Drawing up an unassailable list of the next generation of television news stars is a near-impossible and inherently suspect task, if only because the prescribed length of the list forces difficult choices.
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It’s also a rewarding task because it involves a lot of conversations with a lot of people whose business it is to know star power when they see it—in even its earliest forms—in the context of an increasingly daunting TV news landscape.
TelevisionWeek talked to network talent executives, agents and savvy viewers who are, first and foremost, news junkies. No one was in contention for the list without having been mentioned, unbidden, more than once, or without having provoked easy assent from the news junkies when mentioned as a contender.
Staying on the list as it was being pared down to a manageable (but inadequate) 15 nominations for stardom became an exercise in pitting intangibles against tangibles.
To those inclined to argue that this or that up-and-comer should have been on the list, consider yourselves welcome to submit your own candidates in the comments section of this story on TVWeek.com. The more the merrier.
To those who wonder why some better-known names are not on the list, perhaps a little explanation is in order.
Anderson Cooper, for example, might be considered a glaring omission, but one could argue that the CNN anchor and “60 Minutes” contributor is already pretty much at the top of his game. Would he be a bigger star somewhere other than at CNN? Most likely. Would other TV news organizations like the chance to prove that? Undoubtedly. Only he can decide if bigger is better.
Erica Hill is likewise appearing on both CNN and CBS, as a contributor to “Anderson Cooper 360” and as co-anchor of the Saturday edition of “The Early Show.” She definitely pops, to use the TV vernacular, but it’s still unclear how much depth is there.
Lara Logan at CBS News and Richard Engel at NBC News also might seem to be unjustifiably absent, given their steep ascent from the corps of correspondents who emerged from the Iraq war story with recognizable names and faces, but both are pretty well established—albeit with plenty of room in which to grow.
Jake Tapper, recently named chief White House correspondent for ABC News, is arguably the first to get big enough on the Web—his addictive political coverage on Salon.com made him a political household name—to earn the chance to get bigger at a network. No one doubts he’ll put his stamp on the White House beat, but that leads to the question of “And then?”
That same question applies to Shepard Smith, already acknowledged as the future of Fox News Channel. However, unless Fox dramatically changes the prime-time format that has been so successful, Mr. Smith is pretty much where he’s going to be–not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Likewise, his colleague Bret Baier, the chief White House correspondent who has all but grown up on Fox News Channel, has just a little of the edge needed in cable but is a solid reporter who isn’t a showboat. There certainly isn’t anything wrong with that. Right now, there is a palpable air of heir apparent to Mr. Baier, who has become the backup of first choice on Brit Hume’s “Special Report.” Mr. Baier seems well positioned to be that successor and a success, if not a white-hot star.
One additional bit of explanation. The position of people on the list is pure alphabetical order.