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EM’s top 10 in TV news

Sep 10, 2001  •  Post A Comment

1. Roger Ailes
Chairman, Fox News
Roger Ailes has changed the TV news game profoundly and irrevocably with Fox News Channel, which is coming off its first year of profitability and is still growing like mad-in subscribers, ratings and revenues (which are expected to be boosted 40 percent this fiscal year). Fox News marches to its own loud, lively, resolute, unabashed and tireless drummer, while its competitors scramble to keep up, to copy, or at least to stake out viable alternative niches. CNN, that perceived tower of liberal-leaning coverage, even flirted with Rush Limbaugh this summer.
Last year’s rank: No. 4
2. Katie Couric
Anchor, NBC’s “Today”
Alan Berger
Ms. Couric’s agent
With less than a year left on her $7 million-a-year NBC contract, Katie Couric has the TV world by the you-know-whats. She is early morning’s Cinderella, and agent Alan Berger is less fairy godmother than personal shopper, rounding up every conceivable glass slipper for her to try on. She can write her own ticket in the biggest sweepstakes courtship ever for a TV newswoman. NBC is banking on being able to keep her in the family by easing her off “Today,” which is NBC News’ biggest cash cow, and into whatever her heart desires. The $64 million question for Ms. Couric then will be whether she lives up to the hype.
Not ranked last year
3. Jamie Kellner
Chairman and CEO, TBS Inc.
Garth Ancier
Executive vice president, programming, TBS Inc.
Walter Isaacson
Chairman and CEO, CNN News Group
The future of the first-and still most universal-all-news network is in the hands of two entertainment executives and a print journalist: Jamie Kellner, who had helped rewrite the network TV script as a founding executive of the Fox and WB networks; Garth Ancier, who gave the world “The Ricki Lake Show,” helped launch Fox and The WB, and spent a scant 18 months as NBC’s top programmer; and Walter Isaacson, who had re-energized and redirected Time magazine and was looking for a new media challenge. Mr. Kellner and Mr. Ancier wasted no time shaking off the cobwebs and cranking up the competitive juices and the promotional volume. They oversaw a makeover-complete with a sexy starlet-for CNN Headline News; the return of Lou Dobbs, the biggest journalism star CNN ever had; and a new studio that will raise CNN’s profile in New York. Enter Mr. Isaacson with his who, what, where, when, why and “how is this going to prove interesting?” questions. He is putting the content horse before the news-gathering cart, forcing the most sacred of cows at CNN to blink. In the works: the metamorphoses of CNNfn into CNN Money and of former ABC newsman Aaron Brown into the face and voice of the new CNN.
Not ranked last year
4. Tom Brokaw
Anchor, “NBC Nightly News”
What Tom Brokaw did on his 10-week summer vacation was make clear to NBC News what a tough act he’s going to be to follow. After a 53-week streak in first place, “Nightly” found itself losing some weeks to “ABC World News Tonight” as a cadre of substitutes, including long-presumed heir apparent Brian Williams and Katie Couric, sat in for Mr. Brokaw, whose $7 million-a-year contract is up in 2002. Is the man who, at 61, makes it all look easier than ever ready to call it quits after 18 years in the anchor chair? He spent the summer hiking, riding, fishing and writing essays out West. He didn’t get around to working on his fourth book-this one about his Middle-American experience, not the “Greatest Generation” that produced a trilogy of bestsellers. Presumably, he also spent a lot of time thinking about the next chapter in his career.
Last year’s rank: No. 10
5. Neal Shapiro
President, NBC News
Neal Shapiro didn’t just inherit NBC News from Andy Lack, now the president of NBC, he earned it. He salvaged “Dateline NBC” and made it a durable model of profitability, versatility and credibility. From that experience, a new unit has grown that produces everything from Geraldo Rivera and Tom Brokaw specials for the network to material for an off-network play. He quickly settled on a core management team that required almost no rearrangement and settled down to the business-the business won’t get any bigger than settling the futures of Katie Couric, Tom Brokaw and their respective franchises.

Last year’s ranking: honorable mention
6. Andrew Heyward
President, CBS News
CBS News is the most profitable it has ever been. And with Internet franchises like Healthwatch.com and Marketwatch.com, it’s as diversified as it has ever been. With a management team that’s been in place for three years, it’s also stable. “60 Minutes,” “60 Minutes II” and “48 Hours” play pivotal roles in prime time. Even Andrew Heyward’s downsides have upsides-“Evening News” and “The Early Show” still rank third, but they’ve shown year-to-year improvements that translate at the bottom line. If “The Amazing Race,” which debuted on Sept. 5, gives “The Early Show” a one-two punch with “Amazing” Thursdays and “Survivor” Fridays, the thorniest questions facing Mr. Heyward-what to do with “Early” host Bryant Gumbel and executive producer Steve Friedman when their contracts expire next year-will answer themselves. In the meantime, there’s the nagging question of how much time and energy to invest in talks with CNN about whether there are any benefits to sharing resources.
