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Gail Shister

Brian Stelter On NBC’s Response to ‘Top of the Morning,’ Negative Reviews

Though the critics have skewered his first book, Brian Stelter chooses to see the coffee cup as half full.

“Honestly, I appreciate the feedback,” says Stelter, 27, author of Top of the Morning: Inside the Cutthroat World of Morning TV, and a media reporter for the New York Times. (Full disclosure: Stelter founded TVNewser when he was a college student)

“I’m not making this up,” he continues. “I want to learn how to be a better writer and reporter. I do think normal readers come away really happy, really entertained.”

‘Normal readers’ probably don’t include a trio of power players, past and present, from NBC. ‘Morning’ paints a less than flattering portrait of ‘Today’ co-anchor Matt Lauer; his former boss, Jim Bell; and ex-NBC News president Steve Capus.

All were involved, to varying degrees, in the ham-handed – and excruciatingly public — ouster of Lauer’s co-anchor, Ann Curry, according to the book. Bell had dubbed it ‘Operation Bambi,’ not knowing, of course, that Curry would come out looking as innocent and victimized as the white-tailed fawn in his title.

Lauer is the clear villain of the piece, prompting Entertainment Weekly to accuse Stelter of having a ‘vendetta’ against the mega-millionaire anchor.

Stelter labels the accusation as ‘preposterous.’

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Why Byron Pitts Joined ABC News

CBS News veteran Byron Pitts says he jumped ship to ABC for three reasons, in order of importance: “God, diversity and Diane Sawyer.”

Pitts, 52, the lone correspondent of color on “60 Minutes” and a CBS staffer since 1997, officially joined ABC yesterday as chief national correspondent. He begins April 15.

In addition to reporting, Pitts will anchor prime-time news specials as well as fill in as news reader on “Good Morning America” and on weekend news. He signed a four-year deal with a “significant” salary bump, he says.

A devout man, Pitts prays over all major decisions. ABC was no exception. “For me, God is the ultimate closer,” he says. “Once I felt I had His blessing, it was full steam ahead. I’m grateful for my time at CBS, and I’m excited about this opportunity grace has provided.”

In the Gospel According to Pitts, diversity ranks a strong No. 2. In his talks with ABC News president Ben Sherwood, Pitts says he was impressed that Sherwood made a point to bring up his (Sherwood’s) commitment to the hot-button issue.

“It was encouraging to have a network executive talk to me, openly and with enthusiasm, about the importance of racial diversity,” says Pitts. “I never had that conversation at CBS.”

Not with his division leaders, anyway.

Pitts says he and CBS Corp. chieftain Les Moonves have discussed diversity, and he admires Moonves’ passion about it. As for CBS News Chairman Jeff Fager and his lieutenant, David Rhodes, here’s how Pitts puts it:

“I don’t want to seem critical. They were certainly nice and supportive of me. But the facts are the facts. Sixteen years ago, when I joined CBS, there were 10 people of color on the air. Now there are seven. Why is that? It’s discouraging. America is becoming more diverse, not less diverse. “

According to CBS News spokesperson Sonya McNair, CBS has “more than double” Pitts’ estimate of seven correspondents of color. “We wish Byron well,” she adds. ABC News has a total of 29, says division rep David Ford.

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Chris Hayes in Primetime: Shorter Segments, Slower Speech, Still No Ties

MSNBC’s Chris Hayes would like to see more hosts of color on the cable networks – including his own.

“It’s a problem,” says Hayes, a lifelong Caucasian. “People’s opinions, interpretations of news, journalistic instincts, editorial concerns are the product of the people they are, the experiences they have, the way they move through the world.

“It’s why organizations, companies, the Senate, the U.S. Supreme Court benefit from diversity. … Diversity produces people with a specificity in their world view, and it benefits the product.”

Hayes’ product, ‘All In with Chris Hayes,’ debuts Monday in the 8 p.m. slot formerly occupied by Ed Schultz. Rachel Maddow (Hayes’ mentor) follows at 9, with Lawrence O’Donnell at 10.

It is a Murderers’ Row of liberal brainiacs. It is also, like the prime-time lineups at CNN and Fox News, blindingly white – a state of affairs to which Hayes says he has given “obsessive thought.”

Diversity is his top priority, he says. ‘All In’ will feature a wide variety of guests, especially conservatives. Hayes followed the same practice on his MSNBC weekend show, ‘Up with Chris Hayes,’ which debuted in 2011.

