Friday, March 09, 2007

Meet Your New Boss

Network anchors get a little testy when someone describes them as "news readers," or "presenters," to use the British term. "We're journalists," they insist; a few even claim the title of "managing editor," suggesting someone who is actively involved in the editorial process, and helps shape the broadcast's content and scope.

Take Katie Couric, for example. Not only is she the anchor of the CBS Evening News, she also holds the mantle of managing editor, following in the footsteps of her predecessors, Dan Rather and Walter Cronkite. Given her annual salary ($15 million), Ms. Couric is certainly earns enough to perform two or three jobs at the network's struggling news division.

But we digress. Actually, you've got to wonder how much influence Ms. Couric actually has at the Evening News, in the wake of today's story in the NYT. According to the Times, CBS executives didn't tell Ms. Couric that Rick Kaplan would be her new executive producer until after he accepted the job. So much for being in the loop.

In reality, the title of "managing editor" at a TV newscast is little more than window dressing. Anchors are certainly aware of the stories that will be covered; most report from the field from time-to-time, and some make contributions to their scripts (which are written by other staffers). But others are decidedly hands-off. Early viewers of satellite TV could watch the late Max Robinson of ABC talking on the phone about his art collection during pre-broadcast technical rehearsals from his Chicago studio. And, one of the Windy City's true news legends, the late Floyd Kalber of NBC (and later, WLS-TV) reportedly arrived for work only one hour before his 6 p.m. newscast, and departed shortly after it ended. However, I'm note sure if either Robinson or Kalber claimed the exalted title of "managing editor." For the record, some other notables in the history of broadcast news (including Chet Huntley, David Brinkley and Peter Jennings) also managed to get by without that mantle.

Which brings us back to Ms. Couric at CBS. As someone who once worked in the salt mines of broadcasting, I don't begrudge her position, or her paycheck. Anchoring a newscast is definitely an acquired skill, and Couric earned her spurs in the morning news wars. But describing her--or any other anchor--as hands-on, take charge managing editors is a bit silly. Their job, in a nutshell, is to read the news and look attractive. That may be one of the reasons that Katie Couric was among the last to know that she had a new executive producer.


Howard said...

She is the proverbial gorgeous fish flopping on the boat deck, to be tossed back because she ain't big enough. She is cursed with a vocal range of about three notes and she cannot generate any sense of either importance or excitement with that flat voice. I am reminded of the old actress, Mercedes McCambridge, who was so good in the original "All the Kings Men" back in the 40s. But in spite of the Oscar, her voice limited her to just about no work for the rest of her life. She played The Demon in the Excorsist in the 70s too.

Making The Wheels Turn said...

Rick Kaplan...

Let's have a small history lesson here.. Do you remember...

1) ABC when they tried to ruin Food Lion. The "Prime Time Live" producers lied on their resumes in order to sneak into Food Lion with hidden cameras and creative editing. The reporters got promotions and raises, and the Executive Producer, who was personally fined $35,000 by a jury - one Mr. Richard Kaplan - got promoted to president of CNN.

2) The false allegations by CNN News of U.S. forces using nerve gas in Laos in 1970?

Kaplan was eventually fired in 2000 after CNN's reporting on "Operation Tailwind," a 1998 program charging that U.S. troops gassed dissidents and children in Laos during the Vietnam War, was fully discredited.

3) From CNN, he ended up at MSNBC, where he became president of MSNBC, NBC News' 24-hour cable channel in February, 2004.

Dick Morris tonight said that based upon Kaplan's close relationships with both Clinton's, that in all likelyhood "CBS" will become known as the "Clinton Brocasting Network".

If I'm a major VIACOM shareholder, I'm going to be asking really hard questions - like what EXACTLY are his performance goals and HOW LONG does he get to achieve those goals. And what type of severence package does he get if he fails to meet required expectations.

Kaplan is a political partisan by almost any standard one can think of - so he wants to play in the "big time" - well, let's see some immediate results, and if they don't happen, kick his butt to the curb.