Last year’s ranking: No. 4
7. Andrea Mitchell
State Department correspondent, NBC News
Tim Russert
Moderator, “Meet the Press,”
Washington bureau chief, NBC News
Chris Matthews
Host, MSNBC’s “Hardball”
It doesn’t matter which party controls the White House and Capitol Hill. It doesn’t matter what story is driving the news machines in the world of politics. NBC News’ triumvirate of Andrea Mitchell, Tim Russert and Chris Matthews has it covered with the NBC brand. From Monica Lewinsky and Elian Gonzalez through the marathon presidential election and this summer’s Gary Condit scandal, Ms. Mitchell has made pulling information from well-placed sources seem effortless. She even landed a rare interview with Cuban strongman Fidel Castro. Mr. Russert’s “Meet the Press” is still the newsmaker show to watch on Sunday mornings. Mr. Matthews turns up the volume so that capital cocktail-party chatter reverberates beyond his “Hardball” time slots on MSNBC and CNBC. It also doesn’t hurt that each member of this dynamic trio is one-half of a D.C. power couple.
Last year’s ranking: Mr. Russert, honorable mention, Ms. Mitchell and Mr. Matthews, not ranked
8. Diane Sawyer
Anchor, “Good Morning America” and “PrimeTime Thursday”
David Westin
President, ABC News
Last year there was room for both Barbara Walters and Diane Sawyer at the top. This year, ABC Entertainment executives decided that Ms. Walters and “20/20” are expendable. Ms. Sawyer, already the most pervasive on-air presence, thanks to her starring roles on “GMA” and “PrimeTime Thursday, is now the franchise at ABC News. Indeed, for most of the fall, while “20/20” is on the shelf, the only ABC News show in prime time will be Ms. Sawyer’s “Thursday.” Meanwhile, David Westin, who can be neither the big spender nor the star wrangler that Roone Arledge was, has replaced veterans with a crop of young talent that, as yet, has not produced the next Diane Sawyer.
Last year’s ranking: Ms. Sawyer, No. 2, Mr. Westin, No. 6
9. Bill O’Reilly
Anchor, Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor”
Bill O’Reilly puts the prime in prime time at Fox News Channel. His show is the launching pad for the lineup that has put CNN on the defensive. He is the most effective bully pulpiteer since Kathie Lee Gifford, talking his “O’Reilly Factor” book up, up, up the bestseller list until major newspapers and magazines had to profile him. He’ll kick butt and take names of the faithful who don’t turn out for his first special on Fox Broadcasting in December and for the syndicated show yet to be developed.
Not ranked last year
10. Matt Lauer
Anchor, NBC’s “Today”
Everybody knows the bad news: Katie C
ouric will leave “Today” sooner or later. The good news is that Matt Lauer, who has played Fred Astaire to her Ginger Rogers for more than four years, can take it from there without missing a beat. It’ll cost NBC more than the $4 million he’s making now. But he’ll be worth it. He’s got all the smooth moves and none of the rough edges of role model Bryant Gumbel. And he likes the lifestyle that goes with the early shift.
Not ranked last year
Honorable mentions
Connie Chung
Correspondent, ABC News’ “20/20” and “PrimeTime Live”
For months, the water cooler talk had placed this high-priced newswoman squarely in the path of ABC’s relentless cost-cutters. But Ms. Chung kept her nose to the grindstone, churning out a string of good old-fashioned hard-edged reports, landing high-profile celebrity interviews (Jesse Jackson’s ex-mistress, Backstreet Boy A.J. McLean’s mother) and the biggest get of the summer: the beat-the-clock interview with embattled Congressman Gary Condit. The result: She’s more invulnerable and more marketable than ever.
Not ranked last year.
Susan Zirinsky
Executive producer, CBS’s “48 Hours”
Jeff Fager
Executive producer, CBS’s “60 Minutes II”
She has turned “48 Hours” into the go-to franchise at CBS when there’s a big breaking news story or a hole (or two or three) to fill. Going into its 15th season, the single-subject hour is intent on taking advantage of ABC’s decision to put “20/20” on the shelf this fall. He has turned “60 Minutes II”-with its traditional mix of big news (Bob Kerrey’s Vietnam secret), newsmaker interviews (Bill Clinton on the way out of and George W. Bush on the way into the White House) and celebrity sit-downs (Billy Bob Thornton).