“I can’t control my gender, race or sexual orientation,” says Hayes. (He and his wife, law professor Kate A. Shaw, have an 18-month-old daughter.) “I can control who we have on and what voices we introduce to viewers.”

Those voices will be streamlined on ‘All In,’ Hayes says. Discussions will run up to 17 minutes, less than half as long as the marathons on his two-hour ‘Up.’

“I want to create a show that a lot of people watch, and produce really good TV,” says Hayes, who never met a complex sentence he didn’t like. “I want it to be high-quality journalism – compelling, dynamic and addictive.”

Hayes’ admiration of Maddow borders on hero worship. She gave Hayes his first shot as a guest anchor.

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You Can Take the Producer Out of News, But You Can’t Take News Out of the Producer

Though it’s been more than three years since Amy Chiaro (left) left NBC’s ‘Weekend Today’ for the syndicated ‘Dr. Oz,’ she still creates a cold open in her mind of headlines for that day’s network morning shows — before she watches them.

“It’s a sickness that stays with you,” she says with a chuckle. “It was very, very hard for me to leave NBC.”

Chiaro, 39, says she has no regrets. Promoted in December to executive producer of ‘Dr. Oz,’ she oversees a staff of about 100. “I’m very happy here, and I plan to be here for a long time. When you’ve been part of something from the beginning, it’s different. Now, ‘talk’ is in my blood.”

Chiaro is just one of numerous veteran producers to leave the news business for daytime talk. Meghan Schaefer, an MSNBC staffer since it was called America’s Talking, joined Bethenny Frankel’s new fall show as co-EP. ABC’s Catherine McKenzie was named supervising producer of ‘The Queen Latifah Show,’ also set for fall.

Not to be forgotten, Jim Murphy, former boss of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “CBS Evening News,” departed news to launch Anderson Cooper’s talk show in Fall 2011. He left four months later. A few weeks ago, he joined CNN as senior EP of its new morning block.

The transition from news to talk can be tough, says Chiaro, who came to NBC out of Cornell in 1996. The week following her departure from the network, Capt. ‘Sully’ Sullenberger heroically landed US Airways Flight 1459 on the Hudson River, known as ‘The Miracle on the Hudson.’

“I couldn’t get to a TV fast enough,” Chiaro acknowledges. “’I thought, ‘Oh my God, what am I doing?’ It was a difficult transition. Nothing gets the creative juices flowing like being in the control room when there’s breaking news. That doesn’t leave you.”

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Soledad O’Brien: Jeff Zucker ‘Has Done Exactly What He Said He Would Do’

What a difference 48 hours can make.

Less than two days after Thursday’s announcement that Soledad O’Brien would leave CNN to start her own production company, she says she had already received four pitches for documentaries and other long-form programming.

“I’ll consider all pitches,” says O’Brien, 46, who will continue as anchor of ‘Starting Point’ until May or June. “’Excited’ is an overused word, but I’m excited to take this step.”

O’Brien’s Starfish Media Group, to launch in June, will produce three documentaries for CNN in 2014, including another of her ‘Black in America’ series. She is free to create content for other networks, platforms and partners.

She is also free to appear on the air elsewhere, but “odds of that in the near future are low,” she says. “They’re probably high in the far future.”

O’Brien’s departure had been expected since Jeff Zucker, her old boss at NBC’s ‘Today,’ was named president of CNN Worldwide on Nov. 29. He lured Chris Cuomo from ABC to anchor a revamped morning show; 7 p.m. anchor Erin Burnett is expected to join him.

O’Brien – dubbed ‘Cable TV’s New Morning Thunder’ by Newsweek – continues to sing Zucker’s praises. She predicts he’ll do great things at her soon-to-be alma mater.

“CNN absolutely, positively needed to be changed,” she says. “People outside and inside the building knew that. Jeff has done exactly what he said would do. For the people who are there, he’s going to be great. He brings a sense of focus and vision.”

Her frequent meetings with Zucker have been “very collegial,” in O’Brien’s words. “I like the guy. I Read more

Before the Smoke Clears, Covering the Conclave

In the best of times, covering the election of a new Pope is no picnic. When it follows the first Papal resignation in nearly 600 years, you might need a few ‘Hail Mary’s.’

“There are so many moving parts to the story, you can’t really cover it all,” says CBS’s Allen Pizzey, based in Rome since 1989. “Access is limited, and the Vatican is a very secretive organization.”

