Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia on June 6, 1976 · Page 83
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Sunday Gazette-Mail from Charleston, West Virginia · Page 83

Charleston, West Virginia
Issue Date:
Sunday, June 6, 1976
Page 83
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Page 83 article text (OCR)

Star-selling practice bothers NBC News head By Jay Sharbutt A I' Television Writer NEW YORK-As head of NBC News, Richard C. Wald does a lot of worrying. Much of it nowadays involves the future of the 24 ! /2-year- old "Today" show, which his division runs. His prime "Today" problem is choosing a replacement for Barbara Walters, who left NBC after Friday's June 4 show to join ABC for a reported, much-publicized, much-criticized $1 million-a-year, five-year stipend. But he has two other biggies to worry about. One is persuading NBC it may be time for the continuing "Today'' stars--newsman-host Jim Hartz. arts critic Gene Shalit and newscaster Lew Wood--to cease their oft-cricized reading of commercials on the show. The other is to figure ways for "Today" to recover from the ratings decline, a decline the A.C. Nielsen Co. says works out to 800,000 fewer households of viewers watching the show than did a yeai ago. Big worries, but Wald appeared to be bearing them well during ar interview at his fifth-floor office- it has three color TV sets mounted on the wall--at the NBC works here in beautiful midtown Manhattan. For example, he just grinned when asked about reports Miss Walters, who among other things will co-anchor the "ABC Evening News," left NBC partly because it wouldn't let her do that on the "NBC Nightly News." "I've been asked about 3,000 questions by about 150 persons concerning the various points involved in Barbara's departure," he said, "and I've adopted what I liked to think of as the Coue answer." Coue, neighbors, is the last name of a French psychotherapist who advised those with the blues to tell themselves, "Each day, and in every way I am getting better and better." Wald's version: "I am delighted we're having a pleasant, amicable parting and I look forward to all the opportunities we now have for the Today' program. I'm sure Barbara will be relatively happy where she goes. "I wish her a modest amount of success. I'm glad that they (ABC) decided NBC is a repository of treasures for them. It's flattering for us. "But as far as all that hoo-hah is concerned"--he referred to the uproar about the high-priced NBC and ABC negotiations for Miss Walters' future services--"I've said all I'm going to say about it. "I'm not even going to write about it in my memoirs." It's futile now to ask him who will replace Miss Walters. He hasn't signed anyone yet and still is considering contenders he won't identify. For him to name a prime candidate before a contract is signed might cause an awful thing to happen, namely an agent doubling the candidate's previous asking price. Still, the rumor mill has emitted so many star names, Wald was reminded, it seems that only Catherine the Great isn't in the running. "I wouldn't be so sure about that," he warned with a straight face. However, he did say that Betty Furness, first known in TV for praising Westinghouse refrigerators and now a consumer affairs specialist for NBC-owned WNBC- TV here, probably will be a temporary "Today" member. He was asked if other women also will fill in on a temporary basis, in effect trying out for the job in the way several top NBC newsmen did after the death of "Today" co-host Frank McGee in April 1974. "I would prefer not," the NBC News chief said. He was asked when word of a permanent Walters' replacement would come. "There'll be a p u f f of white smoke," he quipped, alluding to the traditional puff of white smoke that comes from a stack atop the Vatican in Rome when cardinals of the Roman Cathlic Church elect a new Pope. Wald, a one-time religion editor and later the last managing editor of the New York Herald Tribune, which folded in 1966, said he seriously doesn't know when he'll in- Richard C. Wald. stall the next Barbara Walters on "Today." "I'm not under enormous pressure to make changes right away," he insisted. "We're blessed with a good staff and I'm not pressed for an answer except by newsoaoer Right now, he said, a prime structural change he's trying to make in the show is an end to the reading of commercials by its principals. The practice of having "Today" stars ware-hawking on the same show they serve as journalists is a holdover from the days the program was run by NBC's entertainment division, not NBC News. Critics of the practice contend it lessens the credibility of the show's stars as journalists. They're quick to point out that no other NBC News journalists are allowed to do commercials anywhere. In a 1973 interview, Stu Schulberg, e x e c u t i v e p r o d u c e r of "Today," defended the ware-hawking as necessary to draw in the advertising money that sustains the show's quality and the timeliness of its news segments. He said that when NBC's John Chancellor hosted "Today" in 1961-62, the newsman refused to do any commercials and the sponsors--who like a star selling their products--fled in droves. Wald says the star-selling practice always has bothered him. He Hydro-Jet Steam Cleaning Gets Deep Down Dirt Out! SPECIAL- arpeted Living Dining Areas STEAM CLEANED said he tried to have it ended in 1974, when Frank McGee died and Hartz joined the show, "but it didn't work out for 99 different reasons." The main one was potential loss of advertiser revenue, he said, but there was another factor: "By and large, the principals of the program"--Miss Walters, arts critic Shalit and the then-newscaster, Frank Blair--"were interested in doing commercials. "They didn't feel it was a bad thing or a terrible thing, except for Frank, who didn't like doing commercials, but was willing to accept it." Wald said none of them was directly paid by sponsors whose products they touted, nor are "Today" stars of the present paid that way. "They're getting paid by us, NBC News, but the money is a little bit better if you're doing commercials," he said. He didn't say how much better. "But everyone has always been sensible about this, knowing that by doing commercials on 'Today' you help the entire news division," he added, meaning the sponsor money NBC News derives from the show. "Today" costs more than $100,000 a week to produce. NBC declines to say how much the show brings in in revenue, but industry sources say it is in excess of $190,000 weekly. Wald says now that Miss Walters is leaving the two-hour show, he's renewing his efforts to end what he calls "this hangover of the past," of the principals reading commer-; cials. Still, as a practical point, he says, "It'll require there be somebody on the program to do commercials because a lot of them are done live. And that means we'll need an additional person." An announcer, perchance, in addition to Miss Walters' successor? "I d o n ' t k n o w , " W a l d said. "That's just part of this business of 'how do you do that?' Do y° a ^ant to have just an announcer who comes on the show and does commercials? "Do you want to have a role in the show for the person who does commercials? There are things a person who does commercials can do without impinging on the news qualities of the program." He said none of this has been re- Plisise turn to page I7ni fWWKMMKWfl 5 Are There \ YOUR HOME? _ I DON'T TAKE A CHANCE!, Call Us Now For A FREE INSPECTION! With No Obllgatlpnl r . PHONE 768-1322J 74 HOURS A DAY! ALFORD | WINDOWS ALUMINUM REPLACEMENT ALUMA SASH THERMOPANE SEALED If Let Us Do Your Dirty Work Nu-l.ife is just "hot it sounds like. 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