Maurice DuBois Keeps the Morning News Cool … Fashion Without the Fawning … Bob Costas Tackles the XFL

Wednesday, March 21

When the world comes to an end–when New York’s skyscrapers snap like breadsticks and tumble to the ground, when the avenues split and spew molten lava, when the rivers surge with blood–you are hereby instructed to watch the news of the apocalypse read by Maurice DuBois, the co-host of the Today in New York morning news on WNBC Channel 4.

There, you will find the 35-year-old Mr. DuBois–probably in his standard look of shirtsleeves and plain tie–huddled before his oblong microphone. He’ll be sweatless, collected. Rockefeller Center will be crumbling around him, but Mr. DuBois will be laa-aid back, like a golfer slurping G&T’s outside the pro shop on a steamy afternoon. The script might go something like this:

Good morning. The world is ending today. Judgment Day has come.

A pregnant pause, and then:

Alright then. It’s 55 degrees outside, sunny. Turning to sports, the Rangers handled the Penguins last night at the Garden.

O.K., maybe that’s exaggerating. Slightly. Maybe there will be a bead or two of sweat collecting on Mr. DuBois’ brow. Maybe he’ll be bouncing his knee just slightly under his desk. But Mr. DuBois is about as unruffled a TV personality as there is in this town. The guy puts the ” un- ” in “unfazed.” And in the super-caffeinated world of television news–especially morning news–that makes him something of a throwback, reminiscent of those stoic, old-timey anchors who cut their teeth on radio, sternly delivering body counts from the eastern front. Stuck in a shrill universe of half-crazed screamers and attention-seekers, Maurice DuBois represents the rebirth of local TV cool.

Oh, yeah: The ladies like him a lot .

So you’re going to be seeing more of him. Mr. DuBois is one of those guys whom TV people see strolling into a newsroom and immediately know he’s got It. They react to him the same way Broadway people react to the ingénue who can hit a high C and cry on cue. They know that sooner or later he’s going to be someplace else, someplace bigger.

“You notice his intelligence. You notice he’s attractive and handsome, his sex appeal,” said WNBC president Dennis Swanson.

But the thing is, Maurice DuBois is, for now, a reluctant contributor to that discussion. TV is an ego business, and a lot of anchors would, if given the option, lead the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. news with glowing, in-depth profiles of themselves. But getting Mr. DuBois to open up and wax about his style, his cool, is like trying to pry open a manhole cover with a pair of tweezers. Trust us: We tried on a recent morning, inside the anchor’s small, immaculately kept office at 30 Rock.

“There’s no act,” Mr. DuBois said of his low-pulse calm on-air. “That’s my demeanor. I have never been someone who is that demonstrative.

“I’m as anxious and intense and wound up as anybody on the inside,” Mr. DuBois continued. “Absolutely. But what you see might be experience and knowing that news is news and people have seen this before, we have been there before. Unless the world really is ending, unless there is an earthquake in New York City, this is a town where people have been there, done that, and it would be insulting to act like it isn’t.”

Mr. DuBois curled back in his chair and stretched his long legs. His hair was neat and trim, and he wore a navy tie and crisp blue shirt; even though his news duties had wrapped more than an hour ago, his top button was still buttoned. In person, he looks natural, and that’s saying something. A lot of TV people look kind of good on TV, and then you corner them in a well-lit room without six pounds of pancake makeup and a sheet of Aqua Net and– whew, Mister!

The son of immigrants from Dominica, a Caribbean island in the Windward chain, Mr. DuBois has had a fairly accelerated journey through the local TV wilderness to get to New York. He graduated from Northwestern University in 1988, got his first TV job working as a production assistant at a station in Seattle, then went to Sacramento, then on to New York in 1997. He was 31 years old.

Mr. DuBois was hired to do weekend mornings–kind of TV Siberia, but not bad for a relatively young guy. It didn’t last. A month into his stint, former WNBC news director Paula Madison called Mr. DuBois into her office and asked him how he was handling getting up early in the mornings. “Fine,” Mr. DuBois lied. (You never get used to that buzzer going off in the middle of the night, Mr. DuBois now admits.) “Good,” Mr. DuBois recalled Ms. Madison as saying, “because you’re going to be doing more of it.”

