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'Booknotes' afterword

C-SPAN IS closing the book on "Booknotes," one of its classic television shows. The festival of interviews with nonfiction authors will go off the air in December, a loss for C-Span, cable television's public service broadcaster.

Conducted by C-Span's chief executive, Brian Lamb, the interviews have been frank looks at writers' lives, thoughts, and work habits. There are no video clips or special effects, just conversations. Viewers get a feel of what it's like spending years researching and writing a biography or turning a moment in history into a book. The interviews range from details of important events to the ways writers have relied on their spouses.

The first broadcast of "Booknotes" was on April 2, 1989. It featured Zbigniew Brzezinski discussing "Grand Failure: The Birth & Death of Communism in the 20th Century." Since then guests have included Hillary Clinton, Pat Buchanan, Colin Powell, Frank McCourt, and rock star David Crosby. A basic rule of the show: Authors could appear only once.

The show's popularity led C-Span 2 to launch "Book TV" in 1998, 48 hours of weekend programming on nonfiction books. In addition to "Booknotes," "Book TV" features talks by authors, panel discussions, and book festivals from around the country.

Once "Booknotes" goes off the air, audiences will still be able to read transcripts and watch past shows on the Internet. And "Booknotes" repeats will be broadcast on "Book TV." But Lamb will essentially hang up his industrial-strength reading glasses and work on a new C-Span program called "Q&A," an interview show with a variety of guests from different fields -- including but not limited to writers -- who aren't already being widely interviewed on television.

Lamb says that after 15 years he's tired of spending 20 hours a week preparing for each show. That's understandable. But instead of shutting down "Booknotes," C-Span should get a new host. The workload is heavy, but one host could produce fewer shows. Or several rotating hosts could do as many shows as Lamb did.

A C-Span spokeswoman, Robin Scullin, says there are no plans to find a new host. C-Span officials should reconsider. As Boston listeners learned when WBUR radio needed a new host for "The Connection," the search can be fascinating, and a new host provides fresh views.

Television is often at its best when it showcases books. Keeping "Booknotes" would be one way to maintain broadcasting excellence. 

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