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Kim and Khloe Kardashian sit on Piers Morgan's lap for a CNN News promotion

Kim and Khloe Kardashian sit on Piers Morgan’s lap for a CNN News promotion

I remember former CNN president Jon Klein getting mad at me after I was the first to post that Larry King’s replacement would be “PM.” I invited readers to guess and they came up with everyone from Paul McCartney to Peter Marshall. Only Sue Carswell was right in naming Piers Morgan.

It wasn’t a very well-kept secret anyway. It turned out Piers Morgan was out celebrating in London in a big noisy group that included mutual friends. And, well, no one had to hack his phone to hear about the deal Simon Cowell was helping him craft.

Well, here’s my next hint: his replacement should have the initials of JL, and I don’t mean Jerry Lewis.

I hope Jeff Zucker does get as bent out of shape as Jon Klein did, writing to me a terse e-mail, “You’re not helping me here.” I wish I could have.

From the beginning I took special interest in Piers Morgan because, a) we have those mutual friends and acquaintances, b) I thought it was time for Larry King to retire and I was hungry for a fresh voice and c) I am married to a Brit and was curious how this would work.

Yes, American TV viewers had fallen in love with Simon Cowell, the dangerous British bad boy with, secretly, a big heart. But Morgan? He would need a lot of different coaching.

My unique viewpoint comes from my early years with my husband who was born in London, went to Leicester University and became an entertainment lawyer. Soon after, he took top leadership roles at British record labels including Arista, Phonogram and MCA UK.

He reads many papers each day, always has a book or two on hand, keeps his finger on the pulse of not only music, but world politics, fashion, financial crises, sports, history of many world tensions and more. He is a people person and a family man. But when he finally moved to America to launch a new record label for MCA in 1988, there was still a steep cultural learning curve.

Here are some of the simple ways I helped, which could have easily helped Piers Morgan.

First stop was the Kennedy library in Boston. There we watched all the fabulous off-the-cuff verbal sparring between JFK and the White House correspondents, a high watermark for presidential access and candor. Then we watched a JFK documentary followed by one of RFK. Among many reactions, David was devastated to learn the civil rights movement, which he had read about, had happened so recently. It was now much more disturbingly indelible.

We then rented the whole series of Eyes On the Prize and watched the episodes back to back. It was a life-changing immersion, one recommended for every serious foreign journalist or businessman. There are so many nuances in American politics that as we went along over time, I could explain why one politician is forgiven, another is not and more.

For most of my adult life, I have always felt independent of any political party, an observer rather than a joiner. Given that, I was able to explain to my British step-children why no matter what was spoken during the 2008 election, the two rival presidential candidates would most likely take the same action with the same timing in winding down the wars.

I know, Piers Morgan wasn’t doing a Sunday morning show. He just needed to have been steeped in a bit more of the American journey so he could have maybe talked with Oprah about Martin Luther King, Jr. for an interview that would air on the civil rights leader’s birthday.

Maybe someone should have told him his promo pictures shouldn’t have been in front of the make-up mirror.

And someone should have warned him against not only having the Kardashian sisters sit on his lap, but sending out perhaps the creepiest publicity photos in CNN history.

I don’t really know enough to blame Morgan. I’d much rather work with a person on camera that you have to pull back a bit than one you must push forward. But no one was pulling him back.

And who told him his purpose in coming to America was to teach us about gun control all the while fracturing the statistics from the UK and speaking over those who tried to correct him.

The key is this: you can criticize this country on tv only if viewers believe you know this country and love this country… between New York and L.A.

In fact, my husband became the most patriotic person I know and seeing through his eyes made me even more patriotic. He even loves that Americans give second chances to failed politicians…invoking Winston Churchill.

Maybe Piers will have a second chance, too. He has a big personality made for TV, plenty of moxie, ego and mental sharpness. Just look how he made mincemeat of the legal panel investigating his role in the Murdoch newspaper hacking scandal. I watched it all. He made them look like amateurs.

But the damage has been done at CNN.

Zucker is under pressure, having failed to launch a successful new CNN morning show, just as he failed –hands on– launching “Katie” in syndication. (Hello, 1978’s calling, they want their talk show back.)

