Network Newsrooms Prepare for Plan B … Sebastian Junger’s Perfect Desert Storm? … SNL’s Hardest Show Yet

Wednesday, oct. 17

The anthrax cases at NBC and ABC News have raised a number

of troubling questions for news networks around the city. Amid the obvious

human concerns, there’s now a practical issue: Where do you do the news if you

can’t use the newsroom?

On Friday, Oct. 12, NBC moved its NBC Nightly News with Tom

Brokaw broadcast at Rockefeller Center

downstairs to Studio 1A, the home of Today, when word broke that Mr. Brokaw’s

assistant, Erin O’Connor, had contracted the cutaneous

form of anthrax after handling mail intended for the anchor.

It was a strange sight, one that Mr. Brokaw himself noted as

he sternly delivered reports about his own staff from a desk usually occupied

by Today news anchor Ann Curry. Mr. Brokaw and the Nightly News remained at

Studio 1A on Monday, Oct. 15, and Tuesday, Oct. 16. An NBC spokesperson said

they planned to be there until they got the go-ahead to return to their studio.

Elsewhere, news networks re-examined their options should

events-or, as in the case of NBC, a criminal and public-health

investigation-dictate that a news telecast be moved.

For ABC News, such a scenario would play out sooner than

expected. On the afternoon of Oct. 15, an ABC News spokesperson responded to a

hypothetical question by saying that the network had a long-standing

“contingency plan” to move news operations in case of an emergency. The

spokesperson declined to say where the newsroom staff could go, but possible

alternative venues presumably included ABC-Disney properties near the West

66th Street headquarters of World News Tonight

with Peter Jennings, or the Times Square studio used by

Good Morning America.

Several hours later, however, that plan became reality, as

the startling news arrived that the 7-month-old child of an ABC News producer

had contracted the cutaneous form of anthrax after

spending time in the newsroom. Though it was unclear if the child was exposed

to anthrax in the newsroom, the World News Tonight offices and some editing

facilities were shut down immediately for examination, though WNT was able to

broadcast from West 66th Street

on both Monday and Tuesday.

Over at CBS News headquarters on West 57th Street, one

emergency alternative for the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather was the G.M.

Building on 59th Street and Fifth Avenue, home of The Early Show.

“There are a lot of other studios in town, so I suspect if

you had to move, it would be easy enough,” said CBS News spokeswoman Sandy Genelius. “But I’d suspect our primary backup would be the G.M.


Ms. Genelius said that CBS News

had an anthrax scare of its own at the network’s Washington, D.C., bureau on

Saturday, Oct. 13, where, she said, an envelope was discovered with a powdery

white substance on its outside. The F.B.I. was notified, and an examination

that day showed no signs of anthrax, Ms. Genelius


The Fox News Channel also reportedly received a suspicious

letter with a powdery white substance addressed to Fox News chairman and chief

executive Roger Ailes. (The letter tested negative

for anthrax.)


Fox News spokesperson said the company did have a contingency plan, too, but

declined to give details. However, it is possible that Fox News would go to the

Upper East Side studios of WNYW Channel 5, which News

Corp. owns, or even to Secaucus, N.J.,

the home of News Corp.’s new local channel, WGN/UPN 9.

Washington, D.C.,

was also an option for Fox News, even though much of the network’s evening

lineup is taped in New York.

Other network representatives said the D.C. studios could be used should a New

York newsroom operation be disrupted for a longer

period of time. NBC also has the option of using its MSNBC and CNBC studios in New


CNN, of course, has numerous studios outside New

York, in particular the company’s sprawling

headquarters in Atlanta. A CNN

spokesperson said that the network is “taking all appropriate precautions. We

have many bureaus we can utilize in case of an emergency.”

Isn’t this all getting a little incredible and sad? Tonight on CNN, Larry King Live, from sunny Los Angeles-formerly

known as the land of earthquakes and drive-bys, and suddenly a serene-sounding

oasis. [CNN, 10, 9 p.m.]

Thursday, oct. 18

& ABC News has itself a new international newsman:

Sebastian Junger. Mr. Junger,

of course, wrote a little book a couple years back called The Perfect Storm,

about a fishing boat from Gloucester,

Ma. That thing sold a few copies, didn’t it?

Mr. Junger is also something of an

expert on Afghanistan

and especially the Northern Alliance, having spent time

with rebels in the region prior to Sept. 11. That background attracted ABC

News, said Prime Time Thursday executive producer David Doss.

