Power Punk: Serena Altschul

MTV Break It Down babe becomes CBS News Sunday Morning correspondent

“Have you seen it?” asked Serena Altschul, the exuberant, sexy, gorgeous, blond, blue-eyed news correspondent, talking about her former MTV show, Breaking It Down with Serena . If you had seen it, she said, “You’d know.”

How could we forget? Ms. Altschul’s airy, “This is serious , people” reports on hard-hitting issues like drug addiction and poverty rocked the nose-ring demo in the 1990′s. Sure, she softballed Madonna, Dave Matthews, Snoop Dogg, Jewel and Gwen Stefani, but forget all that, because she’s a serious news woman now: After almost two years as a correspondent on CNN, Ms. Altschul, 33, was recently hired at CBS News, where starting in January she’ll be a correspondent for CBS News Sunday Morning and the weekend edition of CBS Evening News .

“She’s got that innate hunger and curiosity that everyone I love and respect has,” said Susan Zirinsky, executive producer of CBS’ 48 Hours . “She’s on the yellow brick road.”

And along the way, gossip pages are compelled to capture her every ruby-slippered step. We learn: She was romantically linked to Olympic skier Jonny Moseley (“Just friends,” she said); she uses Zirh facial-maintenance products (“No, never!”); she eats at East Hampton natural-food mecca Bogo’s Food Spa; her brother-in-law is former ABC News correspondent John Miller, who married Ms. Altschul’s then–36-year-old sister, Emily.

She was also named one of the “Newscasters We’d Like to See Naked” by Playboy .

A child of the Upper East Side, Ms. Altschul is one of two daughters of the late investor Arthur G. Altschul, a philanthropist and art collector who was a partner at Goldman Sachs and chairman of General American Investors. Her mother is an ethnobotanist and a published poet.

But Ms. Altschul remembered her father not as an investor, but as a New York Times reporter in the 1940′s.

“I think he was always tickled that I would have spontaneously joined his first field,” she said.

Ms. Altschul was always a “science nerd,” she said, and, well, one thing lead to another. “There were no early dreams of being on television, or in any way in front of the cameras,” she said. “It happened organically.”

After graduating from Millbrook School in Upstate New York in 1989, she moved to Claremont, Calif., to attend Scripps College, where she studied English literature, “but storytelling was central to that. And developing communications skills.”

In the summer of 1992, she began working on a documentary called The Last Party , through which she eventually snagged some freelance work with Channel One, Christopher Whittle’s commercial news channel for class rooms.

“We traveled all over the world,” she recalled. “I covered the 1994 peace-signing treaty between Jordan and Israel. I went to Japan.” In 1994, she dropped out of college to work full-time for Channel One, and two years later, was approached by MTV to do their Choose or Lose election coverage for the 1996 campaign.

In 2001, working with MTV and 48 Hours , she did a piece on the OxyContin craze in the farmland that put her on the non-nose-ring radar.

“That for me, was a really exciting moment. At that point, I thought, this is the place to be,” she said.

Ms. Zirinsky thought so too.

“When she worked with us, even though it was in conjunction with an MTV project, she really did her homework,” she said. “She’s hungry. When she went to CNN, she always kept in touch. She’s the real deal.”

Today she lives on the Upper West Side and she’s single. “Like so many New York girls, right?” she said.

-Joe Hagan