He’s been doing that for nearly four years. That might sound like a pretty long time stuck in the same job, but Mr. DuBois’ WNBC stint has coincided with two important, serendipitous developments: No. 1, the rise of NBC’s Today as perhaps the most powerful news show in television, and No. 2, the growing popularity of morning news in general. In an era where 24-hour cable coverage has all but obliterated the relevance of the evening network news, morning news–even at the local level–has gone from a half-assed afterthought to a critical audience and advertiser magnet. By extension, the personalities on morning news, like Mr. DuBois and his co-anchor, Jane Hanson, have become more valuable, more recognizable players.

Mr. DuBois doesn’t get caught up in that fuss. Sure, people stop him on the street from time to time. He doesn’t mind that, and he’s especially proud of the fact that kids look upon him as a role model. Yeah, yeah, he knows there are females in the tri-state area who harbor Jeter-esque crushes. “I embrace that,” he said. “The more, the merrier.” But he’s still Maurice who went to Port Jefferson High School, with a dad who worked in the payroll department at the Brookhaven lab and a mom who still calls to correct his posture or tell him to get more sleep. (“Sometimes I give him hints about his appearance,” said Ramona DuBois.)

And yes, he has a girlfriend. “One year,” Mr. DuBois said.

As for his future, Mr. DuBois was even more coy. Is he the next Matt Lauer? When he goes on the air in the morning, is he feeling the pressure of being local TV’s Next Big Thing?

“You’re asking me if I consider TV to be pressure,” Mr. DuBois said, slipping back into his comfortably chilled-out mode. “There’s nobody out there with a gun to my head. I’m not a cop in the line of fire. I’m not saving anybody’s life….

Ah, forget it. Today, tune in to the cucumber-cool Maurice DuBois and Ms. Hanson as they host Today in New York. Maybe the sky will fall–or the Nets will win two straight–and Mr. DuBois might get worked up a bit. [WNBC, 4, 5 a.m.]

Thursday, March 22

Stark raving tele-fashionista Judy Licht telephoned from her crib in Palm Beach ( berr-rry nice! ) to yap about her new deal to co-host a weekly fashion show on Metro, that perky, up-and-coming New York cable channel. “It’s raining like a son of a bitch here!” Ms. Licht carped.

Sounds like the suits at Metro (are there any suits at Metro?) were so enthralled by the network’s performance at the February Bryant Park shows–Ms. Licht and colleagues Robert Verdi, Christina Ha and Cynthia Garrett hosted a 24-7 Fash Week orgy called Full Frontal Fashion– that, like true television suits, they decided to squeeze that golden goose into a … weekly edition! The madness begins Sunday, April 15, at 8 p.m.

“You’re in for a lot of personality, a lot of opinion, a lot of informed attitude,” Ms. Licht promised.

Ms. Licht, of course, is personality and attitude writ large. Metro has also signed up another Defcon 1 ‘tude, Vogue editor-at-large André Leon Talley, to do regular segments. And a hot feature will be Mr. Verdi’s already popular man-on-the-street routine, “Where D’ya Get That?”, in which the retail refugee interrogates Manhattanites about their clothing.

Of course, this would not be a fashion story unless there was some kind of juicy competitive squabble, and the Metro gang is living up to its end of the deal by pooh-poohing the possible arrival of Fashion TV, the European network known overseas for playing runway shows over and over, like a Miuccia Prada WPIX Yule Log. Said Ms. Licht: “If you watched sex that much, you’d become a monk ! You’d become celibate ! There is too much of a good thing.”

Of course, Metro’s take on fashion tends to be less sycophantic–actually, it’s more like 10 cats skirmishing in a pillowcase–as Ms. Licht and Mr. Verdi, especially, have been known to tee off on the clothing world’s untouchables. “We don’t kiss a lot of ass,” Mr. Verdi said. “The reality is that people don’t want that in fashion.”

