The Insider

May 7, 2001  •  Post A Comment

The other Aaron Sorkin cliffhanger

On May 9, the International Radio & Television Society is scheduled to honor three exemplars of “achievement in the electronic media industry”: “Meet the Press” moderator Tim Russert, MTV, and “The West Wing” creator and Executive Producer Aaron Sorkin.

This lunch will take place a scant seven days after Mr. Sorkin pleaded not guilty to charges of possession of hallucinogenic mushrooms, marijuana and rock cocaine as he passed through the Burbank (Calif.) Airport on his way to Las Vegas April 15. Mr. Sorkin is scheduled to return to court June 4 to plead for admission to a diversionary program rather than prison.

In the meantime, Mr. Sorkin, as of deadline, still intended to come to New York to accept his award. “He’ll be there,” said a spokeswoman, who seemed genuinely puzzled to get the question. “He’s very honored they’re honoring him.”

In a casual poll, some high-level TV PR folks who insisted on anonymity agreed on one thing: Mr. Sorkin is damned if he does show up at the luncheon and damned if he doesn’t.

If he does appear, that presents an exquisite dilemma: There’s almost nothing he can say that might not be used against him in the court of public opinion, much less in the Burbank court that must decide whether he’s a candidate for three years in prison or for another stint in rehab.

Mr. Sorkin certainly couldn’t make a joke to the IRTS crowd. A treacly speech that smacks of self-serving manipulation is a gamble in a crowd of cynical industry types and press. Then, too, there’s potential for committing what PR experts call an unpardonable sin: stealing too much attention from his fellow honorees, Mr. Russert and MTV.

The IRTS can’t un-invite the producer, so Mr. Sorkin should graciously offer to send someone to “make a touching but straightforward” statement on his behalf, said one West Coast publicity executive.

However, Mr. Sorkin’s spokeswoman argues that the producer should not be “punished” for having created an “awkward” situation, and some of her PR peers agree that for him to not show up would be to take “the easyway out.”

IRTS President Joyce Tudrin noted the award is not for lifetime achievement. “This is an award for significant achievement in a given year,” she said. “It is obviously intended for his incredible work on `West Wing.’ To the best of my knowledge, he’ll be with us.”

The verdict: Greta Van Susteren stays

CNN will keep Greta Van Susteren for at least another year. After months of weighing her options, the Washington-based legal pundit has decided there’s no place like the news network she has called her TV home for more than a decade.

Although details of the deal are being closely guarded, a CNN spokeswoman was able to confirm that Ms. Van Susteren will be staying and will continue to work double time as co-host of “Burden of Proof” weekdays and sole host of “The Point With Greta Van Susteren” weeknights.

A literary challenge

for Mark Burnett

Who will survive the battle of the dueling book titles? Will it be (a) The little e-commerce tome called “Dare to Succeed” that’s all about how to thrive while just working at home on your computer, or (b) “Dare to Succeed: How to Survive and Thrive in the Game of Life,” the new autobiography by Mark Burnett, former member of the British Army Parachute Regiment and creator of “Survivor,” “Eco-Challenge” and the new “Combat Missions” for USA Network, which will pit actual teams of Special Forces veterans against each other.

If you guessed (a), then you’re the weakest link … Goodbye.

“Dare” is due from Hyperion in September.

The final word

Speaking of “Weakest Link,” Nielsen data indicate that the NBC game show hosted by snarky Brit Anne Robinson is, after only three weeks on the air, grayer than ABC’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the show other networks like to batter for aging ABC’s demographics. “Link’s” median age after its third Monday outing: 42.57 years. “Millionaire’s” median age: 37.5. Perhaps the bigger surprise: The median age for CBS’s youth magnet “Survivor II”: 40.1.