Note to readers: Just a few months before his Feb. 4, 1987 death, Liberace appeared in Dallas to promote his book The Wonderful Private World of Liberace. He continued to live the fiction of his heterosexuality throughout an entertaining, quotable press conference. As HBO’s Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra nears its Sunday, May 26th premiere, here’s a look at how he was back in mid-fall, 1986. This article was originally published on Nov. 17th of that year.
By ED BARK
Vladziu Valentino Liberace, who broke into show business using the name Walter Busterkeys, is dragging on a filterless cigarette, wearing a black leather jacket, but not looking like Marlon Brando in The Wild One.
He has four rings on his fingers, but no bells on his toes. The immaculately white teeth are obviously capped, the hairpiece is a dead give-away and the 67-year-old face is unlined, save for a pair of designer creases in the forehead. The voice is firmer than fey.
“Do you mind if I smoke?” he asks. “I’m a strange smoker. I quit for six months and then I start in again. I figure that way at least I cut down to half. But I can quit any time I want.”
A small collection of reporters is unresponsive, leading Liberace to press on.
“Tonight I’ll be reunited with four of my dogs,” he says. “They’re coming in from Palm Springs to meet me at the airport.”
His other 22 dogs remain in Las Vegas. Some of them, he says, are Chinese fighting dogs; they attack strangers, so they don’t travel particularly well. Liberace also has a West Highland Terrier, “which we call my West Highland Terrorist.”
He is in town to promote his new book, The Wonderful Private World of Liberace, by Liberace. It’s a lavish, 224-page, oversized volume, loaded with pictures of the author and his surroundings, and retailing for $29.95.
“As much as people think they know me,” he says, “they really don’t. They don’t really know Liberace the person, and this is what this book is all about.”
Chapter 3 is something of a revelation. Titled “I Lost My Virginity at Sixteen,” it details his deflowering at the hands of a nightclub blues singer named Miss Bea Haven. The chapter seems somewhat out of sync with the rest of the book, which includes long discourses on Liberace’s dogs, housekeepers, houses, his sainted mother, Frances, and cooking. In Chapter 9, readers are shown how to make Liberace Sticky Buns. “Believe me, there’ll be none left over,” he writes.
“The fact that I lost my virginity at 16, I don’t think is all that sinful,” Liberace says, noting that other, gamier reminiscences were excised by the book’s publisher, Harper & Row. “I think sooner or later you have to lose your virginity. Otherwise I’d be some kind of freak.”
Liberace’s publicist for the day says that he once romanced figure skater Sonja Henie, who left him and “broke his heart.” Save for the misbehavin’ Miss Bea Haven, the book is mum on the author’s sex life.
Liberace, who punctuates his speech with “ya knows,” has been a nationally known figure since 1952, when The Liberace Show premiered on NBC. Lately, he has been breaking attendance records at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and playing Vegas regularly. He has endured because he is a genuine original. Show business has many flamboyant entertainers, but they can’t hold a candle, or a candelabra, to Liberace.
“I was fortunate to come along at a time when I had no competition,” he says. “Now people are pitted against each other to create a competitive atmosphere that didn’t exist when I was on TV. People accepted me for what I was and didn’t say, ‘Ah, I don’t like him, let’s turn on that other fella who does the same thing.’ There was nobody that did the same thing.”
On the piano player front, only Elton John comes even close. But Liberace describes John as “bizarre, where I have never been bizarre. With him, the headdresses and the glasses and all of that, you really have to be told who it is. But with me, there’s no question.”
Liberace has been the subject of two other authorized books, Liberace Cooks and Liberace.
“I try to beat them to the punch,” he says of Kitty Kelley-type bios. “Those books are exposes, and I think they’re very devastating. But I will admit, I enjoy reading them, like I enjoy reading the rags. When I go to the market, I’ll buy the rags, The Enquirer and all that. It’s kind of fun . . . It’s gotten to the point where you can tell who’s hot and who’s not. All of a sudden, you start reading every week about Vanna White, and this one and that one. Then all of a sudden they’re replaced by other people who suddenly make some kind of an impression. For a while it was Michael Jackson. Then it was Prince. It’s always tinged with a little scandalous material.”
Liberace disapproves of entertainers who bring their scandals onstage with them.