Zucker needs a great big splashy hit. Maybe if JLen can get over the NBC 10:00 purgatory thing with his old boss, all will be forgiven and it could be Zucker’s biggest booking ever. CNN has the money, now just shake that tree.

And let’s hope Piers Morgan learns to genuinely love America before he rolls in again to teach us right from wrong in politics AND TV.

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Matt? Savannah? GMA? NBC Execs? You won’t believe who did what in this summer network mystery special!

When high crimes are committed against network news careers  you can be sure of one thing: finger prints are never left behind.  Given the challenge, this kind of unsolved mystery needs a top television sleuth, someone willing to follow the trail while the blood is still fresh and revisionist publicists have yet to spin the story into infinity.

Preferably, the best choice to solve the high-profile case of the sudden disappearance of Ann Curry should have experience in the crime beat of morning news. So, for the greater good (of the blogosphere at least) I must volunteer myself, a long-time morning show executive and, just like NBC’s Detective Olivia Benson, a crime fighter whose skills have been sharpened by once having suffered a personal assault as well.

THE TALE OF THE TAPE
Curry Cringe w/Matt v. Teddy Bear Hug w/Al

And so we begin, first examining the suspects who were last seen with the victim, sitting on that couch as she tearfully said goodbye to her beloved audience.   Natalie? No, she’s not All About EveAl? No, he doesn’t even qualify as a red herring although he  likes to eat them. Matt? Now we might want to put Matt in a line up at least and not because he’s just re-signed a ridiculous new contract, one we can fairly assume was designed to make all his dreams come true.  No, we just need to look at the victim’s body language and Matt’s not off the hook quite yet. Read the rest of this entry »

In NBC

Oh, the joy to watch a brilliant news interview, the work of a master such as Bob Costas who, like a knight out of our journalism story books, charged onto NBC’s new high-tech set Monday night and delivered a low tech tour de force…. phoner!

As happens in all high art forms, Costas made this incredibly challenging interview seem effortless.

Getting a newsmaker in the chair (or on the phone as it turned out) is only half the battle. Getting a person in the middle of a media frenzy to really talk is the other, especially when that frenzy is over a pedophile sex scandal and football.

Eric Wemple, the Washington Post’s news media op-ed editor, said it best:

“The tone put this interview into a special category. Over nearly ten minutes Costas managed to be: prepared without being formulaic or rigid, polite without being nice, and skeptical without being prosecutorial.”

The transcript of the Sandusky interview cannot possibly reveal the mine field through which Costas was walking. One wrong step, I kept thinking, and Sandusky can just cut off the questions, put down the phone as in, “Uh, thanks for your interest, Bob, but gotta go now, it’s been a long day.”

Instead, Costa was getting Jerry Sandusky to open up and say (with a disturbingly flat affect), “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”

It reminded me of Michael Jackson admitting he slept in the same bed with a 13-year-old for 30 consecutive days in the boy’s mother’s house, but that he and the child (his first accuser) only watched scary movies together.

Pedophiles are very crafty, but if you can keep them talking you can learn a lot. Masters of manipulation, they often believe the “winning ways” which work on 10 year olds will also fool grown-ups. It rarely does. Read the rest of this entry »

Watch this video at your own risk of emotional upheaval, sleep disturbance, nausea, possible desensitization to human suffering and other serious side effects. Or not.

So soon after all the navel gazing of whether or not to broadcast the Michael Jackson autopsy photo of the superstar lying on a medical examiner’s table so painfully thin, naked and lifeless, CNN somehow embraced a marathon film festival featuring the violent killing of the deposed Libyan dictator.

UPDATED 10/27:THE NEW LIBYAN GOVERNMENT HAS VOWED TO PROSECUTE QADDAFI’S KILLERS FOR THE CRIMES U.S. NEWS ANCHORS FAILED TO MENTION.

Once upon a time, we let these images live online and not enter our homes uninvited. This week, however, marked a watershed moment for emotional assault by violent news video.

And it wasn’t just CNN. They just happened to be the network that caught me off guard first.

I had selected CNN for this story cycle early on, when my morning sampling showed their coverage was immediate, smart and very measured.

I had switched over from ABC News after George Stephanopoulos delivered the unofficial report that Muammar Qaddafi had been killed and, after a brief interview with Christiane Amanpour, moved off the story for a Lara Spencer interview with one of the young actresses from ABC’s comedy hit, Modern Family.

