Think twice before comparing ABC News GMA anchor and Sunday Beltway show host George Stephanopoulos to Chelsea Clinton or Jenna Bush — at least in the presence of ABC News President Ben Sherwood.
Well, actually, you should just think twice about it, period. But definitely don’t do it in front of Sherwood.
To set the record straight, Stephanopoulos is not the daughter of any former president. Before he became the whirling dervish of ABC News — co-anchoring its weekday infotainment show “Good Morning America” and now also returning to hosts its Sunday Beltway show — he was communications director to the ’92 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton, and later was White House communications director before becoming a senior adviser.
Chelsea Clinton, meanwhile is the interview-phobic daughter of same Bill Clinton, and Jenna Bush is the daughter of President George W. And now, both are in the employ of NBC News.
Appearing at his second consecutive Winter TV Press Tour, Sherwood got asked to comment on NBC News’s hire of the two presidential daughters, and of what value it can be to a news division to hire “particularly people with no reporting experience.”
“You’d have to ask those folks,” Sherwood smiled.
Which the critic would have done — except no NBC News suit was brave enough to face Winter TV Press Tour 2012.
So far the score was:
●Presidential daughters: Who needs them?
●NBC News suits: chicken.
●Ben Sherwood: in the lead.
Then the critic went too far:
“Are they looking for a George Stephanopoulos?”
Sherwood had lots to say on the subject of comparing the daughters of two presidents with a “first-rate journalist” who “has, over the last 15 years, developed an incredible set of skills.” The very idea of comparing those two daughters to Stephanoupolos was just silly, he said — or words to that effect. It was gripping stuff. George came out on top.
Then there was the critic who asked Sherwood to talk about the “makeover” of ABC News’s “‘Nightline’ into a “more entertainment- and lifestyle-oriented” show.
Sherwood restrained himself pretty well on that one, saying he did not agree with the characterization. He pointed out the franchise’s reports from various war-torn regions, caucus coverage, etc. (In a scrum later, Sherwood said the show changed its mix years ago.)
Then there was the guy who said there is a “narrative developing” that ABC News, under Sherwood, is “going softer” and more about lifestyle and celebrity.
It’s like Disney had put something in the water at Press Tour.
“I reject completely these distinctions and labels,” Sherwood shot back. “Our guiding philosophy is ‘relevance.’ … I reject these distinctions of hard and soft. We put on relevance.”
He also suggested if you add up all the minutes each new division has presented of some hard-news story and compare the front-runner to No. 2 or No. 3, “the number of minutes difference is “probably shorter than the answer I’ve given you to this question.”
One year ago, he told TV critics at the Winter Press Tour that ABC News’s Sunday Beltway show needs to be tailored to become “the right show for Christiane [Amanpour] to showcase her strengths.” But Sherwood now said it was obviously the right decision to bring Stephanopoulos back to the Sunday show during the presidential election cycle and to return Amanpour to what is her “passion” — to be out there explaining the world to people.”
And yes, Stephanopoulos will continue to appear weekdays on “GMA” while returning to his Sunday gig because he’s “a machine” and, “left to his own devices, would work seven days a week, nonstop.”
“Our goal,” Sherwood said, it to make sure he takes a day or two off, noting: “We’ll be very wise” about making sure he doesn’t get pushed too far.
And because no one from CBS News was brave enough to appear at Winter TV Press Tour 2012, Sherwood was also asked to critique the debut of CBS’s new morning infotainment show with Charlie Rose and Gayle King.
“Those folks are friends of ours. They’re very talented,” he said diplomatically, adding: “Good luck to them.”