Make way for the next generation of news stars

Feb 18, 2002  •  Post A Comment

They’re hot, happening and on their way up: the Rathers, Courics and Hewitts of the future. Searching high and low, from CNN to MSNBC, from Boston to Denver, we’ve identified the next generation of television news stars (with a little help from news talent recruiters and wranglers at the broadcast and cable news networks, station group news executives, agents and consultants).
We’ve ferreted out the local reporters, anchors and sportscasters who are destined for bigger things; the news directors who do themselves and their profession proud; the markets in which tomorrow’s stars are taking form today; and those individuals who already have a foot in the national door and are ready to pop.
Our survey, which also addressed some news industry trends, was not particularly scientific but was nonetheless energetic. We granted anonymity and forgave those who-like a regular patron trying to protect his favorite neighborhood restaurant from becoming too well known-held back a few names. However, the odds are that even those withheld names came up at least once during the many conversations conducted over the past three weeks.
In perusing the list, it is apparent the pipeline is full of professionals with diverse backgrounds for whom equal airtime once would have been merely a pipe dream.
Propelling them into the spotlight are increasingly astute viewers who like watching people who look and talk as they do, who seem comfortable in their skin, whatever its color, and who clearly enjoy their jobs.
On deck, nationally
Topping the list: CNN congressional correspondent Kate Snow.
Resume: She worked her way up the ladder rung by rung from radio (NPR and NBC) and local TV (Albuquerque, N.M.’s KOAT-TV) through CNN Newssource and general assignment (Elian Gonzalez, the 2000 presidential election). After 13 months covering the Hill, she is, according to a consensus, the real deal, the total package, the next bright star on the horizon.
Next stop: With a bachelor’s degree in communications, a master’s in foreign service and the ability to speak two foreign languages, she could be anything from the next CNN anchor to the next Christiane Amanpour, said her fans.
Also in the running: Byron Pitts, the New York-based correspondent and superstar-to-be at CBS News who got there the old-fashioned way: through hard work, market by market, bureau by bureau, from Ground Zero to Afghanistan; ABC News’ Dan Harris, who only two years ago was a one-man news show at New England Cable News and worked his way from the back of “World News Tonight” after finding his sea legs on the frontlines of the war on terrorism; Robin Roberts, for whom “Good Morning America” may provide the breakthrough that 12 years at ESPN didn’t. Even the often grouchy Watercooler Shoptalk Crowd has been cheering for her.
Grassroots and growing
Topping the list: Lisa Hughes, weeknight anchor for CBS-owned WBZ-TV in Boston.
Resume: She has the looks and the smarts, and she’s got the goods as a reporter and anchor in a decade spent in part at KIRO-TV in Seattle, reporting for CBS Newspath, and for the last year and a half in Boston. And she’s earned kudos from both Boston Magazine and the Improper Bostonian.
Next stop: Options, options, options.
Also in the running: Laurie Jennings at Sunbeam-owned Fox affiliate WSVN-TV, Miami, who has proved strong enough to stand out with or without former co-anchor Rick Sanchez (now at MSNBC); Michelle Tuzee, an alumna of WSVN, who is winning industry fans as a weeknight anchor on more sedate KABC-TV in Los Angeles; Peter Alexander, a reporter and weekend anchor at Tribune-owned Fox affiliate KCPQ-TV in Seattle, who could, some say, grow into the next Matt Lauer or Shepard Smith; Jamie Colby, whose credits range from Food Network host and “Extra” correspondent to “WebMD TV” co-host and is now a free-lance reporter for Tribune-owned WPIX-TV in New York and a well-regarded substitute anchor on CBS News’ “Up to the Minute” overnight news.
Expanding the pipeline
Topping the list: Natalie Morales, newly appointed anchor and correspondent at MSNBC.
Resume: She got her start at Court TV and some seasoning at News 12 The Bronx and NBC-owned WVIT-TV in Hartford, Conn.
