Ernie Anastos: ‘Channel 2 Is Good’ … Norman Mailer Does Street Time

Wednesday, Jan. 17

Ernie Anastos is a TV news anchor. This is hard to miss. Just take a look at the guy! Mr. Anastos has perfect hair and perfect teeth. He wears fine suits, fine shirts and silver cufflinks the size of Volkswagens. He has a firm handshake, a confident gait and a silky but authoritative voice. It’s the kind of voice you want to hear when you turn on the TV to find out about, you know, a fire .

Mr. Anastos is a TV news anchor of some repute here in New York. He has worked for WABC, WCBS and WWOR, among other stations. He has won a lot of Emmys and had his photo plastered on a lot of buses. Now he is back at WCBS. This is what Mr. Anastos had to say about it: “It’s great to be back.” Actually, he said more than that, but that was the basic idea.

WCBS 2 has changed since Mr. Anastos last worked there, back in 1995. A lot of people he worked with are gone. Some people left because they wanted to. Some people left because other people wanted them to. Today they do the news in a fancy windowed studio on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, so regular people can press their lips against the windows and wave and stuff.

Mr. Anastos knows why he is back at WCBS. He is back to boost ratings. In recent years, CBS 2 News has not had good ratings. How bad were they? Well, you know that show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire ? Let’s just say the WCBS News had lower ratings.

So Mr. Anastos is supposed to change that. The idea is that he’s a popular guy, since he’s been on TV for a long time. “I’m here as sort of the–and please take this the right way–as sort of the father image, coming back and saying everything is O.K., and we’re going to work on this thing together and allow people to come back and see that this is good,” Mr. Anastos said in an interview in a conference room at the WCBS studios. “Channel 2 is good.”

At this point, it’s hard to tell what kind of impact Mr. Anastos is having. So far, the ratings aren’t great. In fact, they’re about the same as they were before. Mr. Anastos knows that a lot is expected of him. “I know what’s involved,” he said. “Do I feel the pressure? To a certain extent, I do.”

Another intrigue is how Mr. Anastos will fit into the “new” WCBS. The station’s new news director is a guy named Joel Cheatwood. Mr. Cheatwood has a bit of a reputation in the local TV news business, thanks to his flashy style and taste for flashy news. Jerry Springer once worked on a TV news show Mr. Cheatwood ran in Chicago. (Mr. Cheatwood has said that Mr. Springer wasn’t his idea.)

Mr. Anastos didn’t sound scared. “When you talk about controversy and individuals, there’s a line that says, ‘If you don’t want people to talk about you, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing,'” he said. “Joel has gone there. Joel has put his feet right in and said, ‘Look, this is what I do, this is what I am, I’m going to try. Some things may not work. Others hopefully will work.’ I give him credit for that.”

CBS 2 News has gotten a little flashier, that’s for sure. There are modern graphics and new music and new faces. There is a new news-gathering system with a really uncatchy name–the CBS 2 Information Network–in which WCBS has partnerships with places like VH1 and Court TV and Hollywood.com.

And now there is Ernie Anastos. Mr. Anastos said he has spent a lot of his time in recent weeks talking to regular people about his new job. “I like going out and meeting the public,” he said. “I [do] something that was my own idea, and that’s to go out–on the street–and shake hands with people, let them know that I am here, listen to them to hear what they have to tell me about the television station …. I think that’s important.”

TV news people can be funny like that. Like, it’s a giant deal that he went out and talked to people on the street.

But people love Mr. Anastos. He said that when he went out and talked to people, he did as many as 150 autographs. The Daily News once did a poll and found that Mr. Anastos, a Greek-American, has his autographed photo in more eateries in New York City than any other person. “He is absolutely an icon in this market,” Mr. Cheatwood said. “He is somebody who … has a credibility level and acceptance of viewers that is only achieved through that sort of longevity and quality of reporting.”

