The first on-air promo for the April 24 broadcast interview with Bruce Jenner didn’t even show his face, an illustration of the line ABC News is walking in trying to drum up interest for the program while saying virtually nothing about it.
The two-hour interview special with the 1976 Olympic decathlon champion and estranged patriarch of television’s Kardashian clan is expected to touch on transgenderism and reports that Jenner may be transitioning.
ABC has released only a couple of non-specific quotes by Jenner and is not expected to reveal much more in advance of the Friday program, preferring to give Jenner the opportunity to address the topic in the full context of the interview.
Diane Sawyer has not spoken to outside media about the interview, which was conducted in February — one day in Los Angeles, another in New York. She’s scheduled to promote it on ABC properties Friday: “Good Morning America,” `’Live with Kelly and Michael” and “The View.” ABC News executives also haven’t spoken about it, not even confirming publicly until April 6 that the interview had taken place, until this the airdate was set.
“In producing this special, one of our goals has been to respect Bruce’s story,” said ABC News spokesman Van Scott. “We want Bruce to speak for Bruce. We’ve had this top of mind throughout the process from the booking and interviews to the promotion and final product.”
The tight lid enables ABC to avoid the issue of potentially “outing” a public figure before the person has had a chance to publicly address the topic. Not everyone is waiting: The New York Daily News this week published a front-page picture of a person they said was Jenner wearing a dress.
“I respect the way that (ABC has) handled this,” said Brad Bessey, executive producer of “Entertainment Tonight” and “The Insider.” “You have to separate Bruce Jenner and Bruce’s story from the media circus that is the Kardashians.”
The approach has left his syndicated entertainment newsmagazines starved for news. Bessey said they’ve done stories on the three 15- or 30-second promos that ABC has released.
The first ABC promo showed two Jenner images — one from behind and the other from the side as he talked with Sawyer, his face obscured by shadows. In the other two, Jenner is heard more clearly, and with two soundbites. “My whole life has been getting ready for this,” he said. He also talks of the importance of not hurting his children.
ABC’s handling of the story so far has been respectful, said Nick Adams, program director of transgender media for GLAAD. The organization that represents gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders has spoken little about Jenner.
“Sharing one’s story is something a person should be allowed to do in their own time and in their own way,” Adams said. Media speculation about a public figure’s gender identity increases harmful scrutiny on other transgender people, he said.
The interview was conducted before Jenner was involved in an auto accident in which another motorist was killed. ABC is expected to address the topic, although the timing precludes it from being raised with Jenner.
Some of Jenner’s children, pictured in one of the promos, also are expected to be interviewed.
Bessey predicted big ratings for the special. ABC is airing it on a Friday night, when TV-watching is usually low. Two big interviews are among the top 100 most-watched telecasts of all time in the U.S.: Oprah Winfrey’s 1993 talk with Michael Jackson, seen in 36.6 million homes, and Barbara Walters’ 1999 interview with Monica Lewinsky, seen in 33.2 million homes.
Friday’s interview likely won’t approach those numbers, but should certainly exceed the Friday “20/20” average of 6.2 million viewers this season.
“I think people will be watching,” Bessey said. “I hope they’ll be listening.”