Eric Nies Covers the Real World … Titanic Floats, Katherine Harris Sinks … Another American Tragedy Mistake

Eric Nies is a fledgling news reporter for WNYW Fox 5, the Fox news affiliate in New York City. Before becoming a TV journalist, Mr. Nies starred in the inaugural edition of The Real World on MTV. He was the male model, the housemate the ladies loved. Later, Mr. Nies hosted a dance show on MTV called The Grind . Then he tried some acting, and he made a commercial for Starburst fruit chews. Along the way, he also invented an abdominal exercise machine called the Abaratus.

Mr. Nies is a likeable guy, and he would probably be the first to tell you that he isn’t Dan Rather. But it’s safe to say that Mr. Rather is no Eric Nies, either. Like, how many abdominal exercise machines has Dan Rather invented?

“I’m not really sure if I want to be a news reporter,” the 29-year-old Mr. Nies admitted the other day over lunch at Spring Street Natural in Soho. “I don’t know if that’s what my gig is, but I’m testing it out.”

Mr. Nies’ face was scruffy, and he wore a faded olive T-shirt with a white long-sleeved shirt underneath. As he talked, he picked at a plate of mixed vegetables with seitan, which is some kind of tofu-like protein product. Mr. Nies is a health and fitness fanatic. In fact, he said he was approached about the Fox 5 job one day while he was working out at his gym.

“Two producers who work for Fox news were also in the gym, and as I was walking out one day, one of them said to me, ‘Hey, I’m so-and-so and this is what we do, and we’ve seen you before and we know you have done this and would you be interested in coming in and doing it?'” Mr. Nies recalled. “I was like, ‘I’ll check it out.’ Why not?”

So far, Mr. Nies has done four stories for Fox 5. Three of them have been about The Street , a new TV show that the Fox broadcasting network airs on Wednesday nights. The other story was about the recreational use of Viagra. During that segment, Mr. Nies talked to drug users and drug dealers and those kinds of people. He was also identified on the screen as “Eric Nise.”

Mr. Nies said that being a TV reporter has been fun. So far, he hasn’t had to do much of the research for his stories. “See, what happens is this,” Mr. Nies began. “If you’re like, Ted Koppel or Dan Rather, you do your own research on your own stories. Those [guys] are like, monsters. But if you are just a regular news reporter, there are producers who go out and research these stories and they attach you to them, because you can feed that information to the public better than they can, or you look better doing it, or whatever the case is.”

Mr. Nies isn’t sure what his next story will be. He said he pitched a story about ocean dumping, and his bosses at Fox were into that. He wants to do his own research for that one. But Mr. Nies said they also wanted him to do a story about a company that does advertising on the sides of cars. He wasn’t so into that idea. “The whole city is a billboard,” he said. “If they were advertising health and fitness and good food and stuff like that, then maybe I would do it.”

Even though his background is in the entertainment industry, Mr. Nies said he hasn’t had a lot of trouble adjusting to the television news business. He credited this to the fact that he’s “real.”

“I don’t try to be anything else other than who I am,” Mr. Nies said. “Fortunately, I’m a Gemini, and I have multiple personalities inside of me, so it’s not hard for me to adapt to a different situation. I can sit in a room with a bunch of news reporters and fit right in. Or I can sit in a room with a whole bunch of athletes and fit right into their conversation. I feel like I can do that with just life in general. I feel like I can walk into Africa and sit down with a tribe of Africans and be able to relate to their way of living. And, for the same part, Indians-for anybody.”

Mr. Nies said he has gained this kind of perspective through his ups and downs in showbiz. He was just a 20-year-old kid from Long Island when The Real World made him an overnight star. Then he got to host The Grind , which was kind of like MTV’s version of Soul Train . Mr. Nies also did a series of Grind workout videos, one of which sold over a million copies, he said. For a brief time, Mr. Nies was huge, like Carson Daly. Life was good.