“He has a fascination with the story and the area,” said Mr.


Mr. Junger left for Pakistan

on Friday, Oct. 12. The hope is that he’ll file reports from the field for

Prime Time Thursday and perhaps 20/20 and Nightline.

Mr. Doss said Mr. Junger’s crew

will be relatively small, and includes veteran ABC News producer Bert Rudman and one of Mr. Junger’s

old pals from his previous visit to the region.

As for Mr. Junger’s relative lack

of television experience, Mr. Doss said he wasn’t worried. The writer recently

did a special for the National Geographic Channel, and Mr. Doss said the ABC

News staff spent time prepping Mr. Junger for his


“I think we’re sending a really seasoned professional,

obviously an outstanding reporter and writer,” Mr. Doss said. “There is always

a bit of a gamble, but with someone of his background … it seems like a pretty

good bet.”

Mr. Junger, of course, is also a

contributing editor to Vanity Fair. A spokesperson for Vanity Fair said that

the magazine was aware of Mr. Junger’s deal with ABC

News and had no problem with the arrangement.

Tonight on ABC, see if Mr. Junger

pops up on Prime TimeThursday. [WABC,

7, 10 p.m.]

Friday, oct. 19

& Scattered among all the fancy

network types in the dust of Pakistan

and Afghanistan

are a few local TV news people from around the country. But the only local news

guy from New York is WABC Channel

7’s Jim Dolan.

Mr. Dolan’s been in Islamabad,

Pakistan, for about two

weeks. “Jim is one of the most aggressive, smart guys you have ever seen,” said

WABC news director Dan Forman. “He’s probably one of the few television

reporters in New York that people

actually know by name.”

Mr. Forman is there with veteran cameraman Joe Tesauro, Mr. Forman said.

The cost of sending a team to Pakistan

is expensive, especially by local-news-budget standards. Mr. Forman

acknowledged that before the U.S.

attack on Afghanistan

began on Oct. 7, he had considered bringing Mr. Dolan

and Mr. Tesauro back home.

“The action hadn’t started yet, and we were starting to feel

that we were just repackaging stuff,” he said. “Then [Oct. 7] hit and we were

there on the ground in Islamabad,

when the fur was flying, and I was really proud that we were there.”

Mr. Forman said his main concern continues to be Mr. Dolan

and Mr. Tesauro’s safety. “I’m anticipating [them]

staying there at least a few more weeks,” Mr. Forman said on Oct. 11. “But I

don’t know. It could be longer, it could be shorter. I talk to him and Joe and

make sure they’re O.K., make sure their families are O.K. with it.”

Mr. Forman said that the World

Trade Center

attack and its aftermath have turned the local news business on its ear.

“Everything has changed,” he said. “This morning, we were

looking at a press release out of Nassau

County about an insurance scam.

Normally, that would have been a decent story for the day. We look at that and

laugh now.”

We laugh, too-but tonight, it’s a pained laugh for former

ABC News guy Anderson Cooper, now marooned as the host of Mole II. [WABC, 7, 8


Saturday, oct. 20

$ Shortly before Saturday Night Live began on Saturday, Oct.

13, executive producer Lorne Michaels assembled his cast and crew and told them

that the last three shows had been the hardest he’d ever done. Mr. Michaels

told the SNL-ers he was “incredibly proud” of how

they’d held up under the difficult circumstances. And then he told them all to

go out there and have a good show.

It has been some month for SNL, now in its 27th season.

First was the season premiere on Saturday, Sept. 29, when Mr. Michaels and the

SNL team tried to figure out a way to make comedy in the wake of the World

Trade Center

and Pentagon attacks. (Wisely, they brought in Rudy Giuliani-flanked by members

of the Fire Department, police and E.M.S.-to give them a Mayoral thumbs-up.)

Then there was the frantic Friday of Oct. 12, when SNL’s home, 30 Rock, was partially evacuated. The cast was

in rehearsals that morning, and when guest host Drew Barrymore heard the news,

she went back to her hotel.

Mr. Michaels said he called Ms. Barrymore and tried to calm

her down, reassuring her it was safe to come back. He

wasn’t the only one who talked to the star, who was naturally a little freaked.

“I talked to her, and I think Penny Marshall talked to her,

and I think Ellen Barkin

talked to her because she was near the hotel Drew was at,” Mr. Michaels said.

“Tom [Green, Ms. Barrymore’s husband] agreed to fly in [from California].”

