Chelsea Clinton, artful media dodger, gets gig with NBC News

November 14, 2011

NBC News has carved another face in its “Mount Rushmore” of correspondents: former first daughter and the country’s Most Artful Media Dodger, Chelsea Clinton.

Clinton will be a special correspondent for “Rock Center With Brian Williams” and “NBC Nightly News.” (The Mount Rushmore gag was from “Rock Center” exec producer Rome Hartman, describing NBC News’s correspondents’ stable during a recent news conference.)

Clinton will be charged with profiling organizations and individuals “who represent the best of what works in the United States and around the world, frequently emphasizing stories about everyday people doing extraordinary things” for NBC News’s “Making a Difference” segments, the network news operation announced Monday.

“Chelsea is a remarkable woman who will be a great addition to NBC News,” said division President Steve Capus, adding how proud NBC News suits are that she will be taking her “considerable, unique talents and dedication to NBC News.”

Clinton, for her part, said the gig will enable her to live her grandmother’s adage: “Life is not what happens to you, but about what you do with what happens to you.”

What has happened to Clinton is that she has joined a proud tradition of political children hired by NBC News, reaching way back to the days of JFK/RFK/Ted Kennedy niece Maria Shriver. More recently, that roster includes George W. Bush’s daughter Jenna Bush Hager, who works as a correspondent for NBC’s “Today,” and Sen. John McCain’s daughter Meghan McCain, who is a contributor at MSNBC.

Which, in one of those incredible coincidences, is our fantasy casting for the next edition of “Dancing With the Stars.”

Yes, daughters of former presidents and presidential hopefuls are the Drew Barrymores of New York TV network news divisions — the Willow Smiths of Washington.

Anyway, the title “special correspondent” puts Clinton in the same category as Ted Koppel and Meredith Vieira on “Rock Center.”

Explained Capus: “Given her vast experiences, it’s as though Chelsea has been preparing for this opportunity her entire life.”

And by “preparing for this opportunity her entire life,” Capus meant: “successfully dodging the media her whole life.” Because she is the child of Bill and Hillary Clinton, of course, the press was supposed to keeps its hands off Chelsea as she was growing up, so she could live her life as privately as possible.

Penn State vs. Giffords

Monday night NBC News took on ABC News’s interview with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) with an interview of its own: Bob Costas talked with former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky, who in the interview admitted to “showering and horsing around with young boys” but insisted that he is “innocent of those [sexual abuse] charges.”

Joe Paterno’s onetime defensive coordinator — and founder of a charity to help at-risk youth — has been charged with 40 counts of sexually abusing eight boys, dating back to 1994. A grand jury report detailed claims of alleged sexual encounters with young boys in Sandusky’s house, in hotels and in Penn State locker rooms.

On ABC, Giffords and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly, chatted with Diane Sawyer about how humor and determination were key to Gabrielle’s recovery after being shot in the head in January. But over on NBC’s new newsmag, “Rock Center With Brian Williams,” Sandusky told Costas: “I could say that I have done some of those things. I have horsed around with kids I have showered with after workouts. I have hugged them, and I have touched their legs without intent of sexual contact.”

When pressed by Costas about what he’d done wrong, Sandusky said, “I shouldn’t have showered with those kids.”

Giffords didn’t have a chance, ratings-wise. November “sweeps” competition sure can be brutal.

All the alleged sex-abuse victims met Sandusky through their participation in his charity, called the Second Mile, which Sandusky founded in 1977 as a group foster home for troubled boys.

The scandal has led to the departure of Paterno and three other university officials, as well as rioting at the university, advertiser pullout from ESPN’s Penn State game coverage and on and on. On Monday, the Second Mile chief executive resigned; grand jury testimony said that he was aware of at least one of the allegations against Sandusky, who is free on a $100,000 bond.

In an NBC News interview from 1987, Sandusky joked that he started the Second Mile because he was a “frustrated playground director.”

“I enjoy being around children. I enjoy their enthusiasm. I just have a good time with them,” Sandusky said.

Sorry, ABC.

‘Community’ benched

To the surprise of no one except rabid “Community” fans, NBC has benched the comedy to make room for the return of “30 Rock” (Thursdays at 8, in January), the network announced Monday.

Note to “Community” fans: It was a clue that Tina Fey was interviewed by Brian Williams last Monday, on the second episode of his newsmag “Rock Center,” about the return of her comedy series.

In other midseason NBC schedule news: The network’s laugh-tracked sitcom “Whitney” and its girl-parts gags are moving to 8 p.m. Wednesdays, paired with the new comedy “Are You There, Chelsea?” — based on Chelsea Handler’s book, “Are You There, Vodka? It’s Me, Chelsea.”

Yes, the network that’s talking to Howard Stern about joining the judging panel of one of its most important series, “America’s Got Talent,” is afraid of the word “vodka.”

No word how David E. Kelley feels about having his “Harry’s Law” plucked out of the time slot on Wednesdays at 9 and moved to Sundays at 8 in March — to play lead-in for “Celebrity Apprentice,” which returns in mid-February. Or that his show is being led to slaughter in the time slot where CBS is returning its very popular “Undercover Boss” in mid-January. Kelley is no fan of reality TV.

With “Harry” out of Wednesday, that makes room for “Rock Center With Brian Williams,” who will now have “Whitney” and “Chelsea” for a lead-in, starting Feb. 8.

Williams’s current time slot — Mondays at 10 — had already been spoken for by the time it premiered. It belongs to the new “Smash,” following the return of NBC’s singing competition, “The Voice,” in early February.

“Smash,” described as “ ‘Glee’ for adults,” is a scripted drama about a group of people mounting a Broadway musical about Marilyn Monroe’s life. “Idol” non-winner Katharine McPhee has been cast as an actress who’s among the Marilyn hopefuls; Debra Messing plays one of the play’s producers.

Getting the plum post-“Office” Thursday nights (once “Whitney” vacates) is Christina Applegate/Will Arnett/Maya Rudolph comedy “Up All Night,” which has struggled on Wednesdays. Industry navel-lint pickers predict it will do better on Thursday, because it’s a single-camera laugh-track-less comedy. We predict it will do better because it will follow “The Office.”

At 10 Thursdays, “Prime Suspect” will go missing, and “The Firm” — based on the flick which is based on the book — will take its place in mid-January.

And in March, NBC will replace “Parenthood” with a new Elle MacPherson fashion competition series, “Fashion Stars,” Tuesdays at 10, following two hours of “The Biggest Loser” fat-farm competition.

In other midseason news: CBS announced its new Rob Schneider sitcom, “Rob!,” will get the plum post-“Big Bang Theory” time slot on Thursdays at 8, starting Jan. 12. This is probably bad news for NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” which will be its comedy competition. Schneider’s new series has him playing a guy who has married into a tight-knit Mexican American family.

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