Then life wasn’t so good. After three seasons of The Grind , MTV and Mr. Nies parted ways. Mr. Nies thought about quitting showbiz altogether. He went snowboarding for a month. But then he moved to L.A. and tried his hand at acting. He got a couple of cameo roles in movies; one in The Brady Bunch Movie and the other in Above the Rim . He got that Starburst ad. But Mr. Nies didn’t really dig acting or L.A. So he moved back to New York.

Since then, Mr. Nies has done all sorts of stuff. He’s co-hosting a weird boxing show called Thunderbox , which is kind of like boxing meets W.W.F. wrestling. There are plans for him to host a talk show on the Web site Eyada.com. And now, of course, he works for Fox 5 news, too.

But Mr. Nies’ biggest passion remains health and fitness. “The most serious thing that I have ever been involved with are my workout videos,” Mr. Nies said. “Because that changes people’s lives.” Mr. Nies was on the Queen Latifah Show recently with a bunch of obese children. He said he is now working with an 11-year-old girl who weighs 220 pounds, trying to help her get into better shape.

Mr. Nies now believes his main purpose in life is to help people lead healthier, happier lives. “Did you see Patch Adams ?” he asked. “That movie really, really touched me. When he went in there and he was talking about how everybody is a doctor, because we all are capable of healing each other. It doesn’t mean that I can cut into you and fix your muscle and your bone, but I can emotionally say things to you and guide you in a certain direction to make your life more pleasant.”

To help achieve these results, Mr. Nies also sells the Abaratus, a contraption with elastic straps that can be fastened to a door. It costs $39.99. “You can take it on the road with you, use it at home, there’s no excuse,” Mr. Nies said. “It weighs a pound, you can put it in your briefcase, you can take it to work, you can do upper body, lower body, abdominals. All kinds of stuff. It’s great.”

The hardest thing about the Abaratus, Mr. Nies said, is getting people to buy it. “My sales aren’t great,” he said. “I did Donny & Marie , and when I did that show, we sold over 800 pieces, which was great. But there are like five or seven million people that watch it, so it’s not that great. But seven million people saw it, so, you know, the more awareness you get….”

Mr. Nies is confident that sales will pick up after his new Abaratus infomercial premieres this Friday, Dec. 1. He also has a new line of “freestyle jump-roping” videos coming out. “It’s just jumping rope, adding all different kinds of variations of jumps and twists and crosses in and out of the rope,” Mr. Nies said. “I jumped this morning for about 50 minutes. Incredible. Great workout.”

Even at his relatively young age, Mr. Nies sounded fairly contemplative about the ebb and flow of fame and the entertainment business. He’s not the first MTV star to have to re-adjust after leaving the network, he noted. And he’s been able to deal with it. “It’s my understanding of the universe,” Mr. Nies explained. “The ocean changes. The weather changes. The cloud patterns change. We’re constantly changing. And you just have to accept that that exists. If you’re not O.K. with change, then you have a big problem.”

Mr. Nies was asked if he had any idols.

“Nobody,” he said. He seemed kind of sad. “Not really. It used to be athletes. But now, I look at guys like … who’s that guy with no hair and the beard … Andrew …?”

Dr. Andrew Weil?

“Yeah, that guy’s great! I love that guy.”

Mr. Nies said he also respected Oprah Winfrey, Montel Williams and his Mom. He also looks up to a meditation and martial- arts instructor in San Jose, Calif., whom he referred to as his “Grand Master.” “He’s like my guru, I guess,” Mr. Nies said.

Mr. Nies also mentioned that he and his older brother, John-a former punter in the National Football League-are developing their own TV show, though he was circumspect about the details. Mr. Nies did reveal that the TV show was part of a multifaceted philosophy for healthy living that he and his brother have developed. The name of the philosophy: “Living Nice.” The name is a play on their last name, Nies, he said.

And for now, there is Fox 5. Mr. Nies said his turn into TV news has been a positive experience thus far. When he went home for Thanksgiving, his old buddies from high school teased him about being on the news. The first night he was on the air, the phone at his apartment in Little Italy rang off the hook.

But Mr. Nies isn’t sure if TV news is a destination, or another stop on his personal showbiz odyssey.

