The Insider

Apr 23, 2001  •  Post A Comment

Lou, Katie. Katie, Lou
CNN seems likely to get what all the big network news organizations have: a sidewalk studio in New York much like the one that has put NBC’s “Today” show team of Katie Couric and Matt Lauer on the tourist map. Among the sites that have been scouted is the former bank space attached to parent company AOL Time Warner’s Sixth Avenue building, which is directly across from Radio City Music Hall and a mere hop, skip and a jump from the “Today” studio that attracts enthusiastic crowds each morning. The space had been earmarked for a People museum and shop and had been gutted before work stopped abruptly a few weeks ago.
The new development runs counter to the plan hatched by CNN executives last year to move all possible production to CNN headquarters in Atlanta-a plan that made it hard to woo some big journalism talent to the news network. “Adding a huge news presence in New York makes tremendous sense for any network. It is our intention at CNN to make that a priority,” said Brad Turell, the spokesman for Jamie Kellner and Garth Ancier, the decisive new top executives at Turner Broadcasting. A street-level studio would certainly make a bigger showcase for Lou Dobbs, the anchor returning as savior for “Moneyline” on May 14, than the current studio at the CNN bureau tucked high in an office building near Madison Square Garden.
Speaking about moving: Look for word that the weeknight show being developed for Jeff Greenfield is being pushed back yet again. It was most recently scheduled to launch during the same week that Mr. Dobbs returns. No one thinks there’s room in one week’s newspaper headlines for both men.
Fox vs. Fox on McVeigh story
Insiders say anchor Paula Zahn and correspondent Rita Cosby are just two of the Fox News Channel seething about an “exclusive” interview with Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh’s father Bill that was telecast on the April 13 edition of Ms. Zahn’s show, “The Edge.” Sources who know the elder Mr. McVeigh say he has consistently and adamantly refused to allow his voice or face to be recorded for broadcast. Fox field producer Jonathan Wachtel said the elder Mr. McVeigh did veto an on-camera interview but OK’d B-roll video. Mr. Wachtel had a voice recorder running in his pocket when he recently chatted with Mr. McVeigh outside his Buffalo, N.Y., home. Mr. Wachtel said he told Mr. McVeigh that he had recorded the conversation and that Mr. McVeigh only said he was unhappy with that but that he didn’t prohibit its use.
When told that the elder Mr. McVeigh had told others he felt “tricked” and that journalists are “jerks,” Mr. Wachtel said, “I never married up the photos with his voice. That would be a betrayal. It was not, and I repeat not, an on-camera interview. And that was what he said he did not want. There’s no mischief or any sort of hoodwinking going on here.” But Ms. Zahn and Ms. Cosby are convinced that Mr. Wachtel’s methods have mucked up their more straightforward attempts to land sit-downs with the elder Mr. McVeigh and his son (who is scheduled to be executed May 16).
Snap, crackle and fire
The hottest party in the broadcast industry this week is being hosted by Pax Communications Chairman Bud Paxson on the heels of the National Association of Broadcasters convention in Las Vegas. Mr. Paxson plans to chopper some 60 guests to the bottom of the Grand Canyon for lunch April 26 and then treat his crowd to breakfast and what has been described as a display of extensive firepower at Nellis Air Force Base outside Las Vegas on April 27.
The final word
While the consumer press was fixated on “Weakest Link” last week, industry circles were positively abuzz about the peaks of brilliance scaled April 14 on “Saturday Night Live.” Robert Smigel’s “TV Funhouse: Fun With Real Audio” imagined the various death wishes Bryant Gumbel must feel while interviewing “Survivor” castaways on “The Early Show.” In the animated short, Mr. Gumbel’s character jumped through a window, hanged himself, drank poison, put his head in Martha Stewart’s oven and let himself get run over-only to be made whole each time in classic cartoon fashion and have to continue with the “Survivor” interview.
Mr. Smigel chalked up his inspiration to “a delayed reaction”-he was scanning the CBS morning show out of pattern and “I just could not believe what Bryant Gumbel had been reduced to. It was a typical daydream when I should have been listening to my wife.” Mr. Smigel is both surprised by and delighted with the peer acclaim for his laugh-out-loud sequence-and not just because media mavens were furiously dubbing and sharing it. “It’s comforting to see that not everybody is a `Stepford’ `Survivor’ fan,” he said. Barring a writers strike, Mr. Smigel will do a pure “Survivor” sendup on the final “SNL” on May 19. No Mr. Gumbel in that one. “I think he’s suffered enough now.”