“If I’m sitting in an audience, and I pay $25 or $30 for a ticket, I don’t want to hear that ‘Thanks for giving me another chance’ talk. I want to be entertained by that person’s talent. It’s amazing how many of them say, “I’m straight now and I’m doing well’ and so forth. I really think it’s asking for sympathy, to be understood. I don’t think it enhances their talent any . . . I think I would like to be remembered for making people happy and bringing some comfort and joy into their lives without preaching or getting on any soapbox or anything.”
Today’s audiences, he adds, are “quick to forgive. Years ago, if you made a boo-boo of any kind at all, you had to live with it for the rest of your life. I don’t think that exists anymore.”
Liberace’s book pictures him with several of today’s trendier personalities, including Cyndi Lauper, Rick James and “my young friend” Michael Jackson, for whom he planned to cook a “real Southern soul-food meal” until learning Jackson was a vegeterian. He fell back on a vegetarian dish smothered with a packaged Hollandaise sauce. Michael reportedly loved it.
He has been offered, he says, a part as himself on Miami Vice, but declined because, “If I’m going to play myself, then I’m not really adding to my prestige.” Cast him as a district attorney or a “sidekick to Don Johnson” and he’d be on the set tomorrow, Liberace says.
He’ll probably endure for as long as there’s a flounce in his step. At this stage of his career, overstaying his welcome has become a principal concern. Lucille Ball comes to mind.
“She had so much going for her already with the old I Love Lucy series,” he says. “I’ve watched her new show (Life With Lucy) a few times and I think she still has the know-how and the ability. But I look at her now and I think, ‘If that was my mother up there, would I like it? Would I want her to do pratfalls and things like that?’ I think her series should have a little more dignity to it, because she is a respected 75-year-old woman. And I don’t think she can do at 75 what she did 35 years ago.
“I think George Burns is a one-of-a-kind octogenarian,” he adds. “I saw him do a show in Vegas just recently, and he was very sharp and he didn’t miss a cue, didn’t miss a joke. But when he walked off that stage, he was an old, old man. Took those tiny little steps.
“I don’t ever want to be caught in that same situation. I want to bounce off.”
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Note to readers: It’s been 20 Springs since a 51-day standoff between federal law enforcement officials and followers of Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh ended in a shocking April 19th conflagration shown on live television. I chronicled the exhaustive local and national media coverage from beginning to end.
The below two stories, originally published on March 11, 1993 and April 21, 1993, are divided by video of Fox4 reporter Richard Ray’s excellent look back at the tragedy in a recent piece tied to the 20th anniversary.
By ED BARK
WACO -- Sundance the swaybacked horse, gratefully nibbling on just about anything offered to him, seems at home on his range with TV satellite trucks, tents and RVs.
The increasingly heavyset palomino is part of the feeding frenzy along a middle-of-nowhere road lined with modern-day tools of the TV trade. For $150 a day, Sundance's owner has been renting a corner of the horse's pasture to Dallas' KDFW-TV (Channel 4), KHOU-TV of Houston and the CBS network. Sundance has become a mascot -- and only an occasional irritant -- in an ongoing electronic stakeout two miles from the compound of Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh and his followers. The horse occasionally has been known to nibble on the television cables snaking his turf.
"We'll be the first station to lose a live shot because of a horse,” joked Channel 4 news director Mike Sechrist, who flew to Waco via helicopter Wednesday.
"You want to let your people know you appreciate what they're doing,” said Sechrist, who had just returned from a food run into town. Law enforcement officials manning the entry-point to the media village took a liking to his white KDFW gimme cap. Sechrist said he promised to have a fresh supply flown in when the Channel 4 chopper arrived to pick him up later Wednesday.
Tank-sized, techno-vehicles from Dallas-Fort Worth's three network affiliate stations have been joined by the likes of StarCam 5 from KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City, SpaceLink from KTRK-TV in Houston and Challenger 5 from KENS-TV in San Antonio. A bright, balmy, breezy Wednesday marked Day 11 of the standoff between the Davidians and an army of federal agents.
"During the day it's just scratching for stories. The slightest little change becomes a big deal,” said veteran WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reporter Doug Fox.
Wednesday's principal itch was Ron Engelman, host of a talk show on Dallas' KGBS radio (1190 AM). During his Tuesday program, Engelman asked the Davidians to display a white flag if they wanted legal and medical help. A white banner was displayed the same afternoon from a top-floor window of their compound. They later unfurled a printed message -- "God help us. We want the press” -- on a second white banner.
