Document 57892

10 / Wednesday, October 9, 2013
The Recorder, Amsterdam, N.Y.
NBC’s new boss
faces challenges
News President Deborah Turness
pushed correspondent Kevin
Tibbles to go beyond the standard
story when reporting this summer
on Hannah Anderson, the
California girl kidnapped and
taken to the Idaho wilderness.
So Tibbles rented a horse. He met
the men who had tipped authorities
after spotting the girl and her kidnapper, and urged them to retrace
their path through the rugged terrain to show what it looked and
felt like to be there. It’s one
example of how Turness, NBC
News’ boss for two months, has
tried to shake things up —
encouraging staff to take a handson approach and look for new
ways to tell stories.
She took over a television news
division that has dominated its
field for years but lately shown
signs of staleness. ABC’s “This
Week” just scored a milestone
victory over NBC’s “Meet the
Press” on Sunday morning.
While Brian Williams’ “Nightly
News” still leads in the evening
news ratings, things are tighter.
The “Today” show’s tumble is
well documented.
Alarmed at the direction, NBC
chose an outsider to give the division a fresh look. Turness is more
than an outsider to the company,
she’s new to the country. She’s
the former editor for ITV News,
Britain’s top commercial news
producer (she spent four years in
the company’s Washington
bureau in the 1990s).
She’s clearly been energetic and
full of ideas, said “Today” anchor
Matt Lauer.
“The new direction of the show
is something that has me more
invigorated than I have been in a
long time,” Lauer said.
“Today” debuted a high-tech set
on Sept. 16. Speaking a few days
before, Turness made it clear the
changes were more than cosmetic:
“Today” is more aggressively
seeking newsmaker interviews and
is minimizing lurid crime stories
and some of the fluff in favor of
more uplifting stories. Last week
Savannah Guthrie visited the home
of United Nations Ambassador
Samantha Power for an interview,
and the show featured a woman
who survived the Kenyan mall
massacre with her five children.
“Today” stationed Carson Daly in
the studio’s new “Orange Room,”
where he monitors social media
feedback and what stories are
trending. With Daly and Willie
Geist part of the team, “Today”
regularly features two people considered potential successors to
The morning show was one of
the most lucrative on television
during its glory years between
1995 and 2012. Turning things
around is a top priority, and
Turness frequently begins her day
in the “Today” control room.
The Associated Press
This undated image provided
by NBC shows newly named
NBC News President Deborah
Turness. She’s the former editor for ITV News, Britain’s top
commercial news producer.
“Today” has spent more than a
year behind ABC’s “Good
Morning America” in the ratings
now, losing by nearly 800,000
viewers during the week of Sept.
Except for a reception showing
off the new set, Turness has kept a
low public profile.
“My focus right now is on defining our brands, defining our content and working on a long-term
strategy to best prepare NBC News
for the future,” she said. “While
I’m truly grateful for the invitation,
I feel it’s a bit too early to talk
about any of this now.”
One of her predecessors as NBC
News president said that’s not a
bad idea.
“What she needs to do is have a
triumph somewhere,” said Richard
Wald, a Columbia University professor who was a news executive at
both NBC and ABC. “It doesn’t
matter where, but something valuable in terms of how she will face
the future. Then she can begin talking. Until then, her best bet is to
remain quiet.”
People at NBC say Turness has
been active with suggestions on
how stories should be covered. For
example, she encouraged reporter
Miguel Almaguer when he was
covering the Colorado flooding to
step beyond a dispassionate tone
and describe to viewers all that he
was seeing. He hiked two hours
with a digital camera to the cutoff
community of Jamestown, Colo.,
that other reporters hadn’t gotten to
In a memo to staff following coverage of the Western wildfires,
Turness made it a point to say that
“we were not content to film at a
Having someone new come into
an organization that already has
veteran leadership can work both
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ways: It can invigorate or grate on
people who have their own ways of
doing things. NBC is in that shakeout process now. Turness hasn’t
brought anyone with her from
England to NBC News and hasn’t
announced any major personnel
“What they’ve been doing is
clearly not working very well,”
said Beth Knobel, a Fordham
University journalism professor
who used to work at CBS News.
“The sooner they figure out why,
the sooner they can make the
changes they need to turn things
“Meet the Press” is facing new
competitive challenges. For the
three months that ended with
September, “This Week” with
George Stephanopoulos beat NBC
in both viewers and the 25-to-54year-old age demographic that is
key for ad sales in news programs
— the first time that had happened
in a quarter-year in 16 years, the
Nielsen company said.
Before Turness arrived, NBC had
replaced Betsy Fischer Martin, the
long-time executive who ran the
show, with Rob Yarin. Host David
Gregory had the difficult job of
replacing the popular Tim Russert,
and it will be up to Turness to
decide if that’s the right choice
moving forward.
It’s been a difficult time for
Williams, NBC’s lead anchor.
