The Queen Steals the Crown (Lace, Indeed!) … Anderson Cooper Gets Some Sleep … Back to American High

Wednesday, Nov. 1

Two weeks ago, if someone had asked you what TV personality would end up scoring the most revelatory interview with Vice President Al Gore in the final moments of the 2000 Presidential campaign, you would have had some obvious choices. Ted Koppel. Tim Russert. Barbara Walters. Dan Rather.

Chances are you wouldn’t have picked Queen Latifah, the hip-hop artist turned daytime-talk-show host. But that’s who wound up getting the Vice President to sit down last week for one of his strangest and most news-making interviews of the campaign season. During the course of the hourlong session–to be broadcast today, Nov. 1–the Queen not only managed to get Mr. Gore to open up about the environment and arms control, she also got him to show a self-deprecating side and divulge the kind of personal anecdotes that have been generally absent in his wooden campaign appearances.

In case you miss it, Mr. Gore admitted to Queen Latifah (real name: Dana Owens) that he played drinking games as a student at Harvard. He told a wild tale of propelling down the Cambridge streets on a motorcycle tuxedo-clad with three additional passengers sandwiched aboard. He admitted to speeding occasionally. “I look back on those days, and I feel like I’m very lucky to have survived,” Mr. Gore said.

What’s more, the earth-tones-favoring Vice President also confessed to wearing a black leather vest back in his wild days of yore. And asked if he preferred leather or lace on a woman, Mr. Gore paused for a moment and said “lace.”

To be sure, this was silly stuff. Queen Latifah gave Mr. Gore a warm and fuzzy reception, and some of her questions to the candidate, like lace versus leather, were pretty goofy (and some of Mr. Gore’s answers clearly fell into the more-information-than-we-needed-to-hear category). In the annals of candidate interviews, the Queen and the Veep was more MTV than Edward R. Murrow. ( Washington Post columnist David Broder moaned about the Queen Latifah interview on Meet the Press , saying Mr. Gore shouldn’t have answered such un-Vice Presidential questions.)

But in a season where Joe Lieberman sings on Conan O’Brien and David Letterman gets credited with being the roughest interrogator of George W. Bush, it shouldn’t be that surprising that campaign news was made on a daytime talk show that tends to specialize in the problems of teens and young mothers. In an hour, Queen Latifah managed to accomplish what Mr. Gore’s highly paid handlers had struggled to do for more than a year: make their candidate human.

It certainly wasn’t surprising to the Queen herself. “I did my homework,” Queen Latifah said the other day from her dressing room after a taping of her show. “I wanted him to answer questions about relevant issues, and then I wanted to get the Queen Latifah version of Al Gore–you know, just the regular, kicked-back, down-to-earth version of who he is.”

Queen Latifah said that she and her staff had chased after Mr. Gore as a guest for several months. “We basically stalked him,” she said, laughing. But the interview came together rather quickly. The Vice President’s staff had an opening in his schedule during an Iowa campaign swing, so the Queen Latifah crew flew out to the Midwest and set up an impromptu studio at a local community college. “We were more than willing to accommodate him,” Queen Latifah said.

The Queen said she was impressed by the Vice President’s candor and didn’t feel that Mr. Gore said anything inappropriate. “We really, really fool ourselves to expect our politicians to be some kind of perfect superhuman beings,” she said. “It just doesn’t exist! Why are you shocked when your President gets into trouble? He probably always did, but you just didn’t want to hear about that when you elected him.”

And Queen Latifah also dismissed criticism that Mr. Gore’s answers weren’t “Vice Presidential.” Even his answer to the leather or lace question: “I mean, the guy is talking about his wife , you know what I mean?” Queen Latifah said.

Still, the Queen has her limits. For example, when Ralph Nader came on her show, she didn’t ask him whether he preferred leather or lace. “Nahhh. Nahhh. Nahh,” Queen Latifah said, laughing. “Not a question you think about with Ralph.”

Certainly not. Today, the Queen brings Mr. Gore to her court . Queen Latifah . [FOX, 5, noon.]

Thursday, Nov. 2

Every couple of years, a bunch of pointy-headed professorial types get together and tell us one of the biggest problems with modern-day Presidential elections is that we don’t offer free television air time to the candidates. That’s what the public needs , they say. That’s what the public wants .

Well, the Fox network stepped up and delivered the goods at 8 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 27, offering a full, unfiltered hour of free air time split between presentations by Al Gore and George W. Bush.

And what did the public say? Give us back our brainless police videos!

Fewer than three million people watched Fox’s You Decide special featuring Mr. Gore and Mr. Bush. That’s 4.7 million fewer people than the audience that watched the previous week’s episode of World’s Wildest Police Videos in the same time slot.

So what does that say about the American people? “I don’t think it says much,” said Andrew Butcher, a spokesman for News Corp. “Most people, in America or anywhere, they have a tendency to prefer entertainment to politics.” Mr. Butcher pointed out that when you break it down by individual networks, none of the Presidential debates scored a rating as high as a World Series game, or a fall premiere of a hit show.

Besides, Mr. Butcher said, Fox didn’t go into this free air time thing to try and boost its audience. Three million people may not be an impressive number for a prime-time network special, he said, but it’s not a small figure in a close Presidential race.

“We gave people the choices–we always try to–we promoted it heavily, ran it on the network and the [Fox] News Channel, and I guess that is all we can do,” Mr. Butcher said. “Give the free time, give it proper promotion, and then hope that the candidates are able to invigorate the voters in what they say.”

Now that’s some wishful thinking. Tonight on Fox, none of that lousy free air time business. Back to good old-fashioned Fox wackiness: Surprise Wedding , in which real-life girlfriends pop the question to their real-life, suddenly terrified boyfriends. [FOX, 5, 8 p.m.]

