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Jewish World Review Jan. 18, 2001 / 23 Teves, 5761

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Of Saints and Sinners, and the nearness of faraway dreams -- ALL OF the scholarly treatises that have been written about how the Internet is affecting our society . . . all of the erudite editorial analyses about how the worldwide computer network is changing us. . . .

And for me, finally, it comes down to this.

There once was a short-lived television series called "Saints and Sinners." The reason I know it existed is that it probably is one of the reasons I went to work for newspapers.

I was a kid when it was briefly on the air, in the early 1960s. What I remember is that it was about a newspaper, and that it made life in a city room seem not so much like a job, but like study hall for grownups. The men all worked with their sleeves rolled up and their ties loosened, they were running around on stories all day as if they had no attention spans, they made jokes about the oddest things. . . .

The show, or so I thought I recalled, starred Nick Adams as a reporter. And what I remembered most vividly was the payoff scene in a particular episode. Adams had just written a story that had saved someone's life. Here was his reward:

The city editor called out to everyone in the newsroom and told them to "pick up" -- to pick up their phones. They all did -- on the line whose light was blinking. The woman whose family member had been saved by the story had called the paper to give her tearful thanks. So as she thanked Nick Adams, the rest of the reporters, photographers and copyboys -- because of the city editor -- were all listening in. The woman was telling Nick Adams that she would never forget what he had done for her family -- and the rest of the staff heard every word.

Is that a cool way to make a living, or what?

Anyway . . . for years I have been asking people about "Saints and Sinners," have been looking in video stores to see if it was ever released on tape, have been talking to other newspaper people about it. Nothing. Most people have never heard of it. I began to think that I had imagined it.

Then, a few weeks ago -- on a whim -- I typed "Saints and Sinners" and "TV show" and "Nick Adams" into an Internet search engine, just to see what would happen.

Within 30 seconds I found out that a hobbyist-collector of old television shows -- Tom Kleinschmidt, who lives in New Jersey -- was the owner of a number of "Saints and Sinners" episodes.

Within five minutes I had sent him an e-mail explaining my long search for "Saints and Sinners."

Within 30 minutes he had written me back and asked me for more details about what I was looking for.

Three days later a package arrived. It was a videotape of the "Saints and Sinners" episode I have been thinking about for all these years. Tom Kleinschmidt didn't charge me a penny -- he just asked me to send him, in exchange, some of the things I have written. (I'll say it before you do: Boy, did I get the better end of that deal.)

And . . . it's great. I had remembered it almost exactly: The black-and-white look of the show. The New-York-never-sleeps orchestral music over the shots of the teeming city. The newsroom that, seen from 40 years later, is so much superior in atmosphere and feeling and just plain fun to the newsrooms of today. The rolled-up-sleeves and cigarettes and coffee cups and newspaper lingo. . . .

And, of course, that great scene. The city editor calling out: "Everyone! Pick up!" The phones being pulled to the ears of dozens of men and women. And the embarrassed, proud look on Nick Adams' face as he hears the woman's words of gratitude -- and all of his colleagues hear her words, too.

This isn't about "Saints and Sinners," though -- it's about the Internet. Who ever would have predicted, in the "Saints and Sinners" days, that a device would eventually exist that would allow some guy in Chicago, daydreaming about something he'd assumed he would never see again, to locate -- within seconds -- a man in New Jersey who had just what he was looking for? The worldwide computer network can be creepy and scary and intrusive and addicting -- we all know that. But something this seemingly simple and small -- finding "Saints and Sinners" at last -- somehow conveys the power of the Internet in a way all the statistics about its breadth and reach fail to do.

"Everyone! Pick up!" Indeed.

(With most people, this would be the end of the story. But for me, there is never any such thing as enough. As soon as I found out that Tom Kleinschmidt was willing to send me "Saints and Sinners," I knew what was next: the mother-daughter episode of "Then Came Bronson." Like it or not, that story will be coming your way in tomorrow's column.)

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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