Engelman's next step was a trip to the media village, where he arrived at midmorning Wednesday. He quickly was surrounded by reporters and cameras.
"Are you concerned at all about being used by them (the Davidians)?” asked Channel 5 reporter Mike Androvett.
No, said Engelman, who in turn accused the media of "not asking the right questions” of federal agents.
During that day's regular 10:30 a.m. news briefing, FBI special agent Bob Ricks criticized Engelman's efforts as "counterproductive.”
Some reporters assigned to cover the standoff haven't been as conciliatory toward Engelman.
"This guy's a nut. He gives us all a bad name,” said a Dallas TV correspondent who asked not to be identified. "Instead of covering the story, he's become a part of it. And that violates every journalistic ethic. He's gonna prolong the standoff. He's gonna get people killed.”
KXAS-TV (Channel 5) producer David Magana, who has coordinated on-site coverage of the standoff since Day 1, said Engelman's involvement had done far more than "blur the lines' between news reporting and newsmaking.
"This one has been dragged through the mud and the cow pasture,” he said.
Magana has returned to Dallas once, to wash his clothes, since the standoff began Feb. 28.
"It was chaos at first, complete chaos,” he said.
Channel 5 and other TV crews since have settled into something of a routine. During the station's noon newscast Wednesday, Magana stayed in touch with Dallas by simultaneously listening through an earpiece and speaking through a mike.
"This is my life,” he said matter-of-factly. "If I had any more orifices in my head, there'd be a phone in 'em.”
The cost of such coverage is imposing. Satellite time alone has a price tag of $8 a minute.
"This is like a hole you're pouring money into,” said Channel 4's Sechrist.
Some outfits are making a buck. Scott Lewis, a radio frequency engineer for Mississippi State University, drove the school's satellite truck 700 miles to Waco in order to sell time to interested parties. Clients, brokered through Satellite Management International of Dallas, have included A Current Affair and a station in Hamburg, Germany.
"Its main goal is to teach students,' Lewis said of the MSU truck. "But when it's available it's rented out.'
Lewis also has been contributing to the local economy. Cab rides from the media village to his motel room cost $25. He also has invested in a T-shirt with a "God Sez Wait” inscription.
One reporter -- Channel 4's Brett Shipp -- couldn't wait any longer Wednesday. He headed back to Dallas to join his pregnant wife, who is having a sonogram Thursday.
"I'm beat,” Shipp said succinctly.
Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com
|Relieved that it's over, but shaken by how it ended, local television news operations are looking forward to life after the cult standoff in Waco.|
Coverage of the 51-day siege was a budget-bleeding combination of constant satellite feeds, around-the-clock overtime and incidentals such as campers, hotel rooms and state of the art, high-powered camera lenses.
|"I didn't add up the costs. I was afraid it would scare me too bad," KXAS-TV (Channel 5) news director David Overton said Tuesday. "Our company (LIN Broadcasting) just told us to do what we had to do."|
Overton and the news directors at KDFW-TV (Channel 4) and WFAA-TV (Channel 8) said the extra expense of covering the standoff would approach or exceed six figures at each station. Satellite time alone costs an average of $8 a minute, Overton said. Stations had to reserve blocs of time in advance and pay the full price whether or not all of it was used.
"There's a wonderful sense of relief that it's finally over," Channel 4 news director Mike Sechrist said. "And then there's this horrible feeling about the way it got resolved. We sat here with open mouths when the fire started."
Live coverage of the Branch Davidian complex in flames was seen in about 725,000 homes in Dallas-Fort Worth between 12:15 and 1:30 p.m. Monday. Channel 8's coverage generally drew the highest ratings throughout the day, with Channels 4 and 5 usually running well behind. But Channel 5 had the first live TV reports of the assault on the compound by federal agents.
Channel 5 reporter Mike Androvett, tipped that "something might happen' early Monday morning, decided to spend the night in the station's on-site RV instead of a motel. He went on the air "literally half-asleep,' initially worrying about being incoherent.
Mr. Androvett, who covered the standoff full time with only a handful of days off since Feb. 28, said he "finally had a letdown" after Monday's 10 p.m. newscast. "I sat in my hotel room for a minute and tried to take inventory. Did we do everything we should have? What does it all mean?"