Mr. Verdi has obviously let his Elle subscription lapse, but he does have a point. People, even touchy fashion people, get tired of endless praise. “It’s excruciatingly dull!” Ms. Licht said. “It’s like a meal made up of five desserts. Initially it’s great, and then you want to vomit halfway through!”

So binge, purge and get ready for Full Frontal Fashion Weekly . Said Judy Licht: “It beats Joan Rivers and her daughter Jewish-princessing the Oscars!”

Tonight on Metro, boxing. Hey, let’s get Judy and Robert out there with Joan and Melissa! [METRO, 70, 8 p.m.]

Friday, March 23

That Bob Costas sure ginned up a lot of attention for his spanking-new HBO show On the Record last week, with his back-to-back, Murderer’s Row-style interviews of wrestling lunatic Vince McMahon and chair-throwing college-hoops legend Bob Knight. (Sadly, because of time constraints, General Augusto Pinochet got bumped and left the green room in a huff.)

Though the seemingly sedated Mr. Knight was on his best behavior, Mr. McMahon lived up to his hyperbolic image. The W.W.F. and XFL chieftain was his typical Buffoonasaurus self, menacingly wagging his finger and getting in Mr. Costas’ face after the host had the temerity to ask if legions of people chanting “Suck it!” (an old W.W.F. war cry, since retired) contributed to society’s coarsening. Mr. McMahon complained that Mr. Costas was “elitist.”

“I wish that I had said, ‘Since when does objecting to blatant vulgarity make someone an elitist?'” Mr. Costas said after the show, which was taped at the HBO studios on West 23rd Street. “Have we sunk so far that there is no difference between the outhouse and the ivory tower?”

True enough. But NYTV left the HBO studio that night feeling vaguely conflicted about the public grilling of Mr. McMahon. The W.W.F. chieftain may be a sleaze, but he’s a proven sleaze, as they say. Going after him for damaging the “prestige” of NBC with his XFL antics–a grievance to which Mr. Costas alluded during the interview–is like showering with an alligator and then complaining about the gashes in your ankles.

To paraphrase Forrest Gump , Vince McMahon is as Vince McMahon does. A far more compelling interview would have been a sit-down with NBC’s Bob Wright and Dick Ebersol, where they could have explained why they jumped into that icky bed with Mr. McMahon in the first place. But Mr. Costas can’t do that interview in clear conscience, of course, since he’s also employed by NBC. While an interview with Mr. McMahon doesn’t pose such a direct conflict–and Mr. Costas did steer relatively clear of injecting his personal opinions into the discussion–when you break it down, Mr. Costas is still asking Mr. McMahon if he’s brought disrepute upon the company that pays a lot of the bills at the Costas household.

Ah, the pitfalls of megamedia! Got to love it. This Wednesday, Mr. Costas navigates the comparatively smoother seas of Mark McGwire and Bruce Springsteen. Bruce Springsteen? Does anyone turn Mr. Costas down? (Next week: Sandy Koufax and the Loch Ness Monster!)

Tonight on HBO, the pre-Carrie Bradshaw Sarah Jessica Parker tries to avoid Bruce Willis, with minimal success, in Striking Distance [HBO, 32, 8 p.m.]

Saturday, March 24

Phil Mushnick grabs a notepad and counts erect cheerleader nipples in tonight’s NBC XFL contest. [WNBC, 4, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, March 25

Tonight, Hollywood hugs itself in the 73rd Academy Awards . [WABC, 7, 8:30 p.m.]

Monday, March 26

Last week, VH1 scheduled the Mamas & the Papas for this Behind the Music time slot, and poor John Phillips wound up croaking the day before. This week’s BTM is Lenny Kravitz. Stay at home, dude. [VH1, 19, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, March 27

Tonight, the premiere of What About Joan . Yeah, what about her? And while we’re at it, what about Craig Kilborn? [WABC, 7, 9:30 p.m.]