Neither ranked last year
Phyllis McGrady
Senior vice president for early morning, prime-time and news program development, ABC News
Part buffer between divas, part day-into-night overseer and part visionary (“24/7”), Phyllis McGrady has as demanding a job as there is outside any network news division president’s office. She isn’t the first ABC executive to find reversing the ratings erosion on “Good Morning America” is easier said than done.
Not ranked last year
Shepard Smith
Anchor, “The Fox Report” and “Fox News Live”
This founding member of Fox News Channel is as cocky and competitive as Bill O’Reilly and just as versatile. He can report, anchor and ride herd over rowdy discussions. He’s got the Teflon-coated attitude, too. He is the next generation for Fox.
Not ranked last year
Carole Cooper
Owner-agent, N.S. Bienstock
The most intriguing news contracts written in the last year were negotiated by Carole Cooper, who has bumped her husband, Richard Leibner, from the power list this year. Thanks to her, Bill O’Reilly got a Larry King-sized salary and even more options from Fox, Aaron Brown got a chance to become the signature personality for the new CNN, and Kim Bondy jumped from overlooked executive producer at NBC News to a vice president of CNN. Paramount will have to reckon with her next year when “Entertainment Tonight” executive producer Linda Bell Blue’s contract is up.
Not ranked last year
Jon Stewart
Anchor, Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show”
Not a newsman? Tell that to the jury that bestowed a Peabody Award on his show’s election coverage. Tell that to the news shows that clamor for his commentary. Tell that to CNN, which is going to let Aaron Brown put tongue in cheek in prime time this fall. Jon Stewart, who is up for two prime-time Emmys this month, has made fake news respectable-and not because “The Daily Show” didn’t court Gary Condit.
Not ranked last year
Local power brokers
Fred Young
Senior vice president, news,
Hearst-Argyle Television
Known as the dean of station-group news executives, Fred Young is the man making the decisions on everything from the massive groupwide and award-winning Commitment 2000 election-year-coverage campaign to the coordination that parlayed Connie Chung’s Gary Condit interview into huge news numbers at Hearst-Argyle’s ABC affiliates. Hearst-Argyle owns 25 stations and manages three more, which together reach a total of some 17.5 percent of the country’s TV homes and amass an audience of an estimated 3.7 million nightly viewers for the stations’ early-evening newscasts-statistics that helped convince Vice President Dick Cheney to grant his first indie-TV-group interview to its Washington bureau in July. CBS-affiliated KCCI-TV in Des Moines, Iowa, notched the biggest late-local newscast ratings in the May sweeps: an astounding 20.8 rating/43 share.
Not ranked last year
Joel Cheatwood
Executive vice president of News, Viacom Television Stations, and news director of WCBS-TV
More Americans-some 3 million on any given weeknight-watch the late local newscasts under Joel Cheatwood’s control than watch “The Early Show” on CBS. With the debut on Monday of a 7 o’clock newscast on WSPK-TV, the UPN affiliate that gives Viacom a duopoly in Boston, there are newscasts on 19 of the 35 Viacom-owned stations. Mr. Cheatwood has big problems that predate him in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, among other key markets, but he also has the confidence of Viacom brass, including stations chief Fred Reynolds.
Not ranked last year
Neil Goldstein
Vice president of news, New York stations, Fox Television Stations
The architect of the largest news duopoly in the country has come home to New York to face challenges that come two-by-two and straddle the border between New York, home of Fox flagship WNYW-TV, and New Jersey, home of UPN affiliate WWOR-TV, the flagship of the Chris-Craft group acquired by Rupert Murdoch this summer. Even Neil Goldstein’s competition has increased by twos-Richard Bamberger and Kristin Quillinan, the husband-and-wife news-management team that has worked with him for a decade, most recently fixing up Detroit Fox station WJBK-TV, is going to work for Mr. Cheatwood at WCBS-TV. Some things (WNYW’s chopper, WWOR’s satellite truck) will be a natural fit. Some (different unions) will not. “There are a lot of small hurdles that have to be jumped before we can say we’re working together,” said Mr. Goldstein, whose counterpart, KTTV News Director Jose Rios, is engaged in similar processes in Los Angeles, with four other cities on tap. “If we make knee-jerk judgments now, we’re going to feel it later on.”
Not ranked last year
Mark Effron
Vice president of news, Post-Newsweek Stations
Mark Effron believes a group’s news impact and presence are not dictated by its size. He believes a template that applies to one market doesn’t necessarily fit another. He spends more than half the month visiting Post-Newsweek’s six stations, five of whom can claim dominance in their market. He’s an optimist (“This is a good business to be in”) and a crusader (“These are honorable professions we are in”). He thinks station Web sites have been a good thing for local news, because they make for less insular and more detailed information. “Local news and information is clearly the driver of all our stations,” Mr. Effron said.
Not ranked last year