Channel 8 news director John Miller said he was "surprised by how much it got to me, the emotions and sadness I felt" when the Davidian complex became an inferno.
"News people are generally so immune to feelings," he said. "But this was different, because we lived with it so long. Some of our people probably made a dozen trips back and forth to Waco. It really became a part of our existence. I never met (FBI briefer) Bob Ricks. But I felt I knew him very well because I watched him every day."
Throughout the standoff, Channel 5 was the only local TV station to carry the 10:30 a.m. briefings daily. It more than made up for a lapse that left the station without a satellite hookup to cover the first briefing on March 3. Channel 5 instead had to rely on a KRLD-AM radio audio feed while competing TV stations brought viewers live pictures.
"If you're not always thinking ahead, the technology out there will kill ya,' Mr. Overton said.
Channels 4, 5 and 8 plan to keep their satellite trucks in Waco until at least the end of the week. Channel 5's Androvett, who became a star reporter in the past two months, hopes to take some time off before returning to the station's Austin bureau.
"For all the reporters out here, it's been a grind," he said.
"As it begins to sink in, I think we'll be more and more horrified at what we saw Monday," Channel 8's Miller said. "Everybody's now busy trying to find somebody to blame. Society always does. To me, that obscures the point that this is a dangerous world and bad things happen."
Meanwhile in Mounds, Okla., filming continues on NBC's In the Line of Duty: Assault in Waco, starring Timothy Daly of Wings as cult leader David Koresh. Scheduled to air May 23 on Channel 5, the made-for-TV movie will still end on the day shooting began between federal agents and the Branch Davidians. An epilogue will tell their fates.
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Note to readers: Network television's mass convergence on the Papal Conclave this week reminded me of the majestic funeral of Pope John Paul II and its live, very early morning coverage in the U.S. This account was first published on April 9, 2005.
By ED BARK
When in Rome, turn back the clock to the ungodly hour of 3 a.m. (central time) for the funeral of Pope John Paul II.
Major broadcast and cable news networks answered a higher calling anyway, providing live, commercial-free coverage Friday from a glorious, sunlit setting in St. Peter's Square. Most Americans no doubt opted to catch replays or highlights. Those moved to witness history as it happened were best served when anchors and commentators fell eloquently silent in deference to the stirring sights and sounds enveloping the first true "television pope."
None was more powerful than his symbolic final bow at 5:40 a.m. (12:40 p.m. in Rome). Pallbearers tilted the pope's unadorned wooden casket downward to sustained applause from a crowd estimated at 100,000. Bells tolled, tears flowed. Fox News Channel further commemorated the emotion of the moment with a memorable shot of a young man weeping openly and unabashedly.
People from around the world rose magnificently and attentively to this occasion. For once, no one seemed to be playing to TV's cameras, whether in Rome, the pope's native Poland, Mexico City or on sleeping bags while watching the service from inside Sacred Heart University in Fairfield, Conn.
Networks leaned on translators and an array of priests, monsignors and bishops to help with the basics of this unprecedented, firsthand look at a pope's funeral. ABC generally had the most affecting close-ups of individual mourners. Otherwise the network's intrusively talkative coverage, anchored by Charles Gibson, Cokie Roberts and the Rev. Keith Pecklers, repeatedly did a disservice to the service. Some viewers perhaps shouted "Amen!" when Gibson said at one point, "We will just watch and listen for a little while."
Too often, though, the Mass seemed beside the point, as when Gibson said, "Father Pecklers, take us back to the service." He did so, for a half-minute maybe, before Gibson turned to Terry Moran for a street-level report.
Rival networks, including Telemundo ("El funeral Juan Pablo II"), were souls of discretion in comparison, with on-site CBS anchor Harry Smith and company placing a distant runner-up in the chatter derby. All of the networks got gabby, though, during the 20 minutes it took to distribute Holy Communion.
Shortly after 5 a.m., with the funeral in its climactic stages, Fort Worth-based KXAS-TV (Channel 5) periodically shrunk the screen to offer mood-breaking printed news bulletins such as "N. TX. man has cardiac arrest; drives into house" and "Irving man took son on murder spree; gets death."
This was the networks' first pre-dawn live coverage since the Sept. 6,1997 funeral of Princess Diana, which started at 5 a.m. on Saturday. It also was the first major news event of roughly the last quarter-century without any role for Tom Brokaw, Dan Rather or Peter Jennings.
