Dave Davis got caught up in politics when he left WABC-TV, after four years as president and general manager, to become executive VP of ABC News.
Not office politics. Presidential politics.
The long and crowded run for the White House was deep into the preliminary debates when Mr. Davis became ABC News President David Westin’s second-in-command in late September.
It didn’t make his learning curve any steeper. He had worked his way up from overnight photographer at ABC-owned KTRK-TV in Houston to become president and general manager of ABC-owned WPVI-TV in Philadelphia before taking over the network’s flagship station in New York in 2003. He was used to working closely with the network and its news division.
“The owned stations were always a good partner with network news and vice versa. But it’s a little bit different being in the middle of it,” Mr. Davis said.
But being part of a team he’s found to be staffed with “very smart, motivated people” is more exciting than being partners with it.
Also, he says, “There’s just a lot more resources here than there is at the local news level. Look, we get tremendous support from the owned stations on election coverage and other issues, and on promotions, and I’m glad to have some familiarity with that relationship.”
The fact that ABC News’ political machinery already was cranking has speeded up his learning process, Mr. Davis said. “It’s allowed me to learn and work with everything from our polling unit and our political unit to George [Stephanopoulos] and Charlie [Gibson] and Diane [Sawyer].”
Mr. Davis’ primary responsibilities revolve around ABC News’ broadcasts and related functions, including special events, directors and advertising and promotion.
He has made fans in every introduction and conversation since joining ABC News, where there were some people who were inclined to look down on his local news background until they met him.
Then they see the man invariably described by those who worked with him in local markets: A smart, decisive, straight-shooting people person.
Michael Gelman, the executive producer of WABC’s major claim to national fame, syndicated daytime hit “Live With Regis & Kelly,” recalls Mr. Davis introducing himself at the network’s flagship station in 2003, making it clear “he wanted to know and get involved with you as an employee without getting in your way.”
“He said, ‘Look, I’m not here to tell you how to do your job. I’m here to support you. I want to know how your business works and then I want to let you do it,’” Mr. Gelman said.
One of the things the “Live” executive producer feels defines Mr. Davis’ management style is the monthly birthday get-together he would hold. That showed everyone was going to get face time with the general manager, not just the heads of lucrative departments.
Even after Mr. Davis moved around the corner to the network news side of the Upper West Side block that is home to a number of ABC operations, he came back for the retirement party of a 20-year booker for “Live.”
Mr. Davis has a weathered-sounding voice and an easy laugh. He doesn’t shy away from a question about the speculation touched off by his new job that he would quickly succeed Mr. Westin.
“He’s the reason I’m here. He and I have a very long relationship. When he started discussions with me about coming to the network, he would be the main reason I could consider that,” Mr. Davis said. “I have enjoyed and hope to continue to enjoy learning from him.”
His habit is to deflect a compliment to those most deserving of it.
To a casual comment that chief White House correspondent Martha Raddatz seems to be kicking competitive butt, he says, “She is unbelievable.”
Offer congratulations on ABC News staging the most-watched debate of the presidential campaign Jan. 5 in New Hampshire and he says, “That was a combination of good timing, good production and Charlie [Gibson] was just terrific. It was a nice event.”
Now, he says: “The challenge is trying to separate the issues from the horse race, whether or not you’re reactive to what’s going on on the campaign trail that day or whether you try to advance the story in a different direction. There are just so many choices. We still have so many interesting candidates and issues.
“Basically, it’s just finding enough time to get everything on. We’re fortunate that in addition to ‘World News’ and ‘Good Morning America,’ we also have ‘Nightline,’ where we’ve done a lot of politics. … We have definitely tried to find as many places as we can to get across what we think is the most important story this year.”
ABC was the only broadcast network that committed to a prime-time special on the night of the New Hampshire primary, but it had to make some last-second adjustments in response to the unexpectedly dramatic events.
“The problem that evening was trying to find a half-hour where we would know some results and have something to talk about,” Mr. Davis said. By pushing the special from 8:30 p.m. to 9, ABC News was able to report Arizona Sen. John McCain would win the Republican primary. But it would be a while before there was a confident projection that New York Sen. Hillary Clinton was the Democrats’ winner.
“It’s a good thing we had ‘Nightline,’” said Mr. Davis, sounding very much like a man who feels right at home at ABC News.
AT A GLANCE
Name: Dave Davis
Title: Executive VP of ABC News
How long in current position: Five months
Place of birth: Wooster, Ohio
Date of birth: Nov. 18, 1952
Who knew? Mr. Davis enjoys riding his Triumph Bonneville motorcycle on weekends. “I used to ride motorcycles when I was younger, and I decided to get back into it” this summer.