Heavy Hitters Clear The Air at 60 Minutes …Who’s The Next Bryant? … VH1’s Magazine Fixation

Wednesday, April 10

What’s ticking at 60 Minutes ? Father Time hasn’t caught up yet with the most venerable news magazine in the TV business-34 years running, still as spry as Jack LaLanne-but internal rumors about the show’s future grew wild enough to trigger a recent, rare pow-wow between its on-air heavyweights and CBS News chief Andrew Heyward.

In late March, 60 Minutes correspondents Mike Wallace, Morley Safer, Ed Bradley and Lesley Stahl and the commentator Andy Rooney voyaged across West 57th Street to Mr. Heyward’s office for a meeting at the news president’s request (correspondent Steve Kroft was traveling and unable to attend). The reason for the get-together? Partly to address-and more important, knock down-swirling rumors that CBS had a timetable in place to make big changes to the program, which continues to be the No. 1 news magazine show on TV.

More broadly, said Mr. Safer, the meeting was an opportunity for 60 Minutes ‘ signature names to discuss the future of their program and the continued role of its longtime staffers, both on and off the air, with CBS’s top news executive.

“It was about all of us,” said Mr. Safer, who characterized the meeting with Mr. Heyward as “amicable.” “This is an old broadcast. I mean old in every respect, from the longevity of the broadcast to the longevity of the personnel. So we talked about the future in very vague terms. There were no demands made either way.”

That a network executive would meet with staffers from a news-magazine program to talk about the future is understandable. But the much-decorated 60 Minutes is often seen as a distinct, separate culture within CBS News, and such meetings of top network and program personnel are considered exceptional.

“We just don’t have meetings,” Mr. Safer said. “Which I think is one of the reasons for the relative success of the broadcast.”

At the same time, 60 Minutes ‘ future continues to be a subject of discussion within CBS, if only because its franchise players are, well, veterans . Mike Wallace is 83, and though he declined to comment for this story, the newsman recently told The New York Times that he intends to reduce his workload starting this fall. The Times said that Mr. Wallace’s announcement “effectively begins a slow and deliberate change of leadership” at 60 Minutes . Mr. Safer is 84, Mr. Rooney is 83, Mr. Bradley and Ms. Stahl are 60, and Mr. Kroft is a pink-cheeked 56. Don Hewitt, 60 Minutes ‘ creator and executive producer, is 79.

Mr. Wallace’s announcement about his workload reduction was said to be unrelated to the meeting with Mr. Heyward. Nor was Mr. Hewitt’s future a big topic during the meeting. “Don’s going to have a future at this program until Judgment Day,” said Mr. Safer.

Mr. Hewitt, who was not at the meeting, said he wasn’t going anywhere soon. “I have had an ideal relationship with CBS for more than a half century,” he said. “It seems to me that it’ll go on until they carry me out of there.”

Mr. Heyward declined to discuss details of the 60 Minutes meeting, but called it “a productive discussion with a valued group of colleagues.”

“We probably should do it more often,” he said.

Tonight on CBS, 60 Minutes II . Hey, where’s our meeting? [WCBS, 2, 7:00 p.m.]

Thursday, April 11

Most of America had two reactions to the April 4 news that Bryant Gumbel was resigning from the CBS Early Show . The first reaction, of course, was: Bryant Gumbel had a morning show on CBS? The second was: Who’s next?

Who knows? Meredith Vieira, Jim Nantz, Jack Ford, Tom Bergeron, John Roberts, Brian Williams, Bill Clinton, Michael Musto or maybe J. Fred Muggs-who, as more than one careful NYTV reader reminded us after we cruelly killed off the Today chimp in last week’s morning-tube diatribe, is still alive and well and slurping banana daiquiris in Florida.

For all the ragging the Early Show took in the press, Mr. Gumbel’s decision came at a relatively buoyant period in the show’s three-year history. Propelled by the plucky Survivor franchise, the Early Show dug itself out of a pretty deep grave. Ratings for the show are up 6 percent from last year, and while it still lagged far behind Today and Good Morning America , it wasn’t such a joke anymore.

But facing a contract renewal, Mr. Gumbel didn’t get the deal he wanted, so now it’s off to the lovely links. Early Show executive producer Steve Friedman said he was “surprised,” but not shocked that Mr. Gumbel decided to bail. “Any time contract negotiations start, anything can happen,” Mr. Friedman said.

Now he’s got to find a new co-host. Though Mr. Gumbel has not finalized his exit day, Mr. Friedman was enjoying the speculation about the host replacement-“People are paying attention to the show,” he said-but wants the process to move quickly.

“You could wait for Godot, and if Godot doesn’t come, that’s a mistake,” Mr. Friedman said, suddenly channeling Samuel Beckett. “On the other hand, you don’t want to jump to something if you’ve got a road to Godot.”

One option Mr. Friedman doesn’t like much is having a Stump Merrill–style interim co-anchor. “I’ll be disappointed if that’s what happens,” he said.

Mr. Friedman also empathized with Mr. Gumbel’s co-anchor Jane Clayson, who has also been subjected to replacement rumors. “The only thing we can all do is our best job, and whatever happens happens,” Mr. Friedman said. “Jane is doing a terrific job, and she’ll continue to do a terrific job, but she and everybody else knows that everything is on the table right now, and we’ll have to see how it all works out.

“As far as I know, no concrete decision has been made on anything except that Bryant is going,” Mr. Friedman continued. “Anything else is speculation. Speculate on-just mention the show.”