Brokaw retired in December as anchor of the NBC Nightly News, and Rather left the CBS Evening News last month. Jennings, still anchor of ABC's World News Tonight, announced earlier this week that he's undergoing treatment for lung cancer.
Gibson graciously ended ABC's coverage by wishing Jennings well.
"Peter, it has been an honor to broadcast here in your stead," he said.
Replaying the launch of Fox -- and revisiting its original home in Dallas -- on the network's 25th anniversary
Note to readers: Fox is throwing a big televised party for itself Sunday (April 22nd, 7 p.m. central) to celebrate its 25th anniversary as a national broadcast network.
They're a bit late. Fox actually launched on Sunday, April 5, 1987 with the premieres of Married . . . with Children and The Tracey Ullman Show.
I've been covering Fox from its very beginning, dating to the time when its owned-and-operated station in Dallas was KDAF-TV (Ch. 33) rather than KDFW-TV (Channel 4).
This article, first published on April 3, 1987, looks at both the initial expectations for the network and some of the detractors who pretty much discounted its chances of ever being a prime-time force. A quarter-century later, Fox again will finish this television season as the No. 1 network among advertiser-craved 18-to-49-year-olds. It's come a long way since a young unknown named Johnny Depp starred in Fox's first drama series, 21 Jump Street.
By ED BARK
The Fox network enters the lions' den Sunday. Will it become a different animal with a sharp bite or a sacrificial lamb to be carved during the Easter season by the friendly cutthroats at NBC, ABC and CBS?
For now, there is only euphoria at Fox.
"Our stations are walking around with their heads in the clouds in excitement about this venture," says Jamie Kellner, president of the Fox Broadcasting Co.
Equally enthusiastic is Ray Schonbak, general manager of KDAF-TV (Channel 33), one of seven stations owned and operated by Fox.
"I think Fox is going to allow us to grow more rapidly than anyone else in this marketplace," he says in an interview. "Of all the stations in the market, no one's willing to take greater risks than us. Everyone else is too busy trying to protect something. They're afraid to face the future. But they'd better. They'd better start looking at it."
Such talk doesn't come cheap. In the short-term future -- for the next five years -- Fox is prepared to lose $150 million or more in its bid to become a competitive alternative to what Fox chairman Barry Diller calls the "big elephant networks." The money will come from the seemingly bottomless pockets of Rupert Murdoch, the print baron who is indulging his interest in American television. Murdoch owns the 20th Century-Fox studios and television stations in Dallas, Houston, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Washington, D.C.
Equally important, Fox has two-year contracts with 105 stations covering about 85 percent of the country. This brand new grouping of affiliate stations will receive cash compensation payments in return for carrying the Fox programming lineup. The arrangement, identical to that of an ABC, NBC or CBS station's relationship with its network, is a giant step beyond any other dreams of a "Fourth Network."
In the next two months, Fox will join the prime-time ratings race with six comedies, three dramas and a determination to build a foundation of young, "upscale" viewers. The first two half-hour comedies, Married . . . with Children and The Tracey Ullman Show, premiere Sunday in an "open-house" environment. Each show will be telecast three times, allowing audiences to watch it after watching favorites on the other three networks. By June 6, Fox plans to have five hours of prime-time in place, from 6 to 9 p.m. Sundays and from 7 to 9 p.m. Saturdays. Sundays will come first, with a regularly scheduled lineup of 21 Jump Street, Married . . . with Children, Duet, Mr. President and The Tracey Ullman Show fully in place on the night of May 3.
The initial nine series will be short on star power but long on behind-the-scenes creativity. Most viewers will recognize only the names of George C. Scott, star of Mr. President, and Patty Duke, who plays a 40-year-old woman attracted to a 28-year-old man in Karen's Song.
"The stars at the network really are the producers and writers who create the series for us," says Garth Ancier, the 28-year-old vice president of programming for Fox.
To that end, The Tracey Ullman Show is produced by Jim Brooks, the Oscar-winning director of Terms of Endearment and a producer/writer on esteemed television series such as Taxi, The Mary Tyler Moore Show and Lou Grant. Ullman is a British comedian/actress who has made several well-received appearances on NBC's Late Night with David Letterman.
Gary David Goldberg, whose UBU production company makes NBC's Family Ties, is involved with the romantic comedy Duet for Fox.