“I kind of just sit back and wait to see what comes,” Mr. Nies said. “Walking through the gym, I’m on Fox. Hanging out, somebody calls with a great idea for a workout video, we do a jump rope video. I’ve never been someone to plan my career, and I’ve never really been in control of it. The Real World and MTV and all that stuff kind of happened . I didn’t plan it.”

Tonight, the Fox 5 News at Ten . [FOX, 5, 10 p.m.]

Thursday, Nov. 30

“Rose!”

“Jack!”

“Rose!”

“Jack!”

“Katherine! Where’s Katherine?”

“Dubya? Someone find Dubya!”

New York viewers who tuned into Titanic on NBC on Sunday night, Nov. 26, may have been surprised that the network didn’t break in for live coverage when Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris certified the Presidential vote in her state. Nor did NBC break from its sinking epic later, when Governor George W. Bush delivered his Madame Tussaud–style pseudo-victory speech.

NBC apparently did provide live coverage of both events, giving its affiliates the option of going to Florida or sticking with Titanic and waiting for Tom Brokaw to deliver updates during breaks in the film. Here on the East Coast, most stations chose not to abandon ship.

That decision was striking, because every other major broadcast network did provide live coverage of the events from Florida. ABC, CBS and even Fox covered Ms. Harris’ surreal certification announcement. Fox’s coverage was particularly notable, in that earlier this year the network had blown off coverage of the first Presidential debate to show the premiere episode of Dark Angel , and also because Sunday night is a big prime-time territory ( Simpsons, X-Files ) for Fox. (Fox did cave to its schedule later in the night; only ABC and CBS carried Dubya’s speech live.)

But NBC seemed comfortable with its decision. “NBC updated our movie audience throughout the night by breaking in with special reports with both Secretary Harris and Senator [Joe] Lieberman, and again for Gov. Bush, while keeping the movie intact,” a network spokesperson said.

Hear, hear. You wouldn’t want something like the potential resolution of the closest Presidential election in history to spoil the dramatic arc of a movie about a ship that everyone over the age of 3 knows sinks in the end.

By the way, Titanic kicked butt in the ratings. What? You thought this story had a happy ending? Tonight on NBC, more vapid postmodern musings from the pleasingly apolitical Friends . [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]

Friday, Dec. 1

More grumbling from filmmaker and author Lawrence Schiller about the marketing of his CBS O.J. Simpson miniseries, American Tragedy : Mr. Schiller was bummed to see that a national magazine advertisement for American Tragedy featured not one, but two major spelling errors.

The American Tragedy ad, which ran in the November 2000 edition of George magazine, read: “THE TRIAL OF THE CENTURY. THE DREAM TEAM. THE BEHIND-THE-SCENES STORY O.J. SIMPSON DOESN’T WANT YOU TO SEE.” (As NYTV told you last week, that last line ticked off Mr. Schiller and American Tragedy script writer Norman Mailer, too.) Then the ad refers to defense attorney Johnnie Cochran as “Johnny,” his lawyer colleague Barry Scheck as “Barry Sheck.”

Yeesh. In the advertising business, such mistakes are not dismissed as technicalities. Tonight on CBS, Elton John sings his greatest hits live for one night only, in a special entitled, Elton John: Greatest Hits Live! One Night Only . [WCBS, 2, 10 p.m.]

Saturday, Dec. 2

Here’s how the Dec. 2-8 edition of TV Guide describes tonight’s airing of Frosty the Snowman : “The story of the man of snow.” Oh, you pithy TV Guide , you. [WCBS, 2, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, Dec. 3

The transmogrification of Christina Aguilera into Celine Dion is complete. Tonight, the waifish belter hosts her very own holiday prime-time television special, entitled Christina Aguilera: My Reflection. [WABC, 7, 8 p.m.]

Monday, Dec. 4

Ally McBeal . The show that made Palm Springs’ Merv Griffin Resort hip again. [FOX, 5, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, Dec. 5

Creepy New York magician David Blaine spent two days last week surrounded by a thick block of ice. You spend your night surrounded by a thick block of The Facts of Life . [NICK, 6, 10 p.m.]