Lamb Turns Page on 'Booknotes’

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After 15 years and interviews with nearly 800 authors, C-SPAN founder and CEO Brian Lamb has decided to close the covers on Booknotes, the Sunday-evening program devoted to authors and their books on history and politics.

C-SPAN spokeswoman Robin Scullin said Lamb wanted to reclaim some personal time, noting that each one-hour program required 20 hours of preparation.

“When you add it all up, I’ve committed about 1.8 years of my life to reading books for the series. It’s time to use all those hours in other ways,” Lamb said in a prepared statement.

C-SPAN is a public-affairs cable network launched by the industry 25 years ago and sustained today by fees paid by cable and satellite companies. Booknotes aired at 8 p.m. without commercial interruption from a two-chair studio draped in black.

The first author to appear on Booknotes was Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Carter’s national-security adviser. Brzezinski was interviewed April 2, 1989, about his book, The Grand Failure.

Other Booknotes luminaries included British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev and Presidents George H.W. Bush, Nixon and Carter.

The last Booknotes is scheduled for Dec. 5. The book and the author have not been selected, but he or she will be the 800th Booknotes guest.

No author has been permitted to appear twice, Scullin said. As a result, the one-appearance rule precluded former President Clinton from discussing with Lamb his new bestseller, My Life. While serving as president, Clinton was interviewed in 1996 for his book Between Hope and History.

Lamb won’t yield the Sunday-night primetime slot, as he plans to launch an interview program called Q&A to replace Booknotes. Lamb will quiz experts from the fields of politics, science, history and medicine. And on occasion, authors will be involved, Scullin said.

“We’ll look for different, but topical issues and people who aren’t being seen and heard elsewhere on TV,” Lamb said.

Booknotes was no match for Oprah’s Book Club in terms of driving sales, but the publishing world valued the program, as well as C-SPAN 2’s coverage of the book industry on the weekends, which will continue.

“That’s very sad for the publishing business,” said Carol Schneider, vice president of publicity for Random House, a major book publisher. “The show made a big difference among book buyers. You are reaching people who are book buyers.”

C-SPAN’s programming is not rated for audience popularity. But Gene Taft, director of publicity at Public Affairs Books, said a Booknotes segment would boost sales at Amazon.com, the Internet-based bookseller.

When Taft got word that Booknotes was closing in on its final chapter, he sent an e-mail message to colleagues that stated in part: “A big blow for serious nonfiction book publishing. There is nothing else like it on national TV and probably never will be again.”

While coming to an end as a TV product, Booknotes will live on in cyberspace. C-SPAN will continue to archive every interview on its Web site (www.c-span.org), including the original video and transcripts.

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