Next stop: MSNBC finishing school.
Also in the running: Gurvir Dhindsa, India-born and Tennessee-raised, left her stamp on Atlanta as host of a Fox-style a.m. show on WAGA-TV and is doing the same in Washington as weeknight anchor on Gannett-owned CBS affiliate WUSA-TV, where she has become Foggy Bottom’s answer to Daljit Dhaliwal; Charles Pugh, a “problem solver” at Fox-owned WJBK-TV in Detroit; Alex Cambert, the Emmy-winning personality-plus host of Telemundo’s “Edicion Especial,” who has worked the red carpet at the Emmys for ABC and co-hosted the Billboard Latin Music Awards.
The good sports
Topping the list: Deion Sanders.
Resume: His dual careers in pro football and pro baseball rank him as the only athlete to have played in a World Series and two Super Bowls. His gift for gab and razzle-dazzle last fall landed him an assignment as feature reporter/contributor on CBS Sports’ “The NFL Today,” which is expected to soon promote him to analyst.
Next stop: He’s headed to prime time as host of “Miss USA 2002” on CBS March 11 and is going to be spending Sundays on the patio with Jim Nantz and company come fall.
Also in the running: Fran Charles, recently sprung from WNBC-TV in New York but still a regular boxing reporter for HBO, who’s got options and a bright future; Bill Weir, Los Angeles’ KABC-TV’s main sports anchor, who took a reality vehicle for a ride as a host of “USA’s Cannonball Run 2001,” didn’t matriculate at ESPN but has mastered the banter so thoroughly that some see a talk show in his future.
News directors
Topping the list: Patti Dennis, VP and news director at KUSA-TV in Denver.
Resume: From Oklahoma City, where she was a weather gofer, to Dallas, where she was a weekend producer and writer, to Denver, where, during more than two decades of moving up at the Gannett-owned NBC affiliate, she met numerous challenges-none more dramatic than covering the 1999 student massacre at Columbine High School.
Next stop: Since she’s keeping KUSA king of the news mountain, her future is bright and secure.
Also in the running: Mike Devlin, executive news director at Belo-owned CBS affiliate KHOU-TV in Houston; Helen Swenson, news director at Cox-owned KIRO-TV in Seattle; Doug Bannard, VP of news at Fox-owned KSAZ-TV in Phoenix; Todd Mokhtari, news director at Tribune-owned Fox affiliate KCPQ-TV in Seattle; Steve Hammel, news director at Allbritton-owned ABC affiliate WJLA-TV in Washington; Budd McEntee, VP of news at Fox-owned WAGA in Atlanta; Phil Alvidrez, executive news director at Belo-owned independent KTVK-TV in Phoenix.
Other trends
Look-at-me!-me!-me! anchors: Getting and holding our attention has always been the duty of an anchor. The way anchors get it has changed since the stentorian paternalism of Walter Cronkite and his evening news progeny. Now we watch to follow the feminization of “Today” co-host Katie Couric, the svelting of Diane Sawyer on “Good Morning America,” the L’Orealization of Ashleigh Banfield’s war-correspondent dreams on MSNBC, and the healing of Greta Van Susteren, who redefined “face time” by debuting on Fox News Channel as the poster girl for plastic surgery, before and after.
Crawls: The endgame of the war on terrorism may still be unknown, but the fate of the ticker-style headlines that survived the return of commercials after Sept. 11 is certain: The crawl is here to stay because it gives instant gratification to anyone who tunes in to an all-news channel-especially the younger viewers news organizations are so desperately seeking.
Conversational delivery: News that sounds less like a script and more like a conversation is gaining a big following, and perhaps no one delivers it better than Fox’s Shepard Smith. However, like the slobs who ruin casual Fridays for the rest of the company, the anchors who ‘preciate guests droppin’ by and the reporters who
are talkin’ the jes’ folks talk a little too freely had best keep an eye on the pendulum so they can duck when it swings backward.