State Politics Turning Into ‘Must-See TV’

Times Staff Writer

It may have been Arnold Schwarzenegger’s victory celebration, but the crowd around him at the Century Plaza Hotel on Tuesday night easily could have been the receiving line at an NBC stars’ picnic.

Standing beside the governor-elect was his wife, “Dateline NBC” correspondent Maria Shriver.

Nearby was friend and close advisor Rob Lowe of NBC’s “Lyon’s Den.”


Standing off-stage waiting to grab one of the first interviews was Pat O’Brien, co-anchor of “Access Hollywood,” which is produced by NBC Enterprises.

And introducing him was “Tonight Show” host Jay Leno.

NBC executives on Wednesday deflected inquiries about whether NBC is becoming the “First Network” of state politics through all of its associations with Schwarzenegger.

The network denies any conflict, saying it keeps its various divisions separate.

Still, with the election of one of Hollywood’s biggest stars as governor of the nation’s most populous state, the confluence of big-time entertainment and national politics seems inescapable.

It’s perhaps fitting that Schwarzenegger’s afternoon Wednesday consisted of a news conference -- one that concluded with his asking reporters to stay with him throughout his governorship -- followed closely by an interview with “CBS Evening News” anchor Dan Rather and then a brief comedic “surprise” appearance on Leno’s “Tonight Show.”

Said Orville Schell, dean of the graduate school of journalism at UC Berkeley: “Last night, what we saw was the test-tube baby born of the media and entertainment, the final genetically engineered creature where currency in one realm has become irrevocable currency in the other.”

It’s a blurring of lines that so far does not seem to bother news professionals.

Bob Long, news director for KNBC Channel 4, said, “Every politician tries to find the quickest path to his constituency. Arnold shows great talent in doing that. We will continue to go after him, and he will continue to go around us.”

Joe Saltzman, associate dean of USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, added that he was not surprised by the blurring of lines separating news, entertainment and politics, as evidenced by the election.

“The line was obliterated long ago,” he said. “It’s gotten so that no one thinks twice about this anymore.”

Leno informed the network early Tuesday that Schwarzenegger’s camp had invited him to introduce the governor-elect at his victory celebration that night, and NBC gave its blessing.

Executives said the two have been friends for a long time, noting that Leno had made fun of the actor and other candidates during the campaign.

“Leno and Lowe were personally invited to participate last night, so they attended Arnold’s victory party in their personal capacity,” an NBC representative said.

“Does that make NBC an active participant in the campaign? The answer is no.”

News and entertainment, the representative said, are “two different NBC divisions that were doing their jobs very well.”

NBC executives insisted that the Schwarzenegger-Shriver duo was not giving them an extra advantage, pointing out that the governor-elect had not appeared on the network’s “Meet the Press.”

NBC News President Neal Shapiro said Shriver would return to work at “Dateline NBC” “probably some time after the inauguration,” adding that Shriver would not cover California politics or issues involving her husband.


Times staff writers Meg James and Susan King contributed to this report.