One of the least-recognized but, to me, most fascinating tweaks in broadcast news formatting has been the development of the In Memoriam segment on ABC’s This Week program each Sunday morning. While the segment is quietly emotional in its simplicity and its consistency in showing equal worth and contributions from individuals in all walks of life, what really stirs me most is the concept of "contemporaries"—diverse individuals who occupied a common stretch of the world’s timeline and impacted us in bursts of energy or wisdom.
Sometimes the strange juxtaposition of contemporary figures erupts in nodes of creativity, like the Algonquin roundtable of the 1920s that at various points brought together such literary sharpshooters as Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber, Alexander Wollcott, Robert Benchley, Noel Coward and George S. Kaufman with such unlikely figures as Harpo Marx and Tallulah Bankhead.
Then there’s the amazing literary coincidence of contemporaries Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Charles Dickens, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, Jules Verne, Leo Tolstoy, Louisa May Alcott, Lewis Carroll and a seemingly interminable list of others who created the classics of the 1850s to the 1870s and who, under the right geographic circumstances, might have formed their own roundtable.
The once-in-a-generation galaxy of the Rat Pack represented a coalescence of entertainment contemporaries that has never been duplicated since the demise of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford and Joey Bishop.
Odder—and therefore even more intriguing—are contemporaries from seemingly totally different planets, like Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon, Albert Einstein, Winston Churchill, Mickey Mantle and Jack Kerouac.
Sporadically, it appears, we share our lives with history’s most captivating personalities, many of whom have forever changed our definitions of classics, culture and the cosmos. I contemplate today’s contemporaries and wonder what they will communicate to future generations. How will the contemporary legacies of Kenneth Lay, Aaron Spelling, Billy Preston, A.M. Rosenthal, Floyd Patterson, John Kenneth Galbraith, Casper Weinberger, the Rev. William Sloane Coffin and Oleg Cassini—all subjects of This Week In Memoriam tributes over the past few months—influence American culture?
All of us in the arena of communications should be more cognizant of the interconnected world of personalities in which we move. Are we forming roundtables that ignite thought leadership and analytical approaches, or are we isolating ourselves from the valuable input of contemporaries who could help reshape our futures more positively? What would happen if powerful contemporaries crafted better paths of communication among themselves, rather than silos of isolation?
In a world where odd-couple contemporaries like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett can unite to make a global impact, what other contemporary opportunities are out there, waiting for the right spark and the right moment?