Alright, alright. Catch the fever on the CBS Early Show . [WCBS, 2, 7 a.m.]

Friday, April 12

Man, watching those wacky advertisements for CNN’s Crossfire is like watching your mum down a shot of Jägermeister at a family wedding and moonwalk across the dance floor. You’re psyched she’s having fun, but it sure takes some getting used to.

But this, apparently, is CNN these days: Tucker Carlson, Bob Novak, Paul Begala and James Carville strutting goofily around a ring in silk boxers’ robes, trying to hype the partisan gabfest. It’s designed to inject a little excitement into the show, of course, but it makes you wish Michael Kinsley was still on the thing, just to see him reveal his inner Sugar Ray.

Mr. Carlson said he was pleased with the spots. “It’s a little embarrassing to be called the ‘Bow-Tie Brawler,'” he said, referring to the moniker stitched to the back of his robe. “But in general, I like it. It’s pretty slick.”

Meanwhile, those gleeful first-place jokesters at Fox News have decided to re-hang that banner commemorating Turner Broadcasting chairman Jamie Kellner’s now-infamous quote from April 2001: “Give us six months to a year …. We’ll be well ahead of Fox.”

The banner, which was hung inside the Fox News newsroom on Sixth Avenue-and in front of which Roger Ailes posed for The New York Times Magazine -had been taken down after Sept. 11. A little too tacky post-terror, apparently.

But now it’s up again, with a new line from an April 7 piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution: “Second place isn’t bad, according to CNN executives.”

Said a CNN spokesperson: “They recently compared their morning show to The Three Stooges . Wonder which one of them hung the sign-Moe, Larry or Curly?” [CNN, 10, 7 p.m.]

Saturday, April 13

What’s the hot new depot for out-of-work journalists in New York City? Gotham ? Nope. VH1! The more-adult-than-MTV-but-totally-not-about-Bruce-Hornsby-anymore music network has now become Michael Hirschorn’s Home for Wayward Journalists.

Mr. Hirschorn, the former Spin editor who co-founded the fidgety Inside.com with Kurt Andersen in May 2000, joined VH1 in July 2001, not long after Inside’s merger ( cough, demise) with Brill’s Content . Mr. Hirschorn became head of the network’s news department-yes, VH1 has a news department-and since then has assembled a staff that looks like it should be cranking out a glossy magazine.

Jim Romenesko addicts currently roaming VH1’s halls include former Inside/ Brill’s staff members Stephen Totilo, Joseph Gomes and Jeca Taudte; former Rolling Stone writer Sarah Wilson; and Jessica Paul, Talk magazine’s former associate entertainment editor. Virginia Heffernan, who was Talk ‘s articles editor, has been a full-time writer for VH1 since October, and though she’s movin’ on to Harper’s now, she’ll continue to do VH1 work.

Mr. Hirschorn’s most recent ink-stained recruit is Salon ‘s longtime political correspondent Jake Tapper, who joined VH1 in mid-March as an on-air reporter. Mr. Tapper, of course, had a cup of coffee on CNN’s air, subbing on Crossfire and co-hosting Take 5 , a Gen X political chitchat show that tanked. On VH1, he’ll get an hourlong news magazine focusing on the music business.

Neither Mr. Tapper nor VH1 would give details on the show, which doesn’t have a name or projected air date. But sources at the music network described it as being a little like 60 Minutes , if 60 Minutes did stories about Ja Rule or Norah Jones.

Mr. Tapper will host and report the program, which is currently shooting footage for some pilot episodes. Another one of Mr. Hirschorn’s journo hires, former Inside.com senior music and television correspondent Warren Cohen, will work with Mr. Tapper on the show.

In order to be closer to the Viacom hive, Mr. Tapper just relocated to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, after 10 years in D.C. “Yeah, I know, Williamsburg is trendy,” he said.

Mr. Tapper said that he chose to leave his Salon gig for VH1 because “the show sounded great and intriguing and like a challenge. They have brought on board a number of great journalists, and obviously Michael Hirschorn’s work and reputation speak for themselves.”

– Rebecca Traister

Tonight on VH1, Behind the Music blows the lid off the Goo Goo Dolls. [VH1, 19, 8 p.m.]

Sunday, April 14

Tonight on Oxygen, Tracey Ullman’s Visible Panty Line s . Thank you, Time Warner Cable, for finally bringing this informative and important channel to Manhattan. [OXY, 61, 9:30 p.m.]

Monday, April 15

Tonight’s E! True Hollywood Story profiles Larry Flynt, who, thanks to Milos Forman and the foibles of his competitors, has become America’s “classy genius” porno titan. [E!, 24, 8 p.m.]

Tuesday, April 16

Osbournes, Osbournes, we all scream for The Osbournes . MTV can’t seem to get enough love for its heavy-metal Ozz & Harriet. The show’s a hit, there’s a (surprise, surprise) Rolling Stone cover story on its way, and Fleet Street’s a-wailin’ that the Osbourne clan has been invited to the White House to meet First Fan George W. Bush.

But how big is the show for MTV? Muy big-overall ratings have climbed 52 percent from the record-setting premiere-but it’s still not the biggest hit in the music channel’s history. That honor still goes to the finale of the Real World 8. Remember that one? It was the one in Hawaii with the crazy drunk girl, and that topless New Agey solipsist who droned on about the energy of her housemates and made everyone cringe.

Tonight on The Osbournes, more brilliantly incomprehensible bleepage. [MTV, 20, 10:30 p.m.]