CNN, in contrast, was live from the Pentagon and Libya as they set out to verify the breaking news which, in that part of the world, is often riddled with half-truths and propaganda, occasionally disseminated by our own officials. Case in point: the fairy tales of Pat Tillman and Jessica Lynch.

During the Arab Spring we first heard Mubarak’s sons were safe in London. Then they weren’t.

CNN certainly captured a classic exchange as their reporter pressed the Libyan Minister of Information who, while refusing to provide an official statement, seemed to confirm many of the details of Qaddafi’s demise.

History was in the making and I was glued to the set. But despite having spent nearly 20 in network news, I was completely ill-prepared to see the Qaddafi “cell phone” footage which CNN obtained and rushed to air. There was no warning that I was about to see a snuff film.

Read the rest of this entry »

Farewell to Andy Rooney: It's Complicated

I, for one, will miss Andy Rooney who, at 92, is closing out a 47-year career at CBS News during which time he walked the halls with other broadcast giants such as Edward R. Murrow, Fred Friendly, Walter Cronkite, Don Hewitt, Mike Wallace and more.

He also worked along side quite a few “non-giants” (we all know the list) and  once had his pay suspended after writing a letter to then CEO Laurence Tisch to complain that CBS News  ”has been turned into primarily a business enterprise and the moral enterprise has been lost.”

Back in March 1987, Tisch had cut more than 215 jobs and  the Writer’s Guild tried to protect their members and, at the time, was five weeks into a strike.  In a gesture of solidarity, Andy Rooney refused to appear on “60 Minutes” and was suspended without pay. His weekly salary then was reported to be  about $7700.

Sunday night, the crumpled Mr. Rooney is signing off 60 Minutes, with his 1,097th commentary and that is nothing short of remarkable. And while most weeks of his 33-year career at 60 minutes he offered a dose of humanity at the end of the broadcast,  he occasionally spewed speech that would wound. Read the rest of this entry »

THE WAR FOR THE OPRAH SPACE BEGINS

Anderson Cooper's new set: the couch undermines the intimacy

Yesterday  the first shot was heard around the new talk show world as Warner Brothers officially entered the high risk/high reward battle to replace Oprah.

Even the queen of the talk placed a stake in the outcome when  she launched  her own heir apparent,  Dr. Oz,  under her Harpo banner.

Katie Couric  follows next year as will Ricki Lake, Bethenny Frankel and I’m sure many more.

The first kid on this scary new block turns out to be Anderson Cooper who, as bravely as he has waded into snake-infested flood waters, has now stepped into the fierce competition of syndicated talk. Read the rest of this entry »

THINK LADY GAGA IS THE ONLY ONE GAMING THE NUMBERS?

This week, ABC News sent out an exciting  press release on the growing success of GMA, contents of which TVNewser ran online today: 

Meanwhile,  #2 “Good Morning America” is attracting its largest audience in four years. The ABC show is still more than 600K Total Viewers behind “Today” but had its smallest Total Viewer gap with the NBC show in four years.

The averages for the week of June 13:

  • Total Viewers: NBC: 5.15M / ABC: 4.53M / CBS: 2.21M
  • A25-54 viewers: NBC: 2.30M / ABC: 1.64M / CBS: 824K

Finally, so it seems,  the Today Show is being challenged after 809 weeks at #1.  And this isn’t the first signal from one of the TV industry’s most visited websites:

TV Newser on  June 6th:  Meanwhile, the No. 2 morning show, ABC’s “Good Morning America,” had its best overall sweeps in five years and best May sweep since 2005, posting the smallest Total Viewer gap with “Today” (780K) in 4 years.

TVNewser’s report for the week of May 30th:  Year over year, “Today” and “GMA” both experienced growth, with “GMA” up the most, +10%. “GMA” is seeing its largest total viewer audience in four years.

But is it really? In a business that has more dirty tricks than a Donald Segretti pizza party, there is a new sleight of hand in the morning show ratings war.

