Booking War Is Hell

Jun 27, 2005  •  Post A Comment

“Today” executive producer Jim Bell told The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Gail Shister last week that the TV news booking wars had gotten “obscene” and “ugly” and that he feared “there will be an incident where someone gets hurt.”

There was an episode that turned physical and resulted in a female “Today” booker being shoved to the ground under a hail of profanities shouted by at least one male CNN producer. It occurred outside the courthouse in Santa Maria, Calif., after the June 13 press conference in which jurors explained why they acquitted Michael Jackson of child molestation and conspiracy charges.

No one at any of the news organizations involved-a “Good Morning America” booker also was shoved by the CNN staffers-wants to speak in detail about the incident. A law enforcement officer reportedly was summoned after the confrontation and told the “Today” booker she could press charges, which she declined to do, though NBC News executives assured her she could do so with their support.

However, no incident report was filed with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, which was responsible for security on the courthouse campus where news organizations worked side by side in tented space, or with the Santa Maria Police Department, which was responsible for the area outside the fence around the courthouse grounds.

Still, word of the scuffle spread among the press corps that scrambled vigorously for comment from the defense, the prosecution, and the jury after the verdict was delivered.

A CNN spokeswoman declined to comment on the record or to clarify what had happened.

But CNN contends, according to multiple sources, that the competing bookers were on CNN “property” because they had come into space the news network had leased across the street from the Santa Maria courthouse and rigged a studio for interviews with jury foreman Paul Rodriguez-who appeared on three shows: CNN’s “Paula Zahn Now,” CNN Headline News’ “Nancy Grace,” and CNN’s “Larry King Live”-plus juror Raymond Hultman and other guests appearing on some of the same shows that night.

The “Today” booker reportedly tried to hand her contact information to at least one of CNN’s interviewees and was asked to leave. Then things turned physical.

In addition to the shoving that left the “Today” booker on the ground and badly shaken (the “GMA” booker was described as less roughed up), at least one of the CNN producers, described as “burly” by a source, shouted a variety of profanities at the competitors, who reportedly were referred to as “booking bitches.”

The “Today” booker landed Mr. Hultman and juror Paulina Coccoz via satellite for the NBC News morning show the following day.

NBC News executives have talked about registering a protest with CNN and that possibility remained at The Insider’s deadline last week.

In the meantime, an NBC spokesman issued a statement that said: “It’s unfortunate that there are members of the media that will resort to physical contact and verbal abuse in order to secure a booking on a story. NBC News’ bookers and producers are as competitive as anyone, but if any of our employees had displayed such behavior on this story, or any other, there would be serious consequences.”

What Took So Long?

ABC News Now, the 24/7 broadband service that has been beefing up and broadening its subscriber base over the past year or more, debuted on a prime promotional platform June 14: Channnel 4 on the TV lineup piped by ABC’s parent company into some 24,000 hotel rooms at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The change bumped CNN to Channel 40.