The Insider

Apr 8, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Passages … with Tom Brokaw
There’s nothing like receiving a lifetime achievement award-or renegotiating a contract-to make one take stock of one’s life. Ask Tom Brokaw, who will get the Paul White Award for lifetime achievement Monday in Las Vegas from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.
The Insider, whose job it is to pounce breathlessly on every rumor about Tom Brokaw’s career plans, spent a few minutes talking with the “NBC Nightly News” anchor about his past in hopes she would get at least a few hints about his future.
Stop the presses! After all these years, Mr. Brokaw is not about to start negotiating in the press or succumbing to pressure to make up his mind. “Whatever I do, I’m going to do on my terms,” he said. “I’ve been at it too long to hyperventilate.”
He hasn’t been at it too long to remember his first TV job. He anchored “Today” cut-ins at KTIV-TV in Sioux City, Iowa, for $75 per six-day week as a college student in 1960 and `61. The station’s afternoon lineup included the “Man in the Kitchen” show that had a kitchen crew of three chefs. “Very smartly, I befriended the chefs. I ate off the `Man in the Kitchen’ show when I was a junior and senior. They took good care of me.”
Mr. Brokaw will wax philosophical Monday night. How could he not, when even viewers on the street “talk to me about their own serious sense of purpose” in the wake of Sept. 11? He will talk about how the longing for more authenticity in their lives requires more usable information from their “wealth” of news sources, about how getting serious “doesn’t mean you have to be the council of foreign relations over the air,” and about how “I’d like to see a little more risk-taking on the part of local news about issues important to their communities.”
He will also make the point that “I’m one lucky SOB” to have found “what turned out to be this yellow brick road” that led to the opportunity to see and report on the world. After his working-class upbringing, “The idea that these opportunities would come along and you wouldn’t take advantage of them was heresy.” Hmmmmmm.
… with Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace, who will turn 84 on May 9, is going to try to slow down. Mr. Wallace, a founding co-editor of the 34-year-old CBS newsmagazine “60 Minutes,” has been telling insiders that he intends to do only eight stories next season for “60” and perhaps two for spinoff “60 Minutes II.” Some of those same insiders note that Mr. Wallace said he would be cutting back this season and yet he leads the “60” pack with 15 stories and is on track finish the season with 20 (the normal load for a “60 Minutes” correspondent) to his credit.
Those who know Mr. Wallace point out that as much as he loves “60’s” summer-long vacations, he also loves adrenaline and a good story. “If you have to do 25 stories, he’s done 30,” said one person familiar with the Wallace work ethic. “He always does more.” Mr. Wallace didn’t return The Insider’s call. If he had, she would have wished him a happy birthday and many more … stories.
… and with Tom Fontana
On a break from writing Season Six of “Oz,” Tom Fontana was asked how many more seasons he can see turning out the HBO prison drama whose killer combination of top-this violence and diverse male frontal nudity makes “The Sopranos” seem tame.
“I’m in the process of trying to decide exactly that,” Mr. Fontana said. “To quote Jack Benny: `I’m thinking about it.”’ He is in no rush to decide. “I was trained by the Jesuits. I’m a Virgo. I will mull this over.”
Season Six is scheduled to go into production this month and begin its run early in 2003, by which time, it likely will have been completely ignored yet again by the folks who are supposed to reward, or at least acknowledge, dramatic risk-but never, it seems, male frontal nudity-with Emmy, Golden Globe or even People’s Choice nominations, if not awards.
The “Oz” creator and co-executive producer is no stranger to awards, but he has an odd relationship with them that goes back to his start as writer-producer on “St. Elsewhere.” He and “Elsewhere” executive producer-developer John Masius challenged themselves to win a writing Emmy. They earned four of the five nominations in the category that year and won for what he calls “the wimpiest.”
Then came “Homicide: Life on the Street,” the dark and fearlessly diverse cop show that he and Barry Levinson produced for NBC. In six years, Andre Braugher was nominated for an Emmy three times and won once, near the end of “Homicide’s” run. “I don’t think it’s conscious,” Mr. Fontana said, but, “I think there is a certain-I’ll use the word `prejudice.’ I think it exists. I don’t say that to condemn people. I think it’s what exists in our country, and it’s reflected in our television.” Mr. Fontana noted that either the heavily honored “Sopranos” or “The West Wing” could be described as “the whitest cast there is,” but he didn’t want to base his theory solely on race.
“`Oz’ is a very tough show to love,” said Mr. Fontana, who is fiercely proud of his cast (“the most courageous actors on television”) and his show. Did The Insider mention it offers the occasional glimpse of male frontal nudity?
Meanwhile, Mr. Fontana will head for Florida this summer to produce the very different “Baseball Wives” for HBO. He has also just finished the script for an HBO film Mr. Levinson will direct on the life of CBS founder William Paley.