Since the end of April, ABC’s Good Morning America has moved its last network commercial higher up into the broadcast.  To cut through the inside baseball, this stunt officially allows them to report an earlier end to the show, shaving off as many as 15  (lower-rated) minutes when the audience is usually in decline. Without those lower-rated minutes, the  average rating of the show, calculated by the Nielsen company, is obviously going to be higher.  Read the rest of this entry »

Schwarzenegger Fathered A Child With Member Of Household Staff

We live in tough emotional times, for sure.  First on my list of news that has made me genuinely sad, the one prompting this cathartic column, that Arnold Schwarzenegger has confirmed to the L.A. TImes that his marriage broke up after he told his wife, Maria Shriver, that he fathered a child over a decade  ago with a member of the “household staff” who continued  to work for them until she “retired”  this January.

update: The feeding frenzy has begun.  And at 7:49  this evening Radar Online.com, in a joint investigation with Star magazine, has identified 50-year-old Mildred Baena (seen in their exclusive photo) as the mother of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s love child,. 

For her part, Maria Shriver released a short statement saying she is heartbroken and said, as a mother, she is concerned for her children.

Today, there’s also been  a warmed-over story from 2003 percolating: a British tabloid alleged that a former stewardess who worked on the family’s private jet, Tammy Faye Tousignant, had Schwarzenegger’s “love” child, a boy who would now be around 18 years old.

That article, along with Tammy Faye, were  widely ignored in America in 2003.  But now, with the L.A. Times revelations, she is being hounded.  She’s denying Schwarzenegger is the father of her son, and has changed her phone number. Her lawyer now says she has a DNA test to prove she’s telling the truth.

For his part,  the boy,  described by an on-line gossip column as having a familiar toothy grin, reportedly told one reporter not to waste his time; this was a politically motivated story invented eight years ago.  Riddle me this: was Tammy Faye an intentional red herring? Read the rest of this entry »

THE ORACLE OF MORNING TV?

After so many years of reading the tea leaves of morning television —  who’s in, who’s out, who’s moving the Nielsen needle, which anchor is bored, who will get fired — I thought it was time to try something more effective.  After all, with so many real changes announced at one, and so many more rumors, I just needed to know what our lives will look like at 7:00 a.m. each morning, once all the pieces and players are in place.

Viera to be sadly missed by colleagues and viewers alike.

First, I will be sad to see Meredith Viera go this June.  She’s a great reporter, wildly popular anchor and, in the best (and rarest) compliment in the television business, she will be as sadly missed by her colleagues as by her loyal viewers.

But before we banish Meredith to Millionaire forever, I share with you my odd sense that she will be back at our breakfast tables before long.  Perhaps the summer of ’13.  More on that in a moment.

I know it sounds crazy, but here’s why I say we may see Meredith again.  I’m certainly not clairvoyant, although I have occasionally served a prophecy of doom.  But as I started to explain, I decided to stop reading the tea leaves, and instead drink them with the rest of the tea.  The first night, I had a fitful, interrupted sleep.  But the second night, as I drifted off, the most interesting visions came to me in a dream which I will now recount.

[Cue the wavy lines]

It is  7:19 a.m. September 19th, 2011, the start of  the network’s new fall season.  On NBC’s Today Show, Matt Lauer and Ann Curry just finished a controversial news report on the discovery of a happiness gene, when sweet Al Roker pops up behind them and announces: “Controversy over.  The genome project just called and they confirmed I’ve got it.”  Business as usual there.

Over at CBS, anchors Harry Smith and Erica Hill sit on the newly designed set for the relaunch of CBS’ 120 Morning News Minutes. Read the rest of this entry »

PRINTING LAST WEEK’S NIELSEN RATINGS FOR THIS WEEK?  REALLY! YOU’VE SUNK TO A NEW CREDIBILITY LOW

For many months since launching daily Xpress, I haven’t  been able to resist pointing out the many inaccuracies of the weekly ratings reported by TVNewser, the once respectable “must read” during the tenure of the great Brian Stelter who was blogging while still in college and was quickly hired by The  New York Times after graduation.

I miss those days with Brian who was sadly replaced by reporters with fuzzy math, conflicts of interest and reckless disregard for the truth, much of which I’ve detailed in previous posts.

But now, get this error.  Today TVNewser has posted the ratings for the evening news shows for the week of April 11th, beginning their story:

“It was par for the course for the network evening newscasts the week of April 11.”

I guess so.  TVNewser has posted last week’s ratings by mistake! How embarrassing is that! Read the rest of this entry »