In a colorful e-mail to one ABC News colleague, Chris Cuomo—son of Mario, brother of Andrew; he of the perfect hair, bone structure and political pedigree—doubted his chances of winning Charlie Gibson’s seat on Good Morning America.
“I think I (though allegedly testing the best) am not under serious consideration, which I accept, but do not completely understand,” he wrote.
That note, a copy of which was given to NYTV, was sent on Jan. 14, 2005. (In it, Mr. Cuomo predicted another bright-eyed correspondent, Bob Woodruff, “who I like and respect,” would someday get the GMA job.)
ABC News has changed a lot in the last year and a half. Mr. Cuomo, on the other hand, hasn’t. Through the death of Peter Jennings, his replacement with Mr. Woodruff and Elizabeth Vargas on World News Tonight, and their eventual replacement with Mr. Gibson on the newly renamed World News with Charlie Gibson, the youngest son of the New York political dynasty has wanted that morning anchor chair. And so, like any handsome, ambitious, Yale-educated lawyer, he has pursued it. And that pursuit, like any serious Cuomo activity, has taken on the trappings of a campaign.
“This is not a campaign,” said Mario Cuomo, at the start of an interview with NYTV, before any suggestion was made that it was one. “In case that’s what you’re going to ask, there is no campaign going on for Chris.”
And yet. There are the jokey e-mails that the young Mr. Cuomo, 35, has sent to his friends within the news division, gauging their loyalty and seeking advice. There is the fatherly counsel he has taken and the calls his sister has made urging her friends to watch the show. There is the polite regard for the competition (“who I like and respect”), the delicate courtship of Diane Sawyer (thought internally to be a Cuomo fan), and—TV’s equivalent of kissing babies—the flashing of photographs of his children on-air.
Maybe it’s that a Cuomo can’t not run for something, or maybe this is what it takes to get an anchor chair these days. The last year has seen a personnel overhaul in broadcast news. The scarcity of anchor positions and the prevalence of candidates has led, perhaps inevitably, to some background electioneering. Katie Couric’s “Eye on America” tour, modeled after Hillary Clinton’s “Listening Tour” of 1999, is the least of it.
“Obviously, you’re gonna have some of that,” said Jim Murphy, the newly appointed senior executive producer of Good Morning America, who just went through a mini-campaign of his own to get the hotly contested executive position. “But none of that gets to me, or, I would think, to anyone above my level in the front office. I wouldn’t really pay attention to it anyhow.”
Mr. Murphy said he is looking not for a replacement for Mr. Gibson so much as a male Ann Curry—a newsreader, with the ability to do features and interviews if called upon. He, in consultation with other ABC executives, will make a decision before the fall.
Mr. Cuomo’s chief competition for the position is Bill Weir, a former sports reporter and the co-anchor of the weekend edition of Good Morning America, and Bill Ritter, the anchor of the top-rated WABC. Each, according to several sources in “Camp Weir,” have engaged in his own bit of office politicking, but neither effort has drawn internal attention because, said one self-identified “nonpartisan,” neither is a Cuomo.
“If Bill Weir’s family was putting out an e-mail to relatives urging them to watch the show, no one would care,” said a network source.
The reference is to an item that first appeared on July 27 on the blog TVNewser, claiming that the Cuomo family political operation had sent out an all-points bulletin urging allies to watch Chris on television and express their support for his candidacy via letters and phone calls to ABC. According to sources in Camp Cuomo, the tip was false—a gross exaggeration of the truth, which is that one of the Cuomo daughters had alerted some of her friends to Chris’ two-week tryout as lead male anchor. In conversations with NYTV, two Cuomo acolytes suggested a possible smear campaign.
“I have not given him advice on any aspect of his work,” said the former Governor Cuomo, who noted that if he is advising anyone, it is Andrew Cuomo, who is running for State Attorney General.
“I think people are just, like, making this stuff up,” Mr. Murphy said. “I don’t know where it comes from: ‘Well, he’s from a political family, so there must be a campaign operation.’”
One lesson that Chris, whom his brother calls “Mansion Boy,” has apparently taken from the family is canvassing for advice. “He’s been going around asking everyone—from interns to executives—for performance notes,” said one senior-level network source supportive of Mr. Cuomo, who is ABC’s senior legal correspondent and a co-anchor of Primetime.
