Tom Capra, who led KNBC Channel 4 to the top of the ratings as news director, Monday was named executive producer of NBC's "Today" show. He said he'll "modernize" the morning series, which he described as "kind of super-serious right now."
He also told The Times he intends to quicken the pace of "Today," which is in a struggle with ABC's "Good Morning America" to maintain ratings leadership of the wake-up audience.
Capra, 48, son of film maker Frank Capra, used a couple of breezy newscasters--weatherman Fritz Coleman and sports reporter Fred Roggin--as keys to the revival of KNBC, once the doormat of local network stations.
"Today" has been through a year of turmoil, starting with a memo in which co-anchor Bryant Gumbel criticized weatherman Willard Scott. The embattled show was rocked again later in 1989 when co-anchor Jane Pauley, a 13-year veteran of "Today," was replaced by Deborah Norville.
"I don't think there's any problems with the anchors, and I like Willard," Capra said by phone from his hotel room in New Orleans, where he is attending the annual convention of the National Association of Television Programming Executives.
But, said Capra, who replaces "Today" executive producer Marty Ryan effective Jan. 29, "We've all been watching (the show) for a long time, and it needs to be modernized. The broadcast is the same as it was in about 1980, and I think it has to be brought into the 1990s.
"I think the pace has to be a little faster, and we have to pick our subjects a little more carefully. There's a difference between health and science--and we don't do enough health. And we don't do enough entertainment reporting."
Capra said this was no reflection on "Today" entertainment reviewer Gene Shalit, whom he described as "terrific. But we give relatively short shrift to entertainment news."
The new "Today" boss is the second official of a Los Angeles TV station to be placed in charge of one of the network morning series in the last few months. In October, Erik Sorenson, former news director and station executive of KCBS Channel 2, was appointed head of CBS' "This Morning" show, which is struggling at the bottom of the ratings with anchors Kathleen Sullivan and Harry Smith.
Sorenson likewise focused immediately on increased entertainment reporting by having one of his former staffers, KCBS Hollywood correspondent Steve Kmetko, double up by also joining the team of "This Morning."
Capra declined to answer when asked whether he might have KNBC's David Sheehan make a similar move to "Today" while also retaining his job here.
In their Los Angeles competition, Capra was the easy victor over Sorenson as KNBC climbed to first place while KCBS remained in the cellar.
Asked whether he intended to give "Today" a lighter tone overall with his apparent emphasis on entertainment news and "modernizing" the series, Capra said: "I don't know. I think it's kind of super-serious right now. And I think we'll do subjects with somewhat higher interest than are now done. That's what I'm talking about when I say more health than science."
Under Capra and General Manager John Rohrbeck, KNBC replaced the former gray-haired image of the station's newscasts, which once included anchor Nick Clooney, sportscaster Stu Nahan and commentator Jack Perkins, all platinum-domed.
Weatherman Coleman got a huge promotional buildup with the slogan, "Fritz said it would be like this." KNBC's campaign for Roggin used the slogan, "Fred'll show it to you." Teaming with its yuppie twosome were such veterans as anchor Kelly Lange and commentator Jess Marlow, along with newer personalities John Beard and Linda Alvarez.
After pressing longtime leader KABC Channel 7 hard in the ratings, KNBC finally claimed the title of No. 1 last year with authoritative victories in the "sweeps" months that are pivotal to a station's success.
One of the keys to KNBC's final thrust was a much-ridiculed stunt of having the local Los Angeles news originate from the Seoul Summer Olympics, which NBC, the station's parent, broadcast in 1988. The criticism was unrelenting, but KNBC's ratings soared as part of the Olympics coverage.
No immediate replacement for Capra was named by KNBC. Rohrbeck, a potent figure at NBC with his station's success, said, "I know that Tom will strengthen 'Today' and, in doing so, continue to provide a positive effect on KNBC News, as I believe there is a real synergy between local and network news in building audience growth."
Capra, a network news veteran who was a producer for "60 Minutes" and Charles Kuralt's "The American Parade" series, got the top "Today" job after negotiations fell through between the morning show and "Entertainment Tonight" boss David Nuell.
NBC spokeswoman Peggy Hubble said Ryan was expected to meet with the network's news division president, Michael Gartner, later this week to discuss other possible jobs at the broadcast organization. Capra, meanwhile, said KNBC managing editor Pete Noyes and executive producer Nancy Bauer would run the news department until a new director is named.