And Mr. Anastos is a capital-P positive guy. That’s pretty rare for TV news, which can be a tough, cynical business. Maybe it’s because Mr. Anastos has seen it all. Maybe it’s because he’s got a life outside of the newsroom (Mr. Anastos is a mini-media mogul himself, owning a handful of radio stations and a newspaper in the Albany area). Colleagues swear this positivity is not phony. Said Mr. Cheatwood: “It’s incredible to watch him walk into a newsroom and just lift the overall mood and attitude by 50 percent …. He’s kind of this great unifier.”

Indeed, Mr. Anastos believes that one of his responsibilities as an anchor is to boost morale at his station. He said he considers himself a cheerleader. “I’ll bring in doughnuts a couple times a week, ice cream, ice-cream bars,” he said. “I do that.”

And Mr. Anastos has also been known to get his boogie down. He recently had the control room crank Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5″ to get people in an upbeat mood. “When I was over at Channel 7, we used to have a thing called a ‘Disco Moment,'” Mr. Anastos said. “In the middle of an evening when we were doing our work, I would have a radio in the newsroom and I would just turn it up and the music would come on, some rock ‘n’ roll or something, and we would just sing a few lyrics. Sometimes I would even get up on top of a table and dance.”

No way, Ernie.

“Yup!” Mr. Anastos said. “In a positive way.”

Tonight catch the CBS 2 News at 11 p.m. [WCBS, 2, 11 p.m.]

Thursday, Jan. 18

I got your close-up right here, Mr. DeMille! Tough guy Norman Mailer, the writer of choice for paroled murderers, is playing an ex-con in a test pilot for Showtime called Street Time .

The truculent writer and journalist plays Saul (Two Canes) Cahan, a Jewish wise guy back on the streets after 27 years in jail. Upon Saul’s release, he is assigned a parole officer–a part played by Mr. Mailer’s son Stephen, an actor in such films as Ride with the Devil .

Street Time producer Rachel Grady said that the Mailers got involved in the project because of director Richard ( Slam ) Stratton, a longtime family friend and an ex-con himself. “They are old, old friends,” Ms. Grady said.

The pilot, which was filmed last October in the U.S. Probation Department in Brooklyn, features a cast that includes a number of actual parolees and probation officers–including Larry Goldman, a senior federal probation and parole officer in the government’s special offenders unit.

Asked what it was like to work with the elder Mr. Mailer, Mr. Goldman said, “Well, it was intimidating. And interesting. He really has an aura about him. I mean, here’s a man that has a very established career–I think he’s written a few plays and books–and so it was an honor.”

Was Mr. Mailer’s performance convincing? “Yeah,” Mr. Goldman said. “He has a certain rough kind of look about him–his voice, his mannerisms. He doesn’t have the Italian thing to him, but he could pull it off.”

Not surprising, considering Mr. Mailer’s tough-guy act hasn’t always been an act, noted Ms. Grady. “Norman has had his own run-ins with the police,” she said. “But he’s a sweetheart now and he walks with two canes.”

Tonight on Showtime, The Mod Squad , the film that marked the end of the nation’s Claire Danes fixation. [SHO, 48, 10:30 p.m.]

–Elisabeth Franck

Friday, Jan. 19

VH1’s 100 Greatest Albums of Rock & Roll this evening features albums 60 through 41. No, it does not include Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars by Edie Brickell & New Bohemians, which is still on heavy rotation in your friend’s Brooklyn apartment. [VH1, 19, 8 p.m.]

Saturday, Jan. 20

Tonight is the rebroadcast of the two-hour premiere of A&E’s 100 Centre Street , the New York City-filmed crime drama directed by Sidney Lumet. [A&E, 16, 10 p.m.]

Sunday, Jan. 21

Harvey Weinstein and his Miramax posse ( All the Pretty Horses , Chocolat ) warm chairs at tonight’s Golden Globe Awards . [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]

Monday, Jan. 22

Trying to ward off Survivor II , NBC announced it will tack an extra 10 minutes onto future episodes of Friends . Inspired, CBS announced it will remove 20 minutes from future episodes of Yes, Dear . [WCBS, 2, 8:30 p.m.]

Tuesday, Jan. 23

Tonight, the seamy Biography digs up poor old Bob Crane of Hogan’s Heroes . [A&E, 16, 8 p.m.]