Thursday, March 08, 2007

Shakeups at the Networks!

As Persia and The United States scramble to assemble their respective Chess pieces on the sanguinary "playing fields" of the Middle East, so too, it seems, do the television networks (The Corsair casts a look of savage chagrin). First the News Departments, where the balance of Power has shifted radically from NBC Hegemony, to the ABC Evening News. The twists, turns, reversals and tragedies that paved the way for all-around-good-guy Charlie Gibson to be number one are the makings of a Vanity Fair feature story. The Chessboard became more chaotic when ABC promoted Alex Wallace as EP. Now, after Diane Sawyers' critically quasi-successful trip to the Middle East, Brian Williams goes to Iraq (Or, as we like to say, dramatically, "Mandroid in Mesopotamia"). We'll take NBC at its word that the trip was scheduled before their ratings went South. According to Allesandra Stanley, "Viewers apparently trust (Charlie Gibson's) seniority, rumpled air of competence and low-key style."

Media perennial Rick Kaplan, who has has served in just about every capacity there is in Network News is replacing Rome Hartman as Executive Producer at The CBS Evening News. Those intrepid Page Sixxies remind us that the 6'7 Kaplan is "a bull in a china shop." One: I'm impressed that this is up for discussion on CBS' magnificent experiment in transparency, "The Public Eye Blog." Previously, Public Eye didn't comment on executive staff changes (They left that to us and the tabloids). No longer. Today's coverage on the blog is extensive. This level of transparency at CBS News is refreshing.

Two: Rick Kaplan has a long and storied career at the Evening News, I'll reserve judgement until his impression is felt.

Three: I've always been a proponent of CBS News doing a single story a night and focusing in on it with laser-like intensity, really devoting 22 mins to a single, timely issue, say The Scooter Libby Trial (And the case for a Shield Law for Journos), What Would be the Effects of the Surge with all five battalions, A Day in the Life of the Senate Arms Services Committee (During the War on terror), a Day in the life of Ways and Means (With the colorful Charlie Rangel as Chair), etc. One story per night and get experts and CBS commentators like Norman Shwarzkoff that Katie has to a degree utilized -- Tom Friedman comes to mind -- to discuss that issue. Arguably, the Lehrer News Hour does that, but not a full 22 mins worth. And I would love to see military experts and historians discuss -- for 22 mins -- what they believe the effects of a Surge might be, pro and con. I, like Kurt Andersen, am rooting for Katie. She has the star wattage and high Q-ratings but what she needs is a breakout news model. This is it.

The Chess pieces are also being assembled on the Late Night talk front. Jimmy Kimmel has been locked up, so he's safe. Apparently, though, Conan O'Brien's smooth transition to the Johnny Carson slot might not be so smooth. Someone is leaking that NBC brass is reconsidering whether or not to just give conan the contractually-obligated alleged sum of $40 million and keep Jay Leno where he is, namely, number one in the ratings. Could Leno be ratcheting up the tensions? From Don Kaplan:

"In 2010, Jay Leno may still be duking it out with David Letterman in the late night wars - but he might be fighting for Fox.

"Leno is reportedly sore about being 'elbowed' off of the 'Tonight' show in 2009 - to be replaced by Conan O'Brien, a long-standing plan that NBC execs insist they will stick with.

"The result may turn out to be more explosive than anyone could imagine.

"With Fox reportedly itching to get into the lucrative world of late-night talk shows and Leno not ready to retire, the veteran comedian could very well hop to Fox and thus take on the new Conan-led 'Tonight' show in a spirited three-way battle that would include Letterman."

Not a good move for Jay Leno, who already comes off as a royal prick in Bill Carter's Late Shift. Does he really want to do this dance again with Conan?

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