Stephen J. Cannell,who created The A-Team for NBC, is producing Fox's only one-hour show, 21 Jump Street, an action-adventure series about police who "infiltrate circles of high school criminals."
Mr. President has Ed (Taxi, Amen) Weinberger and Gene (M*A*S*H) Reynolds working behind the cameras.
Skeptics of such pedigrees include Brandon Tartikoff, NBC's president of entertainment and Ancier's boss during his six-year stay at the network.
"They have the fingernail on Jim Brooks' left pinky," Tartikoff says. "People like Brooks and Goldberg are not going to give their lifeblood to a program that is going to be seen in about 80 percent of the country on mostly UHF stations. They're buying marquee value, but it's going to come down to who's really going to do the show every week."
"I can't imagine that Tartikoff would say that," Fox chairman Barry Diller retorts. "Jim Brooks will not allow his name to be on anything unless he has a kind of maniacal involvement."
Also skeptical of Fox is Grant Tinker, who as chairman of NBC led the network from last to first in the prime-time ratings before resigning last year to return to television production.
"I'm not at all convinced it will work," he told television critics during a recent press conference announcing his new partnership with the Gannett Co. "The Joan Rivers thing would give me pause. I'm wondering, even with all that good creative input, whether they'll make it. But I'm not much of a seer."
"The Joan Rivers thing" is a touchy point with Fox executives. They take issue with reports that The Late Show with Joan Rivers has been a ratings failure since premiering Oct. 9 as Fox's first offering to affiliates. The Rivers show has averaged a 3.3 rating nationally, lower than the 4.0 rating projected by Fox, Kellner says. But Rivers supposedly is a hit among 18-to-49-year-olds, the principal target of most advertisers.
"Fox is not trying to be No. 1," Kellner says. "We're targeting that smaller, more desirable audience. Joan Rivers' audience is rich in all the most desirable demographics. Let NBC bulk up its late-night household ratings numbers with a bunch of older viewers."
Locally, Rivers is averaging only about a 2.0 rating on Channel 33. But that's double the audience the station had for its expensive reruns of Dynasty at that hour. Still, Channel 33 has had a tough time attracting viewers in this market since signing on as Metromedia-owned KRLD-TV on July 30, 1984.
Metromedia had visions of a fourth network, but its flops were legion. Thick of the Night, Rituals, Breakaway, The Jerry Lewis Show -- nothing worked. Metromedia eventually sold its stations to Murdoch. Channel 33 officially changed its call letters to KDAF and its allegiance to Fox on March 7, 1986.
"Dallas is probably one of our weaker markets," Ancier says. "We're working very hard to get that station up to par with the other Fox stations."
Schonbak, Channel 33's general manager, allows that "you always want to grow faster than you do. But we've come a long way very quickly in a very competitive market and in a tough economy."
Schonbak's first major programming move under the Fox banner was to cancel the station's weeknight 7 p.m. local newscast, which was losing considerable money. A carefully spoken, bottom line-oriented executive, he becomes animated when asked about the new trio of cost-conscious businessmen running the three major networks.
"I find it a little disheartening," he says, "when something like the sacrosanct news department is cut and people like Dan Rather get on the picket line and say the end is here. What does Dan Rather know about it? He's an anchorman, that's all he is. He doesn't deal with the operation of the business. He doesn't have the broad picture. He has one little area that he does. He sits in a chair in front of a camera and reads news . . . We are a business, and it must be looked at and run as a business first and television second. That doesn't mean that you do things less than what you should do."
Asked to name Channel 33's major accomplishments in Dallas, Schonback emphasizes the station's relationship with advertisers.
"Our people have become broader-based in market conceptualizations," he says. "The building and the moving of product is what we are here to do. We represent and we sell products through this medium, as well as entertainment. These are the people that underwrite the costs of entertainment product that we purchase to give to the public . . . I think we've brought the television market more alive, because we came in and they (other local stations) saw us as a viable threat to some of their dollars. And they started to react to that."
Schonback says Channel 33 is projecting a 5.0 rating to advertisers for the first group of Fox prime-time series. No current series on Channel 33 has that high an average. Each rating point equals about 15,000 households in the Dallas-Fort Worth viewing area.
