The Insider

Apr 1, 2002  •  Post A Comment

In for a dollar, in for a million on `Jeopardy!’
With apologies to that long-distance phone advertiser who touts the value of a single buck, you’ll have to wait for the May sweeps to see just how much a dollar is really worth. That’s when long-running syndication staple “Jeopardy!” airs the finale of its million-dollar tournament. You know how the game works: Final Jeopardy answer rolls around, you make a bet; if you respond with the correct question the total is added to what you’ve amassed already; high dollar takes the pot. Only this time it was $1 million at stake, the answer was the only vice president ever elected to two full terms (who is Thomas Jefferson, as we all know) and the winner edged out the second-place finisher by one single dollar. The show was taped at Radio City Music Hall, and the audience went nuts!
False alarms at `60 Minutes’
When the hard-hitting journalists of “60 Minutes” aren’t nailing perps to the TV screen or dissecting the ineptness of government agencies that should be protecting us from emigrating terrorists, what do they do? They spend a fair amount of time in Chicken Little Land, where the sky is always about to fall.
The rumors were flying last week that “60 Minutes,” the powerful granddaddy of newsmagazines, was about to be merged with spinoff “60 Minutes II.”
That would be big news-if it were accurate.
It isn’t. Not for as long as executive producer Don Hewitt chooses to reign as the alpha bull elephant in the fabled “60” herd. And there are no signs that Mr. Hewitt plans to abdicate the biggest bully pulpit in TV news and enter retirement. When Mr. Hewitt does make his exit, according to the conventional wisdom at CBS, a “60”-“60 II” merger will be both logical and respectful.
So what, wondered The Insider, ever the woolgatherer and wannabe Kremlinologist, spawned this most recent overheated whirl of rumors?
Most fingers point to Mr. Hewitt’s neighborhood, where doom and gloom and the end of work life as they know it is presumed to lurk around every corner until proven otherwise. And even then, what might be normal for any less-fabled news crew-the reassignment of a handful of producers to units up to their Eyeballs in post-Sept. 11 coverage, for example-is seen as a sign of the journalistic equivalent of the apocalypse in a New York Times business-section centerpiece.
CBS News insiders paint an affectionate portrait of a “60” crew addicted to drama and on constant alert for any portents of change. Thus, every little thing from the suspense over whether 70-something executive editor Phil Scheffler would choose to retire (he has opted to stay on as the 80-something Mr. Hewitt’s right-hand man) to shorter contracts (some staffers work year to year) puts the staff on high alert.
In other words, they overthink these things, as The Insider herself is often accused of doing. Why just recently, she was offered a Henny Penny for her thoughts.
A menage a TV for CNN and Court
Catherine Crier, the judge-turned-news personality, has been popping up of late on CNN, her first journalism stomping grounds, while holding down her day job as host of Court TV’s weekday “Catherine Crier Live.” She’s able to do both under an informal sharing of resources between Court and CNN, whose parent company, AOL Time Warner, owns 50 percent of Court.
Rumbles about recently escalating talks with Ms. Crier-not to mention whispers that CNN News Group Chairman Walter Isaacson is professionally smitten with her TV persona-have led some to conclude that CNN wants her back as resident legal analyst. But after poking around, The Insider suspects CNN is more interested in formalizing the sharing relationship. That would suit-no pun intended-Court TV, where Ms. Crier has become a signature personality and is very much under contract, because it would extend the Court TV brand. It would suit-that pun intended-CNN, which has no regular showcase to offer Ms. Crier, but which has lacked in-house legal expertise since Greta Van Susteren flew the coop for a prime-time perch at Fox News Channel.
Team Teya shaping up
Doors have been swinging both ways at CNN. At headquarters in Atlanta, newly installed CNN/U.S. President Teya Ryan’s executive team is taking shape. Already functioning as her lieutenant is Bob Brienza, with whom she worked closely during her time in charge of CNNfn and at CNN Headline News, which she successfully relaunched last year. Ms. Ryan has divvied day-to-day operations, with senior veep Sue Bunda shifting her focus back to CNN’s talk shows and former Headline News executive Mary Lynn Ryan taking charge of news gathering and production.
Meanwhile, Marty Kramer, the Washington-based CNN senior producer who was to have been at the helm of a Saturday newsmaker show hosted by White House correspondent John King, left the news network last week, reportedly for a job in the world of crisis management. Mr. Kramer had been heard to mutter that Mr. King’s show is never going get off the ground. Indeed, The Insider has heard that key power players find congressional correspondent Jonathan Karl infinitely more appealing-and not just because Mr. King is still haggling over fine points in the contract he was supposed to have signed months ago.