This is the filthiest thing anyone ever said to me about television news.
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You still here? OK, you asked for it.
There was a time in the early 90s when I worked for WCIX-TV (since rechristened WFOR-TV), the CBS O-and-O in Miami. For you uninitiated, “O-and-O” means “Owned and Operated.” The rules have been relaxed over the years, but there was a time when large corporations like CBS could actually own only a small handful of TV stations. Believe it or not, that’s where the money is in broadcasting. Operating a network is a costly business, and even in boom times profits are tough to come by. Owning a station is a different matter: owning a local TV station has always been (even in these changing economic times) a license to print money. So the “Big Three,” ABC, NBC, CBS (now the big four, with Fox a player), have always had dozens of affiliates each, but only a handful of “O-and-O” stations. The trick, of course, is to maximize your profits by owning stations in the biggest markets and doing your best to make them wildly popular. News is where that battle has traditionally been waged. The CBS O-and-Os have included stations that have, at one time or another, dominated their markets: WCBS in New York, KCBS in Los Angeles, WBBM in Chicago.
And for better or worse the CBS O-and-Os have a long (if not necessarily proud) history of treating news anchors like gods and catering to their every whim. Ah, the stories I’ve heard. Some I can’t repeat: there’s one CBS station—if all the talk is to be believed—that for years employed an anchor on the verge of a psychotic breakdown. Instead of getting him help, managers propped him up every day and sent him out to the anchor desk, hoping no one would notice that without a script in front of him he was a babbling, raving maniac! But that was the CBS tradition, if not a formal policy: treat anchors like addled children and spoil them rotten. Male and female, young and old, if you were a CBS O-and-O anchor there was a 90% chance you were a diva.
Actually, I started at WCIX as newsroom second-in-command: Executive Producer. That’s when I first met Eric Ober, whose title was (if I remember) Vice President/CBS Owned Stations Division. The O-and-O GMs reported to him. I liked him instantly: a wildly smart, wickedly funny, self-effacing guy, he was a pleasure to be around. He had started as a producer for the CBS station in Philadelphia and worked at a variety of jobs in the CBS O-and-O chain and at CBS News. At one time he was the news executive in charge of "60 Minutes."
A great, entertaining, perceptive guy. From my position a bit down the food chain he looked like a wonderful boss. Unfortunately, as #2 in the newsroom, I was not in the “Let’s go to lunch with Eric” bunch. Our dealings were strictly business. But in March of 1990, I was appointed News Director and that changed.
The day of Eric’s next visit to Miami I went to the General Manager’s office for a meeting with Eric and the other department heads. Eric, seeing me, jumped up from the conference table, rushed around, grabbed me in a big bear hug (quite a sight, I imagine: I’m at least six inches taller and 80 pounds heavier!) and said, “Ah…you’re a CBS news director at last! You know what that means, don’t you?”
“Uh, no, Eric…I honestly don’t.”
“Every day: DRINK A GALLON OF ANCHOR CUM!”
If I remember correctly I laughed until the snot ran out my nose!
Not too much later Eric Ober became President of CBS News. Dan Rather’s boss. And although I saw him several times in the years ahead, I successfully resisted any questions or comments about Rather’s bodily fluids.
Sorry if you’ve been offended. It remains, though, the funniest, filthiest thing anyone has ever said to me.
By the way, I can’t end this story without a word about John Roberts, or “J.D.” as he was known in his WCIX anchor days. He later moved to the network, was CBS White House Correspondent, and was even mentioned as Dan Rather’s possible successor until Katie Couric was hired. Now he’s with CNN. John Roberts was not a diva when we worked together in Miami. Truth is, he is perhaps the most multi-talented broadcast journalist I’ve ever worked with: brilliant, hard-working, perceptive and (an oddity for CBS) sane! Any ego I ever saw in John Roberts was understandable: he was always the smartest person in any room. I don’t want to leave the impression that every single anchor I worked with in Miami was a basket case.
Just most of them.