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The Insider

Apr 2, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Smells like youthful spirit

It won’t be long before the “Good Morning America” audience sees more of feature correspondent Lara Spencer-and that’s not an oblique reference to the barely-there black dress the bouncy blonde wore to cover the Oscars for WABC-TV, New York, and “GMA,” where her “youthful cub-reporter spirit” is a hit. Late last week, i’s were being dotted and t’s crossed on a contract that will make Ms. Spencer, who joined flagship WABC-TV in 1995, a full-time network personality. Also being booked for more frequent appearances: Robin Roberts, the mellow pinch-hitter from sister network ESPN, ABC News pinup pundit George Stephanopoulos, and correspondent Claire Shipman as soon as the NBC emigre is free to appear on ABC.

Standing by his man

Robert Wussler, the former CBS executive who was at Ted Turner’s side in the seminal decade during which Turner Broadcasting exploded into a multibillion-dollar empire that couldn’t breathe without pushing the edge of the media envelope, is riding shotgun again as Mr. Turner picks up an old habit of bankrolling and distributing documentaries and movies on subjects near and dear to his heart.

Details of the new venture are still hard to come by. But the peripatetic Mr. Wussler, whose entrepreneurial Wussler Group is headquartered in Potomac, Md., is said to have secured a pied-a-terre in a trendy building at a happening intersection in Atlanta, the city that was his home base during his years as the pioneering Mr. Turner’s top executive. What he’s recently confided to old acquaintances is that he’ll be “assisting” the former boss, who was given the title of vice chairman-but no real role-in the merger of AOL Time Warner.

Just the tip of the Bloomberg?

The metamorphosis of CNN Headline News, which is expected to go into soft-launch mode in late summer, already is begging comparisons to Bloomberg TV in some quarters. The official word from CNN is that it’s too early to talk about what CNN Headline will look like several months down the road.

That word hasn’t gotten to CNN types, who share information as they interview for non-CNN jobs. They say to expect Headline to frame anchors and contributors with multiple streams of data, including financial and weather info. But insisted one insider, the goal is not to be Bloomberg lite or Bloomberglike.

But I want to buy a car-really!

Because of his reputation as the nemesis of crooked car dealers in Greater Tinseltown, KCBS-TV investigative reporter Joel Grover can’t wander onto a lot without salesmen jumping to the conclusion he’s there to do more than kick tires for mundane reasons. When the reporter recently asked to test drive a luxury car at a Beverly Hills, Calif., dealership, the salesman said, “You’re not wired?” Mr. Grover had to convince him he was there looking to buy a new car, not looking for his next story.

Game over

“The Dragon Riders of Pern,” a big-budget computer-generated sci-fi series in development at The WB, appears to be grounded before ever hitting the network’s fall schedule. Director Felix Enriquez Alcala walked off the project because of creative differences with Executive Producer and writer Ron Moore, series producers 20th Century Fox and Regency Television to terminate the project.

”We were hearing that Ron did not like what he was seeing of Felix’s vision, then [he] abruptly walked off the project [on March 28], effectively shutting down the project,” said Mark Hoebich, president and founder of TVtracker.com, an Internet-based development database.

The final word

From CBS Television President and CEO Les Moonves comes the final word(s) of the day. Last week’s “exclusive” report by Internet gossip Matt Drudge that CBS had offered the “Evening News” anchor chair to NBC’s Tim Russert was “as unsubstantiated a rumor as I’ve ever heard,” Mr. Moonves said. “There is no truth to it whatsoever. No one at CBS, no one, spoke to Tim Russert about a job. Never, ever, ever.”

Dan Rather’s 20th anniversary as anchor of “CBS Evening News” occasioned an intimate dinner party at New York’s swellegant Le Bernardin. The guest list was short but all-VIP: the anchor’s artist-wife Jean, Mr. Moonves, Viacom President and CEO Mel Karmazin, CBS News President Andrew Heyward and the executive producers of the three news programs to which Mr. Rather is central-“Evening News’ “ Jim Murphy, “60 Minutes II’s” Jeff Fager and “48 Hours’ “ Susan Zirinsky.” Things couldn’t be better and warmer and more copacetic than they are now,” Mr. Moonves said.