Network talent shuffling can be more fun to watch than the networks themselves, a postulate given a boost last night at a party celebrating NBC correspondent Richard Valeriani's move from the State Department to the "Today" show's Washington beat. Now, was this a promotion, demotion, or what?
"It's a new opportunity," decreed NBC News Vice President Gordon Manning. "Did he go happily? Well, let's ask Valeriani. Hey, Valeriani!"
The correspondent was at this moment tied up at the Four Seasons Hotel hors d'oeuvres table, grazing happily on salmon on rye. He ambled over.
"Did I go happily?" he asked. "I went enthusiastically."
Manning beamed. "How about that, ladies and gentlemen?"
Valeriani, who's been replaced at State by former CBS correspondent Marvin Kalb, put it this way: "I've been doing the same thing for years, and if I'm going to go on to better things, this is one way to do it . . . all of Washington is my oyster."
Then, too, there was money. "Substantial, substantial," said Valeriani of his new salary. But how much?
"Not enough," replied his wife, Kathie Berlin.
Valeriani comes to the "Today" show at an interesting time. Over the weekend, NBC President Fred Silverman was quoted as saying that the show, still dragging behind ABC's "Good Morning America" in the ratings, looks like "a mausoleum." This comment caused considerable discussion among NBC nabobs attending last night's party.
Reaction took one of two forms. Either you assumed that Silverman was referring to the set, and so you said, well, maybe it could use some work -- or you assumed he was referring to the entire show, in which case you said, on the record and politely: "I think he's wrong." This was from "Today" show host Tom Brokaw, who was having a pleasant weekend in the Hamptons when he got wind of Silverman's remark. "Frankly," Brokaw added, "it kind of rolled off my back. If that's what he wants to say, fine."
William Small, NBC News president, told this story: "I called up Silverman this morning and I said, 'What do you mean, 'mausoleum?' And he said, I'm talking about the set.'"
And this satisfied Small? "Sure," said Small. "I always believe what my bosses say."
Like many network parties, this one had an abundance of folks who regularly appear, or perhaps would like more regularly to appear, on the evening news. In the shifting crowd of about 100, you could find presidential counsel Lloyd Cutler, Israeli ambassacor Ephraim Evron, assistant secretary of state Warren Christopher, Motion Picture Association of America president Jack Valenti, black activist Jesse Jackson, House Minority Leader John J. Rhodes (R-Ariz.) and Sen. Robert Dole (R-Kan.).
Dole had lots of Detroit stories. Here's one he told about the last moments of trying to put together a Ronald Reagan-Gerald Ford presidential ticket, a story that begins with Sen. Howard Baker (R-Tenn.) and Dole going to Reagan's 69th-floor hotel suite for one last plea for Ford:
"Baker an I were trying to salvage it," he said. "So, Baker says, 'Head for the hotel! I've got a car!' Minority leader and all, you know. Well, we couldn't find his car, so we flagged down a police car, and he gave us a ride down, and then we ran to the escalator, and up to the 69th floor, but when we got there -- the cupboard was bare. Reagan had already headed for the arena.
"Kind of reminded me," Dole continued, "of the Keystone Kops."