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After Russert, Replacing the Irreplaceable

Gail Shister
TVNewser Columnist

Russert_6.18.bmpNBC News president Steve Capus will hire “numerous people” to replace Tim Russert, he said tonight.

Russert, who died suddenly Friday from a heart attack at age 58, served so many roles at the network that he can’t possibly be replaced by one individual, Capus said.

“You’re talking about somebody who was the political compass inside the news division,” Capus said from a train, returning to New York from Russert’s funeral and memorial in Washington.

“He ran the news bureau in Washington. He hosted ‘Meet the Press.’ He was our liaison with political campaigns and the administration and every government office in the city, let alone the Vatican and every mayor’s and governor’s office in the whole country.

“He hosted a show on MSNBC. He was a senior vice president of NBC News. He was a senior manager within G.E. He was able to brilliantly juggle at least a dozen roles. To think any one person can just step in there is foolish.

“Tim was truly irreplaceable. That being said, each of those roles needs to be filled.”

At this point, Capus has made no decisions about anything, including a host for “MTP” this Sunday. He and NBC Universal chief Jeff Zucker will do that duty at the appropriate time, Capus said.

“The entire NBC family, not to mention the Russert family, is in shock and mourning. We need some time to go through that phase before we grow into the next phase. There’s no reason to be speculating about it now.”

Capus labels the rampant speculation about Russert’s successor on “MTP” — including a readers’ poll on this site — as “ridiculous” and “premature.” And it makes him angry.

Capus_6.18.jpg“I put it in the borderline-crass territory. I saw something posted that I’ve made a decision about this or that. Honestly, it’s inappropriate.”

Moreover, the timing offends Capus.

“It’s too soon. I’m sitting in my funeral suit, coming home from honoring a man who was the glue that held us all together.”

Capus also takes exception to those who have criticized NBC for going overboard on its coverage of Russert’s death and its aftermath. MSNBC covered the memorial service live.

“I think it’s been appropriate, balanced, loving. With all due respect, nobody can expect NBC to be objective. Tim had a remarkable, unique place in America. I can’t think of anyone in our industry who would generate those type of intense feelings.”

So intense that Russert’s office will remain untouched, Capus said.

“Now and forevermore, that is Tim’s office. We’re not going to move the new bureau chief in there. It’s out of the question, and will always be so.”

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