“Christopher is a bright guy, and bright guys will talk to anybody they think might have an opinion they think is worth listening to,” the elder Mr. Cuomo said. “They’ll talk to a lot of people who are not so-called experts: the elevator operator, the guy who’s driving a cab, the person you bumped into in the subway and started chatting to. Christopher is going to be talking to ordinary Americans. He’ll call me from time to time—not because I’m anything special, but I am a lawyer, and I have some experience with these things.”
Because even if there is no direct-mail campaign, there is Cuomo family love.
“I hope he makes it,” said William O’Shaughanessy, the president and editorial director of Whitney Radio and a close family friend. “There’s a realness to this guy. He’s got his father’s—well, no one has his father’s intelligence. But he’s got good genes.”
“I get a lot of people I’ve never met before, friends who are not in the family, who have commented to me about Christopher,” the former Governor said. “A lot of people will come up to me in the street—they recognize me—just to say, ‘I saw your son, and he’s terrific.’
“Now, what good is a casual experience like that? It’s probably not a very scientific sampling, but it does mean something.”
Mario Cuomo, after casually suggesting that “lots of other places are interested in hiring Chris,” who happens to be nearing the end of his contract according to network sources, offered this anecdote by way of a conclusion.
When Chris was deciding to leave law and go into broadcasting, father and son had a conversation.
“What about politics?” the elder Cuomo ventured.
“Nah,” said the younger, “you and Andrew have fouled that up.”
“Everyone seems pretty into our little gag last week,” said Casey Neistat, one of the two lab-coated brothers who pulled a ketchup prank on the unsuspecting—and, it turns out, expecting!—Jodi Applegate, co-host of Fox 5’s Good Day New York.
Well, not quite everyone.
“I kind of like just want the whole thing to blow over,” Ms. Applegate told NYTV on July 31, in the process of declining an interview request. “I’ve gotten lots of positive feedback over how the situation went. All my bosses said I did exactly the right thing. Geraldo even had me on to tell him more about it.”
Fox 5 assistant news director Jim Driscoll said he went to congratulate Ms. Applegate on her conduct immediately after the broadcast. “I thanked her for the way she handled it and I told her she did a great job. What she was doing was protecting our viewers, and that’s what I expect of all our anchors.”
“Those guys were just trying to hoax us,” Ms. Applegate said. “I think that it’s kind of over by now.”
It is—and it isn’t. The scandal-scarred segment—a demonstration of how easy it is to steal a bike in New York—originally broadcast live at 7:49 a.m. on July 27. Casey, 25, and his 31-year-old brother Van were introduced as documentary filmmakers and avid cyclists. After some pleasantries, Van pulled out an angle-grinder saw. Casey wagged his finger in front of the saw for a few seconds and then exploded a ketchup packet on his neck and fell down wailing, in what he later described as a “terrible performance.”
At the time, he leapt up after writhing around for a bit and said, “I’m just kidding. It’s O.K.”
But Ms. Applegate was plainly shaken.
“That’s not funny,” she said repeatedly. “That’s totally uncool.”
“We were just doing a ruse,” Casey said.
“I don’t appreciate that on our show, on our air,” she said, expressing concern for any children watching and ordering the cameras to cut. “That was a ruse, and we did not agree to this.”
The Neistats said they came up with the idea for the ketchup stunt while lounging around their Tribeca film studio the night before the Fox 5 appearance. It was supposed to be a re-creation of a scene in the movie Dumb and Dumber, when Jim Carrey pretends to get his throat slashed. “The idea made us laugh really, really hard,” Casey said. “We don’t do drugs,” he added, as an afterthought.
Five separate videos of the incident went up almost immediately on YouTube, where they have been viewed nearly 140,000 times. Noting her exhaustion with the attention the clip has garnered and the fact that she is pregnant, Ms. Applegate said, “I would just kind of rather move on at this point and focus on something else.”
Not so the Neistats.
The brothers said they endured a separate fracas after the Fox 5 cameras cut back to the studio. They had brought along their own cameraman, Ariel Schulman, to film the stunt for possible use in a separate Neistat film. After the segment, they said, a member of the Fox 5 news crew took the camera and confiscated the tape within. Both the Neistats and the network agree on this much. In the details, they differ.
Casey Neistat and Mr. Schulman described a wild chase, with Mr. Schulman pursued by three Fox “goons,” down five city blocks. Mr. Driscoll, who was not present, but who spoke with everyone involved after the incident, said the issue was procedural: The filmmakers had not gotten permission to film Ms. Applegate conducting the interview for Good Day. So, once the hoax ended, a producer politely asked for the tape and was given it.
Mr. Neistat said he had no plans to press charges.
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