Nationally, Fox executives emphasize that their "no-limo network" cannot be expected to match the ratings of the Big Three, at least not in the 1980s. Plans call for starting a new night of prime-time programming each year, with Fridays the next likely breakthrough in early 1988. The executives expect that younger viewers will switch to Fox first. In Ancier's view, "they're more used to being in an era where there are more viewing services available."
Someday, maybe, one or more of the established networks will be chasing the Fox. That's the dream. But for now:
"If you like to root for the underdogs," Kellner says, "I can assure you, you should be rooting for us."
Note to readers: Former NBC5 and WFAA8 reporter Scott Pelley is widely perceived as the heir apparent to Katie Couric if and when she leaves the CBS Evening News anchor chair after a five-year stint. The job is "Scott's to lose," an anonymous CBS executive tells The New York Times in a profile of Pelley, who declined to be interviewed.
We earlier made the case for why veteran CBS anchor/reporter Harry Smith might be a better choice. But Pelley, 53, has certainly paid his dues and is the personal pick of former Evening News anchor Dan Rather, who told The Times that Pelley is a "true believer in the CBS legend, history and myth."
So was Rather, until he unsuccessfully sued the network. This could be Pelley's time, though, even if some think that anchoring the network's flagship nightly newscast would be a "demotion" from his current position as a 60 Minutes correspondent.
A previous "Back Channels" reprise recounted the numerous D-FW television reporters who have ascended to the network news level. The following two pieces focus on Pelley, highlighting his promotion to White House correspondent in 1997 and his coverage of the Iraq war in 2003. In chronological order, here they are, with the first interview originally published on August 28, 1997 and the second on March 30, 2003.
By ED BARK
Sometime shortly after Labor Day, former WFAA-TV (Channel 8) reporter Scott Pelley will be pinching himself on the White House lawn. Having just turned 40, he's come fully of age at CBS News. Meet the network's new chief White House correspondent, a job that still looks pretty good on the resume.
"This is the dream of most any television news reporter anywhere," he says by phone from New York. "Especially for a guy who started his career at the ABC station in Lubbock in the 138th TV market. I look back at the road I've traveled and all the people that helped me, and I'm lost for the right words. I'm just thrilled to be going to the White House."
Mr. Pelley goes to Washington in September, replacing Rita Braver. A native of San Antonio, he first tasted journalism as a 15-year-old copy boy for the Lubbock Avalanche-Journal. Three years at KSEL-TV in Lubbock prepped him for an entry-level job at KXAS-TV (Channel 5) in Fort Worth. In 1982, Channel 8 hired him away from the NBC affiliate and helped put him on a fast track to the network level. CBS pirated him in 1989, making Pelley only the latest Channel 8 alumnus to go national.
The imposing list includes Lisa McRee (replacing Joan Lunden as co-host of ABC's Good Morning America in September); Russ Mitchell (joining former Congresswoman Susan Molinari next month as co-anchor of the new CBS News Saturday Morning) and Peter Van Sant (who will be a featured correspondent on CBS' new Public Eye with Bryant Gumbel).
Furthermore: Andrea Joyce has become one of CBS' most visible sportscasters. Verne Lundquist still broadcasts major sports events for a variet y of networks. Longtime CBS This Morning co-host Paula Zahn now anchors the Saturday edition of the CBS Evening News and contributes to 48 Hours. Channel 8 emigrees Valeri Williams, Peggy Wehmeyer and Bob Brown are at ABC News. Leeza Gibbons has gone from Channel 8 to Entertainment Tonight to her own NBC talk show.
Current Channel 8 reporter Gary Reaves, who rejoined the station, and Cinny Kennard, who recently left the news business, also have worked for CBS.
Veteran Channel 8 executive news director John Miller has seen all of these reporters come and go. "The downside," he said recently, "is that we're always a target for the headhunters. Our people are very visible nationally, and you always hold your breath when the phone rings. But all things considered, it's better to have it that way than be a station that's not looked at for network-level people."
Pelley, married for 15 years to former Channel 5 news reporter Jane Boone, has traveled far, wide and gladly during his eight years at CBS News. You might say he's driven.
"I'm genetically wired to do this kind of work," he says. "I love it. I get tense when I'm not on a big story. I get tense when I haven't been on the air in a reasonable period of time."
