- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 3, 2004

‘Dateline’ defends self

NBC News President Neal Shapiro isn’t backing down after the network’s “Dateline” series got attacked for blending news, entertainment and promotion.

“I took some grief from the critics,” Mr. Shapiro told Associated Press about recent shows detailing events around “The Apprentice,” “Frasier” and “Friends,” all NBC programs. “I think the audience was totally understanding.”

In one month, NBC’s signature newsmagazine devoted some five hours of programming to the season finales of the three shows.

No one argues they weren’t legitimate stories, since other networks, newspapers and magazines all covered them.

Yet the programming was evidence, to some, of skewed priorities. Competitor “60 Minutes II” provided a clear contrast last month by unearthing photos of apparent prisoner abuse by Americans in Iraq.

Last week, then-CBS Chairman Leslie Moonves, addressing thousands of advertisers, couldn’t resist needling NBC.

“While ‘Dateline NBC’ was busy shilling for ‘Friends’ and ‘Frasier,’ our two editions of ‘60 Minutes’ were breaking news that will change the world forever,” said Mr. Moonves, who became co-president and co-CEO of Viacom earlier this week following the departure of Viacom President Mel Karmazin.

Certainly, CBS shouldn’t be exempt from criticism. Its aggressive coverage of “Survivor” on its “Early Show” set the standard for the promotion of entertainment within a news broadcast.

Mr. Shapiro said the audience has always understood that “Dateline NBC” offers a variety of stories.

“If Time magazine or Newsweek decides to devote 15 pages to Harry Potter, I don’t think people say, ‘Oh, my God, I can’t read the front of Time magazine anymore,’” he said. “I think they understand it’s a magazine.”

He’s not alone at NBC in being sensitive. His boss, Jeff Zucker, who oversees both NBC News and NBC Entertainment, gets particularly testy when the subject is brought up.

Mr. Shapiro, a longtime executive producer of “Dateline NBC,” said the newsmagazine has never been given the respect it deserves. The broadcast barely survived its disastrous first season a decade ago, when producers staged a collision to illustrate fire dangers in a General Motors truck.

That’s why, some critics say, NBC should be particularly protective of its reputation.

“The ‘Dateline’ brand is cheapened every time it’s prostituted to shill for other NBC shows, and the last thing anyone at the network should want is to drag down the reputation of NBC News,” wrote columnist Phil Rosenthal of the Chicago Sun-Times.

Joseph Angotti, chairman of the broadcast department at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, said that five years ago, he would have joined the people taking shots at NBC News.

Not anymore.

“The line between news and entertainment is so blurred that I don’t think people are concerned whether or not ‘Dateline’ does a serious, tough journalistic story and next week does a little fluffy thing that promotes their own network,” said Mr. Angotti, a former NBC News executive. “I just don’t think people care that much anymore.”

Aerosmith’s ‘Moves’

The A&E; channel doesn’t seem like a natural fit for ageless rockers like Aerosmith.

That didn’t stop the Boston-bred group from setting up shop there to produce tonight’s new concert special.

“Aerosmith: You Gotta Move,” airing at 9 p.m., will document the creative process behind the band’s newest album, “Honkin’ on Bobo,” which represents a return to its blues-rock roots, after an extended detour into radio-friendly, middle-of-the-road commercial rock.

The special looks at Steven Tyler and company in the studio, on stage and in candid moments on tour.

Reeve, Chabert team up

Former “Party of Five” co-star Lacey Chabert is teaming up with Christopher Reeve for a new, fact-based cable feature.

Miss Chabert, currently featured in “Mean Girls,” will star in “The Brooke Ellison Story” for A&E;, the Reuters News Agency reports. Mr. Reeve will direct and co-produce the film.

Miss Chabert will play the elder sister of the title character, who became a quadriplegic at age 11. With determination and the support of her family, Miss Ellison rose above her disability and went on to graduate from Harvard University.

Based on the book “Miracles Happen: One Mother, One Daughter, One Journey,” the film is slated to air by year’s end.

The 21-year-old actress recently completed shooting the indie feature “Dirty Deeds” opposite Milo Ventimiglia and Matthew Carey. She next begins work on “A New Wave,” an independent feature about three young men who plan to rob a bank, leaving one of them torn between the love of Miss Chabert’s character and committing the felony.

Compiled by Christian Toto from staff and wire reports.

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