NBC canceled the “Rock Center”
newsmagazine that he had built
after a year and a half on the air.
Williams’ flagship “Nightly
News” broadcast consistently
wins in the ratings, but lost viewers in the past year while its two
rivals gained them.
“Nightly News” is often caught
in the middle between more thematically consistent shows at
ABC and CBS, said Andrew
Tyndall, a news consultant who
studies the shows. The first half
of “Nightly News,” with the help
of NBC’s strong reporting team,
is frequently the best news summary on the air, Tyndall said. But
the show can lose focus dramatically, and segments like “Making
a Difference” are showing age.
“There’s not much need to watch
the “Nightly News” after the first
commercial,” Tyndall said.
After starting at “Today,”
Turness often wraps up her day in
the “Nightly News” control room.
Turness told staff members in a
memo last Friday that a blueprint
is being drawn to “enable us to
deliver our brands most effectively on every major platform
and device,” and promised a
town hall meeting to explain
what this will mean.
“Sometimes going outside of the
box turns out to be a winning strategy,” Knobel said. “It’s not like
they went out and got someone
without a real news resume. This is
a woman with serious news
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The Associated Press
In this Oct. 13, 2012, file photo, Jessica Lange, a cast member in
“American Horror Story: Asylum,” poses at the premiere of the
television series at Paramount Theatre in Los Angeles.
Jessica Lange pens
debut children’s book
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES — Screen legend Jessica Lange says the secret
to her longevity in Hollywood is simply trusting her instincts.
“As you can tell from looking at my career, there was no plan!”
the 64-year-old said with a hearty laugh. “It’s never setting out with
a goal in mind or project or whatever. It’s what kind of captures my
imagination in the moment.”
Lange’s gut feeling recently led her to a new path as a children’s book author. “It’s About a Little Bird” follows two young sisters who discover an antique birdcage at their grandmothers’
“It felt natural and organic and simple and kind of charmed,”
Lange said of creating the picture book based on her real-life
experiences and featuring photographs she took and tinted by
In an interview Monday, the two-time Academy Award winner
discussed the book, which began as a handmade Christmas gift
for her granddaughters, and the new season of her not-so-kidfriendly FX series “American Horror Story: Coven,” premiering
AP: How did you go about writing “It’s About a Little Bird?”
Jessica Lange: I didn’t do it in that kind of deliberate way. It
wasn’t something that I had determined to do. It started really because I’m a photographer and I shoot black-and-white
film. So that’s kind of how it started, working on some of my
own black-and-white imagery and hand-tinting them. ... And
then one morning I woke up, I was up at my farm at upstate
New York and I woke up and this story just kind of came to
me and I thought, “I’m going to write this for my granddaughters, make this a story for them.” ... And then from
there it was one of those things where somebody said “why
don’t you print this?”
AP: Do your granddaughters get to see much of your work?
Lange: Well, obviously there’s a lot they can’t see, you
know. I don’t want them to see “Frances” or to see, you
know, “Blue Sky.” There’s a lot that they’ll see when they get
older. ... I remember years ago when I won the Emmy for
“Grey Gardens,” which they hadn’t seen, but they had seen a
picture of me as like Edith Beale, which I’m sure was very
confusing. But my daughter, in the morning when they woke
up, showed them a little clip of me winning the Emmy and
my speech and she told me later that day that my youngest
granddaughter went to school and they asked if anybody
had anything to share and she stood up and she said “my
grandmother won a big prize!” So I thought that was great.
That’s kind of like as far as it goes for them.
AP: How did Ryan Murphy get you on board for three seasons
of “American Horror Story”?
Lange: He called me up out of the blue — I had never met
him — and started talking. And I just thought “wow, he’s got
quite a spiel here. This is really something.” I haven’t been
kind of seduced like this in a long time. And you know he
has a kind of uncanny intelligence about this, a talent,
genius in a way and it became something really fascinating.
... He keeps kind of dangling that carrot out there. It’s hard to
say no.
AP: What can you tell us about your new “Coven” character
Fiona Goode?
Lange: It’s a woman who has ... all the powers in the world,
and again I think it’s a metaphor for a lot of different things,
and who misuses it for the most selfish, self-serving purposes. You know has that kind of confrontation with her own
mortality, finally, and realizes, you know, a wasted life. And
what do you do at this age when you think, “I’ve wasted it
all? I’ve thrown it all away?” ... That’s a little bit of where that
character is coming from and I don’t know where she’s going,
to tell you the truth. I never know.
AP: What does success mean to you at this point in your career?
Lange: Box office success has never meant anything. I’ve
never been so-called “box office.” I mean I couldn’t get a film
made if I paid for it myself. So I’m not “box office” and never
have been and that’s never entered into my kind of mind set
here. ... It is the kind of acknowledgment by other actors, really. That’s really what is most meaningful.