Says NBC/MSNBC’s Chris Jansing: “It’s not like we know that Obama or Romney is going to be elected. It all happens behind closed doors. This is a complicated organization at a very complicated time, when many are calling for change.”

Pizzey, 66, a “non-religious” Anglican from Canada, and Jansing, 56, a devout Catholic from Ohio, were both shocked when Pope Benedict XVI announced last week that he would step down Feb. 28, citing ill health. Pizzey and Jansing had covered his election in 2005.

“Never a dull moment in the Roman Catholic Church,” Jansing says. “The idea of a Pope resigning was stunning. Popes don’t resign. It used to be they got sick, and it didn’t take very long before they died.. .. This represents a sea change in the way we view the office.”

In retrospect, Pizzey says, “the signs were there, but we didn’t read the symbolism the way we should have.” Based on the information he has since gathered, the Pope “decided some time ago that if he couldn’t do the job the way it should be done, he didn’t want to do it.”

Pizzey labels the decision as “a lesson for a lot of CEOs.”

Adding to the story’s difficulty factor, neither Pizzey nor Jansing covers the Vatican as a full-time beat. He travels to hot spots throughout the world; she anchors her own weekday show on MSNBC and reports for NBC News.

Part-time Pope-ologists “will never infiltrate the machinations of the Vatican,” Pizzey explains. He gets intel from European journalists on full-time Vatican duty. “It’s a relatively collegial atmosphere,” he says. “Not like something you’d experience in the States.”

By church canon, the conclave to elect the next Pope is supposed to begin March 15 in Rome. Given that Benedict is still living, however, it may start earlier, according to the Vatican. A total of 117 cardinals from around the world will gather.

To Jansing, a lifelong Catholic, the Vatican holds special significance. (Her first visit “was extremely emotional,” she recalls.) In 2004, she arranged for her mother and her sister, who was

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What Kind of Anchorman Will Jake Tapper Be? ‘They Don’t Want Me to be Ron Burgundy’

Former ABC ace Jake Tapper, who debuted on CNN Tuesday, says that his being passed over — twice — as ‘This Week’ anchor was not the reason he left the network.

When ABC chose CNN’s Christiane Amanpour for ‘This Week’ in 2010, “obviously I had a degree of disappointment, “ Tapper says, “but it wasn’t as though they were putting Mario Lopez in there. Christiane’s a legend.”

Less than 18 months later, when George Stephanopoulos returned to ‘This Week’– again, no hard feelings, Tapper insists. “It’s George’s show. It was logical for him to want to do it. He’s also a journalistic legend.”

What did it for Tapper was his own weekday show at CNN, most likely to launch in March or April, in addition to being named Chief Washington Correspondent. New CNN Worldwide boss Jeff Zucker made the offer over breakfast last month at a secret undisclosed location in New York.

Tapper, in Philadelphia Thursday to promote his new book, ‘The Outpost: An Untold Story of American Valor,’ says he expects to take over the 4 p.m. hour currently occupied by Wolf Blitzer’s ‘Situation Room.’ Blitzer will be cut back to 5 to 7 p.m.

If all goes well, could this be a prelude to Tapper breaking into the prime-time lineup?

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Tension on the ‘Morning Joe’ Set

An open letter to Mika Brzezinski:

Dear Mika:

Consider this a friendly intervention.

As I watched your testy confrontation with Joe Scarborough last week on “Morning Joe,” three words kept going through my mind – it’s about time.

After more than five years of silently enduring your bellicose co-anchor’s condescension and almost pathological interrupting, you finally took him on instead of resorting to your passive arsenal of withering looks and audible sighs. Good for you.

Granted, calling Scarborough’s behavior “chauvinistic” doesn’t carry the same firepower as, say, “Back off, bitch!” but it’s a start. You’re finally acknowledging that dirty looks and long sighs don’t work with a narcissistic bully, no matter how many times he promises never to do it again.

Which is exactly what Scarborough did yesterday, apologizing to you on the air for his dismissive, finger-snapping response to your absurdly tame remark, made during a heated discussion of Obama’s virtually all-male, second-term Cabinet nominees.

In his mea culpa, Scarborough said he had gone “to a dark place,” and that you “didn’t deserve it.” As one of his New Year’s resolutions, he said, “I’m not going to do that ever again.” He also resolved to interrupt you less. (Have you started an office pool yet?)