Ms. Barrymore eventually decided to return to the set. “She

came back to the studio pretty early in the afternoon, and then she worked

until we all did, until about midnight,”

Mr. Michaels said. NBC chairman Bob Wright also spoke to Ms. Barrymore that

afternoon, he said.

The next night, Ms. Barrymore made reference to her worries

during her opening monologue, when a camera cut to Mr. Green sitting in the

audience, wearing a gas mask.

Mr. Michaels said he briefly considered shutting down on

Friday and canceling the Oct. 13 show. “I think everyone there was just

frightened,” he said. “When there is anthrax in the building, and people are

lined up to be swabbed with a nasal swab and there’s a big crowd, you just

don’t know whether what you are doing makes any sense.”

But Mr. Michaels said the SNL staff felt better after NBC

president Andy Lack came to the set on Friday and reassured them that they were

safe. They noted that Conan O’Brien had taped his show in Rockefeller

Center that afternoon. The SNL cast

and crew decided to go forward, Mr. Michaels said, adding, “Everyone was


Another concern was the studio audience. Mr. Michaels said

he was worried no one would show up, but ticket holders were calling NBC

throughout Friday, wondering if the show would go on and pledging to attend.

When the producer left Rockefeller Center

late on Friday, he noticed that people were sleeping on 49th

Street as always, hoping to score tickets. On

Saturday, the packed house included NBC Entertainment president Jeff Zucker.

Mr. Michaels said that doing the Saturday, Oct. 13, show was

much harder than the season premiere. “I must say that if anyone from our cast

said, ‘Listen, I can’t do it,’ I would have said, ‘I understand,'” he said.

“But nobody did.”

And the SNL after-party that night?

“The party,” said Mr. Michaels,

“was much easier.”

Tonight’s SNL’s a repeat with Lara

Flynn Boyle, Talk magazine’s celebrity mascot. [WNBC, 4, 11:35 p.m.]

Sunday, oct. 21

# Tonight on TNT, The American

President. It makes you yearn for the old days, when Presidents worried about

stuff like getting into Annette Bening’s pants. [TNT, 3, 8


Monday, oct. 22

b I Love Lucy turns 50 this month.

And man, if you ever get tired of listening to today’s TV writers complain

about their grueling lives-15 Ivy Leaguers in Bermuda shorts yakking around

wooden tables, scarfing Yo-Yo’s and coming up with

boners for Niles Crane-they should listen to people like Bob Schiller, who was

one of the four people (four!) who wrote for ILL during its seven-year run.

“They got staffs [today] resembling a New

York telephone book!” Mr. Schiller said.

What does Mr. Schiller like on TV these days? Ah, not much.

“I’m an old crank!” he said. “I don’t think it’s funny.”

He said he liked Seinfeld and Sex and the City, the latter

of which he called “acceptable porn.”

Mr. Schiller said he wasn’t going overboard with the ILL

nostalgia. “If you really wanna know what I’m

thinking, I’m thinking I’m not getting any residuals and it upsets me!” he


Tonight, Lucy-mania rages on TV Land. [TVLAND,

85, 9 p.m.]

Tuesday, oct. 23

% Will someone please spank the producers of Fox Sports? At

the end of the Yankees game on Monday, Oct. 15-when they clinched their 5-3

victory over the A’s-cameras caught manager Joe Torre

walking over to the stands, grabbing Rudolph Giuliani and pulling the Mayor

onto the field, presumably to join the celebrating players.

But you didn’t see that last part. Just as Mr. Torre and the Mayor began to cross the diamond arm-in-arm

in what was, for obvious reasons, one of the more touching and meaningful

sports moments this city has witnessed in recent years, Fox Sports cut to … a

meaningless promo for the season premiere of The X-Files!

Thanks a lot, boneheads.

Believe it or not, that wasn’t even Fox Sports’ biggest

blunder of the week. The night before, at the conclusion of the

Diamondbacks-Cardinals series, after watching Diamondbacks hero Tony Womack in

an emotional embrace with a woman on the field, Fox play-by-play guy Joe Buck

asked Mr. Womack: “Tony, was that your mother giving you a hug?”

Said Mr. Womack: “No, that was my wife.”

Yeeeeeeeee-ikes! Tonight on Fox, Dark Angel. Tell Rudy to call a press

conference just for the hell of it, so he can pre-empt it. [FOX,

5, 9 p.m.

Network Newsrooms Prepare for Plan B … Sebastian Junger’s Perfect Desert Storm? … SNL’s Hardest Show Yet