Friday, Nov. 3

Joel Cheatwood continues to shake things up over at WCBS. On Monday, Oct. 30, the recently arrived news director, known for his tastes in splashy graphics, splashy word play and splashy news, unveiled his biggest move to date: the CBS 2 Information Network.

Essentially, the Information Network is a collection of news-sharing relationships with a gaggle of providers, including VH1, CNN, Court TV, Office.com and the New York Daily News . These organizations will regularly supply CBS 2 with segments to be used in newscasts; there is no quota for how many of these segments will be used in each broadcast.

Mr. Cheatwood said these relationships will allow CBS 2 to deliver expanded coverage on everything from business to international news. “It really kind of mirrors the way people are gathering information these days,” Mr. Cheatwood said. “The days of kind of tuning into one specific channel every night at 6 p.m.–and that’s your full quota of information–are over.”

Mr. Cheatwood said the Information Network was not simply a way to save some bucks and scrap staff. “Does this replace the need for having your own reporters cover news? No, it really doesn’t. And there’s no intent to do that,” he said. “I think it expands our capability, allows us to use our own staff in a more specific and targeted way.”

Tonight, watch the CBS Information Network in all its glory on CBS 2 at Eleven . [WCBS, 2, 11 p.m.]

Saturday, Nov. 4

So, Anderson Cooper, what was it like to go into ABC News and tell people you were leaving the staid network news division to become the host of the reality-TV series The Mole ?

“We, if you know ABC News, you know that people don’t really speak to each other,” Mr. Cooper said. “No, I’m just kidding.”

Kidding or not, Mr. Cooper will be missed. Amid a sea of cookie-cutter personalities with puffy hair, he was something of an anomaly in network news. The personable, prematurely gray 33-year-old (and the son of Gloria Vanderbilt) was a co-host of ABC News’ World News Now , the wild stepchild of the ABC News division, which typically airs between 2 and 5 a.m. During his two-years-plus on the graveyard shift, Mr. Cooper, who previously worked as a reporter for the classroom network Channel One, developed something of a cult following for his offbeat, unassuming takes on national and world events, delivered in the dead of the night.

“When someone would come up to me on the street and tell me that they watch me, I was probably the only person who encouraged them not to watch my show,” Mr. Cooper said. “Because I knew if they were watching my show, they weren’t getting any good sleep.”

Even if the hours were rough, Mr. Cooper said he loved doing the overnight newscast, which embraced its outlaw hours with some youthful irreverence. Indeed, people tuning in to World News Now for the first time may have thought that a group of young punks had hijacked Peter Jennings’ set. “The upside is that you can say whatever you want–you can make fun of Disney, or whomever, and get away with it,” Mr. Cooper said of the newscast. “The downside is that no one within the company really seems to notice or care too much about it, so that’s sort of frustrating.”

Mr. Cooper said he decided to go out for The Mole after some colleagues at World News Now told him about ABC’s show, in which a group of contestants try to complete tasks despite the presence of a saboteur. He knew that if he got the job he would have to leave the news division–ABC News didn’t want an ethical stink like CBS had when Julie Chen hosted Big Brother . So when he got the Mole gig, he quit.

The majority of his ABC News colleagues were very supportive, Mr. Cooper said, and the transition from news to entertainment hasn’t been particularly hard.

“It may seem like a big career change, but frankly, it doesn’t feel like that to me, really,” Mr. Cooper said. “Working on a reality show is not at all that different from doing news magazine pieces. The level of reality is pretty much the same. That either speaks very well for reality shows or very poorly for network news shows. I’m not sure which.”

Tonight on ABC, the Radio Music Awards . That’s news and entertainment, mister. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, Nov. 5

In other reality-TV news, NBC has scrapped Chains of Love , its planned series in which a real-life woman was chained to four real-life men (or four women were chained to one man). In making its decision, the network cited differences with the show’s producers, Endemol, the Dutch makers of Big Brother , but didn’t elaborate much further.

It was probably the right call. As NYTV told you several months ago, major women’s organizations were pretty pessimistic when they heard about Chains of Love . So National Organization for Women vice president Loretta Kane was pleased to hear that NBC broke off the, er, Chain .

“Without seeing the show and how it was handled, it’s hard to be critical of something before it is released,” Ms. Kane said, “but I think it’s probably a wise decision, because it probably wouldn’t have been the sort of show that would have promoted good images of women, or good images of the relationships between women and men.”

Good imagery abounds on tonight’s long-awaited, reunion-style Growing Pains Movie . Say it three times fast: Kirk Cameron, Kirk Cameron, Kirk Cameron. [WABC, 7, 7 p.m.]

Monday, Nov. 6

Here’s a rare piece of good news from the cruel, cruel world of network television: PBS has swooped in and saved American High , the critically acclaimed documentary-style series about Illinois teenagers that Fox canceled after just four episodes this summer.

American High creator and Long Island native R.J. Cutler was thrilled that his show was picked up by the public broadcasting outfit. “I felt for me, it [PBS] was clearly going to be the best home,” he said.

PBS wasn’t the only one in the hunt. Mr. Cutler said there was interest in American High “across the cable box.” But PBS won out, and it plans to air American High in its entirely, starting next April, or perhaps waiting until fall 2001.

Meanwhile, Dick Wolf may soon be fighting to save his new show Deadline , which is getting pasted by Monday Night Football, Ally McBeal and Everybody Loves Raymond . [WNBC, 4, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, Nov. 7

Tonight, America elects a President. Confident of a Nader landslide, you elect to watch Gilligan’s Island . [NICK, 6, 9 p.m.]