I feel that way about Americans. They've got to get their fix of international news."
Americans? Deprived? Well, "World News" was playing up the crisis in Kosovo when other news programs were transfixed by Monica S. Lewinsky. The feedback, Ms. Dhaliwal said, was encouraging. "They found it refreshing that we were not telling what color dress Monica Lewinsky was wearing today," she said.
Still, "World News" did not ignore the first-time spectacle of an elected President being impeached. "Impeachment," she said. "When that word started flying around, we thought, 'Is this real? Is this serious?' "
It is not the only peculiarly American ritual Ms. Dhaliwal has had to become familiar with. In February she appeared on a public-television pledge drive segment.
"I didn't directly ask anyone for money," she said. "I wouldn't dream of doing that. But our program probably wouldn't be seen on PBS without viewers."
"Ms. Dhaliwal found the pledge-drive experience mystifying. "I was sitting there," she said. "And a dozen people walked in, and I thought, 'How will they conduct this interview with all the chatter?'" Ms. Dhaliwal quickly learned what every American viewer knows: The dozen people were there to answer the telephones when "World News" fans called with their credit cards ready.Article from the New York Times television section for the week of May 1.