Channeling an abused wife, you told him everything was copacetic. Snapping your fingers was a nice touch, though. “Let’s do the news,” you said. And that was that.

Or is it?

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Losing in the Ratings, Soledad O’Brien Longs ‘To Be On a Team that Strategizes How to Win’

Safe to say CNN’s Soledad O’Brien is excited about her new boss.

When she heard that Jeff Zucker — also her old boss — had been named president of CNN Worldwide, “I thought, ‘Yes!,’” O’Brien says. “He knows news. He knows winning. He knows morning TV.”

That’s the ultimate trifecta for O’Brien, whose struggling morning show, ‘Starting Point,’ sometimes loses to HLN, and always loses to Fox News and MSNBC. Before she joined CNN in 2003, O’Brien worked under Zucker at NBC as he lit the spark on ‘Today’s’ 16-year winning streak.

“To me, Jeff Zucker is synonymous with winning,” she says. “He’s an incredible news executive. I want to be on a team that strategizes how to win. It’s great to have a leader… I’m thrilled.”

Conventional wisdom is that ‘Starting Point’ will be Job 1 for Zucker when he takes over next month. Mornings can be huge profit centers for networks, as evidenced by ‘Today,’ and CNN has yet to reap that kind of bounty.

O’Brien, at Philadelphia’s Drexel University last week to host an advance screening of her Sunday documentary, ‘Who is Black in America?’, says she’s frustrated by the ratings. Still, “we’ve been able to place our little show on the map in all the journalistically solid ways.”

It hasn’t been easy, according to CNN insiders. Since O’Brien returned to mornings about a year ago as solo anchor, the network has put “very little thought, resources, creativity or marketing” into the show, according to a veteran producer, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“We get a lot of support, from some angles,” O’Brien counters. “Morning TV is about habits. What you really need is for viewers to find you, get comfortable with you, make you part of their mornings. If you can make news, deliver things they value, you can be successful.”

O’Brien’s take-no-prisoners interview style, most notably with Mitt Romney and his campaign advisers and ex-New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, led Newsweek to anoint her as ‘Cable TV’s New Morning Thunder.’

She takes it as a compliment. “I think we’ve done a really good job on our show creating noise and creating news. We’re forcing people to explain what they mean, to stick to the facts, even when they tell me they don’t care about facts, and that’s a quote” from a September interview with Rep. Peter King (R., NY).

O’Brien is equally passionate about her documentary series “Who is Black in America?” The fifth installment debuts tonight at 8pmET/PT.

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CNNers Past and Present Think Jeff Zucker is Just What the Network Needs

Former CNN president Jonathan Klein began hearing tales about “whiz kid” Jeff Zucker in the late ‘80s. It was a family thing.

Zucker’s mother was a teacher at Miami’s New World School of the Arts. Klein’s father, former principal of New York’s famed LaGuardia High School of Music and the Arts, was New World’s founding provost. The two became good friends.

At the time, Jonathan Klein discounted the Zucker stories as “the exaggerations of a Jewish mother,” he recalls. “I heard about this amazing kid and all his successes. When I finally met him, he turned out to be more amazing than even his publicist — his mother — had said.”

Zucker, 47, named last week as president of CNN Worldwide, will need plenty of “amazing” to turn things around at its foundering flagship network, CNN/U.S. But if anyone can do it, he can, according to Klein and numerous others.

“Jeff would live in a control room if he could,” says Klein (left), who’s launching another digital media company and has sold “a few” TV pilots.

“The staff is ecstatic to have a real news guy, a Hall of Famer in the news business, to run things,” Klein adds. “It really craves his brand of bold, dynamic leadership. He’s sure to bring a fresh perspective.”

According to several CNN employees – none of whom would speak for attribution – the beleaguered New York staff is practically counting the minutes until Zucker takes over next month. In a CNN first, he will be based out of New York instead of Atlanta – another plus, they say.

“I’m thrilled,” says a veteran on-air talent. “The place has obviously been drifting – no progress, no vision, no fixing of mistakes. It’s always great to be there for big breaking stories, but on a day-by-day basis, we’re getting slaughtered.”

A longtime CNN producer says the staff has been demoralized by a series of leaders with inadequate TV skills . “A lot of people in charge haven’t had the resume to do the job. They talk big, but they don’t have the capacity to deliver. It’s been mystifying how unqualified people have been hired, over and over again.

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