Mr. Television Says Good Night, but Not Goodbye

With barely a discernible nod, Haim Yavin bid goodbye to the Mabat news broadcast that he had presented for forty years. His stare remained stable. His square jaw did not shake. No tear welled up in the corner of his eye.

A new record of television reserve was set yesterday. This was not some sort of pathetic attempt to broadcast "situation normal." This was that same Yekke professionalism which is based on a cool head and focus on the task. There are those who will certainly see this as a symbol of the man's conservatism. But in a world starving for drama in real time, demanding the expression of artificial emotion and fake sighs, this was a clear statement by Yavin about what is appropriate.

And a personal imprint: news is what is important, not the presenter, he was saying. Not the personality - the issues. And as he promised in the interviews that preceded the final broadcast, he ended it with a "Good night, we're finished," ignoring what other reporters had prepared for him throughout the broadcast and in a special program that followed. It was as if this was not the final broadcast, to be followed by new, younger, glowing faces, with the studio having undergone a facelift.

Perhaps Yavin wanted to remind us that the world remains unchanged. The attacks will continue, committees will meet, reports will be filed, and governments will be on the verge of breakdown. Even after he steps down from the screen.

But in spite of his rare understated abilities, and also despite the criticism he suffered and the view of many people that he stayed too long, Haim Yavin was an unchallenged star for at least three of the four decades he ruled as Mr. Television.

But this is also a worn-out cliche. He was a television star like we may never see again in this country, even in this era of non-stop celebrities in the parallel channels. And this no one can take from him. And perhaps this is his famed stability. No one is simply willing to stay like he did in front of the screen for that long.

Last night, Yavin expressed mixed feelings in talking about his "party." Already from the start it had the cynical title, "my funeral." At 8:45 PM, he walked the long corridor to the studio. Tall, his hair well combed, the same hair that was repeatedly referred to in the final broadcast - he looks younger than his age, and this is before makeup. And during makeup he remembered his first broadcast in 1968 - "I wore my bar mitzvah suit" - and the hijacking of the El Al jet to Algeria. Tomorrow morning, he said, he i s going for his regular walk and coming back to edit his series on Arab Israelis.