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Ex-CBS Boss to Head Fox News Division

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Van Gordon Sauter, the controversial former president of CBS News, will take over the fledgling news division of the Fox network.

Sauter replaces Stephen Chao, who was fired last month after he hired a male model to disrobe in front of company executives and other dignitaries during a News Corp. management conference in Snowmass Village, Colo. News Corp. is Fox’s parent company.

Sauter, a longtime friend of News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch, is seen as a natural fit at Fox, which is known for racy shows such as “Studs” and “Cops.” The 56-year-old executive caused considerable turmoil at tradition-bound CBS News during the 1980s, when he tried to introduce splashy magazine programs.

Sauter said his first priority is to improve operations at the six Fox-owned stations with local newscasts. Using the resources of the local stations, he then plans to build a national news service, in addition to developing additional news programs at Fox, the fourth network.

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“There is an appalling sameness to TV news in this country,” said Sauter, who is married to California State Treasurer Kathleen Brown. “If the medium is going to sustain a vitality and regain its lost audience, then this duplicate nature has to be changed.”

During his 18-year career at CBS, Sauter rocketed through the executive ranks: running KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, acting as the network’s chief censor, heading CBS Sports and later serving two stints as president of CBS News.

But Sauter’s luck ran out during a tumultuous last year because of management-ordered budget cuts and severe criticism by prominent CBS News personalities such as Andy Rooney and Bill Moyers, who charged that Sauter was emphasizing glitz over substance. Under Sauter, Moyers complained, CBS News had succumbed to the “encroachment of entertainment values . . . tax policy had to compete with stories about three-legged sheep, and the three-legged sheep won.”

In one of his biggest miscalculations, Sauter became the champion of Phyllis George, a former Miss America and sportscaster he hired to co-anchor “The CBS Morning News.” George quit only a few months later after a series of embarrassing on-air gaffes and plummeting ratings.

At the same time, however, Sauter earned a reputation for high energy and creativity, as well as a penchant for challenging the status quo, all qualities that are likely to serve him well in getting Murdoch’s plan for a new national news service off the ground. He has often been openly derisive of those he calls “newsies"--stick-in-the-mud journalists who refuse to acknowledge the show-business element of TV news.

Murdoch wants his TV stations and the emerging Fox fourth network to take on a greater roll in news, an area which to date has taken a back seat to entertainment.

Last month, Murdoch told affiliates that Fox’s contract with CNN would not be renewed later this year as Fox attempts to build its own competing TV news organization.

Murdoch blasted TV news for looking like every program was produced by someone who “graduated from the same dumb journalism class.”

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Murdoch called Sauter “the best choice to harness the strength of the Fox owned-and-operated stations to ultimately create a successful national news operation.”

The voluble Sauter, an outspoken political conservative who favors tweed sport coats and bow ties and sports a lush salt-and-pepper Victorian-era gentleman’s beard, has kept a low profile since he was fired by CBS nearly six years ago.

He briefly was a columnist for The Times’ View section before serving as executive producer of a short-lived syndicated “reality” TV show called “Group One Medical.” Most recently, he wrote TV reviews for the trade magazine Variety and taught journalism at UC Berkeley.

Bio: Van Gordon Sauter

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Named president, Fox News. Responsible for building the fourth network’s local and national news operations.

Age: 56

Born: Middleton, Ohio, Sept. 14, 1935.

Education: Received BA in English from Ohio University in 1957; MA in journalism, University of Missouri, 1959.

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Family: Married to California State Treasurer Kathleen Brown. Second marriage for each. Five children--three from Brown’s previous marriage--Zeb, Hillary and Sascha--and two from Sauter’s--Jeremy and Mark.

Resume: Reporter, New Bedford (Mass.) Standard-Times, 1959-63; staff writer, Detroit Free Press, 1963-67, and Chicago Daily News, 1967-68; chief correspondent and managing editor, subsequently news director, WBBM-AM Chicago, 1968-70; executive producer, CBS News (radio), 1970-72; news director, later anchorman, WBBM-TV, 1972-75; Paris bureau chief, CBS News, 1975-76; vice president, program practices, CBS TV Network, 1976-77; vice president and general manager, KCBS-TV Los Angeles, 1977-80; president, CBS Sports, 1980-82; president, CBS News, 1982-83; executive vice president, CBS Inc., 1983-86; president, CBS News, 1986.

Business philosophy: Voluble, provocative, restless. Not afraid to take on unpopular tasks to get the job done. Believes that TV news has settled into complacent mediocrity.

Quote: “There is an appalling sameness to TV news in this country. If the medium is going to sustain a vitality and regain its lost audience, then this duplicate nature has got to be changed.”

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