The Insider

Apr 30, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Reading tea leaves and subtext at NBC News
The courtship of Katie Couric turned family-style last week. The “Today” anchor has been the subject of intense speculation about what she might do after her $7 million-a-year contract is up next year. The most feverish scenario has involved syndicated talk show host Rosie O’Donnell, who says she wants to leave next year.
Presumably Ms. Couric was told she doesn’t have to leave the NBC family to test her value in daytime syndication, since NBC Enterprises chief Ed Wilson was in town for Ms. Couric’s meeting with NBC President Bob Wright and NBC News President Andrew Lack.
Among the presumed perks of her staying at “Today” is that she gets a deciding vote on who will be permanent executive producer of the No. 1 morning show-a spot held by Jeff Zucker until he was named NBC Entertainment president late last year. Ms. Couric has been said to favor Jonathan Wald, Tom Brokaw’s young executive producer on “NBC Nightly News.”
Mr. Brokaw’s contract also comes due in July 2002. Mr. Brokaw is not the type to cavalierly stand in the way of a golden opportunity for Mr. Wald, who was just promoted on “Nightly” last year. So if Mr. Wald does go to “Today,” look for intense speculation that Mr. Brokaw intends to step down in 2002.
Meanwhile, across the Hudson River at MSNBC, Mr. Brokaw’s heir apparent, Brian Williams-anchor of “The News With Brian Williams”-is displaying remarkable patience about his own future. One of the musical-chairs scenarios that was buoyed last week is that Mr. Williams’ executive producer, Steve Capus, would be expected to precede Mr. Williams to “Nightly” if Mr. Wald vacates the executive producer slot.
Tom Johnson’s fashion footnote
CNN Chairman Tom Johnson knows where to look for sartorial cues. He recently put in an appearance wearing white running sneakers and a business suit-a look Hollywoodites will recognize as the fashion trademark of Brad Turell, the spokesman and key aide to Jamie Kellner, Mr. Johnson’s new Turner Broadcasting boss.
Lieberman stumping for punchlines
Connecticut Sen. Joe Lieberman did a little stand-up and a little politicking in an appearance last week before the Communications Workers of America in Washington.
Recalling the Florida ballots presumably meant for Mr. Lieberman and presidential running mate Al Gore but registered for Patrick Buchanan, the senator riffed on some of the catchy slogans the cross-voting snafu inspired. Such as “Lieberman-Buchanan, the ticket only a mother could love,” or “Building a bridge to the 14th century.” Comedian Al Franken, the senator said, had suggested “Lieberman-Buchanan: Immigrants gotta love `em, immigrants gotta hate `em.”
Sen. Lieberman sounded like a contender for the 2004 presidential race with the multiple ovations from the audience, his exhortation to vote Democratic and his optimism. “I tell you my friends, the momentum is in our direction!“ he said.
Getting ad mileage from `Motor Week’
Maryland Public Television considers John Davis, creator and host of the national PBS show “Motor Week,” and Pat Goss, who contributes regular segments, to be objective journalists. Yet both write weekly advertising copy on general automotive themes for the front page of the Washington Post’s auto sales section.
Though packaged like feature stories, they’re clearly labeled as ads and carry disclaimers identifying the authors as being with “Motor Week” and not the newspaper. The ad copy is packaged with dealership ads. If they’re objective journalists, why are they in bed with the industry they report on?
MPT spokeswoman Laurel Goodrick insisted the arrangement passes muster because the TV personalities contribute the ad columns on a free-lance basis and not as part of their “Motor Week” responsibilities. They’re not allowed to endorse specific products on the show or in the ads, and they’re only permitted to review cars on the show. “We don’t see a conflict of interest here,” she said.
The final word
The gallons of ink devoted to the performance of “Weakest Link” in its first week produced a typo that caught our favorite wag’s eye. Inside.com’s April 18 ratings report referred to the “Weakest Leak.” To which our sharp-tongued Tom Shales said: “Wait a minute. I thought that’s what I had last night around midnight.”