The Pelleys have two children, Reece, 5, and Blair, 2. He credits his wife, who founded Boone Communications seven years ago, with "not only running her own business but taking care of business at home. I'm married to a magnificent woman. And if it wasn't for that, I would not be able to do this job. I'm on the road a great deal. And frequently, as a family, we have plans that are interrupted by a breaking news event."
His assignment for CBS have included the Oklahoma City bombing and the trial of Timothy McVeigh; the bombing of the World Trade Center; the Persian Gulf War; the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco; the Los Angeles earthquake and Ross Perot's 1992 presidential campaign.
Pelley also briefly covered Bill Clinton in that year, but hasn't seen him since. He plans to meet informally with the president during Clinton's vacation in Martha's Vineyard.
"It might be a good time, when the sleeves are rolled up and the president isn't as preoccupied with his duties of office, to maybe have a chat and a beer with him," Pelley says. "I think what you do on this job is develop as many sources as you can, get as close as you can. But at the end of the day, you've got to call 'em as you see 'em. Then if they don't like something you report, you take your lumps."
Pelley says he doesn't like the idea of dwelling on either Whitewater or Paula Jones, who has accused Clinton of sexual harassment.
"I hope those are resolved very quickly," he says. "Because they don't strike me as being at the heart of the nation's business. I hope we don't spend the next three years agonizing over those issues."
He envisions "bringing more of America to the White House. I've spent the last 20 years covering every place in this nation, and I'd like to bring some of that experience to Washington. Maybe a story on education starts in a Chicago school district, so we can show how particular people and events are influenced by what the White House is doing. When the president goes to a foreign country, perhaps we can get there early and learn a little more instead of being lashed to Air Force One and photo opportunities."
That said, he's not entirely without anxiety.
"I go alternately from being extremely excited to very concerned," Pelley says. "I have a lot of spade work to do. I can look ahead and see what the responsibility and the workload is going to be like.
"And it is enough to give one pause."
By ED BARK
Former Dallas TV reporter Scott Pelley joined CBS just in time to cover the Persian Gulf War.
Now he's back for a second tour that strikes him as markedly different. That's mainly because the military has treated him like a comrade-in-arms after drawing weapons on him in 1991.
"The contrast is almost night and day," Pelley says in a telephone interview from the Iraqi port city of Umm Qasr. "We have been welcomed all over the battlefield so far."
Pelley and his CBS crew are on their own rather than "embedded" with a military unit. Before the war started, they rented a house on the southern border of Iraq and stocked it with provisions and a satellite uplink. On March 20, they found themselves in position to witness U.S. attack helicopters firing at enemy positions.
"It was really at that moment that we realized the war had officially begun," Pelley says. "He quickly hooked up with CBS News in New York, reporting live in a greenish "nightcam" glow that since has become a staple visual of network TV coverage.
"Then we broke the uplink down, loaded it into our pickup truck and charged in behind the invasion force," he says. "And we've been in Iraq ever since."
They subsequently hooked up with the Marines' Fox company, which took control of Umm Qasr after a lengthy firefight.
"Now it's turned into almost a small American town," Pelley said. "Now they have floodlights everywhere and even port-a-johns, which is a tremendous luxury."
Pelley, 45, worked at KXAS-TV (Channel 5) and WFAA-TV (Channel 8) before joining CBS in 1989. He was a network rookie when the Gulf War began. His most chilling experience had nothing to do with enemy fire.
Traveling with the 18th Airborne Corps, the correspondent and his crew briefly lost their official military "escort" while shooting footage in a small Iraqi town commandeered by U.S. forces.
"There were a lot of refugees leaving," Pelley recalls. "We were coming around a corner and encountered an American patrol. The commander's eyes just flashed with anger, and he got a squad of men and put us on the ground and asked what the hell we were doing there. There was kind of a feeling at that time that reporters were almost tantamount to the enemy."
Pelley says soldiers are welcoming reporters in this war. On Friday, the CBS vehicle was running on empty "until we hooked up with an Army unit that gave us all the gas we needed," he says. "So we're good to go all through the weekend."
Pelley's wife, Jane Boone Pelley, is a former KXAS reporter whom he married while working at WFAA. They have a son, Reese, 10, and a daughter, Blair, 7.
"They've been in Montana this week on our annual spring trip," he said. "This will always be known as the 'spring break war' in our house."
He also calls it the "cellphone war."
In 1991, "I was unable to speak to Jane for nearly two months," Pelley says. "And now I call her twice a day from the battlefield."