Savoring the glow of finishing second in the prime-time ratings after nine seasons in third place, NBC on Monday kicked off its annual affiliates meeting here with the emphasis on what it called progress at NBC News.
“NBC Nightly News” anchorman Tom Brokaw, one of four of the network’s news stars who addressed the affiliates, voiced the optimism that abounded at the start of the two-day convention.
He said that his show, which has run second to the “CBS Evening News With Dan Rather” for the past three years, may well overtake the leader next season.
“Or, to put it more plainly,” Brokaw said with a boyish grin, “step aside, Rather, we’re coming through.”
(Actually, Brokaw might do well to keep an eye out behind him as well as in front of him. For the official TV season that ended April 21, the “CBS Evening News” averaged about 11.4 million households per night, compared to about 9.5 million for “NBC Nightly News” and about 9.4 million for “ABC World News Tonight.”)
NBC correspondents Marvin Kalb, Roger Mudd and Connie Chung, the latter the anchor of the daily “NBC News at Sunrise,” sounded similar sentiments to nearly 800 station representatives gathered at the Century Plaza.
All the correspondents were introduced by NBC News President Lawrence Grossman, who in his opening remarks discussed a subject that he said has been much in the news lately--"media and press bashing,” including “attacks on Dan Rather and CBS by Jesse Helms and Ted Turner,” and “virulent criticisms by special-interest groups that use names like ‘Accuracy in Media’ and ‘Fairness in Media.’ ”
He told executives from NBC’s 206 affiliated stations that they should be pleased that, according to three recent polls, “an overwhelming majority” of viewers consider television news “as fair, accurate, balanced and trustworthy.”
Grossman said the problems of television news “stem not from our political ideology or any lack of patriotism or any unprofessional bias.”
Instead, he said, the problems are due to a variety of causes, among them that “the messengers” of bad news--the TV news programs--tend to get much of the blame for bringing it.
He also said that “we must be sensitive to the charge that we sometimes appear arrogant, impolite and even smugly superior with our insiders’ knowledge and our privileged access” to news makers.
And, Grossman said, “We should be more open than we have been to the views and concerns of the public we serve.”
Finally, he said, every news program should seek the utmost clarity in explaining complex issues because “people get angry at us when they do not understand what we are reporting to them.”
After his speech, Grossman said that the new prime-time NBC News program scheduled to air this season will be called “The American Almanac.” The series, anchored by Roger Mudd, will air on a monthly basis beginning in August and then will become a weekly series in January.
Mudd, speaking in firm, ringing tones, told affiliates that this new series, on which Chung also will work, will not suffer the fate of the many short-lived news magazine programs that NBC has aired and canceled in recent years.
He said he based his confidence on the fact that management has given the new series three important things, “time, money and freedom,” and, he added, “this is no rush job.”
Mudd said that “The American Almanac,” which will have a staff of 53, “will not be about Washington. It will be about the United States” and “will try to hold a mirror up to America.”
The co-hosts of NBC’s “Today” show, Bryant Gumbel and Jane Pauley, also appeared--but in a recorded announcement--to give affiliates a pep talk on their show, which last March defeated ABC’s top-rated “Good Morning America” for the first time since January, 1982, and which has since won the ratings race twice.
The opening session of the affiliates’ convention also was devoted in part to progress reports on NBC’s sports, daytime and children’s programming.
The Monday morning session began with an appearance by “Cheers” co-star Ted Danson, who told affiliates that the season just ended “was quite a year” for them in prime-time ratings and added that “a lot of you have lived through a lot of lean years.”
Danson thanked them “for hanging in” with NBC and concluded by saying, “You believed in us; now join in the celebration.”